Editor’s note: I’m delighted to welcome my personal friend Judy Dunn (@CatsEyeWriter) to my Web site in this guest post. She and husband Bob Dunn are some of the savviest WordPress users I know, great resources you’ll want to add to your contact list. Today Judy shares some of her experiences as she and Bob set up Savvy WordPress (http://www.savvywp.com), a paid WordPress resource membership site, which I heartily recommend.
(P.S. Judy, I have a few friends I need to refer!) And with no further adieu, here’s Judy.
The paid, members-only website — a place where people pay to access password-protected information on high-interest topics — has taken the online business world by storm. It is one of today’s fastest growing Internet business models.
Membership sites are attractive businesses for several reasons. You can focus on a topic you are passionate about. You have a recurring revenue stream from content you create only once. And you don’t have to get thousands of customers to make a decent income (although there’s a good chance you will, if you do it right).
But even when you get everything right — the perfect topic, a laser-focused niche and a high-quality product or service — you can fail if you don’t have the right marketing plan in place.
Writers call it an author platform. I call it audience building. Simply, it’s how you are going to reach your group of buyers — and it’s one of your most important tasks.
6 Marketing Strategies for Developing a Membership Site Audience
1. Start building your email list early.
This, of course, is one of your most important tools for audience building. You need a platform for educating, informing and engaging people around the topic of your niche site. One to two years before launch is not too soon.
We sent out high-quality content weekly to our e-letter subscribers for two years and developed a small, but perfectly targeted list of 400. That allowed us to move those people over to our “3 free WordPress videos” offer and continue with regular emails with more good, free content. It’s all part moving them along the path to purchase.
2. Become a ‘go-to’ expert in your membership site topic.
After you have a base audience, start building credibility in your niche. We used social media platforms to find out where the people we needed to reach were hanging out. For example, on Biznik, the business networking site, we created a group called WordPress Chatter. It isn’t a huge group (402 members), but it’s exactly our target audience: people with frustrations, challenges and questions about creating or maintaining a WordPress blog or website. Through in-person meetups and the discussions in the forum, we learned so much.
On Twitter, we set up an account (@SavvyWordPress) and started sending out regular tweets with tips and links to WordPress resources. We created a column in TweetDeck with the hashtag #wordpresshelp, so we could track the questions and answer them, establishing our credibility and positioning ourselves as experts.
Some other ways to gain expert status are to start a blog, leave comments on other blogs and discuss issues on other social networking sites. For instance, we regularly go into LinkedIn groups and answer relevant questions. You don’t have to be the biggest expert in your field but you want enough people to recognize that you know your stuff.
3. Give freely.
You may be tiring of the advice to “give free stuff,” but all I can say is that it works. Two things happen. The more you give, the more people will see how much you know and how helpful you are. And your audience will think that if you are giving this much away, well, your paid content must be even more amazing.
Giving also kicks in the psychology of reciprocity. (See Joe’s post about reciprocity [opens separate window].) People feel a sense of obligation after someone treats them kindly. It’s why they buy the product they got a free sample of in the grocery store. And it’s why they will try to return the favor by making a purchase after they receive the gift of your time or expertise.
Of course, your product has to be high-value and you need to give consistently over time to develop trust and reciprocity.
4. Use social media wisely.
Social media was a particularly effective tool for keeping current with the needs out there — especially the concerns of WordPress users — for building our audience and for establishing credibility and social proof.
What is not effective — but I see it all the time — is sending out tons of one-way sales messages without any thought to engaging people in conversations and providing value. Don’t do that.
5. Select your partners carefully and develop collaborative relationships with other experts in your niche.
This one made a huge difference for us. It is a key strategy because you will need help from these people when you start promoting your site. If you don’t start building relationships now, you’ll just be another unknown who has created another (yawn) membership site.
We started talking to other WordPress experts early on. When we exchanged ideas on Twitter, our followers could see some of the conversations. We tweeted links to some of the WordPress blogs and websites we had designed and some of the CEOs of the large WordPress theme companies retweeted them so we reached an even larger audience.
We had Skype calls with some marketing people we had met online, who had expressed interest in our site. And we made a point of connecting with as many of these people as possible when we attended WordCamps and other conferences.
6. Don’t ignore your ‘offline’ marketing.
It’s tempting to market an online business totally by email, social media, and your website sales and landing pages. But because that’s the way everybody else does it, you are definitely going to stand out if you reach out to ‘live’ humans in real time.
Get out there and talk to people. Go to industry conferences, present workshops, join social media groups (and attend their events). You are reaching fewer people, but you will need these evangelists to create a buzz around your launch. They will be the ones who go back and talk up your site — online and off.
Have you thought about creating a membership site? Have you joined a site as a member? Do you have questions about marketing one?
Join us in the comments below. Ask your questions and add your ideas. I’d love to hear from you.
Judy Dunn is a blogging coach, copywriter, and co-owner of Savvy WordPress (http://www.savvywp.com), a WordPress resource membership site. She blogs at CatsEyeWriter (http://www.catseyewriter).