In this solo episode of The Blogger Genius Podcast, I share how to start an easy paid membership for your online business.
I discuss the benefits of having a paid membership, how to set one up, and the necessary tech you need.
I emphasize that you do not have to be an “expert” to start a paid membership, and suggest using platforms that people are already familiar with, like Facebook or Instagram.
I also share how MiloTreeCart, our digital product payment tool, can handle the recurring payments and backend of your business.
I encourage anyone who hopes to start a membership, but feels overwhelmed, to get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to help step you through it.
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Intro (00:00:03) – Welcome to the Blogger Genius Podcast, brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.
Jillian Leslie – Hello my friends. Welcome back to the Blogger Genius Podcast. I am your host, Jillian Leslie. I’m so happy you are here. I started my online entrepreneurship journey in 2009 with my husband when we created Catch My Party.
By the way, if you need graduation party ideas or Father’s Day Ideas, head over there and I cannot believe the school year is really ending. My daughter has one week left of school and then she is done. Hello, Summer.
After Catch My Party, we launched our pop-up app called MiloTree that so many of you use to grow social media followers and email subscribers. And by the way, I don’t think I say this enough, you can grow your TikTok followers using our pop-up app, Milo Tree.
And remember, we play super well with Google and we play super well with your ad networks. And then we launched MiloTreeCart at the beginning of this year.
Jillian Leslie (00:01:07) – And this is a way for you to sell digital products to your audiences. This episode is a solo episode and I feel like I need to record it because people have been reaching out to me saying, “Hey, you talk a lot about memberships. How do I really start one and is it difficult?”
Before we launch into that, I want to say yes, ChatGPT has exploded. I just added the app to my phone to my iPad every day. There are new things evolving in this world.
I do believe it is going to be disruptive both in a good way because I used ChatGPT today to help me write the script for the episode. And I think it will also impact our businesses in ways that we can predict and not predict. One, I do think our traffic will probably decrease.
I don’t know by how much, but we need to be taking this into account and find new ways to monetize, which is really why I’m excited about talking about paid memberships today. And I do see that showing up as a real person and really cultivating your audience that way is going to be even more important.
So, you want to show your expertise to real people. You want to say, “Hey, look at me. I’m real. We can connect.” I think there will be a premium placed on that.
And in fact, when I’m looking at the back end of MiloTreeCart, who are the people who are doing the best? They have paid memberships, they’re doing workshops and they’re doing coaching things. What do all three of those have in common? It’s real people showing up with real people.
So first, what I want to do, I want to tell you that this part was written by ChatGPT because I said, Hey, write me a script.
Why a Paid Membership Could Be a Game Changer
So, here’s what it said. “First, let’s talk about why a paid membership could be a game changer for your online business. A paid membership model provides a consistent and predictable stream of income.
This is a fantastic compliment to other forms of income, such as affiliate marketing, paid ads, or selling digital products. More importantly, it fosters a community of dedicated followers who value your content and expertise.”
Now, I’m going to say that a membership is a digital product, so it’s a little messed up right there. So now, I’m no longer using my script from ChatGPT.
And what I thought I would do was, ask 10 questions about memberships and answer them so that hopefully one of your questions will be answered. And if in fact I don’t give a full answer or you have more questions, please reach out to me.
What I’m talking about when I say paid membership is I’m really talking about an expertise membership where you’re an expert with a small ‘e’ but you know something about something and you’re going to create a community around it.
So, this is not a membership where, for example, you give free printables every month or something where it’s more complicated than that. This is really you showing up and helping people or teaching people or being their biggest cheerleader.
Benefits of a Paid Membership
My first question that I want to answer is, what are the benefits of doing a paid membership? Because always remember we start with the benefits and the first thing is recurring revenue.
So, back a few episodes ago, I interviewed Summer Hammons about her membership and she wasn’t sure how to start this and was nervous. She had a big Facebook audience but she didn’t quite know how to monetize it.
