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!