In this episode, we are talking to award-winning membership pioneer and historic dressmaker Cathy Hay.
Cathy is sharing her experience and the valuable lessons she learned from running a membership, starting all the way back in 2007 up to the present with a stunning 2500 members.
We are discussing why it is more important to get your membership started than aiming for perfection, how to recognize and seize secondary opportunities and how to make sure that your membership is scalable from the very beginning.
Cathy Hay is the founder of the award-winning membership community Foundations Revealed, which helps dressmakers to connect, learn together, and realize their most ambitious sewing dreams.
She and her community have been reverse engineering and recreating historic fashions together since 2007, so that bizarre and fabulous old clothes can step out of the glass museum case and be worn and enjoyed again.
It’s about nurturing creativity, improving mental health, and bringing the weird kids home.
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3 Big Take Aways
- How to recognize and seize secondary opportunities within your membership
- How to set your membership up in a way that is easy to scale
- Why launching an imperfect membership is more important than aiming for perfection right out of the gate
- FoundationsRevealed – an online membership community where you can learn all the skills you need to create the eccentric wardrobe you've always wanted. Founder Cathy Hay and the Foundations Revealed team are passionate about helping makers to learn together, stay inspired and positive, maximize their skills and realize their sewing dreams.
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Melissa: Welcome to our special membership site interview series, where Paul and I interview online entrepreneurs about marketing and selling their memberships. Today, we're talking to Cathy Hay. Cathy's membership focuses on dress makers who are focused on historical fashion. And what's really interesting about Cathy's membership is that she's had it since 2007.
She's had one offer. She keeps it really simple and she's evolved it depending on. What the members are asking for. She'll talk a little about that more in interview, and we can't wait for you to hear a little bit more about what she does, how she's evolved and what she's doing now with her membership.
So let's go ahead and dive in.
Paul: Cathy just want to welcome you to our show today. We're super excited. And I know we've talked about this even recently, but it's like, Hey, I came into the online marketing space and when we saw these big influencers on stage, you know, the one, there was one consistent person that they, that kept popping up where they would give a case, study a story of success.
And it was like this person, Cathy Hay, Cathy, who's this Cathy person, you know? And it's like, they're showing case studies and videos and, and, you know, it was really interesting, which, you know, I think a lot of people don't get a lot out of this is that even before all the online marketing people, like you were already doing this, like you were in the online space, you were rocking it out already.
And I was just wondering if, just for context though, and then Melissa did a little bit in the intro. But something that you do is very uniquely different to this internet marketing space that you have a niche, a love, a passion for something that I don't even know if I could even explain it properly.
Cause I would, I would just like totally mess it up. I was wondering if you could just explain a little bit about what you do on a daily basis.
Cathy: The easy way to put it is costume making. But really it's historical dress. So it's sewing dressmaking, but not having much interest in making modern clothes. It's looking at, you know, those costume movies and going, oh, why do I get one of those? I wouldn't want one of those. So it's exploring the history of dress. And recreating those clothes. And what did it feel like to wear a corset or a big skirt or, you know, and I mean, some ways incorporating that into the way we dressed today.
So there's a lot of craftsmanship involved and a lot of stuff has been forgotten. So it's keeping . OSC skills alive in a way.
Paul: I love that it, in, in a personal life growing up, we, we live in the Philadelphia region and there's always like from Gettysburg to . Philadelphia, like there's always community days where everybody gets dressed up.
There's Williamsburg that's not too far south from us. And at least within, within our part of the U S I really just admire cause the intricate detail, like you didn't see that in clothing, you know, these days. Is it like a lost art? Is it something like you're helping people like,
Cathy: Not totally lost, but some of that has been, I mean, today clothing is made to be quick and cheap and fast reduce back.
