Mastering the art of generating recurring revenue is critical for any business aiming to scale. My guest today, Stu McLaren, knows this well. Since 2008, Stu has worked closely with thousands of entrepreneurs to transform their expertise into profitable membership sites generating up to 8-figures annually.
With his wife Amy, Stu also started a charity called Village Impact that has built 15 schools in rural Kenya. He shares how this philanthropic mission taught him the mindset shift of making money to do good.
In this episode, we explore Stu’s origin story and how he went from money guilt to embracing wealth as a way to increase impact. He explains his 3-part framework for growing a business by focusing on traffic, conversion, and retention. Stu shares specifics on how he achieves 95% membership retention rates.
We also discuss actionable habits like constant testing and immersing yourself in supportive masterminds. Stu reveals his strategies for donating revenue and involving his team in giving back. It’s a wide-ranging conversation about doing business with both purpose and profit. Stu provides valuable insights for entrepreneurs looking to build recurring revenue models that make a true difference in the world. So, without any further ado, on with the show!
In This Episode
- [03:00] – Stephan interviews Stu McLaren about their charity work, specifically how his wife inspired the charity after seeing children walk long distances to attend school.
- [09:34] – Stu emphasizes the importance of philanthropy in their business and how it’s woven into everything.
- [14:02] – Stu explains the two sides of the business model and how to generate recurring revenue through memberships.
- [16:51] – Stephan asks Stu why the tool is called “Searchie” and how it allows users to search inside a video for specific keywords.
- [18:57] – Stu highlights the importance of tailoring content to individual members’ needs and stages of progress.
- [24:04] – Stu suggests focusing on a few key things that can create the most momentum for a client’s business instead of trying to teach them everything.
- [28:40] – Stephan identifies a retention problem with his previous membership site, which he believes was caused by a mix of traffic and conversion issues.
- [36:04] – Stephan and Stu discuss the importance of language and copy in marketing, including using different vocabulary and terminology to see how it affects results.
- [45:06] – Stu encourages simplicity in business, focusing on a few key areas to drive growth and avoiding trying to do too many things simultaneously.
Stu, it’s so great to have you on the show.
Stephan, thanks for having me, buddy. It’s great to be here.
One thing we have in common is an interest in helping kids in Africa and rural villages. I’ve been on the board of Impact Network for almost a decade. I’ve donated enough money that several schools at least exist because of my donations. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying that I feel like this is an important thing to do.
One non-coincidence coincidence in 2011 was that I met Dan Sutera, formerly of Yext, who co-founded Impact Network as a mastermind. I had just gotten back from Zambia, which is where they focus. I just got back from a Tony Robbins Platinum Partnership trip where we went to a school.
I’m curious to hear what your origin story is. Why Kenya? Why this charity? What are your plans for it?
It’s a great story and question. This focuses on my wife. My wife is the true catalyst for it all. She has always been a traveler, traveling to remote areas of different countries. She started her career in education. She was a grade one teacher for more than 10-plus years.
When traveling to these remote areas, she sees kids who want to go to school but just can’t. Either the school is too far for them—they’re walking seven, eight, or nine kilometers one way just to get to school—and/or they didn’t have the means. A lot of their families were requiring the kids to stay home to be able to work, earn enough money, and put food on the table.Focus your energy on vital ways to move the needle the most for your business. You can always add to your focus later. Click To Tweet
She wanted to do something about it, and in 2006, Amy and I were watching a show that Oprah had called Big Give. Oprah would essentially go into a community in the States, and she would donate about $100,000 and completely transform the lives of a family.
Amy and I love watching the show. One time after the show, Amy said, “You know what, I want to do that.” I said, “Yeah, that sounds awesome.” She’s like, “No, I’m serious. I want to do something like that but in a developing country.” I said, “Okay, when do you want to do that?” She said, “Over the Christmas holidays.”
Stephan, this was the second week of December. I’m doing the math. I’m like, “Well, wait a minute, that’s in two weeks.” She said, “Yeah, I’m the traveler. I’ll figure out the travel plans and where we’re going. You’re the business guy. You raise the money, and let’s make it happen.” I was like, “Okay.”
That was the beginning of what eventually became our charity called Village Impact. We’ve been on an official Canadian charity since 2009. Since that time, we have focused all of our efforts on Kenya. The reason is that we tried a few different projects in different countries, and what we realized was a few key lessons.
First and foremost, we’re a very small charity. By design, we needed a partner that we could have unquestionable trust with because we were dealing with hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars now in terms of projects, and we needed somebody who we could have the utmost trust with to help us manage the construction of those schools.
