Membership Websites: A No-Holds Barred Interview
You may never have a membership website. You’ll find this interview useful anyway.
Because even if you do consulting. Or you sell products, there is always a ‘membership’ factor among your clients. Look deep into this interview and see how these psychological factors pertain to your business. You’ll find that the logic is sound. You’ll find that there’s no holding back. And you may find that you want to ask some more questions. Well, feel free to do so. In the meantime, here’s the transcript of an interview on membership websites.
I think you’ll find it quite fascinating. 🙂
Q. By way of background (if this is relevant), what is your educational and professional background? Schools, degrees, etc.? What did you do before www.5000bc.com? Anything else we should know about you personally or professionally?
I studied to be an accountant. Never did a day of accounting. But here’s what accounting taught me. The numbers have to add up. You wouldn’t think you’d need to do a degree in accounting to learn that, would you?
But I did, and I learned 😉
And so I’ve always worked towards creating something scientific. So that the numbers added up. So that even in a field as abstract as communication, you could get a guaranteed response. I’ve always looked for predictability.
After I left university, I worked with several ad agencies, including Leo Burnett, did scripting for TV commercials, had a cartoon business, did web design, animation…yes, I did a lot of stuff. And I’m not 100 yet 🙂
The last stop before 5000bc was www.psychotactics.com.
That was the website that gets most of us customers into 5000bc. It’s vital to have a sequence for your customers. Almost 95% of all customers to 5000bc, come via PsychoTactics. And that’s because we want them to follow that route. And the customers find that they want to follow that route.
Q. What best describes your position with www.5000bc.com? Are you the founder/sole owner/president/webmaster — all of the above — or what? Was this website your creation?
In one word. No.
Two of us run the business. One arm takes care of content and information. The other arm takes care of optimisation, strategy and alliances. It’s vital to have more than one person. One person can get bogged down quickly.
There’s a lot to be learned. A lot to be done. A lot of members to keep happy.
Yes, 5000bc is our creation and is built on the fact that customers need implementation. So 5000bc is hardly an information dump. Information, we have loads of on the Internet. Applicability, understanding, the ability to
learn and implement, we have little of.
5000bc encourages, cajoles its members to implement and see rewards. And we have lots of little systems that we use to make sure that happens.
Q. How did you come to start www.5000bc.com? What’s it all about? Who are your subscribers? What motivated you to launch your site?
We sell a product/system called the Brain Audit. In 2003, early 2003, we started 5000bc to see who would be interested in taking their education further. When we started 5000bc, you had to qualify for membership. You had to get the Brain Audit or you wouldn’t be allowed to enter.
And to be honest, 5000bc was all about the forum, the forum, the forum.
Simple start, and it grew from there. Next year, I added what could be called an educational blog. Then I added more features. But it’s only in the third year, that we really started to gain ground. We had the technology; we had the bandwidth, and 2005 was really the year that 5000bc looks like what 5000bc should have looked like all along. But that’s a learning in itself. That Rome wasn’t built in a day. Too many member-owners forget this. They want everything to happen overnight. And it doesn’t. You’ve got to go through the hard paces.
5000bc is essentially about ‘How the customer thinks. Why they buy. Why they say no.’ We cover marketing essentially. And the gamut spans psychology, copywriting, speaking, internet marketing and lots more. But again. It’s not info-dump. It’s implementation. I’m nuts about consumption. I want my members to learn, to earn, and to never leave.
The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. If you can’t get, keep and grow your own membership, who are you to say you can teach someone else.
It’s the numbers. They’ve got to add up. 🙂
Q. How long has your site been active and what is your subscription fee structure? What is included with a subscription?
The site has been active for about two years. We started out in 2003 at $7 a year. Yes, no kidding. And then in 2004, it was $24 a year. Then we increased the fee to $97. That’s a steep 400% increase. It was a test to see how much value we’re bringing to the table. And we’re happy to say, we lost few members, if any.
There’s always a drop out rate. People leave for reasons other than what you’re providing. It’s not personal. So a healthy renewal rate keeps you informed. It lets you know whether you’re lousy at running a membership or you’re good. And in the first year, we were lousy. We lost over 50% of our membership. At $7!!! So price is hardly a consideration.
