How I Market And Grow My Membership On Autopilot Every Month

One of the great things about creating a membership is that you can streamline #allthethings (operations / content / marketing / sales / etc) under one main offer. When I sold courses and digital products, my marketing was very launch-centric and I would plan my marketing calendar around webinars, launches, and strategic partnerships. Now that my focus is on marketing just ONE thing, I'm NEVER in launch mode. There are no crazy ups and downs (with the exception of our big semi-annual sales) – instead, we're just in steady growth and maintenance mode year round which means I'm wayyy less stressed.

And because I'm focused on selling only ONE thing, my marketing is super focused as well. I plan my biz quarterly and, in each quarter there are three months, so each month we focus on one of three things: 1) increasing leads 2) increasing conversions 3) increasing value.

For example, in months where we're focused on increasing leads, that might mean focusing on our affiliate marketing strategy or stepping up our Pinterest promotions. In months where we're focused on increasing conversions, that might mean working on sales funnel copy or optimizing our sales page design. And in months where we're focused on increasing value, that might mean creating bonus resources for our members or other special promotions. The point is, we're focused on doing ONE thing better at a time to market and grow the Styled Stock Society membership.

So that's the big picture overview of our membership marketing strategy but when it comes to specific implementation we have a number of different marketing systems + processes that are constantly running in the background (and are also constantly being tweaked + optimized as needed).

How I market and grow my membership each month

There are 3 main marketing tools that work in conjunction to grow our membership each month. These are the 3 things that work on autopilot to grow the Styled Stock Society membership – so even if we're not doing any active marketing or promotions, even if I take a full month off from work because I'm in the hospital or on vacation or sitting on my couch watching Bravo, we still attract new members every. single. month.

Content marketing (top of the funnel)

Obviously for people to become Styled Stock Society members, they need to know that the Styled Stock Society exists and somehow make their way to our website where they can join. Our main content platform is our blog however, we repurpose content for emails and social media posts as well. While in an IDEAL world we'd be blogging regularly, sending weekly emails, and showing up on social media every single day – the reality is that doesn't always happen. But here's the thing – even when we've gone months without publishing a new blog post we still see traffic growth and new membership signups because we're constantly sharing and re-sharing old blog posts. We use Tailwind to automate sharing on Pinterest and SmarterQueue to automate sharing on Facebook and Twitter so that we're always getting new eyes on our content (even if the content itself is old)!

So yes, best case scenario you have a set schedule for creating new content to market your business and you show up regularly to share, promote, and connect with new people… but even if you can't commit to creating some form of new content regularly (blogging / vlogging / podcasting / etc.), you can still create 5-10 value-filled pieces of content that you can repurpose, re-share, and use to grow your membership. Consistency is (almost) always better, but don't let the fear of being inconsistent hold you back from creating anything at all!

Lead magnet + automated email sequence (middle of the funnel)

Once we've actually gotten people to our website via our content marketing strategies, some people may take the time to learn about our membership and join right away, but more often it takes people a little bit more time to get to know us and what we have to offer before they invest. So, in the next part of our funnel, we want them to take the next step and get on our email list. We have a number of opt-in offers, but our main lead magnet is a set of 20 free stock photos which we give away in exchange for email addresses. After a new subscriber downloads these free stock photos, they then get an automated email sequence which helps them understand how they can use stock photos for their business, why investing in a stock photography membership can help them grow their business, and how our current members have been able to save time + money by investing in a Styled Stock Society membership.

We also use this automated email sequence to share more details about what's included in the Styled Stock Society membership and answer any potential questions someone might have about joining. So essentially this part of our funnel helps us build the “like/trust” part of the know/like/trust factor – and because it's automated, it's constantly working (even when I'm not).


Last but not least, we also have a Styled Stock Society affiliate program through which we offer a 25%+ commission in exchange for our affiliates referring new members. We have an automated sequence that invites our members to become affiliates and then an automated sequence set up so that our affiliates are armed with helpful tips for how they can promote their affiliate links as well as done-for-them promo graphics and swipe copy to help make it as easy as possible for them. Because this part of our marketing really relies on our affiliates to do the “hard work” by building trust with their audience, this is a relatively passive marketing strategy that allows us to get in front of new audiences every day.

So those are 3 ways I market and grow my membership on autopilot every month. While these strategies are mostly “passive” after the initial set up, there are definitely other more “active” strategies that we use more tactically to market and grow our membership like collaborations, special promotions, and press features – but I'll share those in a future blog post!

