Episode Number 56 is posted under Content Marketing, WordPress

The Secret Tools Of A Membership Site Architect

membership sites
Entrepreneur Ignited Podcast by Derek Gehl The Secret Tools Of A Membership Site Architect
00:00:00 00:00:00

Summary:

Ravi Jayagopal is the developer and mastermind behind one of the most popular WordPress membership website plugins and in this episode he reveals all of the tools and strategies he uses to build killer (and profitable) membership sites every day… so you can copy his success!

Transcript Of: The Secret Tools Of Membership Sites Architect

Welcome to the Entrepreneur Ignited podcast, a podcast designed to skip the hype, skip the BS, and just bring you real actionable tips and strategies to help you grow your digital business. This is your host, Derek Gehl.

Today we’re going to be diving deep into membership websites. It’s a topic that I’m pretty passionate about because membership sites have been the core and heart of my business really for the last five years. After selling my last company, when I started up again it was really a big focus. Obviously information marketing is where I spend a lot of time, and membership sites are now the hub of all the training, all of the products that I currently sell online.

Like I said, I’m passionate about membership sites. Today’s guest is not only a digital entrepreneur. He’s also the co-founder and co-developer of an incredible piece of membership site software called “Digital Access Pass,” which is a membership plugin and for membership site WordPress marketing platform.

He’s been online since 1997 when he launched his first website, and he’s got an incredible story and journey that I’m going to let him tell. He’s been selling online for 18 years and is an absolute expert in membership websites and just launched a book on this exact topic. Without further ado I would like to welcome Ravi Jayagopal to the show.

Ravi, thanks for being here.

Hey, Derek. Thank you so much for having me on your show.

Awesome. Before we get started I’d love it if you could expand on my introduction and just share your journey as an entrepreneur because if I read correctly you started in 1997 while you were still in India.

Correct.

I’ve spent a lot of time over in the Asian markets. I started in 1997 and people called me a pioneer in the North American markets, in India you must have been so far ahead of the curve there.

Yes, I was. Actually, that was also the problem there because there was no e-commerce infrastructure. There were no payment processors in India. Even in the U.S. I don’t even know if Paypal was there yet.

No, it wasn’t.

There was no ClickBank. There was some obscure processors, and most of them would not let people from other countries sign up, especially from South Asia. It was so hard to get a payment processor who would let you accept money online. Finally I found one obscure processor who was taking a huge chunk, like $10 for a transaction fee, and then it was like 20% commissions or something like that. It was crazy.

That’s robbery!

Yeah, absolutely, and they said, “That’s how it is because it’s a foreign market. Take it or leave it.” That’s part of what spurred me to look at how I could come to the U.S. and be at the epicenter of e-commerce.

Wow, okay, so you started there, and then when did you come to the U.S.?

I moved here into the U.S. in 2000. First we came to New York. That was the year of, if you remember, the dot-com crash and the Y2K, so they were hiring a lot of people.

Actually, I came here for the e-commerce boom. They needed a lot of high-level architects and programmers, so that’s how I got here. Then it took me a long nine years to get my green card and finally to start to go into this full time.

Share your journey. You moved over here. You were a developer. Then how did you become the guy you are today? What was the journey along the way to now becoming this membership sites guru? Also, you’re involved in a lot of different software now.

Right. Growing up, my father who’s no more, he was a an Indian film legend and he always worked from home. I always saw that he was always there when I came back home from school, came back from college for the holidays. That was always ingrained in me that I need to own my own time, so becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business was always the goal.

I started a website in India and tried very hard to sell. It was so hard because of all these problems I mentioned because of e-commerce, so I said, “I got to go where the action is,” and eventually found a way to get here to New York.

Once I got here I started going for a job but I was so ambitious and I wanted to do so much more that I started working nights and weekends to create something digital. I wanted to create something digitally delivered, and at the time Paypal was coming up.

This is the craziest story you’ll ever hear, and you’ll identify with this because you know this person. In 2000, yeah, around 2000, 2001 I had this website about Indian baby names, which is the first website I started in ’97 back in India when my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. I’m still working on that website. I’m still figuring out what else to do.

I get this email from this kid. I didn’t know he was a kid at the time. I get this email from this guy who says, “Hey, I saw you have a contact us form on your website. Would you mind selling it to me?”

