How to Create a Successful and Authentic Membership Site That’s Built for the Long Term With Tracy Childers [Episode 21]

Kimmy Reyes — 

In this episode Micah interview’s Tracy Childers, “the godfather” of membership sites. Throughout this episode Tracy shares how he co-founded WishList Member. He shares his advice on how to run a successful membership site for the long term and his advice on starting a reliable business partnership.

Tracy and Micah talk about how the subscription economy has evolved over the years. Where it’s headed in the future and what this means for people who are looking to start a membership site. They also discuss a few important topics that every business owner should start considering to make sure their business stays prepared for the future. To find out what they are exactly, you’ll want to check out the full episode...

In 2008 Tracy had co-founded WishList Member with Stu McLaren. At that time there was barely any other membership platforms available on the market. Over the years, WishList Member has became the world’s most popular and widely used membership platforms that exists today.

WishList Member currently powers over 90,000 membership websites and online communities. You could say when it comes to membership sites, to put it lightly, Tracy really knows what he’s talking about. To find out the most important lessons Tracy has learned over the years and his advice on how to start a successful membership site, listen to the full episode...

To learn more about WishList Member and find out more about how it works, you can check out their website at https://member.wishlistproducts.com

Key Takeaways From This Episode:

  • As Tracy says, “People like to buy from people they know, like and trust.” To effectively market your product, you need to invest in building your reputation, and earn your audience’s trust.

  • It's never too late to jump into something that you truly want to do and are passionate about. Whether you’re a membership site veteran, or just starting out, when you’re equipped with the right tools and resources, remember to believe in yourself and don’t let anything stop you.

  • In any business, Tracy believes that you have to be yourself. Instead of trying to imitate the people that you look up to, innovate and find your individuality by learning from them, not mimicking them. Apply and take this knowledge to the direction that you want to take on.

  • Find and form partnerships. Don't let your limitations hold you back. If you realize you’re not exactly sure about what you’re doing, you can always reach out and ask for professional help.

  • Don’t be afraid of change. Change is inevitable, the only thing you can do is to adapt to these changes. Use them to become better.

  • Know where you are going. Do not get too hung up on having to have your membership site perfect in order to get going. Whichever order you do to start and build a membership site is fine because the steps that go along with it are just as important.

Show ​Highlights & Links

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​Episode Transcript

Micah: Hey everybody it’s Micah Mitchell here again with the Membership Site Success Show and today we get kind of a really cool privilege. We have Tracy Childers here runs Wishlist Products, say hello Tracy!

Tracy: Hey everybody, thanks for having me Micah, I really appreciate it.

Micah: Yeah, of course. This is fun because Tracy is kind of like the godfather of the membership space for WordPress. I mean, he’s been doing this forever, your software has been on thousands of sites, probably still is on thousands of sites and I’m excited to pick your brain and just figure out what you’ve seen in the industry as it’s evolved and seen with successful membership site owners, there’s just a lot to go into and also one of your partners has a super successful membership site, somebody that you worked with, and I feel like you have so much experience that we get to kind of pick at. To start out, why don’t you just give us a little background on yourself, kind of what you’ve done and where you’re at today and then we’ll take it from there.

Tracy: Sure, I appreciate it Micah. It’s kind of interesting, I have kind of a unique background. When I was a kid my dad was a seminar speaker. So, he thought people how to invest into real estate and what that translates into was I got started in information marketing business at a really early age. Back in the day everything was done on audio cassette tapes and I was a director of shipping. That meant that I duplicated the audio tapes, packed them up and sent them out to people that bought them at seminars.

Over the course of time things kind of shifted, everything kind of moved in the direction of internet. It wasn’t necessarily just info marketing, it was internet marketing and I really kind of found my niche and I knew I was going to be doing something in the information marketing industry. I kind of found my niche in software, software development and a lot of people hear that and they ask me what I do and I say I have a software company so they think I’m a programmer and I tried that for a little while and I realized I’m not ever going to be a really good programmer.

So, I figured out what I tried to determine is what people want and need and then I find people who are really good at programming and I have them build that product for me and before we started Wishlist Products and created Wishlist Member I had other software for online video, even before Youtube was around. So, it’s been a long process. You mentioned that I had a previous business partner, that was Stu McLaren so the way we started Wishlist Products was that we wanted to create back, it was about ten years ago, right now at the time of this recording it was nine and a half years ago and what we saw was everybody was shifting into using a system called WordPress.

People were trying to build their websites and they were doing them in html and then everybody was moving to WordPress just because plugins and themes you know, obviously took off. We had no idea it was going to be as big as it actually was but then there was also a real need and demand for people to build membership sites even back then and at the time there weren’t any, I guess native to working specifically on WordPress.

