Online communities and membership sites are more popular than ever. I think a large part of that is due to people wanting to find “their tribe” outside of huge Facebook groups or other social media platforms and I personally see a big shift in the online education and training world going from DIY courses and programs to more fully empowered, community focused training.

To get a good feel of where things are at with online communities and membership and where things are headed, I’m pumped to have Andy Guttormsen, Co-founder of Circle.so back onto the podcast to share his insight on what’s working well for the top engaged and profitable communities and membership sites today.

Circle is the platform that powers my community Web Designer Pro™ and I highly, highly recommend using it for your business as well if you want to offer a membership on the backend of your web design services (for your clients) or if you’re building membership, coaching and course sites for clients!

In this episode:

00:00 – Online Community and Membership Trends
05:06 – Evolution of Online Memberships and Communities
19:46 – Community Experiences and Engagement
25:05 – Building Engaging Community Experiences
35:29 – Building a Valuable Community for Success
44:08 – Building and Moderating Online Communities
50:54 – Customer Support Through Web Design

Start your free 14-day trial of Circle.so today


Connect with Andy:

Featured links mentioned:

Episode #314 Full Transcription

Andy: 1:42
I have this really great experience. That’s already working. I honed it in, but I feel like I have to make this like community component of it, so I’m just going to throw that on top without being really thoughtful of it. Or I’m just going to try and blast out an email to a list of 100,000 people say, hey, come join my community, and not have a thoughtful approach to it. For bad community experiences there’s big burnout.

Josh: 2:23
Hey friends, good to be here with you for another episode of the Web Design Business Podcast. In this one, we are taking a deep dive into the world of online communities and memberships, and I’m so excited to have back onto the podcast one of the co-founders of Circle, which is the platform that powers my online community. Web Designer Pro, andy Gutter’s man is back on the show, and what we’re going to dive into in this one is really where things are in 2024 with online communities and what’s working with membership sites and core sites and gated content, and where things are headed, because there’s been a lot of changes over the past few years, particularly with the rise of online communities and a lot of people getting out and off of different social media platforms and trying to kind of have one home for a community and membership sites. You know, it’s kind of interesting. I feel like membership sites are a type of community, but those could be different too if it’s just gated content. So there’s a lot of different tools out there and the market itself and the way of online communities has changed a lot. So we’re really taking a deep dive into what’s working and I can’t think of anyone else more qualified than Andy because, as a co-founder of Circle, they just recently passed 10,000 customers and they take a deep dive and a real good look at what’s working with highly engaged online memberships and online communities. So he has a finger on the pulse of what’s working and that’s exactly what you’re going to find out here in this episode, so I’m pumped to share it with you Again. I’m such a huge fan of Circle. I’m in it every day. I’m such a fanboy of this tool. They were a recent sponsor for my newsletter. I’m actually this week, at the time of releasing this video, I’m going to be kicking out a few new videos on my YouTube channel about Circle and why I chose it, how I’m using it to build my community web designer pro. So check that out by going to my YouTube channel and if you would like to check out Circle yourself, use my link. If you would go to joshallco Circle and you can get a 14 day free trial to try out Circle to see if it’s a good fit for not only you potentially for your web design customers but even to build sites for your customers. Obviously, I’m a WordPress guy with websites, but I am a Circle guy with online communities through and through and even, course, builders. So I would highly recommend consider using that for your customers. They have a bunch of different tiered options that will work for you, but instead of trying to piece a bunch of tools together, you can use Circle for your customers if they want a membership site or a community or gated content or even courses, and you can embed Circle in a WordPress site. Did you know that? Well, you will, once you see some of the YouTube videos coming out this week. All right, friends, here’s Andy. We’ll get a pulse on what the heck’s going on and what’s working for online memberships and communities. Andy, so good to see you again, man. Welcome back to the show round two. I said before we hit record here I’m in Circle probably 90% of my time online now with my community and, yeah, it’s just so cool to see like the landscape of memberships and communities change, and I wanted to have a conversation about this because you are somebody who’s on the forum Of what’s working well with any sort of online community or membership. So all that to say thank you for your time and welcome in, man. It is great to be back talking to you.

Andy: 5:50
I’ve had this carved out on my calendar. Been looking forward to the day for a couple of weeks now. So just say to see you. Yeah, I’m just going to say thank you, say to see you.

Josh: 6:05
Yeah, I mean gosh, it’s weird to say, but it feels like we go back a ways now, because it’s been three and a half years since we initially connected, when, when Circle, you know, came out onto the scene as far as a community, really community tool at first, but now it’s so much more, you know, right in the height of the pandemic. I’m kind of curious, even in the last, even in the last three years, andy, actually, before we ask this question for folks who don’t know you yet, what is your role in Circle? Because that might help lay the foundation of what, what you see from your end of things.

Andy: 6:37
Sure, so I’m one of the three co-founders here at Circle Life to partners. One of them is Sid, one of them is Rudy. So Sid overseas, he’s our CEO. He oversees you know the CEO things, but he oversees our product engineering, all of that. But then Rudy is his really close partner on product and design and then my role is I oversee our go to market or sales marketing, revenue operations, data, things like that.

Josh: 7:09
Gotcha. So I think everyone knows now, a few years after everything happened in 2020, we saw a big shift in online communities and people were excited and sometimes just forced to do more online and to start online friendships and online collaborations and partnerships. I think a lot of web designers were pretty ahead of the game when, when the zoom world happened because, kind of funny, like a lot of clients had to do zoom calls and web designers were like well, welcome to our world. We’ve been doing it for years now, yeah, but the whole world essentially went online. I think that opened up a whole new not necessarily a market, but a whole new shift on how memberships and communities are viewed and even courses and coaching programs. Where where is it now compared to where things were in 2020? Kind of a broad question. But like, how has the landscape evolved since? You know that that big shift?