And boom, she’s making thousands of dollars a month with her membership and what she is doing is showing up weekly crafting with people like the end. And it’s been a huge success for her.
What’s great about it is you sell it once and then you continue to reap the benefits of it. You don’t have to keep selling it over and over again. So that’s the first reason, the first benefit.
The second, again, as I mentioned, it’s a great way to future-proof your business. Really present your business to compete against ChatGPT. The one thing it can be really, really smart, however it isn’t real.
And as humans, it is baked into us to want to be with other people, to want to connect with other people. If you could lean into that and really set yourself up as somebody that people want to hang out with, they will pay you. And I think this is going to be a scarcer and scarcer good.
And the other piece that ties to this is you get really close to your audience when you show up with them, when you see their faces, when you interact with them. And if you want to create your kind of army of people in your corner supporting you, buying your products, talking about you spreading the word, this is the best way I think to do it.
And finally, I think that we all need purpose. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot in my own life. What gets me up every morning is that I am helping other creators and bloggers monetize, make money in their own way, on their own terms, so that they don’t have to have bosses.
They can go to the orthodontist appointment in the middle of the day and then take their kids to Disney World because they’ve been able to make money. And that’s really what inspired me, that gives me purpose.
And I think having a membership, at least talking to the people who have them, one of the things they talk about is purpose. It’s that connection. It’s really being able to help others.
So, think about that when we’re home alone working on our blogs, it can be lonely and this is a great way to create and build community.
Setting Up a Paid Membership is Not a lot of Work
Second question that I get a lot is, “Is setting up a paid membership a lot of work? It sounds like it is.” And I’m going to say it really doesn’t have to be because people join the community typically.
So again, we’re talking about an expert community. You’re an expert with a small ‘e’ again, you just have to be one to two steps ahead of your people, but have a lot of empathy so you know where they are.
They come for the content, they stay for the community. So, what happens is it’s really about, your job is not about creating a big exhaustive library of teaching modules or resources. It’s really about you leaning into your people and loving on them.
And this works in these kinds of niches. I just, off the top of my head, came up with some, but like if for example, you teach marketing or social media or crafting or cooking or parenting or wellness, or let’s say I’d heard about this that you teach tarot card reading.
Anything that you can do, that is something that you can monetize with a community of like-minded people. One thing I love about these kinds of memberships is you have a shared activity or a shared interest.
So, you automatically have a connection with a group of people that could be from around the world, but it really bonds you and then you can go deeper with these people.
What You Need to Set Up a Paid Membership Online
The next question then is what do I need to set this up? What is my “tech stack?” How much technology do I really need? Because I don’t like tech. Here’s the best part, this is how I recommend somebody set up a membership.
Of course MiloTreeCart because we collect recurring payments, we give you an easy dashboard to manage your members. Done someplace where you can go live with your members. My favorite is Zoom, but you could do it in a private Facebook group. Go live in there.
You can do it on a Discord server if you know what that is. It’s like a gaming thing. My daughter who is 16 is on Discord a lot. Or you could even run your membership in a private Instagram account because you can go live in that private Instagram account.
The third piece you need is a place for community. So, you’ve got your broadcasting platform, let’s say Zoom, but now there needs to be a place where your members can talk to each other. And this can be my favorite by the way, is a private Facebook group.
And the reason is because even though everybody hates Facebook, “hates it,” everybody knows Facebook. So you don’t have to teach people any new technology and it’s just easy. But you can use a platform like Discord.
I have a coaching group that I’m part of in a Discord server. Or again, you could have a community in a private Instagram account.
And also the last piece I recommend, this is not necessary, but I think it is very useful, is having an email service provider like MailChimp or MailerLite or ConvertKit or something like that.
MiloTreeCart we integrate directly with your email service provider. What that means is somebody signs up to your membership and we can send their email address into your email service provider with a tag.
And the reason I recommend you use email is because it is a way to blast to your members, hy, this month here’s what we’re going to be talking about. Here are the dates we’re going to be meeting, here are some of the Zoom links, whatever it is. It’s just a really easy way to communicate.
