Hey friends! On last week's podcast episode, I shared the mistakes I made while creating my membership last year. I talked about what it was, why I wanted to create it, and the challenges I faced once I launched it (personally and with the membership model in general!). In today's episode, I want to continue the conversation by sharing the valuable lessons (8 in total!) I gained from starting and eventually closing my membership. Let me just say this: as I look back I don’t regret it at all (despite it being an incredibly difficult decision to close it!). Especially as I look back and see everything I’ve learned since then!
Before we dive in - are you in the Breakthrough Brand All Access Facebook Group yet? It’s free to join, and it’s where we take conversations like this one about closing my membership (and other lessons in entrepreneurship!) and go even deeper. Pop in and ask questions, share insights, and even peek behind the scenes of my own business and what I’m trying lately. I would LOVE for you to join!
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE NOW:
Lesson #1 It’s OK For Your Business to Have Offer Gaps
It's perfectly fine for your business to have offer gaps. In fact, it could be a positive thing. Just because something seems logical or there is a demand for it doesn't mean you have to provide it.
The truth is, it's impossible to appeal to everyone, and that's okay. Building a sustainable business that aligns with your life is more important than trying to cater to every possible client - even if you can (and want to!) help them!
So, one of the lessons I’m learning is to embrace the offer gaps and understand that more focused businesses often have them. Don't worry if there are certain audiences or needs that your current offerings don't address. It's more important to focus on finding the direction that works for you and your business.
Lesson #2 People Respect You When You Do What’s Hard
Last week, I talked about how I really struggled with closing my membership. It may sound silly now, but at the time, I was really scared that everyone would be disappointed in me and think less of me as a business owner. In reality, people didn't care as much as I thought. Instead, they were understanding and supportive. Some even shared kind messages, which truly touched me, saying that they appreciated it and that they were proud of me for pivoting out of something that wasn’t working for my business.
The lesson here is that people respect you when you handle difficult situations well. On top of that, I think it's important to remember that we often overestimate how much attention others pay to us. Don’t we all know a middle schooler we wish we could tell that? I think even in adulthood we think people are paying more attention to us than they are. Despite some disappointment, people were ultimately okay with my decision. In fact, I transformed the membership into a free Facebook community for podcast listeners. So it was a really cool transition!
Bonus Lesson: You Don’t Have to Tell The World When You Cancel an Offer (I didn't when closing my membership!)
When I made the transition of the Facebook group and ultimately closed my membership, I didn't publicly announce it. Only the members knew about the closure, and I made sure to communicate it really thoroughly to them only. I sent a detailed email, recorded a video, and even uploaded the audio to our membership podcast feed. I didn't mention it on Instagram or to my entire email list, as it wasn't necessary at the time. I focused on communicating with the members.
Now, 8 months later, I'm sharing lessons learned with all of you. So if one of your fears is that “everyone will judge you”, remember that when you close something, you don't have to make a big announcement to the entire world. Just make sure to inform the people who were paying or considering paying for it. That’s all you need to do!
Lesson #3: I Created a Way Better Refund System for my ENTIRE Business Based on the Cancellation System I Created for the Membership
Because memberships involve many moving parts, I had to learn to create efficient systems to keep everything running smoothly in the membership. I believe we implemented a cancellation process that was seamless and of high quality for the membership: when someone requested to cancel, they filled out a form and we had automated processes in place. We also had a clear list of tasks to remove the member.
While this may seem like a waste considering we ultimately closed the membership, this system was so strong that we even applied it to handle refund requests in other areas of the business.
Refund requests are a normal part of running a business if you’ve never heard it said, I will say it now “if you never get a single refund request, your audience is not being reached far enough”. Because of my membership, we made it more streamlined, easier to track, communicate, and collect customer feedback. Although we don't receive many refund requests, the feedback we do get has been valuable!
Lesson #4 I Don’t Like to Sell People to Keep Buying The Same Thing From Me Month Over Month
I've realized that continuously selling people to stay in a membership is not my style. This might be a mentality, but I didn’t love the feeling like I had to convince people to buy from me again and again, month over month.
Membership subscriptions are a trending topic these days, but there's an aspect that often goes unmentioned. Contrary to popular belief, memberships are definitely not a form of passive income. If you run a successful membership, it requires active engagement and effort - even if you aren’t creating as much content as I was. While a membership provides recurring revenue as customers pay monthly, it's important to remember that they can cancel anytime so it feels less guaranteed than something like a course with a payment plan (which ya’ll - that’s STILL a form of recurring revenue!).
I also love payment plans and think they are a good thing - they help people make buying decisions when they don’t have the upfront funds. In my business, I have a significant amount of recurring revenue each month due to payment plans. So, it's an area I'm familiar with. However, what I found challenging about memberships is the constant need to sell people on staying for another month.
