How To Run a More Profitable Membership Website

 Amanda Northcutt. works with membership sites of all shapes and sizes and have a long track record of success in helping people plan, grow, optimize, and scale their memberships.

Amanda was the Director of Sales for a multi million dollar membership site for 10 years. She took an early retirement to refocus her life and pack her family up to start traveling full time in 2015 before joining Travis at Member Up. When Amanda started working for the aforementioned membership site, it was grossing less than 6 figures annually. She played a key role in increasing revenue by more than 40x.

Amanda’s free eBook on membership marketing.

Here’s the link to Amanda’s app Memberscore.

This weeks show is Sponsored By Kinsta Hosting

Jonathon: Welcome back folks to the WP tonic show. This is episode 377. We got a great special quest. We got Amanda Northcut Joint founder of Member Up. And we’re going to be talking all things about retention connection to your membership site. An important subject. Amanda, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?

Amanda: Yeah, sure. I have been in the membership space for about 15 years. And right now it kind of a revenue funnel strategist for membership sites and subscriptions are people who are switching from a course to a membership. For instance, I have a consultancy and then we also have a little reporting tool engagement reporting tool for membership sites using WordPress as well.

Jonathon: That’s great. And I’ve got my great cohosts with me Cindy Nicholas. Cindy would you like to introduce yourself to the new listeners and viewers?

Cindy: Sure. Hi everyone. It’s is Cindy Nicholson here from the And I help entrepreneurs that want to create awesome online courses.

Jonathon: That’s great. And before we go into the main part of the interview folks. I liked to mentioned great sponsors and that’s Kinsta hosting. And Kinsta is only a WordPress hosting provider. And what`s special about Kinsta. Well like I say they only specialize in WordPress. They use the Google cloud hosting framework to host all their sites on. So you get the best technology, their interface and the options that they offer. All superb light one click back up staging site, latest version of PHP. And also the technical support is some of the best in the industry. Big enough to have all technology, small enough to still care. If you’re a consultant, got a membership site, ecommerce and you’re looking for quality hosting. I can’t recommend Kinsta more. We host the WP tonic website on that and we’ve been totally happy. So go to and find out some more. So Amanda retention problems with a bit of a dirty word with the membership website industry. Isn’t it? Brings a tear to websites owners face. So what can be done about it Amanda?

Amanda: That’s a great question. That’s a really complicated one to unpack. So churn reduction is a huge theme on membership sites. We see that in our consultancy, people are getting, they get to the point where they’re losing more members then they’re bringing on every month. And that’s kind of the beginning of the end of a membership site. And so right now I’ve kind of been talking a lot about how setting expectations in your marketing really, really translates to long-term success or lack thereof. So for instance, if somebody sets the expectation really, really high to get you to buy something, you get really excited by the marketing. You make the purchase and maybe it’s a onetime purchase. If you get let down, maybe you ask for a refund. Most people don’t, but it’s a onetime purchase. So they can honestly kind of screw you over a little bit if they want to.

Amanda: And so, with your membership or subscription based marketing, you really have to set the expectation from the outset of what people can expect within your membership site. And then you want to not only meet those expectations but exceed them. So we call that under promising and over delivering. So I think that’s really kind of your foundation for your membership site understands over time what your members do. Who are your most successful, your brand evangelist people who spend the most money with you. I call those power users. So you want to understand what those people really find to be the most important things about your site, what keeps them coming back time after time. What’s the most important course or feature or a live call or is it your discussion forum or private Facebook group that keeps them coming back? And then you want to kind of reverse engineer your marketing from that.

Amanda: So if you’re marketing promotes the things that your power users like most about your membership or subscription. And you market those. You’re going to attract those people who are most likely to become power users in the future. So you want to advertise the best things about your site according to your power users. And then you want to try and with your onboarding, your lead nurturing and then onboarding. Try and get those new members to adopt that same feature adoption path that your power users took. So you want to show value immediately. So the key kind of understands the reverse engineering you’re marketing and lead nurturing from there and then taking new members on the path to become a power user. Does that make sense?

Jonathon: It certainly does. Cindy?

