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How to choose and validate an idea for your membership site

Set yourself and your audience up for membership site success. Follow these 5 steps to choose and validate your membership idea.

You’re ready to build your membership site. You have a stellar idea, and you know your audience is going to love it.

At least, you hope they will.

Because if you don’t create something that solves a real problem for your audience, your new membership won’t even make it off the ground.

Here’s the good news: You can take the guesswork out of creating your membership site by validating your product idea first.

Validating your product idea might seem like an unnecessary, time-consuming process. After all, building something new and exciting is the fun part of being a creator. Research, testing, and analysis? Maybe not so much.

But validating your product idea doesn’t mean investing thousands in focus groups and statistical analyses.

In fact, it can be as simple as following this step-by-step guide.

With these five steps, you’ll learn how to set your membership site up for success long before launch — and save yourself a whole lot of time, money, and disappointment down the road.

Let’s start with the most important ingredient for any successful business: Your customers.

Step #1: Get to know your audience

One of the most important questions to ask before starting a new business is, “Who is my target audience?” When you know your audience, you can build a membership site that meets their needs.

To succeed, your membership site needs to help your members meet their goals or overcome a real obstacle. 35% of startups fail because there’s no market need for their products or services.

In other words, there’s no product-market fit. Your product-market fit is how well your product meets customer demand.

To find out what your ideal members are interested in learning, achieving, and buying, start by doing some customer research.

Look at forums, online communities, and reviews for products in your niche. Ask yourself:

  • What is my target audience talking about online?

  • What challenges do they face?

  • What questions are they asking each other?

  • What new skills do they want to learn?

  • What do they value?

After some initial research, you may think you know exactly what your membership site should look like. But don’t rush into building a solution before asking real people what they think.

That’s what happened to John D. Saunders when he launched his first online course. As a newbie entrepreneur and course creator, he assumed what his customers wanted.

“It was a feeling in my gut that I felt the world needed this, and that was the first mistake,” John told us. “What I should have done, and what I do now, is properly pre-sell the idea to an audience and have them invested before even developing the course.”

Now, John talks to his audience to validate his product ideas and get feedback before creating a new product.

In this tweet thread, John explains how he involves his audience in the idea validation and product creation process.

Validating his product idea with his audience paid off — to the tune of $10,000 in course sales on John’s launch day.

If you already have an audience or online community, don’t be afraid to ask them directly what they’re looking for in a membership.

Reach out to your email list and social media followers and ask them to share their thoughts. Ask them about their pain points and what they’re looking for in a solution.

Include survey questions about your audience’s problems and needs, like:

  • What are your biggest challenges when it comes to [topic]?

  • What do you want to learn more about?

  • What does success mean to you? How can I help you succeed?

Tools like Typeform, SurveyMonkey, and Google Forms make it easy to create and send out surveys.

Use the information you collect in this step to start planning your membership content, too. What resources can you create to help your members succeed?

When it comes to idea generation and validation, your audience can be a fount of knowledge — and so can your competitors. That’s what our next step is all about.

Step #2: Conduct competitor and market research

As you look into other products and memberships in your niche, you find that there are already a bunch of products geared towards your ideal audience.

What do you do?

  1. Go back to square one and try to find a more unique idea.

  2. Forge ahead with your idea and make it your own.

If you’re tempted to choose option A, I understand. A crowded market can seem intimidating. But a competitive subject area is actually a sign that you’re on the right track.

Instead of seeing competition as something to avoid, think of it as a sign that your idea is worth pursuing — and that there’s a healthy market for it.

Put another way, a crowded market means a lot of potential customers.

You can stand out in that crowded market by building a brand that is uniquely yours.

As a creator or solopreneur, you are your brand. That’s especially true for business owners who run an education, coaching, or lifestyle business. Your personality, experience, and unique outlook differentiate you from the competition.

And people want your authentic perspective. 86% of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support.

So, competition can be a harbinger of success, not doom.

With that in mind, here are some tried-and-true strategies for competitor research:

  • Look at your competitors’ product pages to learn more about their features and pricing.