You have to remember there was no WordPress. There was no plugins, not contact us plugin that you can just throw on your website in five minutes. You had to hand-code even something as simple as a contact us form. Everything was PHP. Everything was coding, and if you wanted a contact us form you had to hire a developer to create it, or if you could go hunting and find all these PHP forms and try to put something together, and then you’ll still get hacked and stuff like that.

This guy says, “Would you sell your contact us form to me?” I said, “Absolutely.” I sold it to him for like $30. That was my first ever sale of a software product. Then after I sold it to him I said, “Man, that was so simple. All I had to do was put it in a zip file.” Of course I had to go through a couple of steps to make it customizable by somebody else. I just made insert name here, insert email here, kind of thing.

I wrote a little piece of documentation, packaged it for the two files in the zip file and I got $30. I was like, “Wow, this is the easiest money I’ve ever made,” because until then I was selling books. For the book I had to go pick up a copy from the publisher. I had to buy all these books in advance. I had to go to the post office. I had to stand in line. This was like a dream gig. I was like, “Wow, I wish … I wonder if I can do more of this?”

I started a PHP-based thing, which is no longer active, called “Webmaster in a Box.” I said, “People are going to need webmaster stuff, so I’m going to package a bunch of PHP scripts and I’m going to sell them all for $99, a bunch of scripts and I want to keep adding to that, and they’ll keep buying forever and ever.”

I packaged a bunch of these scripts and I started selling them through ClickBank because they had offered me a thing. In 2001, 2002 I was making like between $3,500 to $5,000 a month, which is more than I was making at my day job at that point.

Unfortunately I could not quit. That was my biggest problem. I could not quit because I had to hold a steady job for X number of years before I could get a green card. That was the hardest part, holding my breath for nine years, which is how long it took to get my green card.  It was like I was in somebody else’s body the whole time, and I just had to wait for nine years to actually become myself.

Anyway, so this kid, this person comes back to me, the guy who bought the script, and says, “I’m trying to do something I want to buy my girlfriend an engagement ring.” That’s when he divulged to me he’s in college, or final year of college, or just finished college, or something like that. He said, “I want to buy my girlfriend an engagement ring. I’m trying to figure out what I can do to make money online.”

He had a website at that point, and then I said, “Okay, I have this script.” It was all the rage back then. It was a JavaScript popup. If you went to a website it would pop up saying, “Would you like to sign up?” It was not even a real popup. It was just this alert. You know how in a web app you try to delete something, it says, “Are you sure? Okay. Cancel,” right?

Yeah.

That kind of an ugly alert. It would come up and say, “Do you want to sign up for a newsletter? If you said “okay” it would pop up the email client like Outlook or whatever. There was no Gmail back then, and Hotmail was the only thing, so it would pop up this email and send out an email from your email address to this third-party email address which would end up subscribing you to the newsletter.

I said, “I have this script. Would you like to buy it?” He said, “How much is it?” I said, “If you want to buy resell rights …” At that time resell rights were all the rage, so I’d been reading a lot about it. I said, “Let me try to scam this guy.” I’m just kidding, not scam but, “Let me try to convince this guy to pay me $500 for this thing,” so I said, “Okay, if you pay me $500 I’ll give you the full rights to sell the script.”

He said, “Okay, great,” so I sold it to him. He paid me $500. The next thing you know this guy is all over the place. Newsletters that I’ve been subscribed to, those people are promoting the script. I was like, “Man, that’s my script!”

This guy makes thousands and thousands … sells thousands and thousands of copies, and that’s the biggest difference. At that point I realized you got to be a marketer. Guess who this person was?

I’m racking my brains.

Yeah, you’ll never be able to guess it in a million years. It was Ryan Deiss.

I was about to say “Ryan Deiss.” I was about to say … Because I was doing the age and I was doing the math and I’m like, “Who would have been smart enough to do that?” I’m thinking it had to have been Ryan.

Absolutely. He had a website called Sitesightings.com. It’s just this website that put all these resources, 99 websites that you … kind of bookmarking, social bookmarking type of thing, and that was the beginning of Ryan Deiss, ladies and gentlemen. I was the first guy to ever sell to Ryan Deiss.

That is awesome. That’s an incredible story.