Andy: 8:06
Well, there is a big scramble in 2020 where, if you were at a course platform or, let’s say, you use a course platform or maybe you are using something like a Facebook group or discord it may not have been your main thing, it was something that you were kind of aware of, it was maybe a part of the experience that you are providing your members, but all of a sudden it kind of had to become the main thing. So all of those businesses, without exaggeration, literally more than doubled in about, you know, two or three or four months because the whole world went online and it was this kind of magical time because we didn’t have the skills yet most of us to actually like run a community. We didn’t know even what it really meant. We didn’t know about, like, how do I take my offline experience and bring it online. And now I think you know we were forced to learn, but a lot more people have those skillsets, or at least they know where to go to find and build those skillsets when they’re ready. And so you know, before the folks who were doing this, this stuff back in 2020, 2019, 2018, it was they were really differentiated and it was kind of like this special sauce. But the stuff has been around. Memberships have been around for 10 years, 20 years Now it’s almost table stakes. It’s kind of like the expectation for consumers, like people who are buying these membership experiences courses, cohort based courses they expect that there’s going to be a community element to it, because they know, you know it’s just so obvious, once you’ve done it and experienced it, like what the value is that you get from it, you can’t imagine going back in some cases.

Josh: 10:08
Yeah, I don’t know if I can think of one course creator or platform that would just sell a DIY course that has no sort of support behind it or, no, no sort of community, whereas I think you’re right before. You know, I got into courses in 2018. Before that, I had bought courses and it was just you just buy it, you just buy the information. But it’s very different now, isn’t it? For anyone who’s considering courses or even training for clients or workshops or whatever right? It is very different now to where, if you get into this end of things, it almost is like you have to have some sort of support behind it, whether it’s ongoing or whether it’s time, whether it’s like a year access to community and support, and I definitely agree. It seems like that’s just commonplace now, totally.

Andy: 10:55
And one of the things that I think has been a big shift. I’m curious, though, if you experienced this in the early days, josh. But you know, when you first go out and you’re like, all right, I’m going to create a membership experience or online course, or even I’m gonna start maybe posting on social. I’m gonna create a YouTube channel or whatever it is Like, there are definitely people who are they’re nervous to put their faces out there and to really be like connected to that other person on the other side of the screen and having just a static online course where I sell access to it. I don’t really know who’s actually buying it. It kind of protects you at least it like kind of not doesn’t really protect you, but you’re not as vulnerable. Your face isn’t attached. You don’t see if they actually get results from your course. The thing with the community. You know this, and your membership is like you know who these people are, you know whether they’re actually getting results, and you make a promise when somebody joins a membership that you have to deliver on, and you’re gonna know if you deliver on the promise or not. And that’s scary for people who don’t know how to deliver on the promise, but if you know how to deliver on the promise, it kind of automatically puts you in the top like five or 10% in your market and helps you stand out. And so there’s definitely this kind of effect where the rich get richer, like people flock to that quality and they’ll take over a lot of the market share in any given little niche or area.

Josh: 12:38
You know the results thing. It’s so funny you bring that up because it’s not talked about too much between course, creators I know and membership communities and stuff, but that is a kind of a hidden pain point or like a hidden fear is like what if I’m launching this thing and people are getting results? What I’ve realized is you have to almost take yourself personally out of the equation, just like you know this audience or web designers building websites. It’s the same thing with clients. It’s like you may have one client that utilizes the new website you built them and they’re driving traffic to it, they’re promoting it, their business is growing. You may have another client the same month, similar design, like really good website, but they’re not doing anything with it and they’re wondering why the sales aren’t coming in. The reality is you did your job both, in both cases the exact same way, to your excellence, but it was kind of up to the client to go from there. That’s how I viewed the results that my students get is I do all I can to empower everyone to the best of my abilities and I’m happy to explain why I decided to go membership first more recently with Web Designer Pro, and it was because of that. It was because the students that were getting the results had all the courses, had coaching with me and they had a community behind them to support them and alongside them. And that’s why I was like at the end of the day I could scale a DIY approach course business. But I just don’t know what type of results people are getting, unless they happen to send me a testimonial. Or if I do it at scale and at mass try to get a bunch of testimonials. I don’t know these people well, I don’t know their business and I never wanted to do like one-on-one coaching because that’s a really tough business model in a lot of ways. But I love this kind of hybrid approach to where I’m doing things at a decent scale and then I’m able to see I’m able to coach on a hybrid level with a couple hundred people to see what’s working well with a couple hundred people. That’s plenty enough for me to see what’s working well and then that can affect a couple thousand people and eventually tens of thousands of people. But all that to say what works for one person will likely work for two. What works for two will work for five, what works for five will work for 10. But there’s gonna be people where it’s like you can do all you can do. But if anyone to answer your question, andy is gonna be a course creator you almost have to remove, like the, almost the personal responsibility you feel for their results. Like, at the end of the day, I can’t go to somebody’s house and drag them to a networking group and go get web design clients. That’s up to them. I can share exactly how to do it. But I can’t handhold them or I can’t take this handholding approach that you might get. Well, I don’t know if you would get that anywhere. Even with, like, an in-person coach, you still have to do your own thing. So I don’t know if that answered your question. It’s a great question, but that’s kind of how I’ve approached that with the results thing.

