017: Don't Overthink Your Membership Business
🗓 October 10, 2019
Ward chats with Elizabeth Pampalone, founder of elizabethpampalone.com about how she started her membership business, the importance of taking action and how you can avoid over planning and overthinking things.
Ward: [00:00:00] Hi Elizabeth. How are you doing?
Elizabeth: [00:00:02] I'm good. How are you?
Ward: [00:00:04] I'm good. I'm good. Thanks so much for taking some time and talk with me today.
Elizabeth: [00:00:08] Thank you so much for having me.
Ward: [00:00:10] Yeah, so why don't you give everybody an idea about what your business is and it quick overview.
Elizabeth: [00:00:15] Well, it's my 18th year is a website designer. So been around a little bit and I found memberspace about a year ago and I just kind of fell in love with the functionality and I was just so impressed. And so I've been using it ever since but my main thing is helping small businesses with their websites and their business models and really just getting things off the ground and working correctly. So I use different tools for that one being memberspace on being Squarespace and a bunch of other tools that I use but that's that's pretty much what I do and I do it every day and I really do love waking up and doing my job every day.
Ward: [00:00:55] That's cool. If that's that's a rare thing to have achieved right? Most people don't feel that way.
Elizabeth: [00:00:59] Yes. Yes. I am so grateful.
Ward: [00:01:02] Yeah, so so I would it be fair to kind of summarize this as you have consulting services that you provide.
Elizabeth: [00:01:10] Yes. Typically it's a web design firm with marketing aspect and also business mentoring aspect. So kind of those two pieces together.
Ward: [00:01:21] Cool. And so what part of that did you turn into sort of a membership model?
Elizabeth: [00:01:26] So I actually do a lot of training as well. I teach how to build six months of social media in a day how to do 12 months of blogging in a day and things like that and I was doing all these trainings and people would say, oh I missed that one or oh why why it wasn't that one on a different day. I couldn't make it and I do a lot of them live locally in my area. And so I was like, you know what? I record these either way, I mean I'm recording them for myself so that I can go back and listen to them. Make sure I'm you know, articulating correctly and things like that. And so that's like you know what I'm just going to save these recordings and put them into a membership and really just utilize all this content that I've created and I actually get something more out of it than just that one time or two times use.
Ward: [00:02:13] It's very clever up and we've heard that from a few other people the idea of sort of recycling or repurposing content because you're obviously really doing all the work and putting on that event. You're recording it you're preparing ahead of time obviously and then to be able to reuse that without really much extra work It sounds like just kind of uploading it to a page on your site. That's a really smart idea.
Elizabeth: [00:02:34] Absolutely. Absolutely and it was something that I didn't want to be a big production. I'm coming from WordPress. I everything was always a big production. That's always like way over the top like all the things you had to do and all the tasks just to get one thing up and running and I built a membership site previously in WordPress. And I was like, oh no, I don't really want to do this again. And when I found the different tools, you know through Squarespace remember space I was like, you know what this is a lot easier than I remember it being and it really just gave me that confidence to just go ahead and do it and with the the pricing and stuff. I was so happy because I was able to kind of do it and not feel like I was. You know when I didn't have any members at that point starting it out. I just kind of like I'm going to start this. I'm going to tell people about it and just instead of you know, pre-selling and kind of getting the word out and making the hype and I just started it and I paid it every month and as I started to get members it started to pay for itself, which is really cool. And so now of course it's generating some money, which is good, but it's one of those things that I feel like I can kind of sustain doesn't matter what my membership does like. I'm always adding to it and changing it and. Being things around and because it's so easy to use and work through so it's been a really great tool for me and just able to do something and actually like I hate like people that just sit there and talk about stuff and they don't do it. So I like to take action in this was like a really cool way for me to just jump in and do something.
Ward: [00:04:06] Yeah, I think it's a good thing to take it take note of for other people out. There is that you can kind of plan everything to death right? You can you can spend forever trying to figure out the perfect way to do something or you know tweak this one part, but getting it out there launching it can it getting real feedback from people. That's really the the path to truly learning about what your customers want.
Elizabeth: [00:04:25] Absolutely. I totally agree.
Ward: [00:04:28] So the membership model specifically of your business the the live events and such. How long were you actually doing that for the for the membership?
