010: Finding Inspiration to Launch a Membership Business
🗓 August 04, 2019
Ward chats with James Adams, founder of Visual Media Church about using Facebook groups and Instagram to advertise a product, keeping your product affordable for your client base, and the benefits of providing live chat support.
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Ward: [00:00:00] Hi James thanks for joining us today.
James: [00:00:02] thanks for having me.
Ward: [00:00:03] Yeah, no problem. So we'll just jump right into it. We wanted to begin with you just kind of going through quickly your origin story, you know, and what is visual media Church.
James: [00:00:14] Well visual media church is basically a subscription website that provides content for churches. Basically, there's like thousands of churches and almost all of them do some sort of worship music in which they have. Stage screens that display not only lyrics but they also display, you know images imagery video all kinds of different things like that. And that's kind of the media that we provide to them in addition. We also provide some stock video stock photos and some templated items and you know, Photoshop and Premiere and after effects on the Adobe Suites. And that's what we provide them. So basically they log on kind of whenever they want and they [00:01:00] have full access to the entire library and they can kind of download content that works for like works for them. And you know kind of how we started is basically I was I got hired to do some contract work for someone who is now my biggest competitor, but at the time he hired me to do. I'm some stuff that he had never done before. I'm he was purely just doing graphical background type stuff just like, you know particle Sims and things like that and he hired me to film this pack and create this pack for him and I created this pack for him and it was really good and it was actually end up being his biggest seller ever on his site. And so I went to him and I said, hey like your I got this idea. I'm thinking that you know, some of these churches would love to have like oceans and mountains and you know, it's just outside real stuff as opposed to no after-effects simulation type stuff. And I mean the [00:02:00] gist of the conversation went with went basically, like he said No No One's Gonna use that. I don't think it's a good idea and I said, all right cool. Then you won't mind if I do it and he was like, yeah, it's really hard to do, you know just be aware It's not really easy to do and I don't know necessarily with you will be able to pull it off and maybe it might not be your skillset. It's just you know, it's a lot of Road blocks. He was you know, basically just telling me all the reasons why it wasn't going to work. So, you know, I kind of went ahead and did it. So it was different it's different than what he has always done and it turns out that people really really really wanted that kind of stuff.
Ward: [00:02:40] It's interesting because it sounds like he was really pooh-poohing the idea right from the jump. It's so it's not like he had sort of tried it before just didn't work.
James: [00:02:50] Yeah, I think I think part of it was he had he hadn't really published anything along those lines. I think maybe he had investigated it with the hard part [00:03:00] about doing the live video type stuff as opposed to the graphics is the cost to produce Is a lot is a lot higher right like you can create a whole bunch of stuff, you know sitting in your office. You could create a whole pack just sitting there and kind of being creative and then to go do like the kind of stuff the visual media church is doing you have to like, you know, hop on a plane or hop in the car. You have to drive for hours if to travel long distances. And then once you get there, it's still not easy. Like you're you know, you're relying on whether you're relying on camera gear not malfunctioning you relying on skill like being able to you know capture it properly. So there's a lot more variables and and I think that was all the road blocks he was seeing but I you know, I've come from a background of traveling and filming and shooting video for lots of different companies so it was right in my wheelhouse and I knew how to travel cheaply and affordably so like I was thinking of all the ways I could cut costs to [00:04:00] make it affordable.
Ward: [00:04:01] Gotcha. That makes sense. So, alright so we have the origin we have that we have the rough idea of I know what visual media church is. So I think what a lot of listeners would be interested interested in sign from that is you know, how did you get this initial traction? So how did you go from the part you just described of okay, here's the thing I want to try, I don't care if this other guy doesn't think it's a good idea. I'm going to try it. Anyway, how did you go from that step 2. Okay, let's build up an actual audience that we can sell this to. What was the step by step there?
James: [00:04:34] The step by step. It's really hard to Define. But like because I mean when I first started the product wasn't very good and the website wasn't very good. Like it was a it was a lot of trial and error and I mean, It was totally a side hustle for me. I had a full-time job. And so, you know when I was done my full-time job. I was coming home sitting on the computer and kind of building it [00:05:00] and I mean, the biggest thing for traction was like using as much social media as possible to get it in front of the people that would be interested
Ward: [00:05:08] Which social media specifically?
