Membership Geeks

5 Reasons Why I Dislike the Closed Door Membership Launch Strategy

Membership launch strategy

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In many ways, launching a new membership website is one of the biggest marketing opportunities you'll experience as a membership owner.

So it makes sense why some people may advocate for constantly closing and re-opening your membership in order to recapture that opportunity over and over again.

But it's not quite as simple as that.

This marketing strategy has gained a lot of traction in certain circles online over recent years and we’re here to set the record straight.

To be clear – we're not talking about the initial launch of your membership, when you very first come to market.

The ‘closed door' strategy means rather than having your membership open all of the time and promoting it like any service or product, enrollment is open only during specific times of the year.

Without question, there are certain circumstances where a closed door strategy is perfectly fine.

In some cases, it's even preferable to being open all of the time.

If you’re teaching a program with hands-on support or a clear end date, of course it makes sense to have a model with limited enrollment to keep everyone moving along at the same pace.

Seasonal businesses where you’re genuinely only able to be there for members at specific times of the year, also make sense for a closed door model.

This is to say, that I’m not completely against the closed door strategy.

I’m just not a fan when it’s used purely for marketing purposes.

Or worse – when people follow that strategy because some “guru” has told them it's the best way to get the most members and make more money than if they were always open.

The 2019 Online Membership Industry Report shows that being closed rather than open has very little impact on how much money you make and how many members you get; and overall has next to no bearing on the performance of your membership.

So if this strategy makes sense for the topic you’re trying to teach, the way you want to teach it, and the audience you want to serve, go for it.

But if you’re only doing it because you think it’s the best way to get new members, then I'll always advocate for an open model over a closed one, as the latter can negatively affect your business in other ways:

1. You Face All the Expense and Pressure of a Major Launch

There are many people who are happy to say this is the number one way to run a successful membership.

That should be a red flag itself because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a successful membership.

Typically, when you look closer at the people who claim this is highly effective, you’ll find they are backed by an army of affiliates, a huge email list, and an ad budget without which, they wouldn’t be able to make this strategy work.

A closed door essentially gives you the worst of both worlds.

You have the pressure and the costs of a big launch campaign without the financial pay-off you would typically get from the strategies usually used.

The whole high pressure launch strategy is typically used for a course that costs upwards of $2,000.

When you have a high ticket item like that, the fact that you have to pay affiliates for their referrals and buy tons of ads isn’t as big of an issue.

A membership is generally not a high ticket item and therefore doesn’t apply well to this strategy.

2. You Screw Up Your Community Dynamic

Say you run your launch and get an initial influx of new members, when the doors close, there is no fresh blood coming into the community.

Your community quickly starts to stagnate and members drift away.

Your members will notice there’s no one new coming around and participate less frequently because there’s no buzz in your community.

Then, when you open the doors, you’ll get a rush of new members.

They’re all going to be introducing themselves and asking the same beginner level questions. You end up with the huge divide between new members and the guys who’ve been around for months and even years.

This is the ‘Gym in January’ effect.

If you go to a gym frequently, you’ll know that regular gym members avoid going in January because they know that’s when all the people with their New Year’s resolutions will be taking all the machines, not following gym etiquette, and making a nuisance.

That’s what happens in your membership community when you use the closed door model.

3. You Focus on the Wrong Thing

I’ve been around this space long enough to know that the more tricks you have to use to sell your offering, the more likely it is you’re masking something mediocre.

People say that if you don’t use scarcity in marketing, your audience has no reason to buy.

How about simply having a kick-ass product?

If your product is good, people will buy.

If you’ve built trust, people will buy.

If you’ve nurtured the relationship, people will buy.

You shouldn’t need to put your audience into high pressure buying situations, encouraging them to get into debt or make rash and irresponsible decision to join your membership.

That’s not good for sustaining long-term relationships with your members and you need those relationships if you want people to stick around and keep paying you month after month.

4. You Attract the Wrong Kind of Members

People join memberships because they have a problem to solve.

If someone is willing to wait 3 months or even 12 months for you to open the doors until they start solving that problem, how committed will they be to getting results?

If the problem isn’t compelling enough for them to seek an alternative solution rather than twiddling their thumbs until you open your doors, they aren’t the kind of members you want

The people who are willing to wait aren’t motivated enough and that lack of motivation leads to shorter member life cycles.

Better to keep your doors open and attract the kind of people you really want to serve.

5. It Doesn’t Benefit Your Members

While there are certain circumstances where opening and closing your membership are fine, all of those circumstances relate to what’s best for the member.

If I know my membership can help someone get a result in 4 weeks or 8 weeks, who am I to delay that?

Why should I stand in the way of someone making a positive transformation in their life or business simply because I can’t figure out any other way to market my membership site?

But doesn't closing the doors get more members?

We’ve actually extensively tested the closed door strategy against open enrollment with a number of past clients in a variety of different industries, and the results were consistent:

  1. Closing and opening the doors did end up resulting in a few more members, but only marginally.
  2. The cost to get those members was far higher.
  3. Members who joined during the launch periods didn’t stick around.

Overall, you end up paying more money for members who don’t stick around as long and that’s no good for your business.

And in fact the 2019 Online Membership Industry Report confirms that the closed door model is no more effective for attracting members and making more money than the open door approach.

Ultimately the decision over whether to have your membership open all of the time, or whether to limit enrollment periods is entirely up to you.

There are certainly some people out there having success with the closed door model (although we're finding more and more of our community switching from that to the open door strategy); and as we said at the start of this article there are absolutely some situations where this is a sound approach.

However the most successful memberships in the world never close their doors to new members.

Related articles about attracting new members:

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