We discuss how to build an engaging recurring revenue online course plus membership with Mike Morrison of the Membership Guys in this episode of LMScast with Chris Badgett of LifterLMS. Chris and Mike talk about the different types of online education content and how you can build up a high performing membership site that delivers tremendous value to your students.
Mike is one out of the two founding Membership Guys, which is a membership site for membership site owners or creators. They help people create memberships and provide cutting edge tips on what is happening in the membership industry online. The Membership Guys is also a podcast containing strategy and tips for planning, creating, and growing a successful membership website.
Chris and Mike talk about the differences between an online course, a membership site, and a learning management system. Membership sites are basically sites you have to log into in order to access something that is otherwise protected, and generally you have to pay money to obtain a membership. An online course is more of a finite group of content that you normally pay for once, and you have access to all of the content within the course. The main difference is that a membership site is normally ever-evolving, whereas a course is more of a finished product. A learning management system is the tool the creator uses to deliver the content to the consumer in the form of either an online course or membership site.
Some of the biggest difficulties with a membership site are keeping students engaged and turning your site into a community. Mike shares some strategies for how you can make your membership site produce ongoing value. Many people assume that consistent value means consistent content with a membership site, but you can provide value for your customers in the form of checklists, worksheets, and live Q&As or webinars.
It is important to go into creating a membership with the right mentality. Delivering value on an ongoing basis is key. You also need to remember that running a membership site is much more of a marathon than a sprint. Mike tells that online courses are mostly about the launch, but with a membership site it is about building a community. One of the biggest mistakes people make with memberships is getting too tied up in the content. People will join a membership for the content, but they will stay for the community.
Chris and Mike discuss the three C’s of memberships, and they are: Content, Coaching and Community. They go into depth on each of these points and how you can integrate them into your site. Mike shares some tips on how you can establish your brand and create a tribe feel around your product.
Holding non-topical discussions and events with your membership site can help to establish the community feel of your site and break the ice between members, because it is much simpler to start conversation if you have your audience weigh in on the latest Game of Thrones episode before getting into their thoughts on what they think the Bitcoin market is going to do or a topic like that. Holding non-topical events can have the same effect, too, such as going bowling with local members of your membership community.
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Chris Badgett: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of LMScast. Today I’m joined with a special guest, Mike Morrison, one half of The Membership Guys, or is it The Membership Site Guys?
Mike Morrison: The Membership Guys.
Chris Badgett: Membership. The Membership Guys, and also a podcast by the same name. I’ve been following Mike over at LifterLMS for quite a while, and his podcast is on my short list, because it’s one of the ways that I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the membership site industry. I was just thinking the other day, I was listening to a podcast that Mike was doing over at The Membership Guys podcast about Amazon payments, and things that were changing over there. There’s just no better way.
Mike saves me tons of time and all that research he’s doing, and I can tell when I’m going on my hikes and my bike rides, he’s just on my short list. You had a great one with somebody who was helping people launch virtual summits, and I noticed that was an emerging trend. And Mike did kind of a deep dive on that topic, so I would highly encourage those of you listening to check out The Membership Guys podcast and themembershipguys.com.
The other half of that is Callie Willows, and they have basically a membership site for membership creators, so it’s a little meta, just like we have some courses about creating courses, more different for selling software or whatever, but we’re kind of both in that meta category of teaching about a specialty that the teaching is the specialty. It’s just really interesting.
Mike, thank you for coming on the show. Can you kick this off and help just cut through like a laser, what is the difference between an online course, a membership site, and a learning management system from your perspective?
Mike Morrison: All right. Thanks for having me on the show, first and foremost. It’s awesome to be on the level you guys are doing over at Lifter. Now, you want that cutting through and getting a bit of clarity. I’m worried that this is just going to muddy the waters a little bit more because a lot of it, especially between a course and a membership, it’s semantics, it’s technicalities. Technically, a membership site is just a website that you have to log into in order to access something that otherwise is protected. In a pure, bare bones definition, that’s what it is.
