By the end of 2021, I expect Ungated Media to be a six-figure business. Here are the exact steps I’m taking to make that happen.
Before we get into this, there are a few things you should know.
First, I want this to be useful for you, even if your business looks nothing like mine. So I’m going to sharing the deeper principles behind the choices I made. That way, you’ll be able to adapt parts of what I’m doing here to your own ventures.
Second, this won’t be a “business plan” in the traditional sense. There will be no fanciful charts and graphs, nor any overly optimistic revenue projections. As a bootstrapped business, I have zero use for those things, as I’m not trying to convince investors/banks of my worthiness.
Instead, this document is for me. I wrote it to clarify the individual pieces of my business, and see how they all fit together. In fact, the act of writing this led to a big strategic shift I wouldn’t have made otherwise. Had I just kept this plan in my head, there’s a good chance my business would be on weaker strategic foundations.
So if you’re starting a new business, or refreshing an existing one, I can’t recommend highly enough that you write your entire strategy out, start to finish. Even if no one else ever sees it, it’ll help you think more clearly, and perhaps spot some flawed assumptions, as I did.
Lastly, you might notice one glaring omission from this plan—marketing. That’s intentional, as I’ve got another chunky article lined up for that. So keep a look out for that.
Let’s dig in!
The Core Membership
Ungated, at least on the outside, is primarily a membership business. Most of the articles are free. But a handful of them, as well as the community, live behind a paywall.
Given that you’re currently reading this premium article, you’re already aware of this dynamic. (It was a super smart choice to become a member, by the way. High five!)
As of this writing, I’ve got two membership options.
- Yearly membership for $100
- Lifetime membership for $250
Over the next six months, I’ll be adding more value to the membership, and the prices will rise (specifically for the lifetime option). But for the first few months, I’m keeping prices here to get more members in the door, and reward them for being early.
In fact, behind the scenes, I’ve been using a technique you might call “super duper early bird pricing.”
The biggest struggle of launching a business like this is getting people in the door initially. After all, there’s not much content yet, nor much community activity. I wouldn’t want someone to pay full price, only to jump in and be disappointed.
So by offering a handful of super cheap lifetime memberships, I’m “greasing the wheels” a little bit. I’m getting my first few customers, pre-populating the new community, and testing all of the systems running behind the scenes. Plus it’s a smashing deal for those early customers.
Point being, even though it leaves some revenue on the table, there’s a lot of upside to pricing yourself crazy low at first. If nothing else, it’ll build your confidence a bit, and get you over the initial hump of selling stuff online.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that I’m in a fortunate spot, because I have a pre-existing (and overlapping) audience from Filmmaker Freedom. So it was easy for me to sell the first handful of memberships. But even if I didn’t have an audience already, this is still the strategy I’d be using to get my first few customers.
Why is there no monthly membership?
One of the underlying headaches of running a membership businesses is churn—cancelations, expired credit cards, etc. It’s the kind of thing that can slowly destroy even successful memberships if left unchecked. (BTW, you should read the linked article, as it contains some great business lessons.)
Personally, churn is my biggest worry when it comes to the membership business model. Ungated is a lifestyle business, after all. My goal is to build something that maximizes the quality and enjoyment of my life. And churn has the potential to be a major point of stress in the future.
So I’ve been cooking up strategies to minimize the amount of churn I’ll have to deal with. Hopefully, by combatting it from the start, I’ll save future Rob some headaches.
This is the primary reason I’m not offering monthly memberships. With monthly members, I knew I’d be obsessing over my churn and retention numbers, which would pull me away from the work that really matters—creating useful stuff and marketing it.
Another reason is that I’m trying to attract people who are playing the long game of creative entrepreneurship. Having a monthly option quietly signals that Ungated is a place for “dipping your toe in the water.” But if you’ve gotta go all in for at least a year, that attracts a more committed set of customers.
My core assumption here is that filtering for commitment will eventually create a virtuous cycle. Committed customers are the ones who truly participate in the community. They’re the ones who do the work and build businesses themselves. And when there are other successful people in the community, and out in the world, it increases the perceived value of Ungated in a very tangible way.
Basically, when my customers win, I win. So I’m optimizing for customers who are most likely to win.
My big flip flop on lifetime memberships
Remember when I said writing this resulted in a big strategic shift? Here’s what changed.
My original plan was to pack the lifetime membership with additional goodies to incentivize more people to choose that option. I mean, who wouldn’t want more value, and no recurring fee?
The thinking was that I’d be able to capture the lifetime value (LTV) of a member up front, and not have to deal with churn. Plus, it’d be a delightful deal for those members. Win-win, right?
Though that logic is technically sound, there are two big downsides to pushing lifetime deals too heavily.
- Less recurring revenue, which frankly defeats the point of the membership model. Plus I’d be trading one hamster wheel (churn) for another (constantly needing to reach new customers).
- Customers who are likely less invested in the product/community, because they don’t have an ongoing billing relationship.
