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Membership Sites

Do you generate content (or training materials) for staff, prospects, clients, and other third parties?  If so, you probably know that doing it right is not easy-  and often is hit or miss.  In a previous post, we explored the business rationale and the alternatives for monetizing this knowledge via eLearning; in this post, we describe how it can be implemented.

Here are the 19 steps to a successful eLearning initiative:

1. Determine your goals. What is the underlying rationale for the initiative? Is it to reduce support costs? Develop a community? Increase retention? Provide just-in-time training? Or start a new revenue stream? Whatever the goal, defining it lays the groundwork for evaluating the success – and ultimately determining the ROI.

2. Test drive the ideas. This may mean formal market research, informal discussions, or just using your “gut”. Before spending any further time or money, it is important to see if there is a market for your content, and if there is, the format preference. Test-driving will also give you a better understanding of the appetite for different pricing models.

3. Determine your approach. At the intersection of your goals and your market is your implementation approach: Learning Management System or Membership Site? Do-it-yourself or Pre-packaged Software or Shared Platform?

4. Inventory your content. List all of the content, along with details re: title, medium, readiness to use, etc. Each piece of content might either stand alone as a module, or be grouped with other content into a module.

5. Build a content plan. This identifies gaps in the existing content, old content that may require updating, and future new content that will eventually be developed. The content plan also can function as an editorial calendar.

6. Create a taxonomy. This is the hierarchical organization of all of your content: existing and future.

7. Storyboard individual “courses”. Each course typically will solve a specific problem, and is made up of individual modules.

8. Connect to the web. Most of the time, eLearning is driven from a website. At this point in the process, there are several decisions: Will eLearning be completely integrated with your website, or will it be a “tack-on” that accessed through a link? Is your current technology adequate, or must there be changes? (Or, in fact, might the deployment of eLearning suggest an opportunity to revamp/update the existing website itself?)

9. Build/populate the system. Whatever your approach, this is the stage where the content is actually populated into the system. (And proofread, and tested.)

10. Train your support team. You didn’t think that your learners wouldn’t have questions, both about the platform, and about your content?

11. Create marketing materials. Part of materials required would be for online use, and some would be for offline. If you are more sophisticated, you would also create a number of marketing automation sequences to handle new user intro, customer service, etc.

12. Integrate into existing marketing and operating processes. eLearning doesn’t happen in isolation; it should be integrated into all of your organization’s processes. An example: new clients (or new staff) might access introductory training on your services or products. If you write proposals, then access to the eLearning platform might be given at no charge for a period of time. If you provide support, eLearning might be used to provide self-service.

13. Soft launch: This might mean adding links from your website to the platform, without actively promoting it. A soft launch is the opportunity to work out any previously undiscovered kinks in the system – and flex your support muscles.

14. Launch: At launch there needs to be an outreach and marketing to those groups with the strongest affinity: this is the lowest hanging fruit. Sources would include existing email lists, existing members/clients/partners, volunteers, and employees. As the launch only happens once, it only makes sense to create an event around the launch – or scheduling the launch at a key existing event.

15. Online and offline sales: This would include efforts around Pay-per-click, SEO, real-world advertising, partnership deals, and using existing relationships to sell bulk sales.

16. Upsells / Cross-sells. These are the two perennial ways to increase the average price per sale. Would you like fries with that is an example of a cross-sell. Would you like a large instead for only 50 cents more is an upsell. In the world of eLearning, an upsell might involve letting the user know about your “gold plan”. A cross-sell may be a pre-sale link for related content: “people who liked this course also took this course.”

17. Retention plan: This is a strategy to ensure that the user continuously sees value from their investment; it may encompass marketing automation sequences, gamification within the eLearning platform, or other stimuli. If they don’t see value, they will quit.

18. Rescue plan: It is far easier to keep a user than sell to a completely new one. When a person chooses to end their paid plan, the rescue plan swings into action. It may include sweetening the offer via web-based or email communication, or perhaps providing telephone follow-up. (We would suggest, however, that the more aggressive you are, the more of your goodwill and reputation will be spent. And when there is nothing left, no matter what you do, they will never trust you again.)

19. Quarterly review: Just because the system was perfect when you started, doesn’t mean that it always will be. There will be changes in your target users, changes in your strategy, and of course, more content that you will have developed. Monetizing your content means always keeping it up-to-date.