5 Mistakes I Made Running My Membership

I've learned a lot of things from running the Styled Stock Society over the past few years and nothing teaches you a lesson more than making mistakes…

5 membership site mistakes

It's easier to share the tips + strategies, but sharing the mistakes can be even more helpful – so that you can avoid making them too!

I didn't choose a membership platform that I could grow with

When I first had the idea to launch a subscription, I had no idea if it was going to take off (or if it was something I really wanted to do long term). So I spent a couple of hours researching the various platforms to sell a subscription, and ultimately I picked SendOwl because it seemed simple and affordable (subscription plans start at $24/month). At the time, I was really just looking for a tool that had the ability to give people access to content and charge them on a recurring basis for that access. Honestly, there's nothing wrong with SendOwl. I *almost* considered leaving this one out because I think it was less a mistake, and more the result of making a quick (and affordable) decision in order to launch quickly.

BUT – I wouldn't recommend SendOwl to anyone who wants to create a membership site (because it's not what it's built for). While I didn't plan to create a membership site when I first started my business (I really had no idea what I was doing), I realized after running my subscription for a few months that I wanted the subscription to evolve, but unfortunately, that meant finding a different platform. I moved my subscription over to a WordPress site using MemberPress to run the subscription component, and we ended up having to migrate 400+ members to the new system which was not ideal! If I had to start over again, I would potentially choose a different platform in the beginning – one that I could grow with as my subscription evolved – but I don't regret starting out with SendOwl and I would still recommend it to anyone who wants to start a simple subscription (where you are only delivering a single thing on a recurring basis) and wants something easy to set up.

I created too many membership options

A couple of years ago I had two different membership levels – a “standard” level which included a set number of downloads per month and a “luxe” level which is our current all-access level. That doesn't sound like too many options, but when you consider that each of those had monthly / quarterly / annual plans, it was a bit confusing on the back end and also confused potential subscribers.

I think when you have too many different options it can cause potential buyers to have analysis paralysis – aka, overanalyzing to the point that they don't make a decision. We streamlined our membership options (based on the types that were most popular), and immediately saw a difference in conversion rates on our membership page. In general, I'd recommend having no more than 3 or 4 different membership options so you don't confuse potential subscribers.

I ignored membership cancellations for a whole year

Not gonna lie – when I got my first subscription cancellations I took them kinda personally. And for the first year or so of running my subscription, I hated the idea of cancellations so much that I tried to ignore them. <– Don't do that! I realize now that cancellations are just a part of running a subscription business. Some people will join for a few months and cancel, some will stick around for a year or so, and some might be loyal from the beginning – but depending on where people are in their business/life they probably won't need your subscription FOREVER – and that's ok.

Separating my emotions for cancellations probably took more time than I'd like to admit, but ultimately I realized that understanding WHY people cancel their membership is such a valuable tool. I eventually added an “exit survey” asking members at the time of cancellation why they were making that choice and our survey results have been extremely helpful in growing the membership and also retaining future members. I also realized that people weren't cancelling because they hated the photos (which is what I initially thought) but usually, it was because they had all the photos they needed at the moment or they were moving in a different direction with their business or they needed to cut down on expenses. All of those reasons are totally legit and definitely made me feel less like I was “failing” anytime someone cancelled their membership.

I focused on growth rather than retention

Speaking of cancellations… while I was “ignoring them” I was mainly focused on growing my membership. And that makes sense to a point, but here's the thing: recurring revenue only recurs if your members stay happy. So while my membership was growing, I was also losing members regularly – which is to be expected – but our churn rate was higher than I wanted it to be.

Once we started asking our existing members more questions like… “What collections do you love? What's missing from the library? How can we make the site better? What other resources would be helpful for you?” we were able to better understand what our members wanted and give it to them. And happier members = paying members. Don't forget that it's easier (and more cost-effective) to keep existing customers happy than it is to attract new customers!

Trying to do it all alone

This one could apply to almost any type of business, but I definitely don't recommend running a membership site without help! If you have a client-based business, you probably don't have to spend too much time responding to potential or existing client emails. But with a membership site (or any one-to-many type subscription business), it's a numbers game. You can help an unlimited number of people, but that also means an unlimited number of emails popping in your inbox from potential and/or existing members. Customer service alone can suck up so much of your time (especially with complicated tech or membership site issues), so I definitely recommend hiring someone to help with customer support ASAP!

When I first started my business, I did everything on my own. But hiring a membership coordinator (and setting up a separate support inbox for her), not only took work off my plate but also increased my overall productivity because I never get distracted by support emails anymore.

So those are 5 membership site mistakes I've made over the past few years – and now YOU can avoid them!

How to validate your subscription business idea

Before you get started creating your subscription-based offer, you have to validate your idea. Here are 6 things you can do to validate it.

