Case Study – Moving our club membership to direct Debit / recurring Payments

When I became manager of Sutton Tennis & Squash Club, in addition to being head coach, I was determined to overhaul our membership systems, which had become outdated. This case study will include………

  • What were our systems before and why change them.
  • Exactly what changes were made.
  • The processes & systems we’ve used.
  • The end result.

What were our systems before & why change?

Every system becomes out of date at some point. We had great people managing our membership and doing it on a voluntary basis – but the systems made it a huge amount of work, time consuming, prone to errors, difficult for people to join and difficult to renew.

Here is how our membership worked:

It was not online but done via a paper form

So a potential member would need to walk into the club (which was often locked), find a form, possibly fill it in and pay there and then. Often there would be nobody there to take their form & payment, so they would need to leave and keep coming back until they found the right person.

It really was difficult for someone to become a member of the club.

Membership could be paid in one lump sum or with 2 cheques, one of them post-dated for 6 months ahead

So there was no option of paying monthly. As a coach, I lost count of the amount of times that I would introduce a family to the club – mum,dad, couple of kids – give them a free taster session then sit down with them to talk about membership. And I’d see all the excitement and enthusiasm drop out of their faces as I tell them that family membership will cost them £700. They would go away telling me they’d ‘think about it’ and I would know that I’d never see them again. It’s too much money for the average family to pay in one hit.

Now these higher cost memberships can be paid monthly and those same 'potential members' nearly always join up.

Adding, renewing & managing members was a painful process

Here’s how it worked:

  • After filling in the form, members’ details would be manually added to an excel spreadsheet, along with how they paid, date of joining & renewal. As a separate process, their details would also be added to Outlook, which was how they were emailed. Mistakes happened often – people were not added, payments were missed.
  • When it came time to renew, members would be sent a new form to fill in and return, then their details would be taken off the system or re-added to the system, all manually.
  • Chasing members to renew was a huge job.

All these systems (or lack of systems) resulted in declining membership numbers, because of how difficult it was to join or renew, errors where people had not paid or been chased for money when they had paid, people not receiving emails because they hadn't been added and a huge amount of work and stress for those managing the membership.

The end result - where are we now

This bit should come at the end, but I want to put it here while I still have you. I’ll go into more detail further on……

  • Our membership has increased by 25% (2017-2020)
  • About a third of our membership is now on rolling monthly memberships – it is set up once, then rolls on forever or until they cancel. ‘Renewing’ is a thing of the past.
  • More and more members are switching to monthly and the majority of new members are monthly.
  • Members who do still pay annually are being gradually moved onto a direct debit / recurring payment which will automatically renew after a year.
  • We use software to manage membership, which at first was Clubspark, but is now another program called Club Manager. I’ll write a post later about the good and bad with Clubspark. This kind of software manages the whole process of membership and automates much of the process.
  • Membership is online. See it here –  the process is largely automated – the member joins online, pays online, their details are added, payment set up, renews automatically. There is not much work from this end.

So we have more members, happier members and far less work and stress to manage it all. Our membership is also still increasing.

The process & systems we used

About monthly recurring membership

I love this episode of Friends where Chandler & Ross keep trying & failing to stop their gym membership……..

Gyms have known for years how effective monthly payments are. Let’s face it, people are terrible at taking action, whether that is stopping something or starting something. Whether it’s the gym membership or Netflix, we set it up and leave it running way after we’ve stopped using it (maybe a bad example as I’ll never stop using Netflix:-).

Actually, this isn’t about getting people to pay for something they don’t want, it’s just about making it easy for them and us.

But as tennis (or other sports) clubs, we’ve been way behind on that concept. The usual concerns about going monthly are:

Will it involve loads of work checking payments and chasing missed payments?

Answer: No – the software does nearly all of it for you. Occasionally someone will stop their payment without telling you and need a follow up. But compared to the work involved in renewals, it’s minor. It is WAY less work managing monthly payments.