Elizabeth: [00:04:38] Yeah, well 16 years.
Ward: [00:04:45] So yeah, it's been a minute. So how recently did you decide okay, let's try to turn this into a membership model that that specific side of the business?
Elizabeth: [00:04:56] Two years ago. And like I said, I'd had previous memberships. In the past, but you know, it was just it was always such a Time suck and I want to do it differently. I wanted to do it simpler and I ended up naming my membership the simplified Academy because I like things simplified. I wanted to be something easy that was not going to. Overtake my life and like you said you can plan something to death and why one of the reasons I when I work with my clients that I make them do things in a day, so I only do websites and today I only do email marketing in a day. I only do membership sites and I build them in one day because you can talk something to death. You can think something to death and really it paralyzes you to not be able to move forward and when there are so many options for things now. I was actually listening to this is marketing by Seth Godin the other day and he was saying that the doing of things has become so so simple and it's true. I mean, there are so many tools now that you can use to do something. So his point was that you really need to focus on the, the marketing of that thing and the accomplishing of that thing rather than the actual doing of that thing and so for me, you know choosing a membership model that is I upload Foot videos every week or two. I upload a blog post every week or two. I upload, you know new worksheets or whatever things like that every week or two and you ebook that I'm already creating the content for something else. I'm already creating the content for this small group of people over here or that sect of group over there or that, you know class I'm teaching and really focusing on actually creating all that content because the doing of it and putting it into a membership site is so easy now.
Ward: [00:06:48] Yeah, and that's that's a big change from what it used to be like where I was probably doing was hard to Market their own markings ever been easy, but it was also easier right just because because the doing was harder if there was less people trying to do it. So marketing was a little easier to so yeah, marketing Scott and harder and the doings got an easier so that it's a new challenge everybody. Question though, so with the simplified Academy, how much are you charging? And is that always been the price?
Elizabeth: [00:07:17] I have stayed the same price, I believe that. I don't go for the lowest common denominator, but I do believe in things being in reach and whenever I price my services and when it came to the membership, I wanted it to be something that was doable. But I also wanted it to be something that someone could set and forget but also. Set and forget and use and so my price point has been $35 a month. It's been very successful for me. But at the same time it's been a challenge because some people will go in and say oh my gosh, you should be charging a hundred dollars a month for this content. But then if when I tried trial runs of different price points for you know, extra access or different things like that just to kind of see how it would do do some test runs. It was bombing and it was because my market wasn't there even though one or two people are like yeah, this is amazing my total Market wasn't there yet. So it was definitely. Doing testing was really important and listening to some people and getting that feedback. But then also making sure that I was staying true to my client base.
Ward: [00:08:34] Yeah, good little trick that we tell people that we personally used ourselves is when you're getting feedback from customers in the pricing you're going to get you know, positive things ago. This is a great deal. This is a steel etcetera and you're getting at the negative of oh, this is way too expensive or oh it's not worth it and the key is you should be hearing both of those messages in my opinion because that kind of shows you're somewhere in the middle of the two which is which is what you want right? You're not leaving too much on the table, but you're also not overcharging people and that yeah, you kind of want keep it. Happy balance there.
Elizabeth: [00:09:07] I agree. I agree and I did I did hear both and that's that's why I did some testing just to make sure but yeah, I agree with you you want to be in that middle range and for us for what we're offering here from what I'm offering it's definitely the mid-range.
Ward: [00:09:20] Something else that's interesting about leaving a certain amount on the table. There's some companies out there that I've been reading about who kind of argue that you should leave more on the table than you think which kind of goes against conventional wisdom of sort of charging more and everybody should everybody should be making more money. The idea being that if you're leaving more on the table, in other words, you're charging perhaps less than you could be. You're also it's not just you're making less money the positive side to it is that you're also going to get more wood will potentially from some customers because they're going to feel like they're getting such a good deal that they'll have this really good. I thought when it comes to your brand when it comes to your product, they're happy to pay it as opposed to yeah, it's worth it instead its oh this is a great deal so that the very different kind of an emotion if you think about it.