We ultimately found that person in Kenya. Her name’s Irene. We call her the Mother Teresa of Africa. She cares just as much about helping these communities as we do. Together with that partnership and the partnership that we’ve then formed with the Kenyan government, we’ve now built fifteen schools.
We just got back from our every two-year donor trip. We take all of our donors over every two years. We just got back, and we just opened our fifteen schools. It was our most ambitious project yet. It was an all-girls high school. About 800–900 girls will go to this school, and we just opened it. For the first time—this was a real honor—we even had the president of Kenya come and open the school with us. It’s the only school opening he’s ever done since he got elected, so it was a huge honor.
We have just fallen in love with utilizing our business to do more good. For a long time, Stephan, I struggled with money guilt. I was making great money in my mid-20s but living in my parent’s basement. I just felt guilty about it because I’ve come from a blue-collar working family. They both worked two full-time jobs. I was earning more than combined and working a fraction of the time, energy, and effort.
I felt guilty about it for a long time. My income would get to a certain level, and then my subconscious would kick in and say, “Stu, this is too much money.” Then, I would stop doing the things that were working. I’d stopped doing the marketing campaigns and calling the clients who were hot leads. As a result, my income would come back down.
I remain in a cycle. I could never break through a certain income level. For me, it was around $400,000 until the very first time that Amy took me to Kenya, and we were looking to build our very first school. I’m talking to the chairman of the committee, and we have no idea what things cost. I’m trying to figure stuff out.
I don’t feel guilty about making money. I love making money for the universe.
One of my questions was, “How much it costs to fund the full-time salary of a teacher?” He thought about it for a moment. He said, “It’s about $100 a month.” At the time, we were selling a piece of membership software for $97 for a single site license.
I made this connection. “Wait a minute, if I just sell one more license of the software and allocate that to funding the full-time salary of the teacher, imagine the impact that I could have.” Then, the real light bulb went off: “Wait a minute, what if I made a lot more money and allocated a lot more to the people and causes that I’m passionate about? Imagine the impact that I could have.”
That was a turning point. That’s when I went from generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in the business to millions to ultimately tens of millions a year. It’s because I realized the more money I make, the more good I can do. Now, I don’t feel guilty about making money. I love making money for the universe. I love making money because the more money we make, the more impact we can have.
My wife and I have been on this journey with the charity. It’s a huge part of what we do but also a huge part of the business. My company covers 100% of the overhead for our nonprofit so that 100% of the donations go directly to the cause. It’s woven into everything that we do.
Philanthropy is woven into the business in terms of how we write checks, weave it in with our team, and involve our community. In all kinds of ways, philanthropy is woven in, but it’s a huge part of who we are because we believe the more money we make, the more impact we can have.
How do you weave in things like writing checks and so forth? This aspect of your business and philanthropy goes hand in hand.
There are all kinds of ways. I think of them in four categories. You can weave philanthropy into your business and life. Number one is by you writing a check. That’s easy peasy. A lot of people do that. We have a lot of donors that do that. They don’t necessarily have an interest in weaving it in other ways. They just believe in us and the cause and just write a check. That’s one way.
The second way is to weave it in by involving your team. We do this. Every quarter, we have a presentation that three team members give. Whoever wants to can put their name in a hat, and three team members are chosen. They then can deliver a five-minute presentation on behalf of a charity or cause they’re passionate about. Then, the whole team votes on who wins, and the winner gets $10,000 to give to that cause or that charity they’re representing.
The other two people get $2500 to give to their cause. But what’s beautiful about that, Stephan, is that we quickly learn what’s important to different team members.Surround yourself with others who stretch your thinking. Conversations that feed you are critical for your growth. Click To Tweet
I’ve learned that one of the women on our team who won the last one was presenting on behalf of a suicide prevention organization in our local community. I had no idea, but she had lost somebody very near and dear to her heart because of suicide.
Another woman in our team won one of the previous ones. She was presenting on behalf of an organization that helps women who are in abusive relationships be able to have a place to be able to go for either themselves or their families. Again, I learned that she was a victim of physical and mental abuse.
We find out what’s important to people, and you often discover it from your team. But what’s magical about it is the team members get to present that check on behalf of the organization, so they’re a big part of it. The bonding of the team is incredible.
One, you can write a check. Two, your team can do it. Third, you can involve your community. Every year, we do this. We have a fundraiser at the end of the year. It’s called our prediction call. We gather many friends and colleagues who deliver their predictions for the upcoming year.
