In the last article I described the process of creating an online community – namely the one around the Open Connect event. As of today, I started an experiment in monetizing this community. I’m going to share the entire process here. I don’t yet know if this experiment is going to be successful or not, but I know that sharing my experiences on the blog was always a valuable process – at least other people can learn from my mistakes (if there are any, of course, if not, they can learn from my breakthroughs).
A few days ago I created a Google form in which I asked the members of the Facebook group if they have any special offers they would want to post in a closed, paid community, built on top of the Open Connect attendees. The form contained just a few fields: their name and email, the business category and the content of their special offer. In just a few days I got more than 70 completed forms. Each of them with a special offer for the community members.
The model that I want to implement is that of a closed community. Each member can act as a client or as a provider, at the same time. For instance, if Company X offers web programming services at a 5% discount, and Company Y offers accounting services at 10% discount, then both companies can benefit from the other one’s offer. But if Company Z is not providing any services, but pays the annual fee, it would be entitled to both services, at the discounted rate, it will act as a client to the other two companies.
The members of the community will be in a closed circle, but they will be able to buy classified, and those will be public. So, the model is that a company will pay for a closed listing and offer, but it will also have the ability to buy classified to be seen by everybody.
This community will be implemented as a membership site, on the Open Connect web platform, doubled by a real life membership card. The card will not be personalized, but it will have a unique identifier, most likely built with a bar code. After a short survey among the community members, I realized the price point for such a community will be between 20 and 40 EUR yearly. I decided to start with an introductory price of 20 EUR and take it from there.
The members who completed the form will be added to this community manually, for the time being, then I will implement the online payment process, most likely via PayPal. For the first week, the listings will be free for everyone, just to have a glimpse of what’s going on, and to give a chance to those that are undecided to see if this is really working. After a week, the listings will be no longer visible to everyone, but only to those who are paying.
The real life event will not be modified in any form whatsoever, it will remain free to attend for everybody.
So far, the vast majority of the members who completed the form agreed to pay the membership. I started to add them to the listings directory and in a day or two the directory should be live.
There are a few challenges to this model, and, after more than 14 years of entrepreneurship, I can clearly see some of them. Of course, there will always be some unpredictable challenges and I am kinda getting ready for those too.
So, the most important one is the platform. The web site is already up and ready, but the directory and payment process are not yet set up. Making these work in a very short period of time (a couple of days) would be challenging.
The second most important challenge will be related to how the people involved in this project will perceive the added value. I can clearly see some interesting patterns forming, from pessimism (it will not work, it’s not what I want from this) to exaggerate optimism (oh, my god, I found the fountain of endless clients here, it’s working so great, etc). I think what I would like most to see unfolding will be something in between, a series of clearly identifiable processes of collaboration between the members of the premium community, which will give me enough feedback to refine the model even more.
And third, but not last, there will be the cost of this from my part. At this moment, I don’t know very well the amount of work needed for this, but I can clearly see a lot of time dedicated to the technical support. I may need some extra help, and this may come either in the form of volunteers (or people / companies paid in barter) or I should just pay somebody to do this extra work. I don’t know yet if the revenue will sustain this. We’ll see.
I’ll try to post regular updates to the process. If you have any insights, feel free to post them in the comments.