How to build a beloved membership community


    What you will learn

    Creating truly transformative learning experiences for your students requires a lot of intentional behind-the-scenes work. Circle experts Jordan Godbey and Tom Ross have been there, and done it. In this AMA session, they share their tried-and-tested strategies for creating and launching successful community-powered courses. This masterclass is a must-watch for anyone looking to leverage the power of community to transform their course experience.

    You’ll learn:

    • The key benefits of community-powered courses over the traditional video-based model
    • Strategies for effectively onboarding students, making the course engaging and offering additional community touchpoints that set your students up for success
    • How to manage the workload of building your course curriculum
    • The most common challenges in creating and launching community-powered courses, and how to overcome them


    This masterclass on “How to Build a Beloved Membership Community” was conducted by none other than Jay Clouse, an expert in community building, accomplished writer, podcaster, and renowned Circle expert. The session was a deep dive into the intricate process of launching a paid membership community, offering valuable insights on how to create a platform where members genuinely enjoy spending their time.

    Jay emphasizes the significance of defining the purpose of your membership community and making it clear to its members. He states, “A defined purpose is like a lighthouse, guiding your members through the vast ocean of content and interactions.” This essential step forms the backbone of any successful community.

    One of the key takeaways from the session was the value of human connection and peer-to-peer networking. As Jay put it, “In an increasingly digital world, the human touch becomes the ultimate luxury.” He highlights the need for fostering a sense of belonging and mutual support among members, which can significantly enhance member retention.

    Another crucial point discussed was the role of transformation in attracting and retaining members. According to Jay, “People join communities not just for what they are today, but for what they can become tomorrow.” This underscores the importance of providing avenues for personal and professional growth within the community.

    Jay also stresses the benefits of investing in the people who invest in your membership. He further explains the power of a tight feedback loop and using the community for idea validation. In his words, “Your community is a goldmine of insights. Listen, iterate, and grow together.” This approach can help in continually refining the community experience based on real-time feedback.

    The session also touched upon the potential of a membership community to serve as a breeding ground for new content and ideas. Jay noted, “Communities are organic and dynamic. They can surprise you with the richness and diversity of ideas they can produce.”

    The appreciation for low-fidelity interactions was another interesting point. Jay observed, “Not every interaction in a community needs to be a grand event. Sometimes, the most meaningful connections happen in quiet, simple exchanges.”

    Lastly, Jay addresses the potential of a membership community to generate recurring revenue, making it a financially-rewarding venture. By watching this session, community builders will gain practical strategies and real-life examples to guide them in their journey of building a thriving membership community. Learn how to define the purpose of their community, create a strong onboarding process, foster human connection, and provide value to members. This knowledge can lead to personal growth and professional enhancement, making it a truly enriching experience.

    About Jay Clouse

    Jay Clouse is serial community builder who helps people become professional creators. He is the founder of Creator Science and the host of the Creator Science podcast. He recently created his Build A Beloved Membership course, and he previously led Pat Flynn and Smart Passive Income’s Community Experience team, designing their paid membership community and cohort-based course programs.

    Tom's Image
    Jay Clouse
    Founder of Creator Science


    Emma Catranis: Today’s masterclass is all about launching a paid membership community. We are joined today by the wonderful Jay Clouse. He is a Circle Expert, a writer, podcaster, community builder, and he’s focused on helping people build their platforms as creatives. So he has tons and tons of experience building communities, both in person and online, and currently runs a community called the Creative Companion Club. And he’s also our latest Circle Expert. So he has a lot of great experience helping folks identify the value of their community, and then messaging that as well.

    And so today’s session really is going to be all about constructing your membership and making it a place that members love to spend their time. But we are in good hands today, so I’m gonna stop sharing my screen and I’ll pass it over to Jay.

    Jay Clouse: Awesome. Well, I will grab the baton and begin sharing my screen. You seeing that? Okay? Awesome. Well, hey guys, my name is Jay. Really excited to be here with you all today. As Emma said, my business is called Creative Companion. I’m helping people become full-time professional creators. I start with my podcast called Creative Elements, where I interview a lot of really high profile successful creators like James Clear and Pat Flynn, Tori Dunlap, Cody Sanchez.

    It’s a lot of fun, and as Emma said, I’m also a Circle Expert. So after today’s session, if you have follow-up questions or wanna chat with me, you can find me in Circle. You can even hire me to help you if you would like. But I wanna start by going back to 2012, which is when I hosted and attended actually, my first attending, a Startup Weekend event Has anybody here done a Startup Weekend event? I’d love to hear in the chat if you have taken part in Startup Weekend, which is a big, big part of my life and history. Super awesome. Camila says, yes, awesome. That’s me there in the center. That event completely changed my life. And that is not hyperbole. That is not me exaggerating. That event changed my life because that event changed my community.

    I was finishing up college at the time, and I didn’t have a lot of people around me who cared about business or entrepreneurship. And that event really changed that. A lot of my close friends I met at that event, including Suzy, together we co-organized like a dozen Startup Weekend events in Columbus. And each one of these events would have more than a hundred people show up. So very, very quickly, I was really building, a pretty sizable network for myself here locally.

    Then 2017, as I was building my own business and went out on my own, I created a company called Unreal Collective. And really that company was facilitated mastermind groups. We did a lot of Zoom calls. Back then in 2017, I had to explain what Zoom was and how to download it, which is kind of crazy to think about. In 2022, started with Google Meet and really didn’t like that. So we used Zoom and we had a Slack channel on the backend to stick in touch, stay in touch between those live sessions.

    At the time, I had a friend of mine tell me, I feel like your superpower is creating community, which I totally shrugged off because to me it was like, well, I’m just connecting people. I don’t know if community is something people really care about and talk about, I’m just connecting people and helping them get results. 

