This morning I was joined by about 25 Praxis members for our first-ever Town Hall. The goal of the retrospective was to look back on the first 6 months of membership, tell you what I learned and changes I’m planning to make, and get your feedback on all of the above. Below you can find the main points I covered.
What I Learned
1. This can work
My first discovery was that this membership model is viable and sustainable for me personally. I was afraid that committing to a publishing schedule — even one as lax as two posts per month — would kill my creativity and turn writing into a chore.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. I found that engagement was much higher, readers’ interest and attention was sharper, and that my posts led to more fruitful discussions, even if the total readership was much lower. This is ultimately what I’m after: rich feedback and interaction, not vanity metrics like “views” and “likes.”
This was confirmed when Ben Thompson of Stratechery, whose business model and tech stack I’m basically copying, retweeted and commented:
This is 100% true. People think I’m productive but the truth is that I’ve given myself 5 deadlines a week. https://t.co/EOzjvEd7gK
— Ben Thompson (@benthompson) May 20, 2017
In response to my tweetstorm on the topic:
1/ I’m increasingly convinced that THE most important thing in productivity is to end every cycle with a clear milestone or deliverable
— Tiago Forte (@fortelabs) May 16, 2017
Having the accountability of paying members forced me to stick to what was feasible to deliver, instead of spending months slaving over the “perfect” post. In some cases, this led to me breaking up topics over multiple posts, which is a better format anyway, allowing people to absorb it in chunks, and giving me feedback along the way.
2. I need to have free, public posts
After much soul-searching and agonizing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want more of my posts to be free and open to the public. Three reasons:
- I want to be able to help people in need, who can’t afford even $5 per month
- I want to be able to send individual posts of interest to potential clients, collaborators, or thought partners, to contribute my best thinking
- I need a way for new people to discover what I’m doing, before taking the plunge of paying for something
I’ve decided to make approximately half of the posts free, and have half behind the paywall. The value of membership will be less about paying for a certain quantity of words, and more about the social features I’ll be introducing below.
3. Social learning
I launched Praxis membership 6 months ago, around the same time as my new online bootcamp, Building a Second Brain. At the time, I didn’t particularly believe that live webinars, discussion forums, or wiki knowledge bases were particularly valuable. Mostly because of my negative experience with them in the past.
But since my experience in this new course, which is completely based on live interaction and an online discussion forum, I’ve changed my views. Humans are inherently social, and we learn best from each other.
I believe that I can do online community in a way that works. It does take work, and active management, and curation. But online community design and management is, I believe, a skill that can be developed. And it’s going to be such a big part of the future of work, I want to start developing that skill now.
What you want
I went back and reread all the onboarding survey responses I’ve collected over the past 6 months, about 50 of them. I extracted anything that looked like an interest, request, or problem to be solved, grouped them into common topics or themes, and made them into a wordcloud:
Nothing too surprising here, probably because this is largely a reflection of what I originally promised to write about. It does give me some topics to consider for future posts. I usually try to find a new angle or take through which to enter a topic, to be able to say something new.
Formats you’re interested in
Here are the platforms, channels, or formats you’re interested in using in the future. I’ll continue to send the full text of new posts via email, and it’s fine to occasionally forward posts you think could particularly benefit someone. I won’t be starting a podcast any time soon, but I have been making an effort to be on other people’s podcasts, to sharpen my interviewee skills and ability to think on my feet. I’ll continue to use Twitter, but not Slack for now, as I find it very distracting. Which leads me to…
Changes I’m planning
1. Move to Memberful
Starting membership on Medium was a beta test. They offered to enable monetization of my existing publication with one click, and I took the plunge. It’s gone very well, with 158 current members generating $723 per month. There have been 41 cancellations. But Medium isn’t really a membership platform, and I have virtually no admin controls or other features to help me make it a good experience.
I’ll be moving over to Memberful, a full-featured membership/subscription platform. This will allow me to integrate payments, my online forum hosted on Discourse, and the new WordPress blog I’ll be creating. This should give us all a lot of flexibility and options, and set the stage for continued growth.
All existing Praxis members will get 3 months free as I set this up and work out the kinks.
2. Online forum access
I’ve been using a dedicated online discussion forum on the Discourse platform for the past 6 months, as a part of Building a Second Brain. It’s become the “town square” for that course, a very lively and valuable place for people to come together and share what they know and what they’re working on. I actually like that it’s not too convenient or integrated into social media — it requires serious intention and deliberation to go there. I’ve also been able to develop best practices and a getting started guide for new users.
Praxis members will get access to one section of the forum, dedicated to discussing Praxis posts. This will also allow me to offer Praxis membership as an additional benefit of my online courses.
3. Monthly town hall
I originally didn’t plan on having live sessions, because I didn’t think I could provide enough value to justify the time. This was mostly based on my negative experience with webinars.
But I believe I’ve learned enough about how to conduct them, that a monthly live videoconference could be a great experience. A key component is having a specific problem or question to discuss — in this case, the 1–3 posts from each month should give us at least a conversation starter. The membership requirement should provide the other important component, a barrier to entry, which filters for commitment and helps create an environment of psychological safety.
Seeking Membership Manager
Lastly, I’m looking for someone to help me manage all this. This would involve administrative, logistical, and custodial tasks at first, but hopefully over time it will grow in scope and responsibility as I learn to let go 😉
I’m open to an exchange of value, monetary or otherwise, but this shouldn’t be your main motivation. I’m looking for someone who genuinely wants to learn more about creating online content, subscription/membership services, and/or running a freelance/solopreneur business. If that’s you, the learning you’ll gain should far outweigh whatever compensation I’m able to offer.
I’m asking for a 3-month commitment to start, and I estimate this would involve about 2–3 hours per week on an ongoing basis.
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