What happens then is we go out to our community. We say, “Hey, listen, come join us.” A hundred percent of the proceeds go directly to charity. The community is contributing, and as a result, we raise tens of thousands of dollars.
Last year, we raised nearly $80,000 on this annual prediction call. We’ve also done it at live events where we’ll speak, and people will rally the community at live events.
In fact, right behind me is a big check from Funnel Hacking Live, which is Russell Brunson’s event. They rally the group. An offer is made where 100% of it goes directly to the charity. Again, it’s a great way to rally your community so they’re involved in the fundraising efforts.
Then, the final way that I would say is that you weave it right into your business. We do this in our business where when somebody joins our membership, 100% of the first month of the membership goes directly to the cause.
Russell and Todd Dickerson from ClickFunnels do it. Every time a new funnel goes live, they donate $1 to a cause. We have another woman in my impact mastermind. Whenever somebody joins her membership, she donates a meal to this community of kids in Guatemala.
There are all kinds of ways in which you can do it, but the point of the matter is that the philanthropy part is woven right into the actual business, so when somebody buys X, then Y happens. There are all kinds of creative ways in which you can do that. We philanthropy right in from you writing a check to with your team, with your community, or right into the business.
That is so cool. That’s very inspiring. What is the trajectory for you and your business? I know you have several things going on, at least with the charity, Searchie, The Membership Experience, and the TRIBE, which I was a part of some years ago—mentioned to you before we started recording—so a lot is going on I’m sure that I don’t even know about. Put the pieces together for us.
Our business is simple. There are two sides to it. One, there’s the training side. On the training side, we teach entrepreneurs how to generate more recurring revenue in their business through memberships.
We do this in a variety of different ways. As you mentioned, we have our signature course, which is now called The Membership Experience. It used to be called TRIBE. Now, it’s called The Membership Experience.
The second way we train people is we have our membership. We’re like the Hair Club for Men. Not only did we create the product, but we used it too. It’s a model we believe in and is part of our revenue streams.
Then, we also have our masterminds. These are for membership site owners who have crossed certain income levels and want to be surrounded by other membership site owners who are again focused on getting their memberships to the next level. That’s the training side of the business, where we’re teaching people how to launch, grow, and scale highly profitable memberships.
Then, we have the software side of the business. That’s the second area of the business, and that is Searchie. Essentially, there was a huge gap in the marketplace in terms of a platform that was able to serve people in the way in which we teach, so we’re excited about what has now developed into Searchie.
On the training side, we teach entrepreneurs how to generate more recurring revenue in their business through memberships.
It initially started as a simple tool. Now, it’s an entire platform helping people deliver their materials through courses and memberships. But it’s so much more than that because we focus on two big areas with that platform.
One is to help you create an amazing experience for your people so that they are getting great results. If they get great results, they won’t leave your membership. The only reason people leave memberships is because it’s either not relevant for them or they’re not getting results.
In all of my decades of helping tens of thousands of people with memberships, I’ve never heard of anybody leaving a membership because they’re experiencing too much success. As long as you and I stay locked in on helping our people experience progress, they will stay. This platform helps you do that.
The second way in which it helps you as a membership site owner is it streamlines so much of the management and details of being able to deliver a great membership experience through automation, AI, and an experience that enables you to eliminate so many in-between steps that it saves you hundreds of hours throughout the year and thousands and thousands of dollars if you’re paying assistants to do these types of tasks.
We’re pumped about where Searchie was, where it is now, and where it’s going, but the bottom line is it’s a platform focused on helping you deliver courses and memberships at the highest level.
Why is it called Searchie? Did it start as a search engine, or what?
It started as a simple tool because it was a problem that we, and I’m sure you, Stephan, and many others in your audience, have experienced.
In our training programs, we host Q&A sessions. One afternoon, I came off of a Q&A session. I was a little bit spicy—I guess you could say—because of all the questions that I got. I knew that I had already answered about 80% of them before.
I came off the call. I told my team, “I know I’ve answered 80% of those questions.” The team is like, “You 100% have.” I’m like, “Well, why do I need to keep answering them? Can’t we just send them the video of where I answered it before?”
They said, “Well, that’s a good idea in theory, but those videos are on this hard drive, so good luck going through all those videos and identifying where you were answering that specific question in the video.”Implement constant individual and team testing and experimentation. This can lead to breakthrough results. Click To Tweet
Then, somebody on the team said, “Well, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could just search inside the video, not the title or description, but what was being said?” That’s what began Searchie. It began as a simple search tool where you upload your videos, and it can search inside the video.