    Fast forward to 2020 and the world shuts down. That community that I had built, that program that I had built was acquired by Pat Flynn and the Smart Passive Income team, and they brought me in to help build SPI Pro, their paid membership community.

    That’s me on the far left. These pictures were taken in October of last year with a full team. It was a really awesome experience and we built a really remarkable community over at SPI with SPI Pro because we were very, very early adopters of Circle.

    So you guys are in the right place. You’ve chosen an incredible tool. Full disclosure, I’m a Circle fan boy. My community is on Circle, the Creative Companion Club. I’m really enjoying it. I have a free community called Freelancing School that was built on Circle. So J plus Circle forever.

    And the way that I think about community and the way that you probably think about communities too, if you’re here, to me, community is a peer-to-peer network. The word community gets co-opted and thrown around a lot of ways, but I wanna make sure we’re using the same vocabulary here. When I think about and talk about community, I’m talking about a peer-to-peer network.

    For a lot of creators, their ecosystem looks like this. It’s them at the top, and they have all of these one-to-one relationships and interactions with people who don’t necessarily know the other people who are also getting that same message. We’re starting to see this rise of curation where people are looking to the creator as someone who can aggregate a bunch of information and, you know, make recommendations.

    But to be a community builder, you’re really connecting the nodes in your audience. It’s really about connecting people to each other, and that’s a lot of the value that you’re driving. So a peer-to-peer network, a true community to me, is not a broadcast channel. There can be some broadcast messages, but it should not be built as a broadcast channel.

    It should generate value from other members within the community. And the community itself is in service to the nodes. It’s in service to the people within the community who make up that network who are trading that value with each other.

    A lot of people use the phrase paid community when they’re talking about community as a product. For the purpose of this presentation, the way that I talk about paid communities is I actually use the term membership. That’s why this presentation is called Building a Beloved Membership. I don’t say paid community, I say membership.

    There’s a lot of similarities and some key differences. To me, communities promise connection. So do memberships, but memberships, first and foremost promise value. You’re paying for some form of value that you’re expecting to receive from that membership.

    It’s kinda like a jobs to be done framework. What is the job that someone is hiring your membership to accomplish for them? In communities, the value comes from members in memberships, the value can come from other members, it can come from the creator and come from access to certain things. It can come from a lot of places.

    What I find is for memberships, often one of the biggest value propositions and key value drivers is the community space. But there might be other aspects of your membership that are valuable that our people are paying for access to as well. Like workshops, like discounts on your other courses or discounts on software or additional free content from you, or the ability to become an affiliate for that community.

    Those are all things that the value is not driven from the community members, but it is valuable and part of the membership nonetheless. So at a high level, I think of memberships as a product. A community may be a core value proposition of that product, but a lot of memberships don’t require community interaction at all.

    Think about your Netflix subscription. You could think of that as a membership. Peloton could be a membership, not necessarily community interaction that’s driving that. So this is just me sharing some terminology because as I go through this presentation, I’m gonna be using the term membership and I wanted to make sure we are on the same page as to what I think about that.

    Now, personally, the biggest driver of revenue in my business these days is my membership, of which the biggest core value proposition is the community. So if that sounds like something you’re interested in exploring, that’s what I wanna talk about today.

    Why should you build a membership? Why should you create something that is a paid, a paid product that includes community interaction? Reasons that I love building a membership: You can invest more deeply in the people who invest in you. It’s a really great way for you to identify who are my biggest fans, who are my biggest supporters, who want extra support and access to me because they are paying to opt into that group.

    And that helps you identify, okay, these people, I’m just going to absolutely pour as much love and attention and help on as I can. And to me, as a creator, that’s really, really valuable. It also gives you a really tight feedback loop for your ideas.

    When you have something that you want to introduce to your broader audience, you can first pilot that idea or within your membership. Over the last month or so, I’ve actually been working on a rebrand of my business, including the community and every step of the branding process I have shared within the community to get feedback on every step of the way.

    And that’s been awesome because they’re along for the ride. I’m building buy-in with my biggest fans to understand like, why is Jay doing this? And it’s not just like some big switch that’s scary and hard to say. They actually feel like they’ve co-created that switch with me, which is awesome and gives me really, really quick high fidelity feedback from people who understand me and my business better than anything else.

    It can be a breeding ground for new content and ideas, people asking questions, looking for support while you can serve them and answer their specific question in your membership, that might become a content idea for your broader newsletter or YouTube channel or something like that.

    I find that in memberships, low fidelity is actually appreciated. And what I mean by that is, as creators, we often feel like we need to have really highly produced stuff, content. You know, we need to be camera ready, we need to look really good. We need to turn on the 4K camera and the studio lights and make a really, really great video in a membership. People actually appreciate you just flipping on the Loom in your living room and maybe your hair is in a shower towel.

    Like you’re just answering that question being helpful and you’re being yourself. People appreciate that because they want to be closer to you. They want to feel like they are in more of an insider group. And that type of throwing, you know, production value to the wind is appreciated.

    And of course, memberships done well can be really lucrative. As I said, my membership is about four months old. My business is already doing really well and that membership has become the biggest revenue driver in my business. So it’s been a big positive experience for me.

    And in a way it can resemble monthly recurring revenue or annual recurring revenue like SaaS. There’s some big differences there. So I would caution you, I’m thinking about that too, too much. But, it can resemble that, that type of revenue, which is pretty powerful.

    Alright, so hopefully I’ve gotten you on board with why a membership is valuable if you didn’t already come into this thinking that it was. So let’s talk about how to build a membership that your members love. They renew, they come back time and time again.

    I will preach over and over and over again how important it is to really focus on the purpose of your membership. What is your purpose for this thing? Why does it exist? What are we hiring your community to do for us? What is the promise that you’re making with your community? This is me asking the same question in a bunch of different ways, but it’s really important.

