293 WP-Tonic Show: We Interview Blair Williams of MemberPress

We Discuss The MemberPress Plugin & Online Entrepreneurship

Blair Williams is a Software Developer and Online Entrepreneur. Blair has been developing websites and web-apps for over 20 years and is the author of several popular plugins for WordPress including MemberPress, Pretty Link, and Affiliate Royale.

Bair’s offering WP-Tonic tribe 10% off on MemberPress by using the coupon code 10OFF

This Episode is Sponsored by LIFTERLMS…

15% OFF All LIFTERLMS Add-Ons using This Coupon code: WPTONIC

Here’s A Full Transcript of Our Interview With Blair Williams of Memberpress

Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic show. It’s episode 293. We’ve got a great guest on the show today. We’ve got Blair Williams from MemberPress. Blair, would you like to quickly introduce yourself.

Blair: Yeah. I’m Blair. I’m the creator of Memberpress and the CEO of the company and we provide an awesome Membership plugin to help people get their Membership sites created and maintained and successful.

Jonathan: Oh, it’s a great plugin. And we’ve Kim, my co-host. Would you like to introduce yourself, Kim?

Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m an Instructor. I focus on Online Courses Membership sites and I can attest that Memberpress is a great plugin. I even brought my latest favorite shirt you guys gave me.

Blair: Word.

Kim: I got that at WordCamp Vegas last year. Thank you for that. Yeah.

Blair: Absolutely.

Jonathan: You can watch the show live at around 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on Wednesdays on our Facebook page. So, if you are doing that, you would have been able to see Kim’s MemberPress shirt. What a treat. I am your main host. I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a maintenance support company that only specializes in WordPress with an emphasis on Membership and Learning Management Systems support. Before we go into the interview, I want to do a quick plug for our sponsor and this week our sponsor is LifterLMS. What can I say about Lifter, Chris and Thomas and their team at LifterLMS? Just a great Learning Management System plugin for WordPress. Fantastic support. We use it on a number of clients’ website when appropriate and it’s a great bit of software and they’re supporting the show this week.

Blair: And those guys are just all around great guys too, Chris and Thomas.

Kim: Yes.
Jonathan: They are. They certainly are and they’re offering, which will be in the show notes, they’re offering 15 percent with a coupon code which you’ll be able to get on the website to buy any of their packs that increase the functionality of the basic system. So, we’re going to go straight into the interview now with Blair. So, what initially got you into developing a Membership plugin? What were the thoughts behind it? What got you into the game?

Blair: Yeah. Well, it was kind of the same story that you hear all the time with technical founders. It was a scratch your own itch kind of a thing. I had actually created several membership solutions for clients back 10 years ago. Did a lot of stuff with Ruby on Rails actually and built out a few. And then, I heard about this thing called WordPress and playing around with kind of the plugin architecture and I thought, “I wonder if there’s some Membership plugins available.”

And there were. There were a couple at the time. So, we created a couple of websites for clients using the plugins of the day and really, what it came down to was that they worked fine but they weren’t exactly what we needed. I found that they didn’t protect exactly. I’m sure that some of them that exist today have fixed some of those issues. But they didn’t fully protect the, like if you did like a standalone file, it didn’t fully protect it or even like the signup process wasn’t’ take totally, I don’t know. It was a little bit janky, a little bit weird and they were just not what we wanted. And so, I just had the great idea to, since I’m a glutten for punishment, “I’m going to build a Membership plugin. How does that sound?”

Jonathan: It’s something you do in a weekend, really.

Blair: Yeah, yeah. One afternoon decided, “Hey. Let’s crank this out.” So, it was a pretty ambitious project actually in retrospect. I don’t know if I’d ever start a project if I knew what I was getting into of course. But it’s been good. The result of that was MemberPress which we’ve used, not only to sell to people but we’ve used it on a number of Membership sites including our own MemberPress.com runs on Memberpress. It’s been a really great ride for us. We’re loving it.

