230: Membership Sites – How to Gain and Retain Members with Mike Morrison

An image of ‘all-in’ hands and the title of the 230th episode on the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'Membership Sites.'

Welcome to episode 230 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Mike Morrison about growing and retaining your membership site audience.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Allea Grummert about email marketing strategies for bloggers. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

Membership Sites 

You’re an expert in something, so you start a membership site to teach people what you know. But how do you grow your membership site audience?

That’s where Mike comes in. He’s here today to talk to you about not only how you can gain members and grow your membership site, but also how you can retain and support your current members.

And even if you don’t have a membership site, you’ll still be able to apply his tips on segmented marketing, onboarding, and surveying to your own blog. Enjoy!

A quote from Mike Morrison’s appearance on the Food Blogger Pro podcast that says, 'Nobody is impressed by me talking about how great my solution is, but if other people talk about it...then that's worth so much more.'

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How his membership site has changes in the past few years
  • Why evergreen content is so important for membership sites
  • Why their free Facebook group helps drive sales
  • What churn is and how to reduce it
  • Why onboarding is so important
  • What it is that gives membership sites “stickability”
  • How specific your niche should be
  • Why audience surveys are important
  • Why segmentation is important for marketing

Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on Spotify:


If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.


Alexa Peduzzi: Oh, hey, Alexa here and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thanks for making the show a part of your day today.

Alexa Peduzzi: I’m especially excited about this episode because Bjork is interviewing Mike Morrison from the Membership Guys and Membership Academy. As you can probably tell by the names of his businesses, Mike specializes in membership sites. In fact, Membership Academy is a membership site for … wait for it … membership site owners. Kind of meta, but totally awesome.

Alexa Peduzzi: I’m a Membership Academy member, and I actually attended the membership conference that Mike and his partner Callie held earlier this year in beautiful Newcastle, England. All this to say, Mike knows memberships. And he’s here today to talk to you about not only how you can gain members and grow your membership site, but also how you can retain and support your current members.

Alexa Peduzzi: Mike is just such a cool guy. Even if you don’t have a membership site, you’ll still be able to apply his tips on segmented marketing, onboarding, and surveying to your own blog. If you’re ready, let’s dive in.

Bjork Ostrom: Mike, welcome back to the podcast.

Mike Morrison: Hey, thanks for having me back on the show. I’m honored to be a returning guest.

Mike Morrison: Sorry, I was going to say it tells me I didn’t mess up first time around.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. You checked the box first time around. We said, “We got to have him back on.” It took us three years, but now it’s happening.

Bjork Ostrom: If you want to check out that first episode; it’s a little bit of a throwback; it’s one of the OG Food Blogger Pro podcast episodes; you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/62. That’ll be the first interview that we did.

Bjork Ostrom: But for this interview, I thought it would be good to touch base on maybe some of the basics. But also, hear a little bit about what’s been happening since then.

Bjork Ostrom: Three years is not a lot of time. But with an Internet business, it’s like the equivalent of, I don’t know, 15 years. They say there’s dog years.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I think there’s also Internet years.

Bjork Ostrom: If you look back at 2016, as it relates to your business, you can talk a little bit about what it is that you do. What your business is. And then how have things changed in the past three years since we’ve last connected?

Mike Morrison: Yeah. Three years. It’s weird, right? Because as you said, it seems like it’s no time at all. But it’s also a lifetime at all.

Mike Morrison: As was the case back then, our main business is we run a membership site about membership sites. At the core of it, that’s not really changed. We are The Membership Guys. We eat, sleep, breathe, the online membership world. We’ve continued doing so over the past few years.

Mike Morrison: In terms of when we last spoke … I hadn’t actually realized that was three years ago. That would have either been within our very first year of running Membership Academy; or it would have just ticked past that one-year anniversary.

Mike Morrison: It’s a bit crazy to be here, because that first year, we enjoyed a lot of success. Within that year, we envisioned the transition away from the agency that we ran into running the membership full time. We envisioned that taking longer. So our big thing from that first year was the fact that it actually didn’t.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: We got to a point where the membership became our main focus pretty quickly.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s one of the topics that I wanted to talk with you about, is this idea of starting and building. I think there’s the technical element. We covered some of that stuff in that first episode way back when.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m guessing a lot of that has similar themes, but that has changed. You have a ton of resources around that. Everything from, which plugin should I use? Which platform is best?

Bjork Ostrom: But then there’s this area that’s a little bit more intangible; it’s not as concrete there; you can’t have a table where you prepare things. That’s this idea of launching, growing, and getting an audience.

Bjork Ostrom: When you look back at the success that you had, and have continued to have, as you’ve continued to build what you build, where did that come from? Why do you think you had this traction? Did you have an existing audience? Did you know how to market well?

Bjork Ostrom: For somebody who’s thinking of starting a membership site, what do they need to consider, if they want to replicate that?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, we didn’t have much of an audience to begin with. We’d always been, we run an agency. Our work came from local networking. It came from referrals, it came from collaborations at a real small level. Because if you’re running an agency, you’re not dealing with a huge, huge number of clients, compared to a membership where we’ve now gotten nearly 3,000 members.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Mike Morrison: The way in which we were marketing didn’t really require too much in terms of audience building, too much in terms of lead generation or visibility, or even online marketing. Most of our clients came from the offline world, even though what we were then doing for them was building them their online membership.

Mike Morrison: That aspect there, the fact that actually, we were specializing in online memberships. That gives us the cheat codes, in some way. Because as people who have experience in building and growing successful online memberships, then obviously that experience came in quite handy when we want to build and grow our own online membership.

