Ward and Joan chat about her online bridge improvement course, using social media to build a community, and the benefits of providing excellent support.
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Ward: [00:00:34] All right, Joan. So thanks for being on the podcast appreciate you taking some time.
Joan: [00:00:38] Oh my pleasure.
Ward: [00:00:40] All right, so we'll just jump right in. How did you start? Joanbuttsbridge.com?
Joan: [00:00:49] Well, would I've been going for quite a long time. I've been teaching for about 30 years. And it started by having a bridge club a real-life bridge club and then I was offered a job to train teachers in how to teach all around Australia. So that meant that I traveled a lot more and met a lot more people and. I was interested in a friend of mines online game because it made sense that I could harness all the people. I was meeting who are at their own bridge clubs and offer them something online. So that's how it started. And at first I had no control over my database. So at first I tried at some online lessons with a friend who controlled the database but really it ended up. With so many clicks the poor old middle-aged people who are the majority of my market because a lot of people who play bridge all over the world are in their 50s and 60s. So they were having so much trouble that it was really not helping my site at all. It was more helping the other person site. And I was unable to control my database. So that was the biggest problem and then I hired a girl who started off as a social media person, but she's ended up being my web designer digital marketer. Now publishes now does a lot with my books and has become extremely valuable to me and she looked at my site and she said I don't like the look of it. I want to rebuild it. So I said, oh go ahead so we built it in Squarespace and then she discovered that she could write all of the game. And all of what I wanted on my site and then she approached me and said I liked the look of member space. She said I think this is how we'll keep our database and various other things. So only in August last year. It's been going for a little bit more than a year. I launched my own product and. Always my goal in teaching has been to set up a curriculum many people are taught bridge in a really bad way in that It's they become overwhelmed with too many things. They don't need to know so I believed in having a structured approach. And taking a little bit at a time and that was a dream of mine. So working with Kate and having memberspace has been an amazing way for me to slowly but surely build a curriculum and to have people actually playing bridge online with robots.
Ward: [00:03:44] Cool. So let me just pause right there. So you start out these bridge clubs and that's kind of where you initially build up an audience of people. Like how do people even know about your website I guess is my question?
Joan: [00:03:58] Well, I have been doing things and writing books for a long time. So I think my I was quite well known and it was all to do with Marketing Online really, but the the. Way that I built people up was by doing lessons that different real life bridge clubs and realizing. I wanted to link them online and to let them play and communicate with each other online all around Australia. So yeah, that's how it started.
Ward: [00:04:30] So when you're when you're doing these, you know, the various books you've written when you're going to use bridge clubs. Are you collecting email addresses?
Joan: [00:04:38] Yes, I used to. But now I just refer them back to my website and there's a way that they can just join so at the moment we have a structure. there are quite a few thousand people on it where they choose to be a free member of my sight and this is where memberspace helps very much that I could see all my free members, but then they have a look we give them a sample online. The big thing is that they can actually play a bridge hand. There are quite a few online Bridge sites, but not all of them allow the person to sit at their computer and play a bridge hand. And what I do is I say maybe you could have played this way or that way and I offer hints so. In my going around lessons, I'd give them my email and I'd give them my website and they would have a look at it because we offered a free lesson that they could have a tryout.
Ward: [00:05:41] Right, I see. Yeah, so why don't we dive into your pricing in a little bit so I'm on I'm on your site. I'm on your pricing page and it looks like you offer a gold plan, which is $15 a month. You offer within that there's also a long-term version which is paying for six months at a time where people save five dollars or paying and they were they receive a month free you then have a silver membership which is ten dollars a month. And that's the only option and then there's also a free membership like you mentioned and then each one of these there's different things that are included and not included and we don't we don't really need to dive too much into the details of you know, what you're providing so much because from our audience perspective what they're probably more curious about is the pricing and the decisions and strategies I went to that. So how did you come up at gold price the silver price and the free?
