Back in the day (April of 2011), I launched my first membership program, ARTrepreneur. Catchy name, right?
At that point, membership programs and monthly subscriptions weren’t this hot, trendy thing like they are now (did you know there’s a doggie lawn monthly subscription–you know, so they can do their business on grass inside or out?).
And…I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
I’d never set up a monthly subscription type of thing, but I was determined.
I let the internet know that I was starting a membership program for creative entrepreneurs in March of 2011 and officially opened the doors in April.
You could find me not sleeping with a messy bun of hair piled on my head every day of that month of prep.
That membership program included four courses that I taught over the year, monthly content I created and monthly content others created. I hired a professional photographer, website designer and Etsy seller genius to put together monthly tutorials.
I wanted to create the place where creatives could come to learn everything they really needed to know to run a successful business, so they could stop hopping from one course to learn photography and another to learn design and another to learn about blogging.
I had a blast creating and running that program and I learned a ton from it (including a lot about myself).
But I wasn’t expecting a couple of things:
1) I started to get really sick with autoimmune issues and that made creating valuable content for the program every month hard.
2) I realized that I didn’t love relying on other people for content. While I truly enjoyed getting to know and working with the ladies who provided content in their field of expertise, I didn’t like sending emails to ask about the content and deal with people missing deadlines, to have to go in and format their content to add to the website, or to find someone new when one of the experts decided it wasn’t the right fit anymore.
After running the program for a couple of years, instead of launching it again and allowing new members to join for a third year, I stopped it.
The end was bittersweet.
It was my first really big thing.
I’d launched courses and group coaching and my ebook, but the membership program felt like my first signature offering.
And, like you probably know from experience, it’s never easy to say goodbye to something like that even if it’s the right thing for you and your business.
Anyways, I learned so much while running the program that I knew if I ever offered a membership program again, it would look very different.
Welcome to Sunday Society, a membership program for creative entrepreneurs built on live calls and a thriving Facebook community.
Sunday Society is pretty much the opposite of ARTrepreneur.
It’s not a one-stop-shop kind of program and it doesn’t include much prerecorded content, except for bonuses and guidance on the monthly challenges.
It’s the place to come to if:
1) You have trouble staying productive throughout the week and want some extra motivation and a gentle nudge every once in awhile.
2) You dislike or aren’t very good at the marketing part of your business and want to make it easier and more effective.
3) You want to build a successful small business–not a 13-million dollar empire with a team of 16 people.
The benefit of being a member of Sunday Society comes from the ability to get group coaching every month at the cost of a couple pizzas.
We have monthly Q&A calls, topic-specific calls (like a recent call on building systems into your business), member deep dives (where everyone can watch me have a one-on-one consulting session with one of the members), workshops and more.
The Facebook group is also active every single day. If you ask for feedback on something, you’ll usually get a few responses within a few hours.
If you don’t like participating on live calls or in Facebook groups that are truly supportive and not spammy, then it’s probably not for you. (Although…I say this gently because we have multiple members with social anxiety and they participate.)
Sunday Society is the type of membership program I should’ve started from the beginning, but we usually don’t figure that stuff out until we try.
Now that I’ve given you my background with running two different membership programs, I’ll share my top pros and cons of running a monthly subscription service so that you can make a better decision if you’ve been considering launching one:
1. Recurring revenue.
Every month, you know you’re going to get paid. If you’re a service-based business, this might seem like an amazing option. You don’t have to wait until your next launch to make money–it’s automatically coming.
2. You have a much better idea of your monthly income.
To piggyback on the first pro, you’re not in the dark, wondering how much money you’re going to make. You know how many subscribers you have and how much money is coming in the door, give or take a bit to account for new subscribers and those who cancel their subscriptions.
This can be appealing to someone who stresses over not knowing her monthly income or wondering if she’ll have enough ebook sales to cover her bills.
3. You get to work with the same people or sell to the same customers over a long period of time.
This is my top reason for running a membership program. I want to work with the same creatives over a long period of time. I want to see their businesses grow and be a part of the cheerleading section when they have wins or a shoulder to lean on when they’re feeling down.
If that sounds exciting to you, I highly recommend you put some thought into this type of model. I get a lot of joy from working with the same women each month on the live calls and in the Facebook group.
4. It’s built in customer retention.
The customer doesn’t have to come back and check out all over again every month. Instead, they’re automatically billed. YAY! Monthly customers that don’t have to remember to check out each month.
5. You build solid customer relationships.
Because you’re selling to the same people month after month, you’ve got an amazing chance to build solid relationships with your customers–even if you’re selling a monthly subscription for your handmade soap and don’t see how.