Mike Morrison: When you say, “Were we good at marketing?”, yes, we were good at marketing. We’ve been in the world of online business for 20 years now.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: That experience obviously enabled us, I think to be able to accelerate our audience role in a way that not everyone would be able to do.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: But when we decided to plant the flag in the sand with The Membership Guys brand, podcast, the blog, we were starting from zero.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The interesting thing is, it’s almost like you had previous exposure to other success stories, and you probably in some ways developed a little bit of a sixth sense.

Bjork Ostrom: You started to understand, “Okay, these are the recurring themes. These are the things that we see people doing, and the success that they have. We can pull that out and apply that to what we’re doing.”

Bjork Ostrom: When you look back at it, is there one specific thing, or maybe one or two specific things, that you did in those early stages that were really helpful from a gross perspective in getting things off the ground?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, I think one of the main things as it related to our content strategy, as it related to how we engaged people on social, inside our free Facebook group which, from a tactic point of view, was a big, big bomb.

Mike Morrison: But the main, main underpinning thing was just becoming relentless problem solvers. I think sometimes we see people getting a bit too wrapped up in … “I want to start a vlog. I want to start a podcast. I want to start a blog. It needs to have this structure, and it’s got to have these production values.”

Mike Morrison: They forget what the point of all this is. It’s just to provide solutions to problems; answers to questions. We, again, from the many projects that we’ve been involved in; the ones that did best were the ones that provided the best solutions to problems.

Mike Morrison: When we were creating podcast episodes, the aim was for every individual episode to be the answer to a question that we knew our audience had, because we created a free Facebook group where we got all those guys together, then we just listened. And we asked. We had conversations. We identified what problems are these people have? Okay, now, huh, we’ve got a huge ton of material that we can go away, we can create content; also, we can go deeper and create membership material as well.

Mike Morrison: So that when the membership bulged, there was an affinity between our free content and the paid content. Because it was all centered around this idea of just relentlessly solving problems.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting if you, one of the thing I like to do is I like to draw analogies to real-world brick-and-mortar businesses; not real world, just physical businesses with online businesses.

Bjork Ostrom: I feel like the equivalent is if you’re to open a hair salon, thinking about the structure of the site, and how things are going to be arranged and what you’re going to use, is like the equivalent of what chairs are you going to have; what is the lighting going to be; how far will they be spaced out.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: But if you nail all of that stuff, and it’s perfect, and the experience is perfect, and people walk in. Then it’s a terrible haircut? Yeah. Not much is going to happen, and your business isn’t going to grow. Even though structurally, everything is solid.

Bjork Ostrom: On the opposite side of things, if you have the worst experience possible, but you are incredible at giving haircuts, there’s potential for business growth. It’s almost like those structural things are a multiplier for the skill and the talent and the ability.

Bjork Ostrom: What you’re saying is on the membership side of things, really what you’re needing to do; what the mission is, what the goal is; is helping people solve problems.

Bjork Ostrom: You had talked about some specific ways that you were doing that. Essentially, it’s listening. But you have to have people that are talking to you in order to listen.

Bjork Ostrom: I’d be interested in knowing in those early stages, how did you get those people? How did those people arrive at the Facebook group? How did you start to get people to listen to podcasts? What did that look like, really early stage?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, because we were specialists in what we did, we would always get those emails from people where they say, “Okay, I’m not in a position to hire you, but can I just pick your brain?” Then they’d send a 5,000-word long series of questions, right?

Mike Morrison: We just got really good at saying “No” to any other options of engagement; people other than our Facebook group.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: Anytime someone asks us a question on social, anytime they emailed us, we directed them into the Facebook group. That gave us a little bit of an initial momentum. One domino fell, then next domino, then the next domino.

Mike Morrison: Then when we started putting the podcast up, the podcast was huge for discoverability. Because we don’t have to worry about getting that podcast in front of people. Apple just does that for you. On the podcast, our calls to action was, “Go and discuss this in the Facebook group.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: We didn’t have the membership at that point; the membership was still several months away. Rather than having a comments section on our website, there was a link to the Facebook group to continue the conversation.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. That’s great.

Mike Morrison: On the podcast, we would say to people, “Okay, hopefully this has given you some food for thought. We’d love to hear your input, your experiences. Head over to talkmemberships.com. That will redirect you through to our free Facebook group, where you can join us and bla-bla-bla-bla-bla.”

Mike Morrison: There again, that buying a domain name that was easy to say, easy to remember, easy for someone to punch in rather than-

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Mike Morrison: … facebook[dot]com/group/54321/whatever.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Mike Morrison: Again, that just made it easier to have that audio call to action. And, all these little drips from all these different places just start to come together, and you get a groundswell.

Mike Morrison: Then the group in and of itself becomes the attraction, because there’s more people in there. There’s more other people there are recommending it to others. Facebook are recommending it and all that sort of stuff.

Mike Morrison: We threw a little bit of ad budget at promoting the group as well, but we’re talking maybe a couple of hundred dollars.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. This was initially to get some traction.

Mike Morrison: Yeah. Just to get a little bit more traction. Then as we moved further … obviously through all that, we’re getting some people on our email list and so on.

Mike Morrison: As we moved closer and closer and closer, being ready to launch the membership, one of the big things we did to accelerate our audience growth, which in turn accelerated the growth in the Facebook group, is we did a free 30-day challenge.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: Essentially, one email per day with little bits of advice and action steps and what-have-you to create, launch your membership within 30 days. Again, we made it so that any discussion around that would happen inside the Facebook group and all that sort of stuff.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s great. One of the things I love about that is you are directing people to a solution that is helpful to them. But it’s also some type of capture.