So that’s how we kind of got started and it was really because Stu had a need himself and he’s like “I’m trying to build this membership site with another solution back then” and I said “I’ll tell you what, I’ve been developing software for a long time, I have a team, we can build anything so what would that look like?” So we started from there at Wishlist member really for ourselves to use it and then that just took off. Over the last ten years or so we have about 30 000 customers that have purchased that. Sometimes people run it on one site, sometimes people run it on multiple sites so it’s running right now on a little over 85 000 different websites across the internet.

Micah: For anybody listening, that’s why I think this is cool to talk to Tracy because that is a ton of membership sites.

Tracy: It’s kind of crazy because we have this little ticker and we see it like “oh man, we’re at 35 000 websites and then we’re inching up on 50 000” and it just keeps going up. Every day somebody new starts a membership site and of course some people run it on more than one website. It’s been crazy to see how many people are leveraging the power of membership sites and really Micah, when we first started this I told you we built this for ourselves and we thought we knew exactly what people wanted and how we’re going to use it and what’s been kind of shocking is to see how many different ways people use not just Wishlist Member but membership sites in general.

Even your solution Memberium, which is a great solution, I’ve looked across the internet and I’m seeing it used in a ton of different ways. I’m sure you probably experienced a similar situation when you thought you knew this is how everybody is going to use it and you thought “Okay, wow, didn’t think of that one.”

Micah: Yeah, exactly, we were like everybody wants a three level membership site and they’re going to put videos in it. No, it’s pretty much anything that has anything to do with logging in, they’re doing it, it’s all over the place.

Tracy: Yeah, it’s kind of funny to vert too much but you said “we thought maybe a three level membership site”, the very initial build of Wishlist Member we had to go back to our programmer and we had to restructure the whole thing before we released it to the public because when we were beta testing people were saying “Oh, what if we add them to another membership level?” You know, more than one membership level, and he said “Oh, you didn’t tell me about that” so we had to restructure the whole database and now we have people that end up with hundreds of levels because they structured it some interesting kind of way so you never know.

Micah: Yeah, you really don’t and it’s fun too because it’s like symbiotic where your customers teach you what to build and makes you more attractive to more customers and it’s kind of fun. So I want to go off on a little bit of a tangent here for us software guys, even though neither of us are programmers, I feel the same way you do when people are like “oh what do you do?” “I have a little software company,” “oh so you code and program?” “No, it’s not like that.”

Tracy: “Do you build custom solutions, can you build something for me?” No, no.

Micah: I was on a Mixergy podcast about a week or two ago and it was interesting because he had a sponsor who was like a programming shot and he was kind of asking me about “I know a lot of people who need a solution built for themselves and they get it built and then they go and resell it” and he was kind of talking about it and I said “Well, it can be good, it can be bad, because unless you’re willing and ready to support it long-term, you maybe don’t want to sell every bit of code you ever make.”

Tracy: Absolutely, I 100% agree with that.

Micah: So, you, I’m wondering, when you started Wishlist, did you have an idea that it was going to go so far and you got behind it or did it start to happen to you and then you got behind it?

Tracy: We built it from the very beginning to sell to other people. The initial reason that we built it was because we wanted something ourselves and there wasn’t anything else out on the marketplace and we noticed that there was a demand and that was a great, it’s actually how I built other pieces of software. There were opportunities, let’s dial back, when we talk about online video and this was before Youtube and everybody is kind of fighting to have the easiest and best way to put video online and back then it was like the clear cut winner is Flash Video.

There was really at the time one way of converting your video into flash, meaning people could use Windows Media, QuickTime and all that but Flash Video worked for everyone. There was a product out there with the same situation and people were like it’s a great product, it’s just hard, it’s complicated. So that’s what we saw when we got into building Wishlist Member. People wanted membership solutions and there were membership solutions out there but they didn’t really work with WordPress.

One of them specifically worked with WordPress but it was really, really complicated to set it up and get it to work with WordPress. Sometimes when you see people asking for something and it’s an already established market, then you’re like “this is the direction to head.” That’s how we built the software but we knew from the very beginning we’re going to build this for ourselves but we’re also going to build it and plan to support it. To answer your question, I really had no idea how big the market for people that wanted to run membership sites was going to be and the demand just continues to get bigger and bigger which is exciting for all of us.

Micah: Yeah it is and let’s talk about that for a second. You’ve been doing membership sites for about ten years now, like membership site software, so first of all, on a growth trajectory, has it ever slowed and spread backup or has it just been consistent and then do you think it’s close to a peak  or is it just going to go for a while?

Tracy: That’s a great question Micah! Because our software is a little different from Memberium, we’re selling licenses and they buy the license and they can use it, then we have support plans as opposed to what a lot of systems are, software as servers where they charge monthly for the system. We get this question quite a bit “Do you ever worry it’s just going to peak out and there’s not going to be anybody else that wants to start a membership site?”