Jonathan: Who do you see as your perfect customer? Because no bit of software can be perfect for everybody. If it does, it tends to get very bloated and very Swiss Army knife likish.

Blair: Right.

Jonathan: So, normally, the best inbreeds, they do a lot but they’re focused on a certain group of users and maybe not right for another smaller group. I don’t know if you see that the case at all.

Blair: Yeah, yeah.

Jonathan: If it is, would you like to give us some details?

Blair: Yeah. So, we’ve tried to avoid that to some degree by creating add-ons in addition to MemberPress. A Membership plugin is very suspectible to that kind of Swiss Army knife kind of thing and we advertise ourselves as the all in one plugin. And so, it’s a little bit misleading because that sounds like bloatware or whatever. But most of the additional functionality, we’ve got a lot of it separated out into different add-ons. But I would say our perfect customer is somebody who wants to offer mainly memberships. We do have an integration with Woo and a few other shopping cart solutions. But we’re more focused on like kind of the Lynda.com style where you basically have a recurring membership. It really excels in the recurring transactions. You can sell one-off kind of memberships or like products with Memberpress but really, the focus is on these recurring memberships.

Jonathan: That’s great. Kim, have you got a question. I’m sure you’ve got your questions for Blair.

Kim: Oh, you know I do. I will say, not just on questions though, just to say on the one-off products, not necessarily physical products but it handles one-off courses beautifully when I integrated with LearnDash. So it may be a single course fee that may be linked to a private member area but may not be recurring and I have to say it handles that beautifully Blair.

Blair: Excellent.

Kim: I don’t want people to think you can only do recurring with it.

Blair: Right.

Kim: Especially in the course of online courses which is my specialty.

Blair: Right.

Kim: It integrates there and handles that absolutely beautiful.

Blair: Right, yeah. The physical product is the probably what I was kind of referring to there.

Kim: Excellent.

Blair: Well, that’s good to hear though.

Kim: It’s wonderful for that and it’s something I recommend. I’ve spoken about it at WordCamps. So, along with that, I do have a question then.

Blair: Yeah.

Kim: When you are planning your membership site, I have some ideas because I’ve put clients through it but do you have any top four things, other than picking the right plugin, that people need to consider that you see them forget when they’re planning their launch that’s going to come back and bite them during the launch?

Blair: I would say there’s a very big number one and that is to get, I guess from a technical perspective and that is to make sure that you have an SMTP service lined up.

Kim: Yes.

Blair: Because we have really big issues with the email deliverability portion of it with people who don’t, “Hey. My emails aren’t getting to . . .” Because membership sites, they’re all about communication with your members. Right? And Memberpress offers, actually, some really great tools for communicating with your members. But if you don’t have SendGrid or Mailgun or something like that installed on your WordPress site, you’re not going to necessarily, your customers may not get those emails. I would say that would probably the number one. The other thing probably is that you do have to do Marketing. A lot of people, I think, simplify this down and they think, “Oh, hey. I’m on the Web now,” and people are going to just, if you build it they will come kind of a thing and that’s just not the case. Those of us who have been in the industry, we know that that is just naive to think that way. But a lot of people who haven’t gone through it before in the past have, I know that I thought that, probably initially, when I started. But Marketing is a definite important task to be doing on there.

Kim: Excellent. Thank you for that. The email’s one of my top ones too and just to tell everyone, that’s not a MemberPress limitation. That’s because of the way WordPress handles email that you need that other one. It’s not that MemberPress is doing that.

Blair: Right. And actually, the Web host too.

Kim: Yeah.

Blair: A lot times what will happen is like just out of the box, when you’re sending email, WordPress will try to connect to your Web host basically to send those emails. And I don’t think that the Web hosts are, you know, primarily their servers are not set up for that kind of thing. And so, getting something like SendGrid in there is really critical. It’s just set up to do the transactional emails.