Now you can also be putting those links in the Facebook group or the private Instagram account but it’s just a nice thing for your members to just get an email with all of that information.
What Don’t You Need to Set Up a Paid Membership
Question three is, what don’t you need? Again, as I mentioned, you do not need a big library of content. In fact, I would argue most people are not going to go back and look at your library even though you think it’s very valuable and important.
I have found in talking to so many people who do memberships, typically that’s one of the least valuable parts of the membership. And by the way, what I recommend you do is every time you have a session, you record it and then that becomes your library. So, we’ll talk about that more.
One thing you do not need is an expensive membership platform. One because it’s expensive. And two, do you really think your members are going to want to add an app to their phones and then understand how to use it.
Just getting people onto a new platform in order to connect with you is a big ask. And this is why, again, I go back to make it easy. They know Facebook, they know Instagram, maybe they know Discord, maybe they know Slack.
Be on platforms, people are already on and are familiar with, you will just have fewer headaches. This I had spoken about previously, but I really want to reiterate, you do not need to be an expert. No PhD, nothing.
Now if you’re teaching any sort of health, then you might need to have some expertise, but in reality, let’s say you’re teaching knitting and you’re going to teach some stitches and you’re all going to show up and knit together, cool. Again, you don’t need to be a professional knitter.
I like this story. I’ve shared this before, but I’ve worked with a woman and she’s been on my podcast named Anina Belle. And Anina Belle has a blog called Le Chef’s Wife and she’s married to a French chef. But her chef husband doesn’t write her blog, she writes her blog, she’s half Canadian, half American.
She’s translating what he is saying and making it approachable for me, for everybody else. I don’t want to learn from him because he’s too far ahead of me. I want to learn from her because she understands where I’m at and I won’t feel as embarrassed or who knows, she’s going to speak in my language.
This is why the closer you actually are to where your members are, the better because you understand where they are and you understand the problems that they’re facing.
This is the next piece. You do not need to show up a ton. Please do not burn your members out. This is counterintuitive. Make it doable. We’re going to talk about how many times to show up, but please, people will pay you to show up less.
They really will because then they don’t feel bad that they’re falling behind. Like, oh no, I missed that session, or everybody has moved on without me. Or it starts to feel like a burden. This should feel pleasurable. So, you don’t want to burn yourself out or your community.
And then this is the other piece that I’ve heard female creators who have memberships struggle with. You do not have to say yes to everything.
So I’m going to say, hey, when you first start your membership, you want to say to your initial members, especially like, you guys are my VIPs and I want feedback and I want to hear what you want to learn and we’re going to build this together. And that I do recommend you say.
I also recommend you set your own boundaries so that if somebody says, I want to go in this direction, and another person says, I want to go in this direction, you don’t have to make them all happy, you go in the direction you want to go in.
So, having a membership is a lot about setting your own boundaries and being okay saying no. I get a lot of requests for MiloTreeCart features and a lot of them I say no to.
We think about it, we figure out which ones make sense for us, but at the end of the day, we need to build the product the way we want to build the product. I want you to be thinking that way.
How to Start Your Online Paid Membership
Next question. How do I start? This feels very overwhelming and I’m going to say on a piece of paper, write down six ideas for six months and have one idea per month, one theme per month.
For example, in my own membership, and many of you who’ve been in it you might be listening to this, and this is what I did. I started my membership and it was about the business of blogging, like how to really turn your blog into a business.
And what I did was I took a piece of paper and I said, here are the topics I think I want to talk about. And I wrote down six topics that I thought were good, like, SEO or content creation or email marketing or Instagram, those kinds of things.
And then it gave me a roadmap. However, once I got into the membership and started to see what people were responding to where they were stuck or their questions, I was able to change it.
I think I got to week four, I think after week three and I realized I was throwing a lot at them and realized that what I needed to do was I needed to regroup and do a whole month in terms of what I wanted to talk about, how to get your work done.