Value always is.
Now there are levels of membership. One at $97 annual. One at $169 (which will rise to $199) Yes, two levels. And they work well and independently of each other.
In the subscription are a whole lot of goodies. But again, it’s not information that’s important. It’s implementation. So we have steps. We show the clients the same thing in different ways. So if I am teaching you about ‘the yes and yes factor’ I’ll show it to you via video, via audio, via an articles, via the forum, via email. And that’s how customers learn.
Not through information, but through repetition. Each concept has twenty thousand angles. My job is to get you to understand that nothing changes. Nothing has changed for 5000 years (hence the name). And that all of this technology is fine, but essentially, you’re a nutter if you run after technology all the time. When you’re in front of a client, it’s not the technology that wins.
And the psychology.
And included with the subscription is ME. I know it sound pompous. I know it sounds egotistical. But as a subscriber, I’ll make you successful, if I have to get you there kicking and screaming. 🙂 It’s a site that teaches, more than dole out information.
Q. Now to the technical details. To build your site, what tools did you use, and how long did it take?
I used Dreamweaver and Photoshop to design the site. And then I hosted it on Visiongate. I did my homework, and I may have preferred Membergate, but unfortunately, since we’re based in New Zealand, that’s not an option.
It took me one whole month to get the site up and running to where it was even remotely looking like I wanted it to be. I didn’t wait till the site was up. We pre-sold the site and had most of our previous members sign up, before even a word of content was on the site.
It took me more time to build the site than I expected. Part of it was just learning how the software works. And it was very stressful. I had to see the doctor just before the launch. Setting up and meeting deadlines, especially if you’re doing all of the stuff by yourself, can drive you nuts.
Q. What software programs or functions handle usernames and passwords, and is access immediate or do you provide access later via e-mail?
Access is immediate. As I mentioned above, I use Visiongate. The software does it all, and that’s the part that I like best. I use email as well. I use the phone. I’ll use anything to get to my customer and make sure they’re
Q. How easy, time-consuming, etc. is the process of adding new content? How many people are involved in preparing and posting editorial content? How often do you add new content?
I add six articles a week. That’s only articles. There are also video critiques, once a month, audio interviews, forum posts, and lots of little things. It’s time consuming.
The articles aren’t just reports or blogs. They’re articles with style and content. The videos aren’t just dumped. They’re made like mini-movies, with titles etc. The audios are edited. Polished. Cleaned up. I spend time making it all very professional. And I treat it like a newspaper. I try and keep 2-3 weeks of content ready in advance.
Do I always succeed? Nope. But like hell, I try.
I don’t see it as time-consuming. I see it as my mission. It’s my purpose to do something on this planet. 5000bc does that for me. It keeps me happy. It keeps my members happy. And it’s more than just marketing. We talk about life.
We talk about success. We talk about failure. And how to move ahead strategically and tactically.
All of this talk culminates around the fireplace. In the Cave (which is our forum) We sit. We talk. We share our experiences and give advice. And it’s a warm, non-threatening atmosphere. If you want to see true discussion,
you need to go to the Cave.
Q. Has your site changed significantly since you launched it?
You bet it has. It’s a constant work in progress. And it’s shaped by the members.
See, the one thing we believe in is: You are not your customer.
You’re not the owner of the site. That’s the biggest load of ‘you-know-what’ that most site owners believe in. They say: ‘It’s my site. Or it’s my software.”
Like hell it is. Coca-Cola doesn’t belong to Coca-Cola. It belongs to you and me. And we saw how people went to the streets when Coke became New Coke. The mighty Coke Corporation had to relent. Had to eat crow.
You are not your customer. And your customer defines your site. We ask, ask, ask and ask our customers. We call (yes, long distance from New Zealand to the US or Belgium or wherever you live) and we speak to you. We send out
email questionnaires. We invite open feedback on the forum. Unlike any forum, you’ll find that our customers will tell us (and in strong words too) what they like and what they don’t like. Yes on the forum itself, so that everyone can
read it. Believe me, when you as a site-owner gets berated in public, you want to fix things fast.
