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Learn This Invaluable Skill Regardless of Your Niche

There are many skills that come in handy for small business owners. I’d like to take a minute to share what I feel is one of the most helpful and valuable skills anyone can develop with some practice.

I am a believer that if a business owner doesn’t personally possess a skill, he can outsource to find it, take on a partner who has it, or simply study and learn and practice until the new skill becomes part of his talent.

But if you know how to do this, you will have all the content, products, and online help a business owner could ask for.

Anyone can do it. Most newbies avoid it. It takes some effort, but it gets easier every time you do it. It’s a skill that has literally made some people millions! Seriously.

We learned it’s basic steps in elementary school (if you paid attention), practiced it a lot in high school, and refined it in college.

Here’s a hint if you haven’t figured out what this skill is:

According to Samuel Johnson . . . “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”

The answer is, of course . . . drum roll . . . RESEARCH!

Nowhere is the lack of this skill (or at least the willingness to do it) more evident than in many people’s failing businesses.  Often owners and webmasters avoid it at all costs.  Certainly research takes some effort, focus, knowledge of how to do it, and certainly patience.  But I believe even those who aren’t experts in research, but make a good effort to do it,  have a distinct advantage over others that don’t or won’t do any research.

In the business world, knowledge is power!  Knowledge and understanding of the niche marketplace, of consumer preferences, of cutting edge techniques and strategies, and of news, events, and the niche competition all increase the business power of an entrepreneur.

Let me tell you this (of which I’m 100% certain):  those business owners that do their market research (or have someone on staff or outsourced do it) will have a distinct advantage over competitors that don’t do research.

I believe that, in many instances, small businesses fail because the knowledge and understanding of the solo operator about his/her own niche market is not sufficient … or is just plain out of touch with reality.  Smart research helps to eliminate gaps in knowledge and marketplace intelligence (the reality of what’s really important and what’s not).

Market research has many “pluses” or advantages (things beside owner knowledge):

  • You get a more sure and detailed answer to your questions
  • You benefit immensely just from the actual process of “digging” for an answer
  • You become exposed to both (or many) sides of a question or issues so as to enhance your total understanding of the niche and it’s current issues and debates
  • You learn a lot about related or peripheral issues that affect the niche so that you are better informed and prepared to discuss and even create products related to your main offerings
  • You are more readily accepted as a niche expert if you have a well-rounded and deep understanding of the entire niche and it’s surrounding influences
  • You learn what doesn’t work or what has failed in the past (things about the subject to avoid)
  • In the end, you become a better business owner because of what research has exposed you to

You will never be at a loss for content, blog posts, articles, information products, answers to niche questions or help in solving a customer problem because knowing how to do research means the knowledge of others will always be available to you (especially when you draw a blank and don’t have clear ideas of your own).

How do you do research?  Excellent question.

Why don’t you go research that subject?  Seriously!

After you’ve had a chance at personal discovery, I’ll offer a few ideas and tips of my own.

You can begin by pondering the following 10 research questions:

10 Basic Research Questions for Every Niche Business

  1. What business am I really in?  (For example:  you make think you’re in the ebook business; but really you sell information in specific marketplaces.)
  2. What is my objective(s) in serving my potential prospects and paying customers?
  3. Who is my audience?  (Hint:  don’t say “people like me” – you may not be the best fit for what you plan to sell)
  4. Can I define a “perfect customer” and draw up a detailed profile?
  5. Where can I find or locate my perfect customers online?
  6. What are these potential prospects buying right now in the niche marketplace?
  7. What am I going to do to motivate these people to buy from me and my business?
  8. Who are my direct competitors in the niche and what are they offering?  What do prospects like and dislike about these competitors and products?
  9. What are the very best sources of data, metrics, and news in my niche and how can I monitor them daily with major time investments?
  10. What data points do I need to set in my own business in order to track and gather the details I will need?

Start with these 10 questions and learn all you can about the audience makeup and preferences that are pertinent to your business intelligence.