The best way to build great relationships with your customers is to have the best customer service you can offer and provide value every single month. They’re paying so you better show up and deliver your best, whether you’re a product-based or service-based business.
You can also do special things for your customers. Maybe send them a little something extra when they’ve been with you for a year or include an unexpected treat in their subscription boxes a couple times a year. Go above and beyond when possible because these are your customers who are giving you money every single month–they should be treated extra special.
That’ll turn into marketing that kind of does all the work for you.
6. You beat the paradox of choice.
Step into the grocery store and you’re bombarded with 37 choices for mayonnaise and 206 choices for salad dressing. It’s nice to land on a website, build trust with the seller and then trust that they’ll take good care of you.
Let’s say that you start a monthly stationery box subscription. Your customers aren’t picking which cards and notepads they want. You’re deciding for them, making their lives easier.
And, for those of us (like me!) who enjoy being the pickers, it’s the perfect fit.
7. Slow growth.
I put slow growth under the pro column even though some would say it’s a con. I disagree. As long as you start with a solid base of customers and continue to grow, it’s nice to grow at a slow and steady pace. That way, you know how long everything will take, how many team members you need to make it happen and have some control unlike having two big launches every year that consume everything and take over your life.
1. You don’t get a break.
You have to show up every month no matter what, so you can’t just email your members and say, “hey…I’m off to Aruba for the month, but I’ll be back next month” unless you want an angry mob of people coming for you.
There are ways to work around this. You can hire an assistant and once she knows the ins and outs of the program, she could take over for a month while you go on vacation. Or, you could set up your monthly subscription service so that it takes up two weeks worth of time, so that you always have the other half of the month to get other stuff done or take a break. Or, you could plan ahead and do twice the work one month in order to take the next month off.
I’ve set up Sunday Society so that the majority of the work comes from the two to five live calls per month. Most months, we have four live calls but if I decided that I and the members could use a little downtime (like I did in December), I’d plan two calls. That would give me a couple weeks “off.” I’d still need to check in with the Facebook group, but for me, that’s an easy task that doesn’t ruin a vacation. All the other parts of the program can be done ahead of time.
You should really consider this if you decide to offer a membership program. Will you be able to take a break when you need it and how will you take a break and still get your customers what they’re paying for? As long as you have a plan, you’ll be okay.
2. Getting bored can be a side effect.
If you set up a subscription program for cat lovers who want cat-themed embroidery patterns, you might get a bit bored when creating your 38th cat-themed embroidery pattern unless you love cats just as much as your customers. Even still, I think you might get bored.
You can avoid boredom based on how you set up your monthly subscription model. Because my program is based on live calls, I don’t get bored. Each call is completely different and I have no idea who is going to show up to the calls, what kinds of questions they’re going to ask or what they’re going to want help with until I’m on the call. It makes it exciting even though I’ve been doing it since July of last year.
I’m not even close to bored and don’t expect to be, because I was very intentional about how I set up the program.
3. Collecting missed payments.
This is my least favorite thing about running a membership program. My shopping cart will bill someone three times in a row but if all three are declined, it won’t bill again. Then, it’s on me (or my virtual assistant) to follow up.
This also depends on how your shopping cart works and how you set things up. But, I never dreamed of becoming a bill collector, did you?
4. Inactive members or customers.
I guess this could be a good thing for some people, because it would mean less work, especially in a program like the one that I run. But, I want all of the members to get a lot out of it and that means participating.
I recently cancelled a monthly subscription, because I wasn’t using it enough and the products were piling up making me feel anxious every time a new envelope arrived in the mail. I still love the subscription program and might go back one day if I get through everything I’ve accumulated in the meantime. I was a loyal customer to this monthly subscription for two years, but they lost my business because it became too much.
When you’re creating a membership program, keep this in mind. You don’t need to include everything you possibly can every month and if you do, it might backfire, making your members feel like they can’t keep up. It’s a balance I’ve been playing with inside of Sunday Society since it launched.
5. Dealing with cancellations.
This will probably be a lot of people’s least favorite aspect of running a membership program. In the beginning of Sunday Society, it was my least favorite part. Not anymore. I made cancellation easy for one main reason: I only wanted members who really want to be there. I didn’t want to set up any crazy cancellation policies where I get three pounds of gold and your left eyeball if you decide to cancel within the first year.
I wanted women to be able to come in, try it out and decide if it’s the right place for them, because it’s not the right fit for everyone and I’m okay with that.
When someone cancels their membership now, I think it’s a good thing because they’re not the right fit for Sunday Society and that can definitely impact the energy of the group.
There you have it…the pros and cons of running a membership program. Any questions? Leave them in the comments below.
I’d also love to know if you have any experience of running a membership program what your favorite part was/is? Share in the comments.