And we encourage feedback. Sure we have an ego. But ego isn’t going to keep our customers. Making life better for the customers is going to create mutual value for both of us. So yes, the site is being shaped by customers. As we speak, I’ve got about 40 feedback forms that I have to print and read and implement. (I didn’t say this was easy!)
Q. What’s the single greatest tool that helps you get your new content out every week?
Education. I read for about an hour or two each day. I listen to audio for an hour each day when I take my walk. So I get my exercise and compulsory education.
People often ask me where I get my ideas.
Nice question. And the analogy is simple. Where do you get your energy? From food, right? From eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner. And from not eating just about any rubbish, but eating well and smart.
Ideas can only be got from education. If you’re not spending at least 6-10 hours each week reading, listening and learning, you’re going to struggle.
Don’t get me wrong.
I’m not talking plagiarism. I’m talking connections. I’m saying, nothing is new under the sun. I’m saying you’ve got to learn how to say it so that the customer understands the ramifications, despite the concepts being thousands
of years old.
Q. Marketing and promotion seem to be a great challenge for most subscription website publishers. How have you approached this task, and what kind of results have you experienced?
We’re not in marketing and promotion.
See, marketing is only so effective. So you stand on your ‘street’ and draw people to you. That’s attraction. Then you get them to sign up. That’s conversion. Then they never read your stuff. That’s a waste of time.
We’re focused not so much on attraction and conversion. We’re focused on
consumption. (Read article on: https://www.psychotactics.com/artconsumption.htm
We have customers. We never want them to leave. We want them to get superb value. When customers get value, they tell other customers. Now we’ve moved on. We’ve stopped marketing. We have evangelists.
That’s our focus. To create evangelists.
However, let’s not sidestep attraction and conversion. They’re powerful as well. Consumption can’t exist by itself. I spend zero dollars (as of now) on advertising. No Google ad words. No newspapers. Nothing.
All I do is post in forums. And work on our existing customers, who’ve bought other products, to get them to join 5000bc. We get our workshop audience to join 5000bc. Our system is very ‘existing customer’ based.
Q. How do you find new subscribers, or how do they find you? What’s the process like for increasing sales and memberships?
Ok big question (and no we don’t keep secrets)
1) I make sure that we’re well documented in search engines. Since the site at www.5000bc.com is rather new, we use search engines to draw traffic to Psychotactics.com and then logically move the customer to www.5000bc.com.
2) We post in paid forums. We don’t just post. We make sure we give good information. A forum consists of paid members. Fish where the fish are. (That’s a big hint) And we’re not afraid to be controversial or go against the logic of the owner of the forum. I’m not saying play YES-man/woman for the sake of it. I’m saying, if you have a counter thought or idea, don’t be afraid to stick out. That…ahem…makes you stick out in people’s mind. Have something of value to say.
3) Blogs. Um…I’m not convinced on this one yet. But the blog has been responsible for sign ups. I do my bit. But I think having a whole new blog strategy just takes away from the numerous things I’ve got to do anyway. That’s just me. But I don’t look for results. I do the effort part of things and post anyway.
4) Being included in a strategic alliance’s newsletter. The biggest test of a strategic alliance is when they’ll promote you without you paying them a commission. We work towards such alliances. And we’ll work darn hard at it. Sometimes for over a year. And then one email can cause us to earn thousands of dollars in revenue. The key is getting to know an alliance like you’d know a friend. It’s hard work. It’s a relationship.
Of course, there are straight commission deals too. But even that requires work and relationship. I get lots of people wanting to be alliances with me. I won’t accept anyone and everyone. I expect a lot of the alliances are the same.
I don’t do much else. I think this list above (of 3-4 things to be be done) is about 10 years work. When you’ve completed the list, do it again. People are always searching for a magic bullet. There ain’t one. Technology will sweep ahead.
Your only hope is to do the basics right again and again. Steroids kill in the end.
Ok, I’m digressing 🙂
Q. What’s your best advice to those who are seeking to develop additional revenue streams outside of advertising for their online business?
I think I just answered the question. I don’t advertise…yet. And I do fine. Your additional revenue streams come not from the front end. They come from the back end.
When I walk into your store, the key is to keep me coming back. Not look past me to the next customer walking through the door. Make me, your existing customer, happy. Make me satisfied.