    We’re getting to a point where it’s honestly not enough to say this is a place for like-minded individuals to come and connect. There are numbers of those growing all the time. Why is your place for like-minded individuals better than the others? You know, why should we choose yours? Especially if it’s a membership, something they have to pay to access. Why would I choose to do that? What is the job to be done?

    What is the transformation that your community, your membership is going to take me on? I think those promises really come down to one of three things. The first two of which are a lot more consciously understood by people.

    The first one being human connection. Yes. Like, while I don’t think it’s sufficient to say this is a place for like-minded individuals, it is still necessary. People have to believe that when I join this membership, when I join this community, I am going to be surrounded by people that I want to meet, learn from, collaborate with, whatever it is. Again, at the core of community, it’s this interaction between people. So we care about that human connection. That might still be one of the biggest driving factors as to why people are joining you.

    I really think it comes down to transformation more often than not. What is the journey this person is going on? It’s usually like from A to B, where is that A? What is that B that you’re promising to get them to, and why should they believe that your membership is going to help them get there?

    Jamie, I saw your question there. URL is actually community dot freelancing dot school. What is the transformation that you are taking people on that they can trust? You’ll get them to a better place than where they started.

    And the third promise that I see some communities making, even though this is a lot more implicit than explicit, um, people enjoy learning about themselves and finding a sense of identity. And the easiest way to talk about this is actually to kinda show you some examples.

    So during the most recent election when Andrew Yang was running for president, he kind of pioneered leveraging emojis on social media for people to identify with a movement and with an idea, you would suddenly see people all over Twitter with this blue cap next to their name. And that was shorthand for saying, this is a set of beliefs and ideals that I support and I identify with.

    But we’ve seen that flow into other communities. OnDeck, the OnDeck Fellowship, people who went through that cohort based course and joined that community, they added often the number of the cohort they went through. You see ODF7, ODF7, ODF7. People who so closely identified with being in the OnDeck community that they’re using the scarce 160 characters of their bio to say, this is me. This is something that’s important to me. This is something you can know about me or infer about me by seeing this.

    And we see it with Ship 30 for 30 as well. You see, everybody who joins Ship 30 will add this ship to their name and identify with it. People want to feel like they’re a part of something. And if your membership not only is taking them on a transformation, but making them feel like they’re a part of something that is very, very valuable and something that people really appreciate if you do it well.

    How are you different? How is your membership different and how can you prove that quickly? Again, a common common mistake here is just not defining your purpose. Because if you are a creator, and let’s say you even have an audience, you have an audience on social media or YouTube or email, you might have the thought, well, I have people who love my work, Circle’s an amazing community tool, I’m just gonna throw my people at that tool and a community will happen, and awesome—monthly recurring revenue. I honestly see a lot of creators do that mental math. And it’s not, like, completely incorrect, but if you don’t define the purpose for your community and make explicit for people who are learning about your community or your membership, what they can expect, they will make a lot of assumptions.

    And suddenly your purpose is all kinds of things. We will close the loop with our own assumptions as to what I’m going to get outta this membership. And if you don’t tell me, and I’m making an assumption, you as the community builder have no idea what my assumption is, which means you have no way of knowing if you’re successful or not in fulfilling that promise that I have made for you to myself.

    Now you’re being hired for a lot of different jobs and it’s really hard to do everything for everyone. You’ll have people who will churn, you’ll wonder why. And it’s because they had an assumption that was incorrect and you didn’t know that, but you didn’t set that expectation upfront.If you’re clear upfront, you know how to succeed with your members, you know how to deliver on the promise that you’re making because it’s your promise. And it’s not a promise they are assuming. How’s everybody doing? Is everybody keeping up? Is this all making sense? Feeling good? I see some thumbs up. Awesome.

    I wanna talk about onboarding. I assume you’ve probably seen other people in the community talk about onboarding, but it’s so important. So I’m gonna take some time to talk about it again in the way that I think about it. And in a lot of ways, given my experience building in-person community with Startup Weekend, I like to draw parallels to in-person real life community. 

    An example for great onboarding I like to give is CrossFit or a fitness gym. Generally when you join a CrossFit gym, you typically show up to a location and you immediately get shown around the space. There’s probably somebody at the front desk right by the front door whose job is to show you around the space to make you comfortable there. As you’re going around the space, you’re probably gonna get introduced to other people who are physically inhabiting that space. So now not only are you seeing those places, but you’re starting to build relationships. You’re trying to feel more comfortable. Those people are probably greeting with a smile. They might be shaking your hand all the while you’re feeling more and more connected to this space. You probably get trained on the tools. They’ll probably show you, hey, here are the machines, here are the dumbbells, here’s how to use them. Especially when you start taking classes and you’re doing these crazy, dangerous, terrifying overhead lifts, they’re gonna show you how to do that so you don’t hurt yourself and that you feel confident using the things you had invested your money to be able to use. 

    All while there’s probably somebody, again whose job it is, or maybe it’s a friend of yours, right by your side the entire time showing you around, giving you, you know, a lay of the land, being your friend, being your mentor. And soon, if you actually invest your time in that gym, you will see literal physical transformation. And that’s powerful. When you can see and experience the transformation that this thing is promised to you and you can see, okay, there’s a change in me that’s really, really powerful. That’s when people start identifying with the space. You know, that’s when they start saying, I’m a CrossFitter, or I’m a vegan. You know, those people see results and they’re like, this is awesome and I’m gonna talk about it. That’s really powerful. You may even change the way that you think about yourself. So in that example, you see great onboarding, you see connection to people happening along the way. You see transformation towards the goal that you have for yourself. And you might begin to identify with that space. So the goals for onboarding I would give you for your membership, for your community. As people are jumping into the space, remind them why they are here early and often. Continue to hammer on that purpose. Let them know this is what we are here to achieve together. 