Andy: 15:37
Yeah, and really what you’re kind of talking about in some ways is like it’s control. It’s how much control do we have in your membership experience? You do have a lot of control, because you can control the people who you let in and their level of commitment and how good of a match there is. You can control the information they’re getting and the expectations that everybody set. You can’t do the work for them. It’s really hard to do that, though, in different environments where it’s like this static course experience, where there’s kind of like a nameless, faceless. You don’t know who the end customer is. But if I were but I guess that’s what’s great about being a web designer is that you can have a lot of control in terms of the clients that you take on. We’re working with a really great copywriter right now. His name is Josh, and what I love about Josh is Josh. He doesn’t like pander to us. He’s very direct about what we need and doesn’t hold back. He’ll tell us like, oh, that’s a bad idea. He’ll be very clear about you know, I’ll take this project on from you guys, but here’s exactly what I need from you. And then, by the way, because he’s done that, he’s very much willing. It’s not a by the way, sorry. It’s not a coincidence that his name is Josh.

Josh: 17:16
I would trust him for sure.

Andy: 17:18
But then because he does all that work with us up front, he does then have more control and he takes on more accountability for our results. At the end it’s actually a really good point, man.

Josh: 17:26
The more control you take as a service provider, the better chances that the results are going to be good. I mean, every web designer has the same story where you get, you make a beautiful website, you hand it off to the client and if they have access, you know, good luck. In a month the site looks completely different and they’re like the website you built us isn’t working for us. They’re like well, you know, your marketing guy went in there and, freaking, changed everything and put like a paragraph, you know, a small book on the homepage. So no wonder. Yeah, you’re totally right. The more control you can you can set, like as the or constraints and limitations you can set, the better. And that is across the board. Web design, service industry courses, memberships, everything is, I feel like, as much as you can make it a guided experience, the better, because you’re going to have much more probable outcomes and results. And one thing I’ve noticed too is is with pro, one thing it’s been really cool that I never had before over the past, really the past couple of years is people who are getting success in any level, even if they’re just like making a little more than they made last year. That feeds into the other people who are in that zone, like the, the. The old expression, the rising tide lifts all boats. I found that to be so true in web designer pro, because you see a member who’s killing it and they’re doing something. You’re like, oh my gosh, I didn’t even think about doing that and didn’t pick it up from a course. You just see somebody else’s results and they’re sharing it or sharing wins, like the wins category, and inside of my community I’m going to go to the center pro side note is like a gold mind of strategies that are working today in web design. All you have to do is go through that and then apply a few of those and I guarantee your numbers are going to go up Like that’s what’s been. Really cool is is the whole like success tends to breed more success when you’re around. That. It’s just like you know if you hang out with a bunch of friends who are going nowhere and you’re going to end up going nowhere, but if you hang around five people who are just going to, you know you’re going to rise to that level. So I’ve certainly seen that as well when it comes to like the community aspect alongside and behind courses, and I actually kind of leads me to something I was kind of curious about from your perspective, with this change in the landscape over the past few years in particular, do you feel like there’s a burnout in community at all? I mean, it may depend on the community, but I or I guess our people at all just like, oh my gosh, I can’t, I can’t do another community, I don’t have time. There was such a mad rush into it in 2020 for those who aren’t ready in the community. I’m wondering if now there’s a time where people are just getting more dedicated to their niches and able to take on less. What’s your pulse on that?

Andy: 20:11
Well, I think there’s probably more consumption of community experiences than there’s ever been, meaning that if you’re creating community experiences, there’s probably never been a better time, and so that’s great, like that’s great for the industry. I think what is confusing sometimes to folks is the word like the actual language, community. It kind of it’s very overused right now and can really dilute things, and so I think what’s definitely not working and things to avoid is like saying, hey, I have this really great experience that’s already working, I’ve honed it in, but I feel like I have to make this like community component of it. So I’m just going to throw that on top without being really thoughtful of it. Or I’m just going to try and blast out an email to a list of 100,000 people say, hey, come join my community, and not have a thoughtful approach to it. For bad community experiences there’s big burnout. For great community experiences there’s never been more appetite and I think you know we can talk about what some of those like great community experiences are. But I’ll give you a couple of examples. Your community experience is a great community experience. You have very high signal folks in there. You enable the members to deliver a lot of value to each other. If there is a single space around the winds, that’s very tactical that I can literally go out and get one or two extra clients from it pays for the entire thing. I learned this new skill that I could use for probably the next year or two, three years of my business no brainer, and if that’s kind of flowing all the time, amazing. Another example would be if there’s a 30 day kind of like challenge, community or something, or I get one big outcome in 30 days and then I’m over, like a community doesn’t have to be always on, it can just be a community that spins up. We’re all going a little mission together for a period of time and it’s over and I’ve accomplished that thing or I’ve acquired that skill, whatever it is, and there’s never been more appetite for that. So I think there’s a burnout for sure from people just kind of creating these like poor community experiences or throwing the word community at some of those experiences.

Josh: 23:07
Okay, first off, what a great reminder and a great challenge for me personally, for anyone who has any sort of community, even a list of clients, where you want to like do a challenge together, like if you have your web design clients and you want to help them, you know, boost revenue with email or email marketing or a lead generator whatever it is you could do. You could like take your list of clients and do a challenge together. It doesn’t mean they’re going to be in community together forever, but I love that idea, andy, that like 30 day approach kind of thing, to where it’s like it’s a sprint, it’s like a cohort sprint. I don’t know what it would be called if it’s not a community. I’m not sure what it would be called, but that’s a great idea and it’s something that’s kind of low risk too. You could try it out and kind of see how it goes and see what relationships forge out of that. It’s almost like a program, like a, or I know like a boot camp is a pretty popular thing, something like that. That’s a great reminder I needed to hear that that not all communities are like every day forever, and I think that’s probably where a lot of people are like do I want to jump into something and suddenly I’m just going to be committed forever? My in-person networking group, for example, I like didn’t go to one for almost a year because I was like I don’t want to commit to that. It ended up being the best thing for my business, but it took me a while to get to that point. So that’s a great idea to have like more of a challenge, a sprint, a boot camp style approach, either before or alongside a community. If the word community is not resonating as well now, or if it’s overused, what would be a better term? Are there some other terms that you’ve seen work from people who are using Circle in particular?