Elizabeth: [00:10:08] I think that's true and I have I've definitely experienced that with some of the services where I've priced them may be a little bit lower than other people think or like you said you got that you are leaving a little bit on the table. And so, you know in some terms but you do get that Goodwill and a lot of my clients they'll pay me whatever I ask them. For whatever. I'm telling them they should buy because they know that I'm going to find something that's going to work for them specifically whether it's a membership that I'm running or a course that I'm doing or anything like that or in-person event. It doesn't matter or maybe I'm saying. Hey, we need to redo your website. It's time, you know anything that I tell them they're like 11 Lee actually says we get a day. She's like, you know what I don't care how much it is. I will make it work because you always take care of me and that that good will definitely. Stem from being consistent in that that pricing and not you know charging so much for this one product. But so little for this other one, you have to definitely be consistent throughout what you're doing.
Ward: [00:11:11] Yeah, this is a good building up. Goodwill's is another way of saying building up trust. Right? So people are trusting you because you're all you're being authentic with them. You're being helpful. You're not trying to squeeze every last dollar out of them and some especially with a membership model specifically that can be very beneficial because yeah, maybe you're making less per month and you could be but the person might stay a customer for longer, right? So if they stay a customer longer, even though they're paying a little bit less per month than someone else. In the long run of the lifetime of that of that customer with you. You actually might make more money. So it actually might be a win-win for everybody in the long run.
Elizabeth: [00:11:48] That's actually what happened with my previous membership. I've learned a lot during the time when I built that it was $10 a month for an aggregated calendar of the entire. Regions networking events and they were all categorized and vetted. So if an event was on the calendar it meant that someone had been to it. Someone thought it was a good showing of a good networking event because some of them are crappy. I'm sure know if most of your people in the audience have been too bad networking events. And so these were all vetted they were all categorized. So if it was a women's only event you knew and so this service of just saying we've done all this work on this calendar. I charged $10 a month and that membership the life of that membership was about three years and it was a it was not because it was failing it was because the tide was changing in the industry and but the people that stayed with me that got on board in the beginning for the $10 a month. They stayed with me for ten dollars a month for three years. I mean until it ran out until it was done and they're even clamoring like isn't it going to come back? You know, but it was one of things that you like you said, you're not necessarily making ten dollars a month. I mean it was It was kind of pennies but they stayed for so long that over time. You know that loyalty really did grow and it was pretty neat.
Ward: [00:13:09] So how did you initially build an audience? I guess first for those initial Live Events. And then how did you transform that into that into building an audience to purchase the membership side of it?
Elizabeth: [00:13:22] So for my in-person events, I do partner with a lot of other agencies. I've partnered with SCORE, SBDC, SBA and also just libraries and just kind of local governmental agencies that are here to help and equip small businesses and. They put on the events a lot of the time and then I will volunteer to teach or volunteer to speak and then I'll say hey, can I record this and of course? They're doing it for you know free to the their people. So they like sure no problem. I've also done a lot of lecturing at colleges for the marketing professors. I'll go in and do lectures and it's a great way to kind of practice a talk that you're trying to hone or, you know practice to give it a larger event and I'll record those two and it's really good because you can get a lot of great feedback from those and also have a great recording as well. So a lot of those events are partnered with other groups and then I also do a lot of networking events. So I speak at a lot of networking events and I'll take a two-hour talk and condense it down into a 30-minute talk and it's another great recording snippet to have as well.
Ward: [00:14:39] So I'm curious for the government based events like the local government ones. Was it a simple as sending an email to someone that's in charge of an organization or a committee or how did you actually get involved and get them to say yes to allowing you to speak?
Elizabeth: [00:14:53] A lot of it is. I'll volunteer. As long as you get to the right person who's coordinating those events like with score the each chapter has their own events coordinator who's elected every two years. And it's one of the members and they're volunteering their time. And so if you say hey, I'm going to come alongside you and volunteer my time with you. Then they are all about it. Especially those types of events. They want people who are in business who are working in the industry and who can speak to these topics that they're trying to promote. Two other small businesses who are kind of coming up and they're starting out and they need that expertise. But a lot of their volunteer members are retirees or people who have been in business, which is great knowledge to but they want to kind of give that mix and so it's definitely a great option to to definitely just reach out and visit a couple chapters and talk to the members and say Hey, how do I become a member a lot of times it's free you sign an Ethics code and you're good, you know. So it's just a matter of networking to get to those people or you know, finding a local college or the local SBA and saying hey, I'd love to teach some classes. Who do I talk to about that? And and if you say volunteer they will snap you up in a minute.
