Lessons from 1 year of Espresso+

The relentlessly helpful® blog by John Espirian

1 February 2023

On 31 January 2022, following a few months of running a free group on LinkedIn, I launched the paid Espresso+ community.

Wait, what is Espresso+?

Espresso+ is the community for small business owners and solopreneurs who need ongoing learning, support and accountability in promoting their businesses in an ethical, organic way on LinkedIn and online.

The community is a combination of a discussion space, a video library, a podcast, a mailing list and more.

Here’s what I’ve learned from running Espresso+ for 12 months.

See my celebration event with Espresso+ founder member and queen of Video Easy Peasy, Espresso+ square logo Gillian Whitney:

Community management is not easy money.

This year has been the most work I’ve put into anything. It’s also been the most rewarding experience on a personal and professional level.

Anyone who tells you that creating a membership is a way of earning “passive income” is either lying or clueless about what it takes to run an engaged community.

Most communities fail because they don’t have a clear purpose or the leaders aren’t willing or able to put in the effort to keep the fire burning.

Pricing is a headache.

My biggest concern before launching was whether there would be a paying audience for the kind of support that I give people on LinkedIn.

Testing the community through a free LinkedIn group for a few months was enough to convince me that there was interest in the idea.

The key word there is free. How could I know that people would be willing to pay? And how much?

I asked around and some people said that they would pay … £5 per month 😬

Others said they pay more than £100 per month, depending on the value on offer.

In the end, I made a generous price offer for the first 100 founding members, letting them in at only £19 per month or £209 per year.

All 100 spots sold out on the first day.

Prices have gone up since those founder spots went.

I’ve given members a price lock, which means that they continue paying the rate at which they joined.

This will be true for at least the next year. I’ll review again at the start of 2024.

Free trials aren’t for me.

There’s no free trial for Espresso+.

Call me a cynic but I suspect that some free triallists would download the content from the video library and then disappear.

I already create a lot of free content on my LinkedIn Learner Lounge.

If you don’t want to pay me a penny, that’s fine: there’s plenty of my free stuff already out there for you to read and watch.

Note also that you’ll never see any ads or popups on any of my free content. That’s not how I roll, as set out in my manifesto.

There’s a lot of thankless admin.

I assumed that people who registered with a credit card would have no problems making ongoing monthly payments to remain part of the membership.

In practice, monthly memberships have caused some headaches, because credit card payments do indeed fail.

Though yearly membership means less money in my pocket, I’d still much rather see people sign up for a whole year so that I don’t need to deal with this ongoing admin.

Also, people who commit for a year are much more likely to take action on their investment.

There are unexpected benefits.

I created Espresso+ primarily as a learning space, but I didn’t expect that people would form friendships, organise meet-ups and even run an online book club.

All of these unexpected benefits and more have happened in the first year of the community’s existence.

Who knows what surprising positives might come next?

Too many goodies can overwhelm people.

My incorrect thought:

  • The more value you give, the more likely people are to stay.

In reality, some people have left because there’s simply too much going on in the community.

I’m naturally a “pedal to the metal” kind of person, so this has been a good reminder that not everyone is like me.

It is possible to subtract by adding.

Community shapes content.

Espresso+ members consistently tell me that the most valuable content categories within the community are the Live Q&As (twice per month) and the Content Review (once per month).

In the past few months, we’ve also had well-received expert Q&As on topics such as SEO and pricing. Future sessions already lined up include:

  • Expert session: visual/brand design
  • Expert session: LinkedIn post formatting
  • Expert session: TikTok
  • Expert session: website design

Here’s a sample of another content category from the community: the LinkedIn Roundup, which I record once per month, to summarise interesting changes to LinkedIn for members to be aware of:

When we launched, the community content was in the form of private LinkedIn posts and videos in a private library.

Since then, we’ve had requests for audio versions of the content and transcripts of the videos.

That has led me to create the Espresso+ podcast and standardise my process for turning video captions into a full transcript of each piece of premium content.

I wasn’t expecting to do any of that when starting the community, but by listening to the members, I’ve been able to create something that is more value to them.

Video is more important than ever.

I’m shifting more of my content towards video, as I find it the most effective way of communicating the depth of thinking behind the best practices we discuss in the community.

Everyone’s talking in public about the rise of AI and ChatGPT.

Human content delivered through audio and video is the best way to stand out and show that the bots are not yet in control of all of our output.

My increase in video content creation has meant I’ve needed to sharpen my workflows to optimise my use of time.

I now have a robust process for creating videos, captions and transcripts. I’m happy to share this with Espressians who want to do adopt a video-first approach to content creation.

People can fly in safe spaces.

We’ve seen some lovely success stories from members who feel safe and emboldened in the community.

That has led them to create their own podcasts, videos and lots of other content to help them develop a personal brand in public.

Espresso+ square logo Anna Bravington started with posting one video inside the free group that was the precursor to Espresso+.

She was so encouraged that she ended up launching her own podcast! Check out our chat on her show:

Crossing the Content Chasm s1 ep. 7

Potential competitors became collaborators.

I never expected people who specialise in LinkedIn to be part of a paid community like Espresso+.

I’ve trained lots of LinkedIn trainers over the past few years, but that’s mostly done in secret without ever being talked about publicly.