  • See what questions they’re addressing in their content. What topics do they create the most content about?

  • Read reviews of their products to see what your audience thinks of them. What do they do well? Where do they fall short?

  • Join their email list to learn more about how they address their customers’ problems and upcoming releases or updates.

  • Use social listening to track keywords and phrases relevant to your brand. This can help you learn more about your audience, gather intel on your competitors, and get ahead of trending topics in your niche.

  • Use a free SEO tool like Similarweb to analyze your competitors’ websites. These stats help you see how your site stacks up against your competitors’ and find out which sites link to your competitors.

After you’ve done your audience and competitor research, you should have a pretty good sense of what your ideal members want, need, and are willing to pay for.

If you’re still choosing between a few ideas, use the Passion/Profit Matrix to figure out which one to run with.

The Passion/Profit Matrix helps you answer two questions:

  1. Passion: How passionate are you about this topic? An idea might be wildly profitable, but if it doesn’t get you excited, it’s not the right choice for your membership site.

  2. Profit potential: Will people spend money to solve this problem? As we mentioned earlier, a competitive niche means that there’s already a healthy market for products like your membership site.

Your ideal membership website falls in the upper right quadrant: The one that you’re passionate about and that you’ll be able to sell.

Now that you’ve chosen an idea for your membership site, it’s time to share that idea with your audience and get their buy-in.

Step #3: Build a landing page and start collecting signups

One of the best ways to gauge interest in your membership is with a landing page.

You can use your landing page to pre-sell memberships or collect email signups before your membership launches. The latter is called pre-launching.

Pre-launching your membership has two big benefits:

  1. Validating your product idea.

  2. Building your email list leading up to your product launch.

On your landing page, include a short description of your membership and tell visitors why they should sign up.

If your membership sounds like the right fit for them, they’ll give you their email address, which validates your product idea and gives you potential members you can reach out to when you have a product ready to test or buy.

Here are some landing page essentials to keep in mind:

  1. Use your customer research from step one to write copy that resonates with your audience. Highlight how your membership will help them reach their goals or solve their pain points.

  2. Keep your landing page easy to scan and stick to one call-to-action (CTA). In this case, your CTA is email signups.

  3. More than half of web traffic comes from mobile devices, so make sure that your landing page is mobile-friendly.

Check out this guide to landing pages for digital creators and these landing page best practices for even more tips.

To sweeten the deal, you can also offer free content — such as a lead magnet — in exchange for an email signup.

For example, Ryan of Signature Edits sells presets, templates, and a marketing membership for photographers. He offers two lead magnets to collect email signups: a candid posing guide and a free sample pack of photo editing presets.

After a visitor downloads one of the lead magnets, Ryan knows that they’re interested in his niche. He can send them follow-up emails to share new content and tell them more about his products.

(Podia makes it easy for creators like Ryan to sell memberships, host lead magnets, and create email campaigns — all from one simple dashboard. Try it yourself with a 14-day free trial.)

All in all, when you give your audience free content, you establish yourself as an expert in your niche. You also build an audience of people interested in your topic and your unique take on it — and who are more likely to purchase your membership once it launches.

Email signups are also a useful way to find beta testers for early versions of your membership, which you’ll create in our next step.

Step #4: Create a minimum viable product (MVP)

With your research done and potential members signed up, it’s time to build your minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a simplified test version of your product. You share your MVP with beta testers and early members, then use their feedback to build your full membership site.

Your MVP shouldn’t include every feature under the sun. You won’t know everything your audience wants until you test your MVP. The sooner you get your MVP in front of your members, the sooner you learn about your audience and their desired user experience (UX).

The goal of good UX is to make it as easy and enjoyable as possible for customers to use your product. This creates an overall superior customer experience, and offering a top-notch customer experience matters, especially for creators looking to compete in a crowded market.

Gartner found more than two-thirds of companies compete primarily based on customer experience, up from only 36% in 2010. Plus, 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience.

