Want More Students in Your Membership or Online Course? Do These 5 Things (Part 1)

by | eLearning

As a membership site operator myself, I understand how important it is for your work to make an impact.

What makes online learning so special, among other things, is the ability to create leverage. You can take large bursts of energy to create inspirational, informational content, and then leverage that content many times over to help more people.

This is why—even though every single person you impact is special—it’s completely normal to feel a sense of discouragement when your message is not spreading as far as you hoped.

Can you relate?

If so, good news!

At NorthMac, most of our time is spent helping people just like you. And what’s even better is, we’re just like you, too!

So in this post, I would like to take some time based on my personal experience of operating my own membership sites as well as others we’ve helped and impart some best practices to help you grow your student base and impact more people.

Here we go!

1. Create a Flywheel

The flywheel is, in my opinion, the best-kept secret of the most successful business owners and entrepreneurs.

I’m doing my best to make sure it doesn’t stay a secret much longer.

What if I told you that it was possible to predict the success of your marketing efforts?

I’m not talking about magic or prophecy here. It’s more science than anything.

To give credit where it’s due, I first learned of this concept from Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, which he then expanded on in his Turning the Flywheel monograph.

He writes:

In creating a good-to-great transformation, there’s no single defining action, no grand program, no single killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, it feels like turning a giant, heavy flywheel. Pushing with great effort, you get the flywheel to inch forward. You keep pushing, and with persistent effort, you get the flywheel to complete one entire turn. You don’t stop. You keep pushing. The flywheel moves a bit faster. Two turns . . . then four . . . then eight . . . the flywheel builds momentum . . . sixteen . . . thirty-two . . . moving faster . . . a thousand . . . ten thousand . . . a hundred thousand. Then at some point—breakthrough! The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum.

As you read that, I hope you had an “AHA!” moment.

Now that you see it, it’s obvious that most of the successful businesses you can think of work this way. They picked a plan and committed to it over the long term.

Then, one fine day, they became a household name.

This is possible for you too. There are a few things you’ll need to have to make this work:

  1. An Epic Commitment — the flywheel won’t work unless you commit to it executing it over the long term.
  2. A Primary Attractor — crucial to your flywheel’s success is that step one be something that compels people to the business
  3. An Optimization Plan — you need a game plan for how to fix and improve the flywheel without reinventing it

Jim does not develop this thinking in his book, Turning the Flywheel, yeah I still think should pick up a copy (affiliate link) to get the fundamentals down.

We will expand on the topic in future blog posts.

If you’d like to see a video of my explaining and developing the flywheel concept further, just click here.

And if you’d like to consult with us on developing the flywheel for your membership or online course, just give us a shout.

2. Plan for Extended Execution

Here I’d like to expand on the “Epic Commitment” piece of your flywheel mentioned above.

Your plan to grow your membership and get more students simply will not work unless you are planning for the long game.

There are no magic tricks to speed up this process — at least none that are ethical and won’t compromise your integrity with your audience.

If you want to do it right, plan to play for a long time.

NOW — because that is the case, we almost must be realistic.

And while you might be tempted to think you can turn on the camera and record a 3-hour long podcast every day like Joe Rogan… you’re almost certainly mistaken.

Hear me: Showing up twice a month for one year is infinitely more valuable and trustworthy than showing up every day for three months and then withering away into the darkness.

The vast majority of the membership and online education businesses that we work with need to make some kind of content play. In other words, your business will grow proportionate to the amount of free, valuable content is discoverable on the Internet.

(If that’s not you, you can skip to the next section.)

Ok — so if you’re reading, you should be thinking about how to create a plan for content creation that is:

  1. Reasonable — you must be able to follow through
  2. Consistent — you must be able to stick with it, even when it’s hard
  3. Exponential — you create (mostly) timeless content that has limitless potential for discoverability

Let’s apply those above filters to the three primary questions you’ll need to answer:

What will you create?

Will you write blogs? Create YouTube videos? A podcast? Threads on X? Something else?

You will need to consider the platform and the medium that is most likely to help you achieve your goals.

You’ll want to find the convergence point between your skills and your audience’s desires. If your audience wants YouTube content, but you’re a writer… which should you choose?

It doesn’t matter how wonderfully you write if you’re writing to no one. So a purely written platform like a blog is out.

Many platforms, fortunately, are a spectrum. Starting with the assumption that your audience wants YouTube content, you can begin to find the convergence point.

You’re a writer, which probably means you think with your fingertips. No big deal. So you’ll write a script for your videos. Perfectly acceptable.

Now people on YouTube show their faces, have cool backgrounds, and use lots of editing.

  1. Do you want to show your face?
  2. Do you want to invest in a cool background and a nice camera?
  3. Do you want to use lots of editing?

The answers to those questions will help determine what content you ultimately end up creating, and while some of those items do affect your YouTube channel performance… the reality is there are LOTS of successful changes that don’t show faces, don’t have cool backgrounds, don’t use lots of editing, and combinations of the above.

Running this exercise can help you determine a reasonable path for creating the kind of content your audience wants.

When will you create it?

Whatever you decide to create, make sure it’s something you can commit to for the long term (more on this soon) and show up with fierce regularity.

Can you be there once a week? Twice a month? Once a month at least? Then you’re onto something.

Note that, depending on what you choose, there are rules.

In the YouTube example, there does appear to be a “minimum viable production value” that any given niche (and/or the medium itself) wants you to adhere to in order to see success.

The easiest example is, we have lots of data showing that YouTube channels that only play the audio version of a piece of content with a still picture don’t really perform that well.

Don’t choose a medium with a minimum level of production value that is too high for you to create consistently. Not showing up consistently is a greater sin than not being fully optimized for the content your audience wants.

They’ll forgive a lot of things — they won’t forgive someone who disappears.

How long will you create it for?

The Bible says a double-minded person is unstable — and yet, on this question, I find myself double-minded.

I want to give you my brutally honest answer first, then I’ll hedge a bit.

I think the real answer to this question is, you should commit to creating something for at least the next 10 years on a consistent (preferred minimum weekly) basis to get the flywheel spinning and see the sort of success you really want.

There are two reasons why I think this is a good way to think about it.

First, it acts like a filter. If you hear “10 years” and that sounds scary, you likely want to reconsider your choice of business and/or subject matter.

Unless you’re a serial entrepreneur with a planned exit strategy, you are planning to sink your life into this business. 10 years is a concrete timeline that sounds long because it is.

If you think you can commit to this value-driven content strategy for 10 years, that’s a good indication you’ve kind the kind of passion that can carry you through.

Second, 10 years is an ultra-realistic amount of time for your membership or course program to see the kind of traction you envy in most other people.

Are there true overnight success stories? Of course! Are there people who’ve done it in two or three years instead of 10? Of course! And maybe you’ll be one!

But I would be willing to bet that those you perceive as truly successful had a longer-term strategy in mind from the very beginning.

While this timeframe might sound very unreasonable, in one sense, in the sense of whether your business will actually see long-term success, it’s quite reasonable.

This also, per our rules above, gives the content enough time to see that exponential return. Some people create videos to crickets, only for those videos to go viral years later after subsequent videos have put them on the map.

What’s Coming

Next week, we’ll talk through the final three things you need in order to grow your student base and create more impact in your education business:

  1. Map a Student Journey
  2. Build Your Network Effect
  3. Strategize Your Offer Growth

Until then, start thinking about how to implement these first two ideas in your own business!


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