Why Your Membership Site Will Take More Effort Than You’re Imagining

By Joel T. Sanders • Last updated on August 26th, 2018

If you’re planning to build a membership site, here’s a reality check: it’s going to take far more work and effort—and probably more money—than you’re imagining right now.

Complex projects take at least twice the time and cost twice as much money as you initially expect. The reason is a psychological phenomenon known as the planning fallacy, which is the tendency to be overly optimistic when predicting how long it will take to complete a set of future tasks.

When planning any project, you can only plan for what you know, or think you know. There’s no way to plan for what’s unknown—mistakes and incorrect assumptions—that require time, energy, and money to resolve.

You don’t know if those unknowns will take you an hour, a day, or a month to resolve, so you can’t plan for them. The bigger your ambition and the bigger the project, the more time and energy those setbacks will require.

What’s Unknown Is What You Need

Here’s the good news: in retrospect, you’ll realize that each setback made you, your team, and your idea stronger than they ever would have been if everything had been smooth sailing from day one. The creation process brings new information into view, causing you to learn and grow.

This is exactly what we experienced building The Moon platform. We had an utterly naïve belief (delusion?) that we would build a beta in 6 months and launch in a year. The reality: our first beta came out 18 months after embarking on our mission. Our affiliate launch likely won’t happen until nearly three years into our effort.

Your online courses and membership site aren’t as complex as building software. You have fewer unknowns, and plenty of examples you can mimic from other course and site owners. But your 1-month plan will likely require 3 months, your 3-month plan 6 months, your 6-month plan a year. That’s even if you use our super-awesome, easy-to-implement platform. 😉

I believe that’s why, in some ways, it’s better to be a little naïve in the beginning. You might not embark on your mission otherwise!

In the Final Stretch, Your To-Do List Grows

At some point, you reach that final stretch when you’re polishing the final details. Decisions have to be made on what makes it into this version, and what has to wait for future iterations.

The list of fixes, improvements, and rework counterintuitively grows, precisely when you would expect it to shrink. This is the phase the Moon is in now. Take a look at our list:

Membership Site Tasks

While this list looks daunting, as a project nears completion, the speed and productivity of the entire team does improve. In other words, we become less appalling estimators of time, effort and money at this stage.

In our case, our developers are more familiar with their own code and where problems are most likely to arise. They’re able to fix things faster. They also have deeper knowledge of the problem we’re trying to solve, so they are able to contribute to in a more visionary, strategic way.

Aaron and I are also better at our jobs. We work more collaboratively with our developers. Before suggesting any direction, we seek out not only the technical complexity involved, but if we’ve landed on the best solution. Many, many times, our guys come back with simpler, better, more elegant solutions to our problems.

For managing our seemingly-daunting list, Aaron and I devised the following system:

  1. Be clear on priority for work. Our priorities are to build for end users, site owners/admins, and Moon Team support—in that order.
  2. With priority in mind, we group the items in our list into 3 buckets: “Now,” “Upcoming” and “Sometime.” The Sometime list includes things we really want, but when we ask the question of whether or not it’s critical now, the answer comes back, “no.”
  3. Determine which tasks are “Quick Fixes” and lump those into a single group. Assign these to a team member to knock off in a single block of focused work. For us, quick fixes include spelling errors, layout issues, or already-developed features that were working but for some reason aren’t right now.

The Importance of Vision and Values

We’re also remembering to revisit our original vision and company values more often. The Moon’s core values are the 5 F’s: FOCUS – FUN – FRIENDSHIP – FAMILY – FREEDOM. Values are the guiding principles that determine how we make decisions, and how we interact with one another and our customers

Our vision is to  help people who help others: the coaches, teachers, and consultants who are in the trenches working to improve people’s lives. We want to build the “must-have” tool for these amazing people. And we know that the best way to do that is by the structure of our tool itself: to create something that makes implementing learning more obvious, with less friction.

Have I convinced you that your membership site platform and online courses will require more time, effort and money than you’re imagining now? If you’ve read this far, something I’ve written resonates with you, so I’ll wrap up with this thought:

Yes, your project will take more time than you’re imagining. No, it won’t be easy. Fulfilling your vision is worth the price. Living your values makes paying the price worthwhile.

Posted in Membership Site, Planning, The Moon

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