Bjork Ostrom: An example of something that’s not a very good capture is that first example where you said, “Hey, somebody emails me, and then they have a bunch of questions.” You help them out.

Bjork Ostrom: But then it’s like, it’s helpful to that person. But there’s not any scale in the helpfulness.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: With the Facebook group, you can help somebody; somebody else sees that; they get exposure to that. You are then helping multiple people while also helping the individual.

Mike Morrison: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a little bit of a strategic take on scale, as it relates to observing your audience.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that still an important part of the way that people discover you, and eventually join the site, the Facebook group?

Mike Morrison: It is. It is. It’s a big, big part. We’re at about 13 and half thousand members in that free Facebook group.

Mike Morrison: Now, myself and Callie, cannot be in there as much as we were in the early days. However, we still do have a presence. We have our team in there.

Mike Morrison: Actually, now we’ve got such a body of work that we have a presence just by virtue of the fact that now if somebody asks a question, someone else in the group will say, “Oh, Mike did a podcast on this three years ago. Here’s the link.” Because all of that content is evergreen.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: Whereas in those first days, what we would do is someone would ask a question, I’d go away and record a podcast episode, and then I’d go back and say, “Hey, what a great question! Such a coincidence.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, great.

Mike Morrison: “We just recorded a podcast.” Yeah. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Great.

Mike Morrison: So we bootstrapped it a little bit in that way, but it’s a big part of the marketing strategy.

Mike Morrison: Now, because what happens is, a lot of those people who were initially inside our free Facebook group, they went on to become members. But they never left the free Facebook group. So within the overlap, we’d get advocacy.

Mike Morrison: We literally never promote the Academy inside the Facebook group, because we don’t have to. Because if somebody says, “I’ve got my launch coming up. I need some ideas for what I can do,” someone else will say, “Hey, are you an Academy member? Because they’ve got this launch course, or they’ve got these email templates that really helped me out.”

Mike Morrison: We know from experience that in a lot of cases, all it takes to get a sale is awareness. Not everyone needs to be nudged and put through a whole funnel. Those little mentions, those little, those tiny little bites of the apple in terms of the Academy coming up as, “Hey, if you don’t have a solution, here’s a solution.” That leads to a lot of people-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: … coming in.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s built-in testimonials, in a way. It’s somebody-

Mike Morrison: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: … who’s an active member, saying, “This was helpful for me. I learned this.” Maybe referencing something they saw. Kind of asking the group-

Mike Morrison: Exactly. That social proof is gold, because of course I’m going to go on in there. I’m going to say, “Yeah, Membership Academy is the best thing since sliced bread.” Because if I didn’t believe that, then what the hell am I doing in business, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Morrison: Nobody is impressed by me talking about how great my solution is. But if other people talk about it, and it’s clear that they’re not incentivized to do so by anything other than a genuine belief that this is a great product and it’s something that someone should use, then that’s worth so much more than us just boasting relentlessly about how awesome the Academy is.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You had mentioned, you’re at the point where almost 3,000 members; which is incredible; it’s, to think, over four years, building something where you have an extremely substantial amount of people that you are serving. Is awesome.

Bjork Ostrom: So, number one, kudos. That’s awesome.

Mike Morrison: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Number two, I’d be interested to hear not only in the growth side, but one of the things for those who are interested in creating a membership that they’ll need to start to understand is this idea of churn.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a little bit different for people who are coming from the publishing world; a lot of people listening to this podcast think about, “How do I get more traffic? How do I get people to maybe sign up for my email list?”

Bjork Ostrom: But once you get into the product side, or the membership side of things, you not only are thinking of acquisition, but you’re thinking of retention.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what “churn” is, and some of the things that you’ve learned through the years as it relates to reducing churn, and why that’s so helpful?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, definitely. Churn, it’s basically the amount of members you lose. It’s a percentage of members who drop off on a month-to-month basis. It’s probably the most important metric for any subscription-based company. Not just memberships. Anything where you are depending on your customers paying you month after month, year after year.

Mike Morrison: It’s going to happen. If you’re selling a book, if you’re selling a DVD, if you’re selling an event ticket, those are transactions. Those are one-off sales. Essentially, the job’s done, the product is delivered, and the commercial relationship ends.

Mike Morrison: When someone joins a membership, the commercial relationship is just beginning. You need to sustain their interest to such a level that they have no qualms with continuing to pay you. Or when they decide not to pay you, that’s where churn comes in.

Mike Morrison: I’d argue that retention is possibly even more important than acquisition. There’s no good bringing in through the front door if they’re just leaving immediately out of the back. You’ve got to hang on to those members.

Mike Morrison: I think people who are accustomed to selling one-off product, that’s what they screw up about memberships. They focus entirely on getting that initial sale, and then they think their work is done. Right?

Mike Morrison: Getting that sale isn’t the finish line; it’s the starting pistol. You’ve got to get that first monthly payment. But how are you going to get the second one? How are you doing to get a third one? The 36th one?

Mike Morrison: There’s a bunch of things that you can do to get that right. First and foremost, it starts the second someone joins. Right? You’ve got to get member onboarding correct. Member retention starts day one, minute one. The second someone joins your site, the clock is ticking.

Mike Morrison: You need to ensure they get off to the right start, and that they build the sort of habits that are going to keep them subscribed, and paying long term.

Mike Morrison: Get your onboarding right, number one. Number two, you’ve got to provide value. This is possibly the biggest shift between a one-off product and a membership. You want people to pay you on an ongoing basis, you’ve got to deliver value on an ongoing basis.