The way that you and I and your listeners and pretty much anyone talking about memberships in an online context know them as, usually it’s a combination of e-learning and community, some sort of premium content that you paid in order to access. A course still kind of fits into that but you do typically find a course is usually more of a finished product than a membership. A membership is something which will be ever-evolving so the expectation is that will be new content or that will be value delivered in terms of community interactions or something that you are getting month-to-month in exchange for a regular payment whereas a course is usually, one, a payment, what you buy is what you get. It’s all tied up nicely in a bow, polished, but there’s no expectation that you’re suddenly going to get lots more bonus content and all that sort of stuff.
With a membership it’s always about that ongoing value. If you want somebody to pay you on an ongoing basis with a membership you need to deliver value on an ongoing basis. That really changes the way you need to approach it from a strategy point of view, how you operate and run it because that makes a membership much more of a marathon than a sprint whereas with a course you might spend months and months and months creating this perfect final product and then it’s all about the launch, it’s all about selling and you’re not really going to change too much after the launch.
With a membership, when you get that initial sale, then the work stops, then you’ve got to get members, then you’ve got to keep those members and you’ve got to keep them for months and years to come and that means content, that means access to you and the community, that means maybe a little bit of coaching and, yeah, that turns it into much more of a long-term business.
LMS, I would say kind of almost sits outside of that conversation. It’s the vehicle, it’s the tool that makes the delivery of the content part of your membership better or more optimized. You don’t just want to dump people into this big repository of content and leave them to it, you’re going to want to have some structure, maybe you’re going to want to control the pathway somebody takes through that content. That’s where having a LMS and being able to really fine tune the member experience so people don’t get overwhelmed, so people are kept on track, so people are actually getting a result. That’s where using great tools like LifterLMS come into it because they let you create the best kind of learning experience, whether it’s a course or a membership site, as you possibly can and one that best serves your member or your student.
Chris Badgett: That is very well said. I appreciate that. I can tell you’ve been looking at this topic for a long time.
Mike Morrison: I blacked out for a moment there so I have no idea whether that’s any good or …
Chris Badgett: No, that was very good. I’m probably going to transcribe that and use that later myself in a blog post, so thank you.
Mike Morrison: Do it.
Chris Badgett: Let me guide the laser a little bit and go to a really targeted question at the intersection of courses and memberships. With LifterLMS we have a membership functionality which is designed to sell course bundles, like multiple courses at once, so you could basically buy a course a la carte or you could get the gold membership or whatever you call it that has two, four, a hundred courses in it. The other purpose of a membership in LifterLMS world is to create a package or a vehicle to sell the course plus something else. That could be access to a community, it could be access to whoever the leader is, it could be access to an event.
What are some just spitball, brainstorm ideas, what kind of components could people add to a membership that included a course that’s kind of outside of the course but adds a lot of value and potentially adds the ability to really charge that recurring revenue.
Mike Morrison: That’s a great question because I think one of the biggest mistakes we see people make with memberships is getting too tied up in the content. It’s not just about the content. People will join a membership for the content but they’ll stay for things like the community. That ongoing value we talk about, you don’t just want to be giving people course after course after course. Maybe you’ve got a membership where it’s not necessarily a course, perhaps it’s downloadable checklists. Again, you don’t just want to make it so every single week there’s more stuff.
A membership typically comprises the three C’s: You have content, you have coaching, you have community. That coaching can be direct hands-on actual one-on-one coaching or just coaching by means of an online forum or a community or something like that. The content side of things, that’s also where you get a bit creative. Again, people think content, they think it’s got to be long-form videos or educational videos, it’s got to be guides. Things like worksheets, things like checklists, things like processes that you could import into all these different project management systems. Things like downloadable, editable files like if you’ve got a design membership or something like that. These kind of resources that are real practical, they deliver far more value in a lot of cases than a typical traditional educational course would be.
Again, I tend to try and steer people to thinking not about content but instead to thinking about deliverables. Content has too many connotations of, like I say, it’s video, it’s text, it’s imagery, it’s audio. Think about deliverables, what can you deliver to your members. Typical content might be that, but might also be things like live Q&A’s. It might also be things like perks and discounts, so you can go out there and hustle on behalf of your members for exclusive discounts on stuff they’re already paying for. If you think about that, if you’re charging $50 a month for a membership but you can score member-only discounts, that could potentially save somebody more than $50. It then becomes kind of revenue neutral for them or cost neutral for them and that becomes a no-brainer, so even if they’re not getting any value from the course or the community, they still have a reason to stick around because you’ve gone out there and you’ve got discounts.
