Long-time MemberPress creator Paul Browning shares the simple secret that took his membership business to the next level.
Have you ever heard of a book called Acres of Diamonds by Russell H. Conwell? You may not have, considering it was published in 1921.
Back in the '90s, I was lucky enough to have heard the story retold in a set of motivational cassette tapes called Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale.
Acres of Diamonds is a parable. It tells the story of a farmer who hears there's a fortune to be made in diamonds. Though his farm is profitable, he doesn't want the responsibility to hold him back, so he sells to the highest bidder.
The farmer goes on to search the world far and wide but never discovers a single diamond. After many years, he eventually dies empty handed.
Meanwhile, out digging one day, the new farmer discovers a diamond mine right on the very property the old farmer had let go of to chase his diamond-finding dream.
The moral of the story is obvious, and my point in telling it is this: my first membership site became an “Acres of Diamonds” tale of its own.
I almost got lost looking for the next big thing to grow my online business, when it was actually hiding right under my feet.
I almost missed my diamond mine, but you don't have to. Keep reading!
I’ve been using MemberPress since it first launched back in the early two thousands. That’s about five decades in internet years, I think. I was one of the first customers, and I recently found the first version I installed.
Back then, it was mainly a payment gateway and well-designed set of rules to protect pages. You downloaded it, got handed a huge online manual, and off you went.
I’m sure the MemberPress team will agree: There was a steep learning curve for both the team and the customers in the beginning.
A few weeks (and several support tickets) later, I had my website up and running, and I started growing my membership base. In 2013, membership websites were a fairly new concept, so there was little competition, regardless of the niche.
Hitting the Wall
Things were going great guns at first. But then I hit a wall.
The number of new signups began to wane. And worse, current active membership levels were dwindling.
I could see that if I didn’t take action – and take it quickly – it wouldn't be long before my membership website was no longer my main source of income.
I'd have to get a job. And since I hate working for someone else, this had to be avoided at all costs.
I knew to have a successful membership site, I'd have to jump. So I set to marketing my site.
Turning to Marketing
Marketing a successful membership website is half skill and half art. What works for others may not work for you , and what appeals to your niche may not appeal to another.
I won’t go into all the available marketing methods here, but I will tell you that I started out exploring pay-per-click (PPC).
There are many PPC channels available out there. Google Adwords (now called Google Ads) was the big guy at the time, but there was also Facebook, Reddit Ads, Amazon, YouTube, Instagram, and a whole lot of others.
PPC marketing might not be right for you. And even if it is, as a small business owner, you'll likely be limited to one or two channels. And you'll need to learn the platform.
Then you'll have to carefully run tests to see if and what ads can turn you a profit. That is, unless you can afford to hire an expert.
But after working with several platform experts, including Facebook and Google Adwords reps, none of them could help me use their platform to make a profit.
Not even to turn a dollar into a dollar ten. The Facebook team even suggested my website was to blame for the poor ad results. Maybe, maybe not.
Either way, it was after this agonizing effort that I had…
My Acres of Diamonds Moment
I decided to hire one last freelancer to give Facebook Ads a go. I was sure I was missing some secret technique for uncovering the huge profits promised by the PPC marketing pages.
Spoiler Alert – I hadn’t.
Freelancer in hand, I planned the campaign, set my keywords, split tested, and retargeted. Still no profit. Even worse, I didn’t break even and, while I did convert some customers, it was at a loss.
The ads expert I hired decided to check my website to see if there were any yet unnoticed barriers keeping people from joining.
We made a few tweaks here and there, like moving my guarantee to a more prominent position and adding some security logos.
But he made one off-the-cuff suggestion that turned my entire business around. In fact, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it from the start.
I’d made the mistake of assuming all my members would want to join using debit or credit cards. I’d never considered that many customers might prefer another method of payment.
The diamonds had been hiding in plain sight all along.
Although he never helped me turn a profit with Facebook Ads, the freelancer's suggestion to add another payment gateway changed my business overnight.
More ways to pay can make the difference
I’m sure you already know, but it's really easy to add multiple payment gateways in the MemberPress settings. You can, of course, have a credit card gateway, but there's also an option to include PayPal in addition or as an alternative.
And it's wise move to do so.
First, my experience taught me there's a large customer segment that prefers PayPal for a specific reason.
PayPal doesn't require buyers to give payment card or bank details at all. In fact, to authorize a transaction, the customer only has to enter their PayPal account details once.
Second, PayPal is a massive gateway. As of this writing (2023), almost 430 million people actively use PayPal worldwide. That's an acre of customers!
Additionally, for the membership website owner, PayPal works in the same way as a card payment. You can refund from your website, cancel subscriptions, and so on.
Your customer can also log into their membership account anytime to cancel, or do so through their PayPal account.
To top it off, PayPal offers buyer protection, mediation, and strong authentication for accounts. Who would've known?
My Simple Fix
I wanted to make the PayPal gateway available to new joiners but also former customers and newsletter readers who hadn’t joined my site yet.
So I started off with an announcement email to my 80,000+ email subscribers. (Maybe I'll go over the power of newsletter campaigns in another post someday!)
When I woke up the next morning after sending the announcement, the results were overwhelming. I expected to have a few interested people, but my member base and website income doubled in the span of a few hours.
For zero cost and near zero effort, I’d transformed my business overnight.
So there you have it… my acres of diamonds (or, more aptly, acres of customers tale). The simple addition of a payment gateway ended up being the difference that made all the difference to my online business.
The moral of my story is threefold: When it comes to your business…
- Never assume
- Always check with experts
- Never underestimate the power of simple solutions
Being open-minded, eyes wide open, and willing to second-guess your assumptions could be the small difference your business needs to go big.
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