Ward chats with Becca Pountney, founder of Engage Weddings about setting up free events to build an initial audience, growing an email list to engage your audience overtime, and how a membership model helps business sustainability.
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Ward: [00:00:00] Hi there. I'm Ward Sandler the CEO and co-founder of member space. I'm here with Becca the founder of engaged weddings. Hi Becca. How you doing?
Becca: [00:00:07] Hi, really good. Thank you. How are you?
Ward: [00:00:09] Good good. Thanks for making some time to come on the podcast.
Becca: [00:00:12] It's great to be here and the way the other side of the world from each other.
Ward: [00:00:15] Yeah. Yeah internet's amazing. So let's start off with what's your story? What's your background?
Becca: [00:00:23] So I'm Becca, obviously if you haven't worked out from the accent yet. I'm from England and I own a wedding business called Engage Weddings. My background is actually in the television and radio industry. So right back at University, that's what I studied and that's the world I moved in for a number of years. And then when I wanted to have kids I decided I needed to take a break from that and I moved over into the wedding industry starting off as a wedding videographer. So that's the link back. The media industry
Ward: [00:00:54] Gotchya. So if you could kind of give people listening a quick overview of what your business is and what you do.
Becca: [00:01:01] Cool. So engage weddings is a wedding blog for local brides and grooms are getting married locally to me. But as part of that I also run a network of wedding business owners by offer support and training through a membership club and also through that they also get exposure to those local brides and grooms if they live in my area, too.
Ward: [00:01:22] Gotcha. So when somebody comes to your site, what's what's the what the path most people go down once they get there? Like what are they trying to find generally?
Becca: [00:01:33] Okay. So if there are bride or groom they would come to my website and they would just see wedding inspiration ideas places. They can get married locally and suppliers that they can use for their wedding locally if their wedding business owner, they would go on a bit of a different path through my wedding supplier roots on my site. It says I'm a wedding supply click here to make it obvious and then they would go into an area more designed for them where they can find out about networking events business training opportunities. And of course my membership as well.
Ward: [00:02:02] Cool. So let's dive into the membership aspect. So what it sounds like that that's relatively recent from when we were talking before we started recording. So what made you even think of that and want to expand the business in that way?
Becca: [00:02:16] Okay. So yeah, the membership is fairly new to me. I started it in January this year and I'm now up to 80 paying members in that membership, but I actually started in a slightly untraditional or maybe it is traditional sense. I guess you hear a lot of people about building an audience online and I actually did the complete opposite. I built my entire audience offline. So I mentioned before I used to own a wedding business or wedding videography business, and I just wanted to meet other people in the area that did the same thing. So I put on a night at a local hotel and just invited a few people along who did similar stuff to me and. Fancy getting together and we did and we had a great night together and that was the start of my audience my audience essentially it started as a few people in a room they told a few other people and the next event more people came and the next event more people came and then I took it online started Facebook group and it got to the end of last year there were over 800 wedding business owners in that group and I just could no longer put on events and serve that amount of people. So I took a step back and thought how can I better serve less people but do it in a better way, which is why I started the membership. I started the members Club so that people were investing in being part of that Community online and we still do me offline occasionally as well.
Ward: [00:03:35] Cool. So for these initial events, it sounds like you were charging money for that?
Becca: [00:03:39] No, so actually the initial events were free and I still run those networking events for free. I see them as my kind of offline sales funnel. So in the wedding industry obviously wedding venues want to be known as well. So I'm fortunate in that I can often get those spaces for us to meet for free is a great way for people to know like and trust me. We talked about that a lot, but I found that a lot easier. On offline as opposed to online because I was meeting these people face-to-face they were getting to know me and what I was about and I found it to be a really great audience building strategy because they could trust me very quickly and then when we took that online and it was easy to grow.
Ward: [00:04:18] That's smart. Yeah incorporating the venue as well. So yeah, everyone is kind of working with each other potentially or at least learning about each other that's attractive to all parties, right?
Becca: [00:04:28] Yeah, absolutely. And that's something I actually talked a lot about to my members always giving more than you expect to receive. So all the way along I try and get people to give what they can to each other help each other out and they are sure to receive something back and that's how this whole business started. I just gave them a place to meet a structure where we could meet and get to know each other help each other out and that's grown into them now paying to be part of the membership.
