This interview is part of my series of conversations with entrepreneurs who built membership sites. Frankly I’m a guy who built a membership site myself, and I want to learn how to improve and I know there are many people in my audience who want to do the same.
Even if you’re not a membership site creator, I want to make this really helpful for you by understanding the ideas that go behind continuity, content, creation, and other tactics that will be useful for you.
Michael Hyatt is the best-selling author of Platform, Get Noticed In A Noisy World. He’s a man who went from traditional publishing to online platform creation.
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Michael Hyatt, Platform
Michael Hyatt is a best selling author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And this interview is part of my series of conversations with entrepreneurs who built membership sites. Frankly I’m a guy who built a membership site myself, and I want to learn how to improve and I know there are many people in my audience who want to do the same.
So I invited entrepreneurs whose membership sites I really respect, whose businesses I really admire to come here and teach us all. Even if you’re not a membership site creator, I want to make this really helpful for you by understanding the ideas that go behind continuity, content, creation, and other business ideas and tactics that will be helpful for you.
And so today I invited a man who is becoming a good friend of mine, Michael Hyatt. He is the best-selling author of “Platform, Get Noticed In A Noisy World.” He was introduced to the idea to creating a membership site when the creator of a popular membership plug-in said, “Michael, you’ve got such great content. You should consider doing it.” And the two of them teamed up and built up two sites. Is that right, Michael?
Michael: No, just Platform University.
Michael: It’s a membership site. Yes.
Andrew: I see. All right. Also, I should say Forbes Magazine named him one of the top ten online marketing experts to follow in 2014. I’m going to say 2014 and beyond. He’s a man who went from traditional publishing to online platform creation. Michael, it’s good to have you here.
Michael: Thanks, Andrew. Great to be with you.
Andrew: You and I are now in a MasterMind.
Andrew: I joined it because I needed some help as an entrepreneur, and I saw you talk last week about how you took a product that wasn’t working so well for you, where people weren’t signing up, and you turned it around. Can you share some of that with the audience?
Michael: Yeah. So we had this Platform University relaunch campaign which we do a couple of times a year, and we had a goal of adding a thousand new members to the membership site.
Michael: And so after the first day of promotion when we would normally expect to get — I don’t know — maybe 300 or so new members in our march towards a thousand new members, we only had 137. And then after four days we had 256 about halfway where we needed to be based on sort of an algorithm that we put together in terms of how many new members we need to add.
So my daughter who runs Platform University for me gave me a call, and she just said, “Dad, something’s going here. We’re just not connecting with the right audience.” So initially the thoughts that went through my mind were things like, “Gosh, maybe the timing’s wrong. Maybe we’re too aggressive with the goal. Maybe this has run its course, and there’s just no market left.” I didn’t know what to do. I felt like giving it.
And so we got kind of connected with our mission and what it is we’re about. And we said, “No, there’s a thousand new members. It’s totally realistic. Let’s look at the strategy. Let’s look at the copy platform.” And what we realized is we had the copy all wrong. We were essentially appealing to entrepreneurs who were trying to move from a non-recurring income to recurring income which probably is about 5% of my audience.
Andrew: And that’s the way your messaging was originally.
Michael: Yeah. That was the original messaging.
Michael: So we were completely off center. I don’t know how we got so far off, but we were completely missing it. So we decided, and this was now on a weekend. We decided we’d retool the copy platform, rewrite the copy, and it really appealed to people not so much who wanted to make money because that’s not really my audience. But people who feel like they have something really important that they want to get out to the world. And that’s the whole premise behind Platform University.
So we changed the copy. Things began to pick up, and by the time the campaign closed not only did we exceed a thousand new members which is what we were after, but we hit 1543 new members. So it totally blew it out. So I’m so glad we changed the copy.
Andrew: And, you know, what most people would do is say, “You have to promise your customer more revenue, more money.” If they’re going to spend money with you, then they need to see that they’re going to make that money back, and that was the exact opposite for you.
What many other entrepreneurs would say, “Just keep emailing them more often until they’re persuaded” and that wouldn’t have worked because that would have been sending the wrong message and then driving them away.” How did you know that that wasn’t the right message for your audience?
Michael: I don’t know. I think there was an intuition that both my daughter, Megan, and I had. You know, when you just don’t have it right, there’s just something unsettling about it. And one of the things I’ve learned through the years is to pay attention to my intuition.
Michael: And so I think, as you said, I could have emailed more. Just bludgeoning people into submission now only doesn’t work, it’s really annoying to the people on the receiving end of it because if it doesn’t connect more messages is not going to help. And my audience is not that motivated, as it turns out, by making more money. They don’t mind making more money. A certain percentage of them don’t mind that.
But a whole group of them, the majority of them, I think, are motivated by something different which is the need for significance and the need to have their message heard.
Andrew: I see it right there on the website. Do you have something important to say or a message burning inside of you that others need to hear. And that’s the tactic, the message that resonates most with your audience.
Michael: Absolutely. And I think it’s good news for any entrepreneur because it doesn’t have to be about making money. I think it’s easy sometimes to think that those are the only websites that really work, but that’s not the case with us.
Andrew: You know, it’s so funny, I do tend to think that way because I keep hearing from people who create online courses, online membership sites, that you only can get customers if you promise them more revenue and you have to keep tying them back and you have the exact opposite experience. But you did use a word in our mastermind: avatar. You said you have a customer avatar. So it’s not a formal process, it’s not a formal set of surveys that led you to this understanding of your audience?
Michael: Well, no it was. We definitely had a set of formal surveys. We do this once a year. We survey our audience, we try to get all the basic demographic information to start with and they the psychographic information so that we know what drives them. What their aspirations are, what their fears are, that type of thing.
