What’s the best way to market and sell your online course or membership? That’s the core question we ask in today’s episode by comparing two fundamentally different strategies: the live launch model vs. the evergreen model.
Whether you’re a current or aspiring membership or course creator, special guests Mike & Callie (Membership Geeks) are here to help us answer these key questions:
Hi, we’re Mike Morrison and Callie Willows – otherwise known as the “Membership Geeks” (previously “The Membership Guys”) – and we’ve spent years guiding the growth of thousands of online memberships.
With a combined 20+ years in the online marketing and web development industry, and over 10 years specializing exclusively in memberships, we’ve been the driving force behind a multitude of 6, 7, and even 8-figure membership businesses in a diverse range of industries – from weight loss to coaching to executive training to bass guitar – we have a proven track record of helping great clients to achieve fantastic results.
NOTE: This podcast was transcribed by one of my favorite podcast editing tools, Descript. Please forgive any typos or errors.
Welcome to the Wit & Wire Podcast. I’m Melissa, a former teachable employee and marketing director turned full time course creator, and I help entrepreneurs turn their skills and passions into profitable online businesses. I don’t believe that business is one size fits all. That’s why this season, I’ve invited industry experts to compare today’s hottest sales and marketing strategies to empower you to use your strengths and create a personalized online business plan.
If you work with clients, your sales process probably look something like this. A prospect finds you they learn more about your services on your website. And maybe they book a discovery call before they decide to move forward and hire you. That strategy works great for one on one work. But what about one too many products?
For example, if you sell courses, or memberships, or if you plan to in the future, then how can you sell in a more scalable way? This is a crucial question for business owners, and one that will likely evolve as your products grow. And as you furiously researched the best ways to sell digital products, I have a feeling they will come across these two distinct models, the live launch model versus the Evergreen model.
To define the terms a live launch is a promotion with a clear start and end date. So the live launch model typically means that you would open your course or membership for enrollment two to four times per year, and then the rest of the year it would be unavailable for purchase. On the other hand, the Evergreen model is often called the always open model. Because your course or membership is available for purchase year round, you can start to see how this decision affects everything from your student or member experience to your sales and marketing strategies. And that’s why I knew it was such an important topic to discuss.
By the end of this episode, I have three big questions for us to answer. Number one, how do elements of scarcity or urgency factor into each strategy? Number two, what are the fundamental differences between marketing a product that is always available? Versus a program that closes enrollment? And number three, how can you create a high converting funnel and scale your revenue over time, even if you’re just getting started?
To help us out, I’ve brought on two very special guests.
Hey, Mike, and Callie from the Membership Geeks, and we teach influencers and experts how to start and grow a successful membership website.
Here’s how they got started.
Mike and I originally were running an agency together helping people with web development, marketing, things like that. And gradually over the years, we ended up kind of specializing in memberships. And there wasn’t that many people doing that at the time. But we were getting more and more people asking us for help who couldn’t necessarily afford our services.
When they searched for resources to recommend. They found that no one was really talking about memberships at scale in the ways they were teaching their clients. So Mike and Callie’s seize the opportunity. And they did what many great entrepreneurs do, they decided to create something themselves. That’s how Membership Academy first started. But even after they decided to launch this new membership, they quickly realized that they need to make a shift.
Because we had been so focused on the agency and service work. We hadn’t been doing things like growing an email list, particularly apart from people that were interested in our services. And people who are interested in services versus people who are interested in DIY are usually very different people. I think about three months before we were actually ready to launch the academy, Mike started his podcast, we started a Facebook group, we started really putting out quite a lot of free content and starting to build that email list. And then we did a 30 day challenge that ended with the launch of the membership. So a few clients slipped in there as well, or people that had worked with us or wanted to work with us but couldn’t afford us. But yeah, mostly it was a completely new audience.
That was about seven years ago. And today, Callie and Mike no longer work with one on one clients and their business Membership Geeks continues to grow by selling their one signature membership called Membership Academy.
