Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at wmr.fm. In this episode we’re going to be talking about growing awesome niche community sites, and with WordPress, of course, and joining us for that conversation, I’d like to welcome Moni Jefferson to Press This. Moni, welcome.
Moni Jefferson: Hey everybody, thanks for having me, David.
DV: Awesome. Glad to have you here and those listening, nobody’s going to talk to us today about. She comes from the Association of military spouse entrepreneurs, talk about a niche which she’s going to talk about her journey using WordPress to build her community, attracting new members, and providing members compelling experiences that keep them, eager to participate. I know that’s a key part of running a community site. So really interested to hear how you did that in such a niche community there are many, but I’ll ask you the first question I asked every guest, which is to briefly tell me your repressive origin story.
MJ: Absolutely. So, we are the association of military spouse entrepreneurs, and our goal, our mission and our advocacy is to help military spouses start scale and sustain their businesses. And the reason we started the WordPress site was because we really needed to reach, spouses, all over the world. And the only way we could do that is to create a digital membership for them to have access to the resources that could benefit them to successfully launch and move their business from country to country or state to state.
DV: How did you do it before you created the WordPress site.
MJ: Oh my goodness, we started to tape that sucker together. Oh my goodness, I’m a lot of manual you know you build your MVP first to make sure it’s gonna work. We were using. Click Funnels and Zapier. What else stripe, we’re using everything to kind of integrate slack, to make sure that we were providing everything in different areas, and we’re just really excited to be able to put it on one platform now.
DV: Okay, good. So WordPress was your origin story with WordPress was literally kind of having this kind of cobbled together experience and providing it kind of in one experience be WordPress but that was your origin story.
MJ: Yeah, well put.
DV: Awesome. I like it. I think you’re the first guest, where the business, we’re working on right now was their first WordPress origin story when when was that when did y’all make that switch.
MJ: We’re actually just now we’re about to launch it. So we are in the beta stages, we have members on they’re using it, they absolutely love it. And so, you know, we’re just, we’re getting it all working out now.
DV: Awesome. Well you told me a little bit about the association of military spouse entrepreneurs, you know, and the topic here is really attracting and engaging these very niche audiences that one sounds pretty niche, but what is the association about like what’s your role in it, folks understand,
MJ: yeah absolutely so I am the CEO and co founder of the Association of military spouse entrepreneurs and co founder and I philosophy Hall had been working in the military spouse space for a long time we’re both seasoned military spouse entrepreneurs we both launch and scaled multiple businesses and raise capital, and we were working in this community for a while with other organizations who were serving. Entrepreneurs mostly in the veteran space, and they kept trying to have spouses right because spouses can’t maintain careers, because we have to move every three years, it’s called PCs A which is a permanent change of station. For those of you that don’t know the acronyms in military lingo, and that just means that your military members got orders to move somewhere else to fulfill their obligations to the military, and of course the family has to go with them. So one of the biggest hurdles spouses face is building a career and having that financial stability. And so, you know, pausing for a moment. So military spouses are about 24% underemployed, that was before COVID And we really just wanted to create a space that it wasn’t a plus plus plus military spouse on top of the veteran, organization, or dot dot dot O and military spouses could come, so that’s what makes our community and our organization very unique is that we really serve the military spouse entrepreneur in every stage of business. And our goal is to provide the resources that we have high touch masterclasses by HubSpot and LinkedIn and monday.com and all these great partners who come in and help us give the spouses the resources they need to streamline their businesses. We offer a course group coaching, we have co working. And the most important thing is the peer to peer mentorship. One of the things that we are not able to do is build a local community of mentors. So our communities online. And so that’s our sweet spot we really provide a community by military spouse entrepreneurs, for military spouse entrepreneurs.