It’s really that first point that changed my mind about pushing everybody towards the lifetime option. Realizing that I was trading one hamster wheel for another made it abundantly clear that my thinking was flawed. I was letting the fear of one potential bad outcome push me into another one. I wasn’t solving the problem of churn, so much as I was exchanging it for a different, and potentially worse one.
I’m a big believer in the idea that asking better questions results in better outcomes.
The question driving the original strategy was “how can I minimize churn?” But the better question is “how can I make the yearly membership so valuable that people would be crazy to cancel?”
The former question resulted in a short-sighted strategy, while the latter will likely result in a better experience for my customers, and amore predictable, profitable business for me.
So what am I actually doing with this insight?
The first thing is rejiggering my pricing so that the yearly membership is the most obvious choice for most people. To do this, I’ll be raising the lifetime price to $400-500. Probably in 4-6 months.
After that, I’m going to make the yearly membership so valuable that it’ll be seen as a no-brainer for most creative entrepreneurs to join, then stick around long term. The first step will be to include all of my “micro products” (which you’ll read about below). In addition to the premium content and community, these micro products will add up to hundreds of dollars in additional value, and will help members get some quick wins in their business.
From there, the plan is to not only keep creating great content, and facilitating a useful community, but also release a few new micro products and resources each year. Over time, this will add up into a bundle of goodness that will be worth SO much more than anyone is paying. My hypothesis is that this will result in the kind of trust and goodwill that will make churn practically irrelevant.
I’m working through an excellent course from Jack Butcher called Build Once, Sell Twice. Though my original plan was for Ungated to be a pure membership business, the course got me thinking about assets I could create to complement and enrich the core membership.
More than that, it got me thinking about small, topical education products that I could ship quickly. After all, I’ve already got a world class audience building course for indie filmmakers. Much of that material can be quickly adapted to the market for Ungated. It’d be crazy not to repurpose and refine the body of work I’ve already built.
So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. But instead of creating another mega course, I’m focusing my energy on small, quick, crunchy solutions to common problems creators face.
My goal with these micro courses is to get quick wins for students. I don’t want to bog you down with information, like many courses, but instead give you just enough to make legit progress in a specific area of your business.
With that in mind, here are the micro courses I’m planning right now.
- Find Your Niche 2.0 (this is coming before the end of 2020)
- Influencer Outreach for Creators
- Email Marketing Fundamentals
- Simple Content Strategy
- Creating a “Branded Persona”
The plan is to make each of these super affordable (probably $50), and to promote them across my articles and social media and whatnot. These micro products will do a couple of things.
- Help me disconnect my income from my time. These are assets that I will build once, then sell many, many times.
- Earn revenue from people who aren’t yet members, or who have no intention of ever becoming one.
- Add immense value to the core membership. These will be included for yearly and lifetime members at no additional cost.
- Act as a form of “profitable marketing” to pull people into the broader Ungated membership.
Let’s expand on that last point.
When I build the “Find Your Niche” course in a few weeks, I will also be creating a ton of free content (articles, tweets, graphics, etc) around the topic. Throughout this swarm of content, I will link out to the product page for the micro course.
From there, anybody who buys the “Find Your Niche” course will be presented with a simple upsell along the lines of…
“Get this course, a few others, and a treasure trove of premium content, community, and support for a small yearly price.”
Say the course costs $50. The upsell page will then offer all of this for just $50 more. My hope is that it will be a no-brainer for most people, and that it will lead to more people opting in to membership.
And hey, if people choose not to become members, they’ll still get a world class little course, and I will still earn revenue from the things I’ve built.
Plus, creating all of these assets will give me all sorts of options down the line. If I want to bundle them up for Black Friday or something, I can. If I want to offer them as bonuses for a bigger program, I can. And of course, if I keep adding these to the membership, I can (and very well might) keep raising prices.
I’ve long shied away from affiliate marketing because the internet is flooded with people who do it SO badly.
I’ve never wanted to be seen as yet another annoying, aggressive affiliate marketer, hawking any and every product that comes with a commission, regardless of whether it’s good or not. Bad affiliate marketing truly is one of the most insufferable parts of the internet.
But as the old saying goes, you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Which is a really weird saying, now that I think about it.)
I’ve come to realize that I can serve my audience deeply (my top priority) and earn affiliate commissions as a natural byproduct of that service.
After all, my target audience for Ungated is going to need certain things to build their business—be it an email marketing app, a website builder, commerce tools, etc.
I happen to be insanely experienced with these types of tools. I know what works and why, and I’ve made plenty of software mistakes in my day. By sharing those perspectives, I can save burgeoning creators time and money by recommending the right tools for the job.
So, that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing. Given that I’m writing extensively about my own business, and being radically transparent about everything, I might as well share the tools I use and recommend.
Here are a few of the places I plan on sharing affiliate links.
- In the footer of my newsletter.
- In the footer of my website (like Corey Haines does).
- In the various articles where I talk about the tools I use.
Eventually, my goal is to use Webflow’s CMS to build a big searchable, sortable database of creator tools. But for now, I’ll just be making suggestions in random places throughout the site and newsletter.
