How to Uncover the Membership Site Your Customers Will Actually Pay For

A step-by-step guide for service-based business owners

Declan Wilson
Jan 9, 2018 · 11 min read

Tell me if this is you.

You’ve spent your entire day in your shop or studio, helping customers, answering questions, and dealing with orders. Or maybe you worked from home on four consecutive hour-long coaching calls.

You realize you’re tired and frustrated of doing the same thing over and over again.

There must be a way I could just “package” up my services and sell it online.

After a 15 minute Google session you discover the solution to all your problems: build a membership site.

You’re heart races, this is it! Finally, you’re own little niche on the internet where you can sell memberships to “exclusive” courses, tutorials, and videos. You’re customers will thank you, because they already love your services, why wouldn’t they love having more access to your depth of knowledge at their fingertips?

Excited, you buy a new domain name. You bookmark every YouTube video that teaches you how to build a membership site. You even wake up 30 minutes earlier a day to work on your new project.

8 weeks go by. You’ve poured everything (including a good bit of your own personal money) into your membership site. You even know what CSS stands for now. You’ve got a simple course and downloadable PDF ready for your customers after they sign up on your site. It’s time to launch.

You post on your business’s Facebook page. You email the 100 or so folks on your mailing list. You even put up a little sign next to your register announcing the new membership site.

And then nothing happens.

You keep frantically checking your email. No sign ups.

Why isn’t anyone signing up? What did I do wrong?!

All that hard work, all that effort, and there is absolutely nothing to show for it. Do you know why?

Here’s why this article will help you

It’s important to validate any idea before spending time or money developing it, right? Well it’s equally, if not more important to strategically begin with an idea that’s backed by real customer insights.

This article will walk you through 5 steps on how to glean valuble data from your customers and clients to help you craft a multi-level membership to later validate and test.

Chances are, this process will put you on track to developing a winning membership site idea on your first try. Outside of servicing your current customer/client base, spending time on ideas that might not pan out is frustrating. Every hour counts.

Now, since I’m focusing on service-based professionals (yoga instructors, business coaches, bookkeepers, etc.) for this article I’m going to make a few assumptions:

  1. You already have a legitimate business
  2. You have a good instinct of what your customers/clients want
  3. You need to be diligent with your time

Number 1 above is most important because it puts you leagues ahead of pseudo-entrepreneurs who desperately try to mimic your credibility and expertise.

Number 2 gives you valuable insight into what your customers/clients will actually pay for (but might be inhibitating your judgement, more on that in a bit).

And number 3 is the reason for this entire article. Instead of wasting time building a membership site that your customers might not actually want, you will learn how to strategically uncover exactly what your customers want.

Grab a pen and paper and let’s get started.

**I’m putting together a comprehensive membership site playbook (10,000+ word PDF) that lays out every step of launching a successful membership site for service-based professionals. If you want to receive first access when I publish it, please leave your email address here.**

Step 1: Mindset — Overcoming the Passive Income Myth

As a savvy business person, I’m know you already know there is no such thing as “passive” income. And yet the idea still intrigues you.

You might have heard that membership sites are a great source of passive income. You get people to pay a monthly fee to access to exclusive perks and the money just pours in, month after month.

Wrong. Membership sites are a great source of recurring revenue, but in no way are they passive. They require a lot of work to build and maintain. You must understand that your membership site is another asset to your business. And every asset takes time to make it valuable.

If you want to make launching a membership site a little less painful, you need to launch a membership site that your customers or clients are actually excited to sign up for.

To do this, you need to research. And you need to research with the right mindset.

Step 2: Collect Contacts

**I’m going to assume that as a service-based professional, you already have a sizable mailing list, if not, keep reading.**

You need a list of emails. You need one quick. If you or any of your employees perform point-of-sale transactions, simply ask your customers. If you run a Facebook page or group, ask them to DM you their email because you have a special project you’d like to talk to them about (more on that in a bit).

Get creative, but whatever you do, make sure you are collecting relevant emails and not just friends and family. We want paying customers who know and trust your services.

