I closed the doors on beta access to Paid to Blog Jobs just a few hours ago. In the four days that the doors were open, we managed to attract a total of 75 members, each paying $20 per month.
While it’s far too early to call PtBJ a success (my definition of which I’ll get into later), enough money in the bank to cover my financial outlay after the beta launch is a good start.
In this post I want to reveal the steps behind the creation of PtBJ. If you’re thinking about launching your own membership site, or are simply interested in knowing the process I went through, keep reading.
PtBJ is an idea I’ve had for absolutely ages that I didn’t act on until quite recently. To be more specific, “recently” was at the tail end of last year, when I re-released my freelance blogging guide as an online course.
At the time I wanted to create a real value proposition within the top package, which I was planning on selling for $150-250. I felt that a curated job listings board and paid guest blogs resource could be that value proposition.
But my inspiration goes back before then. For example, I’ve known about Carol Tice’s “Junk Free Jobs Board” within her Freelance Writer’s Den since late 2011 – you could probably call that my original inspiration.
However, I felt that I could do something different to Carol’s offering. First of all, her focus was on freelance writing in general, and from my personal experience she has a strong focus on “offline” writing – trade publications, magazines, etc. Meanwhile, my focus is on freelance blogging – that’s how I made my money.
So, I felt I could do something similar to Carol’s “Junk Free Jobs Board,” while creating something that was uniquely valuable to my audience.
The inspiration for the paid guest blogging opportunities came courtesy of Sophie Lizard’s free signup PDF on Be a Freelance Blogger: The Ultimate List of $50+ Blogs (and its predecessors). Sophie did a great job with it, and actually gave me permission to use the original list in the first incarnation of Paid to Blog.
As with Carol’s alternative, I knew that I had to offer something above and beyond what Sophie had going on in her free resource.
These two resources formed the central basis of what eventually became the top tier version of Paid to Blog. However, I wasn’t happy yet.
Evolving My Idea
Although I felt my “Job Listings Worth Pitching” and “Paid Guest Posting Opportunities” resources within Paid to Blog were really valuable, I knew that they could be so much more. Also, I quickly realized that they suited a periodical payment (rather than one-off) model. After all, with jobs and opportunities being added and updated every day, it paid (literally) to keep up.
So, I started thinking about adapting those two resources for use within a membership site and retiring the top tier Paid to Blog offering.
But first, I needed more information. I wanted to make sure that what I created would be truly valued by my subscribers, so who better was there to turn to than the people would potentially become members?
So, I published my intentions on Leaving Work Behind and got interested parties to join a standalone email list. I then emailed my new list (which only had ~150 members at the time, from memory) with a link to a simple survey I created over at Survey Monkey.
My survey started with a brief introduction:
I am currently working on a membership site for freelance bloggers and I plan for it to eventually feature the following:
- A regularly updated, curated list of freelance blogging job opportunities from across the web
- A regularly updated list of paid guest blogging opportunities (i.e. getting paid to guest post)
- A Q&A section, where you can ask me and my freelance blogging colleagues anything you like about freelance blogging and are guaranteed a response. Furthermore (and subject to your approval), questions and answers will be published so that you can search through what will inevitably become a huge resource of frequently asked questions relating to freelance blogging!
- Customizable email updates for all of the above. You can choose what to receive and how often to receive it.
That’s not all though. I want you to have your say on what the site includes and how much you should pay for it! All you need to do is fill in the following short survey. Although the more information you give me, the better a site I can create for you, please note that only the first two questions are mandatory.
I then asked a few questions:
- Which features would you be interested in?
- What would you be willing to pay (per month) for each feature?
- As a freelance blogger, what subjects do you (or would you like to) write about?
- What’s your current rate (per word)?
The survey results were really interesting, and not entirely what I expected.
Around 90% of respondents were interested in both resources, which I expected. Only 76% of people were interested in a Q&A section, which surprised me (I thought it would be more popular). Most surprisingly, only 53% of people were interested in customizable email updates. I thought that would be a big draw, but I was wrong.
I also got some good guidance as to how I should price the site. Most people were willing to pay between $5-10 per month for freelance job listings and paid guest posting opportunities (each). What really surprised me was that 50% of people weren’t willing to pay anything for a Q&A section, and 78% of people weren’t willing to pay anything for customizable updates.
For the first release of the site, that made things simple for me: given that a Q&A section and customizable email updates would’ve been the most costly, time-consuming and technically challenging elements of my proposed site, I decided to give them the chop.
I also got some useful information on what kind of rates people were looking for and what subjects they were willing to write about.
I cannot understate how useful this information was. Without that information, I would’ve created a completely different site – one that wouldn’t have been as good a fit for its members as it is. When it comes to creating just about any online resource, I heartily recommend that you start by trying to gather a few interested people (even if it’s only a handful) and tap them for as much information as you can possibly get. It’ll make a huge difference.
Now I knew what I wanted to complete, I needed to handle implementation. There were two aspects to this: technical and practical. Let’s look at each in turn.
When it came to the Content Management System I would use to create the site, my choice –without hesitation – was self-hosted WordPress. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge WordPress fan.
Beyond that, I did a fair bit of research and decided to use MemberMouse as my membership site plugin. It’s an incredibly functional and powerful piece of kit and had all of the features I needed.