Andy: 24:43
You know I like the word community. Actually I doubled down on it. So I doubled down on it when talking about Circle because I truly believe that our product enables these very high signal community experiences. So I love the word community and I will never stop using it. But when we talk kind of more practically about marketing, let’s say a community experience that you’re going to provide, you know if you’re to your point, if you’re thinking, man, this is do I really want to take this on of like starting a community experience or a membership or whatever it is. That’s always on. First of all, I wouldn’t even recommend, don’t, just don’t, don’t even start it. You can do a fixed version of it. But either way, what you’ll often do is kind of identify what are those two or three or four signature offer. Signature gatherings is the language we use a lot which is kind of similar to like. There’s this common phrase a lot of marketing and sales people use signature. What’s your signature offer or what’s your signature course is something used a lot. Signature gathering is like what is the main value property to get inside the community? Talk about this all the time, but it could be the hot seat concept, it could be. We’re going to do a book club. It could be, you know something that I love the idea that you might do in your membership. It could be we’re all going to share our proposal and coding process and we’re going to share one great example of what that looked like and all of our learnings, do a big breakdown on it, and then I’m going to get feedback from other people. I’m just making this up, but I’m going to get feedback from other people about, like, how I could have done it better or whatever it is.

Josh: 26:32
We’re actually about to launch one here next month for newsletters for web designers, so everyone’s going to share. We’re going to do like a little bit of a challenge, probably like a 30 day type challenge in pro for email newsletters. So we’re all going to get our first ones together and I just opened up actually yesterday at the time of recording this a new accountability section. That was actually just for anyone who’s running a community. One piece of advice I have is listen for like the hot terms or the keywords, the hot topics that people are asking about. I had several members over the past few months ask about some sort of accountability with other members as well and I was like I should have like an official accountability space. So it’s live now and pro. So yeah, perfect example.

Andy: 27:15
And so you’ll, either way, like you’ll have those kind of two or three. There’s like the two or three really high value signature gatherings that you’ll have. That’ll be the meat of the offer. And then there’s like other parts of the community. Maybe there’s discussion areas where people are kind of ad hoc, you know, sharing ideas, getting feedback, all that. That’s maybe not a signature gathering, but rather than going back to the original question, just talking about, like you know, join my community. In practice, what you’ll actually do is like you just talk straight about the meat and potatoes, which is what are the signature gatherings, and it could just be like this doesn’t sound very sexy, but it could just be like we have joined my web design accountability with some kind of fun, interesting name or whatever my accountability group. If that was like the only thing, and it could totally be the only thing. And you don’t even have to use the word community. We all kind of know it’s actually like a community is really what it is. So, but it doesn’t have to make it into the marketing.

Josh: 28:16
Gotcha, that’s genius. Wow, I needed to hear that as I think about growing pro and marketing it. Well. Yeah, I’m just so tempted to say courses, community and coaching, but those are like the byproduct basically of the tactical things I’m offering and then a lot of people are doing in any sort of community or membership, so that’s really good.

Andy: 28:35
So lead with the like, the specifics, I think so it’s a copywriting mistake that we make a lot like internally. A lot of the copy that we make is like the headline is a little generic and it’s might be getting too many of the weeds, but the headline is a little generic and the sub headline is like what, where the magic is? And a lot of times the feedback we have is like bring, so it might be, we’re long, you’re going to get access to community dot, a community AI, right Like our AI suite. And then they’ll say like automatically craft engagement posts, whatever, whatever.

Josh: 29:12
No, just make that the headline.

Andy: 29:13
Yeah, let’s lead with the magic.

Josh: 29:15
Let’s lead with that that’s so funny. I do website reviews for my members and that’s one of the most common things I do is I’ll see a headline that’s a little vague and kind of man, not bad, but just kind of there, and then under that inevitably is like that’s where the gold is, that’s where they really strike to the heart of like the results that they get for clients. I’m like that’s literally yesterday I did one for a member and same thing. It was like the main headline was like hey, I’m your, I’m a web designer, and then the type of websites I build for clients. We get these type of results. I’m like that that’s the first thing they see for sure. That’s great. All right, straight up, andy. Our DIY course is dead. What’s that? What’s that market like nowadays?

Andy: 30:00
I Think there’s. There’s definitely still a place for them, okay, so you know what they’re good for, though. Well, they’re good for very self. They’re very like autonomous, self driven people. But I think they’re especially good at the low end in terms of, you know, courses that are, let’s say, sub a hundred dollars, sub a couple hundred dollars, where they tackle a very specific area and Get you to a very clear outcome in a short amount of time. I think they’re great for that. So, no, I don’t think they’re they’re dead. I Don’t think they’re dead at all. I do think what’s, what’s really tough these days is selling the two or three thousand dollar course or the four thousand dollar program or whatever it is. That’s purely Static self-serve. Yeah, you’re competing against people that are delivering these more holistic Kind of community first approaches that are gonna get you a better outcome and you just get more money.

Josh: 31:17
I totally agree. That’s such a great way to sum that up and of course I’m playing a bit of a devil’s advocate with that question, but I have had people ask me that and I wondered myself because a few years ago, 500 thousand dollar, two thousand dollar courses that was like the end product. It was like I have the course. But now, especially with the way information is with AI and everything else, I feel like I think you’re totally right. I think if you can package up information, just pure information, in a low ticket offer but then have that lead to the full experience that may include coaching, support, community that Seems to be where it’s at that actually really helps me as well. As I’m rethinking like how am I because I have my courses Still available as one-off options if you just want the course and I look I recognize too there’s a, there’s a time for that. So we’re like I don’t have the time or the bandwidth right now to join a new community, but if I could go through a course and just get what I need to know with a little bit of coaching and then move from there, I’m very open to that. So I Think you’re right. I think anyone who has a setup or a knowledge base of information. I think you’re totally right. What a great challenge to like package those things up into smaller low ticket offers. I’m really thinking about doing that for myself, so thank you, and they give me some clarity on how to maybe do that. I totally agree.