This week’s action plan: Many organizations have done some of these steps, but often not all. This week, choose the one item that is your weakest link. If you have a mature eLearning system, this might mean numbers 14-19. If you are just considering one for the first time, it may be the items at the top of the list.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders


“The Internet wants to be free”: has been the internet anthem for decades. It has been sung by the academic world in the spirit of sharing knowledge, in the anti-spirit of corporate greed by anarchists, and by the “inbound marketing” crowd as a magnet to attract prospective clients. But at some point, intellectual property (IP) cannot be free: it has value in and of itself. And it costs money to develop.

Monetizing intellectual property (IP) can be done in a number of ways, including consulting, coaching, speaking (keynotes, workshops, webinars), books, CDs, DVDs and “programs”, implementation services, and selling related collateral (toolkits, posters, memory aids)

One of the most powerful – but also the least understood – ways to monetize IP is by selling it online. Not as a download, but as online learning. As there are so many different ways of doing this, choosing the right model and platform is critical.

There are two main types of platforms that are available:

  1. Learning Management Systems (LMS): These had their start from the online training/elearning world of decades ago, where a “class” went through a computer-based lesson. This usually consisted of a series of screens, often with cheesy animations, a test at the end, with a classroom management and tracking dashboard for the administrator. These systems have “made the leap” to the cloud, and now can handle individual learners, not just groups. The LMS is likely “SCORM-compliant”, which means that the learning structure can be exported from one system and imported into another. LMS-based systems work best for sequentially-based learning that requires an evaluative component. LMS is typically sold using a “course” model.
  2. Membership Sites: This model works best when the user (the learner) may require access to any particular piece of learning, at any particular point in time. The learning content is structured for just-in-time learning, and usually does not include an evaluative component. Membership sites got their start from the web where users might consume some learning for free, more learning upon registration (“freemium”) and even more learning for a monthly fee. An example of this is

Implementing either of these models can be done in one of three ways:

  1. Do it yourself: This approach wires together WordPress (that holds the content), a membership plug-in (that controls access) and a database/ecommerce system. The benefit is complete flexibility in design and 100% of all revenue is yours.
  2. Pre-packaged software: This approach rents software to you for your exclusive use; the software does it all, but often is not a perfect fit – and often with little flexibility.
  3. Shared Platform: A shared platform hosts your content along with many others’ content. There may be a monthly cost of hosting, as well as a revenue split for any content that is purchased. The key benefit is the “network-effect”: the more content that is on the system the more it becomes the destination for potential learners. The con (beyond the cost and the reduced revenue) is that the ultimate control of the platform is with another organization…whose goals may (at some point) diverge from your own.

Choosing an approach: An argument can be made for each model, but the “best” depends on your goals:

  • Looking for the cheapest? Look at shared platforms or pre-packaged software;
  • Looking for complete control? Look at Do it yourself;
  • Looking to share marketing (and clients) with others? Look at Shared Platforms;
  • Looking at Selling beyond the IP? Look at Do it yourself or LMS;
  • Looking to certify people? Look at an LMS.

Finally, there are many different business models – here are some of the more popular:

  • All-you-can-eat buffet: A set monthly subscription fee that covers 100% of all content.
  • Tiered access:  Each tier (eg Bronze/Silver/Gold) pays a different monthly rate, and gets access to different levels of content.
  • Timed release access:  For a monthly fee, more content gets unlocked as time goes by; this provides an incentive to stay, and rewards longer-term members.
  • Course fees:  For a set fee, a user gets access to a single “course”
  • A la Carte fees:  Users can preview any content, but to access it completely requires a purchase.
  • Certification fee:  Users get access to all of the content for free, but must pay a fee to take a test to be certified.
  • Indirect fees:  This model does not charge for access directly, but builds it into the cost of a related service, such as consulting, coaching, or speaking.

Of course, it is possible to use several of these models at the same time: provide All-you-can-eat buffet access, but also sell a la carte.  Host the content within your own membership site, while also selling it through a shared platform.  The key determinant of what/when/how?  How well the plan supports your organization’s overall strategy.

This Week’s action plan: Inventory your IP, and put a line in the sand: what should be free, and what should be sold. Then start asking some questions: is there any group within your organization thinking about membership sites and Learning Management Systems, as part of your marketing strategy? If the answer is “no one”, this week find someone who is.

Interesting in being a Beta Tester? The third version of our membership site – the Ideatrust Digital Knowledge Vault – will soon be released. We’re looking for a small number of “friends” who will put the system through its paces and provide feedback. As a thank you, we will provide 12 months access at no cost.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders