One of our regular readers recently asked us, “How do I get the first 100 paying members to my membership website, starting from scratch, with no pre-existing client list?”.
This is a very good question.
The first 100 members are always the hardest. Once you have this critical mass it gets much easier to attract new subscribers.
Every membership website is different but the process outlined below works well across most sectors.
Before we get started on the marketing, building traffic and converting browsers to buyers, it is important to outline the things you must think about before you launch your site. If you have a poorly designed site, weak content and an ill-defined audience no amount of marketing will make it successful.
Make them an offer they can’t refuse – a successful serial membership website entrepreneur once said to me, your offer should have a perceived value that is at least three times greater than the membership price. For example if you charge $100 a year, the new subscriber should perceive they are immediately getting $300 worth of value when they become a member. An example offer package could be:
You must research and have a very good idea of who the movers and shakers are for your sector in both the online and offline world. Create a list of their names, email addresses and where possible, telephone numbers. You should cover:
Ideally you should start building a relationship with the key influencers well before you launch. Offer the most important ones a complimentary membership. Make access to the site available after 80 days. You will see why in a minute.
Before I go into the practical steps of how to recruit early members, I want to remind you of the typical process that your prospects will follow before signing up. Understanding the steps they take will influence the marketing tactics you will use.
Your target audience will find your site either through your marketing activity or through referral from a third party. When they first land on your site, within 10 seconds they will have decided whether it is of interest and relevant to them. Those that like what they see will explore several pages. If they still like what they have seen they will sign up to your email newsletter, add you on Twitter or subscribe to your RSS feed. Once they start receiving emails or information from the site they will decide how relevant it is to them. People who like what they get will carry on receiving it. Those who don’t will unsubscribe.
The people who remain engaged are the qualified prospects. They have declared their interest in what you do and say; some percentage of these followers will eventually decide to become paying members
It is very rare that people go to a membership website and on the first visit reach for their credit card to subscribe. They usually want to build trust over time before making a longer term commitment.
Bearing this in mind, your 90 day plan should have two phases:
When you first launch your website you won’t have the benefit of getting a lot of free search engine traffic. It takes time to get on page 1 of Google. Therefore you have to build traffic the hard way through links and recommendations from other people’s websites. This is very achievable but you will need to be focused and persistent.
Alternatively you can pay for traffic.
Usually a combination of paid and free is best during the early days.
Once people arrive on your site you should have one over-arching goal…to get their email address…or get them to sign up to another way that allows you to keep in touch with them (Twitter, RSS, Facebook friend, YouTube friend, etc). If a visitor leaves without signing up for at least one communication channel there is a 96% chance you will never see them again.
The only reason they will sign up to receive information from you in the future is if they think the site is relevant to their needs and the content is valuable to them. It is critical that you provide these early visitors with some really great information to get them excited about what you do.
You should also make them an irresistible offer to get them to give you their email address. Give them a free ebook, research document, software, copyright-free images, access to videos or discount vouchers for other goods or services. Do whatever it takes to get this vital bit of data.
Once you have their email you should send more valuable information and gifts during the 80 day relationship building period. Your goal is to get them to the point that they look forward to hearing from you. Only then will they be ready to pay.
So, how many email addresses do you need to achieve your goal of getting 100 members in 90 days?
The answer is it comes down to two conversion rates.
The conversion rate of visitors who become email newsletter subscribers, which is typically between 1%-15%.
And the conversion rate of email newsletter subscribers who become paying subscribers of the membership site. Typically this conversion rate is between 0.5% – 18%. Business to business conversion rates tend to be higher than consumer sites.
When doing your planning you need to assume a conversion rate.
For this case study I will assume that the conversion rate for phase 1, the percentage of visitors who give me their email address, is 7% and the conversion rate for phase 2, the percentage of my email list who I convert to paying customers, is 10%. This means to get 100 paying members I need to get 1,000 email addresses from 14,500 unique visitors to my website.
So let’s get on with it!
There are hundreds of ways to drive traffic to your site, but you have a limited amount of time so you will need to be selective. You won’t have the benefit of getting search engine traffic for a brand new site, so you will need to work with other siteowners in your niche to hook into their audiences.