Mike Morrison: That doesn’t mean just throwing more content at people; it means you’ve got to show up. You’ve got to serve your community. You’ve got to solve their problems. You’ve got to help them get the results that they joined your site to achieve.

Mike Morrison: You need to be there for the journey that they begin when they join your membership. Memberships are a value exchange. If you don’t provide that value, people will stop paying.

Mike Morrison: Third thing is community. It’s a long, established, well-known saying that people will come for the content, but they’ll stay for the community.

Mike Morrison: That’s definitely, definitely true of memberships. Having a community element like a discussion forum or a Facebook group gives your membership that stickability factor that will keep people hooked and subscribed long beyond the point of which they’re finished with your content. Relationships that people form within communities, they are worth sticking around for, right?

Mike Morrison: Then finally, you need to implement what’s called a dunning process. “Dunning” is the word given to the process of handling failed subscription payments. A high percentage of churn is involuntary churn. It’s not people leaving by choice; they left because their card expired. Their payments have failed. And they just didn’t get round to sorting it out.

Mike Morrison: By the time that those issues have led to their subscription being canceled, they think to themselves, “Okay, well, it sucks that, it sucks that. I’m no longer a member. I’ll get round to rejoining one day.”

Mike Morrison: Then, it doesn’t happen. Or, it’s six months down the line, and you’ve lost out on that person being part of your community for half of a year.

Mike Morrison: So. Need to ensure you have a robust and ideally automated way of dealing with involuntary churn, with failed payments, card changes, and stuff like that.

Bjork Ostrom: … favorites in terms of; my guess is that there’s, we use a tool called Churn Buster for any of the recurring products we have. Is there a favorite that you have as it relates to membership sites, or ones that you’d recommend?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, Churn Buster. Churn Buster is fantastic. Some membership plugins have things like this built in. MemberPress, for example. It has elements of the dunning process built into it, so it will automatically email people when their cards are subscribing. It gives people the ability to update their details and so on. But Churn Buster’s a fantastic service that takes things a little step further.

Mike Morrison: If you want to really get more hands on, early, with your dunning, there’s a company called Gravy. I believe it’s gravysolutions.io. Let me, real quick … yeah, gravysolutions.io. They will actually call your customers and help them to get their cards updated or address any issues.

Mike Morrison: If you have an audience who are perhaps a little less tech savvy, or if you have a membership where it’s high ticket; it’s actually a high-cost membership; where it’s worth having a person on the phone-

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: … then those guys are a great team as well.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. One of the things that I would imagine would exist for people who have an audience; I think a lot of people that listen to this podcast in some way have an audience, or are in their process of building it.

Bjork Ostrom: As they reflect on building some sort of membership site or community, there would be this question of what? What do I create that thing about?

Bjork Ostrom: I’m guessing that there’s a decent number of people who would sign up to learn how to build a membership site. And also have a little bit of a question around what they should focus on, or what they should be building their actual membership site on, in terms of the focus area or the niche.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you have any advice that you would give for people as they contemplate what they need to focus on, and how specific they should be in what that area of focus is?

Mike Morrison: Again, it comes down to research. It comes down to talking to your audience. Having conversations with them. People don’t do that enough; they don’t validate their idea.

Mike Morrison: You should, presumably, if you already have a bit of an audience, you should be getting questions from these people.

Mike Morrison: If you haven’t been getting people sending you emails or sending you tweets or asking you stuff, or if you’re working with clients as a coach, as a service provider; again, you should be able to identify some common themes that are coming up that will give you an idea of the most globally experienced issues, problems, challenges, goals, dreams, all that sort of stuff that your audience have. That should start giving you an idea.

Mike Morrison: Again, about the viability of something like a membership site, and also about some of the specific things that you would put in there. I think, I always almost cringe when I have people come and say, “Hey, I want to start a membership site. What niche should I focus on?” Because that’s the wrong way round.

Mike Morrison: The niche, or the neeshe, wherever you’re from, should come first. It should be within an area where you have knowledge, skills, experience, and expertise.

Bjork Ostrom: You should have, yeah, that should be clear to begin with.

Mike Morrison: Yeah. Exactly. You should be creating a membership site in response to demand. Emerging demand. A need in the market, as opposed to deciding, “I want to start a membership site now. What should I … what industry? What people?”

Mike Morrison: Like it’s … I’m not big enough on philosophers and stuff to remember the exact quote. But it’s the, there’s a quote, a kind of, “Oh, think of my people. I’ve got to follow them to see where they want me to lead them.” Or something like that, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Right. Right.

Mike Morrison: I only know this; it’s from an episode of The West Wing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: It’s making sure you do things the right way around.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: Now, you don’t have to have this huge established audience. If you’re starting with a lot of knowledge, a lot of skills that you want to leverage, but you just haven’t really had a cause in your business to do any audience building, what-have-you, then those are the places you can research.

Mike Morrison: Obviously, look at what else is going on in the market. Are there other memberships? Are there courses? Are there events? Are there classes? An absence of solutions in a market is not a sign that this is a golden opportunity.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: It’s probably a sign that this is arid land, that this is dead space, on someone who’s tried and failed.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about that a little bit? Because I think that’s a common misconception when people think about a business opportunity.

Bjork Ostrom: If they see something that already exists, that a lot of times says, “Oh, I shouldn’t do it because somebody’s already created a solution for it.” But what I hear you saying is a little bit of the opposite.

Mike Morrison: Yeah, absolutely, because honestly, every unique idea has been had, pretty much. Obviously, there’s exceptions to it.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Sure.