I’ve not even said this on my podcast. Nobody knows. Nobody has heard this before.

That’s brilliant. That’s brilliant, and now he’s running the traffic conversion and digital marketer, and you gave him his first product. I love it. I love it. Today, give me a picture. What’s your business look like?

Ours is purely digital. We sell memberships off our Digital Access Pass, and we … There’s evolution to that also. We started off as a one-time product. I can talk about that more, but we created a bunch of membership site software plugins surrounding add-ons, so to speak at WickedCoolPlugins.com.

By the way, my wife, Veena Prashanth, she’s the other co-founder and co-developer of DAP, and she’s the founder of Wicked Cool Plugins. We created a bunch of plugins that cater to our community, and we have anywhere between five to seven employees. Not all of them are full-time employees, so we have people coming in and out at some point.

We have support staff overseas, and that’s it, so fully digital: We don’t have an office. My wife and I, we work from home. She works from the ground floor. I’m on the second floor, and we have our own offices here, but it’s a home office, and we have a completely virtual business. It’s all online.

Nice, okay. Now, let’s shift our direction and let’s dive into membership sites because am I correct to say that Digital Access Pass has been sort of your flagship product for quite some time?

Yes.

Okay, and that is the de facto membership sites plugin. Before we get started, let’s just start with the basics because I know in my listeners I have a massive range of people from people that are running businesses, people that are just getting started.

First question, start at the beginning, what are membership sites and how can businesses use these?

At the very basic level, membership sites don’t have to be only for subscriptions and recurring products. Membership sites are basically a walled garden. You want a way to wall off content, make it private. You want some public content for Google and search engines and for marketing and content marketing, but you also want to take some of the content and put it behind the paid wall.

Sometimes you don’t even necessarily want to get paid. You just want somebody to sign up for it. Maybe give them your email address and subscribe to your newsletter or a free membership. You just want to wall off some content and put it behind a wall and make people log in so that you can get some exclusivity out of that content. That’s the basic level

Why would you choose membership sites over say e-books?

The problem with just an e-book is the evolution of the product requirement. Initially you will say, “All I need is just, I want to sell one e-book,” so you might say, “Okay, let me just put a e-book link. Let me upload it to my website, and let me get paid by Paypal. Then I will send them the download link by email.” That’s the very, very basic membership sites, sending the content by email after purchase.

Let’s say you figure out a way to automate that. Paypal adds them to your Aweber list and Aweber fires off this email with the link. Next step is, “Oh, what happens if the past, that email that linked to somebody else?” You need it to be protected.

Then you’ll have people coming to you and say, “Oh, I lost that email.” My hard disc crashed. I don’t have the email link anymore. I lost access to that email. I have a new email. I don’t have the download link.” There’s any number of reasons why they’ll want the content, redownload the e-book.

You can’t have the people emailing you all the time saying, “Can you please resend me the email, the download link?” and you have to keep sending it to them as an attachment.

This is where the evolution comes in, as you start piling on the requirements you actually come to the point where you want it to be automated. You want there to be a membership area where people can log in by using their own email, their own password.
membership sites
They can change their email. They can change their password. What happens if they forget the password? They log in to a members area. They should be able to download the link.

They should not be able to pass on the link. They should not be able to pass on the login information. You want security there. If they pass it around too many people start logging in. If they post it on a forum, then it has to get locked up, so it goes.

Then you want to be able to contact them, put them on a list and contact them and send them updates. What happens if you update the e-book? What happens if you release a new e-book?

What happens if you release a video course and add on to that course?

You want to send them HTML email. You want to send out dripped out emails so that you can deliver value in an automated sequence or time. Then you want to be able to upsell them, so if they buy one thing, you upsell them another thing. Then you take them through what I call a “commitment ascension model.”

You start with the smallest commitment, which is them giving you their email address. Then you go to the next step of delivering some content. Then they pay for content. Then you increase the value of what you’re offering them as well as the value of what they pay you, and you can go all the way to thousands of dollars worth of coaching and consulting and events and so on.

You just sort of outlined the entire ascension model of an info business, leveraging membership sites. To drill down, what are the different membership sites business models out there? What are different ways you see people charging, utilizing these to grow their business? Do you have any good membership site ideas to share?