But somehow we forgot that, you know, in the rush to get the promotion to market we just overlooked really what was the most basic thing and that is what are the needs of our audience, what really motivates them.
Andrew: And when you survey your audience, what’s important for you to ask them to be able to understand something as counterintuitive as they don’t care about money as much as making a statement. How do you get to that?
Michael: Well, sometimes it’s just a multiple choice question. Like, why are you doing this, why do you want to build an online platform? What’s important to you? What’s your burning passion? What would you do if money was no object and you could do whatever you want to do? And just why is the platform important?
So it’s a lot of open ended questions. In fact, it makes it really cumbersome to go through when we ask all the statistical stuff that Survey Monkey can tabulate and cross tab and do all that stuff with. But where the real juice is, where the really interesting stuff is, is in those open ended questions because we like to pick up not only what our customers are saying, but the very language they are using so we can use that in our promotion. And again we just [TD] corrected it.
Andrew: You know, I’ve been told that I need to do that too, pick up on the language that my audience uses. I get all those surveys back and when they’re, responding to an open ended question ,there’s a lot of text in there, a lot for me to process to look for a common statement. It’s very hard to keep track of it. What do you do to stay on top of it and to make sense of it all?
Michael: Well, the simple thing I do is I just take notes as I’m reading through those in an Evernote note. So I’m trying to see the repeating phrases, the recurring patterns. The things that people commonly express and I’ve found a bunch of phrases that they use. I just note those in my Evernote file and I got together with my team and we debriefed, they had done a similar kind of thing.
The last survey that we did on my website, which would be the predominate place where we draw for Platform University, we had 3300 responses back, so it was a lot to go through. But you see a lot of recurring patterns, very similar from person to person.
Andrew: You just go through reading it, taking notes and, I guess, when you read that many survey responses things start to stand out and you start to remember them. Is that right?
Michael: Yeah. And it’s almost like you feel like you’re getting to know someone. You know, what makes them tick. And so it’s very similar to any other kind of relationship. The more you know about that person it leads you to other questions and you go deeper and you find out more. It’s a great process.
Andrew: Incidentally you mentioned Evernote and that brings up something that I just kind of noticed as I was looking at your stats. I have a similar web dot com pro account now and it’s showing me that your second most popular destination is Evernote. Why is Evernote such a popular destination?
Michael: I don’t know. Other than I love the software. I’m actually an ambassador for them.
Andrew: I see.
Michael: Whatever that means. It’s not paid but I write about it a lot because I use it a lot. And it’s kind of my, and this is terminology that they use, my digital brain. So I dump web clippings, articles, notes, meeting notes, all that stuff in Evernote.
Andrew: So it’s just blogging about Evernote as an ambassador means that people are reading about it on your site and going over to Evernote’s web site.
Michael: Yeah. I think I probably get about 12 posts about Evernote. How I use it. Everything from how to get your Kindle notes into Evernote to how to set it up for maximum efficiency.
Andrew: I see. Number one destination is Amazon. How are you using Amazon?
Michael: Well, I come from the traditional book publishing world, so books are very important to me. You know, I often say, actually I think I picked this up from John Maxwell, but, “Leaders are readers, and readers are leaders.” And I read a lot, and so I’m constantly referencing books and other resources on Amazon that people can get to. Plus, you know, their affiliate links. So I get some small compensation from doing that.
Andrew: When you started on a blogger on MichaelHyatt.com, did you think that the revenue would be coming from advertising and affiliate links? Is that the original thought?
Michael: You know, honestly I had no revenue ambitions at all. At the time I started I was the president of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the 7th largest publisher in the U.S. And I wasn’t the CEO yet. That was still one position beyond where I was, but I started blogging. We were a public company, and I just wanted to use it as a repository for my best thinking and maybe, kind of my outside thing that I hoped would happen, is that I could influence my industry and be a thought leader, or at least perceived as a thought leader.
And so there was no ambition for monetizing the site at all until I switched from Type Pad to Word Press and the developer that did the conversion for me he said, “You’ve got enough traffic here that I think you could really sell advertising and make a couple thousand dollars a month.” And I said, “You’re kidding me.” But I had to think long and hard about it, because something about that I wasn’t quite sure that it would be appropriate for my market.
So I started very small and it got traction, and then I ultimately discontinued it because I had too many of my own products to advertise. But it, for several years maybe three or four years, I think I got up to about $3,000 or $4,000 a month that I was making from advertising.
Andrew: You know, when I think about where I am in the world I think about this little thing that I’m recording from my office here that is nowhere near as big as CNN or CNBC or the companies that you’ve helped build. Did it feel ever like a step down? Why am I just doing $3,000 a month when I’m running this great company?
Michael: No, because for me, you know, I still had my job and I was making a great income from that, and so it was all found money. I mean, it was like, “Wow.” This was, kind of, pent up in this asset that I’d created, that I had yet to unleash. So, no, it didn’t feel that way. And I think for me the juice in it was not the money so much as just getting direct feedback from readers. I love that because in the book publishing world when you publish a book, everything gets mediated through somebody else, you know?
For us, our primary customers as a business-to-business enterprise, we’re book stores. And so any impact that we had on readers usually went to the book store. Maybe to the author, but it rarely came back to us as the publisher. So I really thrived on the feedback.
Andrew: I see it here. I’m looking now at a post from June 26, 2007. “Email escaped from being fully present?” And then you have an old Blackberry on there to give you a sense of the time. That post has seven comments. At the time did you feel like, “Boy, this is just too small. What am I doing here? I care about feedback from people.” Only seven people commented.
Michael: Well, you know, the funny thing now is that people really pay attention to that kind of stuff. In those days, I mean there was nothing to compare it to, at least for me. Seth Godin didn’t get comments, and he was the principle guy that was my inspiration and a guy that I read. So he didn’t allow for comments I should say.