Mike Morrison: Every idea for a membership site, pretty much, has been had. If you can’t find something; a membership, a course, a blog, a podcast; if there’s nothing else out there, it means either there is not enough interest or there aren’t enough pockets of passionate people in this world to have, at any point, elicited one of those people to say, “Hey, I love this thing so much, I’m going to start a podcast. Hey, maybe so many people need help in this space, I’m going to start a membership.”

Mike Morrison: If nobody has done that yet, or unless you are literally a brand-new field; unless you’re starting up a membership about augmented reality, which isn’t brand new, but it’s surely newer; then there’s a good chance there’s just not enough people out there interested. Or, the people who were interested are not a buying audience.

Mike Morrison: Because it doesn’t matter; you can have the hungriest market, the hungriest audience in the world. You can have the best product in the world. But if that audience isn’t compelled to pay for a solution to their problems-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: … then it doesn’t matter. Right? It’s an extremely rare situation where an absolute absence of anything even resembling an alternative solution in the market existing, is a sign that this is a ripe market. Yeah, it’s extremely rare.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Sure. That makes sense. I think it’s important for people to hear that, because the analogy that I use in brick and mortar is this idea of gas stations. If you wanted to start a gas station and you looked around, you’re like, “Ah, there’s all these other gas stations. I shouldn’t do it.”

Bjork Ostrom: It doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t have a business where you are building gas stations that are profitable. It just means that you have to really understand that niche; you have to understand where to go; you have to understand the best corners.

Bjork Ostrom: The same truth for a certain niche or a certain type of business online. Something already exists in that, it doesn’t mean that you can’t create it. It just means you have to really understand what you are doing, how you’re serving people, and how you’re going to about building it.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a great concept that you bring up; I’m glad that you talked through that a little bit.

Bjork Ostrom: So this is something that we haven’t done before, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’m going to call it Top Three.

Mike Morrison: Okay.

Bjork Ostrom: What I’d be interested in, is I’m going to have three categories that I’d be interested to hear your top three examples, or quick stories, as it relates to that category.

Bjork Ostrom: The first one is, I’d be interested to hear in the past four years, since you’ve been doing this personally, what are the top three things that you have done that actually didn’t work?

Bjork Ostrom: It was an initiative, it was a project, it was something that you guys were excited about; you thought maybe it would help with marketing. Then you decided to wind it down because it didn’t accomplish what you wanted it to.

Mike Morrison: One would be we invested a lot of money into Facebook ads to court audiences. As an experiment, I’d always felt that it wouldn’t work quite as well for us, just because we’re so niche; anyone with an interest in memberships would have called on us or come across us already.

Mike Morrison: Yeah, we put a lot of money into that, and it didn’t go … We were hoping to be surprised. We worked with an outside Facebook Ads expert. These were guys they called traffic was just rubbish.

Mike Morrison: I would also … It’s a funny one, this one. Because I loved doing it, and it’s certainly been effective in many ways. But purely as something that moves the needle in a big way, public speaking.

Mike Morrison: I’ve done a lot of speaking over my life, over my career. But I really put a stopper and a lot more effort into it in end of 2016, 2017. I had the good fortune to have spoken at a lot of very high-profile events within the industry.

Mike Morrison: It’s good for a lot of things, but it doesn’t move the needle. I genuinely do not believe that that would be any different place if I hadn’t, if I’d have just skipped out on those events.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Do you feel like … One of the things that I’ve started to realize with conferences or in-person events, is it doesn’t move the needle from a people who sign up, or business growth perspective necessarily.

Bjork Ostrom: But one of the things that I do find pretty consistent is that almost always come away with like one or two really positive significant connections, which is kind of this nebulous business impact thing. Have you found that to be true with conferences?

Bjork Ostrom: Or even in that aspect, do you feel like, oh, you know these people, and you could establish those relationships outside of it?

Mike Morrison: Kind of yes and no. I think that’s possibly the third thing, is putting dedicated effort into getting a seat at the table with big names in … not in the membership, as we put in the online business industry. Again, that’s something that went in hand in hand with speaking events like social media marketing world and stuff like that.

Mike Morrison: A big thing we wanted to do was position ourselves via these conferences, via being speakers at some quite exclusive event. To be at the table with some of the biggest names in the online business space. And develop relationships with them, which we did. We’re very good friends with a lot of those guys.

Mike Morrison: But I think when you’re coming up, particularly in the online business space, sometimes you think, “if I just get on this person’s radar.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: “If i just get on this person’s podcast. Wow! What that could do for the business would be incredible.”

Mike Morrison: It’s nothing.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: Actually, our audience don’t care if I’m setting in Chris Stucker’s hotel room drinking scotch with him and Pat Flynn.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: They do not care. It does nothing, because in no way connects to the way in which I serve them, and the manner in which I solve their problems. Because their problem isn’t, “Can you tell me a cool story about that time you drank scotch with Chris Stucker and Pat Flynn?” Do you know what I mean?

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Mike Morrison: In terms of … not so much in terms of always putting a lot of stock in that, but just in terms of what I think people tend to think. I know this because I’ll have people say, “I’m flying out to L.A., just so I can go and have coffee with Pat Flynn.”

Mike Morrison: Because I’m sure, Pat is a lovely guy, and I’m sure you’ll have a fun time. But man, you’re expecting a lot to come out of that. And in all likelihood it won’t, because he’s just another guy with a business.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. Yeah. For those who aren’t familiar, Pat has a business called Smart Passive Income; focuses on niche sites as well as general success with online businesses; has a great podcast.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: He’s been on this podcast as well; I don’t remember what episode it was, but we’ll link to that in the Show Notes.