If you search for ‘blue bunny,’ it’ll bring you to the moment in the videos where you mentioned ‘blue bunny.’ It started as that and has grown and evolved into so much more. Now, it’s an entire platform, but that’s where the name Searchie came from.
What does it do that some other competing tool doesn’t do? I’m sure that the use case that you started with is something that most video-based AI tools have built in these days. It seems typical to have automated transcription, searching within the transcript, etc. What makes Searchie so special and different?
That was our party trick three years ago when we started the company. None of the AI tools were available then. The party trick was that when you upload a video, it automatically transcribes, pulls the audio from the video, and is automatically searchable.
That in and of itself was a major game changer for so many people. Think about it from within your community. From a membership standpoint, there are memberships that have been around for years.
In fact, we just helped one of our clients move. She had a membership with 8000+ members, and they had been on a WordPress platform and membership-based software. They had eight years of content, so 8000 members, eight years of content. You can imagine a chaotic experience for a new member to come in.
With AI incorporated into your membership, you can start serving content relevant to each user.
Most new members experience this when they come into a membership site. It’s like they come in the doors; boom, here’s a whole bunch of content. Good luck finding what you need. That’s what immediately creates frustration, and it’s immediately a negative experience.
From a membership standpoint, the first 30 days are crucial for any new member. If the member has a positive experience in those first 30 days, you can, on average, triple the lifetime value of that member, so it is so important to give them that first amazing experience when they come in, like a deer in headlights and can’t find anything, that presents a problem from the get-go.
Searchie, in its early days, solved that problem because now members could type in a specific thing they were looking for and not only could they find all the material within the membership that was relevant to that search term, but they clicked on it. It takes them not just to the video but to the moment where you mentioned and talked about that very thing.
That party trick alone was the very first thing that Searchie essentially was known for, and that still, to this day, separates it from all other platforms because other platforms do not even touch that level of experience. But now, from there, it’s just gone to a whole new level.
When we think about AI, we were very early on in Bing developing with AI. Right from the get-go now, when you upload a video, it does the transcription and the audio, and it’s completely searchable. But you can click a button, and it will go through your content and generate headlines, summaries, key takeaways, and even tags for the organization of that content within 60 seconds.
When we asked our audience, on average, how long it took them or an assistant to do that work, they said anywhere between three to five hours. That’s cut down to less than 60 seconds.
But then it goes further because now, with AI incorporated into your membership, we can learn much more about what our users consume, what they want, and so forth.
Imagine this, Stephan: now you can start serving content relevant to each user.
You see, 99.999% of other platforms are a one-size-fits-all experience, but nobody is exactly the same because you’ve been serving your audience for a long time. If you deliver the same experience, imagine how frustrating it would be if somebody more advanced came in and saw basic content. What’s their first thought? Their first thought will be, “This isn’t for me. I’m so far beyond this.”
What if you have a basic person come in and they see advanced content? They’re going to have the same frustration, only the complete opposite, like, “Oh my gosh, this is so far over my head. I’m out.”
If you’re losing more than 10% of members per month, that’s a red flag.
You’re trying to provide a one-size-fits-all experience, and you’ve not served anybody. But imagine now, instead, a new member comes into your membership, you ask a few questions, and you can identify where they are in their journey. Are they at the very beginning stages, or are they more advanced? If they’re more advanced, you start serving them more advanced content. If they’re more in the beginner stages, you start meeting them where they’re at and serving them more beginner-related content.
This is a massive game-changer in terms of the experience you now provide your members. As a result, they start experiencing far more progress because you’re giving and serving them the most relevant content. You’re helping them stay locked in and focused on the next steps in their progression. That’s how we serve people at the highest level. You don’t serve people at the highest level by giving them the same one-size-fits-all experience.
That’s what separates Searchie from all the other platforms. That’s an example—the tip of the iceberg—in terms of how it’s different from other platforms.
That’s great. I’m sure it increases the retention rate. What is your retention rate, if you don’t mind sharing that with your membership platform?
Yes, 100%. It does massively increase retention. As far as retention rates, here’s what my general rule of thumb is. If you’re losing more than 10% of members per month—so if you have 10% churn or more per month—that’s a red flag.
Typically, people in our community are hovering between 93% to 95% retention. We have members in our community that have upwards of 97% to 98% retention.
That whole myth that members only stay for a few months in membership is true for people who don’t have a proper retention strategy, but for those who intentionally weave in retention strategies, we see upwards of 95%+ in terms of our retention.