I was like absolutely, especially maybe three to four years in, I thought “Wow, what if we just sell to everybody” by the way, now I don’t think that, I think there’s always new people entering into the marketplace and it goes back to something I said earlier, just because when people are asking me this question, how many people are going to be selling information products, maybe we’ll hit a cap on that, I don’t know, but the number of people that want to build membership sites in all these various different ways it just continues to grow and grow and grow.

I think for all of us really, if people are listening to this podcast and they’re interested in membership sites, the cool thing is there’s never been a better time, ever. We can say that when we first started but really, it continues to get better and better. There’s a lot of reasons for that. Number one, we’ve kind of shifted into a situation where almost, I don’t want to say everybody, but many major, major players have shifted business models. I mean, everybody has heard of Netflix obviously, millions of millions of users, but then, they kind of came out of the gate right from the very beginning and they said “Okay, we’re going to do a recurring revenue model.”

Back in the day it was the DVDs and the mail but still you were paying a recurring price. So that was back in the day when they got it that was untested. If you remember Blockbuster was really big, people would drive and pick out their movies and all that, so that was one thing that really helped a lot of people because I think that in shift of the mindset shift of the consumer is that “Okay, yeah, I’m going to pay monthly and sometimes it’s ever a better deal.”

So, that was kind of one thing, Netflix became so big, but then another big, big players shifted what we thought would never change. We’re talking about companies about Adobe, Photoshop, remember when you had to pay almost 1000 dollars to get a copy of Photoshop and what happened was so many people were like “I’m not paying 1000$, oh I found out they have a student discount” and they try to get the student discount when they’re not really a student, they would take advantage, then you had the crack, illegal version of the software.

So many people did it and now they shifted everything, you don’t pay 1000$ for Photoshop. You pay I think it’s like 11.99$ per month and it’s a monthly recurring revenue and even Microsoft switched to it. The big player, they are never going to switch but they did, almost everything now is recurring, you’re paying a monthly service. In the minds of consumers we’re just starting to get more and more used to that and I think even recently Apple, I saw something a while ago and I think they actually made an announcement, they sell billions of dollars in the one time downloads of music and it was like a 1.29$.

Making billions of dollars and now they built up Apple music where now you pay 10$ a month for individual or 15$ a month for your family and they’re about to kill the downloads, the analytics, this makes more sense for us and people enjoy it and so the whole industry is kind of shifting. That’s why it makes for such a great opportunity for somebody who wants to start a membership site. So, it’s pretty exciting times for everyone.

Micah: It is really exciting and I’ve read some stuff and even talked myself about this idea, the subscription economy or the access generation. People want access and they’re willing to pay monthly rather than some huge fee but I didn’t I guess put it together but they’ve kind of paved the way for everybody else and made it in a way normal to purchase these memberships.

Tracy: They absolutely paved the way because they changed really history. I have three teenagers and they’re in high school and we always talk about different subjects. They hate math, I was good at math, I hated history, I hated history which is unfortunate because I guess I never had a good history teacher. Now I’m fascinated by history so you can take a look at history and go back and you can almost predict what’s ultimately going to happen. If anybody is listening and they’re big into, I know you and I have talked a lot about what books you are reading, there is a book that came out in 2009 and it was called Free: The Future of Radical Price by a guy named Chris Andersen and what’s interesting is say wait a minute you just said that everybody was shifting to a monthly recurring revenue model but I’m bringing up this thing called Free.

I think that there’s going to be a big shift and the fact that it came out in 2009, almost ten years ago, he’s talking about one of the things, the music industry and if you look at what’s happening in the music industry, these up and coming they’re getting their music out for free and then they’re making all their money by touring and they go on tour and they make money from people buying tickets, they sell the merchandise and everything and there’s so much free content out there now, that’s really kind of paving the way for you to build up a big following. Now you’ve built your own demand in your own niche because you’re the leader, you release so much free information and now you can shift that directly into recurring revenue model so it’s pretty exciting.

Micah: It is and I’ve never heard of that book, that’s interesting, that’s pretty prophetic back in 2009 because of how much freemium stuff there is now.

Tracy: Absolutely, you mentioned earlier you have a friend and business partner that has a really successful membership site so that’s another example, I mentioned that Stu McLaren and I started Wishlist Products together and so about 4 years ago Stu left the company and he moved on because what he really wanted to do is he wanted to focus on building membership sites, teaching about membership sites and he wasn’t necessarily wanting to run a software company so what happened was a part of that process.

He teamed up with a guy named Michael Hiath, now Michael had a ton of experience, he was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, had all this experience in the book industry and he had got into being a blogger, had a huge following online and then they teamed up and he head just written a New York Times bestselling book called Platform, so he is teaching people how to get on your platform. So, naturally, he had this huge following online with all his free content with him blogging and then it was just a natural fit.