We are in a period of growth within our team. So we’ve got some fantastic people employed full time. So this is an exciting phase for us growing that team. But you know we’ve had man is it seven or 1000 members come through the academy now over the past six and a half years. 1000s are still active members. It is a seven figure business, and we’re still very much involved in it. From day one. We want to make sure that you know whether membership peaks well they do like all stuff you let the podcast you resonate with the advice we give. You have an affinity for us when you join our membership. We’re going to be there so we’re in the community. We’re still visible we’re still accessible. And, you know, our members tell us that’s one of the favorite things about being in our community
with their own business experience, plus the wealth of knowledge learned from their own members, I knew Mike and Callie would be great to compare the live launch model versus the Evergreen model. So just start things off, we want to talk about the live launch model, what do we think are some of the benefits to doing live launches?
Yeah, I mean, the biggest benefit is it gives people a reason to act. Now, they literally they have to join now. Because if they don’t, then they’re not gonna get another chance until you open the doors again, which might be three months, it might be six months, it might be 12 months. So it really is good for kind of moving people off the fence where otherwise they might just kind of sit around for a while thinking, well, I might join one day, whereas having that deadline kind of really forces people into action. For things
like courses, or group programs, or masterminds, where it’s a cohort, where you’re bringing together people, you want them all to start at the same time, to work through material or to connect a network. I think the live launch model is the best approach for that, without doubt, you don’t want people filtering in and out, you want that core dynamic, you’ll want to know that people are progressing at the same pace. So you can help them do that. With a typical online membership, that’s not the model. It’s typically DIY. And so there’s not really the reason to limit when people can join, you know, scarcity works. But actually, a scarcity tactics play on cognitive biases and take advantage of errors in decision making. So the science behind why scarcity works, you are relying on tripping someone up in the buying process. In a way,
both of these are important and distinct, there’s the element of the marketing, having scarcity. And then there’s the other side of whether or not your product requires a live component of everyone being together. Because if it’s the second half, then it’s very authentic urgency, there’s a very real reason to join, because you are all going through it together. And I think two great examples of one that works are my just as you said, if there’s a live cohort model for more of a course, or I think if something is brand new, and maybe you want people to go through it for the first time and collect feedback before you just open up the doors to the masses. So I think those two times in particular work really well for a live launch.
Yeah, very much agree with that. That kind of beta launch that initial kind of founder launch. Yeah, it’s a great way to test the waters and kind of perfect everything.
Another benefit of a live launch in the right time in place, is the fact that you do get more immediate feedback from your audience, you can engage with them in a slightly different way. Even on social media, in particular, if there’s a very clear public deadline for something, then all of your channels can just kind of be firing, where you’re talking about this thing, and really engaging with people. So again, kind of coming back to either there’s a really specific reason why you’re doing it at this time. Or maybe it’s your first round, getting that kind of feedback, I think can be really insightful.
Yeah, definitely. And it gives you the incentive to talk about your membership to try different things a lot more than an evergreen model, because you’ve got this closed window to talk about it. And as you say, to also get feedback from people to actually kind of engage with your audience. And it means you can go all out with kind of that promotion of your membership as well. Yeah, it’s
very easy to get complacent with the marketing of your membership when you’re open all the time. So that launch model definitely focuses your attention a little more, but not a little more, a lot more. Because, you know, listen, we’re on the opening two or three times a year. So we are 100% Focus, we are all guns blazing. Whereas with an evergreen membership, it’s kind of turtle versus the hare, right? So it’s more little and often maintaining consistency in your marketing, and it can be a lot easier to get complacent to kind of think, Okay, well, you know, I don’t have to do this huge promotion, or I was gonna do this special thing this month. But I’m a bit busy, I haven’t had time. It is definitely more focusing, to have that that kind of launch approach. And I think especially if you’re selling something like a course, or a high priced program, the launch model makes it easy for you to attract big name affiliates than something like a membership because anyone who is an affiliate for a lot of different products, they’re going to have promotions scheduled throughout the year for the different products that they affiliate for.