Get a good balance across different types of deliverables. Really understand that not everyone is going to join for your courses. Not everyone is going to use your community. Not everyone is going to take up your member perks or discounts or download your files. Different people are drawn to you for different reasons and there will be different things that make them stay, so getting that balance and varying the kind of content you’re offering in your community I think is key to reaching as much of your audience as possible.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Can you just lay out the three C’s again?
Mike Morrison: Content. Coaching. Community
Chris Badgett: Cool. For those of you listening, we’ve recently released Private Areas for LifterLMS which helps you set up …
Mike Morrison: That is …
Chris Badgett: The coaching aspect.
Mike Morrison: That is a killer feature, by the way. We test all the plug-ins on the market, all the systems on the market. Private Areas for students is an absolute gold star kind of feature. It’s ridiculous. You guys don’t know how lucky you are getting this stuff. I’m not being paid for this, by the way. Seriously, that is an awesome feature and that, as a membership owner or a course instructor, that lets you deliver value on a level potentially that your competitors are just not going to be able to match.
Chris Badgett: Let’s go and dive a little bit deeper into that issue of … I kind of want to frame it in in a couple of different ways. One way is that we talk a lot about the dirty little secret of membership sites, which is like a lack of engagement, people don’t finish it, they churn out really quickly. They may have all this lackluster around a launch and then it just kind of peters out. Basically we like to … At LifterLMS if you could sum it up in one word it would be engagement. That is all about, I mean, the internet marketing and the sales is important, and we’re not saying that it’s not important, you still have to do all that stuff, but we want to focus our value much more on the results.
As long as a student or the member is getting great results, that’s what matters the most. It’s not necessarily the conversion optimized course sales page or membership sales page, which is also important. So there’s that aspect of like elevating the conversation in our community of as we guide the conversation around memberships and courses and learning management system, it’s not just about sales, that’s actually a small percentage of it. There’s a lot of other things that are important.
What do you see as, in terms of coaching, it’s a little bit counterintuitive because we’re often learned in more of a pop-culture online business sense, let’s say something like the four-hour work week and a lot of sites that are out about affiliate marketing or passive income and these types of things that we want to automate everything. Coaching is like against that. The way I say it simply, which these aren’t my original words, is that it’s important to do some things that don’t scale. So if you’re coaching, maybe you have a cheap course but the course plus the private coaching, that’s really valuable but it also is going to require the site owner to invest their time or build a coaching team or whatever.
When you talk about advising people on adding coaching or not, how do you frame in the conversation and the opportunity?
Mike Morrison: There’s a few things there. First, nobody works a four-hour work week, not even the guy who wrote Four-Hour Work Week. This is a mentality people need to put aside. If you’re looking for passive income, again, passive income is very rarely actually passive. Anybody who has got visions of kicking back on a beach somewhere sipping cocktails in a hammock as the money rolls in, you need to go bark up another tree because memberships, online courses in this world is not for you. That is important and I’m so glad that we kind of preface it with that, especially as we talk about engagement and retention being more important than sales.
It is a very good point about managing your workload. The best thing, and the thing I love about memberships is, you get to set the pace. You get to set the rules. If you’re listening to this thinking: There’s absolutely no way I have room in my business or my life to give one-on-one attention or giving them coaching, the good news is you don’t need to. There is … It’s not like there’s 10 elements of a successful membership that you absolutely have to have in place and if you don’t it won’t be successful. You’ve got to build your business on your terms. As long as you’re accurately representing what your membership offers on the front end, then that’s fine. As long as you’re not telling people they’ll get direct coaching or direct access and then not delivering it, it’s fine. You don’t have to do it if it’s not something that fits.
In this world of increased automation that has ramped up over the past couple of years, now we’ve got Facebook bots and you’ve got all this sort of stuff. A little bit of a personal touch, even just a tiny little bit, goes a very, very long way. Coaching doesn’t have to be one-on-one, it doesn’t have to be: Here’s an hour of my time every week. It can literally just be once a month. You, a business partner, a VA who perhaps reviews everything and sends you the Cliff Notes, goes to the progress people have made and just pops a little note on congratulating them and giving them a suggestion. We’ve seen that you’ve powered through this module. This is what I recommend you check out next.