Andy: 32:32
I think there’s also in between. There’s the right, because if on the one end of the spectrum it’s very premium, very kind of community led, hands-on, high touch, we’re all talking to each other all the time there’s that version. Then there’s the. It’s purely you buy it, you immediately get access to it and you’re off to the races, but you’ll never hear from you personally. There’s obviously the in between, which is something we do at circle all time with our customer community, which is we give them, you know, high production Self-driven courses, but then we offer Once a week, like live office hours, videos with our boot camp as an example, like live office hours once a week, or people can come and ask questions, or you know, maybe you will do this self-serve course, but then you can come and get like the in-person version, meaning like live on a call will go through it and then you can ask questions at the end, you know, once a week, which then you’re only, you know, making a commitment once a week and still want too many, you know, and so. But then you also do get to meet the people that You’re Helping and learning and you know that are learning from you, and so it’s a kind of nice in between. It’s really good for people who are just kind of started out.

Josh: 33:44
Yeah.

Andy: 33:45
To still get the face time.

Josh: 33:47
Yeah, that’s a great point. Yeah, and there’s, I found, sometimes with a really good community, one of the best things to do. It’s hard to sell communities. It really is. I mean, you can do all the video testimonials and and you know, sharing what’s really going on and case studies and success stories. I’ll do all those things in the world, but I feel like until somebody is in it and they have some ownership of it, that’s when it clicks. I can’t tell you how many people who joined pro and are like, oh my gosh, I wish I would have done this sooner. I was. I’ve been on the fence for six months and I finally tried it out and yeah, I should have been here, you know, six months ago. It is a little bit tougher, I think. I just say that, say that it’s tougher to sell memberships and communities and maybe because that is the, the all-encompassing nature that could be a community, I mean, it’s a life-changing thing. If it’s, it’s good, if it’s a really good thing. It’s like you know, like my best friends now are in pro and then their best friends. People are working together, people have hired each other and are, like you know, like businesses are forming inside of WebZone or pro. It’s amazing, and I think that’s why sometimes it’s hard to sell, because it’s not. It’s not like one exact little thing. It’s easier to sell, like a pricing guide for web design, but the whole package is a lot harder to sell. So for anyone who is selling a community or a membership, I guess that’s something to think about. Do you have any Tips or maybe like a like a heads up, something to think about if somebody is considering starting a membership or a community of any sort? What are some of the like you know? Have you already give like a 101? Like, if you’re gonna start a community, be prepared for this kind of thing. Do you have any things that come to mind?

Andy: 35:21
Yeah, so you know I’ll tell you exactly how I would approach it if I was going to. So, first of all, I would choose something that I feel like I have a unique advantage, and a unique advantage in terms of being able to Really help people with the, the content and the outcome. Like I really feel good about that. I would choose a topic where that outcome is Valuable enough that people will be actually able to pay for, where I’ll be able to run a proper business, you know, and and earn a good living from it. So, and then also an advantage like a distribution advantage, where I would be able to go out and actually, like, acquire the members and grow it feel I would know where my members are to come from before I even do it. So you know, for me I’ll give you one example. It would be pretty not easy, but I would have a huge advantage that were to be a community around Building you know, software companies, for you know, so maybe it’s like executives at software companies on the marketing and sales side, or founders, right, and if I were to do that, I might charge. It could be, by the way, it could be five or ten thousand dollars a year for that, because you know you really help people, so be premium. I would then think, okay, what are my signature gatherings gonna be? And, by the way, if it was a gardening community to be, the same thing I would charge, you know, $20 a month or $50 a month, same thing with cooking, but I Would find my signature gatherings and so I would think, all right, what are the signature gatherings for that I really feel good about, like I, it fits my personality and the type of work I want to do. And then is this gonna be an ongoing thing or is it gonna be a start and end? Well, this I actually think could be an ongoing thing, because businesses last a long time, whereas I’m only gonna learn the guitar, you know, over eight weeks and then TBD, but not probably not eight weeks. But so then I might say, okay, it’s gonna be an ongoing thing. What are my signature gatherings? Well, I love hot seats and I feel bad for you because you’ve heard me talk about hot seats forever. It’s just my favorite signature gathering of all the signature gatherings when, essentially, you take you know somebody for 30 minutes or an hour, small group, six, seven people, peers that that person in Nazi really respects. They share An important problem that they have in their business. If it’s solved, it would really help them and be incredibly valuable to them. And we all sit there for maybe it’s like two hours and we just try and solve that person’s problem, and so that might be one of my signature gather. The other signature gathering might be some Thing where people can get feedback right. So you know, maybe it’s like you share your kind of like big New thing you rolled out could be like employee onboarding, or it could be your operating plan or whatever it is, and then you get some great service, like we have like our Five expert. You know, cfos come in and they’ll do like a review of it for an hour and then we’ll share it with the broader community. We can all talk about it, turn into content or whatever it is. But I would think what are those three or four signature gatherings that I know? If we deliver on these, man, that is a really valuable community. Then I would go. I create a really beautiful landing page, easy for marketers to do, really easy for designers to do. But then I would create that page and I wouldn’t promote it anywhere. I would literally just create a list of the 30 founding members 50 founding members in a spreadsheet. I would reach out to them one on one, pitch them on hey, I’m thinking about doing this thing. Do you want to be involved in this at all? I’ll give you a discount. By the way, it’s gonna be really it’s gonna be worth way more than what you’re gonna pay for it. I would probably already know them in some way or another. I would hop on a one on one call with every single one of them and I would be a direct sales process, because there’s nothing to show them yet and I would be really honest with them upfront that this is a new thing. Like I wouldn’t be. Like I have this amazing community. You can join it. There’s all this stuff happening in there. I would be very transparent. You’re gonna be one of the founding kind of members and we’re gonna do this together and you’ll help me build it. And, by the way, that’s why you’re gonna get a big discount on this I have sage advice.