Michael: I had nothing to compare it to, I mean so, for the fact that seven people who would actually bother to give me their opinion about it was awesome, you know? Again, I loved it. I was grateful for it.
Andrew: There’s a photo of you on the page and then it says, “Michael S. Hyatt, president and CO, Thomas Nelson Publishers.” Why aren’t you in the traditional publishing world anymore?
Michael: Well, it’s a long story but I survived 30 years in the traditional book publishing world, but I got into it because I love ideas and I love the way that ideas can create transformation, not only in individuals but in entire cultures. And I think as I began to ascend through the ranks, because I started as a marketing person and I ended up as an editor and a publisher, and then I started getting into administration.
So then I was running a couple of divisions and ultimately running the entire company. And the very thing that had drawn me to publishing was now something very abstract and something I had very little contact with. I mean, we could’ve been creating any kind of widget. It wouldn’t matter because I didn’t have that sense of ideas impacting people.
So to be honest, even though I think I was pretty good at it, legal and HR and finance and all the stuff you do when you’re running a company that does a quarter of a billion dollars a year, it got boring to me. It just didn’t energize me anymore. And I always had this flame inside my heart of writing and speaking full time. And I thought, “Boy, if I could ever do that.” And so after a couple of years of kind of being bored and trying to talk myself back into the job any why I was doing it I said, “You know, this is crazy. It’s not fair to the company. It’s not fair to me. I really need to pursue this. And I’m not getting any younger, so I’m going to go for it.” So I did.
Andrew: The person who introduced you to creating a membership site was Stu McLaren, the creator of Wish List Member, the plugin that I use on Mixergy to turn it into a membership site, and others have used. When he started working with you, what did you have? You had a blog, you had an email list?
Andrew: Okay. How big was the list?
Michael: My list, at that time, was about 50,000 names.
Andrew: Whoa! I didn’t realize that. So, how did you get to 50,000 names?
Michael: Well, I think just blogging consistently. My book hit the New York Times list, which certainly helped. My book platformed. You know, I started blogging in 2004, so I think by the time that Stu came to me, I was probably getting about, maybe 240,000 unique visits a month. And, so, I had an asset there, but that’s what I had.
Andrew: What year was this?
Michael: This would have been 2012.
Andrew: ’12. I see, okay. Alright, so then he starts working with you, and you guys, I guess, partner up. Is that right?
Michael: Yeah. What happened was, I was speaking at a John Maxwell conference – we were doing a thing called “A Day About Books” – so John was talking as the author and I was talking as a former publisher, Somebody who had been his publisher for a number of years. And we were talking to 700 people about book publishing, people that wanted to be published. And, Stu asked if he could have dinner with me. And, ordinarily, I never say yes to this kind of thing. And my manager said, “Yeah, he’d be glad to have dinner with you.”
And so the three of us had a dinner together, and Stu said,” You know, just after hearing you talk, and I’ve been following your blog for a while, I really think you could create one heck of a membership site. You know, you’ve got a lot of content, and I think people would sign up for that.” And I asked him how it would work, and so he began explaining the mechanics of it to me.
And I had never considered a membership site before that, and I got really intrigued by it. And the thing that caught me is he said, “You know, when you have a site like this you could really take your content to the next level because you’ve got, sort of, a paying membership that will help support that so you can do even better production, more research, higher quality stuff.” And then he said the magic words, “Have even a greater transformation on the people that were members.” So, I liked the sound of that.
Andrew: Yeah. Your production is actually kin of intimidating. You were on BestYearEver.me. Isn’t that a membership site you were on too?
Michael: Well, it’s actually a course. Yeah, it’s kind of like a membership site in the sense that, when people join, we have a discussion forum on it, but technically it’s a course.
Andrew: I see. So it’s not… and it’s also not an ongoing… there’s no ongoing membership fees. So, we were looking at your video production, they’re unreal.
Andrew: They are almost intimidating, as I said, because I look at that and they are so polished. You polished as a speak, but the video is polished, the layout makes sense without being overbearing and grabbing attention. When you started, what was that first version like?
Michael: [laughs] Well, this wasn’t really my membership site, but I started experimenting with video, I don’t know, pretty soon after I started blogging. I remember this one blog post, you can still find it on my site, where I basically show how I pack for an overnight trip. And that site got a huge number… or that post got a huge number of visits, but that was my wife shooting, I think, on the iPhone 4 at the time. And, you know, it’s kind of jiggly, and you see it not held steady, and really that’s how it started. I did a number of videos just like that.
Andrew: Why? Why do that as video where you’re putting yourself out there for people to question you, judge you, look at your life and what you pack? What was the goal?
Michael: I don’t know, I’m very experimental, and for me that was just another way to communicate. You know, when you communicate with the written word, you’re kind of accessing one or two senses, but with video, you’ve got the opportunity to communicate it in a much deeper, richer way. So, again, what drives me is transformation. So, I thought if this could have an even bigger impact, then I want to try it. And, I mean, same reason I got into podcast. For the same reason.
Andrew: Okay. So, you guys get together and you decide you are going to create a membership site. How did you pick the topic for the site?
Michael: Well, we looked at a bunch of things. You know, we looked at my site statistics. We looked at posts that I had done at leadership. We looked at some that I had done on productivity, and platform was very present to me at the time because I just finished the book, and I was getting a lot of questions from people about how to go deeper, and how to create a platform and how to create all the hot-to’s. Stuff you can’t possibly talk about in a book.
And so, I don’t know, it just resonated, and I think I was the one that came up with the name. I said, “Well what if we called it PlatformUniversity? And what if we created this as a place where people could, kind of, go to school and how to create an online platform. Students loved it immediately and that’s how we started.
Andrew: All right. So, you pick the topic. How do you know what to teach in there? Or, sorry, how to break it down via video?