Is there a danger that our members stop their membership too often / too easily and we lose members?

I can only talk from our experience here, and this answer is a clear no again. We’ve seen a big increase in members as a result of our improved systems, which includes monthly payments. If somebody no longer wants to be a member, holding onto them for a bit longer because they have paid for a year isn’t helpful. As long as your members are happy with the club, they are not going to stop their membership.

The only thing we don’t want is people stopping and starting memberships. This can be dealt with by having some Ts & Cs – in our case, members can ‘pause’ a membership rather than stop it, for instance in the case of injury or a few months away. They pay a nominal monthly fee but keep their membership. To stop membership, we ask for a month’s notice and also charge a fee to rejoin within 6 months. So this discourages people from stopping and starting.

Our membership during Coronavirus

What bigger test could there be of monthly payments and membership systems in general that the current Coronavirus pandemic. So how has it stood up?

Great actually. When we closed, this is what we did:

  • We gave all the monthly members the option of pausing their memberships, by changing their payment to £1, which was easy to do. The great thing about direct debits / monthly payments is that the control is at our end – we can adjust the payments any time. This was a win-win because half of them chose not to pause and support the club. The half that did pause could be un-paused as soon as the courts opened, which they have now. This meant that we kept nearly all of our members and minimised lost membership income.
  • Members who pay annually were given the option of extending their membership for the period that the club was closed. So rather than cancelling their membership, they will have an extension. Again, keeping our members and minimising losses.

Well organised membership systems and particularly monthly payments have been vital to the club at this difficult time.

The process & systems

So, having decided that we wanted membership to be available online (mostly), and available as recurring monthly and automated with software, here is how it happened.

1. We started using software

This was Clubspark. If you’re not from the UK, you may not know Clubspark. It is software licensed by the LTA and provided for free to registered clubs and coaches. I have mixed feelings about Clubspark and will write an in-depth post about it, but overall it has been a difficult experience – lots of glitches, missing features, promises of features being in-development for years.

Still, until recently, all our new membership systems have happened with Clubspark – it does enable you to put your membership online, accept online payments, set up recurring monthly membership, email all your members and more. I think I would still recommend Clubspark for smaller clubs with simple membership – but for anyone outside the UK and/or with bigger / more complicated membership, you may choose something else.

There are loads of systems out there which I couldn’t comment on – Club Manager (which I’m not paid to promote) is working great for us. It seems to do everything that membership software should do, although it’s early days. It does cost about £80 per month, but in our case that money is worth it for what it can do for us.

2. New members could immediately go onto the new system

Once you have the software, it’s quite straightforward to set up your membership categories for new members to join. If you want to look at ours, Click Here – you’ll see that many categories of membership have an annual or monthly option. Some lower cost memberships only have annual, but all of them will be a recurring payment, whether it is annual or monthly.

3. Current members need to be moved accross

This is the hard work, but if you get it right, the hard work only has to be done once, then never again! Depending on what software you use, they may migrate your members for you or you may need to do it manually. The method that I used was to leave members on the old system until it was time to renew, then get them to renew using the new system. In time, everyone ended up on the new system.

The problem with this method is that it’s hard work having two systems – so there is definitely a pain period while you’re trying to manage both. 

4. We changed software from Clubspark to Club Manager

This wasn’t as painful as putting in a new system in the first place. As everything was well organised on Clubspark, it was relatively easy to move things onto a different system.

And Now?

Now we’re in a great place with our membership. It’s nearly all online – there are still some more complicated memberships (i.e. family memberships) which need to be set up from this end. But even that only takes a minute or two and then runs automatically. Our membership is up 25% over the last 3 years and is still growing. And we have systems that are easy for us to manage, far less stressful and time consuming – and better for our members! 

Finally

All this has taken 3 years, but if I did it again, I think it would take a few weeks as I’ve learned the hard way by trial and error. Please comment with any questions at all and I’ll try to help. Or if you want to take it a step further, contact me to talk about a consultation.

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