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Stu McLaren: Connecting with a Membership Website

connecting with a membership website - stu mclarinIn 2008, McLaren was frustrated at the difficulty of creating a membership marketing site. According to McLaren, the options available at the time were very technical. so he and a friend decided to do something about it. He co-created the WishList plugin, which is used to connect your membership website to your target market.

He recalls his friend asking “what would you do if you could create your own membership site solution?” McLaren had simple needs. He wanted it to work with WordPress and he wanted it to be a simple PlugIn. Five years later, WishList powers over 40,000 membership websites.

His story servers as a great example of what can happen if you listen and act on your frustration with the status quo. He believes that it is likely that if you are frustrated, others are too, which could be the foundation for a new product or service. McLaren has found the same success with his new product RhinoSupport.

Lesson Learned – Simplify When Connecting with a Membership Website

McLaren learned a lot of lessons along the way as he created and marketed his products. He feels the number one lesson is, the customer experience rules. You really have to create products and services so that it is easy to use. Customers should not need to refer to any support materials or videos to get started.

When he first created WishList he quickly learned that there were a lot of different things people wanted to use it for that were far more creative than what he had thought. It started getting more complex. Recently, McLaren and his team worked to scale back in terms of the complexities and simplify the user experience as much as possible. They also designed RhinoSupport with customers in mind. They wanted a product that customers could use right away. Simplification can cut down on customer support and get people consuming your content or product much faster.

He also learned that you need to simplify success. There are so many ways to make money online and we are often inundated with too many options. McLaren reminds us that success can be boiled down to two or three important elements. He feels success online means traffic, plus conversion, plus on-going relationships.

  • Traffic – Every week you should ask yourself what are you doing to drive traffic to your websites.
  • Conversion – Converting someone who is interested into a paying customer is conversion. What are you doing to increase this?
  • On going relationships – Sell more things to your existing customers by getting into their hearts and minds; and serving their needs.

Ask yourself what your main goal is and simplify it down. It helps you, your customers, and your team manage their time and energy.

Overcoming difficulty

Things were going great for McLaren and his team were doing wonderful business, but only one person in the group was technical. That person started becoming overwhelmed by all the work he had to do. He decided to leave the company and create his own business. McLaren was happy for him, but concerned for WishList, so he hired some other developers and the business was only treading water for months. He realized that he needed his tech team member back and offered him a partnership. They then worked to build a team of developers. This taught him that you have to be sure you have overlap in your company with all the positions you have. If one person leaves, you do not want to it to be critical.

He also learned that the customer is not always right. Customers are self motivated. They don’t think about the ramifications of the ideas and suggestions they have for your company. They are only thinking of themselves. When it comes to WishList, McLaren always gets feature requests. If he tried to add everything everyone wanted, it wouldn’t serve his product well. He realized this and now asks himself if the majority of people using  this will benefit. If not, he tries to give the customer a way to do what they want to do without putting it into the core of the product. Listen to the feedback of your customers, but don’t let your customers run your business.

Tips to growing your business

You not only have create a great product, but you also have to use it. If you don’t use your product then why should your customers? A great marketing technique is showing your customers how you use your product.

McLaren also focuses on helping customers use the product. If your customers gain value from your product then they will share that with others. Be intentional about designing a program that helps your customers use your product by educating them.

He also feels you need to be conscious of doing promotions that add and not subtract. WishList never discounts their product. He  feels that discounting your product is devaluing your product. What he does instead is add to the product itself. He will add extra bonuses if someone purchases during a promotional period. You can add components to give to your existing customers too. This develops the relationship with current customer also.

Keys to success

McLaren advises you to go narrow and deep. Entrepreneurs are idea people. It is very attempting to launch a product and move on to the next thing. You need to be disciplined in what you focus on. In the past he would start on an idea and get a new one, and have to pause the first one. This causes stalled progress.Now he catalogs his idea for the future and work on one idea at a time.

You should also celebrate your customers. Listen and share your customers stories. Find out how you can truly impact their lives for the better and make their work more cost effective. Your product can affect many people and as business owners we often forget about the ripple effect our products have. Share these stories and potential customers will see themselves in those stories.

McLaren wants you to be consistent. When we are in our businesses we tend to get sporadic. The key to success is being consistent and marketing your business every month. He suggests taking out a twelve month calendar and asking yourself questions like what promotions will we offer this month to generate interest in our product. Look at what is happening that month. An easy way to promote is around holidays. Do something new. If you are doing the same thing every month it will fall on deaf ears. You need to come up with creative and new promotions. Being consistent with your marketing is important to your business success.

He advises you to create targeted training and content to sell what you have. Use your knowledge to help sell your product. Share this knowledge with your customers and potential customers to help educate them. The key is to create content that adds value.

He offers free content that teaches people what to do. He offers paid content to teach people how to do it. For example, your free content is steps to prepare. Paid content would have details to make it easy for people to learn how.

Tips for your membership website

A membership site is a centralized area for providing premium quality content. It is like an old school newspaper subscription. Customer are paying for access to digital content. There are three types of paid membership sites.

  • Protected Download area – People pay a one time fee to access a variety of resources in a protected area.
  • Modular course – It is also a one time fee. Content is delivered by module with one module being added at a time
  • Publisher Model – You create new content regularly and customers pay a monthly fee to access that information.

If you are going to be producing content then McLaren encourages you to create three different types of content.

  • Core – Content that customer get immediate access to when joining. You want to give them something to get started.
  • Primary – Leading featured content on a very specific subject within your area. He also expands into three different types of primary content:
  1. Back Stage Passes – Show how you implement what you teach.
  2. Live question and answer – This is great for engagement.
  3. Member makeover –  Do a full member critique to share with others.
  • Secondary – Announcements, or highlighted discussions. These are not things people would sign up for, but it does add value.