Mike Morrison: Yeah, I think in terms of online business social media, he’s up there as the top four or five names in the space.

Bjork Ostrom: Then, Chris Stucker, somebody who actually we connected with; we lived in Cebu City, Philippines for a year.

Mike Morrison: Oh, wow.

Bjork Ostrom: Same spot where he was.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Focused a long time on this idea of working with team members in the Philippines, and outsourcing. I think he’s since moved back home to London; is that right?

Mike Morrison: He is back, yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Mike Morrison: He’s back in the U.K.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. But another well-known person in the online business world, and also I think has a podcast and a membership site, which I think you helped him build the-

Mike Morrison: Yeah, it was on our last, last ever client.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay.

Mike Morrison: Yeah, and initially we’d said no, because he came to us right after the day that which we said we’re not taking on any more clients.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: But he twisted our arms; he has the honor of being our final ever service client.

Bjork Ostrom: Great. I think that’s helpful. I think it’s helpful for people to hear somebody who has had success reflect on some of the things that didn’t work. And that you’ve intentionally said, “Hey, we’re going to step back from these things.”

Bjork Ostrom: How about on the opposite side? Three things that you’d say, “Man, if I could only do these three things as it relates to growing a successful business, these are the three things that I would do.”

Mike Morrison: Podcast, definitely. Podcast was a game changer for us. I think I said right in the beginning, we expected our transition from agency to membership to be a little more gradual, to be a little smoother. I have absolutely no doubt that the podcast was the main factor in accelerating that.

Mike Morrison: Because one, it’s phenomenal for discoverability. Two, I think it enables you to create a connection with your audience in a way that you just can’t do through blogging. But, in a manner that doesn’t involve as many moving parts, and as much chance for you to just throw in the towel as creating videos, right? I think it’s a perfect in-between.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: It’s as intimate as it gets. You are in people’s ears. You are in their pocket, on their trip, on their commute, in their cars. I love it when so many of our initial members, and still to this day, cite the podcast as the place they found us, and the reason they joined.

Mike Morrison: Because you get to hear my voice; you get an insight into how I tick. And if you don’t like that, you’re not going to … it’s like if you don’t like this podcast, you’re definitely not going to like this two-hour-long course with me, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Right.

Mike Morrison: So it’s a good filtering option. So the podcast, absolutely. We’re up to like 230 episodes now. I still enjoy it; it keeps me invested and engaged in the topic.

Bjork Ostrom: … with the podcast, how did you get people to initially discover that and follow along? Was it just the organic nature-

Mike Morrison: It was organic.

Bjork Ostrom: … of the podcast app? People searching for it, discovering it, and then subscribing?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, it was mainly a mix of organic. I think organic was a predominant factor. In fact, it was crazy because we, I think we … just by default, considered ourselves a U.K.-centric business, because we’re from the U.K.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: But then, so many people who were joining the membership when we opened the doors, who found us through the podcast, were from Nordic countries. There just seemed to be a huge clutch of people from that part of Europe. I was like, “Wow, we must have hit the top of the charts.”

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: Just in that specific geographical area.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep.

Mike Morrison: That really opened our eyes to the fact that we wouldn’t … there are pockets of our audience that we would not have reached with any other medium.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: That was organic. Then, of course, as I mentioned before, we had the Facebook group, where we did a whole kind of recorded answer to a question as it comes up.

Mike Morrison: And then, the fact that someone had asked the question in the group; then we had that podcast episode that we went back with, just made it more likely people would listen to it. So much of that discussion in the initial days was around the podcast episodes.

Mike Morrison: But yeah, most of it was organic. The discoverability buy is something on iTunes is huge.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. It’s its own search engine. I think that’s one of the things that’s good to remind people of, is there’s not just Google. There’s the podcast search engine, there’s a Pinterest search engine, there’s the YouTube search engine. All of these are different places where you can get discovered when you’re creating content.

Bjork Ostrom: So the podcast was really important. Would there be a number two and number three in that list?

Mike Morrison: Yeah. I would say, number two, again, one of the most effective things that we do is just regularly surveying our audience.

Mike Morrison: We conduct surveys of our wider audience, of our members. We, those three core groups that we’re continuously just asking for feedback from: people who joined our membership; people who joined and left; and people who haven’t joined.

Mike Morrison: Because we want to know why do people join, why do people leave, and what’s stopping people from joining. We’re constantly seeking feedback from people who fall into those groups.

Mike Morrison: You know, sometimes it’s just that single question. Like this is part of our sequence, single question, if someone will be our email list for a certain amount of time. What’s the one thing stopping you from joining the membership?

Mike Morrison: That helps us to identify holes, and it has done since the beginning. Helps us identify gaps in our marketing strategy; gaps in our product; things that we weren’t explaining too well, that maybe we thought we’d nailed the messaging for.

Mike Morrison: It’s also giving us language that we can use, because by asking people about … if we’re just conducting regular surveys, I mean, we’re asking people about their problems and all that.

Mike Morrison: Then we have that exact language that they use to express the issues they’re having. We can mirror that and we can model our messaging on that, to actually get across the message that, “We get it; we understand it. We can empathize with that.”

Mike Morrison: So, definitely, that kind of, again, relentless pursuit of engagement and interaction and dialogue with our audience.

Bjork Ostrom: I think one of the things that people often think about with an online business is that there’s not the physical interaction or in-person interaction. It doesn’t literally have to be in person. But the closer to high-touch feedback that you can get, the better.