Josh: 40:01
And one thing you hit on there too that’s really important that I experienced with Pro when I launched it was formerly called the WebZine Club, now WebZine or Pro. But I learned early on, if I launched this, I can’t just launch it by myself. Like it’s not just a solo coaching operation, it’s a community behind this stuff. So when I launched, I think I had 30, like 35 or so people with the first wave and that’s the core group. Still today. A high percentage of those are the core group today. Like it is so important to have a good core group, even if it’s five people that are gonna help drive, even if it is truly a community and it’s not just a program that you start and finish. So I can’t stress that enough. Like it’s almost better to start small and grow slow and steady that I found than to have like a huge uptick and then potentially have a hundred people who don’t know each other, because suddenly that’s a lot of work to get everyone feeling comfortable with each other, whereas if you kind of work in one, two, five people at a time, it’s a lot easier as far as growing in the early days and ongoing. I’m reminding myself of that often too, because I’d love to see Pro. My goal is to get to our 250 member cap, or at 169 right now, and yeah, I would love to hit 250 already. But then I’m reminding myself, you know, at the expense, of how well things are going right now. I don’t wanna grow too fast and in any business web design services, anyone who knows you get a wave of sales. It’s awesome. But then you got a whole slew of challenges. How do I finish these projects without working 120 hours a week and killing myself? Same thing with communities. How, like you know, be careful what you wish for. I guess, with quick growth, is the motto of the story.

Andy: 41:45
You know one of my favorite communities that exists and it’s not really so much an online community and it’s not on Circle, but it’s a guy named Jason Gaynard and he has a community. It’s called Mastermind Talks and you know it’s very curated. You basically have to be a seven figure entrepreneur. He literally like this one kind of big event a year and he really goes to everybody’s background and he identifies like who’s gonna sit next to who and all that he planned out every minute. It’s like two or three days long. He had a book back in the day about it’s called Mastermind Dinners. But what his strategy was and I don’t know if it’s still the same today this is, you know, many years ago. But he capped the number of people in it and but he did increase the price pretty much every year as they would add more value. And instead of increasing the number of people in the community, he focused on increasing the quality of people in the community and that allowed him to still be able to, like, always improve the experience while also growing the business and making the experience better for all the other members, as their peers were consistently getting better.

Josh: 43:08
Yeah, and you know, and there’s a, that’s a big. That’s a whole other topic the idea of a cap. The reason I’ll just share publicly, like the reason that I instituted this cap is because I personally coach everyone in pro, like we. Everyone has access to me. Oh, look at your proposals, your pricing, our view of your website. I cannot do that for more than 250 people and that’s only because not everyone is. You know, I don’t have 200 people a day right now DMing me in pro. It’s a smaller percentage, but what happens often is somebody who is new is gonna need a little more coaching initially and then they’re off. Like I give them the to-dos and then they’re off for a couple months doing their thing. So it kind of spaces out and works out nicely. That’s why I have that cap with the current level of pro, once we hit that cap, I’m gonna open up probably like an entry tier or a basic tier that would give them access to courses and some of the community and probably a monthly call, but you’ll just not have the direct coaching access to me and some of the other stuff. I’m also very, very leery of messing up the amazing community that we have, like the tight-knit feel, but at the same time and tell me this, what you’ve seen on this it is very hard to have a tight-knit community that is bonding well and gelling well and supporting each other and they’re welcoming new people, but at the same time, if you welcome too many or there’s the potential of a bad Apple, that can really mess things up and thank goodness I better knock on some wood. You know how many. Guess how many comments I’ve had to delete in Pro Andy since I started in 2020? Like how many bad comments that worked like I delete Two Zero.

Andy: 44:51
Amazing.

Josh: 44:52
Zero, unheard of. We had one that was like I could have been said nicer, but it wasn’t to the point where I was like, yeah, no, and the price point helps with that and it’s always been built as you know. It’s very, very clear you need to be like-minded in this way to join, and that’s without application. I say all that to say if you do get some fire in a community or a pool of clients and things are going well, even if it’s a small group, it’s a tricky balance, protecting that but also growing that. Do you have any tips on that? Like, when you have something that’s going really well but you want it to grow, how do you protect it but also make it a welcoming environment too?

Andy: 45:30
So, I’ll start with the philosophy and then I’ll get down to the tactics. But, like philosophically, the way I think of these communities and, by the way, just for everybody’s context, my company Circle we have a customer community with. I mean, we have 10,000 customers, but I think there’s something like 16,000 people in there or something right now and it’s generally, you know, very well-behaved. But we kind of treat it like our living room a little bit. And we stole that from Tim Ferriss who I think it was like 10 years ago. You know, he used to have, I mean, his blog was so popular he’d get all these comments and some of them would be great, others would be a little not so great, and he was like no, I feel no guilt around deleting comments. Now we don’t really delete comments unless something is really off in the Circle customer community, just kind of out of principle, like we try and be very transparent, but if somebody is like doing damage to somebody else or they’re just like really ruining the vibe for a lot of other members, they’re rude or whatever, we’ll just send them a note being like hey, can you delete that message? But you know what? We have 16,000 members and it’s so incredibly rare, I think at our scale. Just for context, you know, matilde and Pedro, they run our community day in, day out and they I would guess they delete a comment once every. They’re probably two to three a month and then, but mostly those two to three, you’re just it’s like it’s posted in the wrong area or something like that or you know whatever it is. So it’s not a real problem if you nail the fit and the expectations upfront during and you do that the entire process from the initial outreach to them explaining what it is you know in your marketing, to the landing page itself, to the application form, to maybe that intro call if you have one with the first members before they join where you can figure out if it’s a mutual fit to the onboarding expectations when they come in that first welcome video they have to the new member like sign up checklist and all those places you’re kind of reinforcing and meeting out the bad behavior until that first time they’re really getting in there to share ideas and start to participate, like they know what the expectations are and they’re actually probably in the community because of those expectations.