That’s awesome. How do you shift your strategy, marketing, and lead generation? Let’s say you’re doing consulting or services, and now you want to offer a membership site that’s more passive income or scalable. What do you need to do differently?
You don’t need to do too much differently. The main thing with a membership is that we’ve got to get clear on the journey that somebody is on. Similar to if you’re consulting, we’re trying to identify where people are on this journey, what they are looking to achieve, and what the few things they should be focused on right now are.
In marketing, there are a million and one different things that we can do to grow our business, but it doesn’t mean that we should be pursuing all of them. My rule of thumb is the fewer things you focus on, the more progress you will make.
When consulting, I reserve one day a month for one-on-one consulting. I do that because I love keeping my iron sharp. When working with a client, I’m not looking to teach them everything I know under the sun. I’m looking to identify what they want to achieve in the next six to twelve months and the few things we can focus on right now that will create the most momentum for them to achieve that objective.
Similarly, if you’re in a consulting role, the same thing is true inside of a membership site, which is one we want to get clear on the path that people are looking to take from beginner to advanced, for example. Then, what are the few things each person should focus on at different stages? We encourage people to think about the whole journey as a success path. A success path is typically made up of three to five different stages.
If you think about karate as an example, they have different stages and different belts, from the White Belt up to the Black Belt. Similarly, with what we teach inside of your membership or any membership, you want to break it down into different stages because each stage will likely have a different focus area.
I won’t talk to a brand-new business owner about team building when it’s just them in their business. Team building doesn’t make sense. Scaling doesn’t make sense. They haven’t even made their first sale yet, so why would I mention any of those things to them? I wouldn’t.
This is why breaking down that journey into multiple stages is important. It clarifies what area of focus you should be delivering for each person at each stage.
Inside of a membership, you do that thinking ahead of time, and now it’s completely scalable because as members come in, it’s like a self-assessment. Based on your questions, they can identify their stage, and then we can start serving that specific member relevant content to them, helping them stay focused on their particular stage and journey. As they progress, the content they see changes with their progression, so we can always keep them focused on the few things that matter.
To transition from consulting or coaching to a membership site, break down the journey into stages and create relevant content for each stage.
If somebody is looking to make that transition from consulting or coaching to a membership site, I would say just be more intentional about thinking about that journey, the kinds of questions that come up, and the kinds of things that people get stuck on in that journey, break it down into stages, and start creating content that is relevant for each of those stages. That’s how you can begin supporting your people in their progression.
I asked that question because I tried switching from just pure consulting and agency services to a membership site back in 2016, 2017, or 2018. We gave it a good go for four years and spent quite a lot of money. Multiple six figures were trying to get that to go and ended up to maybe 1% of revenue, so it was a big waste of money.
Let me ask you, what do you think was the challenge? Was it a traffic problem, a conversion problem, or a retention problem?
It was not a retention problem. It was a mix of a traffic problem and a conversion problem. Traffic was the biggest issue. We did okay with our conversion rate. It was a low-priced offer of $97 monthly compared to our consulting.
How were you generating traffic?
Through SEO, Facebook ads, and co-marketing strategies.
This is a great point; you can hear it through my questions. Whenever I’m working with a client, it’s either a traffic, conversion, or retention problem. Once we identify the primary problem, we can double down on fixing that particular issue.
Suppose it’s a traffic problem, great. Now we can identify. You mentioned paid ads. Were the paid ads converting, yes or no? If not, why not? We can drill deeper and deeper into the specific problem to identify what’s going on here because people in our community have grown memberships from zero to thousands to tens of thousands of members.
We have one person in our community who has over 40,000 paying members at $47 a month. I know people in your audience—because this is a marketing-related show—are doing the marketer math on that. They’re like, “Dang, that’s an eight-figure-plus membership.” Yeah, it is.
But again, it always boils down to whether it is a traffic problem, a conversion problem, or is it a retention problem. From there, we start digging deeper. What kind of traffic were you using? How was that working? Was the SEO working? No? If not, why? Were the paid ads working? No? If not, why not? We dig deeper and deeper to identify what the real issue is.
Sometimes, it’s very easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume that the whole thing doesn’t work. Not necessarily.
I’ll give you an example. Lisa, one of my masterminds, came to me one day during one of the calls. She said, “Stu, I need you to help me with my webinar.” I said, “Okay, why, what’s the problem?” She said, “I suck at selling.” I said, “Before we jump to that conclusion, let’s just identify what’s going on here.”