James: [00:05:11] Yeah. So the biggest thing that I found for me was. In the world of churches, it was Facebook groups. A lot of people that are working at churches. They have small budgets and they're asked to do a lot more than what their job description is. And so that type of person is always, you know on Facebook looking for advice and you know how to so, I mean a lot of these communications people that are my customers. There has to be a marketing person. They're asked to be a you know, run the software and a Sunday morning to you know, to make this all happen. They're asked to be a photographer and a video person. So they're they're asked to do a lot. And so they tend to congregate in [00:06:00] these in these Facebook groups to ask for advice and look for you know, what's going to make my life a little bit easier and also. Make it look like to have her their bosses that they're doing a great job. So there's a lot of discussion going on on Facebook and then secondarily, there's people Instagram is a great place to show off your work and you know, give the idea of what it will look like and so I used Instagram at first just to kind of post even just at the future churches that had started using my stuff to kind of show what it looked like to be a little different to have, you know, a Giant Mountain Time Lapse behind as opposed to something else.
Ward: [00:06:40] Right so, okay. So the Instagram side of it that makes sense. It's pretty clear when you say Facebook groups, does that mean what does that mean like, so when someone posts a question that you had an answer to that your product could help them with is that when you post it or did you post in general just to be helpful like walk me through the details? [00:07:00]
James: [00:07:00] So the biggest thing was I mean, it was a very definitely a learning process for me. But I like learning not to like spam a group with just you know, Shameless advertising because that's most most groups wouldn't allow that so whenever it was basically just kind of having to grind it out a little bit. Just checking Facebook every half hour to see if anyone had asked. Hey, does anyone have any recommendations for like Motion Graphics a. And then, you know kind of quickly getting your link and then say hey I got some great stuff go check it out. It was definitely a grind to kind of get the ball rolling. And then what I also did is I monitored those groups to see who was the most active like who are the people that just seemed to be on their five, 10, 15 times a day and then I would reach out to them individually and just say hey, here's this new thing. I started visual media Church. I'd love for you to try it out and here's a link. For you know a free month of access or here's the you know, five packs for free. I would love for you to just download them. Try them. If you love them. [00:08:00] Would you please let other people know about it? And just I gave away a lot of free stuff to try to get a little bit of like that organic like ball rolling as opposed to be having to sit on my computer on Facebook all day long.
Ward: [00:08:11] Yeah, that's actually very interesting. So you kind of went after the influencers of each Facebook group to get them on board and show them what you got.
James: [00:08:19] Absolutely, and it wasn't it wasn't even anything to do with like what kind of church they came from or how big or how much money there wasn't anything to do with that was just purely the people that were the most active because in my mind I was looking for people that were going to just at least have an opinion right because when no one knows about you, that's the hardest thing people can look at a name and kind of shrug it off and not really engage with it at all. So I wanted people that were. Just constantly doing the hard work for me. Basically.
Ward: [00:08:49] Okay. Yeah, I mean that's interesting. So the Facebook and Instagram that was really the beginning of how you start to get an audience and get people to even know about you or that you exist. [00:09:00] And is that still the primary driver of marketing right now or if you kind of shifted to other things?
James: [00:09:06] Absolutely. So when I when I first started just about two years ago basically, I was making no money from it. Like, you know, I think the first month that the website was live it brought in about I think it was like a hundred and fifty dollars u.s. Like it was nothing big. So I was not paying for any advertising I wasn't doing any Facebook ads Instagram ads. And so that's kind of been a little bit of a philosophy that I've kept. You know, I find that like the product. On the website right now. It's $25 a month, which is really I'm affordable for for churches. Like if you look at churches usually like a lot of churches don't have a lot of money but 300 dollars a year is not a huge expense to build into any budget. So people I find at least my core customers are very [00:10:00] grateful and they're very like, they are promoters like they will promote just because they love it and they love the idea that this is something that they get a lot of value for for very little money in their eyes. And so I've tried to leverage that as much as possible as often as possible to like getting people to promote for you as opposed to having to buy expensive, you know, Facebook Google and Instagram ads has really just always been the target so. Even this week. We just launched some new Christmas stuff for churches. And the thing I put out there on Facebook was just you know for the first 25 people that posted in another Facebook group for us. We'll give it to you for free. So I was really surprised with the response because I had a lot of people from South America and down in Mexico posting it in Spanish groups that I had no idea even existed and so. One of the requirements was like take a screenshot of the post and the group you put it in and I'm I'm seeing these [00:11:00] groups of like 20,000 people plus and on Facebook and in a Spanish church group that I had no idea even exist because I don't speak Spanish. So I would never seek that out but like that right there is worth hundreds of dollars worth of advertising, you know, I would gladly give that person, you know a $25 pack for free for doing that for me.