Then you went to your dressmaker, you bought some fabric and you took it to your dressmaker or your tailor. And the dress maker or the tailor was showing off. But yeah, more was more 150 years ago. So it's a completely different approach and yes some of that craftmanship had been lost . You see it nowadays, you'll only see it on several row or in you know, really big budget movies, where they really go to town with costume and the set design.
That's why those skills get used to, and that's just a huge subculture of people out there that you want to learn how to do it. And watching these movies and going, I, I, yeah, I'm not . Interested in (inaudible) . I want to wear something a little bit more... And that extends to all sorts of people who are a little bit out of the box, a little bit alternative particularly big in our nation.
Now we have a lot of people who are trans people who are starting to say, well, I don't know whether I want to dress overtly feminine or masculine . How do we come up with something completely new and that putting together all these using history as a source book or putting all these ideas together, it's really what fashion design comes from.
You're looking at the past and taking the ideas from here and there and what can we do with them? So it's a very creative field.
Melissa: Oh, my gosh, I love that. And just how innovative and how it's always changing. That's just really, really inspiring. I would love to hear how you, you have a passion for this. You've been doing this for some time now, but take us back to when you first brought this online and walk us back to the very beginnings of it, because I know you, you have a membership and it's evolved.
So I'd . Love to hear how did you get started with the online space and bringing this to the online world?
Cathy: Well, it really started with beading on it. I was addressed. I recognize that really the only kind of thing women are going to pay pay nowadays are wedding dresses. I was trying to get a wedding dress business.
I don't know. I was interested in the history of costumes. So. How do we make different dresses that have based on the past. And I started a blog online thinking, this is how I'm going to find brides by starting a blog. Back then it was, it was really before blogging. It was lifejournal was the platform I was using which was like, it has a feed like Facebook, but it's basically people watching journal entries.
And it was very anonymous. I noticed that people were starting to congregate on the internet. Around the interests, not around the location. So lots of people were coming together and met with people, other people who were interested in historic dress. And I started noticing, as I was posting about my projects that people were commenting.
And they weren't brides. They were other dressmakers. You wanted to, knock my secrets. And it was easy to feel a little knocked off by this, but that the turning point was, I started to realize, wait a minute, what if I have something I can offer to them? What if there's something that they can learn from me, what if you know what, now that I've got their attention, the hard part is getting people's attention.
Now that I've got somebody's attention. What can we go with that? Well, you know, what can I offer to these people? So that was where it began. I started getting this idea together and we're starting to realize that dressmaking was never going to really make a decent living. So that was when I started getting together this idea around.
What if those of us who are really good at this, what if we could like pass a hat around and raise some money for some of the people who are really good at thisto really write proper tutorials so that we don't all have to reinvent the wheel. And I think that was Googling around at the same time, how to make money online or something, you know, that kind of thing.
And I came across one of those old, long form sales letters. I came across a course about how to build a membership and that was why the heck back. And it was a very, very early course it was all texts. And you know, I remember reading and reading the sales letters thinking, this might actually work. This might actually work this sounds like a decent idea.
So yeah, I just went with it. All of that course did what it said. It was okay. It wasn't great, but I signed up a few people, but the part that was really pivotal was a part of it that that made it work was something I don't completely organically, which was before that point, I've been online Joan for four years, by that point, making friends, building relationships, sharing tips, showing what I was up to and building trust and building relationships.
But when I did launch something, boom, 20 people join and it just grew from there.
Paul: I love that because even to this day, you're still giving in many communities and still building relationships. So it's not, it's not something that like just disappears. So it's, it's beautiful to see that. And it's so how intuitive it was for in that moment where you were actually searching for the bride?
Like the end-user that sometimes I normally call that like the secondary opportunity. Like we go into the market and we put something that we really want to do. And then we realize like, there's this whole other audience, that's starting to ask us questions because we have a certain level of success or, or something going on and not too many of us listen to that noise.
Cause we're, so hyper-focused on our initial audience where the, the, as in you've recognized that earlier on, which is incredible because it's like the bigger opportunity that led you into the path that you are now. And that's what, what I really love is that you had a passionate, like, this is what you did for a living.
