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No perfect parents: This couple created a membership site for families to build compassionate connections
Launched December 2018
The Village by Happily Family is a paid membership site that offers parents and educators a supportive community and the tools to foster healthy relationships with children.
Their Mighty Moment: “What distinguishes us is the relationship we form with our potential members, and that’s what has them come and return to our community.”
Cecilia and Jason Hilkey knew first-hand that modern parenting wasn’t exactly easy.
The wife and husband team had realized, as preschool educators and parents themselves, that for some people traditional parenting methods of punishment and rewards just weren’t cutting it anymore. And they knew there was a different way to parent, a way that relied on communication, connection, and tending to the emotional needs of children:
“We wanted parents out there to know that there is another way. That you can prioritize an approach to parenting that puts your relationship first and allows you to pay attention to feelings and work towards connection.”
They also knew that people who approached parenting this way needed the support of other parents:
“There just wasn’t a place to talk about deeper issues, like fostering relationships with your children, and the best ways to communicate with them. And we found ourselves in a space, as parents and as professionals, where we wanted to create a community, a village, a tribe of people coming together, taking on nontraditional parenting, and supporting each other.”
While there were plenty of parenting coaches and experts out there, Cecilia and Jason wanted to offer a more personal experience, one that prioritized transparency and building authentic connections:
“The thing that distinguishes us is that we don’t have it all together, and we’re very frank about that. We acknowledge that parenting is tough, and it’s messy. But we also acknowledge that that’s okay.”
They started off by creating standalone online courses through their WordPress-powered site. Soon after, they began offering two digital conferences a year, under their business’ new name: Happily Family. Although the conferences themselves were free, Cecilia and Jason monetized them by offering people the option to buy recordings of the interviews afterwards.
With the Happily Family conferences, Cecilia and Jason delivered much-needed resources, by bringing together 25 speakers—from psychologists and psychiatrists to parent coaches and educators—to talk about parenting without punishments and rewards. But the community component still wasn’t there:
“Parents were getting a lot of good information from us, but they really wanted the support of a community, the support of other parents. We started looking for a way to create our own little place that was all ourselves, for our people.”
Not knowing where else to turn, the couple settled on the first platform that came to mind.
From Facebook Groups to a clean slate
Cecilia and Jason started by trying to create a community space with Facebook Groups. They created two separate groups: one for their parenting classes and another for their free conferences. And people showed up: the Facebook Group for their parenting courses reached thousands, while the group they ran alongside their conferences reached about 20,000.
Despite those big numbers, it turned out that a Facebook Group wasn’t conducive to building a real sense of community. Because of Facebook’s lack of privacy, members still weren’t making connections or building authentic relationships with each other:
“We went through a lot of trial and error with trying to create a community with Facebook Groups. Eventually, we got to the point where Facebook didn’t feel private enough or organized enough, or aesthetically pleasing enough. And it just didn’t feel like we were in control. It offered all of these distractions, and we were finding ourselves avoiding it completely. It wasn’t serving our people, and it just wasn’t a happy place to be.”
Cecilia and Jason were also slowly, but surely, getting burned out. Adding more and more third-party solutions to their ongoing setup was getting overwhelming. And because they couldn’t directly monetize their Facebook Group with a membership subscription, they were facing the possibility of adding yet another third-party app as a means to even out their revenue stream. It was getting to be too much:
“We were using a Wordpress site, and then Ontraport to do the management of the membership itself, and then we added Facebook to kind of try to engage everyone in a community setting. And we just thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to find somewhere where we could streamline our business and put everything in one place?””
They decided to start with a clean slate. Instead of taking their free Facebook Group and trying to convert it to a paid membership, they would focus on creating an entirely new community, hosted on an entirely different platform:
“We wanted to streamline our business and be able to offer our courses and community and membership all in one place. It felt like a good time to just focus on creating a new kind of community, something that was totally different.”
As the couple tried to figure out their next step, they stumbled onto a solution: Mighty Networks. With a Mighty Network, they could create a community where members were able to build authentic relationships with each other. And it would be private enough that Cecilia and Jason could lead with transparency, too.
“All of the stories we share and the struggles we go through are ways for people to find us and connect with us and trust us. And with Mighty Networks, we found a safe space where we could be pretty open with those things.”
With a Mighty Network of their own, they could go beyond the limitations of their Facebook Group. They could:
- Create their own dedicated space for nontraditional parenting, away from the clutter and built-in distractions of social media
- Host their community and online courses in one place and offer their members a streamlined experience
- Monetize their community with a paid membership subscription, an option that just wasn’t possible on Facebook
- Offer their members the ability to access their community from any place, with availability on the web, iOS, and Android devices
And with that, Cecilia and Jason’s community had a home: The Village by Happily Family.
