019: Turning a Niche Problem Into a Membership Business
🗓 October 23, 2019
Ward chats with Maelisa Hall, founder of QA Prep about how she transitioned from offering in-person workshops to an online membership business, the pros and cons of offering a low price, and the importance of high-quality customer support.
Ward: [00:00:00] Hi, Maelisa. Thanks for joining me.
Maelisa: [00:00:02] Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Ward: [00:00:05] Yeah, so let's start off with a quick overview of your business let so that other people can understand what you do.
Maelisa: [00:00:12] Sure. And I do have more than one business. I'm a stereotypical entrepreneur, but my my business that has the membership is called QA prep and it's a I call it a super niche business. So I help other mental health professionals with their clinical documentation. So basically I am only focused on helping people with the notes that they write, the treatment plans they right. How they do it assessment and intake in that kind of stuff. So it's a very niche part of the mental health industry and I started it actually because there is very very little information about it. We get very little training on this topic. I'm a licensed clinical psychologist. So I found that that experience was. Pretty much across the board for other mental health professionals. And so I started offering some trainings and found that people were like eating this information up. So I should say that I have very little competition. I started the business five years ago and still have very little competition. There are just very few people talking about this topic. So that that does help me a lot and help me grow this business. And the types of services I have I've done a lot of different things but now just have the membership and then I sell paperwork packet. So people you know therapists can can purchase this packet that. To use for like their intakes and that has consent forms and stuff like that. And then I have an e-book and that's that's it. So the membership is definitely my biggest Focus.
Ward: [00:01:56] So for people who are not in the medical field in our aren't really sure what you know medical health documentation is could you just give some quick examples.
Maelisa: [00:02:05] Yeah. Yeah. So the most common one that people may or may not be familiar with but that therapists really struggle with and. Really one of the biggest reasons people find me is with taking notes. So after you know, you do a therapy session you have to document that so you have to write about what you did with the client, you know, if there are any concerns, like if they were suicidal or express to you that they were suicidal at any point. Your documentation is really important for showing what you did. Right, like what you did or did not do. In response to someone telling you something like that, but it's also for like every day like if you do ADHD evaluations for kids, for example, you know, it's just documenting the the testing that you did and havingmpaperwork that supports diagnosis you might give someone or a report that you might write that actually can influence someone getting accommodations in a school setting. So there's a lot of different examples, but pretty much every time we meet with the client we have to write a note about it. We also have to usually gather some history. So most of us if we gone to the doctor any kind of a doctor, you have to fill out a form where you maybe like checking off things about, you know, like have you ever had any kidney problems right you have heart disease. Do you have asthma that kind of stuff? So it's very similar to that but includes also information about like your mental health or who you live with. Things like that and then the other big thing is like treatment planning. So we have to actually have an idea of how we're going to help someone out and prove that we could help them that we have the training in order to do that. So this document and unfortunately the documentation there's very little standard around it and pretty much the only people who do have standards are insurance companies. So unfortunately a lot of therapists don't really get very much training and the first time they really have to evaluate their. Work is when an insurance company is doing a review of their paperwork to see whether or not a client should get more sessions for example. So it can be a really stressful experience and it's something that you know for us as therapists, it can actually impact our clients directly how well we're documenting.
Ward: [00:04:24] Right Okay. Yeah makes sense. So it's a multi. It's both a structure thing. It's a legal liability thing. It's an accountability thing is there's so many different layers to it. So it sounds like a really useful useful tool that you're trying to provide here. But why don't we give folks a little bit of. Of background as far as how you actually came to this membership model. Like you said you were giving trainings before so could you just give a quick example of what that was like and how you turn that into a membership business?