We needed to step away from blogging and talk about just strategies and techniques they could use to actually get their work done.And it was interesting because I didn’t anticipate that would be a topic and yet it was really valuable because I could tell that’s what my members need.
You want to be listening and stuff. So, you set up these six ideas just to make yourself feel like, yeah, I got this, but then be flexible, be listening.
How to Get People to Join Your Membership
Now, here’s the next piece I’m going to say for your first members, go door to door. Meaning be great.
Maybe you’ve got an enormous audience and no problem, you’re going to just turn this on. Kind of like Summer did and all the people showed up, but the chances are you don’t have Summer’s audience and therefore you are going to go piece by piece and you’re going to talk about it.
And you’re going to post about it, say on Instagram. And you’re going to go, “Hey, if you’re interested DM me,” and you’re going to call your best friends who you think this would be useful for.
And you’re going to get those initial members one by one. You’re going to go who’s, who’s a friend of a friend or who did I meet at that conference, get on the phone with somebody or email them, that kind of thing.
So, that way you don’t set yourself up for disappointment when you put up one post on Instagram and you get no signups. This is getting down and dirty. I call this gorilla marketing. It’s really stuff you can’t scale, but it is doable.
And if you get three members, I say you launch your membership because then hopefully you learn, you get these people excited, they tell their friends, you keep talking about it and everybody gets better.
And by the way, if this still seems too intimidating, think about testing your concept as a paid workshop. A one-off paid workshop, which is like a membership, but just like a one-time deal.
And you can set up paid workshops easily with MiloTreeCart. Again, show up on Zoom, use your email to communicate, here’s the Zoom link, that kind of thing.
And also, one thing I didn’t mention is as part of MiloTreeCart, I have launched calendars where I’ve done the thinking for you. So, if you want to start a membership, for example, I have a 12-day launch calendar that goes day-by-day.
Do this on day one, do this on day two, send this email, I’ve got the email templates like I’ve got your back so that truly you can just follow along. And I have the same thing for a workshop. So, you don’t go, “Oh no, what do I do?” I’ll tell you exactly what to do and I’ll also be there to help.
My next question is how do I sell this? You’re saying go door by door. I kind of get that, but I don’t know, that feels a little disorganized. How should I think about this?
And so at MiloTreeCart we also give you free sales pages, fill in the blank sales pages where you can get a sales page up that looks professional, that has all of the elements so you don’t have to think about what goes into your sales page.
I’m going to ask you for three benefits. I’m even going to give you your ChatGPT prompts to help you come up with this. So, you can have a professional sales page in 10 minutes and it’s going to be all about sell the benefits and here’s a block for a testimonial, all that kind of stuff. And you are going to let those first members know that they are your VIP members, that they will have a special place in this membership and that you really value them and you really are thinking about this community.
One cool thing that I have to share about MiloTreeCart is we are rolling out by the end of May, the ability for you to add additional items to your checkout.
And what I mean by that is, let’s say you’re selling your membership with your sales page. After somebody signs up on the thank you page, you can have it say, sign up also for a one-on-one coaching call with me for a discounted price or get into the VIP group, those kinds of things.
We’re thinking about how you can sell your membership and sell additional products at the same time. And again, as I mentioned, this increases your average order value. So, it’s a little bit like you go to Best Buy and you buy the new washing machine and they want to sell you the warranty on top of that.
By the way, I never buy the warranty. However, that’s kind of an upsell. That’s exactly how MiloTreeCart will be working for you.
And one other thing to think about, a lot of crafters I know do this, especially if they have an audience somewhere, is they start with a three day free challenge. So, that your people can be warmed up to you and they get a sense of what’s going to be in the membership and in the challenge it has a win attached to it.
So, they feel a sense of accomplishment and then you roll them in, “Hey, if you like this now join my membership.”
How to Run Your Membership
My next question that I’m going to answer, how do you actually run it? What does it look like? I recommend when I did, my members remember, less is more. I recommend you show up during a month, two to four times live. That’s it.