I’m glad you brought that up because those bigger even once a year strategies are used pretty popularly by a lot of big name creators who intentionally bring in a lot of affiliates, a lot of former students or members to help them promote. And I absolutely see the benefit of that strategy. But I also love the word that you said focused because I do think that is what a live launch strategy comes down to where you have such a focused amount of time to really dedicate it to this product. And on the one hand and it is a benefit because it’s getting all this attention. But it definitely is one of the challenges as well, because launches I know from personal experience are a lot of work condensed into a very short amount of time. And they also present a more irregular cash flow into your business where it’s more of a roller coaster, rather than a smooth drive down the highway. So I think for some people, that’s great, because you want the cash injection for others, it can be stressful, because now it means potentially a full quarters worth of your revenue is reliant on maybe one week of time.
Yeah, and I think that’s something that doesn’t get talked about with using live launches for the membership model in particular enough, because obviously, with the membership model, you’re relying on that recurring income, which is great, because that means you’re not just getting that income push in your launch. But the problem is with a membership, churn is inherent, you are always going to lose members, even if you have the best membership in the world. So if you only launch twice a year, every six months, and you’ve got a great churn rate of 5%, you’re going to still be losing 30% of your members and 30% of your income between your launches. So that means that you actually end up in this position where each launch starts getting diminishing returns, because you’re having to get back just the initial member numbers that you had to begin with, and then launch on top of that to grow further. You know, within evergreen, you don’t have that you should have a steady increase all the time.
And the numbers that you’ll see with the launch can be deceiving. Because if you’re doing two launches over the space of a year, you’re getting six months worth of sales on one weekend, compared to the far more boring, but far more stable, recurring revenue that comes from a more evergreen model. But what we find in so many cases is over the same time period, you end up attracting the same amount of people in it just doesn’t feel like you are
well, I think that was really well described. Because I think that’s a nice transition to talk a little bit about the Evergreen side. Because I think that is a big question that people are afraid that if my product is open all the time, then maybe nobody will want to purchase. So before we get too deep into it, can you describe what is an evergreen product or what doesn’t always open model look like?
So an always open model is exactly what it sounds like. Essentially, it is I want to learn this thing I’m going to your website, and I can join right now. So it’s you’re not putting any caveats there to people joining, they can just join whenever the time is right for them, or whenever they find you. Yeah,
and the most successful memberships in the world are always open. You know, there’s been this myth perpetuated that the default mode for memberships in particular is that there’ll be always closed and that having an open all the time is this odd decision to make. It’s actually the reverse, like most memberships are open all the time. Most things you buy, are available to buy all the time. If I want a Mars bar, I don’t need to sign up to a wait list. And you know, pop a date in my diary for six months time. And then I’ll get invited to a three part workshop on how delicious is Mars bars going to be? No, I have a need, I have a problem, I seek out the solution solution is available in exchange for some money, how amazing and the most successful, largest memberships in the world. You know, there’s no waitlist for Netflix,
it’s funny, you bring that up because I used to work for VCT. And we were doing 12 to 18 LIVE launches per year, which is very profitable and very exhausting. And coming from that world. And I think a lot of us see what other online business owners are doing. We see this live launch or this open closed model as being almost the standard the default mode. But then you just look around Netflix, any other products that you buy physical goods or online, you can buy them all the time. And although it sounds obvious to say something about that really clicked for me when I had this thought, well, what if I want it today. So now I almost think it’s riskier in some ways to have an open closed model. Again, if your program is a live cohort model, that’s another story. But if you are doing something that is a DIY model with a membership or a self paced course, or even digital templates or products, if people can’t purchase it all the time, you’re probably missing your ideal buyer when they are ready. And timing is everything as well when it comes to buying which we don’t talk about enough.
Yeah, absolutely. Because most of the time if somebody is looking to join a membership, they are looking for a solution to a problem that they have right now or something that they want right now they want to be in a community right now they want to learn this thing right now. So if they go into your site, and they’re all excited, like this is the thing that’s going to help me and then they’re met with a closed door, you know, they might put their name on the waitlist, but they’re also going to carry on looking for something else that’s going to help them right now. And so memberships are inherently built on this system of ongoing training, ongoing support and actually being there when somebody needs it. So that’s kind of a an antithesis to that closed model. You know, you don’t wait outside a restaurant for two weeks for it to open. If you’re hungry you go to a different restaurant. memberships are designed to be that when you need it option. Yes, you lose that scarcity of kind of the launch model. And you’ve got to get in before the doors closed for this guest is inherent because this is something that they need right now. It’s something that they’re looking for right now. It’s something that they want to work on or join right now. And if your membership is there, and you do a good job of telling them that, yes, this is the place for you, then why shouldn’t they join it straightaway?
