023: How a Busy Mom Created a Membership Site for Parents

Ward chats with Ayelet Marinovich, founder of Learn With Less (formerly Strength In Words) about the origins of her membership business, utilizing local groups and social media to build an audience, and the importance of understanding the needs of your customers to grow your product.

Show Notes

Show Transcript

Ward: [00:00:00] Hey there, Ayelet thanks for joining me.

Ayelet: [00:00:01] Hi Ward. Nice to be here.

Ward: [00:00:03] Yeah, so let everybody know about a little bit about your business and what you do.

Ayelet: [00:00:08] Sure, so my name is Ayelet and I run a company. It’s a parent education company and it’s called Strength and Words and basically I help families with infants and toddlers feel more confident and empowered to do that big job of raising tiny humans by helping them understand that they already have everything that they need to help their babies learn and develop.

Ward: [00:00:37] I like that. It’s a good it’s a good little pitch. It really makes me feel comfortable. Right

Ayelet: [00:00:40] I’ve worked on that a lot. It’s not perfect.

Ward: [00:00:43] But it’s good. It’s good. So what what within that what do you actually like us to put it bluntly? What are you selling exactly?

Ayelet: [00:00:51] Sure, so it’s interesting because I think you know the baby industry would have us believe that there’s so many there’s toys out there and there’s things out there and there’s gears out there and you need all of them to help your baby and to be the best parent that you can be and I don’t buy it. As I have a background as a pediatric speech language pathologist and my work there is primarily with early intervention. So working with families with infants and toddlers And I know that play is how we support development and. I think basically the first question that we ask as new parents is okay well, what do I need to buy to help my child? What do they need? What do I need to get? And the answer is you don’t need to get anything. It is already in your house. It’s attached to you. It’s in the quality of interactions and the time that you’re already spending. And the energy that you’re already expending. So with all that said I can’t I can’t recommend great baby toys. I can’t sell you know baby gear because I don’t truly believe in it. What I can provide is an education so I sell what I call the learn with less curriculum, which is essentially a week by week development and activity guide for playing with your baby from birth to three years. Because I believe that when we have when we are sort of a quick then empowered with that knowledge of how our children are actually learning and what they are learning about then we get to see the ways that often we’re already doing it and the ways in which the sort of Developmental value of Any Given material, you know, the developmental value of a laundry basket and a sort of hand-carved organically stained wood and drum is exactly the same. It’s a matter of how how you use it. So I sell knowledge and practical experiences and I use a four pillar framework of Play, Talk, sing, and move to help parents interact with their child and see what they’re already doing and how they’re already sort of winning it.

Ward: [00:03:19] Yeah, I like that. So it’s a week-by-week. So it’s a week-by-week guide for three years give or take and how does the billing work for that? Is it all up front or is it is it month-to-month or how does that work?

Ayelet: [00:03:37] So I have two ways that people can engage with the curriculum. I have two books which are out and available through my website or through Amazon and that’s sort of the DIY version and then I have a monthly or annual membership that you can you can receive the curriculum as an email every week and you get the information that you need exactly when you need it. So you say your baby is two weeks old then you start with the two-week-old module or lesson. And and that includes a text based email a audio download and then a members area where they can they can see how other families in video or story or photo are engaging with the curriculum and sort of synthesize that information. And engage with other families.

Ward: [00:04:33] Nice I like that now did how did this star like At first? I assumed you didn’t just launch of the membership program like this. Were you just doing individual one-on-one clients, and then it evolved or what’s the story there?

Ayelet: [00:04:47] Sure so way back when I started this business when my own son was born not. Way back when he’s five now, but when when I had my own child, I was living far away from my own home. My husband and I are from California originally and we were living in London in the UK. So we were far from anyone or anything that we knew as far as systems and all that. So I did what I thought was brilliant at the time which was to basically bribe people to come and hang out with me and be my friends because I knew that new Parenthood is so isolating. So I was like, well, I know something about play I know how to play with a tiny baby and that’s actually something that does not feel you know obvious to many people. So I basically bribed people to come and play with me with their babies and I led these groups out of my home and that got bigger and bigger and then we left London and I decided that I wanted to take that online and go wherever I went. So I started a podcast which is the strength and words podcast and I wanted to monetize it. Somehow and I knew that that sort of curriculum that I would had been working with that I had developed organically through my own needs through what my baby was experiencing through the the needs of and questions of my friends who were also experiencing early Parenthood. And I was just writing down essentially what I was doing and what we were doing. And so so that developed into at first a course that people could buy that got sent directly to their email, but I had a hard time because I didn’t know anything about becoming an online business owner or business owner in general. I didn’t really know how to scale that and I couldn’t automate it. So I then started the membership program where I had people engaging with the curriculum within a membership site. And I had other things going on like parent education programming which is still a benefit of the membership today and and live workshops that people could attend that were either sort of parent support groups or parent education programming where they could engage with a guest that I had on directly ask them, you know for a live Q&A their own questions, whether it was involving, you know raising a child bilingually, or what is sensory processing or how do I do this or that, you know emotional development or early language development. So basically I am using my podcast and the guest that I come on my own the podcast as Live Events within my community where the community members get additional access to those people and then the replays of those great Live Events as well. Does that make sense?