Ward: [00:16:15] Smart smart. Have you heard of an organization called BNI before?
Elizabeth: [00:16:21] Yes, I have.
Ward: [00:16:22] Do you have Any experience working with them because we used to do that back in the day.
Elizabeth: [00:16:27] Yes, BNI is a very intensive kind of group. I feel like it's not for everybody. I don't think but I have had some dealings with them. I love to sub for them a lot of the members if they go on vacation or if they're out of town or if they're sick or something comes up. They need a sub. And so that's my favorite thing to do is to go and sub for someone because you get to experience the group, you know on a you know, Not the semi-regular basis, I would say without having that rigorous schedule because there were your schedule for me is not really part of my daily routine. But for some people it's amazing. I have several friends who are part of it and they love it and they get so much business out of it and it's really great for people who are wanting to learn to network. I've I definitely recommend BNI to people who maybe have never been great networkers because they do offer so much training. Ruby and I which is really really awesome. And then I also recommend it to people who are coming out of corporate America because B, and I really has this this really great model where they kind of ease you out of corporate America mindset they get you into that you own your own business. But the kind of guide you a little more heavy-handed lie along the way which is why I love it for people who are doing that transition and I've had several friends come straight from Corporate America start their businesses go into a BNI in two years later they are like, it's like they never were in Corporate America. It's like they weren't entrepreneur the whole time and it's because of that that rigorous training they offer which is so awesome.
Ward: [00:18:04] Yeah, I'd say for folks who are starting out or newer in their membership business Journey. Finding a BNI chapter, if you know anyone who's at one and doing the sub concept might make some sense because you know, it's free to sub whereas being an actual member of BNI is not cheap It's hundreds of dollars I think a quarter so being a sub is a good way. Like you said get some experience networking get some get some get some experience going to a large organization speaking in front of people it everybody does a short amount of talking. So it's just a good experience I think and it could also lead to business. It's a good place to be to start when you're first going down the path of marketing and building an audience and learning how to do sales and all that good stuff.
Elizabeth: [00:18:47] Absolutely and also meet up is another great one. That's one that people often Overlook and I think the Overlook it because when they go in to meet up, they say all the stuff that they like and none of the business stuff. So I always tell people go into your profile and change all of your interests to business only take off the kayaking take off the ballroom dancing put on small businesses entrepreneurs, you know, all that stuff that looks kind of boring and bond paper. But when you do that and you go back to your your actual calendar of events of that they're going to show you you're going to be so surprised at exactly how much is in your local area even within a 30-mile radius of you. It's kind of crazy. So if you haven't tried that yet, that's definitely something I should never recommend.
Ward: [00:19:30] So with let's talk about networking events in general because I'm sure a lot of folks out. There are aware of networking events, especially if you live in the city, you know that there's pretty much unlimited number of events you could go to a networking event networking as an event is a pretty Broad and general term. So Are there specific types of networking events that you recommend? And also how do you get the most out of it? As far as results, right and by result pretty much business how to get more sales. How do they how do you make them actually work for you? Because I perceive had mixed results with them. I know other people who have had mixed results. So what have you done to kind of optimize that?