Something like that, just something that’s a little bit of personal intervention. It doesn’t take much. The more automation comes in, the less you almost need to do in the personal touch to actually stand out. We recently started sending personal welcome videos to all of our members and it takes us maybe five minutes per video to [crosstalk 00:15:04].
Chris Badgett: What do you put them knows? I’m just curious.
Mike Morrison: It’s literally, I can give you the script right now. Do you want the script right now? If they haven’t introduced themselves on our forum, typically the script is: Hey guys. Mike here from Member Site. I kind of just wanted to reach out to you personally to thank you for joining the academy and to welcome you on behalf of the whole team into the community. When you get a moment, pop over to our forum by clicking the link beneath this video and introduce yourself. Let us know a little bit about you, about your membership and if there’s anything myself or any of the team can help out with, don’t hesitate to ask. We look forward to having you around. We’ll see you on the inside.
That’s it. We’ve mentioned them by name. If there’s something that they … If they’ve introduced themselves into our forum I’ll read that introduction post. I’ll look at where they’re from. I’ll look at what their business is. I’ll maybe check their website and just get a little tidbit of info about them, enough for me to be able to genuinely kind of say … Again, there was a guy joined who was from Texas. He wasn’t affected by hurricane Harvey, he was kind of out of the way of it, but timing wise kind of: Listen, I hope you and yours are safe with all this crazy stuff around the hurricane. Just that, it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort and you batch this stuff.
It’s up to you to decide how much intervention you want. On a coaching front, if you want to do traditional coaching you can do small group coaching. You could have a private section and a forum where … We use a forum software called IP Board that allows you to have a forum section in which only the person who started the topic as well as you and any other admins can see that conversation. It’s a great private channel for giving coaching in the same way as Private Areas through Lifter will let you do the same kind of thing.
It doesn’t have to be taxing. You get to kind of set the boundaries and as long as you communicate that and you manage that appropriately, then you can fit it into your work and your life. But, as you said there Chris, you can’t be scared to do things that don’t scale. Would you rather have a couple hundred long-term committed members or 1000 people who come through your door where they all disappear because you’re not engaging them?
Chris Badgett: Yeah, that’s a really great point. Just to let … My technical geek-out brain has gone off so if I could ask a few questions there.
Mike Morrison: Go for it.
Chris Badgett: Does your IP Board require a separate login from your membership site?
Mike Morrison: Typically it does but there is a bridging plug-in available. We used to have our own that we built and then IP Board in the typical way that some software developers do, they totally pulled the rug out and changed their whole API. It is better now, but it did mean that overnight the bridge plug-in between WordPress and IP Board broke, but there is a far more robust single sign-on plug-in available now. It costs like 80 bucks and it just means that all logins get pushed through WordPress and the login just gets synchronized into IP Board.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Why did you use IP Board instead of like a native WordPress [crosstalk 00:18:20]
Mike Morrison: It’s just sexy as hell.
Chris Badgett: Okay. There you go.
Mike Morrison: It’s very, very cool. The problem … I love WordPress but obviously the more you take WordPress away from just being WordPress the more it sometimes starts to buckle under the weight of that. While you’re using something like membership plug-in with an LMS with a few extra bells and whistles it’s fine, but when you throw in BuddyPress and bbPress on top of it and then you’ve got, and then you’ve got, and then you’ve … It just starts to groan, especially if somebody has listening to an internet marketing podcast and they’ve heard someone say that Bluehost is the best web host in the world and so they’re building these mammoth resource-hungry websites on this $2.99 a month shared hosting, over-sold server, it starts to fall apart.
That kind of resource management was a part of it but WordPress also designed it as a discussion forum so bbPress is great for what it is but it’s limited. With IP Board you can have private groups, you can have reactions, you have status updates, you have all these really cool sorts of things like that. Private, you know the private forum permissions that we talked about there. It’s very, very cool and it looks great and it’s more well friendly out-of-the-box and all that sort of stuff. It’s kind of worth it if the community is going to be a real big part of what you’re doing to do that little bit more wrestling to get everything to work, but once it’s in place it’s seamless and most people don’t actually realize it’s two different pieces of software.