Joan: [00:06:35] Well at first I was quite anxious because there's an awful lot of free lessons and free stuff for bridge online, but people I respected said Joan you can charge because people will want your lessons. So we decided that in order to give them a bit of a taste we would offer that free membership. There was no particular reason why it was $15 a month for Gold or ten dollars for silver. It was just I had no idea of what they would pay but I think people can get a lot on the internet that's not very expensive. So the way we say it is that you can play bridge constantly for less than a cup of coffee a week. And they do get a lot for the gold gold membership. They do receive all my lessons which are building up into a big library. And for the silver they can play they could sit and play hands maybe a hundred hands a day and they could play them they can see how they went. So the pricing was sort of random. We were just testing the market and we will look at it again when we need to.
Ward: [00:07:52] You mentioned that the pricing is essentially random, but obviously it's working well enough I assume for you to pay your bills to pay any of your employee or employees.
Joan: [00:08:02] Since I started in a little over a year. It's actually become my primary source of income and I had five or six different sources of income over 30 years. So it's grown very rapidly. Yeah. I think the main thing is that I've. Well, I know that my lessons are good. And I know that they are what people are looking for. Apparently they must be but it also member space gives me the ability to control my own member structure and I can control my database and I can, it's fascinating for me to go onto your site onto my side. I suppose in them the space and see where my members are coming from. That's for me, It's amazing.
Ward: [00:08:50] Great some are you considering changing the price of increasing it, decreasing it playing with different plan limits and such in the future or you think you're going to be good for a while?
Joan: [00:09:01] I think perhaps I could increase the price, I'm not saying that in a tough business manner but each week I spend a lot of time releasing a new lesson and people have a lot that they could do. On that lesson and it takes quite a lot to put it together, so. I wanted people to join as gold members and interestingly again. I can see that on member space. I can see all my gold members. There are the huge majority of my members are gold. They get the lessons. So that's what that's what people must be wanting. The silver can play Just Play constantly. So I think that in the long run, I will probably raise the price a little of my gold membership.
Ward: [00:09:52] Yeah, because that's something we play with a lot to is pricing and you know where to increase it. We're not to what there's always pros and cons to changing the price but it's you know, sometimes having to lower price can attract the wrong kind of customer, you know, you can. You don't have it having a the pricing words may be free. Sometimes that's good for you for getting initial traction getting people in the door and then maybe convincing them to upgrade to one of the paid plans. But sometimes depending on the nature of your business that can lead to way too much support. Like if you get too many people on the free plan now, you're spending all your time supporting people who aren't even paying you, you know have enough time your content or you're paying members. So it's kind of a slippery thing to figure out pricing. It's never quite finished. It's always a guess so.
Joan: [00:10:39] Yeah. I'm sure that it's the you know the worried as I said my my concern was oh they can get everything for free. Why would they want to pay for me? You know, but now I get a lot of really good comments about the structure of the lessons and I don't think there are many other places anywhere that. Put things together in the same way. So I'm huh. I guess you could say I'm gaining confidence with what I'm offering and I don't necessarily want to put prices up if I can manage well without it, but I would you're right. I would happily I would like our one of our big goals is converting naturally the free members to become Gold members, so we offer them monthly hands that they can actually play and I do an analysis of the hand and quite a few join up. I can see it in member space in the first day of every month we can see a spike in members joining because The Challenge hand we call it goes out to five five thousand people and they say, oh we like this well, we might give it a go. The other good thing is that they can join for a month. And then cancel and if they just simply go to my account, they can cancel easily themselves. Remember that a lot of my members are middle-aged people. They're not young. They're not always good with using computers and we need to concentrate a lot on support and part of it is if they wish to cancel at the end of a month. Making it simple and clear that they can go to my account and I think member space have done that very well in that it's so clear if they want to not continue. They just press the button. We do get a lot of support questions about many basic things to do with computers and playing online. So it is very important that the site is designed very simply and clearly and I believe it is now.
Ward: [00:12:54] So okay so let me kind of go backwards in time then so you after you know having various books going to bridge clubs realizing there's probably a market here to do something online. You launch your site you have the ability to have people play online on your site. How did you go about getting your initial sales? Did you was it just simply seeing an email out to the people you've built up on your list over time and telling people at bridge clubs?