And for now, it’ll be a passive form of revenue. I won’t be pushing or promoting my links too hard. But who knows, it may well become a primary focus in the coming years as more creators start looking for tools to build their own business.
The Creator MBA
The Creator MBA will be my one and only “mega course” for Ungated, at least for the foreseeable future.
Quite simply, it’ll be a cohort-based group coaching program. Groups of beginner and intermediate creatives will enroll—do a rigorous 6-8 week program to build a strong business/marketing/wealth foundation—and come out the other side with a completed project of some sort.
My guess is this course will live in the $500-1000 range, and will arrive on the scene in late 2021 at the earliest. Gotta build up a nice audience before I pull off something like this.
Anyhow, this program will be completely disconnected from the membership. Perhaps members will get some kind of discount. But by and large, this will be something that everyone has to pay for on account of how valuable it’ll be.
Coaching & Consulting
Last, but certainly not least, I’m doing some coaching and consulting to top everything else. At any given time, I’m hoping to work with 2-3 clients, as it’ll really juice up the cashflow, and give me more time and space to grow the membership portion of the business.
Anyhow, here’s the distinction between these 1-on-1 services, in case you’re curious.
- Coaching: helping creatives get out of their own way and make consistent progress on their goals. It’s deeply psychological, and about accountability.
- Consulting: helping creatives set up business systems, build marketing campaigns, and analyze the results. It’s basically giving creators access to my expertise.
- Coachsulting: A terrible portmanteau that combines those two activities.
As of right now, these aren’t productized services. They’re fully bespoke. Anyone who wants 1-on-1 help can jump on a call with me, and we’ll talk to see if it’s a good fit. And if it is, we’ll work together to create a custom solution/plan.
But like before, I’m looking for longer-term clients who are committed to playing the long game. So I’m only working with clients for 3 months or more, which starts in the $1500-2000 range.
I’m sure this will be streamlined in the future, but for now, I’m just flying by the seat of my pants.
Tying these pieces together with an “Offer Funnel”
You may have noticed, but I’m using a tool called RightMessage to gather emails and run surveys. But this nifty little tool does so, so much more.
RightMessage’s superpower is remembering things (it stays in sync with your email platform), and showing different offers to different segments of the list. This is partly useful because current subscribers won’t see annoying CTAs telling them to opt in again. But it gets freakishly useful when you’ve got a clear series of offers that build on one another. What I’ve essentially outlined above is exactly that.
From the moment someone opts in, there’s always a “next offer” for them. There’s always a logical next step if they want to invest more in their craft or business.
Here’s what the offer funnel looks like for Ungated right now.
- People who are not on the list will get offered the newsletter.
- People on certain articles (about niching down, for instance) will see an offer for a relevant micro course.
- People on the newsletter will see an offer for membership.
- Yearly members will see an offer to upgrade to lifetime.
- Lifetime members will see an offer for coaching and consulting.
In RightMessage, the actual setup of this CTA funnel looks like this.
Eventually, this will get more complex as I start rolling out micro products and the Creator MBA. But for now, this is the core setup.
In case you hadn’t guessed, this funnel is working in the background to help me maximize the lifetime value (LTV) of every subscriber and member. It’s a simple way to make sure that people who want to spend more money with me know exactly how to do so at any given time.
Wildcard: The Everything Bundle
Everything laid out above is directly in my control. If I execute on this strategy and my marketing plan, I will be a happy (and likely wealthy) camper. So that’s my main focus.
However, I’m always on the lookout for interesting opportunities to reach new audiences, and monetize in new ways. And the Everything Bundle presents one such opportunity.
Run by Nathan Baschez and Dan Shipper, Everything is a bundle of newsletters/publications, mostly focused on business, productivity, etc. Not only have I been a happy customer since their early days, but having heard their vision for Everything (on Jacob Donnolly’s podcast), I can’t help but feel Ungated would be a superlative addition to the bundle. It seems to fit all the criteria they’re looking for, and would delight a lot of their existing audience.
So, within the next few weeks, I’ll be reaching out to Nathan and Dan to see if it might be a good fit. The only reason I haven’t already is that I want more quality content on the site first, so that I can be more credible.
Now, should I work with them, it would have to be a licensing or syndication deal. Unlike many of the other writers they’ve brought on, I have no intention of being exclusive to Everything. Frankly, I’ll make way more money—and have more control over my destiny—by executing the plan above. However, if I’m accepted into the bundle, my work will reach a wider (and likely different) audience. And perhaps I’ll bring in some additional revenue without having to do much additional work.
I will keep y’all updated on this as I reach out and negotiate. But regardless of what happens, I will be fine because I’ve got a killer plan.
This Is Version One
This business plan represents my best thinking right now, in early November of 2020. I have no doubt that some of this stuff will work well, while other parts will fall flat. That’s just part of the game.
So, everything here is subject to to be tweaked, iterated upon, or potentially even scrapped. And if those changes are made, you’ll be the first to know.