Ward: [00:11:22] Yeah, we do. We kind of a similar not so much the social media but a similar approach a member's face. We're like we try and find really good support and it just have a good product in general and you get a lot of you know Evangelical if you will users and customers who who just you know, love you and I love what you love what you provide love what you do and they and they're just they go out of their way to tell other people I don't have to pay them anything. We don't even give them a necessarily any money. It's just the. They just like it so much and it makes a huge difference to have like a bunch of basically salespeople just preaching about you to everyone as opposed to having to pay for ads. [00:12:00] It's a lot more cost-effective and I think it has a bigger impact when a friend tells you to try something as opposed to an ad telling you to try something.
James: [00:12:07] Absolutely and I mean, there's lots of there are lots of competitors in my space and what I learned when I was initially doing my research before launching. I'm they operated like big companies and I say that like anyone's ever dealt with you know, the cable provider or another provider. It's so hard to get a hold of someone and when you do they're always on the defensive and like, you know what I mean, like it's always just difficult dealing with them and I took that and like one of the things that me and the guys the work doing Visionary church here is that we always just try to be as gracious as possible. So especially in the first six months of launching there was we had lots of issues that we were trying to work out whether it be server issues or just things not working. Right? And so one of the mottos that we always say to someone, you know messaging and complain that something didn't work. [00:13:00] We would want to apologize to fix it right away. And then three give them the newest thing that we had just released for free as a you know, as an apology for the air because. Hardly ever do you get that right from anybody? So it's just it's about having a positive attitude in the gracious attitude at all times and that really just built up a lot of really loyal people to us. Like we have a lot of people that kind of always out there, you know spreading what we do offer free cuz they're just like hey, these are great guys they doing they're doing a great job. Like I just want to support them. And so. That's it's all about the attitude behind it as well. It's not just making a great product. Just making an awesome websites also, like treating people well.
Ward: [00:13:45] Yeah, I couldn't couldn't agree more. So let's drill down into your pricing a little bit. So I know I'm on your website. I know you mentioned you basically offer single site license for access to everything for $25 a month [00:14:00] or you can pay annually 300 year. So it's a nice little nice little discount. Um, how did you arrive at that price? Is that where you started or kind of give me the journey there and your pricing?
James: [00:14:11] The journey in the pricing I mean we started actually at $10 a month purely just to be cheaper than everybody else because at the time when we first launched, I mean costs were a lot lower and and it was just it seemed like an already seemed like an all right number and the goal. At first was not like thinking about the bottom line. It was purely about like what's a number that seems really reasonable and let's forget about the margins or anything like that. I'll just try to bring people through the door. And I mean when you launch a product like this and you look they open up your library and they see you've done five things like you have very little credibility. So it's hard to kind of get to the price point. I always knew that the price point would be around 20 to [00:15:00] 25. And at the time a lot of the competitors were around 15 and the goal for this was to be more of a premium get so many competitors who are doing the graphics backgrounds and some of them are big some of them are small but we knew that this type of thing was more of a premium product because it's really hard to copy. It's really hard to duplicate. Well at least a lot harder than what our competitors are doing. And so after the first year is when we move the pricing up to $25 a month for any new members coming on but what we also did was we kept basic grandfathered in all the old account. So we message them all and just said for as long as you stay with us, we'll keep on charging you the $10 a month and you still have access to everything on the site and you get to keep that pricing for as long as you don't cancel and try to come back later different time. So that was kind of the strategy behind it and I mean [00:16:00] $25 a month again was I think right in the Wheelhouse of even a small church can afford that it might still be feel a little bit expensive for them, but they definitely can afford if they want that kind of quality content and and it wasn't it wasn't overpriced. So I mean I've seen lots of, lots of subscription services for digital content that are up into the hundreds of dollars and it just I always look at that and say who's actually paying for that. Like I know there's a select few that have the money for that but down at that numbers is definitely like the sweet spot.
Ward: [00:16:37] Right so it sounds like you're going more for like a high volume of churches not like the maybe the mega churches out there that can't afford, you know $100,000 license.
James: [00:16:46] Oh, absolutely like I mean, yeah the goal is, the goal like there's also heart behind it to write like it's not for me. Like I I do go to church myself and I and I do have [00:17:00] that relationship and so it is there's also heart behind it. Right? Like my goal was never like how much money can I possibly make and how he know, how can I squeeze? We squeeze this as much as possible the goal was how can I get this into the hands of everyone? Well making it a full-time job in a business that I can live off of right? So there's always kind of that that balance and I think it's a healthy balance because absolute there are there are churches out there that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on you know production because they do tutoring and they do constantly do big things and I've talked to people that have done Custom Design work for those for those places and they charge, you know, $5,000 a song like to do custom graphics work for these concerts in these stages. Like obviously there's that huge high-end premium Market, but that's you know, five to ten churches, you know across the world. [00:18:00] The goal is how ya Mass like how do we get this into the hands of everyone if they see value in it and they can see. I need for it. Then. I want to be able to get it to them without there being kind of too much of a barrier with money.