He already had a following and they teamed up, Stu and Michael teamed up to create a membership site called Platform University and it just took off. I think that what happens, what I’ve seen, I think earlier you’ve asked me, haven’t dealt with that many people that are wanting to create a membership site, is a lot of times people think “Oh, everybody’s talking about membership sites and that’s what I need to do. I need to build a membership site” and the dream is if you build it they will come.

That’s not really how it works, if you build it they will not come but what you can do is you can build a big following first, now you have a natural progression because the people that will come for your free content they’ll want to get more of you so it’s actually a perfect fit, like okay, I love this guy’s free content and many times you’ve got people who are learning things in the free content and now they’re building whatever niche it is they’re successful with the free content and so they’re like “Oh, well if I was this successful with the free content, can you imagine how much better I’d be with the paid content?” So that’s a great progression for us as well.

Micah: Yeah and even though you and I, we know this, it’s well-known, everybody does it, I still find myself thinking that even though I know it perfectly, I listened to a podcast for example the other day of somebody and I was just like this is so good and I feel like if I got this much from a podcast, I better go spend 1000$ on a course. So I did, it’s a no brainer in some of those situations.

Tracy: If you’ve been around marketing for any length of time, you know that people like to buy from people they know, like and trust. And so, now you’ve got people that can create free podcast and, I see what you’re doing with the Membership Site Success podcast, you guys are doing a great job and people get to see you and then they’re like “Oh, maybe Memberium is something I should take a look at.” It’s getting free exposure and people are doing that in all kinds of niches throughout the industry.

A lot of people talk about Gary Vaynerchuk, Gary V. and he has written so many books but earlier when he was first getting started with his Wine Show, he was basically doing the very same thing. He was creating free content for his Wine Show and they owned these liquor stores and the business was just booming because of his free exposure. He’s the type of guy who recognizes things in the marketplace, I think his very first book was called Crush It and I think I recently saw that he updated it, but if you haven’t read Crush It, you got to read Crush It.

He talks about find your niche, what is it that you’re good at, obviously needs to be something that you’re passionate about and just dominate and then the natural progression of you releasing free content and building up following, the natural progression will be for you to create your premium membership.

Micah: All of this stuff is something that I do so I can get behind but I did recently, for those of you listening, I did recently interview somebody who takes the opposite perspective of like build the product first and work your way backward so I’d encourage people just as a quick side note, write down, go look up and listen to the Kim Snider podcast. It doesn’t negate any of this but it’s just a different perspective to balance them out and then we will jump into it but it’s just a note for the listeners.

Tracy: Okay, that’s actually interesting to me because I want, I didn’t hear the podcast yet so I’ll probably go back and listen to it as well. I actually agree with what Kim’s saying and another way of people saying it is start with the end in mind. Know where you’re going. If you know you want to create a membership site, start planning it. But the biggest mistake that I see people doing is that they have all these grand visions in their head and I want to build a membership site and I want to do all of these things and they get stuck, they get hung up and they never actually finish it.

It’s great to start with it and build it but don’t forget all the steps that go along with it, they’re all just as important. So I believe in planning or whichever order you do that’s fine. But don’t get too hung up on having to have it perfect in order to get going.

Micah: That’s a perfect bridge because, like I said, I actually do and believe what we’re talking about, getting free stuff out there but you’re right, if you know what you’re going for beforehand, it makes a big difference. If you’re just getting started, building an audience is valuable but it’s interesting to see the spectrum of things that actually work. To that point we were talking earlier how many different types of membership sites there are, I do presentation and I say something because I’m biased and I want to sell a membership site software and I talk about how every single business needs a membership site and it’s not because I think everyone should be selling information but that’s the interesting thing about Wishlist and any of these things, not everybody is selling information, they’re just creating an area for their people.

So, I think of a lot of businesses who can benefit by having a membership sites that is just for their customers to go on and even update their profile, get a little bit of private content that they’re not paying for. When we’re talking about the growth curve of this industry, I do agree and I don’t know what will shift it to where every business believes they need one but it’s kind of back in the day every business needs a website and people are like “not really, we can get away without it.” It’s like at some point everyone is going to come around to it, everybody does need a membership site, even if you’re a little service business and they just log in to schedule appointments or they log in to place an order at restaurants, they’re membership sites.

You login, you have your favorites, your billing info is on file and all these things that you wouldn’t think are a membership site to me I see more of it and of course I want to push it but that’s where you think yeah, you’re right on the growth curve, it’s probably not going to slow down and it’s interesting, too, not just all these other uses but even in the core info marketing world, there are new players coming up all the time with new perspectives, there’s little niches of niches, new things coming online and it’s kind of crazy how quickly it’s growing and I don’t think we’ve tapped it, especially when you think of the mainstream of how many businesses there are in the world. You talked about 85 000 membership sites, there’s a lot more businesses that don’t have one yet.