Kim: Absolutely. Thank you. So, along those lines, what do you have, any treats that are coming up as far as updates? And along those lines, could we offer, back up a little bit. One of the challenges my customers have is when they offer a coupon for a free month, we have a lot of loss of shopping cart when people go through the two-step registration process. The first step creates them as a user and then, on the next page, they have to enter their credit card information and a lot of times for these free trials, people drop. Any way to get around that in the future?

Blair: Yes. That’s actually one of our top priorities right now is the shopping cart. And so, you should see something like that drop. I don’t ever give dates out because software development is, it’s a bloodbath. Let’s just put it that way. So that’s currently in the works though. That’s one of our big focuses right now.

Kim: That’s great.

Blair: The one-step checkout has kind of always been one of those things that we have been trying to get to but this year, we’re making it happen.

Kim: Excellent. Thank you for that.

Blair: Yeah.

Kim: Jonathan, other questions?

Jonathan: No. Have you got another question? And then we can go for our break, Kim. So, you’ve got a quickie?

Kim: Oh. I don’t if it’s a quickie. I have a few. On your on Membership platform, since you’re running on Memberpress, now I know what I’m looking at in the back-end there, what do you find with your members as far as communication to us? What are the biggest challenges you’ve over the time you’ve had it and how did you overcome those to make it a more successful membership area of people?

Blair: Yeah. So, in our case, it’s slightly different. Well, I mean, than like a traditional Membership site because we’re selling software so we sell software. But I would say that the number one thing for us has been support. Well, we started with just email. We’re definitely beyond that now and we have a couple of articles on our blog about this. Really, I think a lot of Membership sites could definitely benefit from using a really good help ticket kind of a system. So we use Help Scout and Memberpress actually has an integration with Help Scout and we’ve really enjoyed Help Scout quite a bit. There are other ones out there, not that are explicitly integrated with Memberpress but could definitely be integrated through use of the developer tools and Zapier. A lot of good ones out there are like Drift and Intercom. So, I would definitely recommend something to that effect for communicating with your members, especially if you’re in kind of a support intensive kind of set up. And I guess for a lot of, maybe your needs aren’t to the point where you need a Help Scout or something like that but I would definitely recommend looking at WP Forms or Formidable Forms or Ninja, to get a form on your site, some kind of contact form just so people can get a hold of you. You’d be surprised how many just forget about, “Hey. I’m putting a course out there.” But there’s no contact form or anything. So, I would definitely recommend something to that effect. And if your needs are bigger, then go with the full, we couldn’t exist without support tickets. That’s for sure.

Kim: Absolutely. All right, Jonathan, time for our break?

Jonathan: Yes. That was a fantastic answer. I totally agree with it, Blair. We’re going to go for our break folks. We’ll be back. We’ll be discussing with Blair more about memberships, his plugin and what he’s learned, the scars, the scars. We’ll be back in a few moments folks.

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Jonathan: We’re coming back, folks. We’ve had a great chat with Blair Williams of Memberpress. A really fantastic plugin. Love it to bits. So, you were hinting, when you first developed it in the previous section of our chat, that when you first released it, you were a little bit naive that they will come. In the early days of Memberpress, looking back, how did you start getting traction for the plugin?

Blair: Well, I would definitely say that one of the big things for us was the Affiliate program that we had and we made some really good connections by going to Conferences. So Conferences, they’re a big deal. I know all of us want to work in our basements in our PJs or whatever, in the dark, I don’t know. But it’s really important to get out there and shake hands with people, get to know people. I think that the friendship that I’ve made just at Conferences really has really benefitted our business like way more than probably could have happened just by random transactions online kind of a thing.

