When to launch a membership community

When to launch a membership community

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In March 2021, I finally launched a membership community for Soapbox Project. I've been writing free bite-sized action plans since late 2019 and it was time to take it further. When you join the Soapbox community, you level up your impact by multiplying it with others, taking action locally, and having fun with new friends!

So now the question...

Alt: Hi Nivi! You’re doing amazing work! Congrats on all of your accomplishments! I noticed that Soapbox started with a newsletter which you then turned into a paid online community. How and at what point did you know it was time to transition and how large was your newsletter audience at the point you decided to launch the paid community?
Alt: Hi Nivi! You’re doing amazing work! Congrats on all of your accomplishments! I noticed that Soapbox started with a newsletter which you then turned into a paid online community. How and at what point did you know it was time to transition and how large was your newsletter audience at the point you decided to launch the paid community?

How do you know it's time to launch a paid membership community?

Spoiler alert: I can't answer this for you.

But I can show you some signals that helped me know when to launch.

Here's my journey in a nutshell:

I honestly didn't "know" when to launch. But by the time we launched our online community, I got consistent feedback wishing there was a way to

  1. Have some accountability,
  2. Get more curated action tips (e.g. by location), and
  3. See what others are up to so people don't feel so alone in what can be a kinda crappy world.

If these are your reasons, DO NOT launch a membership community.

Here are some mistakes I've made in the past. Since I lurk in a lot of community-adjacent forums, I see SO MANY of these over and over and over again. They are all 100% avoidable.

Let's go rapid-fire:

  • A community will make me money
  • I have X number of people on my free list and I need to figure out how to monetize them
  • I have X number of people on my free list so I might as well build a community for them
  • I want to promote my events
  • It would be cool to have all my users in the same place
  • I want my audience to take on some of the tasks I'm already doing so they can contribute to the cause
  • I'm excited to lead people

None of these are inherently bad reasons. I DO want my audience to step up and contribute to fighting climate change. I DO want to make money in a way that's aligned with our vision of being the most approachable platform for social change.

But alas, it's not enough.

Only launch a community if you can answer the following questions:

That heading was a bit clickbaity; I'm sorry, but take this as an invitation to email me/comment with your own questions so I can add them!

  • How is a community aligning with my brand/company/project's vision and values?
  • Who am I really doing this for? How do we define "our" people?
  • What is the MAIN problem I am solving?
  • Do I know, with 100% certainty, that there is a mass of people who need this problem solved?
  • What activities will happen within my community?
  • How will I cast a diverse and inclusive net?
  • How will I ensure an equitable distribution of power? What will the power dynamics in this community look like?

You don't have to answer each one 100%, but if any of these questions is new to you, you have some more thinking to do.

The biggest takeaway: launch a membership community when enough people are actively asking for it.

Proactivity is the best sign you can hope for. Before I launched the community, we piloted some events starting in Jan 2021. In Jan and Feb, the two months preceding our community launch, these events were a huge success. People approached me to tell me they'd pay $15 (as opposed to $5 or $10) for our events since they were so much better than the virtual events we've become accustomed to.

I would get emails from people asking for more — more curation, more tips that suit their family needs, more new topic suggestions — and that's when I knew only a community can solve this challenge. I'm just one person, and I'm not a climate justice expert, but if I can gather hundreds or thousands of people together, we can form a magical web of nudging each other along.

If no one has asked you for something resembling a community, you should wait. Yes, even if you have 10,000 followers on your email list.

I believe our Soapbox community launched at ~3,000 subscribers. Only 20 people signed up in the first couple weeks. I even thought of shutting it down.

But each of those 20 people really wanted it — they'd asked for more connection; more accountability; more events, and they were willing to invest some of their own time to help me think through and build the programming.

These early members were more critical than any vanity metric, and I humbly suggest, if there's ONE way you "know" when you're ready to launch a paid membership community, it's that people are actively asking you to build it for them.

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