Yeah, the scarcity comes from their lack of having a solution, the thing that is scarce in their life is your product. The urgency comes from their need for what you’ve got to sell. And I think, you know, there’s this fear. I don’t, it might not be fear. But there’s just this notion that digital marketing is all about getting the sale. Now, if someone comes on your sales page, and you don’t convert them, you’ve missed the opportunity. That’s nonsense. What’s wrong with enabling people to take their time to buy and buying and joining when they are ready. And I think what some people worry about is if I don’t get the sale today, then where are my members coming from. But if you’ve got a sales funnel in place, if you are nurturing leads, if you’ve got that low, it may take someone eight weeks from when they first read a piece of content on your site and sign up to your list to actually becoming a member. That means today’s sales are coming from people looking at your world eight weeks ago. So it’s okay that someone who discovers you today doesn’t join today, they’ll join in eight weeks time. Today, you’ll get the people who came in your world eight weeks ago, so soon becoming a member isn’t this binary thing. It’s not just flicking a switch. And you don’t need to come up with a marketing approach that tries to force someone into buying when they’re not ready. If I’m seeking out a membership, because I have a problem. And I see your membership as a solution. What does it tell you? If I’m willing to wait six months in order to get that solution? Does that tell you that it’s a big problem for me? No. And all those type of members you want to attract.
And that’s a great point about kind of this continuous theme of both timing and where the motivation comes from. Because with timing, I’ve had people on Wit &, Wire email list for one and two years before they make a purchase. And they’ve told me they’ve really looked forward to buying because they saw me, they trusted me, it wasn’t yet their priority. But they knew when the time came, I would be their person. And I think that when we’re putting our perfect offer together, we’re solving somebody’s problem for the exact right audience, you still can’t account for the timing of when it’s right for them. But you can speak to the people for whom the time is right, today. And that’s where I think the motivation comes in. Where with live launches, yes, people have intrinsic motivation to reach this outcome. But now, there’s also some extrinsic motivation, they have the deadline, they have the authentic urgency, they have the scarcity. But when you have an always open model, you’re really relying on that person’s like, internal motivation. And as an example, if I lost my job, and I needed a new job, I would do whatever it took, it would not matter if something was on sale, I would go out and find a solution and figure out a way to apply to jobs and get a job. And I think those are really the people that we want to talk to the people who are not just in the right audience and who want this outcome. But people who are ready now.
Yeah, definitely. And I think you said it yourself a, you know, you’ll have people in your audience who aren’t ready to buy yet, but they trust you. And as soon as they are ready to buy, they will join because they know that you have something that will help them. And also there’s a trust there because you’re not forcing them to make a decision right now, you’re not saying well, you need to do this on my schedule. So you know, there’s a lot to be said, for actually trusting people to make the right decisions for themselves. Yeah, trusting
people to know when it’s right for them, as opposed to trying to force them to join when it’s right by you as the seller. And one thing, especially for memberships. You can get away with this when it comes to courses where you’re getting paid once, you know $2,000 upfront I bought the course you’re in, there’s no recurring element. memberships are all about not just getting that first sale, but getting that sale month after month, year after year. So the more that you’ve had to use a essentially fabricated motivation to get people through the doors, the more chance is going to be a little buyer’s remorse, the more chance people are going to realize, you know what, I really would have been better waiting three or four months to join this because I’m just not in the place right now to get the best sellers membership. But what was I supposed to do? This is my only chance. And so the more people are thinking like that, the less likely they are to stick around. So you might get a lot of sales where you get their first month’s payment, but how likely are they to stick around for that second month and the third month, so the more someone is ready to join, the more likely it is that when they do join, they’re going to stay and with a membership. That is the business model. Memberships aren’t a sales model membership lower retention model and sold the right member the right timing the right Like motivation are critical to that long term success in a membership space.
Since we’re talking about this always open model, I think it does beg the question, well, how do you sell? How do people find you? How do they decide to purchase?
