AFineParent: Pivoting During a Pandemic

Summary

Learn how I helped popular parenting blog AFineParent pivot their free online conference to a paid membership program during a pandemic.

The Client

After her first child, AFineParent CEO Sumitha Bhandarkar struggled to become the calm, confident parent she knew her daughter deserved. So, like many new parents, she immersed herself in all of the parenting books, tips and techniques she could lay her hands on.

In 2013, after finding success with an approach that swapped obedience and discipline for connection and respect, she launched AFineParent.com, a blog dedicated to positive parenting.

Today it’s a major parenting brand online, attracting over 1.8 million unique visitors each year and 100K+ email subscribers.

But running a popular blog takes time and money. So how does it work as a business?

In May each year, AFineParent hosts the Positive Parenting Conference, where parents watch high-quality online “masterclasses” featuring best-selling parenting and self-development authors.

The content is free while the conference is running, to attend but parents can buy a “recording package” that offers lifetime access to the masterclasses.

In 2019 the conference attracted more than 70,000 virtual attendees. (The goal for 2020 was 100,000.)

AFineParent.com

6M+ pageviews
1.8M+ unique visitors
100k+ email subscribers
23k+ facebook group members
AFineParent CEO Sumitha Bhandarkar and her daughter

The Challenge

In 2020, like many businesses, AFineParent was seriously affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The problems were two-fold:

Key members of the conference planning team became unavailable due to unexepected homeschooling demands.

The prerecorded masterclasses risked appearing out-of-step with the new reality since the Covid crisis was still unfolding.

So the conference was pushed back — from May to September.

Around the same time, the CEO made a strategic decision to pivot to a monthly subscription model to provide better ongoing support for members, and more robust and predictable revenues for the business.

To achieve that, a new paid membership community, called AFineParent Academy, would be launched at the conference.

a montage of images showing screenshots from the AFineParent Academy website

But there was a problem…

Offering “pay-as-you-go” access to the content was untested and the likely conversion and retention rates were unknown.

In addition, the conference had incurred significant upfront costs which needed to be covered regardless.

The Three Big Questions

The challenge for AFineParent boiled down to three simple questions:

How to pivot the business to a monthly subscription model without risking a dramatic drop in sales?
How to be sure of covering conference costs without knowing how long new members would stay onboard?
How to maximise member retention given it would be the biggest driver of post-conference revenue?

Our brief was to create a strategy that addressed all of these questions, then help to steer AFineParent’s CEO through a successful conference and Academy launch while simultaneously pivoting the core offer.

The Strategy

Once I understood the business’s objectives and had identified the main risks, I proposed a three-pronged strategy.

1. Create a Transitional Offer to Provide Continuity

Instead of leading with the monthly subscription offer (which would be an abrupt change from previous years) I proposed creating a transitional “early bird” offer for conference registrants based around annual membership.

This provided continuity by mirroring the pricing and positioning of the already-proven “recording package” but without the promise of lifetime access to the content.

2. Gradually Shift Emphasis to the Monthly Subscription

While upfront sales of annual memberships would reduce the risk and help cover conference costs, it was the monthly membership model that would provide the desired regular income stream.

To boost sales of the monthly offer, I proposed shifting the messaging during the launch to emphasise the ongoing benefits of community membership and the affordability of the “pay-as-you-go” model.

3. Boost the Value of Community Membership

While masterclasses were always at the heart of the Academy offer, I was concerned that retention would suffer unless members received additional benefits each month that went beyond the core content.

I proposed introducing features such as virtual workshops and expert Q&As to provide fresh opportunities for engagement and participation at least once a week.

The Execution

Once the high-level strategy had been laid out, I worked with AFineParent to map the action steps, then acted as a trusted advisor and partner during the 3-month implementation.

Highlights

Our role in the successful execution of the project included:

Creating a milestone-driven project plan including task dependencies to give AFineParent’s CEO maximum visibility on what needed to be done, by when.

Restructuring the promotional email campaigns to ensure that each email had a clear purpose and was designed to boost either sales or engagement.

Working with the CEO on a phased pricing structure that rewarded early buyers and was designed to boost monthly signups in the final days of the conference.

Coaching the CEO to promote paid offers more assertively while avoiding language or mechanisms that might “turn off” the loyal and established audience.

Optimising the design and content of key “landing” pages, which helped to boost conversions and in one instance increased sales by 37%.

Implementing tools to improve project delivery, for example: NiftyPM for project management and tracking, and HelpScout for the help desk and knowledge base.

The Results

The Positive Parenting Conference ran from 22nd – 29th September 2020, following two weeks of promotion via daily emails to blog subscribers and Facebook ads displayed to relevant audiences.

Academy enrolment was available for the entire three-week period at gradually increasing price points.

Despite the backdrop of Coronavirus, the 2020 conference was the most successful to date.

When the dust had settled, the CEO was delighted to report the following results:

The conference attracted over 111,000 attendees, over 50% higher than the previous year and blasting through the original “big, hairy, audacious” goal of 100,000.

By the time Academy enrollment closed, over 2,500 new members had been enrolled in the Academy community on either annual or monthly subscriptions.

Total number of sales (annual + monthly memberships) was on par with sales of the recording package in 2019, which was our litmus test for a successful pivot.

Upfront sales covered the costs of both the conference and the membership site, producing a double digit profit margin (even before factoring in future payments.)

Pay-as-you-go subscriptions were sufficient to establish a 5-figure monthly revenue and provide a big enough sample group to study ongoing retention levels.

110,000+ conference attendees
2,500+ members enrolled
Six-figure revenue from annual subscriptions
Five-figure revenue from monthly subscriptions

The Bottom Line

This short project transformed AFineParent from a business that had no guaranteed income and was highly reliant on one or two big promotions a year, to one that had a healthy recurring monthly income and significant revenues effectively pre-booked for 2021 via annual renewals.

All of this was achieved during the turbulence and uncertainty of an ongoing global pandemic.

Testimonial

The huge thing I gained from working with Glen was successfully pivoting my business without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. His clarity exercises and strategy sessions helped me see how I could meet my objectives with a much lower-risk strategy.

Leading up to the launch, he helped with project planning, email strategy, pricing strategy, and tool selection. And during the launch itself, he was a calm and stable presence, helping manage the stress of a 6-figure launch and make data-driven course corrections on the fly.

Working with Glen was like working with a business partner. It was amazing to have that kind of relationship where I could trust him to always do the right thing by my business, without bringing any ego to the table.

He wasn’t afraid to push me in certain areas, like selling, but he also knew when to step back. I could count on him to advise me and hold me accountable without ever making me feel like I was being driven in a direction I didn’t want to go.

The best thing was that he didn’t just give me clarity and an effective strategy, but he was also in the trenches with me day-to-day helping move things forward.

I loved working with Glen and I’m already exploring ways to work with him again!

– Sumitha Bhandarkar, AFineParent Founder and CEO