There's a lot more to a paid membership than what people typically see. And it's that whole backend business that Kat Jarman and her team specialize in.
If the admin side of your subscription biz is becoming a chore, this episode is for you. Discover how to take back your proper role as the brains and vision behind your paid membership.
In the interview:
01:31 – A solution for business owners levelling up
03:31 – The stuff that goes on in the back
05:01 – From admin manager to person in charge
06:57 – Running the machine you’ve built
08:51 – The things that Kat’s team provides
10:49 – What would you like to hand off?
12:44 – How to jive with the brand
14:27 – The efforts that make for retention
17:04 – Maintaining a two-way relationship
20:20 – The other things a team can do
23:12 – Wrapping up the episode
If you own a paid membership, you know a lot of exciting things happen in front of house – getting customers, converting customers, even keeping customers. You talk about your membership offer, you talk about what you’re delivering for the membership. It’s all very client and owner-focused.
Then, however, there’s the stuff that happens behind the scenes, and that can be pretty dry. It’s the things that keep the business running, and they’re low-key, sometimes tedious or repetitive, but they have to be done.
A solution for business owners levelling up
James and Kat will be discussing the things that James’s in-house team does, and that Kat’s team does for clients. SuperFastBusiness is building up a lot of successful business owners with a need for skilled admin, and Kat’s offering is a terrific solution.
Now, James has often advocated building one’s own team. He mentions it in his book, Work Less Make More, and has produced a training on How to Recruit Your Next Team Member. He’s also co-owner of a recruitment business that helps people find team members.
“Hands-on leadership is not always practical.”
Much of that, however, is long-term play, needing some hands-on leadership from the business owner. For some, it’s not practical, or not practical just yet. This is where services like Kat’s step in.
In this episode, you’ll hear about the activities that actually need doing in a membership. You can decide from there whether it’s something you want to A) Do by yourself, B) Hire, train and transfer your skills to a team of your own, or C) Have someone do it for you on a contractor basis.
Taking the C option, who knows? You might later revisit option B (hopefully not ever option A).
The stuff that goes on in the back
As an online business management agency, Kat and her team have worked with plenty of membership site owners. It’s one of their favorite types of business to work with, she says.
Not only are memberships awesome businesses, but they have very similar needs. Every membership, for instance, needs a retention strategy. And every membership needs to either be launching, open, or closed. Their sales strategies are quite similar.
Many owners are excited at the start, just because having a membership, and the recurring revenue that comes with it, is so great. After the setup work and the launch, they might have 50 or a hundred members, and things look wonderful. Then the reality of all the work dawns. While doing everything it takes to grow the membership, they find themselves handling all the administration as well.
From admin manager to person in charge
One business Kat has had the pleasure of working with is the Merrymaker sisters. When they first spoke with her, they had a few hundred members. And without them realizing it, their role in the business had become largely admin.
About 75 percent of the sisters’ day-to-day was administration. After a few months working with Kat, that 75 percent was turned over to someone else, with the result that their membership grew by 45 percent. It was a simple matter of deciding, ‘Okay, let’s not be admin managers here. Let’s go back to being the people in charge of our business and in charge of the growth of our business.’
“You don’t have to be all things to all people.”
Looking back to when she had her own membership, Kat wishes she had had the same awakening. She actually closed shop when the day-to-day had become too much. She now knows you don’t have to be all things to all people; just step out of your comfort zone and make the needed changes. Don’t just do the same thing, day in day out.
James concurs. He himself is careful not to take for granted how little admin work he does. His main job is to deliver service, bring in new customers, and keep the clients he has. He makes podcasts, answers questions, builds and runs trainings. His team do the rest.
Running the machine you’ve built
There’s a considerable mindset shift involved when you build your own membership, says James. From being an expert in a day job, to having recurring income and looking after a couple of hundred people, is a huge culture change. Exciting, but with great responsibility.
He’s often compared a paid membership to raising a child. You start with diapers and feeding, and sometimes not a lot of reward. As it grows and matures, however, you find the effort needed becomes less, and much better-compensated.
James recalls the first task he outsourced was a help desk. It was repetitive work that he was happy, like many entrepreneurs, leaving to someone else. Other work he paid for was collating a weekly newsletter and processing content. He would make training, and someone else would do the editing, clean up, uploading, publishing and emailing to his members.
The things that Kat’s team provides
As with James’s team, one of the main tasks Kat’s crew take on is support. They noticed that many people struggled with communication with their members. People don’t realize, says Kat, that there are two types of communication you need to provide to your members.
There’s one, being there for them and delivering on what you promised when you sold them the membership. Then there’s two, all of the back end, admin, random questions from members and non-members alike that come into your inbox, day after day after day. Many membership owners aren’t keeping on top of it. And it stresses them out, because it’s not what they want to be doing with their lives.
A lot of owners are either stuck doing admin to the exclusion of all else, or they’re ignoring that part of the business, which also isn’t great. So much of what Kat’s team did in the past was help people with virtual assistants, onboarding and training and setting up the systems needed.
What would you like to hand off?
Recently they realized not everyone wants that. Kat recalls when she had her first virtual assistant. She was paying for her time but had no idea what work to give her. She was clueless on how to set up, delegate or provide the proper processes for her VA.