Michael: You know, I don’t know because honestly video had always intimidated me. Even though I did it and even though I was experimenting with it, it always made me really nervous to do it. And I didn’t really believe that I had that much content inside of me. Even though I’d written, I don’t know, I had probably at the time around 11, 1200 blog posts written.
Stu made me believe that I had the content in me that didn’t take much preparation, so initially for our launch videos he just interviewed me and he started pulling it out. And I think it kind of took shape as we did it. You know, I’ve been parts of things where we try to figure it out all in advance.
You know, try to get it perfect before you launch. This was not that case. This was a case where the shape kind of gave it form. The site took form as the content began to get out. Then we realized that we had certain categories of content and that it would make for a nice monthly recurring format. And that’s what we have to this day.
Andrew: I see. So the original content was a series of interviews that Stu did with you? I didn’t know that.
Michael: Yeah. It was a series of interviews and then I know a lot of people that are platform builders and online people. And so one of the concepts from early on was that I could interview those people and sort of augment what I could bring to the table with their content as well. Plus, I love doing interviews. I love being the guy that’s asking the questions.
Andrew: I do, too.
Michael: That feels a little more reassuring to me. Then Stu had this concept for what we know call a Backstage Pass. Where we get kind of behind the scenes and look at some aspect of my business. There’s just something about Stu and the video producer that we used that opened up. I was willing just to talk about it. I didn’t feel any pressure or intimidation.
Andrew: So, it was going to be Stu interviewing you…
Andrew: …you interviewing others who created a platform, and you showing Backstage Pass, meaning show your computer and talk about how you set things up?
Michael: Yeah, exactly. And sometimes it was just me sitting in my office and the camera would be running and maybe Stu would be interviewing me. Maybe I would just be talking about some aspect of my business. Then we got this crazy idea to do a member makeover. Except I think we first called it Member Critique. And I said, nobody wants to be critiqued. If it’s a makeover or there’s positive direction to it, we can do it. So, that was pretty stupid.
That was me in front of my laptop with screen flow and me just looking at some poor member that was willing to be a volunteer. I’d be looking at their platform, their twitter feed, their Facebook page, and their website, and just kind of offering my recommendations. Then we got it a little more formalized. And my daughter joined me on that.
So, now the two of us, sort of like What Not to Wear, you know. We look at the sites. We have no end of volunteers, people willing to do it. So, we go for about forty minutes. And we have gotten to the point where we say whatever we think about it.
Andrew: And it’s just critiquing someone’s site in the audience?
Andrew: The audience eats that stuff up, don’t they?
Michael: They eat it up because they can apply it to themselves and they like to see something concrete. You know, less theory and more practice, more application.
Andrew: So one of the things I know about Stu is that he has a certain philosophy about how to get people started with ideas. In fact, when he game me advice about how to create True Mind as a membership site, his feedback was give people that first easy way.
Andrew: Right? When he’s just interviewing you and you guys are trying to figure out what platform university is going to be like, did you have that kind of a structure where you said how do we give them an easy way. What builds out of what so that it makes sense and flows well?
Michael: I think that came probably later. I think that’s been a development in Stew’s mind. But one of the things I noticed almost immediately whenever he interviewed me is that he would make sure after each discrete point to try to pull it together for the viewer so that they had a clear takeaway.
I noticed this, too, like when we do webinars or we do live Q&A calls, which we do every month with Platform University. That he’s very good at distilling so that there’s a takeaway and an application for the viewer. So, it’s not about us, but it’s really about them.
Andrew: You know what, I remember actually living in Argentina listening to stew do his interviews, because he also does interviews for, I guess at the time he did for his membership site to introduce potential membership owners to his plug in and to membership ownership in general.
And he would so good at summing up points towards the end, and I think I should do that too in an interview. How cool would it be if I was organized and took clear notes and was able to say so far in the conversation you’ve told me is that right and then we could give people clear direction?
Michael: I know, he’s gifted at that because he’s not taking notes when he’s doing it.
Andrew: I know.
Michael: He’s just got the ability to listen and then distill it.
Andrew: Yea. And that’s the hard part. If I start taking notes then it takes my attention away from you, but I see the power of that. So, it’s a set of interviews, anything else? I’m always looking to see what others have done in the beginning when it didn’t work and then what did work and how they adjusted it to make it work.
Michael: Well, I’ll tell you think that we realized at the beginning would be big but we didn’t get it right at the very beginning and that was community. We knew that if people could help one another and that if they could get some access to me you knew where I would pop up into discussion forums and answer questions from time to time that might be big except that the discussion software that we installed was really jakey. It was really difficult to use.
So literally four days after we installed it we ripped it out and put something else up something else in and our members were enormously forgiving because I think they saw that we were trying. You know, that we were trying to improve the experience for them.
That one lasted for about two months and we got tired of that one too. So, we finally put, in think it’s called Envision, it’s the same one that Evernote uses. I was on their forums and loved the way they worked so that’s what we use but that has proven to be the single biggest draw for people. I think Stew said this somewhere and I hope I don’t misquote him but come for content but they stay for community and I think that’s really true. It’s that community that increases retention more than any other single fact.
Andrew: What didn’t work about the first software that you used?
Michael: It was just too hard to navigate. You know, the search was clunky. People couldn’t be notified when there was a new comment that was being added to the thread that they were participating in. You know, it just wasn’t state of the art. It happened to work with WordPress and that’s why we got it but it just wasn’t very good.
Andrew: I heard that. If there’s no notification than people aren’t drawn back in and it’s the notification that’s so critical. Fizzle told me that. (?) founders of that site. What else is important in software for community building?