Set yourself a traffic target for the first 80 days after launch. It could look like this:
Month 1 = 4,000 unique visitors
Month 2 = 7,000 unique visitors
Month 3 = 4,000 unique visitors
Note: Month 3 is lower because you will be turning your attention to converting email subscribers to paying members which will take up much of your time.
I’m going to recommend you look at some paid ways and some free ways of generating traffic. Let’s deal with the paid marketing first.
Google AdWords remains the most effective online advertising tool because you have so much control over how much you pay for each lead.
There is too much to cover in this article about setting up a successful AdWords campaign, but you can get some excellent free guides from Google.
When setting up your account the single most important thing you should focus on is choosing accurate and highly relevant keyword phrases. Use very specific phrases that only apply to your niche and avoid broad words which could apply to many niches within your sector. For example if your site is about fine wine, avoid using the word ‘wine’. Instead list all the fine wine producers like Petrus, Dom Perignon, St Emillion, etc. This will ensure you are only paying for people who have a real and deep interest in your subject…and also you will pay much less for these highly specialist phrases.
With AdWords you will quickly be able to work out how many leads you are getting for your money. If you are paying $0.20 for every person who clicks on your AdWord’s ad you will get 500 leads for every $100 you spend.
To hit your target of 14,500 would cost you $2,900, although I don’t think you should rely solely on AdWords.
For this project I would plan on spending $100 per week which should generate 6,000 leads over the 90 days at a cost of $1,200
Another effective way to reach a targeted audience is to pay for an ad in someone else’s email newsletter. If you find a website or blog with a really good email newsletter that is relevant to your audience, contact the owner and ask if you can pay to advertise in it. Many will let you. You will either pay a fixed amount or pay per thousand email sent. Ask the list owner for their stats which should include numbers of emails sent, open rates, un-subscribe rate, etc.
A reasonable clickthrough rate for an ad at the top of a page is 0.5% – 6%.
One way that many websites make money is to sell one-time use of their email list. If you find a site which is relevant to your audience ask if they sell their email names for marketing. You will probably be asked to pay per thousand emails. This will enable you to market directly to their customers
Expect a click through rate for a well targeted, offer driven ad on a good list to be 4%-8%
Now onto the free stuff.
The launch of a new website focused at a particular niche is newsworthy. It is an excellent opportunity which is usually over looked by new website publishers.
Use several free press release distribution services (such as PRlog.org) and select one paid PR service (SubHub uses PRNewswire.com). For a comprehensive list have a look at this article about online press release services.
Also send the release to the list of contacts you should have built prior to launch.
My target would be to get 100 visitors/week from the press release distribution, which will be 1,200 of your 14,500 visitors.
Using your list of bloggers, industry personalities, academics and influencers that you have created approach the key people, to ask whether you can interview them for your new site. Offer them a free subscription in exchange for their time and input.
Ideally the interview should be video, but failing that a recorded telephone conversation is fine. We use Freeconference.com to record audio interviews or an inexpensive Flip HD camcorder to record the videos.
There are two reasons for doing the interview. One is to create great content. The second, and more important reason, is to get the person you interview to link to it from their site…or better still to email all of their followers to go and have a listen on your site.
I’ve seen one good interview generate tens of thousands of visitors for a site. For the sake of this plan, I will set my target at doing three interviews which I release on the first day of each month and estimate each interview will generate 200 visitors per week. Over the 90 day period that would be 4,800 leads.
Write three killer articles which you can publish on third party sites to drive traffic. You have three publishing options that you can consider.
My preferred option is to contact the publisher of your sector’s leading website and offer them one or more of the articles for free in exchange for getting an acknowledgement and link to your site. This will drive well targeted prospects directly from a highly relevant site.
Second you can use the article to publish pages on third party sites such as Squidoo (www.squidoo.com), Hubpages (www.hubpages.com) and eHow (www.ehow.com) . If you go this route create pages on all three but slightly change the content so the search engines don’t discount it for being duplication.
Third you can syndicate the articles through a service like EzineArticles (www.ezinearticles.com). This is my least preferred option as you won’t control where the content appears. This technique will also have the slowest results although it can generate a trickle of traffic for months or even years to come.
