We had Stu McLaren on the show earlier this week, an absolute wizard when it comes to online membership communities. For today's Follow-Up Friday, we're going one-on-one so I can tell you about my own first experiences with memberships, going all the way back to the days when I was a newbie with Internet Business Mastery.
There's a lot you can learn from my experience and what it taught me about the power of membership communities, how to set them up so that members feel heard and taken care of, and providing students and learners with an amazing experience. Let's dig in.
- What “the curse of knowledge” is and why it's critical for creators and educators to understand
- The story of my first experience with online memberships
- What to do if you're launching a membership community but you don't have any members yet
- Why something as simple as a group call or office hours can be powerful within a membership
- My top advice for anyone with a membership program or online course
SPI 478: When I Was a Newbie, This Helped More Than Anything
Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it's all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host — one of his college roommates travels all around the globe on the World Poker Tour — Pat Flynn!
So this past week we spoke to Stu McLaren, a master of membership communities. And it made me think about the first time that I actually joined a membership community. I wanted to tell that story today because I think it's really important for all of us to remember where we came from. If we're helping people do something that we have done before, it's very, very important to go back into our own past, to try to remember how we felt, what it was like and all that stuff in order to best serve those who we are trying to help move forward. And this relates to something that I come to known as the curse of knowledge, something that we're trying to fight through, right?
The curse of knowledge is essentially the idea that if you know something, if you've experienced something before, it is very difficult, if not impossible to know what it's like not to know that thing anymore, right? Once you know it, you can't not know it anymore, in most cases. And this is a very tough thing for creators, for educators, for anybody who is trying to teach anybody anything to understand.
So this is why when we go back into our own past, it can help us with the future. And whatever it is that you're teaching I want you to perhaps run this exercise yourself too. But I'm going to tell you the story. This is my own exercise expressed out loud for you, and hopefully it might even give you a picture of what it might be like if you're maybe trying to create your own membership community, or perhaps you are wanting to be a part of one and you haven't been a part of one before.
You might know my story. I got laid off in 2008 from my architecture job. And it was actually a podcast like this one that saved me. It was called Internet Business Mastery, it was hosted by two gentlemen, Jason van Orden and Jeremy Franson. And it was funny because he was going by a pseudonym at the time, Sterling, which, I don't know, it was just interesting to me when I found out that his name was just Jeremy. But Sterling and Jay were the hosts that I've come to know. And I fell in love with the show and I really befriended them. I didn't know them, but they were just two guys on the airwaves just like I'm here chatting with you. I got to know them really well and they provided me a lot of comfort.
They provided me a lot of inspiration and it was actually on that podcast that I heard an interview with Cornelius Fitchner who was a person making six figures a year helping people pass the project management exam or the PM exam. And that was my light bulb moment. That was the first time I heard about anything like that and I took that inspiration and I turned it into a website to help people not pass the PM exam, but to pass a particular architecture exam and that started the whole thing. But while I was learning all this stuff, I was listening to the podcast and they were giving me a lot of great information. They had a lot of free information on their show and on their blog, but then they came out with this thing called the Internet Business Mastery Academy. IBMA, IBMA. And they pitched it on their show.
I heard a number of people who had joined it and I definitely wanted to be a part of that. So first lesson, people don't want to join something that other people aren't already a part of. So the more that you can share how others are getting value from something, the more likely it is a person's going to want to join it, right? We are a species of group mentality. And so, if you are promoting something that involves a group, you definitely want to share success stories and motivational stories from within the group itself. And if you have a podcast or some sort of platform to have those people tell those stories, then even better, for sure. So I got really interested and it seemed very expensive to me at the time. I had just started my business and forking over $97 a month was something that made me hesitate a little bit.
But I saw the value that was inside, I kept hearing these amazing stories from within. So I figured, you know what? I'm going to join. If I don't like it, they say there's a 30-day money back guarantee, okay, all the risk is on them. So let's give it a shot. And I remember just being brought in with welcome arms and feeling very comfortable with who was there. It was back in the day before a lot of the software that we now have available like Teachable and other things to help manage community, Circle. These things didn't exist back then, but the framework that they had still was inviting, it was very much like a forum with content laid on top of it. And I got to meet people really, really quickly. And I remember that was the most comforting thing, just trying to find other people like me who were there.