Cindy: Yeah. So I think that’s a really good perspective is really rather than you thinking about what they’re going to like, really see what your users are already doing and kind of leverage the marketing around that. So that’s, I think that’s really crucial. So you talked a little bit about onboarding. So you’ve marketed to the people who are, that you hope to be your power users, they’ve signed up. What are some of the things that you can do in your onboarding experience to really kind of help solidify the relationship?

Amanda: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the thing, so usually what happens if somebody gives over their email address in exchange for an asset, we call that a lead magnet. So top 10 tips on how to build you’re first hand carved chair or something like that. So somebody downloads your lead magnet in exchange for that asset. They’re now on your email list and we really, really advocate strongly for then kicking off a lead nurture sequence. Not just putting them on your newsletter list to receive the occasional updates you want to try and nurture them along toward a sale and make appropriate asks as time goes on through that lead nurture. And you want to promote those, say five to seven top features or things that your power users have identified as most important. So you kind of paint a picture there and your lead nurture.

Using foundational desires. So Seth Godden talks a lot about this. So you want to not tell them you’re going to love this feature. And here’s how it works. You’re going to say, here’s how I’m going to change your life. Insert desired outcome for your members and you talk to them about why they need that and kind of how your site brings them that foundational desire. So then hopefully your lead nurture sequence works and they purchase your membership and then you have your onboarding sequence. And so that’s typically a series of emails and maybe videos on your site to help someone adopt that feature path to become a power user. So your onboarding should really narrow your lead nurture sequence. Because you want a new member to recognize value as quickly as humanly possible just in that first email.

You want to send them to your site to the best thing about your site. Whether that’s getting involved in your community or here’s where to start. But really, again, taking that lead, nurture sequence, mirroring it in your onboarding. And so now you’re saying, okay, well you’re in, now you’re behind the pay wall. And so I told you why you needed these things and then I’m going to give them to you. And then your onboarding should just say here’s how to go get them. You’re going to make the lowest barrier to entry way for people to achieve what you promised over time. So you want to not overwhelm people. People are busy seeing you have an understanding of your audience. And what’s appropriate as far as the amount of information you push out them. You really want to kind of like pull him through this feature adoption path, not push, push, push and overwhelmed.

So you want to, in your onboarding have a sequence of emails. Some people say five to seven emails. I’m more of like a 11 to 15 over the course of the first three months. So first you want to go on featured option. And you want to ask for feedback in each of those, not in each of those. You want to make yourself easy to reach in each of your onboarding emails. So at the bottom just say, hey, I’m a real person. Hit reply. I’m here to help. Do you want to have that personal element and kind of build that relationship? So it’s really imperative than that. You don’t send your onboarding sequence from an email that you can’t reply to. That’s a big no, no. A video welcome video is a really smart move too. I mean, a lot of people don’t take full advantage of their thank you page when somebody clicks the buy button and puts in their credit card, use that page, that payment confirmation page with a video of you talking.

Hey, thank you so much. She made a great decision here. You want to affirm the purchase, um, and then tell them what the next steps are. So in the onboarding sequence, you’re furthering your further solidifying the expectations that you set in the marketing. And then you’re not only meeting the promises you made in the marketing, you’re exceeding them, you’re making it personal. You’re trying to get them toward value recognition very quickly and to like a high engagement. Well for member score we would say a high engagement score. You want to see how people are interacting on your site. And beyond the onboarding you have to know how engaged or disengaged or members are so you can send them appropriate messaging moving forward. Like you don’t want to invite someone who’s only been to your site twice in three months to purchase your annual membership. You want to probably kickoff a reengagement email sequence for them. So that was a very long answer to your short question, but does that.

Cindy: Yeah, no, I think that, it’s funny because often people are talking about membership sites as being the holy grail and you just have money coming in month after month without having to do anything. But the key is that you have some sort of engagement sequence or process to kind of help people be engaged. Just because they bought it doesn’t mean they’re going to continue to do it. So having that onboarding that you’re talking about, having those series of emails I think is really important. So, so thank you for that. Jonathan?