Then put me through my paces. Get me to buy multiple products, sequential products. We’re very clear in our sequence. And we tell our customers what they should do and how they should do it. This way, it’s structured education for the client in a step by step manner. And we end up with smarter clients who know that education is good for them and will help them move forward.
For example: One sequence is:
1) The Brain Audit
3) The Applications of the Brain Audit
4) Psychological Secrets of Successful Websites
5) The Masterclass Homestudy
That’s one sequence. If you bought 5000bc membership first, I’d encourage you to go to the Brain Audit and the Applications. The sequence is about caring, guiding and protecting. (Read article: https://www.psychotactics.com/artwebsters.htm )
Q. What has been your greatest challenge to date, doing business online?
c)Too many margaritas still to be drunk 🙂
a) Time is the biggest curse. What not to do is our biggest focus. There are enough things to do. To analyse what one or two or three things will bring our biggest success, is what we work on. We chart out three main things we want to achieve each year, and then set out to do it.
People chart out 20 main things. They’re nuts.
Under 5000bc for instance, we have three this year
2) Existing Members
3) Advertising Offline
b) Information can kill you. You need to learn how to manage information. We make sure we don’t read everything. My advice is simple. Find three to four sources you trust. And then stick with those sources. I blatantly say to my customers (and I’ll say to you) you need to read what’s in 5000bc. Not because I say so. Not because
I’m some guru. But because 5000bc is the de-construction of information. We simplify the complexity of information.
And you need to seek out others in the business who simplify information. Dan Kennedy is one of them. I don’t care for his paid newsletters much, but his content in workshops and training, and on his tapes is all structure. It’s all simplification. Look for masters of simplification.
Any dumbo can give you two hundred pounds of information.
As the philosopher, Thoreau once said: Simplify, simplify, simplify.
And his friend Emerson said: One ‘simplify’ would have been enough! 🙂
I search for simplicity.
c) Margaritas. 🙂 Life’s too short to be at your computer all day. It’s vital to be out in the sun. At the beach. At the cafe. Think about it. Why did you get into business in the first place? Having fun can be a challenge in a world of workaholics and instant millionaires. We struggled at first, but not any more. Fun is part of our life.
Q. What tips would you pass on to aspiring publishers who want to start a subscription-based website?
Aspiring publishers forget one thing. That membership is based on community. Community is based on certain commonalities.
To build a community, you have to have something that people want. Then once you get them in, you’ve got to apply the attraction, conversion and consumption model over and over and over again.
Publishers expect a subscription site to be a magic pill. Doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to be in the thick of things. Think of being on the membership committee of a networking group. Or a local country club.
Everyone has their own agendas. Their own goals. You’ve somehow got to understand those goals. And when you don’t, you ask. Hoo boy, the number of sites I’ve seen that absolutely suck. And the owners are too ego-driven to ask for advice. Hey, it’s not your brand. Ask for advice. Ask your customers. Reward them for complaining.
And contrary to what I just said, membership can be a magic pill in the end.
For the same amount of work that you put in today, you will get 200-3000 times the reward in future. So heck, you have 200 members or less today. But in times to come, that figure will get up to 1000 or 10,000, depending on what you do.
Do the math: What’s 10,000 x 100? That’s per year, just in case you didn’t notice. 🙂
And your work will be the same as today. So yes, there’s the grind. You gotta work at it. All the time. Nothing on this planet is easy. You never get off the Treadmill. You just get more efficient. That’s it.
Q. What’s the best or smartest thing you’ve done?
Again, more secrets:
1) Forum. If you don’t encourage and foster a forum, you’re a dodo. Our forum has been created to foster a community. Don’t make it a place where people just answer questions. Remember that memberships are about community.
The more I know you, the more I want to be part of the community.
You go to the club. You go to the networking meeting. Why? Because you get referrals…but what’s the part you look forward to? In most cases, people. You want to meet and talk.
As humans we hate excommunication.
I’ll say it again slowly.
As humans we hate excommunication.
We hate being sidelined.
Forums are the system that enables feedback, community, general talk, buddies. Create a forum that’s community based. Where I can see your photo. And get to know you. The more I’m part of the community, the more I want to be part of it. And the more I want to get others just like me (referrals) to be part of it.