Chris Badgett: Oh, that’s very cool. I have seen a lot of ghost town forums that just didn’t take off. What do you see in your experience that makes a successful forum or not or what variables are present that indicate that a forum might be a good idea?
Mike Morrison: I think first and foremost, it starts with you. Most of the ghost town forums, they don’t even have the forum founder showing up and in a lot of cases the reason they became a ghost town was because the person who set it up didn’t show up. You need to show up in your own community because if you don’t want to come in and post and reply, nobody else is going to. I think some of that is this idea, and I think it was popularized by the book Influence, this idea that you have to put this big gulf of distance between you and your customers or your fans if you want to position yourself as an authority. You would have situations where people will build a membership or a community with them as the expert, as the figurehead, but they would see it as good strategy to never be around in order to make people think that when they did descend from upon high it was a special day and it just doesn’t work like that.
People expect accessibility now and so showing up in your own community and actually taking part, not over-thinking and overdoing it in terms of the number of forum sections. If you’re just starting up you don’t need 20 or 30 subsections in your forum, you need five or six at the very most and you can start small and expanded it as time goes on.
You also need to think about your audience and whether they’re ever actually likely to use a forum. I hate Facebook groups for paid memberships. I love free Facebook groups. I hate them for paid memberships for a variety of reasons but some markets will never engage in any social group that isn’t a Facebook group. In some cases you have to bite the bullet and go with that. If you’ve got a membership that targets busy working mums or busy working dads then it might be that you’ll never get them out with something like a Facebook group, you might need that convenience of a Facebook group.
I would also say you need to not treat your community as something that is separate, as one of five sections in your membership. You need to find ways to thread it into everything you do. For every course you set up on your main content port of your membership, have a link to a discussion area. It may be a discussion topic, it may be a whole section of your forum so that accompanying every single lesson of a course there is a call to action. If you have any questions, you want to discuss this, click here and it takes them into the community.
Maybe do some things if you’re bringing in guest experts to do workshops or live training for your members. Allow members to submit questions in advance but only allow it through your community. Maybe even bring in guest experts to do kind of a Reddit, ask me anything style session that only takes place in your community. Finding ways to make that community an integral part of the member experience, working it into your onboarding, making sure that the first four or five things you ask people to do include: Set up your forum profile. Introduce yourself. Start a coaching log or a journal or something that locks people in.
Finally, don’t ignore or don’t overlook the attraction and the benefit of having non-topic discussions. So much easier. If you’ve got, especially if you’ve got like a business membership, it’s so much easier for someone to weigh in with their opinions on the Latest episode of Game of Thrones than it is for them to weigh in their opinions on what they think the Bitcoin market is going to do or something like that. Have that low-hanging fruit, easy content. What was the last film you saw? What book are you reading right now? When was the last time you bought a CD? That sort of stuff that can just get people to break the ice and get over the hurdle of actually making a post.
Finally, so this has gone on a little bit but I want to get this in here as well. Level your expectations because we talked about engagement typically being lower than you might think for memberships. With a community you have this rule of thumb rule, it’s called the 10% rule, which is where only 10% of your members on average will actually participate in the community. 1% will be power users. These will be the guys who show up every day, multiple times a day, they start conversations. That’s 1%. 9% will be people who maybe show up a few times a week. They don’t ever really start conversations but they’ll reply. The rest either don’t show up or, and don’t overlook these guys, they show up, they consume, they get value, but they never post and you would never know that they’re there.
Just have the right sort of expectations about the sort of engagement activity you’re going to get. If you’ve got 100 members, you’re maybe only going to get 9 or 10 people actually posting and that’s fairly standard. There will be a whole bunch of people who are still showing up and logging in and reading and getting value, they’re just not peaking up.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. Well, let’s do a brain dump a little bit, because we’re kind of transitioning from coaching to community. Just to throw some brainstorm ideas out there, I’ll lay out a few and then hand it over to you, but you can do a Facebook group. At Lifter we’re working on our own social learning community add-on so we can have that right on the site.
