I get a lot of questions from people asking me why I started the Community, my membership site.

  • When did you know it was the right time to start your Community?
  • What was the tipping point?
  • How was I certain that people would join before I made it?
  • Were you just getting a lot of emails/questions from people or was there something specific that happened?

They want to know how it started. First, I want to talk about the why and the how: How did I start it and why did I do it?

I have over 100 podcast episodes on the topics of creativity and business. I’ve been doing this for about a year now and it’s attracted a certain kind of audience. It’s also worth noting that I don’t have comments on podcast—that’s an intentional choice.

I disabled them on purpose because I want to facilitate quality discussion. That’s not something you can do when the comments are wide open. Take the comment threads on Reddit for example: they’re a mess! When you open your comments to the public, you have a similar result. There are garbage comments and trolls and things that you don’t want.

I then have to filter and steer the wrong type of commenters into better discussion when the people who want to be there are the ones who really need my attention.

The wrong type of commenters don’t get what we’re about. I want the people who get professionalism. I want the people who have watched, listened, and read my stuff. I want people who understand focusing on the value, fighting Scarcity Mindset, protecting the passion, and who understand charging what they’re worth.

How to Know the Right Time

The way I knew the right time was when I started getting lots of emails because there’s no place on the website for this kind of discussion. Awesome conversations were happening in email between me and this one other person that were incredible. These were life-changing conversations that were happening and no one else was able to experience them or benefit from them!

I realized, there are a lot of people with similar interests who want to connect with each other. I saw the potential there and that’s where the Community was birthed.

Initially, I was thinking that we’d just have a forum to discuss the episodes on the show, but eventually we decided to live stream the podcast and realized it would be a good idea to have a chat for the live listeners to interact with each other.

What I didn’t anticipate is how central the chat would become to the Community. It was the place were everything culminated and grew. It’s what kept people around and what brought new people in.

Now, there are at least a dozen people in the chat at any given time—24/7. These are people that want to talk about the things that you’re interested in and that’s super valuable.

Curate What You Project

When you curate what you project (Related: e074 Curate What You Share), you will attract a certain kind of person. You will attract certain kinds of people and audiences. The community that you’re building and growing in and of itself is valuable to people, not just the content that you’re putting out.

Keep in mind, if all you do is rant and complain and you don’t provide value, you’re not going to attract anyone of value.

If you’re negative all the time, you attract people who gravitate towards negativity. That’s not something you can sell. That’s not something other people want. You need to think about what kind of value you’re providing:

  • What are you talking about on your podcast?
  • What are you blogging about?
  • What are your newsletters about?
  • What are your videos about?

If you talk about anything and everything, you’re going to attract a very generalized audience. If one day you show up and talk about movies, the next day you talk about development, then you talk about art, then you talk about woodworking, and then you talk about music—you’re not going to attract a very focused audience.

People need something they can grasp because there are a limited number of people they can process. People can’t process the complexity of every single individual, so they will put you in a box. They’ll put you in a box and say, “That’s the development guy,” or “That’s the hand lettering guy.”

You can’t control the fact that people will put you in a box.

You can control the kind of box people put you in.

You can control that by the type of things that you’re putting out there.

Be Bold Enough to Niche Down

Daniel Espinoza is a good friend of mine who lives here in San Antonio. He is a perfect example of someone who is curating his output. He curates what he shares and he niches down to a very specific, targeted thing and that’s how people are able to process what he’s about.

They put him in a box—which is actually a good thing—because he’s shaping that box for people who are interested in WooCommerce development. That sounds very specific, right? WooCommerce is an e-commerce plug-in for the WordPress platform. It’s quite specific, but when people want help with WooCommerce or need someone to custom develop a plug-in for WooCommerce, they immediately think of Daniel. That’s because he’s curating what he’s about.

By curating what he puts out there, he’s attracting a very specific kind of audience. He is building a community of people who are interested in the same kind of thing and it’s so powerful.

Conferences Create Community Through Curation

It’s not unlike a conference. A conference will have speakers come out and speak on a specific topic, but they’re attracting a certain kind of attendee by the topic and speakers that are brought on. It’s not just the value that the speakers or panels are bringing, it’s the value that the attendees get by connecting with each other. That’s the beauty of community.

If you’re wanting to setup a membership site or build and grow your own Community, you need to find a focus. You need to be all about one thing and that’s what’s going to attract a certain kind of person.

I knew it was time to start a membership site because of all the emails I was getting, this allowed me to vet interest in the things I was talking about. Now, all kinds of great communication and discussions happen within the Community.

There wouldn’t be as much of an incentive for people to sign up if I had comments.

There’s a lot of people that run membership sites who also have comments on their blog and podcasts, and people talk there. What’s the value proposition of signing up if I can already find people who are interested in the same thing in the comments? By disabling that, you actually incentivize people to sign up for your site (and also ensure that the discussion is quality).

The Multi-functional Paywall

The reason you wouldn’t want to make your membership site free, and why you do want to charge for it, is actually not about money.

Money is a secondary factor.

The reason you should charge is because the paywall acts as a filtration device. This will keep the non-serious people out and makes sure the people who are in are the people you want.

Don’t think of this as a way to make money quick. It’s much more of a long term investment than that. See it as a 2 to 3 year investment.

Make this a place you want to invest and a place where people will have a great experience. Give your members a reason to stick around. To do that, you need to continue to iterate and listen to your community, add features, and develop new sections. That’s a crucial part of it and it’s where I’m at right now. I’m 2–3 years out from seeing some profitability from my membership site.

I am making 4 figures a month from Community memberships but my expenses are well beyond that. I’m paying to do videos, I’m paying to do podcasts, I’m paying employees to do show notes and other things for me. I have hosting costs, bandwidth costs, video costs, all of this stuff is rather expensive.

I’m not just putting 100% of my profits back into the Community, I’m putting many times 100% of my profits back in because I’m building a whole new chat system from the ground up. I’m having it tailored around the Community needs.

Are You Ready?

I have a lot of features coming out in the next couple of year. I’m pouring back into it right now. My priority for the Community is to create an awesome place where good people can connect with other good people and have great discussions.

Right now, I’m focused on giving, investing in my Community, curating my output, and attracting the type of person that we want in the Community—the type of person who gets what we’re about. I would encourage you to approach it the same way: think of it as an investment and do it because you love your audience. Do it because you want to see great connections being made.

It’s not about the money and it really can’t be about the money if you wanted to be long-term sustainable. Yes, eventually it could be a really great thing but initially treat it as an investment rather than a way to make money right away.

If you’re wondering when the right time to build a community or set up a membership site is, the time is when you’re ready to put money into it and not when you’re ready to get money out of it.