Elizabeth: [00:20:03] Okay, so let's break that down. So we got networking events in general. I definitely think there are. Some specific events that are tailored and catered for specific people. So I'm a woman so there's lots of women's events and I feel like if you are woman and you're listening to this you should look for women's events. A lot of times it can make us feel a little more comfortable. We can feel like we're with our peer group because sometimes the mixed groups are a little more intimidating because there's this really successful guy over here and this really successful lady over there and then it's just overwhelming and so you feel like a little bit more comfortable when you're with a peer group that you feel comfortable with. There's also small Chambers of Commerce. Like there's Hispanic chamber of commerce chapters. There's holistic Chamber of Commerce chapters. There are African American Chambers. I mean, there's really breaking down into these small sectors of these peer groups that I think are really great way to kind of ease into it where you are around people that you're like, These are my people these I'm comfortable with these people. I want to start here and that can kind of help you build that confidence. There's also realtor only groups. There's web designer only groups and you can even go down to Industry level so finding that group that really resonates with you. You're like, yes. These are my people they speak my language I get it and then you can kind of Branch out from there getting the most out of a group is really interesting question because a lot of people go in with the Hard Sell there. Like I am here to sell something and one of the things I do one of the questions I asked in my talk is are you going to a networking group to sell something? Absolutely. Are you going to a networking group to buy something? No, you are not there to buy something. You might end up buying something, but you're not really going to buy something. And the answer to that question is well you everyone's there to buy I mean no one's there to buy it everyone's there to sell. So you have this kind of issue going on this kind of battle between what people are there to do and what other people are there to do to them? And it's all kind of messed up. So what I tell people is you go in and you're there to meet people you're there to make connections you're there to say. Hey, I think that we could actually have something in common here. Not only do I think I could help you in your business or do I think I could you know work with you on a collaboration. We need to talk outside of this. And then from there you can have a second conversation where people can actually connect and actually get a little deeper into well your industry and my industry, how can we make this work? How can we build something? That's maybe collaborative? And still not selling we're still not selling and then from there you get that know like and Trust Factor going where then that person might say. You know what I had somebody who needed a website. I'm going to send him over to you because now that I know you now that I like you and I'm starting to trust you. I'm going to start referring people to you or even come to you myself. So definitely setting aside that selling hat but still being a marketer at the same time and letting people know what you do without pushing the sale on them is really going to get you that second third and fourth conversation that maybe will lead to something. But it takes a lot of work.
Ward: [00:23:21] Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that's a brilliant answer. It makes a lot of sense and I now I have heard that from other people. I just personally haven't tried it. I guess maybe I gave up a little too quick plus what we're doing is not so much one-on-one as much with once you do software and all that. But yes, but especially for what I want to type Consulting businesses I think that that is a very smart tactic and even if you weren't doing that, I think you're right there just about building up those Partnerships. You never know where it could lead. So it's a great thing to start to think when you're beginning your business and potentially even after. So let's move on a little bit. Are there any other I guess marketing tactics that we haven't talked about that that you've used that have really worked and that you think might be helpful for other people trying to start membership specific businesses?
Elizabeth: [00:24:03] Yes. Facebook is usually the black hole. I feel like it's where people dump all the money it's where people dump all the content and it doesn't usually yield as much as it could in some cases. Some people do really really really well and then the rest of us just kind of Flounder with. I do believe that Facebook has a very specific role especially for people starting out with membership businesses one. You can start a Facebook group, which I think everybody kind of does is part of a membership. It's kind of your your go-to Forum. If you will is in addition to your actual website that you're creating that has the membership on it. And I think there's another thing that a lot of people miss and if you're going to start a group. You're probably in a lot of other groups. And so what I recommend for people and I do this myself quite often actually is I go into the groups that I'm a part of and I'm in them because my target market is in them. I'm not going in there to sell because you'll get kicked out. You'll get in Facebook jail for that, but I go in there and I just answer questions. I read through the list for the day of what's been posted, you know for the past week or the past month whatever. However often I'm going in there and I read through the list and if no one's answered the question, I am on it or if somebody has answered the question and I think there's a different answer. I'll answer it again and I will give my two cents on that subject and really that does is it builds the rapport. It builds your reputation as someone who gives answers and you give your answers. It may not be the answer that someone else is going to give it may not be the answer that someone expected or I've been actually ostracized in groups before people have gotten upset with me for giving what they called a stupid answer but it was actually something that worked for me. And I had to Stand My Ground on that and it was very difficult. But I just kept doing it and I kept showing up and I kept answering questions and people who are not answering questions and people who are not posting. They're still there. And they're still watching and so this really does give you that ability to be visible. And so when someone asks a question and your membership is the answer because it will happen and it will happen more than once you can say, that's a great question. I actually created a solution for this. I'm happy to share it with you due to the rules of this group. I can send you a private message with that information. And typically what people will do is if they're also looking for an answer. Same question. They will message you then and say oh, hey, I want that info to oh, hey, I want that info to and you can kind of build this little small following and again going back to Seth Godin he's got in this is marketing. He talks about the smallest viable audience and you can build a the smallest viable audience with 5 or 6 people from a group that you're in that all kind of are like. Oh, yeah, man, I want that Alan that solution. I need that that in my life and you can build it through them and those five people will then share it with the people they know and maybe even say hey how you know, I'd love to get a review from you on this or you know, whatever you you've built that rapport with them already and now you can kind of utilize that to build more rapport with more people through reviews through, you know, testimonials video testimonials or whatever else you might be able to leverage from that interaction. You've had by helping people with solving their problem.