I preferred the satisfaction of creating a product, delivering it, and having the customer on their own payment plan. The concept of creating something, completing the selling process, and moving on appeals to me. I also like that the payment plans have a clear end date. Memberships, on the other hand, require constant creation, selling to existing members, and attracting new ones. I just didn’t love that feeling! Although I understand that some of you may have a different perspective (and I am NOT trying to talk you out of creating a membership!). This was my personal experience with memberships in comparison to other digital products I've tried and loved over the years.
Lesson #5: There is Value in Leaning On Other People (Like Your Team)
When I started the membership, I had a team working with me. I had a small core team and also collaborated with other contractors. Even now, I still have a team, although we have had some changes over the past eight or nine months. Creating the membership was not a solo effort, and I highly recommend not doing everything alone as it involves a lot of work. But even still, once the membership started, I was like “SOS, I need help”.
My incredible customer support manager, Stacey, who I've been working with for years, stepped up in a big way. I can't express my gratitude enough for her guidance and support throughout this journey. We faced the typical challenges that come with a major launch, with over 170 people joining in just the first week. The influx of emails and messages on Instagram was overwhelming, but Stacey was there every step of the way.
Her reassurance and understanding made me feel less alone in the midst of the chaos. Despite feeling a mix of excitement and being daunted by the responsibility of serving such a large community, Stacey's presence kept me grounded. She even reached out to me on Voxer, acknowledging her own feeling of being overwhelmed which made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. We were able to lean on each other during this intense period.
Then as the membership continues, Stacey transitioned into a new role as the community manager. In addition to handling customer support, she began assisting with coaching calls, managing the Facebook group, and brainstorming solutions for any challenges that arose (like those mistakes I talked about in last week’s episode). I loved watching her super strategic mind come into action of solving different problems and just serving our customers and me so well. Ya’ll - Stacey was my HERO. I really felt like she was in this with me.
If you're going through something difficult in your business, like a difficult decision or an offer that's not going how you hoped, it's so helpful having someone else in there with you who's helping you and being a second set of eyes. I really just don't think I could have done it without her.
Lesson #6: It’s Not About the Money For Me. Recurring Revenue Isn’t Everything.
When faced with the decision of closing my membership or “fixing it”, most of the people I talked to advised me to keep it going because it was a significant revenue source, and with some tweaks, it could be made better. Many people were encouraging me that since so many people were already paying for it (170+ members) and enjoying it, there was no reason to close it.
Ultimately though, I realized that I didn’t feel like I created a great offer, and I didn't want to keep tinkering with it. People often talk about how recurring revenue is the ultimate goal, but it's over glamorized in a lot of ways. I think people often forget that there are other ways to have recurring revenue, such as offering payment plans on products (which is what I prefer!). In the end, I was also just reminded that it never was just all about the money for me, which even though I knew, was a welcome reminder.
Lesson #7: It’s Important to Stay Focused On Your Goals and Vision
This one feels a little vulnerable to share. During that time, I feel like I lost some vision and focus in my business. I had a bunch of ideas, including the concept of a membership that I had been thinking about for a while. Although it wasn't a sudden realization (like boom - I want a membership and there it was), I decided to go with it. However, looking back, I should have asked myself if it was the right fit for that season of my business and life. Personally, I had a lot going on when I launched the membership, and it just didn't align with my current situation. Ultimately, it turned out to be a distraction, especially in terms of my business.
Again, that doesn't mean I regret it. It also doesn't mean I didn't love the members who were part of it. However, it wasn't what I should have been doing. It distracted me from the areas of my business that deserved more attention and energy. Don't get me wrong, I actually love those areas, but I tend to get bored when things are too easy and straightforward.
From my perspective, my template shop, where I sell Showit templates, was doing great with consistent sales and positive feedback. My course for designers, called Booked Out Designer, which teaches how to build an on-demand business and the business side of running a brand and website design business, was also thriving. Everything was running smoothly, and even the podcast felt like things were just working out.
That's when I thought, "Let's start something new!" and it sounded exciting and fun. But the reality is, with the type of business I have, having stable and consistent income from digital products is already a great achievement. It doesn't mean I needed to add something else. In retrospect, it's a sign to either take a break and let things run on their own, allowing the systems to do their job, or concentrate on improving what I already have - enhancing marketing efforts and refining existing offerings.
I should have been focusing on these things. Instead, I feel like I lost sight of the bigger business vision and fell victim to shiny object syndrome. Everything seemed exciting and alluring, especially the launch of the membership. I was genuinely thrilled and convinced that it was my calling. But in the process, I lost my overall direction and focus.
Did you listen to episode 207 where I share my biggest business lessons? Two of those really relate to my feelings about the membership.