If you don’t have an email service provider (like Mailchimp or ConvertKit) build a list on Google Sheets or someplace accessible.

Try to build a list of at least 100 before proceeding to the next step. 500 is preferable. 1,000 is even better.

Step 3: Utilize a “Deep Dive” Survey

This step is a modified version of Ryan Levesque’s “Ask Method.” To summarize, we are going to use a very specific set of survey questions to segment and better understand your customer and client pain points.

This is an extremely important step as it will help us understand how to communicate with your clients and customers down the road.

I’ve already created a simple Google Form that you can copy here. (Simply click on the link and hit the “Make a Copy” button). You will noticed that I marked specific areas with double parenthesis (()) that you will need to adjust for your specific business.

However, the the specific ordering of the questions is key! Don’t rearrange or delete out any questions. (It’ll take too long to explain the physology behind Ryan’s method, so take my word for it.)

For reference, here is an exact copy of Ryan’s Deep Dive survey (he uses a health and fitness example):

1. What’s your #1 single biggest ((health and/or fitness)) challenge right now?Please be as detailed and specific as possible. Please go beyond saying ((“weight loss” or “no energy”)). The more specific and detailed you are, the more likely I’ll be able to cover your topic :-)e.g. ((I’m sick of feeling tired, unhealthy, lethargic all the time because of x,y,z)) [Answer box]
2. Which of the following best describes you?-((I am healthy and fit))
-((I am healthy, and NOT fit))
-((I am NOT healthy, and fit))
-((I am neither fit nor healthy))

3. What is your #1 source of information on ((health and fitness))? Please specify below the person or website
-Online blogs
-In person with ((health and fitness)) professionals
-Other (Please specify your answer)

4. What do you most DISLIKE about the ((health and fitness)) industry?
[Answer box]
5. What do you most LIKE about the ((health and fitness)) industry?
[Answer box]
6. Which of the following best describes you?
-Self employed
-Employee of a company
-Self employed and work part time
-Something complete different (please specify)
7. My gender is:-Male

8. My age bracket is?
< 18 years old
19–24 yrs
25–34 yrs
35–44 yrs
45–54 yrs
55+ yrs

9. Lastly, I may follow up with a few people personally to learn a little more about your situation...If you'd be open to chatting for a few minutes, on the condition I PROMISE not to try and sell you something - please leave your name and email below. (Also, if you'd like to get a shout-out when I write about your topic - please leave your contact information below as well...) Thanks so much!!!
Name: [Answer box]
Email: [Answer box]
Phone and/or Skype (Optional): [Answer box]

Tailor the survey to your business and write an email out to your list (covered in Step 2) asking for them to take your survey. An example email could be:

Hello,I'm working on a new and exciting project and thought it would be fun to hear your thoughts about it. If you could take 5 minutes to tell me your single biggest challenge that you're struggling with right not in ((make this relevant to your niche)). This will help me tremendously and most importantly, I'll be able to use your feedback to gear my upcoming project toward ways I can help you specifically.Here's a link to the survey: [link]Cheers!

Wait for at least 50 or so respondents before proceeding. Once you have enough, export your list to Excel or Google Sheets.

Step 4: Analyze the Results

Out of the entire list of survey questions, the first and the last are the most important. The rest of the questions will help you to segment later on, but right now you will want to analyze the results from folks most likely to sign up for your membership site.

To do so we are going to asign what Ryan calles a “HYPERSCORE” to each respondent.

The HYPERSCORE is calculated as follows:

  • Sum all of the characters in the response to question #1 (column B)
  • Multiply the sum of characters by 1.5 if respondent left a phone number and/or a Skype name, or multiply by 1 if left blank

Example, “Larry” responds to question #1 with:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Nunc ultricies.

There are 72 characters in Larry’s response. He also left his phone number, therefore, he is assigned a HYPERSCORE of 108 (72 * 1.5 = 108).

This method follows this assumption: if a respondent has taken the time the write out a lengthy response to their number one challenge AND left a phone number to further connect, this person is highly likely to sign up for a membership site that solves their challenge.