Mike Morrison: Cool. Nice.
Chris Badgett: You could have, if your users are pretty technical you could use forums or, even more technical, like a Slack community. You could do some kind of virtual or in-person, live events. What are some other community ideas that people could add to their membership?
Mike Morrison: I think you kind of covered a majority of them. I think live events are the ones that get overlooked.
Chris Badgett: When people do live events would do you advise? Is that like an annual thing? Is it like a weekly thing?
Mike Morrison: I think informal stuff as a jumping off point can work really well. It kind of depends on you and your day-to-day operations. If you’re someone who travels to a lot of different events then you should get into the habit of looking for opportunities to organize an event on the back of traveling around. We do this … We did a member meetup for our community in March, I think, back in San Diego. We then did a workshop in San Diego as well the next day, which we charged for.
Chris Badgett: Were you piggybacking on an existing event?
Mike Morrison: Social media marketing world.
Chris Badgett: Oh okay, so you piggybacked there, which is common. You see it like …
Mike Morrison: Absolutely. People are going to be in town. Find out in your community, we’re going to be … There is an event coming up in the UK headed up by Chris Ducker from youpreneur.com in November. I’m speaking at that event, but as soon as the date was down in our community the post goes up. Who is going to be at Youpreneur? Here’s the details. Let us know, we’ll organize a member meetup. Once we start to get a read on how many people were coming down, then we advertised a mastermind day that we’re going to do, a private [crosstalk 00:27:46]
Chris Badgett: Is that in addition to the member meetup?
Mike Morrison: In addition to the member meetup. The member meetup, free, all of our members can come along and I think we’re going to end up with maybe 20 or 30 people there. Next day we’ve got a six-person private mastermind that people have paid for that we give first dibs on that to our members and they got a discount rate than the public date when we opened it up to the public. Again, just find ways of tying in the online and the off-line. If you can piggyback on other events it lessens the travel workload for you because if you’re going to conferences and stuff like that anyway, but it also increases the chance that you will have people around.
Sometimes there’s not. I was at Podcast Movement in, again in LA, it was in Anaheim just a couple of weeks ago and we had members in town but most of the members were speaking at the event and there were a million and one things going on so we didn’t bother doing a meetup. I still want out of my way to go to see those guys who were members to get a picture to tweet, that kind of stuff. Don’t discount the off-line side of things.
If you’re not somebody who’s traveling around and going to different conferences and events and stuff, first look into whether that’s something you should be doing, but you might then look to organize more official kind of events. Maybe you do a retreat or maybe you do an all signal dancing live event where you’re looking at hundreds of people and a few speakers and stuff like that. If you can, start small, just little gatherings like … My favorite member meetup was Chicago, just going and grabbing deep-dish pizza for literally the first time with a bunch of our members. They got the most out of it. I mean, they bought my pizza but they got their money worth because they grilled me for like four hours, which was how long it took me to shovel my way through … Those pieces are big, man.
But yeah, they grilled me for four hours on everything membership-related, but they loved it. It was all over social media, which creates social proof which creates the whole formal thing, as much as I hate that term, for people who aren’t members. It creates excitement amongst people who are members who weren’t able to come for the next time you’re in town. That is what takes your community from being just another place someone hangs out online to something people are part of.
Chris Badgett: That is very cool. Just to get super-detailed, what are some ideas for a member meetup? You could do a meal. You could do like drinks. What else could you do?
Mike Morrison: Yeah. I think …
Chris Badgett: Meal, drinks co-working space.
Mike Morrison: Yeah, You can do a co-working space. Actually we came across a guy’s podcastwebsites.com, it’s a good friend of mine, Mark Asquith.
Chris Badgett: He might be the episode or two before you.
Mike Morrison: Awesome. I love Mark. Mark’s very, very cool. They just did a big member meetup at Podcast Movement in Anaheim because naturally it’s a podcasting event. That’s their crowd. They went bowling, so they had 70 or 80 people and they hired out half of a bowling alley in Anaheim and they got some drinks, they got food, they had it catered. Everyone had a good time and again, that’s what people were talking about for days after. I think it was the night before the event kicked off as well so again, people were just feeling good …
Chris Badgett: Fresh.