Joan: [00:13:22] Well, yes, I had a pretty good database anyway, so we just made a special offer. We just launched it launched the idea of my online school of bridge we've sent a big email because remember I had built up a lot over a number of years. So it wasn't as if I was starting from the beginning we just offered them they could come onto the side and test and play someone for free and each week It's been growing each week. I don't think there's been one week that it has not cannot just grown. So that was our main. Our main campaign was just doing a Facebook and an email campaign. We do work on Facebook as well every Friday for example a hand from the lesson goes up on Facebook and it's really good. It's increasing the numbers of people who make a comment and say what they would do on the hand. And now one of the great things is that expert bridge players come into that and give their advice to so it's very much becoming Interactive.
Ward: [00:14:30] Hmm. So let's dive into that then so with the you post hands on Facebook do you post on any other social media platforms.
Joan: [00:14:39] Yeah, we've just started on Instagram as well and we have it where it's in that's increasing people can just make their comments. They say, oh I do this and I do that and then one talks to the other and then in comes an expert and you see in the world of bridge. Average players or beginners would never have access to experts it's they might play against them, but they wouldn't have expert real access to the advice of experts. So this is a great way to do it. And I've always had a goal of making the game of bridge look beautiful and I believe my site has has done that and we have on Instagram we've got various funny sayings and photos from years ago in the states, for example, because Bridge started pretty much in America and the look of my Instagram account to me is absolutely beautiful. Of course I had photos of my members at Bridge holidays and when I give talks at bridge clubs there they all go up there as well. But I think it's the interaction on Facebook. That's rather good.
Ward: [00:15:56] Yeah, it's good. It sounds like a real active Community. He's really engaged with this. So what other ways are used. Are you are you marketing are you getting people to be aware of you or is it right now right now? Is it pretty much posting on social media emailing your free members and then naturally people just come into the site and signing up or is there any other channels or strategy you're doing right now?
Joan: [00:16:21] Not really the challenge and goes out once a month to 5,000 people. I also have a teacher's site and I'm building products from my online to offer to teachers but that's sort of another area. They can all play my book hands. So they love to do that. No, there's not very much else. We are now starting to Market with starting a Facebook campaign to increase our American Market because at first I obviously started pretty much locally, but now that I look in memberspace at where my members are coming from, I find they're coming from all over the world.
Ward: [00:17:03] Right? And that's the beauty of online.
Joan: [00:17:05] It's amazing. Truly. Truly amazing.
Ward: [00:17:08] Yeah. Okay. So it sounds like you have the marketing and the sales sort of dialed in right now. It's and like you said you're growing every week. So that's that's awesome congrats. What what are you, one thing that a lot of people struggle with aside from sales and initial growth is is reducing cancellations and keep and also reducing number of people who ask for refunds because of various reasons. What kind of, what's been your experience with that so far give any tips for people?
Joan: [00:17:38] I think the better the support people can get I don't think we can ever underestimate the difficulty of moving to a website and the anxiety that people feel when they're trying to use it. So with our middle-aged sort of mature I suppose you could call it database. They're going to have a lot of basic anxieties and questions about how to use the site so I would say the better the support the more honest the support is the better and I noticed that I read a lot of the reasons for canceling and I'm very pleased because they often they're not bad reason. You know they say thank you I'm going overseas I won't use it for a few months, but I'll restart when I get back. So I think being there for them and knowing that their questions will be answered quickly. I think that's a huge part of it because If someone is enjoying what they're doing like playing a game of bridge online and suddenly they can't get their get on again. They are very frustrated and that sometimes as I say, they're mature people who have got a lot of time in the day to do it. So the fastest support can get to them and fix their problem and answer the better. Because they you know, they try they don't get an answer that try again. They say this is no good and they cancel so that's what happens without good quick support and my have Kate who is my suppose you could say, she's my everything my web designer my social media person. She's my support as well. So we actually having reasons for cancellations and examining them becomes quite a good research. Because we can see what we need to be changing and we are changing all the time based on what the customer is telling me.
