How Josh & Jill Stanton Built A Successful Membership Site Business

By Tyler Basu | Blog

Most entrepreneurs would agree that starting a business is a lot like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, and yes, there can sometimes be moments when you feel sick to your stomach. And as if starting a business isn’t already challenging enough, now imagine having your spouse as your business partner!

Fortunately for Josh and Jill Stanton, the decision to start an online business together turned out to be one of the best decisions they ever made as a couple. When they started discussing the possibility of building a business together back in 2011, their goal was pretty simple: make enough money online to be able to travel around the world together full-time.

Although Josh and Jill both had previous business experience before they started working together (Josh was a partner in a software business, and Jill managed the social media marketing for numerous bars and restaurants), neither of them wanted to continue doing what they were doing. They wanted to do something completely new, something outside of each of their current areas of expertise.

With the ultimate goal of being able to have more freedom, they started to evaluate various online business models that had the potential to create passive income. They didn’t want to have to trade time for money, deal directly with clients, or create their own products. For those reasons, the business model that was the most attractive to them was affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing, for those who are unfamiliar with the model, is a type of performance based marketing that is conducted on the internet. As an affiliate marketer, instead of creating and selling your own product or service, you find someone else’s (often called a merchant) product or service to promote in exchange for a commission. That merchant will give you a unique link to share so that they can track all the referrals you send to their website. When someone that you refer to their website purchases their product or service, that merchant pays you a commission.  

Building a portfolio of affiliate websites

In January of 2012, Josh and Jill started creating their first affiliate website together. “We started a site in the skin care industry”, Josh explains, “because we could see that it was quite a big industry and a lot of people were purchasing products in that industry.” Since affiliate marketing was new territory for both of them, it definitely took some time to learn how to build a successful affiliate website. Basically, they published numerous articles related to skin care on their website, many of which included specific product recommendations. As they published more articles, their website started to rank higher in search engines, and people who were searching for information about skin care started finding the website on their own. After several months of hard work and constant improvement to their website, they were able to generate their first $1,000 in affiliate commissions.  

Once they found a way to make the affiliate marketing model work for them, they spent the rest of that year duplicating their process by creating multiple websites in different industries/niches.  At its peak, their portfolio of affiliate websites was generating approximately $15,000 per month in affiliate commissions, granting them the freedom and lifestyle they originally set out to create together. “We eventually got to the point of having over 30 websites”, says Jill. “That gave us the kind of income where we could live wherever we wanted and work how we wanted.”

Teaching others how to escape their nine-to-five

In December of 2012, Josh and Jill headed down to Costa Rica to get married. By this time, they were regularly receiving inquiries from people who wanted to know how they were able to work from home and travel whenever they wanted. During their wedding week, they discussed the possibility of creating a new online business, one that would teach others how to make money online and live a location independent lifestyle, as they had done. “It was actually on our wedding week when we came up with the idea for Screw the Nine-To-Five”, says Jill. “It kind of embodied everything that we believed and lived by, and that was death to the nine-to-five.”

After their wedding, Josh and Jill moved to Thailand to focus exclusively on building their online business. Throughout 2013, they continued to build and maintain their portfolio of affiliate websites, while simultaneously building their Screw the Nine-To-Five business and brand. Their goal was to create an online resource for people who wanted to learn how to replace the income from their jobs by building an online business. Although their affiliate marketing business was thriving, getting traction for their Screw the Nine-To-Five business proved to be a challenge. “2013 was just ridiculous”, says Jill. “We didn’t have focus. We didn’t know what we were doing. We just kind of threw ourselves into it and tried to wing it, which resulted in us not really getting any traction with it.”

After over a year of trial and error, including a failed product launch, Josh and Jill realized that the reason their new business wasn’t getting any traction was because of a lack of focus. They were trying to teach too many different topics – from affiliate marketing, marriage, working together, living overseas, outsourcing, and more. And although those are all topics that are relevant to online business, they failed to tie them together with a centralized message that appealed to a specific target audience. “That aha came the minute we tried to launch something and no one bought it”, says Jill. “We realized, oh shoot, maybe we don’t know who the hell we are talking to. That forced us to really get clear on who that person is, and once we were clear on that person I could speak directly to them and that started forming all of our messaging and all of our communication and all of our offers and just our presence in general.”  

In 2014, Josh and Jill decided to fine-tune their brand and focus on teaching the one thing they knew best: affiliate marketing. They created a premium training program called Lifestyle Affiliate, which taught their exact system for creating small niche websites that generate passive income from affiliate marketing. When they promoted their new program to their audience, it was an instant success. Evidently, the decision to fine-tune their focus paid off.  

“One of the mistakes we made was not knowing who the hell we were talking to.” – Jill Stanton

From product launches to a membership community

Even though the launch of their Lifestyle Affiliate course was a success, Josh and Jill were disappointed to discover that many of the people who purchased their course never ended up implementing the concepts that were taught in it. In fact, a significant percentage of their customers seemed to fade away within a few months of making that initial purchase. When they created another online course about personal branding called Screw U, the launch was also a success, but they experienced the same problem. “After a few months we started to notice that people kind of dropped off or they faded away”, says Jill. “Building a business, as we all know, isn’t exactly the easiest thing you’ll ever do and so if people don’t have skin in the game the entire time, they get over that payment that they initially made.”

Wanting to get away from the launch model, where they had to constantly create and promote new digital products, Josh and Jill decided to create a membership community instead. “We loath launching. It’s just not something we enjoy”, says Jill. “Community, on the other hand, is a huge strength of ours.” One of the first steps they took to create a sense of community among their audience was to set up a free Facebook group. That group gave Jill the chance to interact with its members on a daily basis. It also gave members of the group the chance to interact and share ideas with each other.  Next, they set up a paid membership website which, in exchange for a nominal monthly fee, provides access to their online courses and training materials, in addition to live monthly calls and a private group for its members.  

Even though the launch model works well for many other online entrepreneurs, for Josh and Jill, making the switch to the membership model was the right decision.  Making that switch enabled them to build and nurture a highly engaged community of like-minded individuals who are all working towards the goal of quitting their nine-to-five jobs and replacing their income by building an online business. That sense of community keeps people engaged and excited, and it even helps to add an element of accountability amongst its members. “People can come and go if they want, but everyone keeps skin in the game. Everyone is constantly working. Everyone is constantly investing in their business. We are more engaged because we have skin in the game, because we have all these paying members, and they have skin in the game because they are paying month-to-month, and we want to bring our A game to them”, says Jill. “So that’s kind of how Screw U evolved from a digital product into an online hub which is pretty much a one-stop shop for anything you would want to know about online business and getting out of your nine-to-five.”

Tips for other online entrepreneurs

Josh and Jill have certainly learned a lot of valuable lessons together as entrepreneurs. They endured many long days (and nights) in front of their laptops, and countless setbacks and disappointments as they built their business. But after several years of hard work, commitment, and continuous refinement of their brand and business model, they managed to achieve the success that they had been working towards for so long. And not only did they build a business that enables them to live an incredible lifestyle together, they also built an entire community of raving fans that are united by a common goal. Helping the members of their community achieve their goals, and seeing them help each other, has been an incredibly fulfilling experience for them.

We asked Josh and Jill to share what they consider to be some of the most important lessons they have learned from their journey as entrepreneurs. These lessons represent the advice they wish they had received when they first started building their online business together. Regardless of which stage you’re in as an online entrepreneur – whether you’re starting a business on the side while working a full-time job, or you’re already an entrepreneur – we are confident that the following tips will help you to avoid many of the mistakes that Josh and Jill made and shorten the gap between your current and your desired results:

1. Build a community right away

No matter what industry or niche your business serves, focus on building a community of like-minded individuals as soon as possible. Regardless of what you use as your platform, whether it’s a blog, a podcast, or even a Facebook Group (as Josh and Jill have done), create a hub where people who share the same passion can come together and interact with each other. Build a community, and unite that community around a central message or goal.

“Building a community has been integral”, says Jill. “There are people who are not only a part of our community but they sit there and talk about how great it is. They do the marketing for us, which is one thing I never expected to happen, and it’s because we’ve cultivated a community. We’ve united people around a central message.”

2. Focus on retention and lifetime value of your customers

Focus on keeping your existing customers satisfied by serving them to the best of your ability. By keeping your existing customers longer, and continuing to sell them additional products or services over time, you increase the lifetime value of those customers to your business. With a higher customer lifetime value, you can afford to spend more money on marketing to get new customers. “If you can figure out your lifetime value and you realize that your lifetime value is quite high, you can afford to spend a lot more money on advertising in order to get people in”, says Josh.

When your business has a low customer retention rate (your existing customers keep leaving), you must continuously spend more money to acquire new customers. And since those new customers don’t stay long, remaining profitable becomes a challenge. In most cases, the business that can afford to spend the most to acquire a customer will dominate their market/niche.

“If you focus on retention, you increase the lifetime value of your customers.”  – Josh Stanton

3. Do what works for you

As an entrepreneur, it is important to understand what your strengths and limitations are. Just because you see other entrepreneurs doing things a certain way doesn’t mean that you should too. Every entrepreneur has their own unique strengths and limitations. For that reason, you should not blindly emulate what someone else is doing in their business without first evaluating whether or not that same approach will work for you.

Josh and Jill made the mistake of adopting a product launch model after seeing it work so well for other online entrepreneurs. “We essentially copied what we saw working for other people without taking a minute to see if that fit who we were”, says Jill. “Identifying that weakness and therefore realizing the strength we had with community was a huge aha.” When they made the switch to a membership model, a model which catered to their strengths, their business began to thrive.

4. Hire the right people

At this stage in their business, Josh and Jill have a team of people that help them run their business. That team includes a customer support representative, content specialist, podcast editor, web designer, and a virtual assistant, in addition to numerous independent contractors that they utilize on a project basis. But building that core team that they can rely on didn’t happen overnight. In a rush to hire help early on, they made a few bad hiring choices that ended up creating more challenges. “We spent about a year hiring the wrong people and trying to make that work, and really getting burned and frustrated and not really seeing the kind of results until we really realized what we needed out of certain key hires”, says Jill. They learned the hard way that when it comes to building a team, it is best to take your time when deciding who to hire, and be quick to let someone go if it becomes clear that they are not a good fit.   

5. Learn how to work effectively as a team

When Josh and Jill first started building their business together, there were definitely some challenges they faced as a result of working as a team. “When we first started in business we always got into each other’s tasks. I would try to have a say in Josh’s tasks, he would try to have a say in my stuff, and it made us bud heads. It really caused some friction”, says Jill. “What we learned was you really have to identify what you’re good at and leave the rest to the other person, and trust that they have the know-how to get it done.”

Jill has a very outgoing and charismatic personality, so she spends the majority of her time interacting with their community. She also handles most of their branding and communication, including writing blog posts and sending emails to their list of subscribers. Some would say she is the face of their brand.  Josh has a lot of technical expertise, so he spends the majority of his time behind the scenes developing and maintaining the systems that run their business.  It took some time, but identifying the specific aspects of their business that Josh and Jill were each best suited for has helped them to work effectively as a team.

Another technique that has worked well for Josh and Jill has been assigning a specific theme to each of their days. They no longer try to tackle numerous projects or create extensive to-do lists for a single day. Instead, they will identify the tasks that they need to do in their business from week to week, and assign those tasks a specific day. This way, on any given day, they know exactly what the most important task for that day is and they focus their efforts exclusively on that task until it is complete. This helps to minimize the feeling of overwhelm or lack of focus on a daily basis.

6. Be patient and stay focused

With an abundance of information available to us and numerous sources competing for our attention, many entrepreneurs struggle with what is known as shiny object syndrome. This term is used to describe the propensity to get distracted, lose focus and jump from one opportunity to another without fully committing to any one path. As Josh and Jill can attest, the inability to stay focused on one specific goal until it is achieved is detrimental to an entrepreneur’s success. “A lot of members inside of Screw U talk about that shiny object syndrome”, says Josh. “We’re always trying to help them battle against that sort of thing.”

In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you must learn to be patient and stay focused on your goals. Don’t jump from one project to another or from one opportunity to another without finishing what you’ve already started. The combination of patience and persistence will ensure you see your current endeavor through to the end before moving on to something else. “I think when you get a little bit more clarity, you’re able to be a bit more patient. And when you’re more patient, you can be more persistent”, says Josh. “Things don’t happen overnight. Things take time, especially in business. All you need to do is remain persistent and consistent.”

7. Find the right mentors

Another important lesson that Josh and Jill have learned is to find the right mentors. A mentor is someone who has achieved what you want to achieve, and can therefore offer guidance and help you avoid costly mistakes as you work towards achieving your goals. They can help to short-cut your success, by steering you in the right direction and helping you stay focused on your desired outcome.

Whatever result you want to create for your life or business, find someone who has already achieved that result and emulate them. Whether by speaking with them directly, or by consuming their content (books, blog, podcast, courses, etc.), learn as much as you can from them.  However, don’t blindly emulate someone just because they appear to be successful. Emulate the individuals (or brands) that resonate with you. This help to ensure that you remain authentic and do not compromise your own values as you adopt someone else’s approach or strategy. “You need to find the people who resonate with you,” says Josh. “Find the type of brand that looks like the type of business that you would want to create.”

“You still make mistakes, no matter how successful you get.” – Josh Stanton

How Josh & Jill Stanton built a successful Membership Site business @screwthe9tofive Click To Tweet

About the Author

Tyler Basu is the Founder & Publisher of Lifestyle Business Magazine , Host of the Lifestyle Business Magazine Podcastand the author of Lifestyle Business Blueprint.