Ward: [00:04:54] So just one more quick question just curious for regarding these meetups. What was the structure was it was there like a keynote speaker was it you just talking and then people were not working or what was it?
Becca: [00:05:06] So I kind of like to be more of a laid-back approach. So it started as I mentioned organically. We just met up over a cup of coffee and a hotel the first time and I kind of kept that Vibe going so people signed in or sign in with a label and a name label and what they do and then there's just normally complimentary. People chat occasionally I'll run a speed networking session or something like that and say a few words but there was no formality to it was just a chance for people to get to know each other and that has just formed an incredible sense of community because when people have joined my membership many and oftentimes they've known each other in person first so that online chat is not hard for me to get going because people are met each other face-to-face and of course they want to carry on those conversations online as well.
Ward: [00:05:51] And I would imagine also they do want to work with each other right when coming up with vendors to refer for weddings. If one vendor gets the wedding that they're going to want to pull in, you know, the caterer and the florist Etc. I would imagine.
Becca: [00:06:03] Absolutely and we've I found that to be happening more and more especially since I started the membership because people want to work with each other they want to promote each other and actually even those that are in the same industry because with weddings we can only do a limited amount per year. So if you're a photographer. And you already booked for that Saturday in July. You can pass right onto another photographer in the membership and give them that work.
Ward: [00:06:26] Smart. Yeah, I'll I think it's this is a good a good thing for people to kind of pay attention to because it's not what most people I'd say or trying to do like you mentioned doing an offline typing event, right that that's novel there something it's weird. But apparently it's novel to meet people in person these days, right? Yeah, so I think other people can use this for their own membership business that they're trying to build a think of well, I'm trying to build a community or at least an. Into what's potentially an offline low-cost way for me to connect with that audience, especially when you're first getting started, right? So I think that was a really good idea of yours.
Becca: [00:07:05] Yeah, and I think you can do it in any sector. I've had ideas about just starting a little group in my Village for other with other small business owners, which could then turn into a membership. I think sometimes in the online space we can feel like we need to be huge straight away. And actually you can Niche down locally. And there's a lot of local people and if you can meet up with them face-to-face and get to know them they're much more likely to join your membership in the future.
Ward: [00:07:27] So how did you transition from these meetups to online and and what sort of the business model they're exactly?
Becca: [00:07:35] Okay so we're meeting online and I was collecting people's email addresses. Purely so that I could tell them about when the next event was happening. And so I found that my email list was growing quite quickly and I was sending out emails but I kind of didn't want to bombard people in their email inbox too much and sometimes it wasn't relevant to people if they lived in a certain County and I was holding an event somewhere else. So at that point it got big enough. I felt that I needed an online space and so I just set up a free Facebook. Under my engage weddings name that people could join so that I can post about the latest events. I could spend start talking about business tips and business training that kind of thing and it was then when that started to get so huge that I realized I was trading time for money in that. I was having to work really hard to service all these people and actually it was becoming quite stressful and I couldn't put on enough events to cater for them or and at that point I sat down with a business strategy coach and just said look, I've got this thing I know it's good. I know I've got all these people and I have a good relationship with them. I just need to work out a better strategy, so I'm not running myself ragged. And they suggested looking at membership model and that very quickly became apparent. It was a good idea because I could have a fewer people that were invested financially and me that I was essentially offering the same services to but I could do it better. And I know now that I have a set income coming in each month as well.
Ward: [00:09:02] Right. Yeah, the more predictable recurring Revenue aspect of most membership businesses is probably one of the more attractive features of the model. Obviously there's also the idea that it takes a while to get that monthly number up to an amount that is sustainable they today but once you once you kind of get to that amount It generally won't just fall off a cliff either will grow or stagnate or slowly decline but everything it's not going to just disappear overnight.
Becca: [00:09:32] Yeah, it's much more manageable and I was Finding I was having to put on an event and then I would make a bunch of money for people coming to a training event or something like that. And then if the next month, I was on holiday or feeling sick or just didn't have an event to put on then suddenly. I had nothing coming in. So the membership model is definitely even that out for me and it's a lot more sustainable.
Ward: [00:09:53] Right so it could you just give us a few more details about what exactly is this members called? Like what do people get when they join?