And so, I’d definitely recommend getting out there and putting yourself out there if you’re planning on being a business. The Affiliate program really helped us quite a bit too. We do have an Affiliate plugin we wrote to kind of scratch our own itch as well, Affiliate Royale. And so, we’ve always had an Affiliate program on Memberpress and that’s really helped. I think now we’re kind of getting to the point where we have more traction in terms of just kind of top of mind presence out there, especially early on, it was critical to get influencers to talk about us and to get our name out there a little bit. So I would definitely recommend an Affiliate program as well.

Jonathan: It’s easy to get traction with an Affiliate program, is it?

Blair: No, it’s not.

Jonathan: Got any insights to anybody that’s looking at starting an Affiliate program? It applies to people that are starting their own Membership sites, doesn’t it?

Blair: Yeah.

Jonathan: Because they might be looking at Affiliate themselves. So, got any insights on how you would get traction?

Blair: So, first of all, I should preface that by saying that managing an Affiliate program is not for everybody. But if you have a product and you want a good way to get your name out there, an Affiliate system can be fantastic for you. So, there’s first the technical stuff which is, I would say pretty straightforward. You can either use Affiliate Royale or Affiliate WP or ShareASale or you know, kind of the Affiliate network. So, that technical issue, aside from that, I would say that the most success we have had has been in just Affiliates that we know personally. So, again, getting out to Conferences and that kind of thing. Building those relationships is just critical because we get Affiliate applications all the time from just random people and we’ve had Affiliate fraud. We had Affiliates, you know they have these kind of sneaky ways that they, you know, they’ll steal credit cards and then what they’ll do is they’ll buy products with their Affiliate link and try to basically launder money through you. So you have to be vigilant in who’s promoting you and that’s those personal relationships are probably, they’re the key. Because I know, like say Chris Lema for instance.

I’m friends with Chris and if an Affiliate transaction comes in through him, then I know him. I know it’s not fraud. I know it’s legit because I have a friendship with him. But some person off the street, even somebody who we’ve vetted, it’s just unclear sometimes. And so, I would just say the personal relationships are big.

Another thing that I would probably recommend, especially for people who are just barely getting started would be to go out, well, so everything kind of starts on the Internet with keyword research I feel like. So, keyword research is key. Once you kind of know the keywords that people are using to search for your business on Google and the demographics of people that are searching, that are interested in you on Facebook kind of a thing, then you can start figuring out where your users hang out and what kind of groups they’re a part of. And once you figure that out and you may already know what your market is, right? But once you know what your market is and who they’re listening to, you find those influencers, the people that are blogging about things or maybe it’s as simple as just looking up who’s blogging about your competitors, right? And so, once you find that out, then you approach them. You approach these bloggers, the influencers to find out, “Hey. What can we do to get my product on your blog?” or, “Can I do a guest post on your blog?”

So, a lot of it has to do with outreach just to get your name out there in front of people who are potential customers, right? And so, we all read blogs. We all have our gurus that we listen to. And so, trying to get into those kinds of channels can be really beneficial.

Jonathan: That’s great Blair. Kim, got a question?

Kim: I do. I actually love where that’s going on the Affiliate piece because I think it’s so important to people. And from a business perspective of Affiliate, for recurring businesses, so say you’re selling that recurring membership, what percentage do you see of people that actually give an Affiliate commission on ongoing revenue versus just the first time and what percents they should set to actually make it interesting for the person recommending them?

Blair: Yeah. They’re a lot of different strategies. So, first of all, our data is very limited as WordPress plugins because we don’t really have a lot of information but the strategies that we’ve seen anecdotally through support and through customer outreach, we’ve seen several different strategies for how you do that with a recurring revenue. For instance, Affiliate Royale is set up to do, like you can do just the initial transaction which then incentivizes the Affiliate to, well, in theory.

Incentivisation can be misleading sometimes. Who knows exactly how it will influence people? But anyway, so, you can just pay on that first transaction and then nothing on the recurring transactions. You can do all of the transactions we’ve had. So you can pay out recurring, like every additional sale can have a recurring commission associated with that. We’ve had a few requests as of late, which is interesting, to not pay commission on the first one but to only pay commission on the recurring ones and Affiliate Royale does not currently do that. I think maybe Affiliate WP might do that. So there are different ideas around that.

