LOSER. FAILURE. So much MONEY down the tubes. Like tens of thousands.
Yes, that was me six months ago.
I built a membership site, and it sucked.
I want to share what I learned, so you don’t have to learn the hard and expensive way, like I did.
Lesson 1 (because it was the most expensive!): Hire a web developer/designer that has built membership sites before.
A membership site is a whole lot of moving parts that you want an experienced professional to help you navigate. Also, get multiple quotes from multiple web developers. I did not do this (even though my gut told me to!) and I paid at least three times what a normal fee would be. You will absolutely pay more for a membership site than you will a typical website, so getting multiple quotes will help you put the price in context. And, you’ll get a much better idea of who you want to work with. I also highly recommend checking at least three references. And do not let your developer ever tell you that you can’t have admin access to your full site. I would have learned a heck of a lot sooner that a “totally custom” feature was actually a $25 plugin. Yeah. Head-up-my-you-know-what for that one.
Lesson 2: Have a Strong Vision
I built my site with a collaborator, and our visions didn’t always align. While I am a big fan of compromise, I think we sucked the soul out of the site by over-compromising. It’s understandable when your visions don’t align, but two visions mashed together to try to create one usually leads to a severe delusion/dilution of said visions.
My ultimate goal was to create a place to showcase EVERYONE as the expert, not just me. I wanted women entrepreneurs to be able to sell to one another without “getting into trouble” like other sites. I wanted to encourage women to showcase their awesome businesses and buy from one another. This is my vision still today.
Lesson 3: Content is Queen
As I just wrote, my vision of the membership site was to crowd-source content because I believe every member has an expertise to share, not just me. While this was honorable, it was hard to explain. “Here, join this membership site, and then you get to upload videos and trainings!” didn’t translate well. But that was my highest goal, and when I opened the membership site it was pretty empty, with a not-so-clear user interface. No one knew what the hell to do once they got inside. If you are going to open a membership site, you better have a few quick wins for your members in terms of features or content. And make it so easy your 73 year-old Mom can figure it out!
Lesson 4: Your Market With Tell You What They Want…If You Ask and Actually Listen
I’ve been in Facebook groups for over a year, watching and listening to the struggles of women business owners. I heard them say over and over again when asked the question “What do you struggle with most in your business?” — they struggled with FINDING CLIENTS. Every single time. Finding clients online is like finding a needle in a haystack, and sometimes people resort to all sorts of behavior to get noticed. So many women are not comfortable jumping up and down and saying “Pick me, pick me!!!” Instead, they want to do great work, make interesting connections, find support and understanding, and make a decent living. THESE ARE MY PEOPLE.
And when I started listening to them, and not the ones jumping up and down, it became very clear what I could do to actually help them solve the client problem.
Lesson 5: Check Your Assumptions Over and Over Again
I had a beautiful membership site that no one wanted to use. I couldn’t even give it away. I had a big contest at Christmas time and gave away memberships. People signed up once, and never came back. It was a shit-show. I hadn’t been testing my assumptions. And I knew it. I knew it in my gut that it wasn’t right.
The biggest lesson here is to have a very close group of business friends/partners that will tell you the truth about your product. While I was building my NEW site, I used them time and time again to check my assumptions about what they need. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear, but let me tell ya right now, it’s cheaper to hear it in the planning and building phase than when you’re trying to market your site. That sucks rocks.
Lesson 6: Build a List of Raving Fans that Trust You
I knew this going in, but I didn’t listen. I thought I could be different and ‘special’ and that my product would be so amazing people would come in troves. Yeah. Crickets.
Now, I don’t think you need a list of 10,000 people that don’t really know you or trust you, but I think a list of 500-1000 of super engaged fans of yours is a great start. These folks also can help you with Lessons 4 and 5, too!
Lesson 7: Fail and Learn and Try Again
Do I regret these very expensive lessons? I suppose I do in terms of the amount of money and time I wasted. But in terms of what I learned, no. When I consult with business owners (because that’s my background), I always tell my clients that you don’t know what you don’t know, and that our businesses are really laboratories where we constantly test out our hypotheses with experiments. My first membership site was exactly that…a great big experiment. And sometimes even seasoned business consultants have to be reminded to practice what they preach!
So, how am I implementing what I learned in my new, improved site?
I started fresh, from scratch. I built up my list while I found a new web developer. I showed up in Facebook groups so I could be trusted. I helped people with no expectation of anything in return for six months. I found my developer in one of the Facebook groups and he came highly recommended. I checked references by using the actual telephone so I could hear the voices and feel in my gut if they were being honest. I did a ton of due diligence. And all during this time, I asked so many questions inside groups, and of my mailing list.
Again, the idea of finding clients just kept rising to the surface.
One day I was looking for a stock-image on Etsy to use for a blog, and it hit me. Why isn’t there a place like Etsy for women business owners to post their goods and services? It was like lightening struck me. THIS WAS IT.
I posted my idea for my new site in one large Facebook group, and the response was amazing. Hundreds wanted more information. I asked people to fill out a google form, and they did. I got emails and business information to see who thought this was a good idea, and what kind of businesses they had. All signs pointed that it was. It felt….easy. Light. Right.
SO THEN I BUILT IT.
The UnleaSHEd Store was born. I built an Etsy-style marketplace for women entrepreneurs to buy goods and services from each other. It’s part store, part membership site. There is a built in community for the vendors just like other membership sites have, but this one is made up of experts from all areas, not just me. And there is a place to post your items, just like Etsy. And I’ve built policies and terms that help to protect you as both a vendor and a potential customer.
Inside the Store, there are coaches, consultants, graphic designers, web developers, marketing specialists, content writers, and more. It’s amazing how I couldn’t give away memberships to my old site, where the UnleaSHEd Store seems to be resonating with so many.
And here is what makes me the most happy….I get to help women business owners, like you, build your business. Not just teach you how I did it, nor give you an ebook and a rah-rah, “You can do it!” I’m actually driving traffic to the Store so that you can make sales. And find strategic partners and collaborators. And friends and support.
I am your cheerleader, your confidant, and your biggest fan…not your competitor!
And there isn’t an ounce of doubt in my gut, mind or anywhere else about THIS site.
Martha Beck (the author and monthly contributor to Oprah Mag) says this: “ How you feel creating and selling something, that’s how the person receiving it is going to feel when they buy and use it. If you are creating a business product and you are in love with it, you will not have to sell it hard because people will beat down your door to get it.”
Let me tell you right now that I built the UnleaSHEd Store with love and generosity. I get teary eyed when I think of the women (and men, we don’t discriminate!) that are going to be able to start their business faster and with less investment of time and money because of the Store. It warms my heart to think about you getting your first sale on the Store, and that I can support you as you grow.
We are stronger together, and the UnleaSHEd Store was born from the ashes of a failed experiment that taught me how to listen to my gut, trust my instincts, and kill off what isn’t working for me anymore without looking back.
I invite you to check out the UnleaSHEd Store for yourself. Go to www.unleashestore.com and as always, please let me know how I can help you unleash your big, beautiful business.
(This post originally appeared on the blog at www.unleashedstore.com)