At the very basic level people use membership sites for saying, “Sign up for my list and I will give you a free e-book. It starts with the very basics, and then a free online course, a video course, and then there’s the one-time product.

Digital Marketer and Ryan Deiss talk about this… They’ve giving it some cool names too, lead magnet and so on, tripwire. Then they offer them the tripwire and sell them something small. Then you have the online course.

A lot of people use membership sites for one-time products and then send them to a monthly recurring subscription. These consist of a lot of videos.  Videos have the highest value when it comes to membership sites. If you’re just giving them written content, people see so much.

Everybody is a blogger. Everybody is a writer. There’s a million blogs out there, and written content alone doesn’t give enough bang for the buck. You need to show people stuff. You need to build a relationship with them. You need to, if you are selling, whether it’s a how-to video, you need to show it. You can’t just put screenshots up and say, “Go figure it out. Read the freakin’ manual.” You can’t say that.
membership site software
You need to be able to show videos and hold their hand, whether it’s health training, or fitness training, or how to cook, or whatever it is, how to work a tool, everything is video. Video has the highest value. A lot of people use videos in the members area. The best membership sites give the content in different formats.

One of the things we get asked for a lot from beginners is, “I don’t want people to download the videos from my membership sites. How can I stop that?” I usually get onto the soapbox and start saying, “Don’t do that.”

The goal is not to force them to be at a computer to watch your video or listen to your audio on your membership sites because you might have 1% if you’re a Derek Gehl or a Frank Kern, you might have a few more people than that who want to rip off your content and share it with their friends, but for the most part, nobody cares. It’s not like you’re putting out national security secrets out there on your membership sites.

People are not actively looking to rip you off, very, very, very small fraction, 1%, 1% of 1%. Just to prevent that .001% of the people from downloading your software and ripping you off, you don’t want to screw the other 99.99% of people who are actually legitimate paying customers who’ll keep buying your stuff and who will stay in your community, who will refer others to your membership sites using your affiliate.They’ll write articles about you, so don’t go trying to say, “I want to prevent you from downloading the video. I want to prevent you from downloading the audio or I don’t want you to print my PDF.”

Don’t go that route. Instead, go the other way, which is what the best membership sites do, which is what I recommend a lot to my clients, give them multiple ways to consume your content. Make it available as a video, and take the MP3, upload it so that they can put it on their phone and while they are going for a jog.

Podcasts are so big because people can listen to your stuff while they’re doing their dishes, walking their dog, cleaning the house.

Take the video, take the audio, put it as a downloadable audio. Then take a transcript and put it as a PDF. People love to read on the train to work or wherever they’re going. A lot of people love to put it on the Kindle, make a DOC MOBI version available so that it’s easily readable on a Kindle.

Even PDFs are still not the greatest mobile format. DOC MOBI is, so make it available as a DOC MOBI file so that they can put it on the Kindle or they’ll read it on their mobile device and expand.

The best membership sites offer a plethora of content in a wide variety of formats, and, of course, to keep them for longer you have to offer more value because it’s community for a reason. They come for the content and stay for the community.
membership site ideas

As I was thinking about this I was writing down notes as you were saying this because you said a couple things that really stood out to me there. What I want to do now is I want to shift gears and I want to get into the actual technology used in membership sites.

This is what I’ve really wanted to pick your brain about because I know you’re so deep into the membership sites technology. What do you say when somebody comes to you and says, “Hey, I have some membership site ideas. I’ve never done it before. What do I need?”

There’s two parts to this question: First part is, let’s talk about the hosted versus self-hosted system, so the WordPress versus say the Kajabis of the world. I want to get your take on this aspect of membership sites because it’s something I struggle with.

When people come to me and they’re just getting started with membership sites, sending them to a Kajabi is an easier solution sometimes for getting started, but personally any time I’ve gotten membership sites onto those platforms I immediately hit a wall in restrictions and end up running back to WordPress so I’m no longer constrained. What’s your feeling on the hosted versus the self-hosted?

Obviously you have to take my input with a grain of salt because I have built my membership site software business around self-hosted WordPress, and it’s only because I saw the value in that. It’s not the other way. I’m not promoting membership site WordPress benefits because I want to make money, but I built my business because I knew WordPress was going to be good; it was going to be the greatest platform ever, including for membership sites.