Josh: 47:54
Yeah, yeah, that’s a good point, especially in the field of web design. There’s so many Facebook groups that are still hopping for web designers and a lot of great Facebook groups, a lot of great forums. But when a group gets to a 5,000, 10,000 member mark I’ve found that a group that’s now 25,000, my Divi group that I founded years ago you are gonna get some rough comments and I’ve had a lot of members of Pro say how they appreciate having a safe space to be able to ask questions and know they’re not gonna get bombarded with hire me kind of things or like oh, you’re an idiot, what do you think? Like that kind of stuff? I think that is the value of a premium community, for sure, as it’s like I don’t know the best analogy, but I guess it is it’s almost like, instead of a lounge where anyone can kind of go into, it’s like you’re a level back. You’re like what’s the living room thing? Like you’re in the room, kind of thing.

Andy: 48:49
There’s more social state, like there’s more at stake, right? Like, first of all, 20,000 people just think about it, it’s half of a stadium, that’s all of Madison Square Garden. Like, if you were to look around Madison Square Garden, there’s some people having a really crappy day in there and that’s gonna come out, you know, in their interactions that day. And if they spend a good amount of time in your community, it’s gonna come out in your communities. Just part of that, right. And then, honestly, there’s nothing I’ve seen. You know you just need moderation tools for that but when it’s 100 people and I’ve built up a relationship with the 100 people or the 300 people or whatever it is in there, there’s a lot more cost to me just doing whatever comes natural, you know, to the downside. You know out in a post. So I think I just don’t think you get it very much.

Josh: 49:47
Yeah, now a good point. I’m kinda curious as we get ready to close this one out here, andy, have you seen communities in Circle that are based around service providers like the other, or the customers of service providers? One idea we’ve been exploring in web design and Pro and a lot of people I’m working with even Eric, the CEO of my agency he has. He started like a customer community. You have a really good example of that with Circle. Now a SaaS product is different than a service product, because my web design clients may never interact with each other. But have you seen customer communities for service-based people like web designers, or do you think there’s a market for that?

Andy: 50:32
Yeah, I think there’s a market for it, where I think there’s a market for it where the customers themselves, the customers of the service providers, are similar customer ICPs. Meaning I’ll use web design as an example. I know there are web design agencies that focus on very specific verticals, meaning there are some that focus really, there are some that focus on card dealerships, there are some that focus on law offices and illegal, and if that’s like my thing, you could potentially connect those people together. I don’t know if I would do it in that case or if it was around like, let’s say, let’s use law. I don’t know if this is the best example, but it could be very specific, like it could be if they came to you for, let’s say, web design or maybe more broadly, like marketing services. Maybe you’re like a broader, like marketing agency for law offices. You might create a small and then say you have 30 clients or 50 clients, you know, over the course of a couple of years you could potentially create a small group that has maybe like the marketing manager or marketing leaders, like at those law offices, let’s say they’re, you know, 20 people plus or 10 people plus as part of that community. Like that would make sense. What wouldn’t make so much sense is if, maybe you’re a marketing agency and you serve kind of like these different, all these different verticals. Maybe all you do is paid acquisition and then you serve all these different verticals, now you could create a community there. Potentially it could be all around paid acquisition. There is something there. I think it’s just a very different approach and you have to really put yourself in the customer, the member’s shoes and be like what are they gonna get from this?

Josh: 52:39
Yeah, yeah, I think and I’ve seen this already play out over the past year or so, with a couple of members in pro who have experienced and tried this out, who have like tighter community or tighter customer set, and then Eric, with my in transit studios, my agency right now there is definitely a couple of different avenues for this in the way of basically essentially having like a membership behind your web design services. What I would recommend if I were doing it, what I would do, is just have a customer pool and offer to go live once a month for a Q and A. Yeah, and it’d be topical, like we might talk about the changes that’s gonna happen here soon with Google AI and just let everyone know. Here’s what’s gonna happen with SEO. Here’s what it’s looking like. Any questions, even if there’s a mechanic and a chiropractor and a hair salon and an entrepreneur like they have nothing in common, but they all have websites and they all wanna get better SEO rankings. That’s kind of how I would go about that and what I would do is, if it’s like a $97 a month thing or even less, but they have access to that and some premium resources that you can continue to provide. What I would do is like if you do a $5,000 website job, then they would get like 12 months access to this, which would be like a free call every month. I would do something like that today. It would be a win-win total. And then after 12 months, if somebody’s loving it and they’re like I wanna keep on having Josh for these monthly calls awesome, $97 a month, maybe let’s go. You do that for 50 clients. What’s the math on that? Hold on, oh, we’re gonna do live math. $5,000 a month what was that? $5,000 a month yeah, $5,000, almost $5,000 a month. Mrr monthly recurring income on the backside of your business. So I think that’s where things are moving as far as the service-based industry, because a lot of people in my audience are not gonna wanna do like their full-blown-owned community. Some are eventually too, but right now I think there’s a lot of options for like a smaller type, even if you don’t call it a community, but like a customer pool, a customer support center, whatever you wanna call it. There’s a lot of options for that and I recommend using Circle, obviously full-blown, 100%. So I hope everything we’ve covered really lays the groundwork Because in this support community that you could offer your clients, you could 100% take everything we’ve talked about, andy, with how to structure your offer. Really highlight the benefits, the results that people are gonna get. Not just say like, join my community, because most clients are gonna be like I don’t have time for that. But if you say, join my live coaching calls, well, every month we have a topic, it’s gonna help you out. They’re like, ooh, that I’m interested in, or train their team, whatever it is. There’s a lot of different aspects that could work with this.

