Regardless of the information subscription niche that you choose as the subject of your business, you will need some type of web site software platform.
In another post, we discussed the five usual platform options available to the small business.
Which option is right for your business will depend upon your financial capability, the functions that you want in the site, the type of information presentation you deliver, and your own capability to maintain and operate the software and web site.
But whichever alternative you’ve narrowed your overall model choices down to, you will still need to choose between many specific company products.
Here are some questions you can ask about the individual products that will help you determine which is best for your own skills, budget, and the way you want to deliver your information.
This is an important decision, as the platform becomes the basis upon which your business is presented to the public and your paying customers.
If you are to be taken seriously, viewed as a professional, and if you want to provide your paying customers with a valuable experience at your site, you need to offer the most secure, convenient, and feature-rich platform that you can afford. In addition, you need to choose wisely for your own sake … some platforms have a very steep and arduous learning curve, especially to those that may not be as tech-savvy as might be needed.
Ask yourself these questions before you plunk your money down for one product or service over another:
1. Has the company that makes this software been in business long?
Do they have a good reputation in the membership software business? History is important, as it is an indicator of experience within the industry and acceptance by consumers for the product.
Companies that have been in the membership software business for some time will know what features are needed, they will have had time to test and refine their software, and work out the bugs that they inevitably find.
2. Am I getting good value for the money?
Price should not be the basis of your buying decision alone – but it is important for most solo business owners.
Why spend extra money for features that you’ll never use?
Why buy software built to handle 100,000 users when you’ll be doing well to attract 5,000 members?
3. What will my site actually look like and how will it function?
It’s one thing to read a list of features of the software you’re considering at the seller’s site, and quite something else to actually experience the subscription system at work in your niche online.
Make sure you are able to see a number of up-and-running applications of the software. You want to validate that others have purchased the platform, successfully deployed it, and that they are currently doing business with it.
Shy away from companies that won’t give you a list of currently operating membership sites using their product.
Some companies have set up a “demo site,” a fake membership site that allows visitors to go in and actually experience what a paying customer would experience once the business is in operation. Such demos can be very useful.
4. How secure is the private membership information?
You need to be concerned about both the financial information you keep enabling you to charge recurring fees and also the customer information that goes into the database you maintain so that access can be controlled and managed.
You have to protect your members in every way you can or they will literally run away from your business. Worse yet, you don’t want any involvement in law suits or business “down time” since you are charging an on-going fee for access to your web site.
Make sure the software you choose has security and encryption features, an easy to maintain database system and web master-friendly access. And of course, you want it to be easy, intuitive, and user-friendly for your members.
Be careful if these functions are kept by an ASP or third party provider because if they go out of business for some reason you could lose all your valuable customer data.
Your reputation would be severely damaged in such a case and you’d basically have to start over again, with a black eye to boot!
5. What type of customer support does the company offer and will I be able to have my questions answered quickly if there are problems?
There are few trials more punishing than having thousands of customers on your case because they can’t get access to a service they’ve already paid for.
If something goes wrong and your membership site goes down, can you get immediate help to get it back up and running? Members expect to be able to use your site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
You need to deliver a reliable, dependable service – probably more than any other type of web site. Just be sure that when things go wrong (not “if”) you can find the problem and fix it very quickly.
6. Changing horses in mid-stream could be a costly and disruptive exercise.
You don’t want to have to jump from one platform to another midstream if you can help it. At such times, many members will jump ship. Make sure you have a long-term platform solution in place when your service goes “live.” All trials and experimenting should be done prior to paying for your final solution choice.
I remember reading the sad story of one membership operator that changed payment processors (I don’t remember the reason).
He kept the same software platform, but merely asked his customers to change payment processors (meaning they had to re-enter their credit card information as if they were ordering the service for the first time).
The owner still provided the exact same web site and information he had been giving all along.
Well, he lost 70% of his members in the process. For one reason or another, 70% of his income was suddenly cut off simply because he asked his customers to re-enlist for his services.
That would be a heavy hit for any ongoing business to absorb. That’s why it’s important to have a long-term view of the business platform and the company that supports it.
To your online business success!