Tracy: Absolutely, because when I talk about meeting people and they say what do you do and I explain it to them, the vast majority of them have never heard of what we do. I’d say the vast majority, almost everybody has not heard of us, we’re a very small company in the grand scheme of things. There are still people that haven’t heard of Dropbox, like what is that. I really think that we’re on the early phases really, and you said something that was key Micah, you said in your presentation that you say every business needs a membership site and people might dispute that and what happens is people think a membership site is automatically a recurring revenue monthly and that’s really just one way of doing it.

If you look at what I said about that book, Free by Chris Andersen, I believe there’s going to be more and more membership sites that come out there that have a free model, that’s a different model. And it’s something that I’m looking at right now and if you get the free membership site and kind of the only people that get it are only paying for something else and I think that there’s some new things but it’s exciting because what’s happening is we’re in a situation where we’re building on top of previous knowledge.

When I talk about ten years ago the whole landscape of this thing was different. We we’re kind of pioneers, people were talking about recurring revenue and there were some big name internet marketers that were already talking about it. That’s what created the demand for us to create the software back then. But now at this point, we’re building on top, we’ve already talked about the big players that are doing the recurring revenue models, but we’re also building on top of knowledge, on top of knowledge, on top of knowledge. So, for example, Jeff Walker and the Product Launch Formula, I think I bought the first copy of it back in 2005, maybe 2004 I don’t know, so it’s well over 10 years old and now you got people that are following what he’s done there and now you have other things like one of the newest things in the last five years or so that I’ve seen a big shift is a guy by the name of Donald Miller with Story Brand.

So Donald Miller has this whole different thing. Back in the day it was okay, you have to have a sales letter, you have to have these steps, certainly people were following Jeff Walker’s Product Launch, you have to do this, you have to do that, well now all of the sudden you’re looking at things maybe from this, maybe from that, they’re in a mesh and there’s so many people, the knowledge is getting more and more advanced and the tools are getting easier and easier to use so it creates kind of a perfect situation for someone because a lot of people say I wish I was like you guys, I wish I had jumped in like ten years ago. The truth is, you can jump in at any point of time, it’s never going to be too late.

Micah: It’s funny that you bring that up because I think Stu is a great example of that where he was like you ten years ago doing Wishlist with you and then he drove into the membership site space when some people might have said “Oh it’s saturated.” He killed it, most marketers know about him, I was in the Infusionsoft user group last Thursday and a bunch of them were commenting on that. I think the question that the leader of the group asked was what podcast or content do you listen to and it was like a third of the room was saying “Oh, I’m really into tribe right now, I’m listening to Stu McLaren and that sort of thing.”

Some of the marketers would say it’s saturated. I think to your point this is a beautiful time to jump in because one, it’s more acceptable, people are more willing to buy, two, the technology is way better, the strategies are way better and yeah maybe there is a couple places where it’s a little overdone but really if you’re good enough it’s not. You can always get in there and that’s what’s amazing to me too is I’ve had the same thoughts, how many of these are there, how can so many people start membership sites every day and everyday everybody succeeds. We know in reality not everybody succeeds but there’s room for somebody who does a great job, there’s plenty of room.

Tracy: Yeah and I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned over the years is, I want to be clear when I talk about Jeff Walker’s Product Launch Formula or Donald Miller’s Story Brand, there’s a situation that exists where people see someone and they’re like “Oh, they’ve done great and that’s what I need to do. I need to basically mimic them, I have to study the way that they do their body language and I have to try to speak like that” and if you’re doing that, it’s never a good thing. You have to be yourself.

It’s funny I used to be in a group and somebody was teaching  I realized everybody was trying to do the same thing like the guy that is teaching, rather than taking what he’s teaching and then apply it in a different area. If you take what he’s teaching in the internet marketing space and you go to an area, let’s just say quilting, the first thing that popped to my head, they’ve never seen some of these things. So it’s super easy to make a connection with them and be yourself. You don’t have to be over hyped, it’s really about being yourself and then taking that knowledge that other people have come up with and applying it and adapting it to you. I think that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve seen where people think that they have to do it one specific way and then they never actually get it done. Does that make sense?

Micah: Oh yeah, I see a lot of that and it’s interesting too, what you were talking about earlier where you can follow a lot of different methodologies and my favorite is when somebody comes to me it’s a little bit of a joke but it’s happened this way and they’ve come up like “Well I want to do a Jeff Walker Launch but withy Tony Robbins this, and with this other guy’s that and I want to put it all together” and it’s like well, how much experience do you have with any one of those things and is that authentic? Can you do that?