My target would be to get the articles on a leading website or blog which would generate 400 leads a month over the three months, or 1,200 over the 90 days.
We have always found that a good, highly relevant forum can generate a lot of interest in a new site. You can find forums for most niches by going to Google and typing in your subject +forum.
The way to generate clickthroughs is to join relevant forums and write a comprehensive profile. Then create a signature which appears at the bottom of every comment you make. Ensure you have a link to your site and a mention of your special offer. Start participating in relevant threads. DON’T use the threads to directly promote your service. Instead provide really valuable advice and readers will automatically click your link to find out more about you.
The traffic from forums is not huge, but it can be high quality and lead to other traffic generating opportunities. My target would be 100 unique visitors per week or 1,200 over the first 90 days.
Now you have a good idea about how to drive traffic it’s time to turn your attention to persuading these visitors to give you their email address (or sign-up to one of your other communication channels).
The headline tip is to give them something of real value in exchange for their personal data. Here are some examples:
SEOBook.com offers people who sign up for their email newsletter a seven part course about search engine optimization.
You may loathe them, but pop-up sign-up boxes which appear over the top of a page dramatically increase the number of email addresses you collect. Darren Rowse of Problogger uses it great effect on his Digital Photography School website.
Offer a simple downloadable reward for signing up. This is the most common tactic for increasing your email list. At SubHub we use this technique and it works well.
4) Provide Part of A Video for Free. Require An Email Address To Get The Rest
This is becoming a common and effective tactic. Create a video course, interview, game, etc which you divide into two parts. Let people see the first part for free without sign-up. Offer the second part for free, but require an email address. Jeff Walker, who has a subscription site called Product Launch Formula, is a master at using video to gather email addresses.
For example, you could offer a years free membership to your site as a prize…or think of something else which would really fire your audience’s imagination. Travel Intelligence offer a free nights stay in a hotel as a prize (which has probably been donated for free).
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Be creative when thinking about your offer. Try to give away something that has zero or near zero cost to you, but provides your target audience with real value.
Once you have a strong and growing list of followers who regularly receive your news and information you need to start planning how you will convert them into paying customers.
Everything you will have provided so far – the email sign-up giveaway, the content on your site, the email newsletter, Tweets, etc – has been free. In phase 2 you must turn your attention to packaging up your paid membership service in such a way that your most dedicated followers are very happy to pay.
Just as a reminder about what I said earlier. You should not allow people to sign-up for paid membership until Phase 2. You want to build the excitement and desire over the 80 days. This will get a much higher conversion rate than allowing members to signup whenever they want.
You must create a very compelling offer for the first 100 members. I would strongly recommend that the offer is based around giving them downloadable stuff for free rather than a discount on the membership fee. You should try to preserve your income as much as possible. As mentioned above create a package of services which have a value much greater than the cost of the subscription.
To launch the 10 day sign-up period you should arrange a big event.
A very popular thing to do is have a teleseminar where prospects can dial into for free and listen to a talk by you, or better still, a really well known industry personality.
A teleseminar is easy and cheap to arrange but has a high perceived value to attendees.
The content of the teleseminar should not be a sales pitch for your membership site. You need to be more subtle than that.
The content should provide really good information about a particular subject, but the information should be incomplete. The additional information should be available within the membership site.
Let me give you some examples:
You get the idea.
The teleseminar must offer really valuable information for free from a trusted source, but for listeners to really benefit from the advice they must become a member of the website.
At the end of the seminar you should add a sales pitch for the site outlining all of the benefits and bonuses for early subscribers. Make sure you put an expiry date on the offer to force people to make a decision.
Finally you should tell the listeners that you offer a 100% money back guarantee so if they are unhappy with your service for whatever reason they will get all of their money back. This completely de-risks sign-up and if your site is good, the refund level should be low.
This technique for getting 100 members in 90 days is tried and tested. The skill is building the excitement about your service to the point where your followers can’t wait for it to go live. At all stages you try to put yourself in your prospects shoes and think about “what would REALLY make me want to sign up for this service?”. What is the unique selling point that would get you salivating about being a member?