Michael: Well I think that you got to have forums that have a clear purpose so that people can get in they can leave their questions. I also think it’s important to participate as the owner of the forum. I don’t want to participate to much because I really don’t want the community built around me I want it built around them but for me to pop in from time to time and offer my two cents, I try to do that a couple of times a week, just lets them know that somebody’s on duty and I have people from my staff doing that too and they have designation that they’re a staff member so they can speak officially for us.
But I think that’s important to because I used to be part of forums that would disintegrate into all kinds of unfruitful discussion whether it was you know just name calling or just completely off topic and we’re very careful about monitoring that. We keep things on topic and we keep the conversation civil and I think that’s critical.
Andrew: You said it needs to be useful or right- How do you- What do you- How do you define that? Michael: I think it’s got to be news that people can use. It’s got to be answering the questions that they’re asking and that’s one of the things that we patrol for, if you will, is unanswered questions. So, if somebody asks a question if nobody else is jumping in to it then we’ll jump in even if to say we don’t know the answer just so that they feel like they’re not shouting into a well and not getting a response.
Andrew: I see. Okay. What else? What is it that you do to get a conversation started? Stew says that that’s something that he does on his membership site.
Michael: Well, honestly we haven’t had to struggle with that too much. I think maybe in the early days we did. We would post a question and even now like when we post new content we’ll put questions under that post.
For example, if it’s a Master Class with Dan Miller last month where he talked about how you can make your first $150,000 as an entrepreneur and he breaks it down into little pieces. It’s a brilliant but simple and attainable lecture so we put a question in at the end of that. You know, what questions do you still have (?) where do you see yourself starting first?
One of the things we are going to do though is start bouncing those questions back to the discussion forum so that we don’t have the discussion happening in two places.
Andrew: Got it. In the comments and in the forum.
Michael: Yeah, it’s too hard to manage.
Andrew: That one is run as a membership site where every month I think it’s $30, right?
Andrew: The other site “Best Year Ever” is a one-time fee. How do you decide whether to decide monthly or one time?
Michael: Well, I don’t know. The thing about a membership site . . . Well, here’s the good thing about it. The good thing about it is you have this recurring monthly revenue. And I mean it can get significant. I mean Platform University now is a seven figure membership site. So you know that’s kind of fun but you also have to produce content every month and we do it in batches so we produce the content three or four times a year.
Just for like a week we just create content and go crazy for a week but it’s demanding. Whereas a course you produce the content one time and you can sell it forever like my Get Published course I created two years ago, and it’s still selling. “Best Year Ever” is actually only going to be – the shopping cart’s only open once a year. But we’re retooling that a little bit, but we’re not recreating it from scratch. It’s not new content. It’s a less of a burden, I think, to create.
Andrew: I see what you mean. But the ongoing content creation really can drive – it can drive me nuts, frankly, you know? I’m actually going to take paternity leave soon, and I’m creating tons of interviews so that when I’m away the flow just keeps going, and people don’t have to suffer by not having Andrew in their lives. I would hate to see that. Others have suggested that I allow others in the community or other interviewers or other entrepreneurs to do interviews so that I don’t have to do it. You’re in a similar situation. Why do you decide to do so much of it yourself?
Michael: Well, I think because people come for me. I experimented with this a little bit with guest posts on my blog, and I started getting some feedback from people that said, “Look, we come to your site to get you.” And, you know, occasionally I would introduce somebody to my audience, and I think that was good for me, and it was good for my readers. But I don’t know.
A lot of times it’s just tough to find the quality. I’m not saying it’s not out there. But most of the people that are really quality have their own sites, or their doing their own thing and they don’t really have time to do my thing.
Andrew: You mentioned master classes and how detailed they can be. I found that they could be hit or miss, not yours, but in general. And so, I’m so obsessive that people can’t teach on Mixergy without going through a conversation with a producer where the producer will pull out the ideas and break down their process.
And then find me visuals that go along with it so if they say, “Ask a survey question and then a follow-up survey.” I don’t want them to just tell me that. I want to actually see their survey question. And if they don’t have that then maybe I doubt that they ever did it, and they’re not a good fit. And it’s a lot of work. You don’t seem to do that. How do you get someone to teach so well without that?
Michael: Well, actually we do that.
Andrew: You do?
Michael: Yes, we do. Most of the people I’ve interviewed I know quite well, and so we’re really meticulous about getting a lot of “B role.” You know, that secondary footage either off their site or somewhere else that can illustrate it. Because in fact, I think that’s one of the things that makes our video work, is that it’s not just talking head.
It’s that, yes, but it’s also that “B role” so that we can illustrate it and keep peoples’ attention. Especially, you have to do that out of line because there’s so many distractions. People get bored, and they, you know, pop over to email or Twitter or they’re doing something else.
Andrew: I see. You mean they’re not just sitting here focused on me the whole time?
Michael: I know that’s shocking but, that’s right.
Andrew: Please, come back! I put on this shirt for you people. Usually I’m in a t-shirt. I see what you’re saying. How do you compensate people who do Master Classes?
Michael: We don’t.
Andrew: Okay. So why do they do it?
Michael: Yes, I think they do it for a couple of reasons. One is I think that like Dan Miller, for a good example. Derrick Halpern who’s in our master mind together with us, you know, I think because I’ve been helpful to those guys they want to be helpful to me. And there’s kind of this economy on the Web of people doing favors for one another. And it just works.
But I’ve never had anybody ask for compensation. I’ve never offered it, you know. I try to participate with other people as well and, you know, it just kind of makes it all work.
Andrew: I tend to think also that people who ask for compensation are probably at the place where they’re ready to be teaching this stuff, you know?
Michael: They kind of have to have it figured out that when they give like this it’s going to help their brand, it’s going to help bring people to their site. I don’t know how it all works, but I just know. In fact, we did an entire master class on generosity as a business strategy, and I think it’s a great business strategy. It really works.