    For my community, the Creative Companion Club, the purpose of that community is to help people become professional creators. They’re creators who are already actively creating things, publishing things. They have a little bit of an audience but that might not be financially supported yet. The transformation I’m helping them go on is from everyday creator to professional creator. That is the purpose. And I remind them of that all through the onboarding process, all through interacting with me. This is what we’re doing here. The goal of interacting with this space and putting your time here is to get to this outcome.

    You wanna make them feel comfortable all along the way. If I am confused, I am scared or I feel stupid, and if I feel stupid, I will disengage. And it’s so hard to re-engage somebody who disengages.

    Lemme give you another example. We’ve probably all gone to a local meetup in our city. Drive across town, maybe have a 10 to 20 minute commute. You walk in the door, you immediately look around for somebody that you know, you look for a familiar face. You look for the safety blanket person that you can go next to. And if nothing else, you know, this person will help me get through this.

    In the real world, if you went across town, you went into a space you didn’t see anybody and nobody greeted you, people still see you and you’re less likely to just walk out the door because that’s embarrassing. And people saw you online. If you go into a digital space and you’re uncomfortable and you don’t know what to do and you’re confused or you feel stupid, you can just click the red X. No one knew you were there, you’ll probably never come back. It wasn’t a good experience.

    So your onboarding needs to make them feel comfortable in that space. You also wanna start answering the question. Now, what over and over and over again. Walk through your onboarding process all along the way, someone’s gonna say, what do I do next?

    And meanwhile, we’re getting notifications from Slack. We’re getting text messages, we’re getting phone calls, we’re getting emails. We’re constantly getting bombarded and distracted. And if your onboarding isn’t clear, now what do you do to get you to this point in transformation or get you to a point where you feel like you’re on the road to transformation? You might lose them just because it’s a distracting world.

    So you need to have dialed in. All along the way, every action they take, answer the question. Now what do I do until they achieve what I call this magic moment where it feels like, yes, I’ve made the right decision, I’m comfortable here, I see the path forward and my decision to join this membership is reinforced positively. You want to get them on that road to transformation.

    So what are some examples of answering the question? Now what do I do? One that I love is, okay, I joined. Now what? Schedule our welcome call. Do a one-on-one with me as the community creator or the community manager. Okay, I scheduled that. Now what, here’s a couple steps. You should do a little bit of pre-work. You know, here’s a little bit of, I call it a starting snapshot in our, in our community. Here’s a five to 10 minute starting snapshot. Fill this out. This will actually give you some badges on your profile and let me know what you’re trying to get outta this community.

    Okay? Now what? Set up your profile. You need to have a good photo, you need to have a bio. You wanna add your social profiles so that people can connect with you.

    Okay, now what? Glad you asked. Here’s an onboarding checklist. You should read our code of conduct. Take our virtual tour, get shown around the space, download the mobile app so you can be connected on the go. Alright, I did that. Now what? Introduce yourself. You have your bio, your profile looks great. Make sure you say hello.

    Now what? We have a kickoff event coming up. We have a live event where you’re gonna meet other people. Make sure you RSVP for that. You know, you can just keep going down deeper and deeper and deeper. I’m trying to get people to continue through onboarding until they have a direct one-to-one connection with somebody else in the community. And at a base level, that’s at least gonna be me cause we scheduled a welcome call.

    Here’s a look at what my onboarding looks like. When you join my membership, I land you on a page. I say, welcome to the Creative Companion Club. Please take 10 to 15 minutes right now to finish onboarding and get your account set up. And I even recorded a custom video just for this step.

    Great. There’s a button below that says, next. I have them schedule a welcome call with me. Amazing. Now I know if they drop off at this point, I will at least have a call with them. And I can say, by the way, I saw you didn’t introduce yourself. Make sure you do that. You know, anything that gets lost after the step, I can make up for that deficit by having a really great one-on-one with them and letting them know what next steps should be.

    After they schedule that, they get into the community. And again, in Circle, I have a video just for this step, a little onboarding modal says, Hey, welcome. So glad you found your way here. This is, the community is made for people like you who are serious about finding creative independence. This is an unfair advantage, yada yada. Start here.

    Okay, I click that button. Now what? Got another video for you. Here’s what you should do next. You know, it’s, I’m trying to mimic this experience of joining a gym or something else where there’s someone right next to you. I want you to feel like I am right next to you the entire time, the entire way through this.

    And by the way, some interesting feedback I got on this. I batch record these videos at first, this welcome video and then this video, and then this video. And I was wearing the same shirt with the same background color and the feedback I got from people as they thought that it was the same video. So I had to make some subtle changes in these so people knew it was a different video all along the way.

    So that’s the start here space that I have. I tell ’em what to do next. I say, hey, bookmark this page. Complete your profile. Read our rules and expectations. Take the virtual tours, set up our mobile apps, introduce yourself to the group. I walk them through that with these actual posts inside the start here space. You’ve probably seen some really good examples of this on Circle. People are doing a really good job with this.

    I go so far in the virtual tour, they have a channel guide below it also. And I link to ’em and I say, here, what these channels are for. Because again, if you don’t know how to use this, if you don’t know how to use the space, you’re not gonna feel comfortable. You’re probably gonna leave. Now, this is really important. When somebody introduces themselves, this is often the spot that people get to is they’ll join a community, they’ll introduce themselves.

    People really underestimate or undervalue the amount of effort and vulnerability it takes to post, uh, an introduction to yourself to a bunch of strangers who don’t know you. So people often spend 5, 10, 15 minutes writing an elegant post or recording a video where they’re moving in real time saying, here’s who I am here, what I’m, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish, here’s what I wanna get outta this group and get no response.

    And that’s a horrible experience. Can you imagine just stepping in front of a group of people and saying, hey, I’m Jay. Here are my hopes and goals and dreams, and everybody just looks at you and then does a 180 and turns their back on you. That’s what it feels like when you have introductions that don’t get responses.