Ward: [00:18:16] Yeah, I mean pricing is always tricky because a lot is a lot of hard to it besides just you know the math and then there's also like you said kind of the heart that you have behind it, you know, if there's the number that may be in a spreadsheet looks right and there's a number that maybe feels right and sometimes it's hard to reconcile those two things. But I guess just still on the 25 a month. It sounds like that's that was partially created as an anchor because you saw other competitors charge around 15 or so, and you thought you were providing more value. So therefore 25 seems reasonable. Was there any other kind of calculation that wasn't that like, for example, how much money do you make per year to make to beat to be full-time anything like that?
James: [00:18:53] Yeah. Absolutely. That was definitely part of the calculation and kind of just projecting and you know setting goals for like [00:19:00] how many you know members I'd want to be kind of hit that Mark where I would do it full-time. You know, it put it not that far I wound up when I made the pricing change and, yeah, I mean there was just there was so many little factors and like I like a nice clean round number right? Like it was gonna be you know, 10 15, 20 25 30, right? I can it just it's an easy number to kind of put it out there and not to end up with any kind of like $27.99 sore numbers like that, especially in the online World. It just makes it easier even just for creating Graphics of you got you know a nice clean number like that. And it definitely was The Sweet Spot because you know about six months after we did that then our closest competitor but their price right around the same point as well. So it's definitely kind of the spot. We've kind of set the market for what that is now.
Ward: [00:19:56] So as far as so since this is a recurring [00:20:00] service right people either paying you monthly or annually, how what do you do specifically what are some tactics you have around reducing the number of cancellations and or refunds that a customers are requesting. What do you do for that?
James: [00:20:13] Well for sure for refunds, I mean we almost always will give refunds back. If there is there's a good reason for it, really? Yeah, like but every now and then you get one and the one in the million type person. Do you know pay so the service downloads as much as they possibly can and that's all I want my money back it in like it and we will refuse at that point if we can see that they've downloaded but just as everything they possibly could and they're trying to kind of trying to scam you a little bit but that's like a that's happen once every year maybe. As far as like, you know, preventing preventing churn. I don't have the perfect signs for it is a [00:21:00] struggle because you can't you can't save a customer if they're not telling you they have a problem with it often like we do have the the exit kind of survey to say. Okay. Why are you canceling and then we kind of keep track of that to see if we're noticing any trends. Really It's kind of it's a spray charred like it's all over the place between, you know, no more budget or or moving to a different service or things like that. Like I mean, our churn is really low and I every entrepreneur who runs an online business would love that to be zero, but it does happen but it's definitely one of the most frustrating things when you think you could have, you know made that customer happy if you'd only known there was something wrong.
Ward: [00:21:45] Right. So is there a guess do you have any advice or any any tactics you've implemented that sort of move the needle on churn or is everything just kind of been marginally improving?
James: [00:21:56] The biggest thing that I've learned about journeyed in the past couple months [00:22:00] is I just did a lot of online reading about crafting a properly worded email in response to like a cancellation like trying to gain the customer back. I mean, you've got that lead you've got that person, you know is willing to spend so in my like emails and now go out to them once they've canceled I do offer, you know, I discounted for three months or even a full discount for the year if they want to come back. It's always like very nice and like polite and like sorry to have you go kind of thing. We like we definitely would love for you to come back anytime. Please let us know if you have any questions. And then the biggest thing are like a secondary thing that's really helped with the churn is getting messaging right on the website like getting we have the Facebook Messenger app on the website now, which has been really helpful because then we can get direct communication with people as they're having problems. So that's been really [00:23:00] huge on, you know, solving frustrations for people people will send a message and hey, I'm having a problem with. At least we get it now right away. And you know, I mean, I you know, if I'm out somewhere it'll come in on my phone and I can I can solve it.
Ward: [00:23:12] Yeah having that that live chat that's something we have to remember space and it's definitely been a Game Changer. We at first we were a little worried about doing it. We've already get too much support. But it you know, I would say it's been just as much as if we have email and from a customer's perspective. It's so much better to just be able to just talk with somebody given that it's 2018 and it really is something that a lot of websites are doing these days. It's almost a requirement to have to have live chats with people kind of expect. Otherwise kind of like an. Old company or a company that doesn't maybe care as much I don't know if that's too aggressive.
