Stu McLaren of Tribe on Membership Sites, Traffic, Conversion, and Retention


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Stu McLaren is a legend in the membership space. He got his start in the membership game as a co-founder of Wishlist Member, one of the most widely used membership plug-ins for WordPress. For the last 12 years Stu has been working intimately with tens of thousands of authors, speakers, coaches, consultants, and business owners. All, to help them transform what they know, love, and do, and transform it into a recurring revenue.

In today’s amazing podcast interview, Stu and I ‘geek out’ on memberships. We dive deep into the three areas Stu believes membership owners must focus on to succeed. We take a person by person, role by role look at Stu’s team, so you can learn what a high-level membership looks like.


What You’ll Learn:


  • How content is free but curation is not. (7:40) 
  • All about the membership model. (9:00) 
  • How to go through your membership journey. (11:30) 
  • External and internal marketing. (14:00) 
  • Look at the fundamentals. (23:00) 
  • High energy vs. Steady Energy. (30:30)
  • What does your team look like? (32:00) 
  • Everyone can start a membership site with their God-given talents and experiences. (40:00) 
  • Community 101. (43:45) 



Content is free but curation is not.

Curation is the step-by-step the blueprint. It’s grabbing your audience’s hand and shining the light on the path for them. Which, is exactly what a membership community offers people!

Like Stu said, people are not paying for information, they are paying for clarity. They want to know what the next step is. They don’t want to think about figuring things out for themselves, they want to be told what the next step is to get there easier and faster.

Stu has been doing this for over a decade, helping different businesses. It doesn’t matter what they do the #1 reason people leave a membership is because they get overwhelmed by too much information.

So a membership helps solve this because progress is the key. Most people think the more information they give the more value they create.


The membership model.

We kind of stumbled upon the membership model ourselves. When we launched our first products they were lesson plans. We did it the hard way living launch to launch and spending all our energy on making new sales each month.

We were like, ‘hey, I’ll make lesson plans for August if you’ll buy them.’

Then we met James Schramko. And he said, ‘show me what you’re doing.’ Sits there and he says, ‘that’s a membership, silly.’ Then it just dawned on us like, yeah it is! We just needed to get people to pay the first time, then they’ll keep paying the next month.

That year, our church launched ‘The Next Steps Station.’ Which was like a barn-like structure by the door. So you couldn’t get out of the building unless you walked by it. It was sort of like the Thank You page, you can’t go forward until you go by it.

It was basically saying your next step is to meet someone, then join a small group, then a class. This goes for both what our church was doing and what our membership needed to become.

Your membership is a journey.

Your goal as a membership owner is to figure out where they are and what their next step is. Once you do that your members are not going to leave.

Stu does this through he calls ‘Success Path.’ Which is basically accessing where members are when they come in and where they want to be in the end game. As he said people don’t go from not knowing how to paint to becoming the next Picasso overnight. It is a journey.

If you help them focus on the next step they’ll make progress.


External and internal marketing.

Marketing does not stop when someone is in the membership. When we first got into the membership model we looked our retention position like a customer support role.

But what we realized in our memberships was that we have:

  1. External marketing that gets people into the membership.
  2. Internal marketing, because you have to re-sell these members their next step all the time so people don’t get lost and confused.

Retention is about seeing where people go when they don’t log in all month or have disappeared for a week or two. That retention person then goes and re-sells their membership to them. But, you only sell them the next thing they need.

If the last thing they did was a course in the membership check in and make sure they watch one that coorelates with it. If you can do that, the extends lifetime value.

That has to be a part of your membership even if you don’t hire a person to do it.

Stu says one of the issues he sees people run into with this is membership owners who put content into their site very last minute. That is a problem because you cannot create anticipation for it.


Look at the fundamentals.

You want to look at how far your members are going based on that you want to be able to send them notifications about their next step.

Stu says most memberships are a one-size-fits-all experience. Which means if you’re in the early stages like in this case just starting a membership you’re going to se the same content as someone who is further down the path than you.

When we look at the fundamentals, look at conversion points like:

  • How many people are coming to the page?
  • How many people are taking you up on your free trials?
  • How many people in the free trial are converting into paying members?

At the end of the day it’s all about the fundamentals of traffic, conversion, and retention.

High energy vs. Steady Energy.

Launches are very taxing and overwhelming. But if you can get your membership rolling there is a steady pace to it.

But if you have a leaky bucket like Stu says you put yourself back into a high-energy pace because you are then overworking to stay ahead of churn. Then, you have defeated a purpose of having a membership site in the first place.

Which take us back to the fundamental numbers. Where is the problem in your business? Is it in traffic, conversion, or retention? If you are losing people as quickly as you are getting them that’s what you focus on!


What does your team look like?

Now that you are a Membership Master, the only way to keep up is hiring a team!

For Stu, this is what his looks like:

  • A marketing director that focuses on getting people into the membership. 
  • A content director that focuses on producing content. This job works on content both inside the membership and content that draws people in.
  • A community director that knows the community from the inside-out. This role has a more intimate relationship to the community and then becomes a voice for the community itself.
  • A customer experience director that focuses on customer service, questions, support (this position works very closely with the community director and both focus on retention).

Three of those positions also have a kind of mini team of their own, that helps with that part of the traffic, conversion, or retention!

However, for the community director and customer experience director roles, Stu hired from the community itself. Then, he hired people from outside the community for the marketing director and content director roles, to get fresh eyes into the site!


Everyone can start a membership site with their God-given talents and experiences.

There are niches for literally everything you can think in membership sites. A great example of this is Teresa Perleberg who lives in North Dakota. She is a Flip Your Life member who shears sheep. She takes the sheep wool and needles them into little animal statues. And, she wanted to teach other people how to do that.

We helped her create a course and community, now she has several hundreds of members paying her close to $100/month! She made so much money doing this, she now has a subscription box service to send you the wool. Which, in turn, has more people joining her! Now, she and business parter bought an old school that was for sale and are planning to do conferences several times a year in it!


Community 101.

If people have friends, they don’t want to leave the community. If they know you are there for them, they don’t want to leave the community. The turning point in any successful membership is the moment members start relying on each other. People come for the content but stay for the community.

Stu and his team foster community by starting getting people to feel a sense of community the moment they get on his site. For Stu, the Thank You page is one of the most important pieces of virtual real estate, because it sets the tone for the experience they are about to have.

The moment the members complete their transaction, they are a little bit hesitant. Stu encourages that everyone have a video on their Thank You page, that immediately pulls people in. It helps people immediately see the culture and values of the membership.

What you do in the first 24 hours and first week, establishes their experience forever. That means you have to get them to dive deep into the community immediately.

Stu did a couple of things:

  1. He asked if any members would like to be part of a ‘welcoming committee.’
  2. He has laid out clean next steps for people when they first join.
  3. He has them introduce themselves to the community, using a template.
  4. Stu has a question prompt specifically to allow other people in the community to answer questions.

We do similar things. Like for instance, we have everyone introduce themselves by adding a picture of them with their families. The second thing we do is have everyone ask us a question, everybody always has a question.

We truly believe that any person can become a Membership Master. If any person can commit to creating businesses with recurring revenue, and can create a dramatic improvement in their family’s future.


If you would like to connect with Stu McLaren listen to his podcast Marketing Your Business or You can also listen to Stu’s second podcast It’s A Tribe Thing that shares stories of people in his membership community, as well.


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