What’s the worst?
The worst thing I’ve done, would have to be not being true to ourselves.
When I first started my membership site, I tried to imitate the systems I saw elsewhere. And that was a mistake. Clients recognise when you’re not being true to yourself. And our clients tell us right away. I took away the systems that were ‘some else’s style’ and put our back in. And all was well.
Q. What subscription-based websites do you subscribe to and/or recommend?
This is a hard question to answer. I don’t always subscribe to membership sites for content alone. It may be content, but I’m often looking for structure. We’ve taken several ideas from several membership sites and implemented them.
And yes, there has been content too, that we’ve learned from. There’s no doubt about it. I’m not taking names because I haven’t seen a membership site that I feel part of yet. A site that I’d love to be an evagelist of…if you know what I mean.
Most of the sites I’m a member of, do their part, but I think they fail to build community. At best, I’ve seen them just being an information source.
Q. Which of the above is “doing it right?” (marketing their product, building a subscriber base, providing value, etc.)
I think the best programs I’ve seen are offline. I’m being very tough here, but as I stated earlier, I’ve failed to see the human element in the membership sites online. The clubs, the bridge groups, Harley Owners Group (HOG), the networking groups like BNI do it better, far better than any site I’ve seen online.
Membership isn’t just about information. It’s the factor of being part of the village. Part of the community. That’s missing. Though I have to say that Bill Myers does a great job in it’s niche of technology. Bill Myers is always there. He’s always answering questions. He’s got loads of content and information. And he’s a smart marketer who provides good value.
I’ve been a member of quite a few sites, only to drop off later. Bill’s site isn’t one I’d drop off in a hurry. I may not always agree with Bill, but he knows what he’s doing. And yes, every single person who follows Bill, tries to do the
same, but they miss out, because Bill’s being Bill. And they’re trying to be Bill, which as I mentioned above is not being true to yourself. A membership needs it’s own flavour; it’s own personality.
Q. What question have I neglected to ask you that you want to answer?
The question…hmmm…the question. I think it’s two questions
1) Question No. 1, I think it would have to be personality. What makes a site different, lovable, more enticing?
What makes a person different, lovable, more enticing?
It’s always personality.
Make your site have it’s own personality. See, customers don’t get to the site for pure information. The reason why you love American Idol; the reason why you click onto a viral campaign; the reason why you read a bestseller
is the same.
Info-tainment. Information and Entertainment.
And the entertainment creates personality. We have cartoons on our site. We’re have a buddy system. We have topics of discussion. We have articles are written in light hearted spirit. That’s personality.
Don’t make your site dull as ditchwater. It ain’t about information. Yes the numbers have to add up. But there has to be another side to it. The other side of the coin is entertainment.
2) Question No.2 would be: Why would your readers need to become members of 5000bc? And the answer is: They’d get a template for how to be themselves. They’d learn personality and community better. They’d be able to interact and begin to love different aspects of marketing. Of course, I’d recommend the Premium Membership because it’s complete– in the sense that your readers would know the difference between premium and regular. And they’d learn structure and lots more…but for that they’d have to sign up and judge for themselves. If they’d like to do just that,
they should head in the direction of https://www.5000bc.com
It’s a whole new world. Literally! 🙂
Note:It may seem that I’m saying 5000bc is a pretty, darned good website. Yes and no. It’s a lot of work doing little things. Each video critique takes about 4 hours to do. Each article takes between 45 minutes to an hour to write. You can spend close to two hours each day in the forum. There are emails to answer. Things to do. You must like to do all of the above. It’s easy, very easy to over promise. It’s one heck of a job over-delivering. And it’s a constant battle to make sure that everyone is happy.
Well…you can’t keep everyone happy 🙁
You must love what you’re doing. You must like to deal with your members. If you don’t, the drudgery will show through. Customers are too smart. They see right through you. They are forgiving, but they won’t put up with lies. If you goof up, tell them so. And make it up where you can.
A membership can be a taunting mistress, always wanting your attention. Over time, however, you build up enough information, and the demands aren’t quite that great. So keep at building your membership and keep at doing the small things all the time.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one helluva dance 🙂
To see the entire series of cartoons published so far, click here.