Oh, the core of it is content marketing. You know, we publish a lot of content. We’ve been publishing a podcast for nearly seven years now. So that helps us be discovered. So you know, you have to have something you’re putting out into the world that will enable you to attract that audience in, get them to your websites and taste them to your email list, have a well crafted sales campaign. And then you give them a call to action to join. It’s the simplest of sales funnels, and I’ll bring in traffic, convert traffic to leads and leads to sales. And there’s no deadlines. There’s no not even like discounts and offers and stuff like that. It’s just demonstrate your expertise, attracting an audience with quality free content, and take them on to the email list where we nurture and educate them more. And that leads to Sales and Marketing for membership extends beyond getting that sale. Once the commitment membership, we deliver such a great member experience, that we convert those members into advocates, who will go out there and spread the word, they’ll become affiliates. They’ll provide us with testimonials and social proof and case studies that we can then fold into our marketing, which brings more people in, we’d get them into the membership, turn them into advocates, they bring more people in, we get and you have that flywheel effect going on there. And that’s really central to how we’ve been successful with our membership.
Yeah, and you can also still do things to get those boosts of sales that you’d get with a launch as well. So even though you’ve got this ongoing, consistent marketing with things like content, you can still run events, like challenges, like webinars, you can still do those kinds of things to actually get boosts of sales as well and to get that more launch like kind of influx of members, because you will always still have people that are on the fence where, okay, I can join that. So I’ll join that next week. So you can still run monthly or quarterly promotions to actually help move those people who just are indecisive, they need that extra nudge. So it doesn’t have to be either or you can have the best of both worlds with an open membership where you have that consistent marketing. And then you can do things for those boosts of marketing as well.
This is the other thing you know, you don’t have to wait until someone’s gone through a multi part email campaign in order then tell them we got a product you got a membership gets you’ll find a link to the Academy. In the top, you’ll find ads for it in our articles. So people who only need to be made aware that the product exists. They are catered to reveal common news, subscribe to our email list, you will see the academy mentioned on the thank you page after you opted in. So we will tell you, there are three other ways we can help you you know, we’re sending this great thing to you subscribe to our podcast, join our free Facebook group, or if you want the best of us come and join Membership Academy. It’s I don’t want to say soft sell. But it’s maybe it’s a short paragraph with a graphic a little highlight. So we’re not. We’re not hammering you with it. But we’re making sure there’s no way you can not know that the academy exists. The first email you’ll get for us will tell you about the academy as well. And we’ll make reference to it in the initial emails we send you the case studies we tell you about the testimonials will mention it. But the first email that is pure pitch, is that 10 days, Callie?
Yeah, I think we changed it. So I think it’s more like around 60 days now.
So a big part of our lead generation strategy in our content strategy is segmentation. So we have segments specific lead magnets, based on where someone is in their membership journey. Because what someone needs when they’re first planning a membership is very different from what they need when they’ve got one up and running. And they’re trying to grow right. And depending on what you opt in for the follow up sequence is slightly different. The timings are slightly different when we pitch. But in all cases, you’re told about the Academy from the get go. And if you don’t join, we’re always making reference to the academy as well.
I think that’s a super important distinction. Because with a live launch model, you are definitely selling there is an offer you are pitching. But in the Evergreen model, it’s about referencing it’s just making people aware of your product. You’re not putting like a huge sales pitch in every single thing that you do. But it’s that consistent messaging about hey, by the way, when you’re ready, we do have this available for you that I think really resonates with a lot of buyers because it feels like it’s within their control and within the timing of what works for them. So I think the Evergreen model really appealed to me and a big reason why I’ve switched most of my products or for newer products. That’s where they’re headed is also because when I would go on other podcasts or when I would create content, it almost felt like it wasn’t getting the full potential. If my product wasn’t avail trouble for sale. So what I really wanted was to have a business where I could talk freely about my own areas of expertise where I could talk to online business owners, I could talk about course creation, I could talk about it on tick tock, the most surprising marketing channel of 2020. I love tick tock, I love it, I’m shocked by it. It’s amazing how many leads it brings into my business. And the fact that I was building up this new tic toc channel. And I didn’t have an always open product. To me that felt like I was losing money, I was leaving opportunities on the table to serve the people who are coming to me asking about launching a new online course. And so that’s where this evergreen model, I think, also really starts to shine is just your ability to market yourself both internally and externally.