Maelisa: [00:04:55] Sure and and probably cause people are thinking like that sounds super boring. Right? Like how could you have a membership around something that's boring and a lot of therapists also find this topic extremely boring and you know, And that's been part of my struggle with the whole business is how to make this how to make this topic interesting and engaging and how to actually talk to people in a way that it's something they want to tackle, you know with my help instead of avoid it so initially I started out just doing like just kind of testing things out. So I did a couple of workshops live where I rented out space, you know in my town and I was, my town makes it sound a little I do live in LA so there's lots of lots of areas around. I just kind of tested it out to see like hey if I offer this training for $25 a person like is this something people will pay for and it's sold out like almost immediately and people wanted another one and so I was like, okay, I think there's something here. So I did some in-person workshops. Then I learned through that that the problem with in-person workshops is every single time. I would get people saying oh, but I can't attend that day because I'm on vacation or I'm on a trip or I had this important meeting at work and so I can't leave that day. So there were always people who really wanted to make it but couldn't just because it was something that have physically be at, you know at a certain time. So then I moved that and started doing webinars so that I could reach more people. So people didn't have to be in my local area the I. Talk to anyone and I do actually have people who follow me and who have attended the webinars from different countries as well. Because again this I just don't have very much competition. There are a lot of people talking about this. So I have people who will attend from New Zealand or Australia or Canada. So I started being able to reach a much wider audience and then started offering those as recordings. So because you know again people can't always be there at that specific time, but they really want the information. So I would offer the recordings and then sort of tested out a membership model, I would do I did a year where I committed to every month doing a promotional webinar. So it was a free webinar and anybody could attend but it was a list building tactic that I used that the ended up working really well because it was directly related to what I was selling. Right? So I'm selling training on the specific topic. So if people sign up for this webinar, which is a training on that topic, they are typically interested in what I have that they can pay for. So people I would either you know pitch something at the end of that webinar that people could pay for like a product or a program. I was running so I was doing different programs that were kind of like kind of like group coaching type programs, but I decided Well. I had become a continuing education provider which means like therapists could if they watched my training and completed a quiz, you know, they could actually get credit and we usually have a certain number of hours. We have to complete every year. So I tested this membership of okay well, hey the webinars free everybody can attend anybody but if you want CE Credit then pay me this I can't even remember that. It was something like $10 a month it was you know a very very small fee. Pay $10 a month and you'll get access to all the recordings and you'll be able to get CE credit for them continuing education credit. So so that was testing it out and it was it worked people liked it. A lot of people when they signed up they just stayed signed up because it was so cheap. It was like an afterthought. The only problem with that model I found and I'm sure other people have talked about this or we'll talk about this that when people are paying so little for something it really often does become an afterthought. So people weren't necessarily prioritizing or like being engaged. There was just very little engagement around it. I also found that I had. All these other trainings and there were more trainings I wanted to do but I after that year of committing to doing the webinars every month. I didn't want to continue doing that. I wanted to start leveraging my time a little bit more and not having to create something new all the time. So I decided to switch over to a more in-depth membership model where I have an actual membership that is you know, we can kind of go into like launching and pricing and all of that but you know, it's a more a slightly more substantial investment, but it also offers a lot more and has more of a community aspect to it as well.
Ward: [00:09:58] Right. Okay. Well Dive Right into that. So when you were starting with the $10 a month, it sounds like that was going well enough like you said a lot of cancellations but people weren't prioritizing it. So maybe they weren't getting as much value out of it. And I assume you probably also had a decent amount of customer support right because you're it's too low price point by had a high volume of customers. So what what did you shift to what did you what's the more substantial model that you were just referring to?