The problem, it’s actually called “digital sharecropping.” When a farmer doesn’t have the money to buy their own land, they have the landowner who says, “Go ahead and cultivate your crops here in this corner, and you give me 80% of the profits.”

You do all the hard work and the landowner takes a huge cut, and one day the landowner can decide, “I don’t like you so much,” or, “There’s somebody else who’s willing to pay me a bigger chunk, so please vacate you part of the land. I’m giving it to somebody else.” That’s what digital sharecropping is similar to.

When you build membership sites on somebody else’s platform you are actually putting all your eggs into somebody else’s basket and you’re not building a long-term business because the platform can get obsolete. They can get bought out and shut down, which you know happens all the time in the tech world.

Google and Apple are buying companies, and they do this acquiring for the talent. They take the people and the patents, and they shut down the company because they are rolling it into their own big products. It happens all the time.

The same thing whether you’re putting membership sites on Udemy.com or Kajabi. Nothing personal against any of those brands. They’re all fantastic sites. They make it very easy for people to sell.

The way I would look at it is if you don’t know what you want to do with membership sites, then the restrictions of these third-party platforms actually make it convenient in that you really don’t know what you want to do but there are only a few things you can do, so stick with it and then figure out the rest later.

If you have seen people do stuff, if you know the power of WordPress, the fact that it’s open source doesn’t mean a lot to most people. They don’t care because most people are not going to tinker behind the code, but the benefits of open source is that you have millions of plugins and third-party themes.

Anything you want to add to your membership sites like the example of the contact us form … If you want to throw in something new to your membership sites WordPress makes it easy because somebody somewhere has developed a plugin for that. Like Apple says, “There’s an app for that.” There’s a plugin for that, for anything you can imagine.

Any new service comes along, somebody develops a plugin for that, so you can always add new functionality. Say I want a Facebook Google social button sequence here in this exact part of my website right below this video. You can do that with WordPress, but if your membership sites are on a third-party platform, which has only a certain number of templates, certain look and feel, you cannot customize it.

You cannot tweak the code. You cannot add your own themes and own plugins because they are proprietary platforms, there are no third-party developers developing for that because there’s no benefit to them.

But with membership sites on WordPress now you have a whole bunch of third-party developers, and theme developers, and plugin developers developing content for it, so now you know that it’s going to stay around for a long time because these people also sell it. They make money. They benefit from the platform, so that’s the benefit of having your membership sites on WordPress. That’s the first part.

There’s some downsides to having your own site for your membership sites but those are really nothing compared to building everything on a third-party platform. When you have membership sites on your own hosted account, you own the content. WordPress is free and open source. Nobody can take that away from you. The content you develop is on your own server. Nobody can shut down your membership sites unless you stop paying GoDaddy or hosting.

Whatever plugins you use, or the theme you use, anything you change in your membership sites, your content is still there because it’s part of WordPress. WordPress is the content management system where you have created all the content. Your videos are there. The content is all there, even if you change the look and feel of your membership sites.

Even if you buy Digital Access Pass for your membership sites and change it at some point for some reason that you want to use something else, your content is still there. Your members are still there on your membership sites. You own the list, so it’s all about control versus ease of use.

The less you know, and if you don’t know that you want to be in control of this whole thing, then those other third-party platforms are okay. But if you know anything about anything and you know the power of building a long-term business, you own the content, you own the members, you own the subscriptions, and you own the payments.

You cannot easily transfer membership sites from a Udemy.com to Kajabi because they’re completely different platforms, they own the recurring profiles so you cannot take the credit cards with you when you go. It’s illegal to do that. You’re basically going to lose your subscribers and all payments if you move membership sites from platform to platform, but if it’s your own then you own everything, top to bottom.

Yeah, so first of all, I would say that was a really unbiased answer and it was a really balanced answer. I think you said it right at the beginning as well,  if you’re just getting started with membership sites and you don’t know what you’re going to do, and you just want to test something, yeah, a Kajabi Next or a little platform like that to get something up and try it is easy.

If you know what you want and you want to build a real business, you’re better off to build on your own platform.

If you look around at all the big, more robust membership sites, I have a big membership website. You look at the Digital Marketer. Everybody is building membership sites on WordPress these days because when you use those hosted solutions you quickly hit the ceiling unless you’re doing very, very simple stuff.