Yeah, Evergreen marketing fits with an evergreen model. If you are producing content, it makes sense to have an evergreen product.
And Callie, I liked what you shared earlier, you can have an evergreen product, but still do promotions that are authentic, like I know you’ve run different challenges or events within Membership Academy. And you can promote those authentically, they’re happening on a certain date, if you want to join na before this date, you can participate. I’ve done that with my own courses to where I have self paced courses. But a couple times a year, I’ll do more of a challenge where there’s a community element where if you join the course, by a certain date, you’ll be on the same schedule as a fellow group of students and you just get a little bit of additional support. So I do want people to hear that if your product is always open, you can still create authentic urgency in your marketing efforts a couple of times throughout the year when it feels right for you. Yeah, definitely.
I mean, you can do all kinds of major and minor promotions throughout the year. And actually having that open model allows you to play with your marketing a lot more. Because once you’ve got your baseline marketing nailed with your content, marketing and things like that, and that’s all working nicely. And you know that this is the baseline of sales I can expect, that gives you so much more scope for trying new things, for playing with things for experimenting with your marketing and seeing what else works for you.
Yeah, because you’re layering that on top of something that’s already working. You know, I think things like big promotions, ad campaigns, they should pour fuel onto a fire that’s already burning, right, they should accelerate and amplify things that are already working.
The best business owners I know are not the ones who are psychic, they are the ones who are not afraid to try new things and to see it as something fun that we have the opportunity to try new things and just see what we like and what works. I think that’s what really sustains a business long term. So I’m glad that you brought that up. And I think a lot of what we’ve covered today just comes down to treating people well and thinking about what they need in the moment whether they are a current member of current student or a prospect. But I think maybe to start wrapping up the live launch model, I do think works really well for that brand new offer. You’re trying to get people in the door for the first time you’re testing something out. Callie, I loved what you said about even like a transition, you want to try something different. Maybe you want to close it and tweak some things, or maybe you want to open it and you’ve never done that before. And then also when it comes to the live approach, if you do have some kind of live cohort model, I think that that can work really well for the live launch. Or when it comes to a bonus or some kind of additional live challenge something that’s going on in your program your membership, then a live promotion could work well, even if your product itself is evergreen. What are some of the big takeaways that you hope listeners get from today’s episode,
there is no one path for success. Anyone who tells you that this is the only way to be successful or that by doing this one tactic, that’s what’s going to make you successful. It’s BS, it’s not true. There are successful businesses successful memberships all around the world with completely different models, I can put an open and close membership side by side for you exactly the same audience exactly the same product and offering once closed ones open, you know, you can have success with both models. So anybody telling you, including us that this is the one model you should use? You know, that’s not important. What’s important is what works for you. And what makes your tail wag you need to focus on Okay, so what do I want my business to look like? And how do I do that?
Well said and I think that really sums up the whole point of this series, which isn’t to claim that there’s a right way to run your business, but rather to empower you to choose the strategies that feel right for you, based on where your business is right now. I really can’t thank both of you enough for joining and sharing just a tiny fraction of your expertise with us. And as a former member in Membership Academy, I’ve seen firsthand just how valuable your teachings are. So if anyone wants to learn more, which I would highly recommend, you can visit witandwire.com/membershipacademy for all the details.
Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Wit & Wire podcast. As a company, our mission is to help experts get paid to share their skills and passions online. And we do that by sharing tutorials for online business owners on TikTok and YouTube @witandwire and through our signature programs, which you can learn more about at witandwire.com/courses.
Also, if you’re excited to start creating your own online course, but maybe you’re not sure where to start, you can download my free Online Course Toolkit, which includes my top recommended software and equipment for course creators at any budget. And trust me, you don’t need to be a tech guru to be a profitable course creator, so you can download your own free guide at witandwire.com/coursetoolkit.
Thank you again for joining us and until next time, I’m Melissa Guller. See you soon!