Maelisa: [00:10:25] Yeah. Yeah and the customer support. Big thing to consider. Yeah, because that that model does require you to have more people to make a decent income and any time. No matter how much you automate or how simple you think your system is. You're going to have customer support issues. So and actually I started getting to the point where I had to hire someone just to handle my email because I was getting so many emails whether it's follow-up questions because people just want to talk about the topic or people who are having trouble accessing or whatever so that. That was my big motivation to do this membership model. It's like, okay. Well, let's go all in with this and make it more profitable for me so that it's worth investing that time in and paying someone to help me with it. So and also giving people they wanted more follow-up so giving people the opportunity for that. So what I did was I took a bunch, I obviously had a ton of training site already done. So I kind of picked the top topics based on what people were most interested in like what was most highly attended or what? I got in the most feedback on or what I thought was like the most relevant or important topic that people needed to know. And I used those to have like bonus content and have some content in the membership site when I launched so that was the benefit of waiting a couple of years. I think it I had probably been in business about three and a half years when I started the membership, so I had a ton of training content that I could pick from. So I did that then I also wanted to bring in other expertise. So there are a lot of complimentary topics like some people might be familiar with the term HIPAA which is a medical. Health law that's in the United States that applies to everyone in the United States and it has to do with like your privacy information and how medical your access to medical records and things like that and I would get all kinds of questions on that. I have a really good friend who's an expert in it, and he does all this training on it and it's like instead of me trying to piece together answers. I'd like a place where I can highlight him and have him come in and do a training on it as a guest right, but I also want to be able to. Like pay these guests that I would have come in because I've done a lot of free trainings myself. And even though I can't pay them, you know $1,000 to come in and do a training. It's it feels so much different when you're being paid to do something then when you're doing it for free, so that was one thing I always wanted to be able to pay my guest presenters and I wanted to have guest presenters so that I could have a different monthly training and I could be providing people that same continuing education training but I didn't have to be the one coordinating everything. I didn't have to be the one creating all the content. So what I did was planned out and I'm definitely like again stereotypical entrepreneur. Like I will just kind of be like, oh I have this great idea for a launch strategy or a new training and just whip it up and just put it together. And with this one, I really did take my time and think through it and planned out the entire first year of content meaning like getting guest speakers and I knew who I wanted to come in and speak. So I like send out lots of invitations and made sure I had all of that arranged and that way when I launched I had a ton. I felt like I could offer a ton of value right away. So I had content already inside the membership and I also had you know here in February this person's going to do this training on HIPAA, in March this experts going to do this training on Insurance companies Etc. So people knew what they were getting and people were kind of thinking more long-term like, okay I want to join this now, but I also want that training that's going to happen in June for example. And the other part was the the community aspect. So I've had to kind of play around with that part of it and figure out how much do people want to be part of a community. Because unfortunately, this is a topic that people are often embarrassed about so they don't necessarily want to go into a community and say hey, I haven't been writing notes for the last year. What do you recommend? Because I need to catch up and while that kind of thing is welcome. Not just most people aren't going to do that. So kind of figuring out a way to encourage people to share things. That might be even you know, they might feel a lot of Shame around in a safe environment but also, you know getting them to share. So one of the things I started doing after kind of figuring out and talking to some of my members and asking them, you know, what is helpful and and just looking at the feedback like what are the questions I'm constantly getting from people was we actually started doing a weekly and I call it gnd so instead of GSD, which is like get stuff done that a lot of people probably heard. This is get notes done. So every hour, I'm sorry every week. We have one hour where people can show up and it's just a zoom meeting and it's open you can show up for however long you want you don't have to come but I will be there every single week at this time and I will be getting some work done. And so you can show up we have cameras on and we do Pomodoro style sessions where we work for 25 minutes. Take a 5 minute break work for 25 minutes, another 25 minutes Etc and people have really loved that. Feeling like they have a place where they can go if they want to be accountable to someone and where they feel like, okay, if I show up here everybody else gets it and I don't have to necessarily share everything that I'm working on or embarrass myself by saying what I you know and behind on and what up what I don't know how to do but I can show up and I know that I'm working on it and there's other people there to help me if I need. So that's kind of one of the things I also have office hours, which actually I decided to do partly from like I said to getting I was just constantly getting emails like so many emails that were questions from people who have you know, maybe I haven't written a blog post on it yet, or maybe they just haven't read, you know my years of blog posts. And I also realized that so many people, you know, we're just embarrassed to ask so many questions or there's just so many things changing with technology. So I wanted to have a place where people could go and I could say hey if you show up at this time, I'm going to be here every single month and I'll be answering your questions and we can get as in-depth as you want. I can help you out in detail with your specific situation. You can ask your question and honestly ahead of time time and I'll answer it, you know, whatever works for you, but. If you have a question, you can pay me to answer. It was another big part of it. So it was kind of a way of like instead of offering all of the stuff for free a way for me to feel like okay. I can answer all these peoples questions, but you know, it's worth my time because they're paying to be a part of that membership.
