I have been pretty upbeat so far about the benefits of a membership site for your business. However it is probably time I came clean and told you that it is not all sunshine and laughter. Here are some things you need to know before you start :
1. A membership site is a lot of work upfront
In fact it is a LOT of work. An AWFUL lot of work, before you can even open it up for members.
To sell a membership site you have to have a lot of content. With some types of site and service, you can still be preparing the content while your members are reading and digesting the first tranche.
Rather like a teacher preparing his lesson plans the day before the class, rather than doing them all in advance. But even so it is still a lot of work.
I would say that for most sites you it will take you two or three months if not longer to prepare the content. Depending on how much time you have. If you can just do it in the evenings, it could take longer.
During this time you are not earning any income from it. You are just hoping.
Mind you, the other side of the coin is that once this work is done, you just have to keep it ticking over and up to date. If the site goes well and you get lots of signups, that time spent at the start could prove to be time very well spent.
Of course if the site bombs then it will all be wasted. Hopefully though you will have done your market research in advance and this will not happen.
2. The site development can be expensive
Unless you are a techie and able to do it yourself, you will have to employ a web designer to create your membership site for you. And be warned, a membership site will probably cost quite a bit more than a standard brochure site. Depending on what you want of course.
Although I have developed a certain expertise with websites, there is a lot of stuff I couldn’t possibly do myself and I have spent a small fortune on my membership site. However I have also earned considerably more than I have spent, so no problem. Apart from raising the cash in the first place of course …
3. It can be a bit of a tie
The internet is 24/7 and sometimes your members will expect a 24/7 service. This is difficult if you are, like me, a sole practitioner with a family. Even if you have an office full of staff, they will not normally be prepared to do much work out of hours.
The way I deal with it is to do things immediately. So if I log in at 10.00 pm and see that one of the members has posted a question on the forum, I will just go in and answer it. Then I have a happy member and I don’t have a chance to forget about it.
Most of the questions are things I can answer fairly quickly anyway. If it is something which will need a bit of research, I generally gently suggest that it is a bit too complex for the forum and they will have to commission a written advice from me.
If the question is a technical one, particularly if it is someone who has just joined but is having trouble logging in, it is essential that you deal with it asap or that person will get very upset and may even (horrors!) demand a refund.
4. Some people will try to use it for free and steal your content
I was very worried about this to start with, but actually it has not been that much of a problem. Most people are honest.
It IS very annoying when someone joins, has obviously used your content and then asks if they can cancel and have their money back. However the best way to deal with it is just to refund them and move on.
Just think that they must be a sad pathetic person to behave in this way, and forget about them. There will be plenty of nice honourable people who will be only to happy to pay you the proper price (assuming your service is a good one of course). Concentrate on them.
5. You may physically see less people
I haven’t seen a client in the office for years. Either they get what they want from using the site and I know nothing about it, or they instruct me via the website and we do everything by email or, sometimes, telephone / Skype or online meeting room.
This suits me as I am a fairly quiet person who enjoys writing and developing new things. However I know when I have spoken to other lawyers about my way of working, some have commented that they would miss seeing the clients.
Mind you, your membership site need not be like mine. There is no reason why you shouldn’t have a membership site AND see clients in the office. But perhaps less often, and for the more interesting complex matters rather than routine work.
So those are the problem areas that immediately spring to mind. At the time of writing I can’t really think of any others. However if you can, put them in a comment and I will give my views on them.