Bjork Ostrom: And that looks like, it could be a Zoom call, it could be an actual audio call. But that’s one of the recurring things that I hear you saying, that I think is a really good reminder to people is that … you can get some sense from an email. You can get some sense from a comment.

Bjork Ostrom: But you can’t get enough color from those when compared to an actual conversation with people, where you hear them hesitating or hemming and hawing about a response.

Bjork Ostrom: Or being really confident, saying, “This was the best. This is why I loved it. This was so helpful.”

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s a recurring thing that I think is important to point out. So that would be number two. Is there a number three that you’d point out?

Mike Morrison: Yeah. Number three is segmentation. Segmentation was an absolute game changer for us. You’ll see so many times people have the website, and they’ve got one update. No matter what you’re reading, no matter the context of why someone might be reading a particular article on your website, they’d have that one single lead generation tool. That bribe to get people on their email list.

Mike Morrison: We were the same. We had the ultimate membership planning toolkit.

Bjork Ostrom: With the answer to all of your problems.

Mike Morrison: The answer to all of your problems. That was our only thing. We got a lot of people on our email list because it was useful; it had a planning guide. It had a plugin comparison chart. It had an invitation to our Facebook group. All that in one; we did okay with it. It generated leads.

Mike Morrison: When we actually doubled down on segmentation, so we were already essentially clumping most of our content in three core buckets: planning, building, growing.

Mike Morrison: When we actually took that segmentation further, and we redesigned the home page so it was literally, “Where are you right now? Planning, building, growing?” Then we created lead gen opt-ins; individual ones for each of those segments that were followed up by email series that were appropriate to the context.

Mike Morrison: If someone opts in for a planning guide, it means they haven’t launched yet.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Mike Morrison: Your email series content could be centered around the problems that people who aren’t launched yet have.

Mike Morrison: Similarly, if someone opts in for the growth lead magnet, then we don’t need to talk to them about membership plugins. So our followup series, all that marketing activity tailored to those goal segments.

Mike Morrison: In doing that, our email signups literally doubled overnight. That’s a very hyperbolic statement, but they literally overnight doubled, right? Because they were more targeted.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Mike Morrison: Our sales conversion, like our email list conversion, I think it was converting around about 3%. It went up to like 5–1/2%, which, in terms of conversion rates for email lists, that’s high.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What you’re saying is, by targeting, speaking the language of the person who is at a certain point in their journey, you’re able to then say, “Hey, we can solve this specific problem for you.”

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: As opposed to, “You want to start a membership site? Here’s all the things you need to know,” versus, “Hey, you really early stages, here are some of the plugins you should look at for creating your site.”

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: That is more helpful. Therefore, people are more engaged in the content, more likely to sign up. So segmenting, depending on where somebody is in the journey. Do you have an email tool that you like to do, use for that? Is there a solution that you found to work best for segmenting?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, we’re big, big fans of ActiveCampaign. It enables you to use tags, basically, for whatever you want. Once I ended up drawing the list that opted in for the growth lead magnet, then we just tagged them as Opt-in Growth. Then we used that tag to differentiate what we actually sent to them.

Mike Morrison: ActiveCampaign’s really, really powerful. But it’s not as overpriced as the likes of Infusionsoft. You get the cool automation and tagging stuff that Infusionsoft can do, without the huge price tag.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Mike Morrison: We’ve used that for probably five years ourselves; four or five years ourselves. And for a number of years prior to that, with clients as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: It’s great.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. The last category that I’d be interested to hear your top three; and it can be kind of a quick recap.

Bjork Ostrom: What are some success stories? I think people come out of a podcast like this excited. But it’s also helpful to hear, “Here are some people who have done it, and they’ve done it successfully.”

Bjork Ostrom: Would you be able to pinpoint people who are part of your community who have gone about building something? You can talk in generic terms, as they haven’t opted in to have their story told publicly. But in generic terms, what are some success stories?

Mike Morrison: Yeah, we’ve got this fantastic long-term member who’s been around for a while in our community, a guy called Mark Warner. He runs a membership called Teaching Packs.

Mike Morrison: I met him at a membership that was around, a website that was around for about 10 years or so. It was doing okay. But it was all just him, like this business had been around for ages. But it was just him. He had no spare time, and he was burned out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: He wasn’t making as much money as he wanted to be, because he was just constant grinding, right? I like to mention Mark because it’s a different kind of success. Because he was already successful if looking at pure dollars-

Bjork Ostrom: Numbers.

Mike Morrison: Yeah. Numbers. But if you asked him, “How do you feel today?”, on any given day, he wouldn’t tell you he was feeling successful. Right? Again, through working with us through the material in the membership spot in the community, he’s been able to completely flip that.

Mike Morrison: He’s got structure in his business, he’s got team; he’s brought on a whole bunch of people who helped him out, developed these processes, streamlined his whole business, and his mindset towards all of this. He’s just a different guy now.

Mike Morrison: I think the first, his big thing for like, “Okay, this has totally changed everything,” was actually being able to take his family to Disneyland. Which, I think, they had been a few times prior. And he had technically taken them.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: But he sent them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. He was physically there, but not mentally.

Mike Morrison: Yeah. I always like mentioning Mark, because it’s the atypical success story that people all talk about.

Mike Morrison: We also have people like Jodie Clarke from The Empowered Educators. She helps teachers in the early learning stage of education. Jodie’s a funny one, because we met through another community years and years and years back.

Mike Morrison: She knew what we did. And for probably about; and she won’t mind me saying this; for a few years, I think she told me every reason under the sun why she hadn’t yet started this membership.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: There was always a delaying factor or an issue or this, that and the other. She joined our community; we’d helped her get ready to take that plunge. It’s just been a fantastic success for her.