So, in my membership what I did was we showed up on the first Thursday and the third Thursday of the month for one hour live each time. And now I think Summer shows up once a week and crafts. I’m not a hundred percent sure about that.
Again, don’t overcommit yourself and don’t overcommit your community. And literally what I would do in my membership was the first Thursday of the month would be like a teaching session. Again, this is where I would say, okay, today we’re going to talk about SEO.
And then I gave my people a little bit of homework that they didn’t have to do, but if they did do it, I would review it, give them comments, you don’t have to do this. But that was just a way to keep people really engaged. Then I showed up the third Thursday of the month and all it was was a Q&A session.
We did a recap, talked about what you know, I was able to emphasize certain things, maybe somebody did some homework and I was able to talk about that. But really I was just there for questions.
And what’s really nice, I know somebody who has a painting membership and she teaches, let’s say a technique, but then when they show up again, they just paint together until the end. So again, I want to say make it easy on yourself. Make it easy on your members.
We’ll say the live part, like what you’re doing on Zoom, then I recommend you have a Facebook, private Facebook group and you are there to answer questions, but you’re also there hoping that your community starts to come together and talk to each other.
So, that’s where your group comes in. Maybe you put prompts in, but I’m not saying go hang in your Facebook group very much. I’m just saying be responsive. This is a place where people can connect with each other and where you can store the recorded Zoom call.
And somebody who can’t be there live can go watch it at a later date for emails. Emails can be as little or as many as you want. What I recommend is sending an email at the beginning of the month and saying, here’s what we’re going to talk about this month.
And then have links to the Zoom. I would always use the same Zoom link and it would just break it down for people so they knew what to expect. You can also send reminder emails the morning of to let people know that you’re meeting live. I found if I did that more people would go, oh, right, that’s right.
Today is Thursday. Also I would take the recording, upload the recording to YouTube as an unlisted video. I just got a URL that wouldn’t be found in search on YouTube. And after the session, I would send that to all the members for the members who couldn’t be there live.
You can do this or not, but this is just again, a way to keep people involved and I do recommend you record the sessions and then you can upload them to the private Facebook group or put them on Instagram for this private Instagram account, wherever, whatever you think.
I want to reiterate again, your job as the leader of the group is to be somebody who sets limits, who says no a lot, and also who acts as the cheerleader. Not the cheerleader, the camp counselor.
What I mean by that is you notice in the group let’s say somebody isn’t singing along in the camp song and you go over to them and bring them back into the circle. That’s how you build that community.
So, you’re not just the teacher on some mountaintop speaking down to your members. You’re really part of it, but you are the leader of the group.
How Much to Charge for Your Membership
Next question I get, how much do I charge? And that’s a really tough one because there are no hard and fast rules. Here’s what I would say. A lot of crafter people typically will charge around $20 a month, $25 a month.
Let’s say you’re doing something like teaching social media, then you know something for people who have more money to spend, like professional teaching, that might be somewhere like $50, $75 a month. It really depends. And I recommend you test out some pricing.
I recommend you offer both a monthly and a yearly price. Usually yearly is 10 times monthly and you want those yearly people because they’re the most committed. They have the most skin in the game. It’s okay that you give them two months free. Like really good. You want that money up front.
And again, you want to charge what you are worth. If you’re thinking, well I should charge somewhere between $10 and $20, I want to push you to charge $20. So, think about it that way. And then people say, “Should I have an open and closed cart? I’ve heard about that. What’s the deal there?”
Should You Open and Close Your Membership Cart?
And I would say eventually, yes, which means open cart is, it’s open all the time and anybody can join. Closed cart is like, oh, we’re just going to open the cart for a couple days. Have that sense of scarcity. You have to act now and join.
I say at the beginning, do whatever is easiest for you. Now if you have a cohort of people, like you’ve got 10 lessons and people need to start at lesson one. If they came in at lesson four, they wouldn’t know what’s going on then.
I would say definitely you need to open and close your cart because you’re going to have cohorts and things like that. That’s complicated.