Sometimes, I agree, they focus too hard on I’m going to copy this guy and do it for my niche, which isn’t in itself a terrible idea but they don’t quite make it their own, they just really try to copy, you know!

Tracy: Yeah and I think that at the end of the day if you’re building a membership site you obviously want to create a successful membership site. I don’t know if there’s really a definition of a successful membership site, I’m sure that we can collectively come up with one but I know that part of it would be that it was long-term. If you’re planning to do anything long-term, I have known people that said “I’m going to do this and ride this way for one to two years and then I know it’s not going to be around anymore and then I’m going to move one to something else,” if you really have an industry or a niche that you’re really passionate about, you can’t be copying other people because that would only go for so long. You have to learn to become yourself because otherwise it will just tear you up inside and create a huge problem for you.

Micah: Yeah and I think people see through it as well even if they don’t do immediately, at some point, like you said, in the long run, this is something I was asked in some interview like what’s the differentiating factor between success and failure and I was like “well, it’s the people who are actual experts and really committed to it just because longevity is so much more profitable and you can’t have longevity if you’re not.” You know these people who are like “Oh, I’ve read a couple of books I’ll write a site for this niche” they at some point run out of content or someone who is actually good in that niche is come over and take their market.

It seems like such a simple stupid answer of what you have to be good at. You have to be for the long-term success I feel like you have to be ultra-passionate about it to stay ahead of your market and as you’re going continue to product good content with authenticity, you know?

Tracy: Yeah and I also have seen a lot of other opportunities that are out there as well. I know that you have in there Fred Gleek, and Fred’s a friend of mine, I have seen this and I have talked about this, I talked with Fred about it, sometimes they might be listening to us and go like “Well, I love this idea of membership sites but I really don’t know what I’m good at, I don’t know other people that are really good at something specific, they would never ever be able to run a membership site, it’s too much tech stuff, even though you say the tools are getting easier, I’m not ever going to be a writer, I’m never going to be in on that stuff, I’m just really good at this thing.

That’s what you got to find and form partnerships. Sometimes partnerships, people say stay away from them, but I’ve had a lot of success with partnerships. Sometimes they don’t always stay long-term but for example if you look at, Stew and I started this together as friends and we became partners and our skill set really complemented each other and it’s okay, he wanted to do something a little bit different, now I’m doing something and we’re still great friends. But, if you’re struggling with like okay I want to do this, I would say find somebody and partner up with them, find somebody who’s really good and passionate about a particular subject and then do everything they wouldn’t want to do.

Micah: Yeah that’s how a lot of business get started as kind of opposites and they partner up and I’ve had good and bad partnerships and so, I’ll just give everybody a little thing which is my best partnership, so the bad partnerships I entered into quickly without a lot of thought and the best partnership we spent I think it was about four months just hashing out before we started doing any of the business together all of the worst case scenarios and what we would do and I don’t know where this saying is from but it’s basically that negotiations are easier before there’s money on the table so we talked about these issues before there was money at stake instead of “Oh hey, this is here how do we deal with this?”

Emotions are going to be higher, there’s a lot more at stake and since we discussed all those things beforehand, not everybody has to take four months but the idea was we really wanted to both kind of chew on it and to decide, we also set some milestones like hey, if it doesn’t reach this level we’re both cool to just kind of back out rather than having a really difficult “it’s failing” hurtful conversation. We had a bunch of preset stuff so that’s just kind of general advice and that’s for me been the best partnership.

The other ones were it was kind of emotional and at some point there is going to be an emotional low and if you’re not prepared for that with that person it’s not going to be great so I think your guys’ story is really interesting because it lasted so long and then when you guys separated it was with a lot of mutual understanding and respect and I’m sure you interrelate to a degree.

Tracy: Absolutely. I think that’s very wise, Micah, to spend the time planning upfront and discussing about it. If I were going about it again, entering a partnership with somebody that’s exactly how I would do it. The other thing that occurred to me when you were talking about that is I want to make sure that people understand even if you can’t do all these things, for example, let’s just say that you’re really good at cooking, love cooking, I love making great cooking videos but I’m not tech-savvy, I’m not going to learn to write emails and stuff like that.

You don’t have to have a partner to do it. There are tons of people out there that would love to be hired as a consultant or an employee and anything that’s out there you can always find somebody to do it so don’t let that hold you back either. I think that’s one of the biggest things for me, probable the biggest shift for me ever in my career was when I finally realized that I didn’t have to be a programmer. I knew I wanted to be in the information product business and internet marketing but I thought that I had to build everything on my own and when I looked at it I even went to some conferences about coding and I saw the people that were really, really good coders and I just kind of looked and I was like “that’s not going to be me.”

So, what I ended up doing was I need to start hiring coders and when I started hiring programmers and coders and graphic designers they were all way better, they had a much stronger skill set at that one thing that I ever would have had and so don’t let anything like that hold you back as well.