Offering an MVP of your membership to beta testers helps you create that great customer experience and further validate your business idea. You get a sense of whether people are willing to pay for your membership and receive valuable feedback.

What you include in your MVP will depend on the membership model you choose.

Let’s say you plan to build a content cache membership. Signing up for this membership gives customers convenient access to your entire content library.

Take Whistle and Ivy’s Endless Bundle, for example.

For a fixed price of $87/year, Whistle and Ivy’s “All-Access Crochet Pattern Pass” offers subscribers:

  • The entire Whistle and Ivy patterns library

  • Full video pattern tutorials

  • Graphics and worksheets

  • A community of like-minded crocheters

  • Private VIP Facebook group

The content cache model is all about easy access to an already-published collection of content.

With that in mind, your MVP doesn’t need to include all of the membership site content under the sun. Just include the bare minimum content to teach one tangible skill or solve one basic problem.

An MVP for Whistle and Ivy might include a few of their most popular crochet patterns with their accompanying video tutorials. Early members can get a feel for the teaching style, content, and how the membership site works.

For more MVP tips and tricks, check out this guide to creating a prototype for your digital product.

Once you build your MVP, share it with the people who signed up in step three, and ask them to take your membership site for a spin. Then, you’re ready to move on to our fifth and final step: Getting — and acting on — member feedback.

Step #5: Ask for (and act on) feedback

Feeling a little bit of deja vu? Just like in step one, setting your membership site up for success means listening to your audience.

Your audience wants to share their feedback with you. 90% of consumers have a more favorable view of businesses that ask them for feedback.

Stopping to ask for and integrate feedback may feel like it’s slowing you down, but it’s critical for making your membership site the best it can be.

Reuven Lerner learned this lesson after gathering feedback that his students enjoyed his course, but found it too long at over four hours. Based on that early feedback, Reuven chose to break his courses into smaller, more targeted lessons.

If you don’t have a ton of users to reach out to for feedback, don’t worry. According to Jeff Sauro of MeasuringU, testing just five users can turn up 85% of the usability problems in a product.

That means that this step can be as simple as asking five people to test out your bare-bones membership. As they do, ask them to document how they interact with your membership and share their thoughts on the visual design, content, and usability.

To gather feedback, use the same survey tools from step one, or ask your customers to hop on a five-minute phone call to share their feedback.

Ask questions like:

  • Is everything easy to understand and navigate?

  • Is the content valuable to you?

  • What would you like to see added or changed?

  • What do you like the most about the membership? The least?

Then, apply that feedback in the next iteration of your MVP. You’ll probably need to release several versions of your MVP to create the best possible experience for your members.

Once you test multiple MVPs, you’ll have the information you need to build the best product possible and launch a successful membership site.

Bottom line:

Developing a new product is a cycle. The more you work with your audience, the more you can iterate on your membership site until you’re ready to launch something that your members — and your sales numbers — will love.

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Set yourself up for membership site success

You might have a fantastic idea for a membership site, but you won’t know for sure until you validate your membership idea.

To recap, here are five steps to choose and validate your membership idea:

  • Define your target audience and get to know them. What are their pain points and goals? When in doubt, ask them directly.

  • Don’t be afraid of a competitive market. Competition means that there’s demand for products like your membership, and you can learn a lot about your audience and opportunities in the market through competitor analysis.

  • Build a landing page and start collecting email signups for your membership. You can even offer free content to give subscribers a taste of what’s to come.

  • Create a minimum viable product (MVP) for your beta users to test. Your MVP should include bare-bones content and features of your full membership.

  • Ask your beta users for their feedback on your MVP. Integrate their feedback into new iterations of your membership. Remember that product development is linear, so there are always opportunities to learn from your members and improve your membership.

When you put in the time and effort to validate and test your membership idea, your hard work will pay off in the form of recurring income and a membership community your audience will love.

Now get out there and turn that membership idea into a reality.

A portrait of Rachel Burns

About the author

Rachel is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and communities scale with their creators. When she’s not writing, you can find her rescuing dogs, baking something, or extolling the virtue of the Oxford comma.