We dug a little deeper, and I started asking her these types of questions. “Why do you say you suck at selling?” “Because I’m not making enough sales from the webinar.” “Okay, so how many people heard about the offer on the webinar?”Intentionally create retention strategies to dispel the myth of temporary membership. Actionable strategies can lead to 95%+ retention. Click To Tweet
We start backing up. Stephan, her sales conversion rate was amazing. It was around 14% to 15%. It wasn’t that she had a sales problem. When we backed it out, the actual problem was that she had a show-up rate problem.
It wasn’t that she had a traffic problem. She was getting plenty of people registering for the webinar. She had a show-up rate problem, meaning people were registering for the webinar but weren’t showing up live. If they weren’t showing up live, they couldn’t hear the actual offer, and that’s why she wasn’t generating as many sales.
Once we identify that the show-up rate was the problem, we can start getting creative on marketing strategies to get more people to show up. I think it’s very easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater assuming, in Lisa’s case, “Oh, I suck at selling.” She doesn’t suck at selling.
She was ready to revamp the whole presentation and throw it all out the window. I’m like, “No, that’s working.” The thing that’s the issue is not getting people to show up. Now, we can put our energy and effort toward the things that will improve the situation.
Back then, webinars were the way to sign people up for membership sites or offers, and now they don’t pull so well. What are you finding as far as the effectiveness and the typical show-up rates for webinars?
Just be careful. Don’t make any generalizations. Would it be interesting to you, Stephan, if I shared how we had an 85%+ show-up rate to our two most recent webinars?
Don’t assume that all webinars suck and that they no longer work because sometimes, just a little tweak can make a huge difference.
This is why it’s really important not to make generalizations and again throw the baby out with the bathwater assuming, “Oh, webinars suck, forget webinars, they don’t work anymore.” No, it might be the approach to those webinars.
As an example, a year and a bit ago, I heard a strategy from a friend of mine, Ryan Levesque. Instead of a free webinar, Ryan would do a low-dollar one.
Earlier, we talked about ways to weave philanthropy into the business. What I loved and appreciated about this strategy that Ryan outlined was that he gave two price points instead of the free webinar. It was $25 to join live or $250 to get the recordings. But then he said, “But if you join live and stay to the end, you will get the recordings as part of it.” You could pay $25, show up live, stay to the end, and you’d get the recordings, or you could pay $250 and get the recordings.
What he did—and this is why I love the strategy so much—is 100% of the revenue generated up front, he donated to charity. Over a year, Ryan raised over $500,000 for charity. Again, that’s a great example of something we talked about earlier: weaving philanthropy into the actual business.
But here’s the webinar amazingness of this. The vast majority of people who would purchase the $25 show up live, stay to the end and get the recordings. As a result, he was experiencing 85%+ percent of people now showing up for the live webinar.
After seeing this, I’m like, “Let’s give this a whirl. We tested two webinars earlier this year, followed this model, and saw the same results. In our one webinar, we had 84% show-up, and our other webinar was 86% show-up.
My point in sharing this is yes, we had fewer people on the webinar, but we had way higher show-up rates, raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity, and had so many more people staying through to the end of the presentation. Many more people were hearing our offer about the membership, and therefore, things converted much higher.
Again, it’s all about the strategy behind the strategy. This is a great example not to assume that all webinars suck and that they no longer work because sometimes, just a little tweak can make a huge difference.
Speaking of tweaks like that, trying out different verbiage or terminology can make a big difference. For example, change the word course to program or the word webinar to masterclass or vice versa and see how it pulls differently.
Words and copy are some of the most important things that any of us as marketers, could study. Language is so vital.
Words and copy are some of the most important things that any of us as marketers could study. Language is so vital.
I talk to my kids about this. My kids are 12 and 9, and I’m talking to them about the importance of language, not only the language that we use in the way we frame up our programs but also the language we use when we talk about the rest, which results in the transformation and the future that we are casting for people to imagine as a result of joining our programs.
Language and copy are so important, and we want to pay close attention to those details 100%.
I’m curious about intangible habits that make a business or venture successful. I know you recently posted on your Instagram about habit building. What are some of your secrets to success in that regard?
I like to keep things as simple as possible. When I’m thinking about growing a business, I come back to those three categories that we talked about earlier for membership—traffic, conversion, and retention.
A year ago, we identified traffic as a weak area of our business. We are good at conversions. I would give us an A+ on conversions, I’d give us an A on retention, but I’d give us a C+ on traffic. The reason was that we were so heavily dependent on affiliate traffic. Affiliate traffic can be very fickle, meaning you can get a ton of support in one year. A couple of big players may have other commitments the next year, so your affiliate traffic can swing wildly from year to year. I didn’t like that vulnerability.