Andy: 55:26
And then you could I love that concept. You can go to a customer community. The wheels are spinning right now, but, man, that’s such a great idea. I could even see the agencies that I could see, if you have 30 to 50 agencies, even bring in some of those agency people. Oh sorry, 30 to 50 customers. I could even see bringing in some of those customers to do some of the teaching you know each month on the live Q&As, and all that Outside experts.

Josh: 55:56
Yeah, I mean really, this idea is basically like what I did in my networking group. In person, it’s just online, Like we all have different businesses, but every month or every week, some member would have a chance to promote and talk about, like their area of expertise. So, like one month I talked about SEO and everyone’s like, oh my gosh, yeah, sign me up. I got a ton of clients that way in the group and they were like oh, yeah, I’m working with somebody who is trying to figure out how to show up on Google, so I’ll refer them to you. Same principles apply here. All that to say, I think this is a very untapped market and opportunity to have essentially a customer support community. That’s like a little bit of coaching, a little bit of community, and people who resonate with each other and have similar services as customer types may partner up with each other. I mean, I learned the power of being a connector in my networking group and you can 100% do that here. So, yeah, I’m really excited about that man. I mean let’s end off on this note, andy like what are you most excited about in the way of communities and online memberships now, compared to four years ago when Circle started?

Andy: 57:04
I think what really gets me most kind of like jazz in the morning when I get up and look at the progress in the space is-.

Josh: 57:18
Seeing how Web Designer Pro is doing.

Andy: 57:21
Yes, yeah, it’s the connection that people, the admins like the people who are creating the communities that they’re having with the members and between the members and them getting to experience those connections between the members, cause I don’t think it gets much more fulfilling than that. It’s very tangible. You see the results that you’re providing and that your members are provided to each other, and you didn’t get that as much four or five years ago, and only 10% of those experiences out there were community and the rest were kind of static experiences, and so that’s the biggest thing. I see it every day so many times, and so I just know how real it is. I kind of see the momentum happening, the snowball kind of like picking up steam, and so that’s what I’m most excited about.

Josh: 58:11
Oh, that’s so cool man. Yeah, I feel like the human element of all this is what it’s really about. Just yeah, we’re better together and you get better results when we do things together. So, yeah, that’s really cool man. Well, Andy, thank you for your insight on this one man. There were some really cool things that I took away from this personally as a community builder and a membership guy myself and a course grader, but, like I said, I like that you’re excited about that idea too, of the support the customer support community I mean Circle is. I don’t know if anyone has done a better job than Circle. Like I love going into that community. I shared a win recently because I felt comfortable doing so and I knew that people were gonna be excited to see what’s worked for me and I’m gonna learn from some other people. So I think there’s a huge opportunity for that, especially for web designers with customers who maybe do different industries, but by golly, the goals are the same with having a better online presence. So, yeah, I love it, man, Of course, I’m a huge fan of Circle Goes, without saying I 100% endorse, use and recommend Circle for customer support communities, coaching courses, all the things I mean. I’m a WordPress guy, but I would use Circle for all the things I just mentioned, and then you can embed it in your WordPress site too, which is so awesome. So joshhullco Circle is my link to get a free trial for anyone who’s curious. Andy, thank you for your time, man. I really appreciate your insight, as always, and are you looking forward to a round three here at some point?

Andy: 59:37
I can’t wait and just wanna thank you and you’re truly like the best example of somebody who creates a community for the right reason and then, like predictably, over and over, delivers value for your members. It’s like the model. So I just love getting exposed to kind of what you’re doing and learning from you and for all the generosity in our Circle customer community where you share what’s working, so really appreciate it. Can’t wait for round three.

Josh: 1:00:09
Oh, happy to man. And look, if you want me to come in and do another training in Circle, you can count me in. I love sharing what’s working and, yeah, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned and what’s working man. All right, andy cheers. Thanks, dude.

Andy: 1:00:23
Thanks.

Josh: 1:00:26
There you have it, friends. If there’s anyone who knows what’s working right now, it’s Andy with Circleso Again, so glad to be able to spend some time with him in this one to pick his brain. I hope this has helped you get a good feel for how you could include creating not only an online community or membership for you in your business, because I really think there’s a huge opportunity. In fact, I know there’s a huge opportunity because Eric, the CEO of my agency, is doing this, and I have some members of Web Designer Pro who have a subscription style community. It’s like a customer community for their customers, to empower them and to add more value to them. Moving forward and you can use Circle to do that it’s what I would recommend doing. For sure, I absolutely love Circle. I was very hesitant to move forward with an all-in-one solution, but I can say, since signing up for Circle in the fall of 2020, it is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my business and I have never looked back, and I know the same will be true for you too. If you decide to check out Circle for online communities, core sites or memberships, use my link if you would. Joshallco, I’m here to try a 14-day free trial of Circle and, as I mentioned in the intro, this week, at the time of releasing this episode, I’m gonna be putting out a few new episodes or a few new videos on my YouTube channel, all about Circle. So if you’ve heard me talk about it now, you’ll get a really good feel of what it looks like and get a peek behind the curtain here, as I’m giving a behind-the-scenes look at my community Web Designer Pro and how I view Circle to help me build that. So check that out and you can go to the show notes for this episode. We’ll have the links we mentioned at joshallco Slash three, one, four for this episode. All right, friends, be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, and I’ll see you on the next episode of the Web Design Business Podcast.

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