When I built out my first real membership website now going back probably four or five years ago, I built it on sort of the first version of Kajabi, and I hit that ceiling very quickly of functionality.

As you were saying, I wanted to have a button here or do this or do that. I was quickly pulling my hair out. If there’s one message I can send to people is if you can pick the platform that you’re going to stick with and start building on that, it’s going to save you an absolute heap of aggravation and pain trying to switch platforms later because I’m sure you’ve been through that where you have to move from one platform to another, and it’s really difficult to do.

Right.

What I want to do now, I want to give you a scenario. I call up Ravi and I say, “Hey, I have an idea for a membership website. I want to do some video courses in there. I’m going to teach people how to do something, and I’m going to have some video. I want to have some downloads. I want to have some different sections.”

What do I need aside from WordPress and a web host? What are the plugins, the themes, the software to deliver that video? If you had to give me a, “Here’s the top five, six, seven things you need,” what would they be?

I call it the “membership sites dream team.” Obviously there’s WordPress. It’s all got to start with WordPress.
digital access pass
Then you say, “Okay, I have text content, so all the content is going in as WordPress pages,” and your content marketing is going into your blog as posts.

There is a distinction between pages and posts, so for membership content, private content use pages because it’s easy to drip them out and slice and dice the content. For content marketing you just want people to go to one page, which is the front of your blog, and it should automatically all show up at the top. Blog is great for content marketing, so you have WordPress.

Then you say, “Okay, I want videos.” Videos for membership sites, there are three options. For public videos I recommend YouTube. The very, very beginning stages of video, you used to look at YouTube as, “Oh, they’re being cheap. They want to host their videos on a free service.” It’s no longer the case. It hasn’t been that way for many, many years now.

YouTube is key because nobody cares because it’s so big, and a lot of big brands use YouTube for sales videos. Content marketing videos use YouTube for two reasons: One is people recognize the brand, so they can quickly add it to their list and add to what’s later and stuff like that. The second one is it boosts your SEO efforts for your membership sites on YouTube itself because it racks up your views, the video views.

The more times a video gets viewed on YouTube, the ranking goes up on YouTube and for certain keywords, if you have done the keywords right on the video, then that same YouTube video can also show up on Google and other places that Google does search. That helps a lot with SEO for membership sites. Therefore, public videos, I would say use YouTube.

Private videos, you have two options. One is there’s Amazon S3, which is what we use ourselves for membership sites. We use it heavily. Amazon S3 is an unbelievable servicer where they host the videos for you. You should not host private protected content like videos and audio and PDF.

You should not put it on your own host because most people have shared hosting or cheap hosting, and even if you have a powerful host, it probably cannot handle the media downloads of a protected content. So all protected media in membership sites we recommend that put it on Amazon S3.

There’s a bunch of plugins for membership sites. We also offer one called “S3 Media Vault,” which you can basically embed secure links from Amazon onto your membership sites in the members area, so whether there’s a video or a PDF, you protect the page itself with the membership plugin like Digital Access Pass and you protect the content on Amazon S3, so you have two levels of protection for your content.

Whether it’s video or PDF, you can use Amazon S3 and one of those S3 plugins for your membership sites.

The other option, if you want it to be simpler, you don’t want to deal with any tech, then go with Vimeo.com. They’re like YouTube but they allow you to protect videos in your membership sites.

Remember, the YouTube private videos, they are not really protected. You’re just not telling them where it is, but once somebody figures it out, they can always pass the link to somebody else, so don’t use YouTube for private, members-only videos.

Vimeo.com would be the second option. Vimeo.com also has an option where you can say, “I want to whitelist this video so that it only plays on my membership sites and nowhere else. It will not show up on Vimeo searches or anywhere else.” That’s how you protect it.

That’s WordPress, YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon S3. Then for emails, again, you have something like Amazon SES, which a lot of membership plugins might integrate with. Digital Access Pass certainly does. You can use … It’s like Aweber, kind of like the deliverability of Aweber but it doesn’t have the advanced features, drag and drop, editor. It won’t have that.

If you want simply deliver emails at a very basic level for your membership sites and you want to make sure it gets to the inbox then you can use Amazon SES, or if you want a little more power and functionality you can integrate it with Aweber.