So the next lesson here is if you are a bringing a community together, the onboarding process is really, really important. And having people find other people like them is going to be absolutely key to help people understand that they are not alone. Because it was at that time, although I felt alone buying this thing, I was very quick to find other people like me and other conversations where I understood the language or was getting inspiration and that was really key to see that there right upfront.
Now, if you're launching a membership and you don't quite yet have a bunch of members in there, then launch with a smaller group with the expectation that they know that well, okay, there's nobody here yet, but they're going to be the first. And so they get maybe a founder's discount and they get special access and they get first crack at it and all that kind of stuff and that's very important, that's a lot of value, but they can help fill in the forums. They can help create conversations such that when there comes a point to launch this thing publicly, you're now more able to see that there's activity in there and you can even share already some of the connections and success stories that are coming from within.
Anyway, that was very comforting to see those conversations already happening. But I remember still being a little reluctant to type anything or to say anything, I was just reading along. And I remember finally mustering up the courage to just ask a question and within a day, getting a response and it was actually the answer that I needed. So again, big lesson, if a person is coming into your community, you want to make sure that they feel heard. You want to make sure that they feel like they belong. It was really reassuring to already get some quick wins from being inside this group.
And that's something that we try to offer in SPI Pro for example, and something you should try to offer if people are joining your community or even your courses or Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups, whatever the case may be. Now, there came a point a couple of weeks in, because I was definitely heavy into fine-tuning my website, getting my offers and my sales pages going and all that stuff where it definitely started to feel a little overwhelming, to be honest. And I got to the point where I was just putting a lot of excuses into play, "Oh, there's too much stuff here. I guess I'm not cut out for this. This should come easier, but it's not." All the things I could say to stop myself from moving forward, as we do. And I remember, I don't know how it was planned this way, or I think it happened every month or every other week or something, but they had a live call.
And I think it was just a conference call but I don't think there was a webinar software, it could have been GoToWebinar or something, I don't remember, but it was a live setting of sorts. I think it was just a phone call. Now we have of course Zoom and Demio and other places where we can meet online in a more real-time setting with video and audio. But this, I think was just a conference call, a phone conference call, but it was still live. And I remember attending that because I had just a question or two that was holding me back. And I remember Jeremy and Jason mentioning my name, asking my question, and then answering it, and I got what I needed. I just got what I needed right there. And these were questions that I didn't really get direct answers from or could find the answers from within the groups and the forums.
I mean, this was a little bit more advanced and nobody knew how to answer it. So the fact that I had a little bit of access went a very, very long way. And if anybody is listening to this, if you are an SPI student, you've taken one of my courses and you've attended office hours, you know that's exactly what I offer. Every week on Thursday, I offer two hours every week, actually, for any students of any SPI courses to come in and just get any answers to any questions they might have. And I don't charge any extra for that. Jeremy and Jason didn't. And I just remember how great it was to get even just a couple of questions answered from the creators such that I could move forward. And that's what I offer every single week within the SPI courses and that's, again, just something I include because it was something that I learned from Jeremy and Jason.
And whether you do that monthly, or you have a different mechanism to collect questions and then make sure these answers are provided, or I know some people who have membership communities and courses who take these questions and they actually answer them on public YouTube videos so that, yes, those questions are answered. They even display the question from a member, which promotes then their membership, but it also provides a way for new traffic to come in. Now, I don't do that with office hours, I could, and I know the power of YouTube, so I probably should, but no, I keep it more exclusive for the students and that's just my choice and something I want to do. But I remember feeling very much a sense of relief when I would get those questions answered. And it was also nice to hear questions from other people too.