Andrew: I do, too. I’ve found that it does really, really work, and I think it blows peoples’ minds because they email me all the time asking, “How much does Michael Hyatt want me to get paid to do an interview with you?” And frankly, I do see your schedule, and you’re really meticulous about your free time, about only taking on things that are high value. I was surprised and appreciative that you said yes to this interview, but what you didn’t do is say, “Andrew, I demand payment.”
Michael: Yes, I don’t know, and I have no problem doing that when I speak some place and even then I’ll do engagements for free because, you know, money’s not the only value that gets added. You know, the fact that we have a friendship. The fact that I love what you’re doing. You know, all that is just part of it. I want to be associated with that so if a site’s not great, and I don’t think they’re adding value they couldn’t pay me enough money to participate. Do you know what I’m saying?
Andrew: Yes, I do.
Michael: So it takes more than the money and that’s one form of compensation.
Andrew: I’ve also had people – I don’t think I’ve had many people who’ve said, “I need you to pay.” I’ve had more people say I want to pay you, which is also a problem. I can’t accept money for the interview. I want to do a good interview, not because the person is paying me a lot of money, but because I can learn something and introduce the audience to a good idea.
So what about someone who’s, and, by the way, this is a question, Michael , that comes up a lot, how do I pay people who want to do interviews and create master classes on their sites? And most people don’t ask for money, but they do ask to see some kind of a track record, some kind of site that they want to be associated with. If you’re starting today and you didn’t have that track record, how would you get people like Derrick Cowpern to come and teach? How would you get others to come and teach your community?
Michael: Well, the first thing I would do is I would make sure that my branding is really great, that I had a site that looked great, number one, and number two, I had some kind of value proposition to the whole thing. Something that I was trying to do for my audience and I could enroll the person that I wanted to come be on an interview, I could enroll them in that same vision. I think that’s where I would start.
You know, if you don’t have the traffic, and that’s the thing I look at so often now when people want me on a pod cast or whatever, it’s like, okay, what kind of traffic do they have, do they have any listeners. But you know, sometimes I do it because I met them at a conference. I like that person. I like what they’re trying to accomplish so I’ll participate just because I can help them. And I remember what it was like to be in that position and needing somebody to offer me a hand and help me out.
Andrew: I remember that. I remember going to a conference and talking to Tim Ferriss. He was mobbed with people. There was actually a line of people, not a mob. He had them really well organized. And when I got up to him, it was me and my wife we were standing there and I said, thank you for doing this. I think I asked him to sign the book.
And I said, can I interview you on my site? And he said yeah, sure, email Kim and then he set me up. There was no reason for him to have done the interview. We had no friends in common. I was just a guy in line and I always remember that.
Michael: Well sometimes that happens.
Michael: I’ve had people like that too. I remember, I don’t know if you’ve ever interviewed him, but Jeff Gorins, he’s a friend of mine who’s a writer and he’s built a terrific platform in the last three years. But he asked to have coffee with me. It was one of those things that I never say yes to that, but I did. And we struck up a friendship and it’s been awesome. But occasionally I’ll do that. You just never know, it’s worth asking.
Andrew: As a publisher, maybe I could run this theory by you. It seems that when authors are on the book tour, they’re much more likely to say yes to smaller podcast, to a smaller community. Yes?
Michael: Yes. Absolutely, although it depends on the author. Because sometimes the bigger authors who have less time to work with have publicist and an army of people running interference for them and so those people have very objective criteria they have to use. But, yeah, they’re going to be more susceptible or more likely to do it than at any other time.
Andrew: Speaking of Tim Ferriss, I asked him when he does rapid learning what questions does he ask people and here’s what he told me. He said, one question is what mistakes novices make. So I’ll ask you that, Michael. A novice who’s going to start a community and a membership site, what mistake are they likely to make?
Michael: I think one of the biggest ones is just taking your members for granted and thinking you don’t have to create new content. I was on a site the other day where it just looked like it had been months since anything was updated. I don’t know what they think. I don’t know what their retention is like.
I don’t know if they think people just aren’t going to cancel it because it’s not enough money to worry about. And I’m a member of sites like that, but I think that’s a huge mistake. You’re going to lose members and it’s going to eventually fizzle out if you don’t keep it fresh with new content.
Andrew: If you were going to start over how would you create a membership site?
Michael: Well, I think I would do it similar to what I’ve done in that I would want to have a clear value proposition. And then I think I would want to break that into the segments. What are going to be the various features so that we keep it interesting from week to week? And I don’t know if it works for every membership site, but for us it seems like that’s about the right pace.
Somebody was telling me about a membership they joined with just too much content. They always felt they were always behind. And every time they got an email that something else had been added to the site it just made them feel like they were slipping further and further behind, so they eventually just canceled. So it is possible to have too much content. And I think you have to let your members dictate that.
And for us, just interacting with people on the forums, about once a week was great. Again, it may be just my audience, but something that takes 45 minutes a week to an hour a week, they’re willing to give that. More than that and you’re really encroaching on their business and their personal time.
Andrew: I was so excited to talk to you that I forgot to do my sponsorship spot. I’ll do it in just a couple of minutes, in less than a couple of minutes. I’ll do it quickly here by apologizing first to Scott Edward Walker for taking this long. Scott is the entrepreneur’s lawyer which means that he sees entrepreneurs to try to figure things out and sometimes makes mistakes and he might understand that I took too long to get to the sponsorships spot. Sorry, Scott.
For everyone else if you’re a startup entrepreneur and you need a lawyer who understands you, who understands your industry, who understands where you’re going, you might need to create and agreement with a co-founder who might take off if the business doesn’t work out the way you wanted to and you want to protect both of you, both you and your co-founder in that situation. You might need to raise money. You might need to sell your company. You might need to be acquired by someone else or acquire another company.
