David and Jill Stowell took their experience as special education teachers and created a training and coaching program for others in educational private practice. In this exclusive Mequoda interview, they explain how they also created a membership website around their special expertise.
MEQUODA By way of background, what are your educational and professional backgrounds?
DS and JS David has a BA in Music Education from Pepperdine University. Jill has a BS in Liberal Studies (teaching) from Pepperdine and an MS from Cal State Fullerton in Special Education.
David was a high school band director for seven years, then worked for a school fundraising company, then became an independent fundraiser. Also worked as a web designer, corporate training, wrote a newsletter to Southern California music teachers, and helped do the “business end” of the learning center.
Jill taught school for seven years (ESL, GATE, Special Ed), then opened the learning center in 1984. The learning center works with learning disabled/dyslexic students to remediate the disability (as opposed to learning to accommodate). We currently have 16 employees who work one-on-one with students. We do between 200 and 300 student hours each week.
Eventually we began doing much more training of programs, and one of those programs had a half-day business component. That led to David doing business coaching, newsletters, tele-classes, etc.
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MEQUODA Was www.learning100.com your creation?
DS and JS This year (2004) we “spun off” the training functions into a new corporation. David is the president and provides most of the direction. Together we own all of the stock. Our goal is to support those in the same market niche as we are, and to help others get into the business.
Jill still runs the day-to-day learning center and provides some coaching expertise (mostly group coaching/tele-classes). She answers most of the “How do I help this kid?” questions where David does more of the “How do I get my phone to ring?” questions.
MEQUODA How did you come to start www.learning100.com? What’s it all about? Who are your subscribers? What motivated you to launch your site?
DS Our site is for people who are in educational private practice — tutors and learning center owners who help struggling students outside of the school services.
We don’t look at the website as a “stand alone” product. It is really the place we center ALL of our activities. While it isn’t priced as an “entry product,” it is really the second tier product for us. Coaching and workshops (third level) are larger sources of income for us.
One of the major reasons we started the site is that there is virtually no dependable advice for people in our business, and certainly no 24/7/365 resources. Most of the people who are members also buy coaching or workshops/tele-classes from us.
We may have been a little early in putting up the website, but I wanted to be the first in the market. We have a l-o-n-g way to go in terms of developing this market. What I’m sure of is that public schools are not getting any better at helping struggling students, and so the need for those services throughout the U.S. will only continue to grow. As people get into the business, we are there to help.
MEQUODA How long has your site been active and what is your subscription fee structure? What is included with a subscription?
DS We went live in July. The basic site is $197 per year, or $47 plus 19.95 a month. Besides everything on the site, we also do a once per month tele-forum. Usually there is a guest, but we can also just do a subject for the 90 minute call. For the launch, I offered a small group of people membership at a $40 discount plus four weeks of free group coaching.
MEQUODA Now to the technical details. To build your site, what tools did you use, and how long did it take?
DS We are using MemberGate. I also did a little bit of graphics work with PhotoShop. It took about five weeks to get everything good enough to launch. I was very happy that Bill Myers included the graphic designer in the MemberGate fee.
MEQUODA How easy, time-consuming, etc. is the process of adding new content? How many people are involved in preparing and posting editorial content? How often do you add new content?
DS Adding content is very easy. I write two new articles each week. To write I use Dreamweaver, then copy and paste the code into MemberGate. It is really easy. I (David) usually write articles; Jill looks them over and sometimes suggests changes. Once they go up, Evelyn (our assistant) proofs them one more time.
MEQUODA Has your site changed significantly since you launched it?
DS No, but I’m still thinking about changes. I have yet to get what I would call an “overwhelming” response to the site. I may keep experimenting with the front page headline and the sign up page. I’m not convinced I have done a god enough job explaining the values of the site and I’m not sure it is obvious to everyone how to sign up. People are in a hurry and I’m not “stopping them” for long enough.
MEQUODA What’s the single greatest tool that helps you get your new content out every week?
DS After MemberGate, it would have to be Dreamweaver…unless you mean my brain which I usually use when I write (although there are those who would argue…).
MEQUODA Marketing and promotion seem to be a great challenge for most subscription website publishers. How have you approached this task, and what kind of results have you experienced?
DS I’m a big believer in what I call integrative marketing. Yes, search engines are great, but we also mail to a list of about 2,500 people. Next year we’ll do some print advertising in newsletters.
MEQUODA Do you have any advertising on your site? If so, how do you attract advertisers? Is ad revenue a significant source of your website income?
DS Not yet.
MEQUODA How do you find new subscribers, or how do they find you? What’s the process like for increasing sales and memberships?
DS and JS Most people in our business know us from the “yellow postcards” we mail regularly. Most of the people who join have known us from our workshops which they have attended. It’s a little backwards in that workshops cost much more than the website, but so far, that’s been the order.
MEQUODA For Mequoda members who are devising premium content strategies for their online properties, any advice you would offer?
DSI think it is important to use the Internet for everything you can, but don’t ignore other vehicles just because they aren’t online. Live events and telephone-based events can be very valuable.
MEQUODA What’s your best advice to Mequoda members who are seeking to develop additional revenue streams outside of advertising for their online business?
DS I’m a huge believer in teaching — workshops, tele-classes, coaching groups. People want to connect both with us and with each other. On top of that, one of the best parts of my writing each week is that I have content I can sell off the site. Tele-classes and group coaching sessions can be recorded and sold. There really are many possibilities.
MEQUODA What has been your greatest challenge to date, doing business online?
DS Getting members. We are in a market that isn’t used to the services and whose time is filled with other activities…not necessarily looking for answers online.
MEQUODA What tips would you pass on to aspiring publishers who want to start a subscription-based website?
DS Number one, identify the market; know who they are and how to get to them. Number two, get started. Number three, plan out your articles several weeks in advance so you know what you are going to write about and it can be “percolating” in your brain. The result is that when you sit down to write, it pretty much flows out.
MEQUODA What’s the best or smartest thing you’ve done? What’s the worst?
DS Best: Offered four group coaching sessions with membership. Worst: Not explaining the benefits of the website in enough detail. It’s so obvious to me, I just can’t imagine anyone not responding! The market tells me otherwise.
MEQUODA What subscription-based websites do you subscribe to and/or recommend?
DS Bill Myers (bmyers.com) and Andrea Lee (multiplestreamsofcoachingincome.com).
MEQUODA Which of the above is “doing it right?” (marketing their product, building a subscriber base, providing value, etc.)
DS Both, but in very different ways. I find I go to Bill’s site more often because I get information in small enough “bites” that I don’t put it off “until I have the time.”
MEQUODA What question have I neglected to ask you that you want to answer?
DS Am I glad I went ahead and opened a site? Absolutely! Even though we haven’t made a lot of money at it yet. The site gives us that point at which people can more easily find us.