Even though I got my questions answered, or I had to wait to get my question answered, it was A, reassuring to hear other people ask questions and also to continue to hear Jeremy and Jason provide these answers and it just solidified their expertise even more. So just again, some examples from my own history with relation to this membership community. Now, eventually, I got to the point after two or three years being in this community, where I just outgrew it and I was setting on my own path. I had gone through setting up my website and building my business. I was making $20, $30,000 a month at this point and starting my journey within the Niche Site Duel. And so, I had a lot of things happening and I decided to cancel my membership, but I am forever grateful of what Jeremy and Jason offered me.
And this is actually ... It's interesting because the feedback that I'm getting now from SPI Pro - which is our academy-type situation, you can check it out at SmartPassiveIncome.com/pro - It's literally what I remember saying to Jeremy and Jason, the feedback we are getting here at Team SPI from members from SPI Pro, it's just on another level, even beyond the online courses because of the community aspect, because of the memberships and masterminds that are happening. We put people together into little groups and they meet up with each other. When we get back into a setting where we can meet in person again, I imagine SPI Pro's going to have meetups in person in different locale. That's going to be really neat. And it's something that I'm looking forward to. Again, if you want to check out SPI Pro, you can go to SmartPassiveIncome.com/pro.
But this is just an exercise for me to remember what it was like in the beginning, because yes, we are doing those things to allow people to feel like they belong. We are getting people into the community and making them feel like they're being heard, having their questions answered. We're running events, we have book clubs, we are doing all these things to have some of the same things that I received from Jeremy and Jason back in the day, but in a different way, using the technology that we now have available. So I want you to think about who it is that you're trying to serve, and if you already have a membership of some or you're imagining creating one in the near future, or perhaps you have some online courses or some other mechanisms by which people can transact with you, what is that experience like?
Because a lot of times, and this is just what irks me a little bit about online businesses, we do everything we can until we get the sale, but unfortunately, that's the end for many. And if the sale is all you're going for, well, that's too bad because that customer - and I don't even like using that word - that student, that learner, that person, that human being can become somebody who can continue to transact with you again and again. Your best customers are your current customers. And they are the people who are going to support you and shout out your brand, just like I'm shouting out Internet Business Mastery. And unfortunately, that program isn't what it once was anymore. I don't even know if it exists anymore. Jeremy and Jason are doing their own thing now, but we're trying to fill in the gaps here with SPI Pro.
And it's really important, again, to think about the things that happened back in the day, and to get yourself in the shoes of those who are going through what it is that you're offering. If you can at all speak to anybody who's going through your programs right now, do it. Those conversations are absolute gold. They are some of the most enlightening, inspiring, eye-opening, truth-giving, life-living - I don't know, I'm just trying to rap now, but truly, it is absolutely one of the best things you can do.
Now, let's say you're listening to this and you're like, "Pat, I don't have a program. I don't have a product. I don't have a membership yet. What can I do?" It's the same answer. Number one, know who it is that you are hoping to speak to, your target audience, your niche. Number two, talk to them, ask them what they might need help with.
What are they struggling with? Because you are creating that journey for them right now, and you are writing their future. And when you can help them, that's going to, in turn, help you and your business too. I think it was Zig Ziglar, who said you can get anything you want in life so long as you help other people get what they want. Similar to how I always say that your earnings are a byproduct of how well you serve your audience. And when you serve those people who are there already, whether they're people who are on your email list or students or customers or whatever you want to call them, people who have already been in your ecosystem. When you serve them even deeper, when you, not upsell them, but you up-serve them, those are the people who become the superfans.
Thank you for listening. I hope this has inspired you to think about your past and the future of your own members, students, learners. Cheers, thanks so much, I appreciate you, and I look forward to serving you in next week's episode.
Thanks again for listening to these followup Friday episodes. I hope you enjoy them. If you do, hit me up on Instagram or Twitter @PatFlynn, I always love to hear it. They're very encouraging, especially because we're doubling down on podcasts this year with both the Wednesday interview and the Friday followup with just me, and I'm loving it so far. I hope you're loving it too. Thanks so much, I appreciate you, and as always, Team Flynn for the win. Peace.
Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at SmartPassiveIncome.com. I'm your host, Pat Flynn. Sound design and editing by Paul Grigoras. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski, and our executive producer is Matt Gartland. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We'll catch you in the next session.