All of those things are unique to entrepreneurs, unique to you if you’re listening to us in the audience. If that is you, I recommend you talk with Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He’ll help you get started with your company right and be there for you through those big transactions. Go to walkercorporatelaw.com. I asked you what questions you would ask yourself. Here’s one that he wanted me to ask you: How do you create contents in just two or three day shoots. He’s always been amazed that you could do it so quickly.
Michael: Yeah. I don’t know because I didn’t really believe that for myself that I could do it. Dean, who is our video producer, he cuts me no slack. He’ll say, “Okay. Here’s what we’re going to talk about. I want you to take five minutes and if you had to make three points about this topic, what would they be?” So, I’ll think for a minute and he says, “Okay. We’re ready to go. Three, two, one, go.” Then stuff comes out. That’s just kind of how we do it.
Andrew: When you’re thinking for a minute, what are you thinking about? Usually I find that people have frameworks in their minds. Maybe they’re not even aware of it, but the frameworks that they could use to come up with ideas and to structure them so that they express themselves well.
Michael: Well, I’m totally a framework guy and I’m very structured in my thinking. If you look at my blog posts on my site, I love lists, whether they’re bulleted lists, or numbered lists, or whatever. That’s just how I think. I don’t care. Even if I’m having a conversation with my wife I’m like, “Okay. There’s three things I want you to know, honey.” That’s just how I think. It serves me very well when I’m creating content.
Andrew: I see. So, you in your mind think, “What are the three things that people need to know in order to do this thing that I have to shoot a video for?” Great. All right. What about explaining those three things? You can’t just give people a laundry list. You have to make it interesting. What I find myself doing in those situations is thinking, “Was there ever a situation where I screwed it up or one where I did really well?” I just tell that story.
Michael: Exactly. The stories are the most important thing. Structure is like the Christmas tree but the ornaments are the stories. You’ve got to have the stories. You’ve got to be able to pull those out. I do have a lot of stories and I think I’m a natural story teller by nature. Fortunately, I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve had a lot of failures. I do think that those create a kind of connection with the audience when you can tell those as opposed to always leading with a success story.
Andrew: I see. Why is that? A lot of people don’t want to talk about their failures? I find that failure stories can be more persuasive than success stories. Why are they so affective?
Michael: I think because people find in those stories their own humanity. It’s the common thing that we all share. Plus, people have a lot more mistakes, most of us at least, than we do successes. To know that we’re normal is huge. I’ve had this conversation with a master mind.
For example, when I talk openly about the fear that I’ve had, even in leaving a big company. The nights that I’ve tossed and turned wondering how I was going to meet payroll. Wondering if I really had what it takes and if I could really do the job that I had been hired to do. When I stand up in front of an audience and say that every entrepreneur, every CEO goes, ‘Yeah. That’s exactly how I feel. I thought I was the only one.’ They connect with it. Much more so than me beating my chest and talking about this deal I did, this merger, this acquisition, whatever. People roll their eyes and think,’ Yeah right. Whatever.’
Andrew: I also find that people want to hear those failure stories so that they know what to avoid. If you tell them,”If you don’t do this, you might be in for this big problem that I experienced,” then they pay attention.
Michael: Yeah. They do. When you’re an entrepreneur, especially. Those kinds of stories and that kind of pain you want to avoid. You’re going to make your own mistakes. I don’t care how hard you try, but you don’t have to make the obvious ones. That’s why I like to listen to those people too. I want to avoid that stuff and save myself some unnecessary pain.
Andrew: Do you think someone, in order to build the kind of community that you have, needs to have 50,000 plus people on their mailing list in order to start a membership site?
Michael: No. I don’t think so. It depends on what you want to accomplish. I think you could start much smaller and grow it. It was an asset that I had and it was an asset that we used. Yeah. I think you could start it smaller. When we’ve got people inside of our membership that have started memberships sites much smaller, much more modest but are still successful. People are learning and growing and developing as a result.
Andrew: It looks like . . . Can anyone register at any point for a platform university if someone is listening to this, any time of the year they can go and sign up.
Michael: Actually they can’t. So we’ve just adopted a model much like a university where we have a spring semester, a fall semester, a winter semester. We’re doing those periods. You can register for it. What you can do is go to PlatformUniversity.com now and get put on the waiting list so that when we open registration we’ll email you and let you know.
Andrew: I see that, and it’s so beautifully done. I think it’s a lead box that captures email addresses for a list.
Michael: It is. Yeah.
Andrew: Why do that? Why not say, “Any time someone wants to join a community that’s ongoing, just go register and join?”
Michael: Yeah. I think there’s something about scarcity. I remember for a three year period I tried to get into Jeff Walker’s “Product Launch Course,” and I kept missing it. He would email me, and by the time I’d get around to doing it I’d miss it. And something about that created value in my own mind. I had to get into that thing, and by the way I’m glad I did. But it took me three years to get there.
So I don’t know there’s just something about scarcity and the human condition that makes people want it more, and without the scarcity I don’t know that it’s the same value proposition.
Andrew: I see what you mean, right? Especially online. You say, “I’ll just wait to another time.” And if you wait and say, “I’ll wait and get it another time” it never happens.
Michael: It’s just human nature to procrastinate. And that’s why we do [??] when we do a promotion. We’ll have some kind of promotion that we open the shopping cart, and it’s going to close at a certain time. And always on that last day when the shopping cart is open is when we have the most sales or the most enrollments because people realize it’s now or never or, at least, not for a while.
Andrew: I hired Kelly Azevedo [SP] to organize my launch for True Mind, and she said, “Send emails out to your main list and tell them that you’re going to do a webinar.” I said, “I’ve never done a webinar. Why do you want to do it for this big thing that’s so important to me? This is a message that I care about more than anything else. Why are you telling me to risk it on this thing that I’ve never done before?” She said, “Trust me. For launching new products webinars are the way to go.” You did that. Why are they so effective?