To make my life easy, I decided to use the same design for PtBJ as I had for Paid to Blog. I commissioned my always-awesome developer to copy the site over, set MemberMouse up and get things in place, ready to run. If you’re not technically-minded and need help with this kind of thing for a very reasonable price, go with Tito (just have Google Translate at the ready ;-)). I used Fiverr to get an amended logo based upon the original.
I used TablePress to create the job listings – it is easily one of my favorite ever WordPress plugins, and completely free to boot.
Now came the hard bit: providing the value.
I wasn’t going to have the time do the main element of the research, so I knew I needed to find someone really good to help me out with it. Lo and behold, my new Community Manager is an experienced researcher!
I asked Jo if she would be interested in working with me on the project, and she said yes. I referred her to Paid to Blog and previous posts I had written on finding good quality job listings. Most importantly, I referred her to the video in this post.
She got to work. We got a great system going in no time – she does all the legwork, finding one decent opportunity amongst thirty (on average!), and presents me a provisional list for me to work through and approve or decline. So far, Jo has done an awesome job, finding job opportunities I never would have. I don’t know how she does it – I’m not sure she does either!
Jo is also working on the paid guest posting opportunities – finding new ones and making sure existing opportunities are up-to-date.
Part of me worried whether I would be able to offer enough value with this membership site, but after I partnered with Jo, I knew that wouldn’t be an issue.
However, to make sure I was on the right track, I made a list of all of the benefits of PtBJ:
- A curated list of the best freelance blogging job opportunities from across the web.
- A 75+ strong (and growing) list of the best paid guest blogging opportunities from across the web.
- Search and filtering options for both of the above.
- Exclusive job opportunities not available elsewhere on the web.
- Opportunities to work on my ever-expanding writing team.
- In-depth PDF guides to pitching for jobs and guest postings, including template emails for each.
- 30 Day Money Back Guarantee, no questions asked.
- No contract, no obligation, pay as you go.
Then I asked myself two questions:
- Would I, circa September 2011 (when I was just starting out as a freelance blogger), have subscribed to this resource?
- Would I, circa December 2012 (when I was doing well as a freelance blogger, but still wanted to earn more), have subscribed to this resource?
The answer in both cases was an emphatic “Yes!”
So, biased as I was, I felt I was onto something. Now I just had to figure out how to sell it to people.
If you know me, you’ll know that I’m no good at marketing. I like creating things that I think will help people, but I’m not so hot on convincing them to buy them 😉
Thankfully, prior to the beta launch of PtBJ, I had got to know a LWB subscriber called Emils. He had originally offered to help me with my Paid to Blog sales page further to me publishing this post, and I jumped at the offer. He has a dedication and enthusiasm for marketing that I simply do not possess. It’s vital to have people like Emils to bolster your weak areas.
Emils did a great job, not only with working on the sales page, but also on email strategy. I’m really pleased with the way we approached the beta launch. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I’d say that it was my most well-organized and thought-out launch to date. All because I was willing to bring someone else on board to help me in an area in which I really needed help.
Our marketing plan was pretty simple. I mentioned the upcoming resource here and there on Leaving Work Behind, always including a signup form so that people could register their interest. I also mentioned it to the LWB email list (~4,500) subscribers on a couple of different occasions.
By last week I had around 500 subscribers to that list, which I felt was a pretty healthy number. Of course, you may not be in the position to draw that many people to a list, but there is no “magic number” you need. Besides, if you’re creating something of true value, you might be surprised how many people are interested, even if you have no audience to start with.
I started communication with the list by emailing them a week before the planned beta launch, letting them know that it was coming. This was coupled by a blog post on Leaving Work Behind.
During launch I sent three emails:
- The first on Monday, announcing that the doors were open
- One at 12pm on Thursday, announcing that the doors would be closing in 12 hours
- One at 6pm on Thursday, announcing that the doors would be closing in 6 hours and reminding people of the 30 day money back guarantee
As you would typically expect, there were a spike of signups on the Monday, a trickle on Tuesday and Wednesday, then another spike on Thursday (especially in the last few hours, perhaps underlining the value of two emails at the end).
The doors are closed now, and I am committed to giving all of the 75 members my personal attention and making sure that they are as happy as possible with the site.
I’ve had one refund request so far, and that’s for reasons I don’t really understand, so I can’t take much from that in terms of feedback. One request out of 75 seems pretty good to me at this stage.
I’ll be sending a fresh survey to the existing members next Thursday, with the hope of figuring out what they like/dislike about the site. I can then use that information to make PtBJ even better.
I’ve already got more ideas ready for implementation, such as a “Getting Started” flowchart, a “Jargon Buster” PDF for unfamiliar terms in job listings, more unique jobs listings, a “flagging option” for out-of-date/incorrect listing, and more. I plan to get all of the above implemented in time for the main launch in a few week’s time.
Beyond that, Jo and I have even more ideas for a version 2.0, but I’m better off focusing on the present for now. The beta launch went really well, easily beating my 50 members goal, and now I want to make sure that I do as much as possible for those 75 members!
I mentioned earlier that it’s too early to call PtBJ a success, and I stand by that. But what do I define success as? The answer is simple: helping as many people as possible earn far more from the resource than it costs them. If I constantly strive to do that, for as many people as possible, I feel like everything else (like making money!) will fall in place behind it. That’s the approach I try to take to everything I do.
If you want to know when the doors next open on Paid to Blog Jobs, find out more and sign up here. And if you have any questions or feedback, please get in touch via the comments below!