Micah: That’s a fantastic point, partnerships can be super valuable but if you don’t have to partner, don’t. If they don’t bring enough to the table, hire them. With the coding, too, that’s a really interesting point too because I started learning coding, I basically got into websites and stuff, self-taught, googling it and I bought a big old fat book on PHP and went through it and did all the examples and then the first time I hired a freelancer to solve a little problem for me, they went in and solved that problem and in the process they were like “Oh, I want to fix this and this and this and all these other things that you did wrong just because I  saw them and it was easy” and it was just like yeah this isn’t for me, I’m not going to be good at this.

If I applied my whole self I still wouldn’t be as good as the people whom it’s natural to. From a business perspective it’s been interesting because I know enough about code that I probably misunderstand some things but I get the gist of it so when I’m talking to Dave Bullock who programs Memberium and is a genius with that stuff I can follow it to where hopefully he’s not too bored talking to me but to think that I could ever actually create a product that would work, that’s not realistic.

What I found for me as a business owner is actually the further I’ve gone from the technology the better I’ve done and not to go too far off the tangent but when I was making websites myself as a service for businesses, I was making a certain level of income and the further I’ve gone from actual technical work, it’s not that it’s bad, it can still be valuable, like I said being able to speak that language can be valuable but I do find that the business skills and the marketing and whatnot is so much more valuable. For example, this computer that I’m on right now, I switched to it from a PC that had the whole Adobe Suite on it and it was hard and a little scary at the time but I intentionally said I’m not going to get Adobe on my new machine, which is going to force me to hire that out and start using all these programs.

There are a couple times where I felt inconvenience where it’s like “Oh I just want to change this one thing and I can’t because I don’t have the software so I’m going to have to wait a day or two or whatever for somebody to do it for me” but I feel like it’s made a big difference, there’s nothing against the people who are technically skilled because they can do extremely well also but when we’re talking about partnering and hiring and whatnot, I do know a lot of people who are in that same trap and I talk to them and they were like “oh, I need to do this and this so I’m going to go buy this software” and it’s like slow down, you may not want to go buy that software, it may not be the best thing.

Tracy: Absolutely, I totally agree with you on that.

Micah: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting in hindsight but at the time it was smart. So I want to ask you about a couple specific things, you have your own membership site, right? What are some of the things that you learned in doing your own site, as opposed to, observation from your clients?

Tracy: That’s a good question and I think it’s a very important one because I talked about how things have kind of evolved over time and we learned, I think back then there was a, everyone thought if they’re going to pay me monthly I’ve got to put loads of content on it, I got to put tons in. What happens is people get overwhelmed really easily. Not just the people who are subscribing, the members of the membership site, but even the people creating it and I think that the big shift that we even saw for ourselves is that you can’t overwhelm people and you also can’t overwhelm yourself.

Our membership site is called the Wishlist Insider and what we initially did and this was great because people loved it, we were putting a bunch of stuff in there but the big thing was that every single month we were creating another little add-on for Wishlist Member, separate plugin, sometimes we created plugins that weren’t even for Wishlist Member but we were creating a little piece of software every month and it was just overwhelming. Not necessarily for the people getting it but for us creating it and then I saw that it was starting to get to the point where like “this is not going to be sustainable and this is not really scalable.”

So from the very beginning that we designed it, it was set out to that eventually something will have to change because all of a sudden we had 36 different add-ons or plugins that we had to maintain or support and we were always on the hook to create this new thing every month and so we would move on. So I think that number one,  you can’t overwhelm your members, because on top of that if we were just stopped everything else we were doing and said this is it you only get one plugin a month, it would’ve been less overwhelming for the members and would have also been a little less overwhelming for us.

But I think that anything that you do you have to think about the long-term end being scalable. We went through a shift, you talked about switching to a computer, something it takes a change like that to really kind of restructure something and when Stew left and went out on his own to do more teaching, we had kind of made that shift where we weren’t always doing the new piece of software but he was kind of creating a little bit of a mini training. So I think that if I were to start everything over, I would say number one, we can’t do something that we don’t think is going to be long-term scalable or sustainable for us and number two, don’t make anything dependent on one specific person.

I’m not saying just on Stu but even me. I would structure it in a way that yeah, I love what you’re doing with the podcast because you’re creating an interview and it doesn’t require that you come up with material every single time, it needs to be relevant to people that are interested in membership sites but if something happened with you somebody else on your team probably could’ve done the same interview. It would’ve been a different interview but still it could have been done. A good example of that was when Stu and Michael partnered up to do Platform University, Michael did a lot of interviews with other people and then maybe he was double booked or something and Stu did it. So, create scenarios where you can easily exchange roles and responsibilities with other people and I think that that will help it be much more sustainable.