Anybody who joins your membership sites, you can add them to this third-party email provider like Aweber and GetResponse and all these other fancy email service providers.

What else did I leave out? Payment processors for membership sites: At the very basic level, Paypal is great. A lot of people say Paypal sucks and stuff. I have not found that to be the case in our own business or for those I know. Paypal is really good.

You’re going to have some of the same kind of problem no matter where you go. At some level of scale you’re going to have some level of fraud and issues. You can always figure it out.

Paypal works for a lot of people, and if you want to do credit cards then Stripe. It’s similar to Paypal in that they’re a payment aggregator. They accept the payments. They store the credit cards, everything, and they send you the money, your portion minus the like 2% or 3% fees. Paypal and Stripe should meet all of your payment needs for your membership sites.

You’ve given us a great  “membership sites technology stack.” One more piece, though, and I’m curious what you recommend here, for somebody that says, “Hey, I’m setting up a basic membership website.” What themes do you recommend?

Themes, there are a few really good ones for membership sites. Obviously if you are already maxed out with your budget WordPress has incredible free themes, so you don’t really need to go crazy with the themes at the beginning. Just pick one free theme that works for you.

Other than that you have, if you want to go long term I would go with membership sites frameworks like Genesis, StudioPress. Then there’s OptimizePress, Thrive Themes. Then there’s a couple of themes like Divi. If you go to ThemeForest you’ll find a bunch of plugins $20, $30. Just pick one that looks as close to what you want it to be.

Like I said, themes do not really affect the end product. Of course you want a nice looking sales page, so you can even buy a sales template. You can even have two WordPress installations on your site, which is what I would recommend for most people.

One is the main WordPress site, which has your sales page and squeeze page. You can do a lot. You can be creative. You can insert the lead pages, style page, if you want to insert a third party template, you can go crazy with social plugins or have a blog.

But then create a separate WordPress installation under members. You would go “yoursite.com/members/wpadmin.” It’s its own WordPress installation.

There you can have Digital Access Pass and all security plugins. On the homepage you can have caching. Caching is critical if you want things on your membership sites to load fast.

Caching, what it does is it allows your membership sites to be stored as an HTML site, and it doesn’t really go to the database all the time. If you get mentioned on Derek Gehl’s podcast or you go to the front page of reddit.com your site doesn’t go down because you get a lot of traffic, so you make it easy for sales and squeeze pages and all that stuff.

Then you keep the membership sites separate in the WordPress installation so that way you can use a different theme, different set of plugins and make the plugins really as few as possible. You don’t want to overload the members area with tons of social plugins because it’s members only.

You can have forum plugins there. You can have XenForo, X-E-N-F-O-R-O, or we can get into forums and stuff, but two tiers of WordPress is what I would recommend.

One of the things I just want to point out for everybody that’s listening, and I know for people that are getting started sometimes this is a little bit confusing, is when you’re building  membership sites, a lot of people ask me, “What theme do I need for a membership website?” because they assume that the theme is what handles the membership component of it.

That’s not the case. In fact, that’s where DAP or Digital Access Pass comes in, that handles the security, and that can be applied to any theme, so if you’re ever thinking, “Hey, do I need a special theme for a membership website?” You don’t. You can use any theme. It’s really the plugin like a Digital Access Pass that handles all that security, just a point I wanted to clarify there.

We’re starting to run out of time… I could ask you questions all day. I love talking about this stuff, and I love the technology. I’m one of those guys, I can get into plugins and be testing and playing with stuff all day, but we are running out of time. Before we finish off, is there any final ninja membership sites tactics that you’d like to share before we wrap up?

Sure. The best membership site is one that has been launched. If you don’t launch it doesn’t matter how awesome your theme is, how great your plugin is, how many different tactics you have used.
membership site wordpress
The hardest part of  membership sites is still the marketing and getting the word out there, so I would say go always with a minimum viable product and get it launched as quickly as you can. Don’t try to create every part of the funnel. Don’t try to get everything perfect from Day 1. You can always add it in later.

At the very minimum get something, get a signup form so you can start building your list even way before you launch your website. If you think of something, if you get a domain put it on a host.

Start collecting emails, and then now we can start driving traffic to it from your podcast, from your book, anywhere you can offer a link. Then offer a free product and start with a one-time product. Don’t get bogged down by saying, “How am I going to justify $10 or $50?”