Becca: [00:10:00] Okay, so if you join engage members Club, you obviously have to be a wedding business owner. Not just any business owner because that's the niche that I'm talking to they get a Facebook group, which I am in regularly to support them through their business and they can chat in there each month. I get a guest expert that comes in and talk to them to something relevant to our industry. So some of those things may be more General business advice around Finance social media, but also really specific things for weddings. Like how to stand out at the wedding exhibition events how to get people to refer you to their friends when they're getting married that kind of thing. So that happens once a month. They also have a Q&A with me once a month where I answer all of their questions and throughout the year as well. I'm putting on a few of these face-to-face events for members only because a lot of my membership still live locally and all of them still within the UK at the moment. I'm able to put on those events. And for me, that's a great chance for people to get to know each other better. So they're much more likely to stick around in my membership rather than just coming and going they really invested in the other people in the membership as well. So next month, we're getting together for brunch and co-working and with some of the members and in the summer we're having a summer party as well.
Ward: [00:11:16] That's awesome. Yeah the idea of building a true Community not just you know saying the word I want a community but to truly build that to really meet people and to engage that that is probably one of the best things you could do to reduce cancellations for your business, right? So that makes a lot of sense.
Becca: [00:11:31] Absolutely and I've read because I've been looking in Suburban ships more recently about the cancellation rates are expected. But obviously it's early days for my business. I only started this membership in January and now we're just about to come into May and so far. I've only had one person cancel out of 80. So they're enjoying what they're getting at the moment and I'm hoping to build that and it's worth mentioning. Actually. I've been running my membership on an open and closed model. So I only opened that membership for a week in January and then I've closed it to new members for the time being and then I plan to reopen it for people again in the summer.
Ward: [00:12:07] And could you explain that a thinking behind why you're doing it that way?
Becca: [00:12:12] I wanted to know who was in and who wasn't in I built up this huge group of 800 people and I wanted to know which of them were committed and I knew there would be some people that would be sitting on the fence and kind of saying yeah I'll join at some point so I just wanted to give them an incentive if you're in you're in also I wanted to build up a real sense of community like I've mentioned before within that group so I wanted people to know who else was in the group with them and that they were the true. Engage wedding members to stick together and also by closing it now. I know that if I having these exclusive events other people in the area of wishing that they could have come to them and I have no doubt that when I open up again in the summer, they'll be wanting to join because of the fear of missing out.
Ward: [00:12:54] Yeah, like the whole scarcity principle to that. There's a lot of psychological aspects there. Also, I would imagine just from what you were saying as far as what the membership includes a lot of it involves you and and you being present or doing something or facilitating something. So I would imagine trying to scale this up to your trying to be careful there.
Becca: [00:13:16] Yeah, I'm definitely trying to be careful with it and I kind of want to keep that real local community aspect. So even though I am attracting people from slightly further afield. I want them to get to know me and to get to know the people in the community rather than just being random people placed anywhere in the world and so by growing it slowly and carefully. I know that I'll have a better chance at keeping that connection.
Ward: [00:13:40] Have you thought about for because for a lot of business owners the ideas grow grow grow and you know indefinitely almost which obviously isn't isn't sustainable and not not realistic either so I'm just curious have you thought about what what is the end goal here or at least where would you be comfortable in your business?
Becca: [00:13:59] I feel like I'm still at the beginning of this membership. I know that I'd like to take it further and I would like to spread it further across the UK, but I want to do that in a slow sustained fashion so that I can find people that can facilitate the in-person meetups in those areas as well because I would hate people to feel like there was a two-tier type of person like a person that lives locally enough to come to the events and as a person that can't make it because they live too far away. So my plan is to build it. Seeing other people across the country that can essentially be a version of me in that place and meet up with people locally.
Ward: [00:14:35] Like a team leader or a certified like director or whatever?
Becca: [00:14:39] Yeah, so kind of like an Engaged weddings Ambassador for that region, but right now I'm taking it slowly. I've got two young children, so I don't want it. Try and scale it to quickly so I'm taking it month by month of the moment and seeing where it goes but with all the things I've done up to this point I find I found that by building this community it's just organically growing in a certain direction because if people are enjoying something and they're feeling a benefit from it on their business they're telling other people about it and then they want in as well.
