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Case Study: Mamapreneurs on Growing Membership Site for Business Moms

Lori Halley 12 September 2008 3 comments

Award-winning public relations professional and former broadcast journalist, Marlynn Jayme Schotland created Mamapreneurs Inc. to provide support and networking opportunities to business owners who are also mothers. Based in Portland, Oregon, the organization reaches out online to “mamapreneurs” anywhere in the world.

Here, Marlynn talks about strategies for growing an active membership web site, and shares her top 5 tips for online community building.

Mamapreneurs website logo Can you begin by telling us a little bit about Mamapreneurs Inc.?

Mamapreneurs Inc. started because when I left the corporate world to start Urban Bliss Design, I couldn’t find a group that met my own personal needs. I wanted to talk about both business and family life matters all in the same place, with moms who were also running their businesses while raising families. We launched on Mother’s Day of 2006 and now have 200+ members.

A mamapreneur is a mom who owns her own business — our members are in their 20’s to 60’s, and their kids range in age from newborn to their 30’s — so really, it doesn’t matter how old you are, how many kids you have or what type of business you run, or whether you work from home or an outside office: if you’re a mom, and you own a company, then you are a mamapreneur. Our mission is to help mamapreneurs in both business and family life.

You’ve recently added a membership category for “members at large” — those who live outside a 90-mile radius of Portland, Oregon. Did the website started out as a support for a “real world” networking group, or did you always plan to build a membership-based online community?

We’ve always had both. We have always had in-person monthly meetings, playdates, moms night outs, and special events, and we’ve always had a blog and a private online forum for members only.

How much effort did it take you to setup the website?

I set up the website, and compared to other platforms I have used in building websites, Wild Apricot is by far the EASIEST system to use. Now, I know HTML and have built websites in the past, but I also run two other businesses and write for several blogs and didn’t want to spend hours coding everything by hand again for our relaunch. Wild Apricot was the best solution for us.

How many people are involved in maintaining the site/system?

I do the majority of website updates and maintenance, and I have a part-time assistant, Tara, who helps with membership items on the site.

What tools and strategies do you use to attract members?

By far, the majority of new members join Mamapreneurs Inc because they’ve heard good things from current members. Word of mouth from current members has been incredible, and I’m so thankful to all of the amazing mamapreneurs in the group for spreading the word. I’ve also found that social media methods are successful in driving traffic to the site and also helping me connect with other mamapreneurs, both on a professional and a personal level.

What are the main reasons why your members join?

The majority of members join because they want to make connections on both a personal and professional level with moms who are going through the same thing they are going through. Many of them end up doing business with each other because of those connections.

What are the most popular features of your website? (What gets the most action? What keeps ‘em coming back?)

The Member Directory is popular. People love to learn what mom-owned businesses are out there.

You offer a variety of social and business events to your members, from networking playdates to the upcoming “The Makings of a Mamapreneur” conference. How are you managing all that?

Lots of coffee :-)

The members-only “Support Source” system is an interesting idea — can you give us an idea of how it works?

If a member has had a new baby, a family loss, or some other situation where they need assistance, they can contact one of our Support Source volunteers. The volunteers then put out the call with specific needs to members on our private forum. Any members who are able to help, then contact the volunteer coordinators.

If you were to share some lessons you’ve learned in building and growing an online community, what would you say are the 5 most important things to consider?

  1. Constantly ask for feedback and when given, listen to your customers and make changes when necessary. I’ve made A LOT of changes to the online portions of our group and all have been made because of feedback I’ve received. Certainly, some feedback cannot be implemented, but it’s good to know how people are using the site and how they are not. Some feedback has surprised me.

  2. “Tell them what you want them to know, tell them what you told them, and then tell them again.” That old journalism phrase works with building online communities as well. I send out a lot of newsletters, emails, and post the same info in different ways on various sites/forums. With mamapreneurs (the busiest people on earth!) I’ve found it takes at LEAST three times for the information to sink in that something on the site has changed.

  3. Respond quickly, within at least one business day, to website problems or issues. Even if I am swamped, I try to at least send an email telling them that I will get back to them as soon as possible.

  4. Don’t force connections. Sometimes I will try something new with the site, and it just won’t stick like I thought it would. I give people time to adjust to the changes, but if they aren’t working in the long run, I get rid of them.

  5. Make it fun and take initiative. People get excited when they see others are excited. Most people don’t want to be the first to start a conversation, so it’s often up to me to get things going.

What’s in the future for Mamapreneurs Inc.?

Anything is possible! :-)

I’ll be starting The Makings of a Mamapreneur podcast/radio show on BlogTalkRadio starting October 10th (10:30 am PST!).

Other than that, I plan to grow the business organically and see where the road takes us. We’ll definitely be offering services in other cities, whether in the form of The Makings of a Mamapreneur conference and Mom Shop fair or in the form of chapters in each city, that’s up in the air.

All I know is that we’re helping mamapreneurs connect not just with themselves, but with the business community at large, and if we can continue to make a difference in families lives, and if we can continue to change attitudes in this country regarding work and family, then we’re growing in the right direction.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 12 September 2008 at 1:07 PM


  • Colin Trethewey said:

    Friday, 12 September 2008 at 7:09 AM

    Very good tips on communicating with an online community, especially the quote, "“Tell them what you want them to know, tell them what you told them, and then tell them again.” With sites I have worked with in the past we have had member complaints that have come in for issues that had already been fixed but the members didn't spot the announcements, so the multiple member notification idea makes a lot of sense.  

  • Melanie Guin MNM said:

    Friday, 12 September 2008 at 7:14 AM

    What a wonderful idea. As a mother and a professional, I will definitely be checking it out. Thanks so much for sharing this!


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 17 September 2008 at 7:40 AM

    Colin, how intriguing, that you've had the same experience with people not noticing a change in the site - not just once, but on different sites. I wonder if that's yet another symptom of "information overload"...

    Melanie, do take a close look at how Mamapreneurs maintains that strong sense of community even as it's starting to extend its geographic reach: interesting stuff, and so "do-able"!

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