    So as a community creator, you need to be that person to at least make them feel welcome right away. So I take this very, very seriously and my goal is as quickly as possible when somebody posts, I’m gonna be the first comment. I hope that other members of the community jump in and beat me to it. And over time they get better and better at that.

    But I wanna be the first person to jump in there and say, yes, thank you. And also Justin here, when he introduced himself, he introduced himself in video. I commented right away, video intros are 100% my preference. Thanks for setting the tone.

    You know what happened with, I think it was like 10 of the next 12 introductions were video and before that, not many were video. So what’s this show? This shows that when somebody does, when somebody has behavior that you appreciate and want to reinforce, call it out. Literally appreciate it. Show people that this is what is appreciated. It was an incredible precedent. And still to this day when somebody joins, I think 90% of the time it’s video. Incredible.

    So bonus tips for these intro posts, when somebody posts, tag others in a response because now you’re making a one-to-one connection. They, I don’t wanna say feel obligated, but almost feel obligated to follow up on that. Because if you are the person who knows these people the best and you’re saying, oh wow, you should talk to Jim, Jim’s gonna say, well, Jay must know something about this person. Why he would connect to us.

    I’m gonna take him up on that. They’re probably gonna have a call or a DM and they’re gonna talk about, hey, how did you find this place? How’s your experience been so far? How do you know Jay? It’s all gonna be positive reinforcement of why your membership and your community is a positive thing or why you as a creator are really helpful. So make those connections.

    And then what I like to do is also in my comments to welcome people is say, so glad you’re here by the way. We have office hours this week on Thursday. We’d love for you to jump into an upcoming office hours to say hello. Introduce yourself. Make that personal invitation to feel like, okay, yeah, I will do that.

    But when they join, say, hey Kim, it’s your first time here. I would love for you to introduce yourself to the folks here. ’cause you’re new to these people and you’re building these connections one by one, brick by brick.

    People love communities for the people and you can help form those relationships. So if you have a clear purpose and great onboarding, that’s gonna be a great experience. Simple math, it’s not quite algebra, but to me it’s simple math. If you have a clear purpose and great onboarding, you’re setting yourself up to have a great experience.

    If you add to that giving people early results on the path to transformation that they are joining your membership for, that’s gonna lead to retention. If you give them a great experience and early results, they’re gonna stick around, they’re gonna renew, they’re gonna come back, they’re really gonna appreciate the space. They’re going to identify with the space.

    Jamie, that’s a great question. I will be sure to answer that in the Q&A section. So I’ll go for a few more minutes here and then we’ll do some Q&A. I wanna talk about encouraging participation because this is a pain point for a lot of community builders. Hey, it’s quiet my community, not a lot of people interacting. What do I do?

    My goal and rule is when someone makes an effort that needs to feel rewarding, posting your community is making an effort. Commenting is making an effort, sending a direct message is making an effort. If I make that effort and I don’t feel like that was rewarded with the outcome I was looking for, which is often just acknowledgement or response.

    And often like in a helpful timeframe, you know, if people are asking questions to your community, they want that answer five minutes ago. They don’t wanna wait two days. If they have the impression that when I ask questions in your community, it takes two days to get a response, they’re gonna find somewhere that gives them shorter time periods.

    It needs to feel rewarding. People don’t usually measure what I call gratification, which is just like, does this feel rewarding? Does my effort get rewarded? People don’t measure that. They measure engagement because it’s close. It’s hard to measure gratification without doing some qualitative research and asking community members how are they feeling?

    Engagement’s easy to measure because you can quantify it with input numbers, you know, number of posts, number of comments. But in my opinion, engagement serves you as a community builder, not necessarily member. And I know it’s easy to think, well if numbers go up, people are happy. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The question is, does that help them towards transformation?

    If I am posting and making comments in your community, is that helping me towards transformation or are you just keeping me busy? You know, I’m a fan of rituals, especially rituals that people appreciate. But there are a lot of people who join communities and memberships who are type A people who are completionists who want to answer the questions that they’re asked.

    So if you, if you say like, hey, share your wins this week. Some people love that, some people need to reflect on that, some people see that as another task on their to-do list and it’s not necessarily making them happier. So you need to figure out the balance for your community and what’s really helping them and what’s keeping them busy.

    I’d love to give here in SPI Pro, one of the first things we did was launch a mastermind program. We helped match members into small groups, let them self govern and chat usually on video, usually on Zoom outside of Circle because this is over a year ago.

    What we saw was engagement from pure, like Circle numbers went down after we introduced masterminds. Retention of paid members went way up. You can see it. Well, I’m no longer with SPI, so I won’t show the actual data and the actual graph as I had planned. But it was shown in our retention data. After masterminds happened, retention went way up, engagement went down.

    So, what does that feel like? Does that feel good to us? Yes. It was like retention is the closest pure data-driven metric of our people appreciating this membership. And if pure number of posts and comments went down, that was okay. We were there to help people and to provide gratifying experiences.

    So what provides gratification to a member? Responses to their questions, direct messages, solutions to their problems, all of that as quickly as possible. The quicker you’re able to give them these things, the more gratified they feel. We want to be seen. We want to experience a payoff to our effort and we want that to happen as quickly as possible.

    And you need to model that as a community builder before other members will embody it on your behalf. You need to be the person who’s welcoming people quickly. You need to be the person who’s answering questions quickly. You’ll start to build a culture of other people doing that. But you need to get the ball rolling.

    Which is a lot of work. It’s a lot of time, it’s a lot of effort. So some concluding thoughts here. And then we’ll do some Q&A. Memberships differ between that and a community. Memberships to me are a paid product with several potential value propositions. Community, maybe one of them or all of them. You need to have a clear purpose so that you know how to succeed with your members. Onboarding sets you up for success with your members. The faster you start building relationships between members, the better.