Ward: [00:19:42] Right so are you is it just you and Kate? Is that is that the entire team?
Joan: [00:19:47] I do have someone who puts together the videos for me. So when I do a lesson every week There's a main video Then There are four hands they can play and there's a review video but apart from that, it's Kate and me.
Ward: [00:20:02] That's great and Kate handles 100% of the support?
Joan: [00:20:04] 100%
Ward: [00:20:07] Have you ever handled the sport? Has it always been her?
Joan: [00:20:09] Oh, well, sometimes they come to me. Sometimes they come in through Squarespace. Sometimes I see them if they're relevant to me because remember they're asking a lot of bridge questions to so anything that's relevant to me comes to me because there. Three different people emails they can use so oh, yes, I'd say I'm quite involved with the support but it's mainly Kate who gives them the technical advice of not just switching on and off your computer, but she actually right. I think this is terribly important. Would that the person who's there is the support person explains to them really nicely. And gives them a personal sort of email and they feel a lot better after that. Even if their problem is not solved immediately to think someone's there to help and gets to them and discusses. Our is really important Kate's marvelous at that.
Ward: [00:21:07] Yeah. I couldn't agree more our as a big part of our support to we we really try to emphasize, you know being kind being apathetic. You know people have various levels of technical proficiency. You don't know what's going on in their life that day. They might be rushed. You know, you don't know what they're what the context is when they're asking a question. And so just to be to be kind calm patient with every person be friendly in your response. It makes all the makes all the difference and just like you said, even when your responses oh something's broken or up. We can't do that or oh we can't fix that. The way you write the way you say it matters so much and then what we found and I don't know if you feel the same way when when you fought when people have positive interactions and then have multiple positive interactions with you they sort of become sales people for you. They go out of their way to tell other people about you and about what you provide and that you should sign up and pay for that thing to and then so then you get more customers.
Joan: [00:22:07] Oh, yes. Oh, absolutely. Yes, and especially with my business Bridges played with Partners. So they all have partners that they talk to and more I can offer in terms of partnerships and helping them the more they're Partners children. So that's rather good and then they talk about, they talk about it at the bridge club. I think one of the great things is the look of the site and the fact that say with member space. It's the Simplicity of being able to use it, you know, and the clarity of being able to go to my account, you know and say do I want to continue do I want to upgrade Etc? It's avoiding the anxiety by making it look very straightforward.
Ward: [00:22:54] Yeah, I having a nicely designed and simple and simple website for folks listening out there. It really should be a priority of your business. If you're not a designer by trade, you know, maybe for the very very first version you could launch without without being a professional designer, but if you want to get any kind of real traction and get any kind of serious Revenue coming from your business It needs to look professional the website. So it's something worth investing in for sure.
Joan: [00:23:22] Well, I actually believe the older I get but you know, you just should pay for the best because you'll get the best and it's just a tiny little probably a side but maybe 20 years ago. I needed to get business cards and I wanted to look at my branding in my logo and a friend of mine said. Pay the price go to this person. They are the best. Well, they created the most beautiful business card which then one corporate identity of the year in my state out of the blue for their design and I have never ever been sorry that I paid extra. Or what I thought at the time was the lot for this because wherever I go they make a comment and when I was dealing with Kate and talking about the creation of the online school of bridge and the look of my sight she took the logo and that's our sort of that's become our branding and everybody comments on my business card and my branding and my logo so it's really good for business to go to the best. I really think it is because they know what they're doing.
Ward: [00:24:34] Yeah, I think I think that's a good place to end on it. Did you do anything else? You want to share Joan?
Joan: [00:24:41] No, I just like to say. I think thanks to memberspace for how you've allowed me to see so much and to have such control of my database and even the little bit that you offer with the saving and recovering of money for me as the business founder. It's very comforting to know that or to think that someone another company like member space is actually working on, you know, or looking at we've recovered this we've saved that we've you know, that's very helpful for me.
Ward: [00:25:11] Yes, I'm happy to hear it all. Thanks again for the time.
Joan: [00:25:14] Okay, good by Ward all the best.