Finding innovation through experimentation
When it came to structuring The Village, Cecilia and Jason emphasized experimentation, from offering introductory pricing to varying the amount of content included in their courses.
“From the beginning, we’ve been very comfortable with this idea of experimentation. We’ve experimented with pricing, with the way our launches work. We’re always trying to figure out what’s going to work best for our members. It doesn’t have to be perfect right out the door.”
They started out by offering a brand new topic every month featuring a Q&A session, a “Love Mission” concept and exercise, an interview, and a few other pieces of content. But that quickly became overwhelming and hard to keep up with, both for Cecilia and Jason and their members:
“One of the pieces of feedback we were getting was that people were feeling overwhelmed. They were feeling bad, feeling like they should be doing more, and then ultimately canceling. So we started thinking, “How can we make them feel less like we were inundating them with content, and more like they have a set goal that they’re progressing towards?””
With their members’ feedback in mind, Cecilia and Jason shifted to a new structure. Now, their membership model is centered around a monthly Parenting Toolbox, where every month, parents get a new tool that helps them progress towards a specific goal over the course of a year. Priced at $39.99 a month, with a 30-day free trial, a membership subscription for The Village offers member-only access to:
- The Parenting Toolbox, a monthly themed resource with lessons and activities that helps members work towards increasing connection and cooperation with their children
- A live video Q&A session with Cecilia and Jason, once a month
- A twice-monthly presentation from the Happily Family conference archives, with interviews and Q&As with parenting experts
- A behind-the-scenes preview of a future conference interview, once a month
So far, their members are responding positively to the change:
“As the provider, we just want to give, give, give. But people, especially parents, are overwhelmed as is. So we transitioned into offering our toolbox instead, and people have really been responding to that. They feel like they’re getting a high-value experience, but they’re not feeling like they’re being inundated with more and more content.”
To add to that high-value experience, new members are guided to an onboarding process called Getting Started in The Village, where they are encouraged to introduce themselves, take a tour, read the posting guidelines and more:
“We want to get our members familiar right off the bat because once they’re familiar with how everything works, they’re more likely to get involved. So once they sign up, we drip out these six steps to help them feel comfortable with taking part in The Village.”
Practicing growth and committing to curiosity
As their members get more and more comfortable with sharing their experiences in The Village, Cecilia and Jason are working towards streamlining their offerings. While some of their content, including courses and group coaching calls, is still offered through their WordPress site, the couple’s long-term goal is to transition everything over to their Mighty Network.
“Right now, we’re doing double work in a lot of ways. So we’re working on totally streamlining our business to combine everything under one roof, so it’s easier to manage for us, and it’s more clear to our members. The idea is that if it’s clear to our members what, exactly, is available to them, it’s a little bit easier for them to buy into it. We hadn’t been able to do that before Mighty Networks.”
They’ve also been experimenting with weaving their membership in with their conferences and offering discounts during launches to encourage people to join and experience The Village’s growing community.
“We’ve played with free 30-day trials, and pricing the first month at $1. We want our potential members to be able to come in and experience the community before they open their wallets to us.”
Currently, The Village hosts about 200 members, and Cecilia and John are hopeful that they can get that number to 400 by the end of the year. To do so, Cecilia and Jason plan to continue to expand their email list, so they can build relationships with potential members while directing them to their various content.
“Once people are in our email list, we can build a relationship with them, and have more of a private conversation. And we can share our own ups and downs with them, and encourage them to share their own stories and experiences too.”
All in all, Cecilia and Jason are excited about what’s possible for their community with Mighty Networks. And they’re thinking not just about what their community can grow into, but about what powers their community in the first place: connection.
“It really comes down to building relationships. We disclose a fair amount of our own personal struggles, just in an effort to be transparent and say, “Hey this is hard for us too!” And in the end, that’s what distinguishes us: the relationship we form with our potential members. And that’s what has them come and return to our community.”
3 key takeaways from The Village by Happily Family’s Story of Awesome
- Be willing to experiment. Cecilia and Jason are big proponents of staying curious and experimenting to find what works, and with good reason. As you try new things and implement feedback, you open up new ways to connect with your members and to spark growth within your community.
- Be clear about what you’re offering, and how it’s different. If like The Village, you have an existing audience but you’re starting a new community, your email list needs to know how this is different from what you already have. Think about what features make your membership stand out.
- Authentic connections are your community’s super power. Cecilia and Jason prioritize building relationships: the relationships they have with their members, and the relationships their members have with each other. Those relationships give their members added value, which in turn gives them the incentive to keep coming back to The Village.
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