If you aren’t Excel saavy I’m going to make it as easy as possible to follow. If you used my Google Form and exported the data to Google Sheets, simply plug the following formula into cell M2 and drag all the way down:



In column M, sort from largest to smallest and highlight the top 20% of responses (just in case this isn’t straight forward, if you have 100 responses, only look at the top 20 HYPERSCORES).

Why 20%? In statistics there is a law called Pareto principle, or the 80/20 rule. In other words, we are making the assumption that the top 20% of respondents will make up 80% of a subset of your market (who are willing to buy). Meaning you’ll be able to zero in on highly specific pain points your membership site will solve.

Bucketize the open-ended “What’s single biggest challenge?”

Now comes the fun part.

As you noticed, I haven’t even had you write down or even begin to think about your membership site. There’s a reason for this. I needed you to take a fresh look at real, concrete data. Over the next few steps, you aren’t exactly validating an idea, but rather uncovering one.

What you are going to do now is build buckets around the responses to question number 1 in your survey (column B). These buckets will help you build out the tiers or levels of your membership site. The goal is to have a list of at least 3, but no more than 5 buckets.

To start, copy your top 20% of responses into a new tab or sheet and label the next three columns: Bucket1, Bucket 2, Bucket 3. Your top respondents might have listed more than one challenge so it’s good to capture those as well.

Now dig in.

Example analysis

Once you’ve gone over the top 20% it’s time to narrow down the number of buckets by combining and consolidating them. Again, we are going to want about 3 to 5 at the end of this process. Sometimes it takes tweaking the naming convention or creating a broader category for the buckets.

**If you have the fortunate “problem” of a massive mailing list (over 10,000 emails) you might need to enlist some help to filter through the data. My team might be able to help you with that, feel free to email me if you are interested.**

Step 5: Rank Your Buckets From Easiest/Cheapest to Difficult/Expensive to Solve

The details behind your membership site still aren’t going to be fleshed out yet. What we are going to do now is give you an idea of the three tiers your membership site will consist of.

If you’re familiar with any type of membership or subscription service, typically they have three levels:

  • Level 1: Free or low cost entry point, solves a simple challenge most people experience
  • Level 2: A medium cost entry point, solves a typical challenge some people experience
  • Level 3: An expensive entry point, solves a difficult challenge a few people experience

For each Level, sort your buckets (or challenges) in order from easiest and cheapest to solve, to difficult and expensive. The idea here is to have a Level 1 that is easy for you to solve, maybe with a course or video series. Level 2 might take a mix of personal touch points (group calls, assignments, etc.) and digital resources to solve. Level 3 is reserved for challenges that your clients and customers are desperate to solve, but it will be priced in a way to entice others to sign up for Level 1 or 2 first.

Using your expertise in your service-based industry, you probably have a good idea of how much each challenge is worth solving. Which means you can price each level accordingly.

Let’s look an example

Let’s say you are a yoga instructor who works specifically with men and women over the age of 55.

After combing through your deep dive survey, you realize a majority of your respondents still suffer from back, joint, and neck pain. Currently you teach a class around yoga-based therapies for join pain, you charge participants $30 per every one hour session.

You realize that you can realistically create 5 different variations of your class and make them available as instructional videos behind a Level 1 membership at $10 a month.

Why $10? I like to use a “1/3 Rule of Value” for digital or info-products in place of services rendered. There are obviously many methods you could use to price your membership levels, however this method is a good estimate to start.

What comes next?

At this point you have a three tiered membership structure that your clients and customers want (statistically speaking). The next phase is validating that they will want to sign up and pay for it!

I will cover the membership site validation process in my next article (which I will link back to here once it’s published). In the meantime, get started building your list, sending out your deep dive survey, and analyzing the results.

I’m putting together a comprehensive membership site playbook (10,000+ word PDF) that lays out every step of launching a successful membership site for service-based professionals. If you want to receive first access when I publish it, please leave your email address here.

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Declan Wilson

Written by

Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado. Me in a nutshell→

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning.

Declan Wilson

Written by

Stay-at-home dad. 9-to-5 escapee. Aldi aficionado. Me in a nutshell→

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning.

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