Minimum Viable Memberships: Build a Recurring Revenue Online Business

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Shane Sams

Want to get started with an online business but don’t feel like you’re an expert in anything?

Maybe you’ve started a business but you’re struggling to monetize it?

A few short years ago, Shane Sams and his wife Jocelyn were school teachers.

In their off-hours, they built several successful online businesses, including, which sold for over $1 million in 2017.

Today they run along with the Flipped Lifestyle podcast, to help others try and replicate the success they’ve had online, and specifically take advantage of the membership model.

Tune in to hear:

  • how to set up your membership site the right way
  • why you might be closer than you think to getting your first paying members
  • the payment tiers that work for Shane and his students
  • how Shane and Jocelyn continue to grow their community year-over-year

Thanks to Monica Louie for the intro!

Niche Selection and Validation

Picking a niche that you can make an impact in and also be profitable is the starting point for most people.

Shane’s story starts back when he and his wife Jocelyn were school teachers. Some things happened with their jobs, and it made them say to themselves, “We want to work for ourselves, what can we do?” Shane told me.

They started looking into all sorts of ideas. Shane considered mowing lawns and pressure washing. Jocelyn was going to open a store, then she bought a sewing machine and was going to sew curtains to sell on eBay.

That was, until she realized that she couldn’t sew …

“You gotta go down some rabbit holes to figure it out,” Shane told me.

Shane said he doesn’t advise people to follow a passion. That isn’t always going to be a profitable route. Instead, he does advise people to “go with what you know.”

He remembers the first money he made online; it was 0.11c from an ad click. Not only was this the happiest he’s ever been to make $0.11, but it was also at that point Shane and Jocelyn knew the direction they wanted to go in.

Related: Check out Shane and Jocelyn on the Smart Passive Income Podcast

They wanted to build a business helping people by using the knowledge they already have.

How Shane and Jocelyn Built a Business on What They Already Knew

Jocelyn already knew how to create elementary librarian lesson plans. It was something she did for her day job, so she knew she could solve that problem for others.

Likewise, Shane knew how to write football playbooks and U.S. history teacher plans. That was what he was doing for his day job.

Neither of these were passions for Shane and Jocelyn. But they liked it enough and were familiar with doing it that it was easy for them to create lesson plans and put them up online.

Whenever anyone enters the Flip Your Life community, Shane asks them the following questions:

  • What do you know what to do?
  • What problem can you solve for somebody else?
  • What will you actually move forward on?

The answer to what niche or business they should get into usually lies within the answers to these questions.

What if I’m Not an Expert in Anything?

“That’s a mindset problem, it’s not a niche problem,” Shane told me.

Shane said no one cares about your qualifications and how experienced you are in a field. All they care about is whether or not you can help them solve a problem.

In fact, the first thing Shane sold online was a football playbook for high school defenses. As a coach, Shane admits his record wasn’t spectacular.

He went 0-10 in his first year as a coach. Slowly improving over the years picking up 1 win the next year, then 2, 3, 4, and ending with a record of 8-2 in his final season coaching.

What Shane realized is that not every coach wanted a book written by a coach with a perfect record. Because not every coach had the resources and players to create a perfect team.

He was writing playbooks for coaches in a similar position to him. That was Shane finding his niche and solving a problem for them.

The same applied to Jocelyn. She had only been a librarian for 3 years when she started

But she couldn’t find the solution to a problem she was trying to solve, which was needing more lesson plans. So, she started her own website offering that solution and providing more librarian lesson plans.

Any Niches You Recommend People Avoid?

“No,” Shane told me. He said people will buy your products because they relate to you, not because you’re an expert in a niche – or not.

All the information someone could need is out there online for free. They just need to be willing to dig for it, Shane explained.

So, it’s how you curate, present, and deliver the information. Shane said you’ll find your community by talking in your own voice and presenting your information in a way that solves the problem you’ve identified.

He’s seen people in his community go into every niche, from backyard chickens to life coaching. Shane has seen them make it work.

“You only need 100 people to pay you $50 a month to make $60,000 a year,” Shane said.

After Picking a Niche, What’s Working on the Marketing Front Today?

The two biggest things working for Shane and Jocelyn right now is:

  • Publishing
  • Guesting

Shane’s marketing strategy has three elements:

Be Heard

“Your voice has to be in the marketplace,” Shane told me.

It’s important for Shane to have his voice going out there every day. To do this, he records two podcasts as it’s the quickest way for him to produce content;

One where he talks with his community and answers their questions. On the other, he invites experts to bring new insights and perspectives to his audience.

Be Prolific

The next most important marketing aspect for Shane is to produce a lot of content. He also puts time into promoting it across all his social media platforms, email list, and so on.

Build Relationships

Shane said he is relentless in pursuing relationships and opportunities. He wants to reach as many people as possible that have never heard of him before.

How Do You and Your Members Get Through the Initial Growth Phase?

Anyone who has started a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, will know how frustrating it can be producing content at first and having no one read or see it.

Shane said he knows this can be frustrating. He said the first thing he tells people is that they want to be “the glacier not the prairie fire”.

What he means by this is; prairie fires look awesome, but those fires are going to diminish over time.

Glaciers, on the other hand, build themselves up snowflake by snowflake and will be there for the long haul. He ties this into building an online presence. If you can add one new visitor, email subscriber, or listener a day, that’s a win.

Over time, you will create a huge following of loyal, targeted community members.