DV: So that makes a lot of sense and like even preparing for this interview I was kind of imagining you know the spouses moving around a lot and, you know, the idea of a community being helpful just in the overall lens of like entrepreneurship and a path to income for folks that are in a position where they have to change their geography all the time. And just also the notion that a community website would be helpful for such a group of folks, because they are so dispersed. It was also interesting to hear about the connections you’d originally seen that folks were trying to establish in the veteran contacts, which I’m sure has its own set of issues with folks transitioning from military life to post military life, and then being an entrepreneur now that is so much different than how a spice spouse might be experiencing their entrepreneurial journey with this pesto on an in military. So it does make sense. Just in general but like were these the reasons like why you decided to start it as like a community website,
MJ: you know, the reasons we wanted to start it as a community website was because there was nobody driving that change, right, like you said there are veteran organizations who say you know yeah if you’re a spouse, you can take it, but houses are building different types of businesses and they need different types of resources that trend is usually working under second or third career when they kind of get out of the military, and are starting different types of businesses in the tech field or VCs or brick and mortars and spouses really need on support running businesses that are mobile, you know, Consulting and maybe they make, you know, hair bows or their PR or social media strategists, and so that’s what drove me. And on top of that some of the resources that were being provided to the veterans were not resources that the spouse could learn how to put systems in place to really run a business during a deployment or a PCS, and we really wanted to make sure we brought in partners to do that and, and we’ve been able to be successful with that so far.
DV: So it was about delivering this very specific message in this very specific support. And you felt that a community site where folks can engage and consume this content and interact with others, that that was the correct kind of approach to that from a website perspective. Does that sound about right.
MJ: Yeah, absolutely. And it also gives them the opportunity to connect with each other. So you know one of the things that’s really important in our community, David, if I want to hire a PR consultant or a strategist, I want to hire a spouse that helps the military ecosystem as well. It helps make impact within our ecosystem and so that also is a really great way for them to connect each other and that’s what most of our spouses want to do they want to hire each other, collaborate with each other and work amongst each other, versus hiring somebody else who, who may not understand the journey.
DV: So it’s both about learning and interacting but also literally sourcing, things that you can work on with other folks in the community, to, you know, support generally military spouses, and those in the military, but also to get perhaps an edge up in your business like if you’ve made these connections and you establish this kind of partnership can benefit the services that you provide or products you provide in your business. And that does make sense from the community aspect perspective, rather than just I guess like blanketly consuming content to help you in this journey. I want to talk to you a little bit about, you know the build and how some of the challenges you’re facing are faced and how you kind of overcame them in the WordPress context, but we’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back.
DV: Everyone welcome back to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host David Vogelpohl I’m interviewing Moni Jefferson sorry about that, with the Association of military spouse entrepreneurs about building niche communities with WordPress, money right before the break we were talking a little bit about kind of why a community site, not just consuming content about entrepreneurship, but also engaging with others and how that helps you members do business with each other to maybe support their business or just support each other, generally, but I want to switch now to a little bit about the build and like how you accomplish this. What are some of the challenges that you ran across. And as you started building out this community site using WordPress.
MJ: Yeah, so one of the major challenges was getting verification implemented into it. We couldn’t get it to work. So, being a military spouse, we really wanted to make sure that our site was secure, and that those that were coming in more military. So that’s one of the biggest hurdles that we had to overcome. It took a lot of integration, a lot of different types of coding to really make sure that that would work within it that was our major hurdle.
DV: And with the military validation, I’m guessing you’re probably have members from all branches of the US military and maybe even foreign militaries, I don’t know, but like, Is it human based verification like I imagine if someone else’s up they’re building a niche site and they’re like well we want to really, really want to make sure it’s for these kind of folks. I bet that that question of validation is either already come up or if they haven’t started is about to come up. But how did you do it in this context?
MJ: right, so Id me is a verification that it’s a code that you just plug in. And so the spouse has have to either come in and upload a DD 214 show ID or in this, or in another case, they could verify using their USA a bank account which is really smart and really great. And so we use is called ID me and that’s how we are able to verify the spouses who are spouses whether they’re retired, it doesn’t matter the branch of service. It just verifies whether you have military affiliation.
DV: Okay, understood. So from your perspective in this use case you were actually able to leverage third party systems that had already done the validating, but you had to create ultimately I’m guessing like a custom plugin or something in order to facilitate that validation as folks, enter your community.
MJ: Yes sir, that’s exactly what we had to do we had to bring in a couple of different skills and to kind of make it work and now we’re able to turn it on or turn it off depending on when we want to use it but it is. It caused some issues and yes it was third party.
DV: So that’s like a decent amount of extra effort right to get that off the ground like, did you find that was a strategic advantage to do it that way versus like having people be on the honor system I could imagine some sites out there is having a checkbox that says I validate I truly am a spouse or whatever the thing is, did you find like it, it helps you with building the community that folks have trust that the others in the community or, you know, for the most part, you know, until the guaranteed to be in that community.