So I heard James Clear mention this quote on Tim Ferriss's podcast. He said, "Success generates opportunities and distractions." Another quote from James Clear in that episode was, "You get good at something. So that brings you opportunities your way. You turn around six months later and you don't have time to do the thing that made you successful." This feels like a version, another way to say it, of what this membership did. I thought things were going well, so I created a membership. I believed people would join and I would enjoy it. Ultimately though, I believe it was both an opportunity and a distraction.
I often think about the first one to three years of our business as a period of exploration, where we try new things and experience significant shifts. However, this can also occur later, both for good and bad reasons. It's okay to change our business direction seven, eight, or nine years in. However, if we're in a tough spot, lacking a clear vision and not defining our goals adequately, it can create distractions.
In my case, I had a clear vision for the membership and felt like I knew exactly what it would become. I knew what the offer was, I wrote copy, I got excited. But in retrospect, it wasn't super clear and it didn't fit well with the other elements of my business and the life I wanted.
So it's been a few (8!) months since it closed, and from this lesson I can tell you - I'm way more focused. You might even tell that from the outside. I’ve launched six new templates this year. I redesigned the showcase page for my template shop, which is a page on my website where it displays customer sites. I have been collaborating and speaking more frequently. This year, I have hired two new team members and introduced new features to the booked out designer. Everything has become more focused.
My advice for you is when you are considering a new idea for your business, I make sure it fits in with your overall business and life goals. Remember, your work and personal life are interconnected as an entrepreneur. You are not your business, but your business DOES affect your personal life. If you find it difficult to determine if the idea supports your goals, you might want to spend a little extra time gaining clarity around your goals.
Not right now doesn’t mean “not ever”
Acknowledging the season of life you're in is so important. It’s okay to think about a new idea and think “hey, I'm a stay-at-home mom and don't really have time for this” or maybe you're in a season of life where you're still working a 9-to-5 and trying to juggle your business. Saying no to this new offer idea doesn't mean you'll never do it. It just means that you'll wait until it makes sense for this season of your life or until you've built up another offer more.
Maybe you too have had seasons of business where you feel like you've lost sight of your vision, right? It has felt so good to regain mine. I've shared a few times on the podcast that this year, I have three words of the year for my business and I have a different word of the year for my personal life. But I made a rule for myself this year after the membership experience last year: if something doesn't fit into these three words, I'm not doing it this year. If a business idea, maybe it's a new offer or a new promotion, whatever it is, doesn't align with these three words, I'm not doing it.
When I have new ideas, I evaluate whether they fit into those three words or not. It has been a huge help because, yes, I'm an entrepreneur at heart and a creative as well. I constantly have business ideas, but seeing those three words helps me focus and decide if they align or not. Again, it doesn't mean I'll never do them, but if they don't fit into these words, I'm not pursuing them right now. This is a useful exercise for yourself if you need more focus. It's normal to struggle with envisioning your business 10+ years into the future (I know I do!). But you can know what you want your business to look like right now.
Lesson #8 I Didn’t Like Selling Access to Myself As a Main Part of an Offer
Okay, here's the last valuable lesson I want to share - selling access to yourself is a common practice among business owners but it doesn’t mean you have to do it. It's often seen in mastermind groups, one-on-one coaching, and other similar services. However, relying solely on selling access to yourself as an offer model may not be sustainable. It wasn’t for me. I’ve seen this be a challenge many personal brands face, especially when their business revolves around selling their expertise or opinions. It can become really overwhelming. It can feel exhausting, like people are buying “you” and constantly selling “yourself” and then worried you're going to disappoint them.
Ultimately, I'm an introvert and I don't enjoy being bombarded with questions all the time. I prefer to do things at my own pace and on my own schedule. Which feels a bit vulnerable to share because I don’t want anyone in the membership to feel like I didn’t love having you in there because I truly appreciated every single one of you. The membership in general just felt like a lot of pressure. Having people who were interested in learning from me was great, but the “access” aspect added extra pressure. So, my advice from this lesson would be that when making your offers, consider if you actually want access to you to be a significant component.
Want a recap of the biggest lessons from closing my membership?
- It’s OK for your business to have offer gaps
- People respect you when you do hard things
- I learned a better way to do refunds
- I don’t like to sell people on buying from me month over month
- There is value in leaning on other people
- It’s not just about the money for me and recurring revenue is not everything
- It’s important to stay focused and hold the vision
- I didn’t like selling access to myself as the offer
Have you seen the new Elizabeth McCravy shop templates?
If you haven't checked out my Showit template shop lately, you need to. There are tons of new templates added, including cool add-ons in my shop. You'll find new sales page templates, a speaker add-on template to pitch yourself, a media kit, a quiz template (for awesome lead magnets!), and a landing page bundle with over 15 pages to grow your email list. Plus, there's the all-new Kacie and Carrie templates, both totally gorgeous and unique. Check everything out here and use code BBPODCAST for 10% off.
July 25, 2023