Mike Morrison: She’s retired her husband, so her husband’s been able to quit his job. They both spend time with kids. They’re almost, I think they’re looking at almost becoming like Digital Nomads. And her membership’s making more money than anything she’s ever done before. It’s just growing from strength to strength to strength.

Mike Morrison: Then one of my favorite success stories, a guy called Scott Devine, who is a bass guitarist. He was playing gigs and he was playing in bands and doing a little bit of local teaching to students.

Mike Morrison: Then he was diagnosed with a neurological condition called focal dystonia. I can’t believe I’ve actually remembered the name of that. Focal dystonia.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: Which means that over time, he’s going to lose the sensation in his hands. It’s a nervous thing. Eventually, he’s not going to be able to actually play guitar. You lose sensation in your fingers, that is literally what you need to play guitar.

Mike Morrison: This is a guy, he had zero experience of online business. None whatsoever. But he muddled out how to set up a WordPress site with a little free theme and set up a YouTube channel.

Mike Morrison: He started publishing little videos of him teaching bass guitar, because I think he thought, “Well, maybe if I do this, I’ll be able to get some more students for some one-on-one lessons and save up some money.”

Mike Morrison: But he started putting those videos on a blog, and he stuck a little PayPal donations button up. And then real quickly, those donations were racking up two, $3,000 in donations every month. Just, people saying “thank you” for how much awesome content he’s put on YouTube.

Mike Morrison: So he knew he was onto something. That’s when he met us, and we worked with him to launch scottsbasslessons.com. The membership there. Now they’re doing $3,000,000 a year.

Bjork Ostrom: Wow.

Mike Morrison: They’ve got about, I think about 35,000 active members now; they’ve had about 60 or 70,000 over the lifetime of their membership. It’s a huge team that’s growing from strength to strength. He’s a local guy and a good friend; it’s awesome, seeing him enjoying that success. I could keep just listing-

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Yeah. For sure. For somebody like Scott, how long is that journey? Is that six years? Seven years? 10 years? From start to today?

Mike Morrison: I think he may have uploaded his first YouTube video in 2013. The membership, I believe, was 2014, maybe. You’re really testing my memory now.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Mike Morrison: But yeah, I think he’s … We’ve been around for four years. We’ve worked with him for two, I think. Because we were embedded. Yeah, it’s like five or six years now.

Mike Morrison: And it hit seven figures within a year.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s incredible.

Mike Morrison: Which was awesome, because, yeah, I still remember we were, it was a delay with launching it. Me and Callie were in a hotel … not a hotel, an airport. Basically ready to get on a plane for a little winter break to Berlin.

Mike Morrison: We were literally so panicked, last minute, getting this website launched because a few things had messed up with the content at Scott’s end.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Mike Morrison: Literally pressing the button to make sales page live. Then two minutes later, getting on a flight where obviously we had no Internet connection. I’ve never been as riddled with anxiety, because for all I knew, five minutes after I pressed “Go” on the website, it crashed.

Mike Morrison: But by the time we got to landing, he took maybe about $30,000 in sales. I’m like, “Wow, that’s cool.”

Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Yeah, it was a productive flight for you without knowing it.

Mike Morrison: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s awesome. I feel like a great note to wrap up on: inspiring and encouraging. Obviously, if you start a membership site, you’re not going to scale it to seven figures in a year. It’s not the most common scenario. But, it is really possible.

Bjork Ostrom: We’ve seen it with building a membership site like Food Blogger Pro. We’ve seen other people do it within a specific niche that they’re focusing on.

Bjork Ostrom: But the thing that I feel like is important that you’ve said throughout, is having this relentless desire to help people and solve problems, which is such a great thru line for this episode. You guys do a great job of that.

Bjork Ostrom: If somebody’s interested in working with you, to help them solve their problems, as they think about building a membership site, you have a lot of solutions. You have a book, you have a state-of-the-industry report, which recaps membership sites and was through interviews that you did with people.

Bjork Ostrom: You have the site itself. You have the membership site. Where can people follow along? Where’s the best place for people to start if they want to connect with you?

Mike Morrison: Best place? Head over to themembershipguys.com. Check out our free stuff. You’ll see links off to our Facebook group and some of the free resources we have.

Mike Morrison: Then if you feel that you want to dig a bit deeper, go a little further and start out on … either start out on a new journey and create a membership, or get a little bit of extra support in helping you take your existing one up to that next level, then you can come and join us over at the Academy, which is membershipacademy.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. That’s great. Mike, thanks so much for coming on the podcast.

Mike Morrison: Hey, thanks for having me back on. I feel honored to have been a returning guest.

Bjork Ostrom: Yes.

Mike Morrison: We’ll chat again in three years’ time.

Bjork Ostrom: All right; sounds good, Mike. Thanks.

Alexa Peduzzi: And, that’s a wrap, my friend. Thank you so much for tuning in to the podcast this week.

Alexa Peduzzi: If you have a membership site or maybe you’re interested in starting one at some point, be sure to check out our Show Notes for this episode at foodbloggerpro.com/230 for links to Mike’s free Facebook group, the membership site, and more.

Alexa Peduzzi: If you like this show, we would love to hear about it. Reviews on Apple Podcasts help the show so, so much. They just totally put a smile on our faces. We just love hearing what you think of the show.

Alexa Peduzzi: And, last thing, if you’re in the States, we want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. This is just such an awesome and fulfilling time of year. We hope that you soak up every single second with your friends and families.

Alexa Peduzzi: We’ll see you in our next episode next Tuesday. Until then, make it a great week.

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