    There are four pricing models and if we wanna talk about this, I do have slides on this. So we can talk about that if you want in the Q&A. And pricing. When you think about pricing, again, we can talk about pricing if people want. That’s very audience specific. There’s no golden rule as to how to price things.

    Adam, I see your question. Is there a way to get our hands on these slides? Here it is. If you go to, that will get you the slides.

    I saw a question from Jamie a moment ago that I want to answer. Jamie asked, “Can you explain these features in your community? Access to shared focus, friends, monthly hot seats and monthly behind the scenes retros?” So Jamie has clearly looked at my sales page for the membership.

    Let me see if I actually have a photo of any of that. I do. Okay. So this is part of my homepage. This is actually the core value proposition that I built my membership around because as I was thinking about the transformation, I’m taking people on helping them go from everyday creators to professional creators.

    Having a business that supports them as a creator, I didn’t think I could accomplish that with a single prerecorded course. Like, here’s two hours of content, now you’re gonna be a professional creator. I didn’t honestly think I could do that for people. I also didn’t feel like I could make curriculum to do like a four week live cohort based course and have that be the full transformation.

    So to me, a membership is actually the perfect product solution for that transformation because it takes time. So if you, if you’re taking people on a journey, if you’re trying to get them to an outcome, that’s gonna take a lot of time and a lot of effort from them and there’s gonna be a lot of challenges along the way. I think a membership is actually a really great delivery mechanism for that.

    So in our community, I have what I call shared focus sprints. And these are two to four week live experiences that are only available to members of my community. It resembles a cohort-based course where I will have a goal upfront that we’re all trying to accomplish. The first one we did was creating a high converting sales or landing page. The second sprint we did was creating a signature lead magnet.

    Next week we’re starting our third sprint and that’s focused on developing an introductory offer or initial offer. Basically the first paid product beyond the lead magnet. And what I do is I have videos that I’ll create in the community, upload that, and that kind of gets them started. And then we’ll have a live session every week. First session is usually an ideation session. We’ll have a couple of feedback sessions and we’ll have a showcase at the end.

    And all along the way we have a dedicated space inside a circle where people can ask questions or upload their progress and share that. So that’s a shared focus sprint. That’s literally like the biggest value proposition that I give for the membership is you join this and all year long we’re going to be doing these short term sprints based on projects that you’re going to need to accomplish and have in place to be a professional creator.

    She also asked about hot seats and retros. Lemme talk about retros first. Cause I actually have a little bit around that too. As a professional creator, I get a lot of questions about decisions that I’m making. So every month for my members, I record a 30 minute walkthrough video where I literally walk through my personal profit and loss statement.

    Like I go through my actual accounting numbers and say, here’s how the business performed, here are my goals for last month. Here’s what I accomplished. Here are the good things that happened. Here are the things I’m concerned about and here are the decisions I’m making because of all of this.

    And these are super, super popular cause it’s just 30 minutes of real honest, here are decisions that I’m making for my business and here are how things are going. I didn’t feel comfortable exposing that to my broader audience because there are some secrets and vulnerable things in there. But for people who are investing to this level with my membership, they really care and I want to trust them and, and care for that.

    So I do that and people really like that. I don’t think I have a slide about hot seats, but this is a really good insight too. So hot seats are a 30 minute one-on-one coaching session that I do with other members. One individual member for 30 minutes. I record that and I upload that to watch later.

    And so the requirements are I’ll hold space for four to six hot seats per month. It’s kind of first come first serve, but you have to come to me with a specific problem you’re trying to solve. And I prioritize people who haven’t done a hot seat before. So it’s great because I let people come and watch the hot seats live and they can chat and ask questions.

    But when I put it in the events calendar, it’s very, very clear what we’ll be discussing in that session. I have office hours too, and office hours are great for people to come and hang out and ask questions, but the feedback I got from office hours was people who are busy don’t often know what they’re gonna get out of it unless you do the work of fielding questions and writing an agenda ahead of time. So hot seats, I can literally title the event, like here’s the specific problem we’re gonna be solving and the replays too. The recordings, I can title that in a very specific way so they actually become like community generated workshops that people who join,

    I have people joining now who are building membership communities and I say, by the way, you should watch these three hot seats with other people who have built membership communities where we talked about pricing, where we talked about getting your first members or we talked about re-engaging a quiet membership. It’s awesome. It’s so, so great.

    Some of the most valuable stuff that we do there. Okay, more questions and I’ll go back to that screen that had the link to the slides if anybody wants or needs it. Da da da. Okay. Heather asks, how much time are you spending on a computer? A lot, honestly, Heather.

    I mean my business is totally online and I treat it like a job. So I’m typically working usually between the hours of like eight and 6PM. I don’t do a whole lot of answering questions in the evening. Sometimes I will, but it’s just cause I want to. But I don’t feel like I’m a slave to the membership, but I was very, very intentional in how I designed the membership.

    So I wouldn’t feel that way because I think that can be a risk. So it’s priced at a thousand dollars per year and I only offer it annually. And I did that because I knew from my audience, uh, a rough estimate of how big that could grow within a year, and I knew that would be financially incentivizing for me to make it awesome. So we have about 93 members now, and yeah, I enjoy spending the time doing it. I spend a lot of time doing it, but no more than I would with a job or doing other things in my business. 

    Tom asked, I currently allow membership after purchasing an online class. Is there a way to convert to a paid membership? Are you asking like, I might need some more context, Tom, I don’t know if you’re asking like the membership is free, so you’re saying anyone who purchases a class has membership, is there a way to make that into a paid membership? And yes, but it’s about, it’s about setting expectations.

    And I think this is really important because a lot of people will have community as an add-on to another paid product, but they’re not being compensated for the effort that it takes to make that community good. And as you’re more successful selling that product, you have more community members that it becomes more work that you’re still not being compensated for. So I really do draw a line between those two things as products, and basically say, if you want community aspect or community support and that product, it’s a paid product.