Jonathon: Yeah. So Amanda I am getting the impression. Maybe you can confirm this with your experience or there are some figures out there. The key sign is that I get the feeling you’re saying there’s a lot of people that buy, they don’t really do much with the purchase with the buying of the membership. The more that you can get them engaged on a certain pathway, which you have designed, the more the less churn you’re going to get. So am I correct in what I surmise that there are a lot of people that buy a membership package and then they do nothing with it.

Yeah. It depends from site to site. I mean, different membership sites have different expectations for levels of engagement. If you are running a hobbyist membership site for retirees you might expect a much higher level engagement. It’s just a little bit more passive and not as urgent for instance. So the answer to your question is definitely yes. And that happens most often because the membership sites that we see a lot of the time coming through our consultancy is that there’s not that proper expectation from the marketing. There’s not the featured option path and the onboarding and ongoing engagement tracking. So a huge barrier there is just getting systems in place and having kind of the business talks to put these things to reverse engineer the sequence and then actually implement it to produce results. Yeah. That’s, that’s a huge barrier that we see a lot of the time is.

Jonathon: And there is price as a factor. The higher price courses, I would imagine that the people that sign up for him a bit more motivated and ask a lot more questions. Or am I wrong or am I not correct in that?

Amanda: That’s a good question. And again, it goes back to the type of membership. So first paying the bill is a big one. So if you have a B to C membership site, people are going to have higher expectations typically. So people who are typically paying less have higher expectations. So if you have this one to one person, their seeing the charge on their credit card every month. Those sites actually tend to have higher expectations for like deliverables and value and results. Then say an employee whose employer is paying the bill. And so there it’s not, there’s no skin off their back so they’re not paying the bill. So they’re typically slightly less engaged than those individuals and don’t have as much. Now how many skin in the game they don’t have stake in it. And so again, it really varies. We see it really up. It’s really disparate. It’s across the board.

Jonathon: I think we are going to go for our break folks. When we come back we are going to be delving more into this subject with Amanda Northcut. Joint founder of member up. Be back in a few moments folks.

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Jonathon: We are coming back. We’ve had a good discussion initially with Amanda Northcut. I’m sure the second half is going to be as the same quality. Over to you, Cindy.

Cindy: So as membership experts, would you say that there are certain elements that a membership program should have? Like are there other elements that they, each membership that when you’re looking at it that they should absolutely have as part of the membership. Can you kind of give us what your ideal structure would be? Absolutely. That’s a really great question. So I kind of preach on eight different systems for membership sites, the first being marketing. And so the very short version of that is find your tribe. Where are they? And I’ll actually offer you guys, your listeners, my eBook on membership marketing. You guys can grab a free copy. And it outlines kind of my top 21 marketing or acquisition channels really for membership sites this year and kind of how to start testing those. But the idea here is to find two to four marketing channels that are viable for your membership. So that’s, they’re profitable and reliable. And it’s kind of how I define that Bible marketing channel. So get your marketing right, get the right people on the bus.

A famous football coach once said. Get the right people on the bus and then pull them through that feature adoption path. So we have marketing and lead nurturing. Okay. Make your promises. And then when they actually click the purchase button, make them happy that they did. So you want to under promise and over deliver with marketing, lead nurturing. And then onboarding is kind of the third system, the fourth system that is absolutely imperative for a membership or a subscription. It’s different than course sale is or not necessarily. But if you’re making, you’re asking for repeated purchases within your core sales, and this is important, but otherwise engagement tracking is huge. You really want to avoid as much churn as possible. And so that voluntary or engagement related churn is often able to be preempted by kicking off and appropriate in reengagement sequence to draw that person back into your site. Because you owe it to them to deliver the value that you promise.

So you want to do that. And then content creation is huge. Highly, highly important ongoing situation for a membership site. Obviously you want to have a content calendar for what’s happening in front of your pay wall and then also what’s going on with your content marketing. So I like those to sort of mirror each other. It makes it really easy to strip out content that you’re putting in front of your paying members. For those you are hoping will become members. So having a content creation calendar, who’s doing what, when, how, and then the next system, number six, community management is huge. A community having a thriving community is a huge differentiator between a course and a membership. So Mike Morrison with the membership guys, they are fantastic. They have a membership for membership site owners, which are sort of hilarious, but it’s fantastic.