Last year, we tried to improve our ability to generate our own traffic, which required a lot of time and energy. One of the habits that we do regularly as a result of this was we started testing many different ways of generating ads.
I share this because it’s not a one-and-done endeavor. Every week, we’re running all kinds of different types of tests to identify ads that are going to help us generate more and more leads at a lower and lower cost.
Ironically, right at the beginning of this year, ad costs spiked. They were more than triple what we had seen before, but we kept testing.
Stephan, when I’m talking about testing, I’m talking about testing not only different headlines and ad copy but different images, styles of ads, videos versus static versus GIFs versus different angles, serious, funny, and neutral. I was involving my kids in the ads. I was in the ads. We had images in the ads.
Another important habit is conversing with others in the industry to feed yourself with great input.
I said to our team, “Listen, you have the green light to test and try anything.” Our team was even photoshopping me on top of a pigeon, for example, in one of the ads.
Stephan, that was one of the ads that performed best because it was a scroll stopper. People are like, “What the heck is this guy doing on a pigeon?” I’m talking about this in terms of the volume of ads.
As a result of that testing, our ad costs were lower than I had seen in four or five years. Campaigns were producing leads for as little as $1.53 per lead, which was astronomical, whereas colleagues and friends of mine were calling and chatting with me about their lead costs being upwards of $20 and $30 a lead. And here I am, we’re generating lead costs around $1.52. It was crazy.
One of the habits is a willingness to test, experiment, and try every day. This is a result of not only ads, but I just had this conversation with our team this morning about social posts. We’ve been getting into a rhythm of the same types of posts.
I told our team, “Listen, when we look at our KPIs every Monday morning and look at the numbers, those numbers should inform our future decision-making.” It shouldn’t be like, “Okay, it’s on track. Oh, it’s a little down this week.” We should be doing something due to those numbers, meaning we want to identify what content resonates with our audience and what does not. We should be doubling down on the resonating content and using that to inform our decision for future content creation, just like we were with ads.
Testing and experimenting is one of those habits that is important individually, but it’s also important as a team to develop that regularly because that’s how you begin to experience breakthroughs like we did this year with traffic. Testing or experimentation is one.
Another important habit is conversing with others in the industry to feed yourself with great input.
This is why I have belonged to a mastermind since way back in 2004. I’ve been a part of one or multiple masterminds since that time. It’s not just the benefit of being part of a mastermind. I’m so grateful because I also host a couple of masterminds. The level of thinking that is in these groups is what pushes me day in and day out.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey when you’re alone because nobody understands what you do.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey when you’re alone because nobody understands what you do. Nobody understands the kinds of pressures that we’re under. Nobody understands the kinds of decision-making that we’re making day in and day out.
I was just talking to a friend of mine a few weeks ago. He runs a big business. He runs a nine-figure-plus business. We were just talking about the kinds of things that he’s navigating daily, and the pressures and obstacles he faces regularly that nobody ever knows about are mind-boggling.
Their staff often don’t even realize the challenges that we, as entrepreneurs, face. That’s the reality. It can become very lonely if you’re left alone trying to navigate everything yourself.
This is why I firmly believe in surrounding yourself with others on a similar journey, that you can bounce ideas off and get perspective from. Sometimes, that could be one person, two people, five people, or a mastermind of a group of people, but it’s really important to intentionally surround yourself with that regularly.
The third habit that I embrace regularly is the habit of coming up with and creating new ideas and being able to think about those ideas.
This morning, as an example, I was mapping out some new ideas for upcoming videos, podcasts, etc. We as entrepreneurs must continuously exercise that idea and creativity muscle because, again, we just don’t want to get stale. We just don’t want to get the business to be doing the same old thing because before long, an AI revolution may come through, and now many people are stuck in the sand thing, not knowing, “Oh, how do I move? How do I adjust?” They’re just unable to because they haven’t been exercising those creative and idea muscles.
It’s important as entrepreneurs that we keep exercising that muscle, keep brainstorming, and keep generating ideas, whether for content, new product ideas, et cetera, to keep ourselves and our businesses ahead of trends.
Why is that?
It’s the value and the people in it. We’re just like family.
Where does the value come from for you?
The people that are in it.
That’s a huge credit to Joe Polish. He’s a dear friend. My wife and I run a book membership, and Joe’s book was featured. What’s in it for them is the featured book of the book membership.