Ward: [00:15:10] Yeah that makes sense. So I know you've spoken about the sort of building the initial audience from those meet ups. From there though. It sounds like the transition was to a Facebook group which grew the audience further just naturally right from people telling each other. So really word of mouth. Was there any other is there anything else you did or strategy did to grow your audience?
Becca: [00:15:33] So when I launched the membership back in January, I did have a clear strategy of how I wanted to do that and I wanted to grow my audience slightly and before that happened so I ran an online Summit which was free. It took place in my Facebook group and I did run some Facebook advertising for that but not a lot just promoting it getting people to sign up to it to get them over into my free group as part of that Summit. I had guest speakers in over two days every couple of hours on a variety of topics just to give people a flavor of. Kind of quality of advice they could expect from being part of my membership. So I did run Facebook advertising for that also the word of mouth for that grew because it was a really good two days of speakers and that people wanted to get into that group to hear that if they were in the wedding industry and I basically ran that Summit for two days. I left those videos up for seven days and then I took them down and put them inside the membership. So if they wanted to join the membership, then they could have access to those videos and many more as well. So yeah, I did promote using Facebook ads but still most of the stuff that I've done has been organic or through word of mouth.
Ward: [00:16:44] And what made you even come up with the idea for that Summit?
Becca: [00:16:48] I just wanted to give people a taste of what they could expect. I'm all about networking and connections. If you haven't got that by now, I love meeting people face-to-face and I just think. I knew that I could get people in of a good quality to speak to my members through the connections that I made and I wanted to show them that that was possible. I didn't want them to think they were paying for a membership that they didn't really understand where they were going to get the benefit from or if it was only going to be hearing from me because I believe other people had stuffed as well. So I just wanted to give them a really intense taste of what they could expect for the membership club. It was a difficult move for me as well because I'd run these these free networking events and been giving quite a lot of free advice away for almost two years and so to suddenly tell people I'm going to start charging you for this now was going to be a bit of a shock. So I needed to make it have a big impact and I needed to give something to those people that weren't going to join the membership, but we're going to have to have that shock of that was what was going to happen. So they got that through the summit.
Ward: [00:17:48] Right, and and I imagine also increased your email list since people have to sign up and give you your give you the email so you don't they don't sign up for a membership. You can potentially get them to sign up in the future.
Becca: [00:18:00] Yeah. Absolutely. It's increased my mailing list fairly substantially for the size of my business. And also those people are still in my free group, which I do still dip in and out of from time to time and work with those people. They just don't get the same level of access to me and my knowledge as they do when they pay to be part of the mission.
Ward: [00:18:18] Right okay so speaking of payment why don't we dive into the pricing so what what is the pricing of the membership currently and was it always that amount?
Becca: [00:18:28] Okay so I wanted to keep it really Affordable Wedding business owners tend to be either moms who want a second income or a sideline job when they. Have kids or often people that are doing it alongside a full-time job. So I knew I needed to make it affordable at least to start with and also because I was making this transition from a loads of free stuff to suddenly you have to pay for it. I wanted it to be attractive to those first members. So when I launched in January, I charge 12 pounds 50 a month to be a member which for you is $16 approximately and then I've closed as I said and when I reopen in the summer is going to be 16 pounds a month or twenty dollars and I think that will keep going up slightly and increments every time that I reopen that membership because they've got a back catalogue now stuff that's already there. So when you join in the summer, you've got six months worth of training already in that membership so it can command a higher price tag.
Ward: [00:19:27] Right and where did the 16 a month come from was that did you do research initially to do a survey or did you pick it out of thin air or what?
Becca: [00:19:35] I thought what would I pay for something like this? And then I picked it off in it. I always think that my ideal client is probably a version of me. I did have a look around the industry at the other kind of memberships I wanted to offer and the level at which they were charged and I just wanted to make it affordable. I wanted to make it around the price of having a Starbucks coffee every week so I could say that because that's something people do without even thinking about so it's like if you have a Starbucks every week or if you have a family meal at McDonald's is the same price as this so you should really be investing that money into your business. Rather than you McDonald's and that seemed to work people found it affordable and alway always in my business. I've wanted people to come away from my stuff saying that was good value for money. I want more rather than feeling like all that's an investment. I expect to load back from.
Ward: [00:20:25] Yeah, it's a good it's a good way to look at it, you know trying to leave something on the table instead of trying to maximize the total the highest price you possibly could get that leaves people, you know, like you could say a little edgy or a little bit more likely to cancel their looking for something to go wrong. So they because they can't truly justify the price just yet.