How Do You Decide What To Give Away for Free and What To Put Behind a Paywall?

“Our basic principle here is, all content is free,” Shane told me.

In this day and age, there isn’t anything that you can’t find for free online. The problem is, it might take someone hours to find. It’s about making that process quicker and easier for people.

An example Shane gave was one of his U.S. history teacher website products. He curates videos for teachers by having someone watch teaching videos to make sure they’re ready to be shown in class.

This means the teacher doesn’t have to spend that time watching them first, saving them time and providing value they’re willing to pay for.

It’s the curation that membership owners are selling, Shane explained.

What Kind of Content Investment Is Required for Members?

Shane said back in 2015 he came to a realization that he didn’t need to keep adding new modules and creating content for his membership section of the FlippedLifestyle community.

He said there is an 80/20 split between evergreen and new content. He created videos and content for that 80%, and those are there for his community to use whenever they need it.

For the other 20%, he lets people ask those questions and discuss the latest tools and tips in the forum area and on live Q&As.

“The membership is not based on content, it’s based on community and leadership,” Shane told me.

The path is created by the content, that’s what leads people into a paid membership. Once someone has joined, they stay for the community.

What About Pricing Tiers?

The main question when starting a paid membership is whether or not you should charge a “joining fee.” (A higher upfront price, followed by a lower monthly cost.)

Shane doesn’t add a joining free for his membership models, he operates on a flat monthly fee.

He said it can apply to some niches though, and gave the following examples:

  • Jason Brown of is in the investing niche. Shane said it made sense for him to charge a high joining fee as it increased the trust investors had in his course. By adding a joining fee, Jason saw an increase in the number of people signing up for his course.
  • Blair Thielemier runs PharmapreneurAcademy, a membership site in the pharmacy niche. She had a joining fee of $1,000 when Shane started working with her. He recommended she drop that joining fee and double her monthly price to $200. This got a lot more people to join up and increased her overall revenue.

More often than not, Shane said it’s better not to have a joining fee. Give people “the price of least resistance” to sign up for your course or membership. Then once you have them in your ecosystem, you can keep them there.

Shane offers a month’s free trial for FlippedLifestyle. He does ask for credit card details, which he says deters the freeloaders. But after extensive testing, he found that allowing people in for free gets the most people signing up.

Why Are Free Trials Better for You?

Shane and Jocelyn spent two years testing different pricing models. They spent a year charging $1 for joining their membership, and a year doing free trials.

What they found was that people paying $1 to join stayed a lot longer, but they had fewer signups. When they made signing up free, they had a lot more people joining to see what was on offer, but they had a shorter stay.

Shane said this is what made him realize that the “price of least resistance” is the best method for getting people through the door. All he had to do at that point was to work on retaining people and increasing the lifetime value of each member.

This is why he always recommends people offer a free trial for at least a year. Once you have enough data to work with, you can put a price on a lifetime membership and make those pricing decisions.

How Do You Keep People Signed Up?

There are a lot of variables that affect how long someone will stay signed up for a membership, it’s very niche specific.

As a general rule of thumb, Shane said to shoot for 6 months of retention.

How Are You Capturing People Into Your Signup Funnel?

To capture or funnel people into a course or membership, Shane outlines his basic flow as creating content, then sharing and promoting that content with lead magnets attached.

For example, with ElementaryLibrarian they included a lead magnet in every blog post and at the end of every podcast. The typically offered time-sensitive free digital downloads to encourage people to sign up.

He uses the same tactic with this U.S. history website. Although he can also get leads for around 0.20c using paid ads, so Shane runs some ads too.

The lead magnet he uses for that membership site is offering “10 free lessons from every era in US History.” The bite here is that Shane only gives them day 1 for each era. He said before long someone wants day 2 and signs up.

For FlippedLifestyle, their free trial sells itself. Shane said being able to join for free gets people through the door, no lead magnet required.

What Tools and Tech Are You Using?

Shane has managed to boil down running everything to just two tools;

  • Kajabi – Shane has tested a bunch of membership platforms and said this is by far the best in his opinion. He uses Kajabi to host his courses, forums, content, and everything else behind the scenes in his memberships.
  • Zoom – He uses this for webinars and member calls.

What Common Mistakes Do New Membership Owners Make?

The first mistake Shane sees people making is not going into the membership model with the right mindset.

It’s not a get rich quick scheme. It takes time, patience, you need to test things, and you need to adjust to what it means to run a paid membership on a day-to-day basis.

For this reason, Shane recommends people start with a small beta group of around 25 members. This helps them get to grips with what’s involved in running a membership site without the stress of hundreds of members.

The next biggest mistake he sees is people trying to put too much content in their membership area. Don’t overwhelm your members with more than they can work through.

The third mistake Shane commonly sees is people not setting the right boundaries. When you’re starting and you have a handful of members, you can give them a little one-on-one time.

As your numbers grow, however, it’s not sustainable. Set those boundaries early on so you don’t get trapped answering individual questions all the time.

What’s Coming up for FlippedLifestyle?

What drives Shane is growing his business and getting his message out to as many people as possible.

His original driving force was to spend more time with his kids, and he’s heard other people say they want the same.

He’s been able to gain control over what he does with his time and now has the freedom to spend more time with his family.

This is what really drives him now, he wants to help other people achieve the same; gaining control over their calendar, and having the freedom to live their lives how they want.

Shane’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Build recurring revenue.”

Links and Resources from this Episode

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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