    You know, I don’t think there’s any reason to not have them as two separate paid products and maybe people who purchase the course get to upgrade to the membership at a discount to just purely the membership. But I would separate those out.

    Kat, who gave me an excellent recommendation on headphone monitors that are arriving in the mail today asked, do you have suggestions to help members who seem to be in motion but not actually taking meaningful action? Wow, that’s a very nuanced, good question. So one, one like core value that I have for my membership Kat is ruthless honesty.

    Because people are paying a lot of money to be there and I know their goal, their goal is to be a professional creator, and I’ve done that path and I know how hard it is and it doesn’t serve them to watch them do things that aren’t going to get them success. So like if I see somebody in motion but not taking meaningful action, I will say, hey, can I give you some brutal, honest feedback?

    And that’s usually greeted with an enthusiastic yes please. And it’s a hard, difficult conversation to have and it’s probably even more difficult to do asynchronously and not have your voice. So if I was gonna deliver that asynchronously, I’d probably do it in video so people can see the pain I feel in telling somebody this.

    But I think you have to level with them if you really want them to get results, which can be scary because it’s like, well, part of me also just wants them to stay here and renew and be happy. And sometimes the hard things don’t necessarily make me happy. It feels good to be in motion, but if you’re trying to get them to that outcome, I think you have to do it.

    Christina says, may have missed it, what’s the approximate size of your community and what’s the average post frequency as creator on the forum? Uh, it’s 93 people. I post, I probably make a new topic post most days, probably average about one per day. A lot of comments, commenting in there pretty frequently.

    But you know, I, I’m really cognizant of, again, I don’t want it to feel like a broadcast channel, so a lot of the stuff that I post will be like, hey, here’s a recording of this month’s retro, or hey, here’s a recording of these two hot seats that I did, or hey, I’m feeling bad today and lemme tell you why, you know, like honest stuff. It’s not like, it’s not engagement farming. and I try to keep it on a like what is genuinely helpful to these people. 

    Joselin asks, what’s the best way to help re help maintain routines? So when it comes to routines and rituals, in my opinion, I really try to keep an ear out for people who are interested in them and then empower them to start them and maintain them because I think it’s easy to create routines to try and get engagement going and try to get things started, but if you lean into it too hard, I think you run the risk of just burning people out, making them feel busy.

    But if it’s coming from a genuine place of, “Hey, I want this, I need this, I want to be accountable in running this,” I try to empower those people and really pour love on them in different ways to incentivize them to keep doing that.

    Danica says are the live sprints recorded? And do people who join your membership now who are behind need the first two sprints to make their transformation get good value doing it on their own? The live sprints are recorded, they live in a dedicated space and I pin the posts and number them. So you can see, like, I call it watch on demand. You can watch through both my pre-recorded content to say, “Here’s how to get started” and the recorded videos of those sprints. Do they need those first two to make their transformation? Depends. Some people come in and they already have high converting pages, they already have lead magnets. They might need different parts of the journey.

    My goal as the membership builder is to have content for all steps on the journey so that when you come in, it’s kind of like a buffet or a menu. And in my onboarding calls I can say, “Well, based on your starting snapshot, based on what you’ve told me here, here are three immediate steps that I recommend taking and I think this sprint would really help you.”

    Fred says pros and cons of one tier versus two tier membership structure? I have two tiers of membership pricing, Fred. I don’t know if you saw that and that’s why you’re asking that. I have a basic membership and I have a VIP membership and the VIP membership is very similar to the basic membership, except all of my courses are also included.

    And you get four one-on-one sessions with me included. Both of them are offered only annually. I really have found that structure to be good. Most people join at the base level, but a lot of people come in and they buy the VIP and it’s like, “Great, I can invest even more of my time in this person who’s shown that they want to support me and invest in me.” That’s awesome. And that one member has the same financial impact to me as two members would. That’s great.

    So I like having that. There’s probably a limit to how many choices you would want to make, like if I also offered monthly membership. So it’s like you can have basic membership annual or monthly or VIP annual or monthly. Now you have four choices. And I think, you know, you start to get to a point where there are too many choices, but having two I think has been net good for me.

    Monique asked what is your advice for starting a membership from scratch? We have a great concept, but don’t have a free community. We want everything to be paid and trying to get people to join is intimidating.

    So you can totally do this. I started my paid membership from scratch. What I did that I would do over and over and over again, I spent a lot of time designing the membership, the experience, and the financial model upfront. I had a spreadsheet where I was actually like, let me make some assumptions based on the number of members that I could drive the price and what that would mean to me from a bottom line, let me do a gut check on whether that’s good or not.

    Because what I didn’t want was in the first three, six months of the membership when I had 20, 30 members, I didn’t wanna resent that membership because it wasn’t a big enough impact to my bottom line to feel good and excited about doing it.

    And I thought about pricing tiers for a long time. I thought about doing it in a way where it’s like, okay, first 10 members get in at this price and then after every 10 members the price doubles or adds a hundred dollars per year or something like that. I played around a lot with the spreadsheet.

    So that requires you to be honest with yourself about how many people can you reach in the immediate term and get them to join? What is the price they’ll be willing to pay? It can be intimidating, but you don’t need a lot of people in the beginning. You need five people to join at the same time at once in the beginning.

    And then you need to make that a great experience. You need to have a lot of, in my opinion, live sessions where they get to meet each other in real time talking and build real strong relationships and build out from there. But if you’re charging $10 per month for those five people and you’re doing a bunch of work for $50 per month might not be worthwhile to you. That’s for you to decide.

    So play around with the financial model based on how many people you think you can honestly reach and convince to join this thing and make sure that’s interesting.

    Joselin asked, do you have a separate talk on monetization? I have some slides here. Joselin, if you go to that website on the page, the and get the slides. I have several slides about pricing models in there. I don’t have anything recorded though, I don’t think.