MJ: Yeah, you know the spouses, want to make sure that they are talking and collaborating amongst other military spouses. So I think it’s very important. We’ve gotten great feedback on it before that we were, you know, doing it on the honor system and just kind of looking and then just, you know, being very, very watchful in who was in the community and we, our goal is to protect the spouses and that’s why we want to have the verification, that’s why it was so important for us. And on top of that it just saved us time and now we can confidently say, you know, our spouses are verified they are military spouses.
DV: So that adds a level of trust, I presume, as folks are entering the community which would, you know, I think it’s also interesting like as folks target niche communities. It’s like when you, when you think about this notion of validation you’re thinking like, Well, then why does that matter right like if I use the honor system I might get more members and maybe that’s more valuable, but it sounds like, from, from your perspective, it’s incredibly important that you’re delivering value to the right set of folks. And, you know obviously ensuring that the content and experiences you’re creating are optimized for this set of folks. I can see certainly a lot of folks using more the honor system but it’s interesting to hear how y’all kind of shifted gears there for, you know, to help build that trust in the community that folks are engaged in.
MJ: Yeah and, and the reason. Another reason as to for security purposes as a military spouse, you know, sometimes we are targeted location, you know, the plugin that we’re using to build a community you’re able to put your location, what you do, you know, if you want to put your family information. So for security, we want to, we really want to make sure that that’s there. So trust is really big for us.
DV: That’s a really good point, you know, and you’re talking about like safety concerns, I’m sure for other communities there’s like marketing targeting concerns, where it’s like if you have this niche community and they have a niche, we’ll talk about in the commercial sense for now. If someone has a niche product, they would be highly incentivized to join and try to influence the conversations and content presumably within those communities but it sounds like you You also are thinking about it from like a physical safety perspective.
MJ: Yes, absolutely we wouldn’t want to share any information about you know we’re military spouses have their shops or where they’re moving from and moving to because you know sometimes the spouse will say hey I am moving to Colorado and I’m looking for a photographer for my family photos, and who’s a photographer in this community. In Colorado, and that’s just, you know, if you are if you have malicious intentions. Now you know there’s 20 Military Spouse photographers you know their name you can find out where they’re at right. So that’s why it’s really important. A lot of times they will ask very specific questions on locations and things like that.
DV: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I’m sure that’s a poignant lesson for folks thinking about validating based on the honor system versus some sort of more true validation. It’s a really interesting construct to running a niche site that I hadn’t personally considered. I’m a moderator and I’ve won several Facebook groups one of them in particular is the Genesis WordPress Facebook group and we’ve had a slew of folks apply to it over the weekend, and we asked them Do you agree to the terms and, and, like, a big chunk of them said, Okay bro. And now, no one ever says it that way and then all of a sudden five people set it that way, including elderly folks from countries that English is not their first language, I don’t think they’re using words like bro, all together at once, like I’m these have to be fake and they didn’t improve them because I’m like, I don’t know there’s too much of a pattern there, I was trying to protect the community from not letting those folks in. But, you know, taking it that extra step and validating it through third party censored censored really great advice. So you mentioned you’re kind of like in the middle of your launch now I’m kind of leaning into WordPress he could you talk to me about some of the tools that y’all are using for that launch to build out this community site.
MJ: Yes, we are using PeepSo, which is really something similar to LinkedIn, but for our military spouses, and so we’re using pizza that gives them that customization to share what they’re doing their location, or kind of a news feed for us to plug our events all the time we have between five and eight events a month. And it also gives them a place to showcase their business as well so we really are loving peep so
DV: all right good deal have you, are you familiar with BuddyPress and you look at that when building out your community. If not, no big deal.
MJ: No I did not.
DV: How’s the experience been with pizza like you’re in the middle of the build like you feel like you’re getting the community building functionality you’re looking for surprise support from keep so, like, what a lot of folks listening will most, you know will sometimes be using BuddyPress and just, I’m sure they’re curious about pizza just in your experience there with whatever you can share I mean I was
MJ: yeah, no, I mean it’s been great on the response from customer service has been fantastic. The themes are great and it’s, it’s very user friendly from, you know, from what I can tell what I’ve been able to use on the back end.
DV: Awesome, well that’s good to hear. I have not built several membership sites over the course of my career these teams. You know that they work for me dead participated in those strategies but I’ve never used that one I’m gonna have to do a little digging after this podcast, maybe, maybe others listening as well. Any other tools that you found really helpful in this bill.
