12 Lessons From Publisher's Profitable New Initiative

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One particular takeaway of a BIMS session on retention given by Liz Slovenkay, membership director for insideARM—a publisher in the debt collection field—had me nodding in firm agreement. Slovenkay found that a member in their Compliance Professionals Forum hadn't been placed in a peer group for six months, obviously hurting renewal chances.

"Know what you need to double-check," she said. "In those cases, do what you have to do to make it right. 'Here's what we can do for you...'"

I had a recent experience as a member of an art institution here. They neglected to tell me about an event that I consider perhaps the biggest benefit of joining. The reason, they said, was that I checked a tax box that said I didn't want benefits. I laughed, thinking that finding—let alone checking—such a box would be a longshot for me.

I wrote a nice letter, and they wrote a nicer one back, offering some compensation. I will be remaining a member for some time now. Here are other lessons that Slovenkay has learned from insideARM's profitable initiative:

1. Don't underprice. "You have to believe that your product is the best, and the pricing is right," she said. "A lot of people can't afford us but that's okay. I don't budge; I'd rather give away a free additional person instead." They once offered an installment plan—"don't do that, by the way," she warned.

2. Simplify your offerings. Sometimes giving just one option is best. insideARM started out with a $395 model that just included access to a peer group and some discounts. Then they thought about a $695 model with one or two webinars and another discount. "We had so many types of benefits," Slovenkay said. They went with $995 where you get all the webinars, library access, reports and peer groups.

3. For certain audiences, people don't care about a discount; they just want all the products. "You also don't have to go to your boss multiple times," Slovenkay said. "It's one fee."  

4. Get information before scheduling events. They began with the idea of regional meetings where members can connect face-to-face, but found that people were not traveling more than 30-60 minutes to a site. They're now looking to rename and re-sync this benefit. "You have to collect data at the beginning," Slovenkay said. "We were making decisions without having all our member information in one place."

5. Get sponsors more involved. Sponsors are active in soliciting their clients to come to the meetings. "We're testing what's really working and what's not," Slovenkay said. "A new organization always has to think about scalability."

6. If you survey, ask the right questions. They gave everyone who participated in the survey a $5 Starbucks card. Some of the questions: Do you think you'll renew? What benefits are most important? What products do you like best? "People were extremely honest about issues we had," Slovenkay said. In the cases of a problem, she would say, "Hey, I'm following up on this—you're not that happy; what can we do?"

7. Set realistic expectations and deliver on your promises. "In every communication, we try to remind people why they originally joined," Slovenkay said. Keep communicating your benefits.

8. Ask and you might receive. "You're building a relationship; it's okay to ask for testimonials," she said. "On our surveys we ask for testimonials, and people give them willingly."

9. Get to know your members. This one is simple, Slovenkay said. Pick up the phone or connect on LinkedIn or at industry events. But try to connect one-on-one. "I know that Tina has a daughter who dressed up as Tinkerbell for Halloween," she said, "and Rene's password is basketball85 because that's when she played in college."

10. Don't start with, "how will we make more money?" Great ideas come with revenue. So start with those and go from there.

11. Write everything down and stay focused.

12. "The members weren't using it because we weren't using it." This can mean different things to different people, but it really makes sense.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…