Ward: [00:17:51] Right. Yeah. Okay. So that's a lot of stuff. You definitely are providing a ton of value It sounds like and it's very unique to especially the the get work done Zoom meeting concept with the Pomodoro sessions. I don't think I've heard that one before was that what made you think of that?
Maelisa: [00:18:09] Honestly, I'm trying to think of the first time. Okay, I did a I did a group program a couple of years ago. Specifically for people who are behind on their paperwork and I called it the paperwork ketchup group and I started that program because I knew so many people were telling me that this was an issue, right and there was very little help around it and really all that people needed from that group. They didn't need a ton of help. With content, they didn't need training. They just needed a structure for getting things done and I same time. I had been testing out like doing Pomodoro sessions myself, and I was actually part of this group of women where we would do this together. And we would meet up we actually would do like a retreat once a year where we would just all run a house and like block out our time and we spend an entire week just getting stuff done. And then sometimes we would meet up we all lived in different areas. So we would also do this online, so I thought well. I want to do this program to help people catch up. I know most of what they just need is time to get it done dedicated time. So that's where this idea came in and we would do it actually started as full days. So like people would be in this program and there were different aspects of it. But then it was I think once a month we would do a full day usually on a Saturday from like 9:00 a.m. To 4 p.m. Getting notes done and I would run the structure time and people just loved it. Like it got such good feedback and the members of the group started doing it on their own outside of that. They were like, I need another session Saturday. So I'm going to be doing it from you know, 10 a.m. to noon who wants to join me in for other people would join them and they would do it on their own. So after seeing that popularity and then seeing the same issue start to come up in my membership I added it. I think maybe three months in was when I added it and and I still do once a quarter we will do that full day in the membership. So that's a little bit more commit to but the awesome thing about it. Is that like I just sit there for example on a Saturday we're going to do one and two weeks and. I just sat there from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the computer. I have zoom open and I'm the one running the timer giving the Pomodoro sessions, but I'm getting some I'm getting my own stuff done that whole time. So like it's just it's a win-win for everybody.
Ward: [00:20:36] Yeah, I know that's really fascinating. So we had talked about initially you had a $10 a month membership. So this new one that has obviously way more stuff that you're offering everything. You just were describing. What's what was the pricing or what is the pricing for this new membership?
Maelisa: [00:20:52] Yeah. So now it's forty seven dollars a month and people get the the monthly training they get the office hours and access to me and they get a ton of handouts and cheat sheets and all that kind of stuff and then they get they get notes done time. When I launched it I did launch it at $29 a month. So my strategy there was I almost I really did struggle with like the price and did I want to charge more at the launch? But what won me over was that with a membership you just need so many people to join for it, maybe not all the time, but I felt like for this one it would be more beneficial if I had a bigger group to start. And I really wanted I think my goal was 75 people to join like in the first month. So I really wanted to launch to be a big launch. I had a pretty big list. I think at the time I had about 8,000 people on my list. And so I knew I had the potential for it and I wanted it, I wanted to make it a no-brainer. I wanted to send this offer to people and have them think there's no reason for me not to join this membership. So I did meet my goal and I had a little I can't remember the exact number might have been like 82 or something like that people join. And I did kind of a soft launch initially. So I first only send it out to the people who had been previous clients. So people had been on a program that I'd run or attended a previous Workshop or something and that was really helpful because I had a. A little technical glitch with that and like a couple of things with sign up didn't work initially. So I was really glad that I didn't send it out to 8,000 people and have all those issues show up. So I did that and then after a few days we fix those issues and then I sent it out to everyone on the list and. The other reason behind that was I raised the price. I think I think I gave people a week. And so that was giving people I know with memberships, you know, a lot of times you're doing it as an evergreen model and so you want to give people some incentive to take action. So I raise the price after a week so that I could get a lot of people in like in a short time frame and really boosted up right away then I raised the price again. So we're having this meeting in June and I raise the price again over Black Friday. I did a special and the special I did was only on annual membership to try and get people to commit for a whole year. So there was no special use neon on the monthly membership, but you got a significant discount if you paid up front for a whole year and then I also said that after. I ran the special from Black Friday to side Cyber Monday. So after Cyber Monday that the price would be going up to forty seven dollars, which it is now so that incentivized some people who didn't necessarily want to pay for a full year. They still signed up for the monthly membership because they wanted to lock in the the discounted price.