Ward: [00:08:13] Yeah, definitely lot of stuff that I mean, that’s great from the numbers perspective. I’m sure they feel like they’re getting yeah like a lot of value. So when you when you first launch the membership were you charging?

Ayelet: [00:08:23] So I had no idea whether people would pay for an ongoing thing and I wanted it to be accessible and I wanted to figure out just what I was doing. So I did an Initial founding member rate of I believe it was eight dollars a month just to sort of try it out and then I slowly raised that up. And now it’s at $29 a month.

Ward: [00:08:53] Do you feel like, I assume you’re also providing more for people in between $8 starting point in the $29 point now, right?

Ayelet: [00:09:02] Yeah absolutely members get get access to similar things but delivered in a in a more accessible way if that makes sense. So now the curriculum is delivered actually directly to their inbox again with a very sort of streamlined way of bringing them back into the members area and exactly where they want to be and I also have additional sort of bonus courses and useful ways of engaging with your child in different ways and they’re organized in you know, very logical ways under different topics. I’ve also, you know overtime gotten to understand what my audience needs what are their biggest challenges and so I organized the content that I create around those challenges around those topics. So whether that sort of you know setting limits and managing a toddler’s Behavior or organizing a learning environment or understanding various areas of development those kinds of things. So there’s there I would say that now it’s number one there’s a huge library of resources that has been grown up and is organized in a sort of obvious and palatable way. There are additional resources that they can access that are exclusive to the community.

Ward: [00:10:44] Gotcha. So let’s shift a little bit to try and understand how you initially built an audience for this. So initially you said you were doing the group thing at in London and then eventually decided to launch an online course. So take me back to the beginning, you know day one when you were trying to get the group’s thing going. How did you even have anyone to tell about that?

Ayelet: [00:11:05] So I was In a new place, like I said, and I didn’t really know anybody but I was pregnant when we moved there. So I started attending a like a prenatal yoga session or class in my neighborhood and I started seeking out what kinds of resources there were for pregnant and new parents. And I just started sort of making friends and I got my name out a little bit as far as what my background was. I couldn’t technically work as a speech language pathologist yet because my license had not come through and transferred but I could work as a parent educator. So I with that sort of prenatal yoga class that I was attending while I was pregnant as we as the friends that I had made and I were getting closer and closer to when the babies would come out. I asked the class instructor whether I could do like a little bit of a like a discussion about early development and then sort of promoted the idea that I was having to get together after babies. We’re out and as new parents, there’s also. A lot more infrastructure in the UK for new parents and parents support. So I was able to sort of connect with other local organizations or resources. And get the word out of about this thing that I was doing for local parents, and it was really nice because there’s also more opportunity for for new parents to enjoy early Parenthood because of the way like I said, the infrastructure is set up so people are not always rushing to go back to work and find childcare. So I did have a lot of new moms, but also new dad’s. I had some nannies and caregivers and grandparents in the audience and all of them brought their own unique perspective which was wonderful and because it was London, it was really great because people were from all over the world. So I got to to experience, you know brand new Parenthood with lots of different kinds of people who had lots of different ideas about what being a parent was and how to parent. But we were all having the same questions, which was what do I do with this tiny human? And how do I ensure that? I’m doing it right and doing enough and what do I need? You know, so yeah, so that was how the sort of live group component came up and then when we left. I decided to start up the podcast knowing absolutely nothing about podcasting at the time this was and I think February of 2016 I wrote up a little script recorded it and then Googled how to start a podcast and submitted it to iTunes and started a website. It was I mean, it was so ridiculous looking back. I’m like, oh man, I really could have launched it, but I had no idea how to do that at the time. And I didn’t know what I didn’t know so it felt totally feasible and it was honestly, but that made it a longer haul of building an audience with the podcast because I didn’t have any kind of, you know exciting. Audience building strategies. I didn’t even know what those were at the time but as I started to look into okay, well, how come nobody’s listening? I I started to, you know, create more of a social media presence. I started an email list pretty early and yeah within let’s see February was when I started the podcast and then I launched what is now the learn with less curriculum in November with I think I had like 250 people on my email list and 10 people bought it as an email course. Which Looking Back Now is kind of amazing. Like that’s great number is that’s an amazing conversion, right? But of course at the time I was like, why didn’t everyone buy. I know they’re here because they like what I’m saying? Why aren’t they all buying but of course no, no list has a has a hundred percent conversion rate as far as as sales so that’s okay. But yeah, so so really primarily through the podcast and then through other social media channels is how I’ve built an audience and then building relationships with other bloggers and podcasters as well has really helped as well. So when I launched the books that was huge I’ve appeared on lots of other podcasts and blogs and done guest posts and stuff. And when of course when I have my own guests on my podcast that that creates a and establishes a really nice relationship with other other people in a similar or overlapping Nation. I love that.

Ward: [00:16:39] I mean, I really like the kind of organic nature of how you built it up and then you went into more the traditional audience growing things. But that really is a good place to start because you don’t need any money or anything to start building up like a community of sorts in the beginning.