Ward: [00:27:36] Yeah, I think it's a very approachable thing that people can do especially when they're first starting the business which is where a lot of people struggle right is. How do they get attention? How do they get an audience when they're when they're really just starting out and being helpful is like you said a really a good way to begin. It's always a good thing because people will like you said they'll like what if they like what you're saying. They're going to they might join your email list. They might directly message. You might even buy your product, but that's not what you're leading with four leading with being helpful. It's a natural way to get a little bit of traction and also to see if you actually are be if you're able to help real people in random situations like that on Facebook, maybe that does kind of some proof that you're onto something or that you do know what you're talking about or that Is something you should pursue further maybe make a course out of or whatever. If the advice you're giving is not resonating with people. It's kind of like marketing as a test to kind of see it is this is this going to work or my thoughts and opinions and advice is this actually useful or not?
Elizabeth: [00:28:36] Exactly. And also I've actually tested my products in these groups before I've you know had people someone asked a question. I've been putting together a course on that very subject and I'll say hey, I'd love to have you beta test this course it would be completely. You know it'd be available to you for one month and I'd love to get your feedback on and at the end of the four weeks and they would say oh, that's great. It's exactly what I needed and a lot of the feedback that came back from those beta test that I did where usability thinks it wasn't that the course was bad. It wasn't that the content was bad it was. Something was wrong with the usability of the site or the way that it was functioning or the way that was laid out. And those are such easy fixes that once you've kind of vetted that content and got in the feedback that yeah, the content was great, but I couldn't use it because or it was hard to navigate because then those are just such easy fixes than you know, you're ready to go and you're ready to launch.
Ward: [00:29:34] Right. So if you if you have any other kind of parting words here about what hasn't worked. What have you tried when it comes to building an audience when it comes to marketing you can think of any kind of quick story or something that might be helpful to people that really didn't work for you.
Elizabeth: [00:29:51] I think the worst thing that I ever did was go to networking events and just try and talk every single person like try to fit too much into an interaction and when you overload someone in one interaction, and then you keep doing that over and over and over and over they don't want to come back from war because they've heard it all and so really learning to kind of hone what you say and when you say it, that's why I mentioned the three or four or five different interactions with someone, you don't want to try and figure them out or figure out if they're going to be of your client or your referral partner or in the first interaction. It's going to take five to seven touches 3 to 4 conversations too actually get to the point where you go. I understand what this is. I understand how our relationships work. And and now I know where you fit into kind of my eco sphere of my marketing, but when I was kind of early on in the stages of networking I and in marketing myself, I really just tried to like tell everyone my life story in 2 minutes and they were just so overwhelmed with all the things that I did they couldn't even focus because I was like when I do this and I do this and I do this and they were like, okay nice to meet you. Bye. But they don't want any more of it. And so I really had to learn to tone it back and give the information that was pertinent And Timely and then as we got to know each other better and as that interaction continued, you know offline so to speak then I was able to just you know, it gets from them a little more information of what else can I share with you that's going to be helpful to you not how can I throw everything at the kitchen sink at you?
Ward: [00:31:40] Yeah now I think I think that's really great advice. Okay, well Elizabeth, why don't we wrap up here, If you could just let people know what's a good way to learn more about you if they have questions or want to touch on anything else.
Elizabeth: [00:31:51] Yes. My name is Elizabeth Pampalone and my website is Elizabethpampalone.com. It's pampalone.com, and I would love to hear from anybody and email or just a quick message on Facebook is great, too. So, I'd love to chat with people. Hoping and brainstorming is my favorite thing.
Ward: [00:32:13] Awesome. Well, thanks again for taking time to talk with us.
Elizabeth: [00:32:15] Thank you so much.