Finally, I’d like to share a few quotes about research that might help to motivate you to master this skill:

“Research means that you don’t know, but are willing to find out.”  Charles F. Kettering
“Research teaches a man to admit he is wrong and to be proud of the fact that he does so, rather than try with all his energy to defend an unsound plan because he is afraid that admission of error is a confession of weakness when rather it is a sign of strength.”  Professor H. E. Stocher
“The common facts of today are the products of yesterday’s research.”  Duncan MacDonald
“No research is ever complete.  It is the glory of a good bit of work that it opens the way for something still better, and this repeatedly leads to its own eclipse.”  Mervin Gordon


Knowing how to research a subject opens the door to knowledge and eventual expertise which both pay great dividends in every type of business!

To your online business success,

Steve Browne

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Membership Sites – When is This Business Model Effective?

I believe there are natural and logical reasons to have a membership site (also called a subscription site or continuity site) based upon the needs and desires of your audience and the niche you are in.  Subscriptions or recurring payments are not the best model to choose simply because you would like a monthly income stream you can count on.

Private recurring payment sites have been around for quite awhile. Most are set up with membership site software or plugins that perform the magic of keeping non-members out while still allowing paid members access to all the content, downloads, and other resources offered by the site owner. Some premium software packages include lots of additional capabilities like a community forum, image gallery, built-in emailing, affiliate program, member profiles and other bells and whistles.

Costs for a membership site will vary significantly depending upon the complexity of the site, whether the software is self-hosted or hosted remotely on the vendor’s servers or in “the cloud,” and other considerations. You could pay a one-time fee of $25 for a WordPress plugin to build your membership site or $997/month for a hosted enterprise solution. There are even some “free” alternatives; but I normally wouldn’t recommend them because they often place vendor ads and limitations on your content pages.

Good subscription software is set up to handle recurring payments, new member set-up and welcome, lost password recovery, dripped content (which is scheduled content which appears on a pre-set time schedule), emailing to members, ways for members to interact, downloads of digital products, product payment transactions, automatic monthly billing, and other features all without a lot of site owner intervention.  Having said that, don’t assume that membership sites are “hands free” solutions that handle all the owner’s daily tasks – far from it.

Be aware that membership sites can be set up for a specific number of weeks or months or they can be set for unlimited recurring periods (typically months) into the future until the member requests to leave and have his payments stopped.

Membership sites are often touted as the best business model on the planet! Why? Promoters say they are easy money. The pitch goes like this: “You sell a membership once and stand to gain monthly additional payments (in theory) forever.” What could be easier, right? But people who promote the membership model in this way often don’t mention one huge downside. Most membership site owners will tell you that the average member only stays with the site for 3 or 4 months and then they quit. To be honest, I have never seen any valid or certified stats to confirm the average online membership length (if there is such a thing), but what I have shared is what I have heard from a number of successful membership site owners that I know personally.

Some membership site owners keep their average member much longer than 3 months.  Obviously, there are a number of factors related to average length of stay (sometimes referred to as “churn” – the process of signing new members to replace current paid members that leave).

Some members will attempt to join a site, download everything, then either request a refund or quit the site after the first month’s payment. To combat this “hit and run” behavior, many membership site owners will “drip” content over time so that a member only gets specific pre-determined content each month … he will not have full access to everything all at once.  Others prefer to allow their members to access any content at any time and feel that a few hit and runs are acceptable in order to keep all members seeing all content all the time.

What does this turnover mean for the site owner? Of course it means that the owner must be constantly replenishing paid members that leave if he wants to maintain his/her monthly income from the recurring payments. He must constantly promote his site for new subscribers.

In order to combat this attrition or turnover, some site owners offer fixed one-time pricing for a set period of time or year long (or greater) membership terms at a good discount in order to persuade new members upfront that they should join at the lowest price available and stay for the duration of the period.

I believe that the best way to keep members for longer periods is to make the site experience a very user-friendly one, make the price very reasonable (so the cost-benefit ratio is outstanding), and deliver benefits (content, interaction, downloads, site features, customer service, etc) that are unique and highly valuable in the eyes of the members. Think about it … if the content and experience at the private site is relevant to the desires of the member, and if all the benefits are unique, highly prized, and not to be found elsewhere … why would the members want to leave?

Long standing members will be those who are highly targeted to the niche of the site. Rabid and fanatical members who love the subject of the membership site will be the core element of the membership program. It’s why some niches don’t really lend themselves to this business model – the people in the niche are luke-warm about it or they are only casual participants. You want avid, “converted,” and life-long nichers that are in this marketplace everyday if possible.