MJ: We really like LearnDash, like we talked earlier we provide additional resources so we do have curriculum called building your business, the AMSI way. And it takes a spouse from ideation to marketing to legal and it breaks it up into smaller bite sized videos with downloads and templates that they can print out and work out as they’re building their business or even if you’ve already built your business, you can kind of come back and say wow I skipped a whole legal section I probably should have done these things in my business. So LearnDash is very free we’re able to add all of our courses on there, and we really like the function of being able to track what’s being watched, and how much of it’s being watched.
DV: That’s That’s great LearnDash is definitely a popular choice for customers WP engines, it’s good to hear you finding some success with that plug in as well. We’ve got some more questions for you around your strategy, particularly for growing that member base, but we’re gonna take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
DV: Hello everyone welcome back to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR, this is your host David Vogelpohl, I’m interviewing Moni Jefferson about growing a niche membership site. When he right before the break, you were talking a little bit about some of your favorite tools you mentioned PeepSo and LearnDash, definitely going to check out pizza later see what they’re all about familiar with LearnDash, good choice there at least in my view. And my next question no and I shift gears a little bit. You talked about like starting the association and kind of growing the membership over time. How do you grow membership in a niche site like it’s, you know, you can’t do these broad based advertising campaigns and things like that you really have to like dial in. But how did you start to grow your audiences where did you find success.
MJ: We got this question all the time. Because philosophy and I launched the association November 19, we got our first member November 21, and from that member on what one of the things that we’ve always done is listen to our community right so philosophy and I heard the community say I’m sick of going to veteran programs. I’m sick of people not listening to what our needs are for the military spouse freelancer or photographer, which is why we started the association, and in that time, philosophy and I’m working in this space. That’s all we heard, and so just listening to their needs, bringing them the resources they want the connections they desire, and the education they deserve to be honest with you. A lot of times I think as community builders such as yourself, and myself, sometimes I think they come in and they’re like, oh the community needs me to do this. The fact is that the community needs each other. And the way that we’re able to successfully build the community is by asking them what they need, and then turn around and executing it or bringing those resources to them. So Flossie and I were in this space for a long time before we actually launched the community and, you know, we’ve traveled to the White House and we’ve spoken on entrepreneurship, and we’ve done different things. on behalf of military spouse entrepreneurs. So it was a really easy. I’m not gonna say it was easy, but it was a great transition, because people were finally like, oh my gosh this is happening. So my biggest thing is just to listen to what they’re asking for, not what you think they want.
DV: So you’re listening to what they need and in your case it was information, it was connections with each other. And you’re participating when you’re learning this information and these broader communities. When it comes time to like draw attention to the association you found it. I’m going to use a military term that hardly anyone ever knows what it means when I say it, I think you well. Like are you flying your flag and seeing who salutes it in these other communities, or are you being much more targeted like are you trying to draw attention in broader communities to this issue and draw folks into the association, or are you somehow trying to, like, target people like individually because you know they, they’re part of the community for some reason.
MJ: So I think a little bit of both. I think we are drawing awareness. You know, one of our partners, didn’t even realize that there were needs at the military spouse entrepreneurs needed. So we are you know kind of doing both, we are individually saying hey, you know, we saw your question on in this group or we heard this, and here is a great resource, it’s absolutely free to join us, and we’d love to figure out if we can support you, and then, you know, with other communities. One of our core values is collaboration. We certainly don’t want to rebuild things that are already built. So we collaborate with a lot of organizations to really bring them, resources, and to help the military spouse, so I think we’re doing a little bit of both David.
DV: All right, well I love that notion of collaboration and really you’re kind of mission focused purpose here in building your community, I think it’s really also inspiring to think about like how you’re listening to these needs, seeing that going on answered, and also kind of coming from that same spot, and being able to share that with others in support of their journey. I wish I had more time to ask you like a million more questions many but we’re kind of running to the end of this show here. Thank you so much for sharing your story here today
MJ: Absolutely, it was my pleasure. Thank you for sharing our story.
DV: of course, of course if you’d like to learn more about web money and or partner up to please visit AMS e co, that’s the association of military spouses entrepreneurs spouse entrepreneurs, sorry about that. Thanks everyone for listening to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR. Again, this has been your host David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to hear every on Press This.