Case Study with Nicola Cantan: Starting a Music Membership Website
Is this right for you?
So, you’re thinking you might want to start a membership site, maybe one like the Inner Circle.
Cool! I think memberships or subscription based sites are absolutely fantastic business models with a lot of benefits. But they are truly not for everyone and every situation.
For one thing, running a membership site is a long-term game. This is wonderful because it can provide you with steady, reasonably reliable income for years to come.
…But that means you have to be in it for the long run too.
Building and running a membership site is definitely not a quick-fix, and it’s not passive income. For your members to keep showing up and paying you – you need to keep showing up too.
You need to create consistent high-quality content.
There is no hiding in this type of business. If you don’t deliver what you promised, your members will hold you accountable. They will leave.
Still think this is for you? Fab. Let’s get cracking.
This article is an extract from the Inner Circle’s latest feature, the Studio Growth Roadmap. The Roadmap is an organised collection of resources to help take your teaching and business further, no matter what stage of your career you are in. Click here to read more about the Roadmap.
Your Big Idea
The first thing you need is a really good idea. What is your music membership website going to do for your members?
This might sound obvious, but this is a big mistake I see people making. You can’t just set up a membership site for “adult piano students”.
I mean, you can. But that’s not really an idea.
The internet is a crowded place, with tons of new sites being set up every single day. You really need to be more interesting than that.
You need an idea that’s remarkable.
And I say that in the true meaning of that word. Will people be bothered enough to remark on your idea? Can you imagine them telling their friends that they found something really cool? Would they stop their scrolling mouse on your site if they saw a list of similar sites in your industry?
If the answer is yes, and if you’re sure people in your target market really need this (not just guessing, but genuinely know) then we’re set.
Now we can talk about actually setting up this beautiful new idea and releasing it to the world.
The tech. You probably expected this article to start with this part, right?
But the idea and what you want to achieve with your membership will actually decide a lot of this and give you clarity when making these decisions.
There are tons of ways to set up a membership site, but I’m going to recommend you set up a WordPress site (as detailed in the Online Studio Launchpad course) and use a plugin for the membership part.
What the membership plugin will essentially be doing is:
- Giving people a way to sign up to your site and pay you.
- Protecting your members only content so that people who haven’t signed up can’t get at it.
It’s worth getting a good quality tool to handle this for you. Don’t try and faff around with other bits and pieces to come up with a duct tape solution. This is the core of your membership and you need to invest in a premium plugin.
There are so many options out there for these membership plugins and I really want to encourage you to check them out and compare them yourself. It will largely depend on what you want to put in your membership and your target customers.
But, if you want to know what I use, it’s a plugin called Memberpress. It’s reasonably priced and has a lot of really great features.
Memberpress isn’t the only good one – and it might not be the best one for you. Do your research and make sure whichever one you choose will do everything you need it to. Changing this stuff later is always a pain.
Other tech you might need for your site:
- Chat software – You know those little message boxes in the bottom right corner of the Inner Circle? Those are done using a service called Intercom.
- Email service provider – You will probably want to send commercial emails as part of your marketing and to keep members up to date. For this I use Drip and Tim uses Active Campaign. There are also free options such as Mailchimp which might work well for you in the beginning.
- Course plugin – If courses are going to be a big part of what you’re offering, you probably need a dedicated course plugin like LearnDash. This will keep track of members’ progress and do other fancy things to keep them organised. You might also need premium video hosting for this such as Wistia or Vimeo.
Ultimately though, all you need is content and a way to protect it (such as a membership plugin). Don’t go looking for other tech willy nilly – seek technology solutions out when you have something specific you want to do on your site.
Many of the same principles apply no matter what want to market online: a course, products, or a membership.
Your marketing for your membership site will likely consist of some mixture of the following:
- Blogging or other content marketing
- Good SEO on your website
- Social media marketing
- Facebook advertising
- Google Adwords
One other strategy that works particularly well for marketing membership sites is to build a Facebook group.
I have two Facebook groups that I run: Vibrant Music Studio Teachers and the VMT Clubhouse. The former is my free group, the latter is for paid members only.
Running a free Facebook group in a related area is a great way for people to get to know you, and perhaps trust you enough to try out your membership. I know many of my own members have been in my free Facebook group first.
However, you shouldn’t take on this extra work likely. Keep in mind all the aspects of running a great Facebook group:
- Checking and approving members (this takes longer than you might think!)
- Starting conversions and keeping the group active
- Managing spam posts or posts that are against your community guidelines
- Setting the tone and creating the group environment you want
- Solving disputes or disagreements, and “policing” nastiness
Only start a free Facebook group if you think you will enjoy it, don’t start one purely for selling purposes. The marketing knock-on effects should be just a great perk.
Numbers to Track
Now that you have members flooding in from your amazing marketing skills comes the key difference with a membership site vs. another online business. Membership sites (much like piano teaching) are all about retention.
In a membership site you need people to stick around.
There’s simply no point pouring new members into a bucket that has a hole in the bottom.
In the membership site world we call the rate at which members fall out of the bottom of your bucket your membership “churn”. This is probably the most important stat you can track for your site. Make sure you take note of it from the get-go.
As you advance, you might want to use a detailed analysis tool such as Chart Mogul. However, even if you’re not using something that fancy yet, you definitely need to know this number.
Put simply, churn is: the number of members who cancel divided by your overall member numbers.
The easiest way to track it manually is to take a note of the number of members at the start of each month and at the end of month take note of the number of cancellations and create your percentage. You shouldn’t be taking into account the new members that signed up during the month here or things will get very confusing, very quickly.
Mistakes to Avoid with Membership Sites
Double-Triple-Check Your Payments
The first mistake I very nearly made was to not test my payment system fully enough. I thought I had tested it…but when I emailed it to a friend she actually couldn’t check out.
Unluckily, I had actually already (indirectly) sent the sign-up page to a few people when I realised this. Luckily, my friend found this error fast – and it was an easy fix. Phew.
Avoid these heart palpitating moments if you can.
Test Drive Your Idea
When I set up my membership site, I was in a position where I had been talking to and helping my audience for years.
If you’re newer to your target market, you may not be able to be as certain that your idea is something people want and need. Be really honest with yourself about this and do a test run or a beta membership to see if your idea is really worth pursuing.
Don’t assume you know what people want. You need to know, and you need to hear it in their language.
Have a Plan for Freshness
Membership sites need fresh content. It doesn’t matter what your topic is – that’s pretty much a fact.
So, knowing this, you need to know from the outset how you’re going to get that content created. Members are going to expect you to show up and deliver on your promises.
- When is this content going to get created?
- How long will it take each month?
- What if you’re sick or have an emergency? Do you have a back-up plan?
Setting up good systems from the start will mean that your membership is sustainable for you and can be the long-term business you set out to create.
Have you thought about starting a membership website? Leave your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.