It’s quite a jump to go from that to specialists putting up their hands to be in a group run by another LinkedIn specialist.

About 30% of the Espresso+ community is now made up of LinkedIn specialists.

If you’re a LinkedIn specialist and think you’d be stepping on my toes by joining, please don’t worry. Espresso+ is an environment for learning and sharing. There’s no competing or backstabbing here!

See my list of recommended LinkedIn experts, many of whom are also Espressians.

People enjoy helping each other.

Unlike other networking groups, Espresso+ doesn’t limit the inclusion of people based on their specialism.

For example, some groups might say:

  • “We can have one and only one accountant in our group.”

We have no such limits in place.

Espresso+ is home to multiple copywriters, translators, marketers and of course LinkedIn specialists, among many other more niche professions.

The best bit is that Espressians – our term for members of the community – are generous in offering help to each other through our daily discussion group.

Espresso+ is a truly collegiate, supportive environment.

I’m still creating public content.

All of my best content is created first and foremost for the Espresso+ community.

But this doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped publishing posts publicly on my blog and on LinkedIn.

I estimate that two-thirds of my content creation is for the benefit of the 230+ members of Espresso+. The rest is for the public.

There’s plenty of free stuff out there on my website and my LinkedIn feed, so I’m not leaving anyone out in the cold.

If you’re never going to join Espresso+, try doing this instead:

Ethics matter.

I want to set the standard for good ethical practice within the community.

This has meant sharing a lot of my thinking about how business decisions about the community are made.

For example, I recently asked the community whether they thought it would be appropriate for me to bring a couple of honorary members into the community.

This led to a fascinating discussion that helped steer my thinking. (Newsflash: we’re not offering honorary memberships.)

Another example was the idea of setting up a WhatsApp chat group. Members said that they’d muted too many group chats to want yet another one in the mix – so I shelved that suggestion.

Better to ask and get some feedback rather than assuming, right?

The community is the business, and the business is strong because I listen to our members every day.

Names and belonging.

We are developing our sense of community identity by having names for being a member (an Espressian) and our own hashtag (#TeamEspresso).

Espressians also have their own coloured post-it note on the wall of fame behind me, plus a pin in the Espresso+ members map.

Espresso+ map sample

I’m currently organising some Espresso+ merch to allow Espressians a way of showing their affiliation with the membership to the world. Here’s the mug:

John Espirian with Espresso+ mug

Action-takers are money-makers.

There is a big emphasis on best practice in the community.

What matters most, though, is that people take action on what they learn.

I’ve noticed that people who take small but immediate action on the lessons they pick up inside the community are best placed to win in business in the long term.

Here are a handful of examples of Espressians who are embracing the community and getting results. Each happens to have been featured in my regular Friday Shout series, too:

The nice people will stick around.

The community approach doesn’t suit everyone, and it’s natural that some people will leave.

Those who really buy into what you’re doing will stay, and they may become the leaders of the future.

For now, I haven’t made any big decisions about the evolution of our community leadership.

But I can see the case for promoting from within and giving my most trusted members responsibilities to lead activities – if that’s what they want.

A big lesson I’ve learned from Mark Schaefer’s 2023 book Belonging To The Brand is that relationships between members are just as important as relationships between members and the community leader. In fact, they might be more important.

Consequently, my aim for year 2 is to find more ways for the nice people in Espresso+ to get to know each other even better.

We can’t stand still.

I love the setup of the community as it is, but I don’t want to stop innovating.

That could lead to boredom and a likely reduction in engaged members of the community.

I’ve already organised our first ever Espresso+ in-person event in Bristol in March (sold out in 2 days).

There’s also a secret collaborative project I’m going to announce to the community soon.

What I’d change if starting from scratch.

I was overly generous with my rate for founder members.

In hindsight, I would have charged a higher base rate for those founder members or have offered fewer founder member spots. A nice round 100 felt right at the time, but 50 or even fewer would have been the smarter play.

The technical setup of the community is based on a handful of separate systems that don’t integrate smoothly from the admin point of view.

I try to make things as seamless as possible for members, but I might have had fewer headaches if I’d gone for a dedicated setup through a platform such as Circle or Heartbeat.

As it happens, we do have a backup Espresso+ space in Heartbeat, but I intend to use that only if something really bad happens to LinkedIn.

Membership stats.

Here are some stats about the makeup of the Espresso community, captured on our first anniversary, 31 January 2023:

  • Monthly members: 140 (59%)
  • Yearly members: 99 (41%)
  • Total members: 239

Espresso+ stats by member type

  • In the UK: 115 (48%)
  • Outside UK/US: 64 (27%)
  • In the US : 60 (25%)

Espresso+ stats by member location

Let’s wrap up.

Espresso+ became my main source of income in 2022, as I completely let go of copywriting work.

I’m now entirely committed to the success of this community as we start year 2 of this venture.

I try not to be too promotional in my content, but Espresso+ is something I really believe is of great value to the huge number of small business owners and self-employed entrepreneurs out there.

If you’re an ethical operator and want to see what we’re all about, try us out for a month for only £42: join now.


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John Espirian

I’m the relentlessly helpful®️ LinkedIn nerd and author of Content DNA

I teach business owners how to be noticed, remembered and preferred.

Espresso+ is a safe space to learn how to ethically promote your business online and get better results on LinkedIn.

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