Ward: [00:24:11] Yeah, that's clever that when you're trying to do a price change, especially when it's going to go up which it usually does to offer some kind of window of opportunity to either sign up for a discounted annual plan or join the monthly plan before that Legacy pricing goes away. So at that that's definitely a smart move. So I guess in closing here why don't we go over some of the tactics that you used to initially build that that email list and also any other marketing tactics that have kind of worked for you.
Maelisa: [00:24:42] Yeah. Well the one I mentioned earlier about like committing to that year of doing webinars every month was definitely a huge boost to my list. The other thing that I've found a lot of success with because I have such a niche topic and it's often something people need specific help with for a certain amount of time, but you know, and maybe they follow me for helpful tips on going but they don't always need my training or my help. So for me from day one, I found it super helpful to collaborate with other people in the industry. So for example, there are a lot of business coaches for therapists. They're usually therapists who had a really successful practice now that each other therapist how to do that. So I've done a lot of guests trainings for them or I'll do guest blog posts for them. So even now guest blog posts are a huge part of my my audience acquisition. So just getting my name out through that another thing that is huge for me and this is where I really. When I dove into a little over a year ago some before I started the membership. I really took a lot of time to evaluate. How is it that people are finding me? Like I know, you know certain blog post on my website or really popular and different things. But like how is it that people are finding me and I discovered it through asking questions. So for my business specifically, it's usually that people have a specific problem that's going on. They Google a question or they go into a Facebook group that they trust and they asked that question. So my traffic pretty much exclusively comes from number one from organic Google search that's over 60% of it. So that really helped me with optimizing different things like okay. I know these certain blog posts are really popular. So let me go in and revise that blog post and make sure I have a call to action for the membership specifically. Or talk about a training that's in the membership that relates to that topic that the blog post is about. So that was you know, number one thing that I did for kind of Evergreen promotion. The other thing is I discovered a lot of it is just me being in Facebook groups. There's a bunch of therapist Facebook groups and some of them having a 7,000 people 8,000 people. And anytime anyone and asks a question about paperwork documentation or related things. I can be in there answering their question and and I've actually found that there are lots of people who go to my website find a resource and then sign up for my membership or even buy my paperwork packet right away. So they don't need an entire welcome sequence of emails or huge funnel. People just know like if this is their problem they want the answer and if I can show them really quickly that I have the answer to it. They will sign up. So that was really helpful. Another thing that I've been doing recently is Pinterest. So I found that I had no Pinterest account and Pinterest was the number three refer to my website for a good two years while I had no Pinterest account. So I was like, okay, I you know for the last year I know I need to push this so recently. I have been making out of focus and hired someone to help me with Pinterest ads and things like that. So so that when I'm still testing that's kind of a new thing, but I figure I should try and leverage it now while I know it's a huge way in which people are finding me in general.
Ward: [00:28:27] Yeah. I mean, I think the main theme I'm hearing from you and I think a lot of people should be pay attention to is that you really did this in like a step-by-step approach in that you started with something and then you built on it or repurposed it for the next thing and then you repurposed all that for the next level up. And you kind of kept going that way so that you were never really starting from zero with any as your as your business has evolved It sounds like. You repurposed blog posts you repurposed popular webinars repurpose everything basically and I think that's a really clever and efficient way to do this, especially when you're when you're first starting so kudos to you for recognizing all that. But yeah, let's let's end it there. I think this has been really great and really helpful stuff Maelisa. If you just let people know how they can find out more information about you if they're curious?
Maelisa: [00:29:14] Sure. So if you want to check out the website, and you can see the sales page and all that. I love checking out people sales Pages, it's qaprep.com, and that is where I have help on all things paperwork and documentation.
Ward: [00:29:30] Awesome. Thanks again, Maelisa.
Maelisa: [00:29:31] Thank you.