    Tom added some context: I meant how to add expectations and converting people from something for free and then getting them to pay. That’s a tough conversion. It is a tough conversion. But it’s one you can make. What people don’t like to feel like is that they don’t have options. So anytime I’m making a tough conversion like that where it’s going from free to paid or I’m increasing a price on something, I give a lot of lead time. I say, hey, letting you know this is changing. It’s going from free to paid. It’s happening three months from now. By default you will not be opted into that. Here’s how you can join at a paid level. Thanks for being a course student, you know, and you can be as honest as you want. Like, I think people would understand if you say, I have 400 students in my courses now I can’t sustain this. You know, like, people get it. It’s up to you, but like give them lead time. Make it feel like you’re not springing something on them tomorrow or next week. They want to feel like they were sufficiently warned.

    Jamie asked, do you think you should wait to launch a community till you have an email list or launch it and see who comes? I would definitely have some form of audience who knows about you. And maybe that is like when I was doing Startup Weekend, I had an audience of hundreds of people who I knew cared about startups. They weren’t on an email list, they weren’t necessarily following me on LinkedIn, but I knew who they were and I could reach out to them if I wanted to and say, I’m starting this thing. I think you’d be interested. It’s a paid thing and that’d be fine.

    But you need to have reason to believe that there are people who know you exist who want the thing that you’re making, uh, and launch it to them as opposed to just doing like a, I will build it and hope people come.

    Heather asked what type of creators are in your community? I did a survey. They’re very multifunctional. So a lot of them are doing a combination of newsletter, YouTube, social media, community. I think 66% were email creators. I think there’s almost 50% of them, I’d probably say about 40% of them are doing memberships or communities themselves.

    All of them are active on some form of social media. Some of them are podcasts or some of them are YouTubers. But we don’t have a lot of Twitch streamers. That’s not a creator. We have a lot, don’t have any OnlyFans folks on there. But otherwise it’s pretty spread a lot of course creators, a lot of cohort-based course creators. So there’s like a lot of intersection between memberships and cohort-based course communities.

    Celeste asks, can you talk more about strategies to increase retention over engagement? One more thing I’ll add to this, Celeste, a community misses you when you’re gone. So if you want people to feel connected to that community, and if you want higher retention, you need to somehow notice when they have become disengaged and make them feel missed. And that will create trust and affinity and retention.

    Adam says, what’s your funnel? Freemium to premium? No freemium on the community. My funnel is I have an email list, I have a podcast, I have social media. I like to showcase the stories of members of my community. I like to amplify when members of my community talk about how much they love it.

    Yeah, so it’s like you’re on my email list. I launched this thing. One thing I did when I launched the community, by the way I should talk about this, this might be useful to people, I created the community a month before I launched the community and had people in there.

    I was dropping little breadcrumbs in my social media and my newsletter to say, hey, I’m making a membership. It’s a paid membership for creators to help you become a more successful professional creator. I have nothing else to show for it right now, but it exists. And if you trust me and you wanna join right now, you can join for half off for life.

    And the people who knew me and were paying close attention to me and trusted me, took me up on that offer. And so without a sales page, I had 30 to 40 people join the community. And then I got to run an entire shared focus sprint with that group of people. So when it came time to actually launch the community and build a sales page, it wasn’t a theoretical like this is what this community can and will be. It was just documenting this is what this community is, which was really powerful. And again, really gave me a chance to appreciate the people who were my biggest fans because they’re paying close attention.

    And for me to say, take a leap, trust me, take a risk, you’ll be rewarded with half off for life. It’s a screaming bargain to be able to join the community at $500 per year. And that’s awesome. And those people are some of the most active people still to this day.

    Mila asked, so where do you host your on-demand videos that people access in Circle? I upload them directly to Circle. I take the recordings, usually from Zoom and I upload it directly into Circle so that it’s not able to be shared. Sometimes I’ll record on Loom or a tool called Tella and I’ll embed that into Circle, but that could technically be shared.

    Joselin asked, was discussing your monthly financials a member requested activity or decided just on my own? That was a hunch. I decided to do that on my own and I wanted to see how people responded. And every month people are like, I just took three pages of notes. This is my favorite thing. I wanted to do it generally because I help creators. So the more I can show that to people, I think the more helpful I can be. But I didn’t, like I said, I didn’t wanna go all the way to like showing my bookkeeping to my general email list cause I don’t really know or control who’s seeing that. And there could be bad actors or something, I don’t know, but I didn’t wanna go that far. And so this is a good way for me to do it.

    Heather asked, any artists? Depends what you mean by artist. If you mean like fine artists, uh, like jewelry and physical things like that, not really. But I would say all of them identify as artists, but mostly digital creators.

    Joselin asked, can I share the slides via URL on Twitter? That’s fine. Totally up for that. Thank you.

    Joselin asked, was it lifetime free membership or lifetime discount? It was not lifetime free, it was lifetime discount. It’s half off every year for the lifetime of their membership.

    Michael asked, with trusting Circle that much, what happens if it closes one day, all of it’s lost? Not a concern. I also save them in Dropbox, like I have the raw recordings saved.

    Adam says, where do you host your courses? I have them on Teachable.

    Last question here… well actually we might wanna close things down. Emma, Mathilde, should we say our goodbyes? Is there anything you guys wanna add?

    Emma Catranis: Yeah, I just thank you so much Jay. This was a really great session. Just so everyone knows, we are going to be making the recording of this available in our video library so you can revisit it. But thank you Jay, and thank you everyone for joining.

    Jay Clouse: Awesome. If you guys wanna join the community, you can absolutely do so. If you want to hire me to come in and talk with you about your community, you can do that on my Circle Expert profile, links to all that or here, or you can go to the link on the screen. Thanks everybody.

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