Joe’s an amazing guy. He values bringing high-quality people together. A really important part of any mastermind is that there’s a filtration process, so to speak, to ensure that the people in the room are the right people because that’s where, as you said, the value comes from. I’ve experienced a very similar situation.
Amazing. What are some of your favorite masterminds you’ll probably never drop out of?
I’ll tell you one that demonstrates the value of a mastermind. As I explained, there are two parts to our business. One is the training side of the business, and one is the software side of the business. We realized we weren’t surrounding ourselves with other software companies and founders.
We ended up joining Dan Martell’s SaaS Academy—this was a few years ago. It’s full of Software as a service founder. Within the first month, somebody posted a Facebook post outlining how to get essentially $25,000 from Stripe and $100,000 from Amazon AWS. It was essentially a 20-minute process.
My business partner and brother-in-law, Andrew, followed the process of joining this group, and then there was some online thing that gave you credit to the Amazon thing. Within an hour, we applied for the $100,000 Amazon AWS credit and $25,000 Stripe credit. A few days later, we were granted both. Stephan, within the first month, we learned how to get grants for $100,000 from Amazon AWS, $25,000 credit for Stripe, and $125,000 came into the company due to those two things.
If we try to do all things, we end up not doing anything well, which will limit our ability to grow both our business and ourselves.
Smart marketing strategy, by the way. Why did those companies do that? Because if they’ve got software founders building on top of Amazon AWS infrastructure, the likelihood of them moving drops dramatically. It’s an upfront play to get them to utilize their technology, like Stripe, and it worked. We’ve now processed hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the platform because we have used those services.
I share that because that’s the value of a great mastermind. One little tip produced $125,000 in direct bottom-line savings for us. That was from a simple Facebook post in Dan Martell’s SaaS Academy.
I know we’re out of time, so share one last nugget of wisdom we haven’t already discussed and where our listeners can learn more, join your mastermind, and work with you.
Thank you for that. First, let me just give you my contact information. Mine is really simple. You can always go to my website. It’s just my name, stu.me. From there, you’ll find my Instagram. That’s the easiest way to contact me: a direct message on Instagram.
In terms of final words, here’s what I would say. From a marketing perspective, I encourage people to keep things as simple as possible. As we talked about throughout today, there are a million and one things we can do to grow our business, but at the end of the day, start with the big rocks. Is it a traffic problem? Is it a conversion problem? Is it a retention problem?
From within there, we can unpack things further. It focuses on the few things we should be paying attention to right now. As I mentioned, if we try to do all things, we end up not doing anything well, and that is going to limit our ability to grow both, you know, our business and also ourselves.
I encourage everybody to keep things simple in your business and in your life. What are the big rocks, and what are the few things that will move the needle the most? Focus on your energy there, and then add other layers.
Awesome. Thank you, Stu, and thank you, listener. We’ll catch up with you in the next episode. I’m your host, Stephan Spencer, signing off.
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Your Checklist of Actions to Take
Divide my membership journey into manageable stages. Allow for incremental focused training to ensure members master a set of skills before progressing.
Define specific, measurable objectives for my members. Members should accomplish these objectives within a set timeframe. This will provide direction, motivation, and a sense of progress throughout their membership.
Pinpoint the root cause of poor performance by analyzing my key metrics—traffic, conversion rates, and retention. Tailor my strategies based on identified weaknesses.
Implement a continuous testing strategy for my advertising content. Experiment with various elements like copy, images, videos, and formats.
Integrate philanthropy into my company culture by engaging both the internal team and the community. This approach positively impacts morale and brand perception.
Join a mastermind group to benefit from diverse perspectives, share ideas, and receive valuable insights. Being part of such a group provides me with a support system that can drive growth.
Regularly engage in creative exercises to stimulate innovative thinking and stay ahead of industry trends. Set aside dedicated time for brainstorming sessions.
Prioritize efforts on critical aspects that significantly impact my business growth. Avoid spreading resources thin by concentrating on the most influential factors.
Tailor membership experiences to individual preferences and needs rather than adopting a generic approach.
About Stu McLaren
Stu McLaren is the Creator of The Membership Experience and co-founder of Searchie.
Since 2008, Stu McLaren has worked intimately with thousands of authors, speakers, coaches, consultants and business owners to transform what they know, love and do into recurring revenue by launching, growing and scaling 6, 7 and 8-figure membership businesses.
Stu and his wife, Amy, launched a Canadian charity called Village Impact. Since 2009, they have been bringing schools and education to rural villages throughout Kenya.
One of the core beliefs that Stu holds dear to his heart is that “the more money we make, the more impact we can have.”