So what kind of niches and member audiences lend themselves to the membership business model?  I believe that membership site platforms are a logical solution for these situations:

1- A niche where there is ongoing and important news, events, happenings, changes and the need to contact members with ongoing updates. Examples of this type of niche would include a stock market advisory service or a daily discount site where new offers come out continually.  Members can visit the site whenever and as often as they like for the latest news!
2- A niche where there are a ton of downloads that will be of interest to the members like a cooking site where new recipes are given or a sewing site where there are lots of patterns and advice (instructions) to consume.  With the membership platform, the owner can give members access to a huge amount of information and let them choose what suits their fancy and when they want to consume it.
3- A niche where the members would like continual on-going training or help in learning a new skill or mastering a process. Examples might be a site that gives ongoing tutorials of Photoshop tips, or a site offering guitar lessons, or a site on how to run your small business or an on-going series of different yoga exercises.  Many of these sites use video tutorials to show the members how to accomplish things.
4- A niche where a particular skill or hobby is a passion for the members – it is an important part of their daily lives and they want to stay abreast of everything about the niche. Examples might be serious runners, professional photographers, genealogists or scrapbookers.  Skill and hobby sites are often “hangouts” for their members who come to both learn and engage with others in their niche.
5- A niche where professionals or serious participants might gather as part of an organized group, like an association of local business owners, a local charity, a club, a group of drama enthusiasts, or a volunteer organization.  The membership site is not for just anyone – members gain access because of the credentials or their current employment or service status.
6- A niche where the impetus is on community and the social side of membership. Such groups like local senior citizens, Harley Davidson motorcycle owners, cruise ship travelers, trailer and RV owners, etc, often come together at membership sites to gain new friends, talk about their common passion, exchange useful consumer information, and share their own experiences in the niche with other like-minded people.
7- A niche where there is a monthly (or at least steady periodic) need to provide information or a product.  You’ve seen services and web sites of this type – “Book of the Month Club,” or “Weekly Games for Moms with Active Kids,” or “Song of the Day.”  It makes sense to gather a private audience into a membership site in order to deliver regular periodic treasures or products that are meant only for paying subscribers.

There are surely other reasons to have a membership site as well. What I’m suggesting is that certain niches and types of audiences lend themselves to subscription sites better than others. This is where the business model (membership platform) really shines.  Without a membership platform, think of what a business person would have to spend in time, money and energy to gather a audience of (say) 1,000 people, subscribe them to the service, keep monthly payments coming in, keep up constant contact with them, and provide content, engagement, assistance, products and marketing.  The automation of the membership platform allows the solo entrepreneur to manage all of these things from his software dashboard and still keep his sanity!

Here’s a caution:  I don’t think just extending the offer of one product after another to your audience is the way to run a subscription business. It’s not a reason, in my opinion, why your members will keep coming back to the site. Ditto for worthless general and “found anywhere online” information like rehashed PLR content. Consumers don’t like to be continually sold, day after day, and they will see through your “membership” idea if all you do is hammer them with dubious paid offers under the guise of a niche community.

Another caution is this:  sometimes consumers come online to find a specific solution to a curable problem.  If that is the kind of information you offer, a membership site is probably not right for you.  Once the problem is fixed, or solved, or cured . . . then what?  Why does the site member need you further?  What else do you have to offer that he is passionate about?

Even though you may currently not have a subscription site, it’s time to think about offering a private membership  when your customers and prospects begin asking for “premium” content or they want access to a higher level of what you have already given them. When the niche information on your blog or at your web site is not enough to satisfy some customers, or maybe they want direct help or access to you and your brain, then the natural extension of a blog site or information business is a paid private membership site with more in-depth premium content that those willing to pay will enjoy. and mentors can often benefit from giving this added help based in a membership site.

I think it is a gamble to go to the effort of setting up a membership site if you first don’t know whether there is a real interest in what you’re going to offer to the niche participants. Do some focused targeted online research, listen to your audience, ask them if they would like to see a members only area and if they would be willing to pay for it. I hope this all makes sense to you.

To your online business success!

Steve Browne

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