Becca: [00:20:44] Yeah, absolutely. And also this is the lowest entry way to work with me now the in my membership, so I wanted it to be an affordable entry point and I found already that those people have become members have been gone on to purchase higher price products from me. So for example, I run a full week Pinterest training course that's priced at $149 is so much bigger investment for that. But many of the members have gone on to purchase that or to purchase one to one time with me, which is even more expensive. So it's kind of a baseline price point for people to join the membership work out what I can do for them and how I can help their business and as their business grows, they'll go on to be. That's because they're happy.
Ward: [00:21:25] Yeah, now I really like that every day. I see the really everything you're doing really does just funnel back to a community and helping other people be successful. Right and the nice thing especially with what you're doing is if they are successful, which would be the goal. They would stay in the community because I they'd want to keep giving back to it's not just get my thing and then leave they want to stay part of this.
Becca: [00:21:46] Absolutely and the thing with the wedding industry as well is we need repeat business every single year because people tend to only get married once. Okay, so it's not like people build their business. They've got loads of huge clients and they no longer need the support from each other. This is an ongoing Community because everyone needs a fresh set of new customers every single year in this business.
Ward: [00:22:07] Right. So as I know it's still early days for the pricing and and it sounds like you've heard good feedback and that it's affordable and all that. I'm curious. Do you offer an annual plan as well? Or do you just do the 20 $20 a month?
Becca: [00:22:22] Yes, so I am have offered an annual annual plan as well. But I kept the pricing the same so it didn't matter whether you signed up annually or monthly. It was the same cost for the launch. I may amend that slightly. I only had one person signed up. The year, but I think it was so new that people didn't know what to expect from it and I didn't feel comfortable at this point charging a lot more if people paid monthly because I felt like I wanted people to be able to afford it. So I kept it at the same whether you paid monthly or yearly but I'm a look at that again over the summer when I open again.
Ward: [00:22:55] Yeah, that makes sense. And as far as far as the membership model sounds like you're not going to be increasing it to much more because like you said you want to stay stay in a good Zone that most people could afford that are in the industry and then it sounds like a big part of this membership model is obviously to get members but also to upsell them on additional services that you're providing. So that's a good thing for other people listening to think about is that sometimes the membership business is a nice base of recurring predictable Revenue, but that it can lead to upsells of other things that maybe the premium members could get.
Becca: [00:23:30] Yeah absolutely is turned my business on his head because I was relying before on the upsells without the Baseline income of the membership and that's why it was stressful. Now. I know I've got this set group of invested members. I've got a reasonable recurring Revenue coming in and now my upsell is a bonus on top of that rather than the bread and butter.
Ward: [00:23:50] Yeah, that makes sense who anything else that you'd like to mention about your story or that you think would be helpful for people.
Becca: [00:23:58] I think just going back to that being genuine be a genuine person help each other out and don't expect to load and return and you will find the stuff will come back to your return. So think about what you can do to help other people and then people want to work with you and be in your membership in the future. Don't go out there being ready to make loads of money and to just find a way to make those are money for yourself. Think about how you can genuinely help the community you're looking to support and they'll want to support you back by joining your.
Ward: [00:24:25] Is that just your has that always been sort of your philosophy with business?
Becca: [00:24:30] Yeah I would say that my business value is always been collaboration and trust and being genuine so being a genuine person not screwing people over definitely helps a business especially if you're trying to work locally because it's a small network of people and if you're nicer people that travels fast if you're not nice to people that travels faster.
Ward: [00:24:52] Yeah. No, I think that's definitely wise advice. Did you did you have any kind of like business Mentor in the past or is this just something you kind of inherently thought?
Becca: [00:25:00] Well, my dad is actually an entrepreneur himself and he worked in the management training and and when I was a child he used to go off to all these networking meetings and we used to laugh at him about how networking was this big thing and recently when I turned 30. And I was talking to him I realized I'd basically become my dad and was now becoming all about the networking myself so I think my family values will instill deeper me. I have met with that one business strategy coach once back at the end of last year but in general I've built it all up myself
Ward: [00:25:33] That's awesome. Okay cool so we'll end it there thanks for taking the time to be with us Becca.