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Are you interested in creating a membership business model? Its a great way of building a strong relationship with your customers and securing a recurring revenue stream. Many think of a membership business as a great route to passive income. Our Guest Mike Morrison is an expert on the membership business model and tells us it can be very rewarding, but to do it well there’s very little thats passive about it.

There’s a download to go with today’s show. You can get yours here

Introducing Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison and his partner Callie Willow run The Membership Guys. They are fast becoming the de facto standard in all things how to plan, create and grow amazing membership websites.

Mike originally ran a digital marketing agency 10 years ago. Past the formative years, he started to only take on clients with projects that he enjoyed. He found himself drawn towards e-learning and online community. By the time Callie joined Mike and they went into business they started to laser focus on this section of the market.

This focus proved to them one thing at least. They were the type of projects where they were getting their clients the best results. He moved away from the slightly repetitive vanilla website for solicitors, all having the same look, to membership sites.

Mike Morrison - One half of The Membership Guys talks about the membership business model on the next 100 days podcast

Mike Morrison – One half of The Membership Guys

Why did they adopt a membership business model?

They reached a point where they had more buyers for their services than they could realistically provide, given they preferred not to build a huge team. But, they wanted to expand their reach and how many people they could help.

They started blogging more, they started a podcast, a Facebook group and opened their own membership site. 100% of their business serves the members of their membership group. No projects.

Mike and Callie had a passion and interest in communities and membership. They created the place to hang out. They kept being asked for guides and courses on membership. There wasn’t a place to send people to, so they become ‘those guys’. Their Facebook group contains members who advocate for them. They don’t need to sell themselves, their members do it for them.

Why do I need a membership site?

Is it obvious? These are the circumstances. The starting point is about taking a step back. You are not an online marketer, solicitor, Mike says you are simply a problem solver. What is keeping people awake at night. What are people struggling with? are there gaps in their knowledge?

For some people, you might just sit down face to face. It might not be a membership site.

Most membership sites are about getting people from point A to point B. There are all sorts of milestones around getting people along their journey. The membership site provides help at each stage along the journey. It’s about a journey towards a transformation.

Some people need support, accountability, someone to ask questions of, people in the same business, it is a resource, a community to tap into. Online business, entrepreneurship. These are constantly changing and people need to research new things. A membership site collates this information and delivers a setting, a community to consume it from within.

Quite often there is a coaching element aspect. You can teach others, how to grow their business. Look for opportunities for one to many solutions. Not one to one.

Aren’t people acting as individuals on Membership sites?

The community aspect is probably more than it has ever been. It is just any site where you login to an account where otherwise the information would not be available to you. E-learning. Yes, you are there to row their own boat, but if they are on a similar journey, so people share their journey, ask questions and help each group.

Within any community you get power users, they are the most active users. They take it upon themselves to help and advise other members. Clusters of helpers. A lot of connections emerge from within membership groups.

Mike met Callie from a paid online business networking community! There was an element where people met over breakfast and passed business cards. That is how Mike and Callie met.

In the “real world” connections are dying. Mike talks of dozens of neighbourly interactions, without knowing their names.

As this disassociation from a local connectivity lessens, membership communities are thriving.

“What gets people through the door is content. They’ll stick around for the community.”

There are a couple of typical payment methodologies with membership sites:

  • Pay monthly
  • Pay upfront a large one off fee

There isn’t a fixed “this is how it should be”. You decide.

You can have an alumni course. Technical online courses are a type of online community. However, essentially membership sites at their core come down to:

  • Content
  • Coaching – hardest to scale.
  • Community

Some sort of cocktail of those three. You don’t have to have all three, but it is advised. The model is flexible.

How much content do you need?

People associate stuff with value. They conflate the two. It is more about consistency than sheer volume of content. Don’t burn yourself out. You don’t need to over-justify your monthly fee with huge content.

You don’t have to include e-learning courses. Alternatively, you can offer consumable cheat sheets etc.

What is the step by step approach to get to a membership business model?

1 Nail your mind set

in terms of your understanding of what a membership site is and isn’t going to do for you. You may find signposts out their suggesting membership sites are a get rich quick option. Or a passive income business model. It isn’t.Memberships is just a way of doing a business. A membership business is a marathon not a sprint. Most memberships cap out around the $40-$50 per month mark. That’s around £30 per month.

There is a requirement for you to show up and serve. Answer questions. Deliver value. Participate in your own community. Dedicate yourself long-term. It is not a churn and burn thing.

2 Build up your audience,

Don’t deploy a “build it and they will come” strategy. Instead, set up a FB group. Observe. What are their issues? Build an email list.

3 Validate the idea.

Its about your ability to pay you for a solution to their problems. Run some tests to the audience. Same price as a membership. Do beta-programmes. Create content live. Research validate and prove the idea.

4 What do you want the membership business to look like?

The 3 C’s. DO the things YOU like to do. Videos? Mike advises FOUR content streams. 4 different deliverables. More chance you’ll address different learning styles. The 4 content streams could be:

1: Video tutorials – short 30 minutes long how to videos on a process or some technology.

2: A monthly live Q&A session. You jump on Google Hangouts, or GoToWebinar and get your members to come along and they just pick your brains for an hour.

3: PDF or Word documents – Checklists – take the most common processes within your topic and you give people something they can print out and work through to help them accomplish a task.

4: Discounts, Perks, Special Offers. You go out there and negotiate 20% discount on this, free first month on that, buy this and get this other thing, all on behalf of your members.The reason 4, it fits a weekly release. Week one, videos etc. None of this takes too long. So, you have to think about what works for your membership, without the members getting overwhelmed.

How much of the content do you need up front?

A month’s worth at least. If you let in a secret group, maybe you should put in 3 months. 3 or maybe 4 tutorial videos etc.

Initially, short courses. You could do those live. Present slides. Let your members attend. Let your members attend. For future members, it is static content.

When you do it live, you become less of a perfectionist. The feedback will help you refine.

Open your doors early and let your members in to help you get motion.

Secret Ingredient?

A big dose of reality about technology. Don’t go from 0-60 and get into the tech before you know what you want your membership site to do.
Tech is the bit that everyone hates. Most people use WordPress. There are 20 or 30 plugins to choose from. Which do you use? You need to validate the idea. Nothing is structured and not based on the feature set of different plugins.

Understand what you are building before you buy the tech. Don’t OVERTHINK IT!


Mike has given us a Comparison Chart for Membership Plugins. 12 or 13 of the best plugins. Get a note pad and write out the features you must have otherwise you site wont function. On the left.

Then on the right, list the nice to haves. You’ll have to compromise.

Then use the comparison chart to go shopping.

Put the plugin providers to the test. Mike advises to “send a canary out to see if these guys are going to be easy to deal with”. Test their customer support. It can make or break. The pricing. The look and feel. That’ll get you to the tech decision.

Download your free guide:

The Membership Guys do have a top 5, and they use Memberpress (Kevin is also using that for a project he has in development right now) – but you might need something they don’t do. Just one feature can make a big difference. The real decision often comes down to what email and payment platforms they work with.

How can people find The Membership Guys

Take advantage of the FREE WORKSHOP on the home page. that will redirect to their Facebook group