Ayelet: [00:16:53] Totally and again, like I didn’t know anything about the whole online business world. I didn’t know that like taking online courses about stuff was something that people did except through universities, you know, and I didn’t know anything about membership membership sites except for you know Netflix the ones that I was already part of that were more traditional, so it really opened me up and I also was not really a big podcast listener at I created a podcast. I just thought it was a great format for what I wanted to do. Since then of course, I have learned so much and been just amazed by by what people build and and the new economy and how it’s just open for the taking and you just have to learn and it’s so cool.

Ward: [00:17:46] Yeah, for sure. So are there any other you know aside from audience building tactics which are similar to marketing but somewhat different because marketing is more directly related to sales, right? So, what are there any marketing tactics you’ve tried that I’ve kind of worked pretty well for you?

Ayelet: [00:18:04] Yeah, I mean I try to, let’s see, I tried to create excitement around sort of campaigns. I like to try to build excitement around a certain time frame. So I’ll start with you know, so some kind of like question that people are asking and then I’ll build that up to you know, how do people how do other people say this problem? How are other people experiencing this problem? And then I’ll tell then I’ll sort of talk more about what how I like to solve the problem and then I’ll build that up to here’s what I have to solve that problem that you can purchase if you want to solve the problem in the way I’ve presented it. So that’s sort of one way is just sort of setting a schedule for the kinds of campaigns that I want to be running based on the kinds of things other people are I’m hearing my audience dealing with but also I have an ongoing sort of opt-in of course from my website which is infant and toddler development blueprint, which I use to do list building. I have it all over my website but then I also have a Facebook ad running to cold traffic and that helps me build my audience as well and my list and then what else? Yeah. And then and then of course social media, I’m most active on Facebook and Instagram because I find that a lot of my people are there and I would love to use Pinterest more but it hasn’t been the biggest priority for me. So that’s that’s next.

Ward: [00:20:00] Yeah, which of all the channels you just mentioned. Which one is would you say is the most effective for you?

Ayelet: [00:20:06] Probably Facebook, you know, we none of us know how when and how things will change we know that they will right? That that growth from one channel is inevitably going to be something that shifts into something else. But for the time being and pretty consistently I have seen that most of my new parents have traditionally been on Facebook. So Facebook ads, you know Facebook just I have a obviously a Facebook page, but then I also have a group and I post to my you know on my personal profile as well. Mostly just the kinds of things that that interest me which happened to also be about parenting because I am a parent as well. But yeah, I think this book has probably been the single most useful channel for me followed closely by Instagram.

Ward: [00:21:11] Gotcha. So as earned been have there been any marketing or audience bullying tactics. You’ve tried that just haven’t really worked? Can you think of any examples?

Ayelet: [00:21:20] Sure. I mean I’ve tried a couple of challenges and I think that that can help certainly with like audience growth Or List building but I think really getting the messaging right and including the right amount of information within say a challenge. To then also show what’s possible in the actual process that leads into a product that you’re selling. I find to be particularly difficult. I find that to be really hard thing to get that balance right? I also I had another one and then it escaped me. I find the giveaways are great for like getting sort of. Your name and your brand out there is but I don’t find that they helped me create an audience of buyers, but rather rather more sort of freebie seekers, which is fine. I mean, I have a ton of great free content for people to use and to enjoy and I still believe in you know the need for accessible resources for All Families. The primary value of mine, but I also need to be able to pay my bills so that I can keep creating them.

Ward: [00:22:55] Right right, and that’s the flip side of the coin which is not immoral to charge for things. But yeah, if has launched a providing value along the way I think I think that’s a nice way to kind of do both things. So kind of in closing here there are there any resources you would recommend in terms of books, courses you’ve taken, other podcast that we’re particularly helpful in terms of building a membership business that you’ve gone through.

Ayelet: [00:23:25] Yeah, sure. So I have found that Tara McMullin resources are excellent. She runs the what works podcast and has created an entire ecosystem around what works for small businesses and how and how in her own business her podcast feeds into her membership. As well, so that’s been a really fun thing because I think her content in general is just really useful and I love hearing about how other people are doing their businesses and what’s working for them and the other great resource that I have really benefited from has been Ryan Levesque Ask method. I love the the way that he has really built his entire business on helping people really understand who Their audience is and what they’re actually saying and asking for rather than what we think they’re they’re saying so those two combined have been just phenomenal resources for me. And then also Donald Miller Story brand, I love that book I love everything. He says about creating creating story around your people because of course we all want insight into the brands that we invest in and building we do that by Building stories. So those those would be my main my main ones.

Ward: [00:25:07] Great. Thanks so much. And yeah and just in closing where would people go if they want to learn more about you.

Ayelet: [00:25:13] Sure. My website is strengthinwords.com. My podcast is Strength in Words. So if you have or are expecting an infant or a toddler or you know, someone who works with families with infants and toddlers, that’s a great place to start and you can download my free infant-toddler development blueprint at strengthinwords.com.

Ward: [00:25:37] Awesome. Thanks again for coming on the podcast Ayelet.

Ayelet: [00:25:40] Yeah. Thanks for having me Ward it was fun.