Creating a subscription-based offer was literally the thing that changed my business and enabled me to work fewer hours while earning a more consistent recurring revenue.

But BEFORE you get started creating your subscription-based offer, you HAVE TO validate your idea.

The reason most subscription businesses fail is because people don't take time to really understand their market and validate their idea! Don't waste your time pouring your heart and effort into creating something that YOU think is amazing…. without knowing that it's something that YOUR AUDIENCE actually wants.

The beauty of a subscription-based offer is being able to serve multiple people through one offer… so unlike one-to-one services where you don't really need an audience to be successful, you actually need to be able to attract and retain a larger number of people in order for your subscription to succeed. 

This post includes tips for validating your offer and when to know if you need to refine your subscription idea or move forward!

There are a number of different ways to validate your idea – and I recommend using MULTIPLE ways to ensure that you are on the right track! But… if you're only going to do one of these, make sure its #6 – seriously, it's the MOST helpful option!

1) Chat with real people about your idea.

Speak with at least 5 people in your audience (who are NOT your close friends or family) who you think would be a good fit for your offer. 

-Ask them what they struggle with when it comes to the topic that your subscription is based on – does your offer specifically address this struggle?

-Tell them about your offer and ask for their feedback – try to get them to tell you specifically what is attractive about your idea and what could make it better. 

-Ask them if your idea is something they would (hypothetically) be willing to pay for on an ongoing basis – if you've thought about pricing, you can get specific feedback on where you think your offer should be priced OR you can ask what they would expect to pay for a subscription like the one you want to create. 

If you find that your idea doesn’t resonate with the people that you’re speaking with, you need to refine it before moving forward. 

2) Create a simple, scaled-down version of your subscription offer for free.

Creating a free “sample” of your subscription is a great way to validate your idea if you are still building your audience. 

For example, for my stock photo membership, I offered a set of 10 free stock photos that subscribers can download for free. If you plan to sell templates, create a template that you can offer for free. If you plan to sell education / training / etc, create a short video or free course that you can offer for free. If you plan to sell a paid membership community, create a free Facebook group and invite people to join. 

If you can’t get at least 100 people to sign up for your FREE offer within a relatively short period of time, you need to refine your idea.

3) Survey your audience.

Ask your email list, Facebook group, or other personal community to indicate whether they are interested in your offer. 

Run a poll, create a survey, or create custom email tags to gauge interest in your idea.

If a significant percentage of your community doesn’t indicate interest in your offer, then you need to refine your idea.

4) Create a waitlist for your offer.

If you're fairly confident in your subscription idea, you can create a simple sales page for your offer – but instead of giving people the option to “buy now” you give them the option to “get on the waitlist” to be the first to know when your offer is live. This is an easy way for people in your audience to indicate whether or not they are interested.

If only a few people sign up for your waitlist, that may be a sign that you need to refine your idea.

5) Pre-sell your subscription

Any time you launch a new digital product – whether it's a subscription / membership / course / or any other time intensive offer, I recommend pre-selling. You don't know for sure that people are ACTUALLY willing to pay you for your offer until they do it.

Pre-sell your subscription at a discounted rate (or offer a bonus) to subscribers who join before it “officially” launches. This is a great way to validate your idea because by pre-selling, people are literally paying you to create it – and you don't have to waste time creating something that people don't want!

If you don't get enough pre-sales to move forward with your launch, you can simply refund any sales that you made and move on to your next idea.

6) Create a minimum viable product (MVP).

Last but not least, the BEST way to validate your subscription idea is to actually create AND sell a simplified version of your subscription.

I recommend (paid) beta testing or creating an MVP because not only do you get a real sense of whether or not people are willing to hand over their hard-earned $$$ to you, but you also get the opportunity to get feedback from your beta testers / early subscribers.

Depending on your subscription idea you might…

-Offer a limited number of beta testers the opportunity to subscribe at a discounted rate in exchange for providing feedback

-Create a simplified MVP version of your subscription (without spending time on branding / a fancy sales page / complicated tech setup), and offer it for a limited time. To create an MVP, you just need a solution to a problem, a way to deliver the solution, and a way for people to pay you!

If you can’t get 1-2% of your audience to take advantage of your MVP offer, that may be a sign that you need to refine your idea.

Validating your subscription business idea

So those are 6 ways to validate your subscription business idea (or really any new business idea), but like I said, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND validating by creating an MVP. Instead of waiting for your subscription to be “perfect” (it won't be), get your idea out into the world and then use your subscriber's feedback to make it better.

Ready to create your subscription but not sure where to start? Grab our handy subscription roadmap!