Mike Morrison: Yeah, they were fresh. They were feeling good that they were meeting up with other people for the first time and of course the whole Podcast Websites brand was elevated from it because everyone went home with T-shirts and with Podcast Website fidget spinners and all that. Literally sitting with three or four of these things surrounding me on my desk to show you how well it works. But yeah, that sort of stuff. You’re probably not going to have it in the early days of your membership. Again, it might be too much in terms of expense, in terms of size, but just kind of think of something fun to do. Don’t make it too official, make it something you would want to go to.
Another thing I would say as well on the community side of things, and this possibly ties in: This isn’t going to be possible for everyone but if you can come up with a name that people in your community can refer to themselves as, a collective label, some brands just don’t fit. Our membership is Member Site Academy. There’s nothing cool or catchy derived from that. We keep trying to think of a name but you have guys like Screw the Nine to Five, Jill and Josh Stanton, their members call themselves ‘screwpies’. You have …
Chris Badgett: I was just on the Entrepreneur On Fire podcast and they had the whole Fire Nation.
Mike Morrison: Fire Nation. Yeah. That sort of thing gives someone something they can identify by and they will identify by it and as a result they’ll feel more part of something, and then you can bring that into your meetups and stuff like that. I think the screw guys, their meetup things they do are like ‘screwpie’ house parties where they literally just rent an Airbnb, they get a whole lot of booze and they get everyone together and it works.
Chris Badgett: That’s awesome. I’ve seen people on the LifterLMS Facebook group calling themselves ‘Lifters’ and I didn’t even … It just happens naturally sometimes.
Mike Morrison: Love it.
Chris Badgett: Well that’s super cool. I feel like we could go on and on forever, but a few more things. You and I are both podcasters and for me it’s, over time it makes me a better presenter, interviewer, more comfortable on camera. I slowly improve the technology I’m using and that kind of thing. I’m more like on the software side but you have the Member Site Academy, which I would encourage … Or the membership … Say the name of the membership.
Mike Morrison: Membersiteacademy.com.
Chris Badgett: Membersiteacademy.com. Podcasting is a part of what you do and you create so much great free content, which I really appreciate. When do you recommend podcasting as a kind of a free content channel, a networking channel, a way to add value in the community. How well has it worked for you and who do you recommend try it, or how would someone even run a test to see if they wanted to do the podcasting.
Mike Morrison: I would do it from day one like we did. We ran a digital data [crosstalk 00:34:42]
Chris Badgett: How long ago was day one for you?
Mike Morrison: Just over, oh no, actually two years and three months ago, roughly. 113 episodes ago, that’s an easy one for me to remember, as of today. Yeah, we did it from day one. We ran a digital agency for years before planting our flag and essentially embracing the whole The Membership Guys brand and so …
Chris Badgett: One second, was your digital agency focused on membership sites?
Mike Morrison: It was. It didn’t start that way, and that’s how we got into memberships. It …
Chris Badgett: I just want to acknowledge a similar path for me. I ran an agency and we built a lot of stuff but then we got really into memberships and online course sites.
Mike Morrison: Yeah. That’s exactly what happened with us. Gravitating towards the kind of stuff that we enjoyed the most but also the stuff where we were seeing the best results for clients. That’s part of why we enjoyed it on the strategy side, the marketing side and given the tech side as well obviously helps because that can be a big differentiator. If you can invite someone on a killer strategy and show them how to get their website to behave, that’s awesome. But yeah, when we pivoted in terms of moving away from working with clients to going broader and putting out content and doing the podcast, the podcast was one of the first things we did.
We started with the blog podcast and a YouTube channel. The YouTube channel never quite found its legs because it was the one that we were less suited to, I think. I’ve done a bit of internet radio in the past so I can sit behind a mic and I can just shoot off and create something that maybe a handful of people might want to listen to. Yeah, that was day one for us. I think even if you’re not as comfortable behind a mic, push yourself to do a podcast because I think, especially if you’re doing memberships, it creates better members because these people are coming in with more …
Chris Badgett: Are you talking about a free podcast?
Mike Morrison: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: Not a members only podcast.