What if, Kat later thought, she could take that away from people and simply take over their customer support? By then, she had the ability to build systems that would make it easy for her team. That spawned the idea of their new service. Clients are basically able to immediately hand off their customer support.
They can now do the same with a membership newsletter, because Kat’s team find it easy to do that as well, and it’s something many membership owners would love to be sending to their community. It’s important, says Kat, to communicate with your members just from a retention standpoint.
How to jive with the brand
When Kat and co. start working with someone, there’s a bit of figuring out to do. The risk of outsourcing one’s communication is that the people you hire might answer questions wrong. So Kat’s team spend a lot of time in the beginning learning about their client’s business.
They create what she calls a membership support manual, which is all of the things that a team member needs to know enough about a business so that they can answer its customer support queries. It has, among other things, a “brand personality guide”, which is, what words do they say in the business? What type of words would the business never, ever say in written communication?
Small things like that keep the quality high, and prevent the support team from saying anything that wouldn’t fit with the vibe of the client’s business.
“We’ll take your customer support from you, but we’ll do it with care.”
They also create a kind of canned responses, but with care, to be able to answer support tickets in a systematized manner. Kat says, We’ll take your customer support from you, but we’ll do it with care, because we have one of our standards in our brand is maintaining high quality.
The efforts that make for retention
James can relate to the canned responses, though he thinks “canned response” is a rather negative connotation. A library of appropriate responses is how he would put it.
In his business, he mentions, they also have a net promoter score, letting the customer judge the support. It’s a standard they want to keep high, because like a newsletter, it can be a reason for someone to stay or go. And when you’re running a recurring subscription membership, there’s really nothing more important than retention.
“Having a great support experience can help you stand out from the woeful standard that’s out there.”
Having a great support experience, James says, can help you stand out from the woeful standard that’s out there. Even now, with most things done online, some enterprise solutions won’t even reply to a customer for days.
And newsletters, missing from many memberships, can be considered a kind of ongoing resell campaign. James’s own newsletter gets great open rates, around 70 percent, and a lot of click-throughs.
Maintaining a two-way relationship
What kind of interaction takes place between Kat and their clients?
They have day-to-day communication, says Kat, via email or via Asana, whatever the client is using. They ask the client a handful of questions every day, such as, Do you have any new content this week? Have you noticed any forum posts or anything that have been really popular?
They also have logins for their clients’ memberships, letting them see for themselves what gets people excited. The clients can supply stats, and Kat’s team has many behind-the-scenes ways to extract info they need.
The client, of course, still needs to provide some things. Let the team know about new content, for instance, or provide responses to emails being answered for the first time. They’re still somewhat involved, which is a good thing, says Kat. She doesn’t recommend anybody be completely out of their business’s customer service.
YourOnlineTeam try and make their service as hands-off as possible for the client, but they still want to maintain the quality, which makes it necessarily a two-way relationship.
James likens it to how he operates with his team in Slack. They have a help channel where all the tickets can be seen, as well as a sister channel where the team can ask him support-related questions. When he answers, they update their knowledge base.
It was a pleasant surprise, he says, when he saw how much Kat charges for her services. Considering she has to hire, train, and pay for the team, as well as cover for their days off, her recurring subscription rate is quite moderate, less than you would pay for one full-time VA.
The other things a team can do
Would Kat recommend an owner take care of their own bookkeeping?
In the beginning, she says. Kat thinks it’s nice at the start to have done everything once – made a sales page once, written your own emails once, done your own bookkeeping – so that you know what’s going on. After that, she’s spent too many years doing everything herself. And so now if she can outsource something, she will.
Kat’s current bookkeeping is being handled capably by a SuperFastBusiness member, Bean Ninjas. And she can’t even imagine now doing it herself.
James’s own team handles the books, and sends him financial reporting.
Content editing and publishing, things handled by such companies as ValherMedia.com, are not within the scope of Kat’s offerings. Neither are web dev and, typically, setting up email campaigns. However, they do work with a couple of memberships for whom they handle every promotion they have. They’re sometimes writing and sending emails and running a Black Friday sale.
That, she clarifies, is more a retainer package service where you would get your own dedicated high-level online business manager. It’s well worth it, but definitely a lot more, she says, than their usual membership support package, and is for a different type of membership owner.
James has a full-time team that he pays, who have been with him for a long time. As soon as he hangs up from recording a podcast, they do everything else. And that strong support lets him focus on having a good life.
What Kat offers is an immediate bridge by which you can skip recruitment, leadership and training. Just pay some money, go through induction, have some ongoing back and forth, and they’ll take the load from you.
Wrapping up the episode
With their service, Kat and her team make it easy to take off your plate simple but impactful things in your membership. With their excellence in systems, they may be adding to it later. For now, however, it’s a cost-effective way to get rid of, depending on your membership, it could be 50 percent of your day.
Insane, says James, who himself spends about an hour a day on his memberships. He’s a huge fan of the business model, having made a whole course on it, Profitable Membership Business. He’s a fan now, though, of Kat, who has been a big help to his members who would rather pay her than hire a VA.
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Need help with your membership backend? Contact Kat at YourOnlineTeam.com