The other thing too is it depends on what your price point is and how much it costs you as a merchant to deliver your product. So, take, for instance, Memberpress. So, Memberpress is a downloadable piece of software so the actually delivery is, I mean it’s basically free. Clearly, we have to pay hosting fees and all that. But there is a pretty high support cost. It’s a high touch product. People are running their businesses on it and so we have to make sure that we have a lot of support around it. But then, you take something like an e-book or some other kind of really low support kind of set up and there’s effectively no cost on that. They get the book and they’ve got the book. Maybe you’ll have a few refunds here and there or maybe you’ll have a few people that will contact you but it’s not a high touch thing. So, the commissions can be very, I’ve heard of people offering really high commissions on e-books kind of a thing. And then on more software oriented things, it’s going to be a little bit lower.

Memberpress is a recurring product. You pay for support and updates yearly. So we have a recurring commission of 25 percent. It may not be as high as that 80 percent on an e-book or whatever, at 70, 80 percent but it’s recurring, it’s a higher touch product and it tends to be something where if somebody really gets involved with it and builds their system on it, it’s not that likely they’re going to change it out. I mean unless we do something really unforgivable or something. So, kind of the idea behind it. They’re all kinds of different strategies and I guess my point is that you should pick the one that drives the behavior that you want. That’s what it’s all about with Affiliate stuff. And sometimes, like I was saying earlier, it’s hard to gauge what that behavior is going to be until you start trying it out.

Kim: Thank you.

Jonathan: That’s great. We’re going to wrap it up for the podcast part of the show. But I hope Blair’s going to stay on for a little while which you’ll be able to watch on the website as our bonus content. He’s also been generous and provided a little special offer for the listeners and watchers of the show and that’s 10 percent off Memberpress which you’ll be able to get the coupon code in the show notes. So that will probably be available over the weekend folks. I think it’s been a fantastic discussion. Like I say, we’re going to continue the discussion for a little while which you’ll be able to watch on the website. Blair, how do people get a hold of you and find out what Memberpress is doing? What’s the best ways of finding out what you and your crew are up to?

Blair: Well, the number one is the blog. At least weekly, we have, I think, pretty valuable information out there. It’s memberpress.com/blog. But we also put out all of our updates on there as well. So any kind of software updates we’ll put on there. Anything that we’re doing, we’ll post on there. And if people have questions, you know one of the things that we talked about here is checkout, the single page checkout. We haven’t really talked about that on the blog but certainly, if it’s something that you’re concerned with, you can definitely hit us up on our contact form. We’ve got some great support people that will answer those questions and any other support that you have really on the plugins. That’s probably the best way.

Jonathan: That’s great. And Kim, how do can people find out what you’re up to, Kim?

Kim: They can find me at kimshivler.com or right here on the WP-Tonic podcast.

Jonathan: Oh thanks. And if you find out what WP-Tonic’s up to, go to the WP-Tonic. Like I say, we have a blog section. Our latest article is advice on How to Increase What You’re Charging for Your Courses. Something of, I would have thought of reasonable interest for most people that are running a Membership site.

We’ve got that and we’ve got a couple of other great articles coming out this month. If you really want to support the show, there’s two things you can do. But leave us a review on iTunes. It really does help to promote the show and it helps us get really interesting guests on the show. And the other thing is do a shout out, a Twitter to our sponsor LifterLMS. Like I say, they are also supplying a coupon code which will be available in the show notes for 15 percent and we really appreciate them coming on board as hopefully a long-term sponsor or the show because they’re just a great team. We’re going to wrap it up. Like I say, we’re going to continue the discussion for a little while with Blair and we’ll see you next week where we’ll have somebody doing something really interesting with WordPress or doing something really online that’s interesting. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.

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