So, in the beginning I say keep your cart open and maybe offer bonuses for people to join. “This month if you join my group, here’s what you get.” I wouldn’t discount your prices.
I would think about different bonuses that you could rotate to get people excited when you get very sophisticated and your membership is a success. Sure, you can close the cart and make it a whole production.
You’re going to send a ton of emails and maybe this is where you do a challenge beforehand, but really make it easy on yourself in the beginning. Make it messy. Go get those three initial members one by one.
So, it’s not going to look like this well-oiled machine. Let it be rough. And what’s so nice I find is that when you share like, here’s what I’m thinking. I’d love your feedback or who knows, you show up, real people will respond and they will like you.
I know we don’t want to have that pimple on our face, but it humanizes us. So, be vulnerable in that way. Allow it to have some rough edges, especially as you are getting started.
How MiloTreeCart Can Help You Start and Run Your Membership
My last thing that of course I want to talk about is how MiloTreeCart can help you. Why did we build this product the way we did? And you know what’s so valuable about it? First thing is if you go to milotreecart.com, what you’re going to see is this is for creators who hate technology.
I don’t want you to have to use a bunch of really complicated tools. I want you to use tools you already know. And that’s why I set it up the way I did saying, “Hey, use MiloTreeCart for payments, recurring payments.”
We will continue to charge people’s credit cards. You will have a dashboard to manage all of your members and your sales. We integrate with your email service provider. We really help you with the whole backend of your business.
And then I say, run your membership on tools people already know, whether that be Zoom or Facebook or Instagram or someplace like that. Don’t throw a lot of technology at your members. Trust me, they will be thankful.
We have our launch calendars that we have spent a lot of time over here at MiloTreeCart headquarters crafting for you so that you don’t have to think, not that I don’t think you can create sales emails, but let me do it for you and then you just fill in the blanks.
Or I’ve got social media templates for you. I’ve got fill-in the blanks sales pages for you. I just want this to be easy so that you can go make meaning in your own life and meaning in other people’s lives.
Also, I’m here because I want to help remember what gets me up in the morning is helping you guys, you make money doing this.
Therefore if you are thinking about this and you want to talk about it with me and I can go, if you have questions about what I’m sharing, anything, please get on a call with me. Just go to milotree.com/meet. And this is not a heavy sales pitch. Truly, I want what is best for you.
And I will be completely honest with you and give you some pointers at things that have helped me and helped other people who I am seeing have tremendous success with this.
What I want to end with is to tell you that please know that to compete today, you need to set yourself up as an expert, as somebody people trust. This is how you’re going to grow your blog. This is how you’re going to grow your income.
It’s no longer just keyword research or hiding behind there in the backend of your WordPress. That’s not going to cut it anymore. It’s you doing the post about painting your fence with photos of your fence, of you painting it, of videos, all that.
And it is you showing up as a real person in a membership or a workshop or coaching and you know, is there a creative thing that you could teach or help people with? That’s what I recommend, you start your membership around some sort of shared experience, shared knowledge.
So please, if you’re still too intimidated by this, get on a call with me. Just go to milotree.com/meet. And if you want to sign up for MiloTreeCart, just go to milotreecart.com and if you have any questions, I am here to help you.
I want to leave with this one last thought. The future is not in the future anymore. The future is here, it’s right now. So please set yourself up for success. Find a way to compete in this ever-changing world by tapping into new steady income streams.
And what I love about memberships, in addition to the recurring revenue, is the community. I feel like if you can do something that brings people together, I don’t think there’s anything better. I feel like we all need that.
Reach out with any questions you have to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will see you here again next week.
Other Blogger Genius Podcast Episodes You’ll Like:
- Monetize Your Passion Through a Successful Membership with Summer Hammons
- How to Write an Ebook at Lightning Speed with ChatGPT: solo episode with Jillian Leslie
- The Blogging Battle: Authenticity vs. Automation solo episode with Jillian Leslie
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