He often says that people come for the content but stay for the community. And that’s so true. So you can build like a thriving community where people are building relationships, relying on each other. Having a positive communal kind of experience, then that’s a huge retention tactic. And then number seven, customer success, which is like a huge buzzword and has been for a few years now. A really customer success I think again begins with your marketing. But we’re more specifically talking about leading them along that feature adoption path. ongoing engagement tracking even within that and customer service also specifically. And then number eight is just general management, KPI tracking.

How are you taking care of your finances? How are you managing staff members or a VA and things like that? So those are kind of my eight essentials for how to make a business run. This kind of business runs really smoothly and profitably.

Cindy: So what you’re saying is you just can’t set it and forget it.

Amanda: Shocking. No, you cannot get people to just blindly can continue to pay you.

Cindy: And I liked how you outlined it all because it’s more, it’s also more than just creating content every month, which is why I kind of get focused on, there’s so many other elements that how go into putting a membership together. Jonathan?

Jonathon: A friend of mine, Chris Badgett of Lifter LMS he agrees with me. A lot of people concentrate on the technology. If they are using WordPress learning management system, they’re going to use what membership plugin or if they can they use a SAS solution. I spend months and months researching the technology. I think they should really concentrate on their niche and building an audience. Is this a pattern that you observe a lot?

Amanda: We do and in system number 8 general management also goes in there. But yeah, when people are starting a membership site, they really do agonize over this and that’s the technical stuff and the business stuff. Typically a membership site owner is a hobbyist or they’re an expert in something and they’re like, why am I doing my day job? I can teach other people how to do this and make a lot of money, hopefully. But maybe that the technological skills and the business skills are not necessarily there already. So that is the come along. Yeah, there are so many options. It’s really, really overwhelming at this point. In the WordPress world, and again, I’m going to point back to the membership guys for that. If somebody wants like one on one help, like we’ve been helping a lot of people this past year switched from a course model or a coaching model to a membership. And so we’re going through all the tech stack stuff with them.

But if you’re looking for a rundown or spreadsheet, the membership guys, they have a fantastic spreadsheet, kind of break that down really easily and have a Facebook group as well. Where that’s a huge topic of discussion. But yeah, people do agonize over that and really delay their launch. Because they can’t figure out their tech stack. But there are resources out there and people willing to help and helpful Facebook groups and things like that. Yeah, that’s your podcast is really helpful for that as well obviously. But people just don’t know where to find those resources. So that’s hard.

Jonathon: Over to you Cindy.

Cindy: I want to actually dig a little bit to, cause you mentioned that a couple times people switching over from a course over to a membership. Can you maybe talk about? Because I get people when they come to me asking whether they should create a course, if they should create a membership sites and what should they do. So can you maybe walk us through, what are the considerations? When is something a course? When is it a membership and when do they switch over if necessary?

Amanda: The businesses we’ve seen most successfully switched over from a course to a membership model are those who are looking for the membership to sort of act as a top of funnel resource. So get people to pay you $49 a month and then up sell them on your coaching services from there. So that’s a really popular way to go. As long as the customer lifetime value within the membership exceed that of the course. But if you have a membership model, you know you can up sell much more easily because you’re interacting with these people within your community on a regular basis. So the community aspect, that’s a huge one. I know a lot of courses, or a number of courses have a community or private Facebook group or a slack group that goes along with a course cohort. And so there’s a coach, they’re helping people but for self-service courses that’s kind of a one off deal and hopefully if you produce courses in the future, you know, your previous customers will buy from you again.

One litmus test that we take people through or ask people to ask themselves at the beginning of this kind of process is write a calendar, a content calendar for the next six months or a year. Just let’s go out with a, just start with a loose outline of, what you’re going to do when you’re going to put that out, how that’s going to be produced, who’s going to help you. And then just kind of go through those eight systems through a checklist of saying, how are you going to cover all of these things and how does that look versus what’s required of you with the course? So do you have enough content? Do you have the ongoing capability for marketing for instance, are you able to get these systems in place for marketing, lead nurturing, onboarding, engagement tracking and things like that?