Micah: Yeah, it is so smart, I even recently did my own membership site last summer and we’re getting ready for a launch but we were designing what’s in it, I said right from the get go, I’m not going to do a monthly webinar because I’ve done a membership site with a monthly webinar because by month 24 or 36 I was like I don’t know what to talk about, I’m out. But you’ve set that expectation and so we talked about that as a team and Claire on our team was basically saying here’s a bunch of different ways you can do this so we’re doing a monthly masterclass, I did the first one and she did the next four or five, and I had enough experience to know I’m not going to commit to that because it sucks when you’re on the hook to create something and either you don’t know what to create or in your case the software that’s like the nightmare scenario like I have a million things to support.

I think that’s so smart to make it not dependable on one person and also you want to think long-term if you’re doing any sort of recurrent revenue because that’s what you want is “I want a member who’s paying me for five years” that’s the best member, how much does it cost to get them, if they’re just one of many, it’s all profit. However, if you had to make five years of something new to keep that person happy, it’s a little different. There’s pros and cons but definitely I think the sustainability you’re talking about is a huge factor.

Tracy: Yeah and I think that another key thing that we should mention Micah is don’t be afraid of change. If you made this decision for example to create these plugins every month, at some point it just wasn’t going to work out so we didn’t have to shut down the whole membership site, we just made it shift, we made a change and said okay, this is not what we’re promising people any longer. You will lose some people, that’s the only reason why they wanted that, they just wanted new.

I talked to some people that were in it way back then and in many cases they didn’t really care about using the software, they wanted to just see what new piece of software we were going to come up with. I just got value in seeing how you guys were creating and generating new ideas, which is funny, but I really want to emphasize this, do not be afraid of change, sometimes it’s just inevitable, can’t keep everyone happy, you may lose the majority of the people in some situations, I don’t know if too many examples were all of a sudden you made a change were you thought it was for the better and you lost everybody but even if you did and you shifted to what you felt was going to be more sustainable, now you’re going to build up with people that didn’t have the previous expectations so don’t be afraid of change.

Micah: I think that’s the perfect spot to kind of wrap up on just because of the time but I do want to say is probably you guys, those of you who don’t know, Tracy and me, yes we both have membership site plugins for WordPress but we’re really good friends and I think it’s to the membership site space, don’t view your competition as competition. You can work with anybody in your industry and I think we just get along so well, it’s funny, we hang out as often as possible now that you’re in Utah as well and I think we’re going to hang out Friday again but I do want to give you an opportunity because you came on and spent your time with us just to talk about Wishlist Products, what you got going on and who it can help and how can they get in touch with you?

Tracy: Yeah, I think it’s funny Micah, when people see the two of us talking together like “Shouldn’t they kind of be enemies?” I mean, we talked a lot on these things that there’s so much opportunity out there, we have something similar but they’re very, very different. I think Memberium is more geared towards Infusionsoft in specific, our typical customer with Wishlist Member is maybe people who are kind of on the entry level, we have a lot of people that have an integration between Wishlist Member and they collect with PayPal, just PayPal.

I collect the money with PayPal, I put them in the membership site and then I might add them to an email sequence. That’s where I think there’s a big differentiation. Wishlist Member, our big thing is that we’re native to WordPress and that was it, now there are others out there. Like I said earlier, we’re selling a license and people get the license to the software and then that license comes with a one year support plan and then after that if you want to get updates and more support we have a support plan for that.

So I think that’s the big difference. One of the things that we’ve been working on for almost a year now is the complete overhaul, new interface to Wishlist Member and that’s right around the corner so I’m excited about that so if anybody wants to learn more, we don’t even really have a big, our mailing list is primarily made up of customers, which people can say shame on you but it is what it is, we’re making some shifts right now and I think that interface coming in the next few months is going to be an exciting change for us.

Micah: Cool, is it wishlistmember.com, is that the site?

Tracy: Yeah, wishlistmember.com, you’ll find it, it ends up redirecting to another url because everything is done under wishlistproducts.com domain but if you just type wishlistmember.com it would go straight there to learn more about the product.

Micah: Cool, we’ll put a link to it under this video as well. Those of you listening to the podcast, I’d encourage you wherever you are to connect with Tracy and follow him, whatever he’s doing, because like I said he’s kind of the godfather of this space, he’s a young guy but he’s just been it so long and such a huge background, so many connections. Tracy thank you so much for coming on and sharing.

Tracy: I appreciate you having me Micah, I’m excited about what you guys are doing with the podcast, I think it’s great, I haven’t done a lot of following podcast, I’m starting to get more and more into it, they’re very intriguing and there’s some really powerful information. Like I’ve said, I listened to a lot of your podcasts and you guys are doing a great job with it so I feel honored that you invited me to be on.



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