James: [00:23:47] No, that's that's really true. And I mean like I mean, I'm a customer of yours and I've used that chat so many times and it's been really helpful. Like when you're first learning like how to implement [00:24:00] things onto your website you sometimes have like I had a lot of questions and you guys were great in responding and sometimes it was like, oh, you know, I'm the dummy I just didn't do that properly and you guys were there. You know within 5-10 minutes to kind of fix it and that was huge. I was huge for me like onboarding with you guys and figuring it out on this brand new website that I built. It kept me a like a built trust to just being able to like, okay if I ever do have a problem, it's not like these guys are going to get back to me a week later and you know the entire week up and down like I can get this solved really fast.
Ward: [00:24:36] Yeah, I don't know about you, but for live chat, we found it's been a great source not just of helping customers but selfishly for ourselves as far as if there's a bug if there is a user experience issue if there's a typo somewhere people let you know everything and it's just it's kind of a way to have a QA testing if you will for your website or your app by having live chat we found at least.
James: [00:24:58] Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean [00:25:00] I've message you guys many times about a little thing here a little thing there and it's you know, it's fixed right away and. It's been awesome, right? So that's that's when really or even I just have a question about you know new features. I might be coming out and how can I Implement them? And it's just a great way to kind of keep me as your customer like engaged in like excited about what's going on too because I can have that one-on-one conversation with you guys really easily and really fast and. I would much rather do that than have to like, you know, hit a contact form and send you guys an email and not know when it's going to come back to me.
Ward: [00:25:36] Yeah, that's just for people listening out there. It's one thing I'd strongly strongly recommend is when you're first starting out, especially to try to engage in and provide the best support you possibly can because that's really what's going to help grow your and get you initial traction and get you feedback from from real customers about what they like and don't like about your service or your product. So don't don't think of support as something [00:26:00] that I like. I guess I'll do that. It should really be the number one priority, especially when you're first starting. So yeah, James, let's let's just kind of wrap up with one other question, you know going forward you've achieved a certain level of success and congratulations on that so far, but what do you what are you planning to do to continue to grow and to keep finding new customers or or are you actually okay with with your level and you're not looking to go yours looking to maintain right now?
James: [00:26:26] Always looking to grow and I mean there's there's definitely Room to Grow based on our member size and like the size of the market. And so what we're just trying to do is constantly improve the quality of the experience on the website improve the quality of the content and improve the amount of content we release so, I mean we've started adding basically new products and new layers to the website to make it more and more valuable. And we have zero plans to ever increase the price but we [00:27:00] want to make it more and more valuable so that people get more and more committed to it and excited about it. And I mean we've grown every single month for two years by at least 5% Like that's the best of least we've done every month. So there's a reason for then that's because we keep on adding we keep on trying to be better. I don't ever want to get to a place where were complacent where were like, ah, you know, we'll just throw something out there and you know, people will pay us for it doesn't really matter. No like the your goal is to always be kind of pushing pushing forward. Right? Like the really is no end zone for this. It's just I want to keep you know marching down.
Ward: [00:27:43] Right keep keep making a better product and more value for customers. I think that's a pretty good Universal goal.
James: [00:27:48] Yeah. Absolutely. I mean. And people do that people do notice that like if people can pick up very quickly from your brand or even just a way you communicate with them, you [00:28:00] know kind of what your attitude is and that's really I mean, I mentioned it earlier it's about attitudes but being positive and it's about being excited and it's about trying new things and just never stopping adding and that's what we're doing. We're just constantly adding and if someone comes to us with an idea, we get people all the time on our messaging app like. We've had in the past month. We've had this flurry of people from Germany messaging and they're asking for more editable options so they can change things into German because we've got some English all we got English all over everything and so they're asking for content to be opened up a little bit so that they can change it to their match more what's going on in Germany. You have to be open to those ideas because I mean Germany is actually a very large country. So there's it could be a whole new Market opening up for us as opposed to just as opposed to just mainly in the US and in Canada. So yeah, it's really just constantly being flexible. Like I think when as an [00:29:00] entrepreneur when you first start out you're always able and it's easier to Pivot. And to be flexible and to like make quick changes and I don't want to lose that as we grow larger and larger as I add more staff here. I don't want to lose the ability to you know, be flexible.
Ward: [00:29:17] Yeah. Okay, cool. Well, I think well, well I did there. Thanks again for taking the time appreciate that.
James: [00:29:23] Absolutely. Thanks very much.