If you’re a first-time membership sites person don’t try to get overwhelmed by trying to put together everything from Day 1. You cannot start with a membership site product.

If you’ve never sold before you’re not going to be able to position in terms of the content or the value or the sales copy.

You are not going to be able to sell a recurring subscription as your very first product ever, so start with a one-time product, a easy digital product, an ebook or one-time video course. Then start figuring things out, start getting feedback: What do people want? Your members will give you a lot of ideas. That’s the key to get people involved.

Give away a lot of free copies. Be generous. Don’t say, “Oh, if I give a free copy to all my Facebook friends then I won’t be left anybody to sell to.” That’s not true. There’s the law of diminishing returns in action every single step of the way. If you tell 500 people you’re giving them a free membership, only 50 people will take you up on it, and then only 10 of those will log in to the members area, and only two people will give you feedback.

Don’t think, “Oh my God, everybody is going to go away. Then I won’t have anybody to sell to.” It’s not going to happen, so just get the word out there. It’s very important that you have an affiliate program built in. That would be the main thing so every member who joins, whether it’s free or paid or a partner, they all have a way to recommend your site to others. That’s the only way to grow virally.

Absolutely, and those are some very good words of membership site wisdom. One of the things I love about membership sites, talking about giving away free stuff, the beauty of a membership website first of all is definitely, I wholeheartedly agree, it doesn’t need to be perfect, just get it out there and start doing something. But when you’re giving stuff away you can let people into your membership website and let them see everything that they’re also missing that is locked down.

One of your biggest selling tools is once you get some leads, once you get some people that have said, “Hey, I’m interested,” and they get in there and start consuming your free or your entry-level content, make sure they can see all of the stuff that they could have access to if they became a premium member.

There’s so many ways to slice and dice with powerful membership site software, like Digital Access Pass. I’m sure you guys have all the functionality for one-click upsell, stuff like that built into it. Correct?

Correct, and we have something called, for example, “Sneak-Peek.” It allows you to look at some content, and we have a bunch of plugins that will let you see one part of the first half of the content or the first half of the video. Then you have to do something like sign up, or sign up for free, or pay, or do Facebook share or Facebook like.

There are many payment formats you can accept. Money doesn’t have to be the only payment method. You can say, “Pay with a share. Share this thing on your Facebook.” There’s a plugin for that.

You can collect payment in multiple different ways, and that adds more people to your list, to your members and allows you to show off your content and what else is available in the members area.

Absolutely. We could keep going on and on and on and on and on, but we have to hit “stop” eventually, so I’m going to hit “stop” now, but before we wrap up, Ravi, if people want to learn more about you, I know you just published a new book, learn more about your plugins, where do they go?

They can go to my podcast website, which is subscribeme.fm or they can just go to digitalaccesspass.com. Both websites have a contact us form, and that’s the best way to reach me.

That’s awesome. Ravi, thank you so much for unconditionally sharing all of your membership site knowledge and giving our listeners so many valuable tips and strategies.

Thank you so much for having me, Derek. It was really an honor.

My pleasure.

All right everyone, that was membership site expert, Digital Access Pass developer, and just all around membership site guru Ravi. As always, any links mentioned in the interview will be included in the show notes along with an entire transcript of this episode.

As always, you will find all of this at entrepreneurignited.com/podcast. Don’t forget if you haven’t done so already, you can automatically have every future episode of this podcast delivered to your smartphone or device. For Apple devices, just head over to iTunes, and for Android, SoundCloud.

Now it’s time to take the tips, tools, and strategies you’ve learned today and apply that final essential ingredient to making these work, and that is take action.

As Ravi said, it doesn’t need to be perfect; it just needs to be launched. If you’ve ever considered a membership website, take what you’ve learned today. I would highly suggest you grab a copy of Ravi latest book, which I’m sure you can find on his website, which is like a crash course in membership websites, and get started.

Membership sites have fueled my business for many years and will for many years to come, and I’m sure they can for you; you just need to take what you’ve learned and apply action.

Go forth, take action, and stay tuned for more info-packed episodes of the Entrepreneur Ignited podcast, a podcast designed to simplify online business so you can make more money.

This is your host, Derek Gehl, signing off.

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