Michael: Man, I don’t know, but if I had known what I know back then when I started, I would definitely use webinars. I think it’s for this reason. I learned this in the traditional book publishing world too that if you have an event it creates excitement, it gives a focal point for promotion. It gives a reason for people to get onboard.
And a webinar is kind of like that. It’s a live event. We had, I think, 2200 people register for a webinar that to go to a webinar we could only have 1000 people on it at one time, and that by itself created a lot of energy and excitement. So, yeah, definitely do that going forward.
Andrew: And I made a mistake of doing replays. It’s not the same thing, and I shouldn’t have done it.
Michael: Yeah. We kind of accidentally fell into that, but we said there’s not going to be a replay. And as it turned out, we had too many people that were trying to get on that couldn’t. So we did send the replay to those people, but we didn’t make it available publicly. And I think that at least for the webinars that I’ve attended if it says that there’s going to be a replay I just immediately check out. I just think, “Okay, I’ll just sign up at all. I won’t go to the live event. I’ll just get the replay.” And, of course, I never get around to it.
So I think by not having it you create the kind of scarcity that makes people act and makes them participate, and I think that’s better because it’s easier to sell them in a live situation.”
Andrew: I see. Okay. Right. And so we don’t pay attention much online. If a video goes on for more than half a minute, people tend to check out because they can always come back and watch it again because we don’t value it in a world full of videos on YouTube, et cetera. But if a webinar is one time only, if you don’t show up you miss it. If you don’t fully pay attention, you miss it. Then you’re forced to pay attention. Do I have that right?
Michael: Yeah. I think that’s right. I think there’s another part of this that I learned from Amy Porterfield who had me do a webinar for “Best Year Ever.” And so she said, “Send me your slides, and I’ll tell you what I think.” So I sent her my slides, and she said, “Hey, these are great. They’re beautiful, but you need twice as many.” She said, “If you’re not changing slides every 20 to 30 seconds, you’re going to lose people.”
So for the webinar that we did for the last Platform University thing, I had 125 slides for a 45 minute presentation.
Andrew: Well . . .
Michael: It just keeps people engaged.
Andrew: I see. There’s a lot to watch, a lot to keep paying attention to, and it just keeps moving. I’m just going to ask you one more personal question, but first I should say that anyone who’s watching this and wants to take this to the next level, I have multiple interviews now with entrepreneurs who talk about how they built their membership sites from beginning to end, to challenges, to successes, and so on. But more than that, I have courses taught by entrepreneurs whose whole businesses are centered around membership sites of teaching people how to do it.
Including one of my first Master Class teachers, Stu McLaren. I said I’m using your plug and would you come and teach me and my audience how to do better, how to create better membership sites. He was one of the first people to teach on Mixergy, and he introduced me to Noah Fleming who’s great at membership retention. And we have multiple courses on how to create a membership site, how to build it, how to get people in it, how to keep them engaged, how to keep them subscribed, and so on.
If you’re digging this interview and you want to learn how to do one of your own, I urge you to sign up for mixergypremium.com, where you will watch, it’s very much like this, a conversation with clear screen shots, walking you through how to do it all. It’s available at mixergypremium.com. I guarantee you’ll love it, and by that I mean, if you’re not happy, I don’t want you to stick around, and I want you to get your money back. I want you to love it. I want you to be grateful that you discovered it, and glad, otherwise, don’t worry about it.
There will be other things for you to sign up for from me and other people. I don’t want this to be just another thing in your life. I want it to be something that changes your life. So, sign up, and if it doesn’t change your life, I will give you a hundred percent of your money back. Mixergypremium.com.
So here’s the final personal thing. You and your wife, Gail, sent me and my wife, too, this taffy, not taffy.
Michael: It was toffee, I think.
Andrew: Toffee, thank you. Right. T-O versus T-A, thank you. It was fantastic. We took it on our vacation with us and we enjoyed it, and I ate way more than I realized I could, and then I sent you a note, but I didn’t want to email you and say, “Where do I send a thank-you note,” because it didn’t feel right. So I went online and I looked for your address so I could send you a note, and I sent it. Did it get to you?
Michael: Yeah, it did. Thank you.
Andrew: Oh good. Okay.
Michael: I don’t even remember how it got to me. It may have gone to my P.O. Box, but yes, I did get it.
Andrew: It might have. It might have. I look online so much. You must get so many people who try to reach you that you know not to put your home address online, unlike James Altucher who made a mistake and put it online, and I think ran into some trouble.
Michael: Yeah, because I’ve had people literally show up to my doorstep, even without my address online, and it’s at the very least awkward, and could probably be potentially dangerous.
Andrew: Alright, well, thank you. I’ll say it again now, directly to you, thank you for sending it. Thank you for doing this session with me. To everyone else who’s out there, if you want to follow up and see what we’ve been talking about, I think the best place to get started is just to go to michaelhyatt.com, click around, get a sense of his style, how he teaches, how he brings people in. I’d also suggest you look at the comments. I went back, Michael, all the way, three or four years, to see how engaged you are in the comments, and you really are there.
Michael: Yeah, I really do try to participate. I hate it when somebody writes a blog post, and then they don’t participate in the comments. To me, that’s like inviting somebody over for dinner, and you get there, and they’re nowhere to be found.
Andrew: I have to do a better job with that. It is so hard to keep up with, and I admire how you do it.
Thank you so much for doing this. Everyone check out michaelhyatt.com, and if you’ve got anything of value from this, please let Michael know. There’s so many ways to find him online. The best ways are available on michaelhyatt.com. Thank you for doing this.
Michael: Thank you, Andrew.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for watching. Bye.
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