Mike Morrison: Yeah. Sorry, yeah. Do a free podcast in terms of the content you’re putting out to build that credibility, build that expertise. Most memberships are centered around some form of figurehead who is seen as an authority. A podcast is a great way of building that authority and establishing that credibility, but more importantly than that it establishes your voice and it gets that whole like no trust factor in place because people get a sense of what you’re about, they get your personality. If somebody can’t make it through two episodes of my podcast, they’re not going to make it through the 30+ courses we have in our academy. If you don’t like my accent, if you can understand what I’m saying, don’t join my membership because you’re going to hear it a lot. It does a lot of those things that help almost pre-qualify or pre-frame the type of members you get and it makes for longer-term members.
We also found very early on that consistently from people who we didn’t already have in our audience, the podcast gave us a whole new dimension of discoverability. We were getting a lot of people when the academy doors first opened saying that they discovered us through the podcast and that they listened to the show, then they joined the membership. Other people, it was: I joined your Facebook group and then I saw a blog and then I came on this webinar, I did this challenge. A lot of other people there was a lot of multi-touch marketing going on, consistently a big chunk of people where they listened to the podcast and they went directly to the membership.
Chris Badgett: Interesting.
Mike Morrison: It’s still on so many different fronts as well. In terms of just being an inroad to connecting with influences. We’ve had pretty much all the big names in our space on the show in terms of online marketing space, although it always does tickle me that some of the lesser-known people they are the more downloaded ones than the big guns like Henry Porterfield and JLD and people like that. We broke the ice through the podcast. Some of those guys we were then able to go back to and kind of say: Well we had so much fun doing the podcast, why don’t you come in and do a live workshop for members for free?
That kind of icebreaker and then going to conferences and events and having that already established in common. So many different fronts that podcasting benefit you on. I think what you said before as well is key in terms of helping you become better at communicating, better at educating and tuning you in a little bit more to what’s going on in your audience’s head as well because the kind of feedback you get, the questions you get, that helps inform both free content and, importantly, paid content for your membership as well.
Chris Badgett: Awesome. Well two lightning round final questions and then we’ll wrap it up. Just curious, in your podcasting how often do you publish? Is it once a week?
Mike Morrison: It’s once a week.
Chris Badgett: Once a week.
Mike Morrison: Yeah.
Chris Badgett: You said something really interesting in the last thing that you said, which was conducting a workshop for your members. What is a workshop?
Mike Morrison: Just a webinar essentially.
Chris Badgett: A webinar.
Mike Morrison: Yeah, kind of a private member-only webinar. You can do them live or … We started getting them, pre-record them. Pre-recorded 30 to 45 minute essentially webinar but not delivered to anyone live, just a single video or piece of content that is practical, that is easily applicable to not just high level theory. We got Chris Ducker to do a one on hiring VAs. We got Mike Vardy from the Productivyist to do one on managing your time around your membership and how you actually juggle it all.
30 to 45 minutes expert content and that’s one of our deliverables. I’s not of course. It doesn’t … Well you could probably break it down into like 20 two- or three-minute long lessons but, yeah, it’s basically just a webinar. I think with those, if you can get guest experts to bring in as well, the difference in format as well as the difference in host marks it as something that is a distinctly different deliverable and it helps if they’re known names in your field because you can then stick them on your sales pitch and say: Not only do you get all my awesome stuff, you’re getting expert regular training from people like these guys.
Chris Badgett: Beautiful. Well, Mike Morrison, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming on the show. That was really a gold mine. If you liked this episode, I would encourage you to go find Mike’s podcast at The Membership Guys podcast. Just do a Google search and find it. Yeah, every … Like this conversation with you and the hundreds of other episodes is just a gold mine of good information that’s really sharing experience out there in the world. It’s super good stuff if you’re in this whole membership courses coaching community thing. We appreciate your leadership in this space. Go to themembershipguys.com, check out Callie, check out Mike and everything that they’re up to. Yeah, I just want to thank you so much for coming on the show and we’ll definitely have to do this again sometime. I feel like we could do a series.
Mike Morrison: Yeah man. My absolute pleasure. Yeah, anytime you want me back on give me a shout.
Chris Badgett: Sounds great.