Do you want to run a membership site? So helping people understand like what’s really required, um, as far as content production and ongoing management, customer success and community management, ongoing marketing efforts as opposed to kind of creating that buildup for a launch and then putting your course out there to the world and hoping that it’s purchased. But the course model is still great. People make a lot of, I mean people make a lot of money off of course is when done well. But there’s just so much effort and build up and stress around course launch. And so my one consulting client right now, they put out eight courses in the last either 12 or 18 months and they’re just exhausted. They’re so tired. And so they’re going to like a membership launch model where they only open the doors twice per year and then they’re putting all their courses in the membership and then adding like live Q and a community. Some other kind of membership type elements there. Does that answer your question?

Cindy: Yeah, no, I’d say it. I guess it’s partially what you want to do as a business owner. How does it fit in your business model plus what’s the content that you have? Is it something that is an ongoing resource that people would want to have versus a one off information that they’d want to learn or something like that. Jonathan?

: Another thing Amanda I learned the hard way. I think you can apply to membership sites. And one of those in ecommerce is the ability for upsells. I see a lot of people in membership sites not really utilizing what`s being, earned in the startup. Do you agree on that?

Amanda: Oh yes. Yeah. And I think that comes back to having some of those business skills are lacking. The ability to maximize the opportunity you’ve created for yourself. It’s kind of an unknown. It’s just that kind of lack of education thing. I think we’re getting there as a whole and educating the membership community on multiple membership tiers. I mean really simple basic stuff like multiple tiers, upselling to an annual private coaching or a small group mastermind, something like that, or even one off products. But yeah, that’s definitely severely lacking. The vast majority of membership sites have one tier. And just want to kind of set and forget, but yeah, that’s not the way to maximize your revenue if that’s what you’re looking to do.

Jonathon: I suppose it’s kind of linked to your, when we first started this conversation about when you mentioned the power users champions finding out what they would really look when it comes up sells and then learning from that and applying it.

Amanda: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, you they’re fantastic. That’s a fantastic APP. A bit complicated for membership sites, but they’re so big on sending the right message to the right person at the right time. Not making a fool of you by, again, asking a disengaged person to upgrade to an annual plan as opposed to sending them a reengagement sequence. I’m trying to get them back into your site, back into engagement. So yeah, you have to know who those people are and when they’re becoming disengaged and learn over time. Improve your site and your reengagement sequence and things like that too. Preempt that, you know, kind of before it happens.

Jonathon: Well we have come to the end of the podcast part of the show. Amanda has agreed to stay on for some bonus content. You should be able to see on the WP tonic website and the WP Tonic YouTube channel. Amanda, how can people find out more about you, your words of wisdom and more about Member Up?

Amanda: Yeah. You can go to you can email me Amanda at And then obviously you’re listening to this podcast so you probably listened to others. You can find us over at the member score podcast. And if we can have a link in the show notes to my eBook on membership marketing. And people can grab that and I’ll be in touch with you.

Jonathon: I will definitely do that for you. Cindy, how can people find out more about you, your thoughts and what you’re up to?

Cindy: Well, if you’re looking to create an online course, I can certainly give you some help with that. You can find me at or reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Jonathon: That`s great. And we’re doing a Webinar on sales. Me and Cindy, we did our first one last month. It went great. We did make fools of them or Cindy did definitely made a fool of her. But I don`t care. But we’re doing another webinar. The seven things you need to know to do that first course. Yes, that first course, that first steps in your course and membership domination. Well you are you going to do the first one. Nothing is going to happen. Is it? So we’re going to do this Webinar, it’s free. And we’re doing it the end of this month on Thursday the 28th at 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time. How you join? Well it is easy go to wptonic/webinar. And there will be a sign up page. You just sign up and you’ll be notified and you’d be able to join the slide. And we will have gifts and surprises for those that join us live. So you got to do that. So hopefully you’d be able to join us on the 28th. So we’ll see you next week folks where we’re going to have another fantastic guest like Amanda. Giving you insights on how to build that great membership course website. We will see you next week folks. Bye


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