You created dresses and then led you in this new opportunities, new direction, where instead of doing one dress at a time for one bride and only making like that level of impact, like your knowledge and expertise. And now what you're sharing with, with people around the world, like, can you only imagine like how many dresses or, you know, per set, like just different wearables, like on a weekly basis or a yearly basis that you've had some type of influence with.
Cathy: Wow, I haven't thought of that. Yeah, that's pretty amazing.
Paul: You're dressing the world.
Melissa: I would love to hear too. So you initially started off with the membership and you just, like you said, you just put it out there and you got people to sign up. So how has your membership evolved throughout time? Can you tell us a little bit about what you do inside of your membership?
Cathy: Well, it started out when it started out again, early on in 2007.
So I was thinking more in terms of an online magazine that we would publish stuff, put it out there. People would pay for it. It would be like magazine online. And it was very, just very simple and it worked up to a point and we kind of booked along with a hundred, couple of hundred, 300 members for a long time, just cause I was well-known and people recommending it.
And I mean, another people told me at that point it was obvious and it's such a small niche. it was the first of its kind, you know, there all sewing magazines out there, like threads with thousands of subscribers, nobody had ever done something specifically costume makers.
So I had people signing up and saying, look, I can join twice if you need me to, because this is so awesome that you're actually doing this because it was really, I was supporting a whole new niche in a way. And I I had read the advice to pick a small niche and dominate and try and compete in health and fitness out of the gate, just general health and fitness. Go something really small where there's no competitors and you do really well.
So we started out pretty well with that, but it was a few years in, you know, when Facebook, I mean, Facebook came after us, but when Facebook started out in Facebook groups started to happen, then people were starting to talk about community. That was when I started to think, oh, We need people to be able to talk to each other and to be able to share within the membership and from members to talk to each other.
So again, very simple went to the Facebook group and made it a community. And that was when things really started to take off because membership had a sense of identity at that point. It wasn't just like a magazine, which is like a printed, basically, it wasn't just an object we were sending out to people. It was a home that people were coming to, and that just completely changed the game.
So. That was the, probably the biggest change. And then sometime after that, I started asking friends of mine to become coaches. One of the major things I think I did differently was I've never positioned myself as the expert particularly, I was more about bringing the community together. Let's, let's ask all of the people.
I knew a lot of people. So I was a person who could ask a lot of different people. The people who really knew what they were doing in different areas of this niche, different periods of history and whatever to have them come in and give us some help. So I hired three friends who had a very different expertise to come and be coaches.
And that again was another leap because people could actually get one-on-one advice from people we were positioning as mentors and coaches. To help with that project. So they could post pictures of what they were making and the mentors will be able to comment and say, yeah, you need to take it a little bit here.
You know, your sleeve let's mix a little bit of something here. Again, just changed the game. And I think to this day, that's the most valuable thing we have within the membership, it's that mentorship.
Paul: It's really awesome to think that you originally bought into like an information product. That was totally text-based, you know, and back in 2007, it's funny because only two years before that was YouTube even invented. So it's like, it wasn't even hitting mainstream, so people weren't talking video online or anything like that.
So. Your concept of like creating a membership that was basically a magazine, especially during that period of time, because people weren't streaming video, they weren't uploading videos like crazy or anything like that. And so I would assume that that was probably mainly text-based and photo based originally
Cathy: pretty much. Yeah, it was, it was certainly there's one form. So I seem to remember that was about that time. They started putting an audio file on, ooh audio! And you could play the actual voice message. So, yeah, it was that early on, it was all text. It was pre YouTube pre-Facebook let's say so we were, you know, Logging on a very early, you know, proto social media.
Yeah, it was, it was every day. So in a way that helped simple because nowadays you got so many different possibilities. There's so many platforms you can put the show on, you know, your, your sport of choice was back then fewer choices. It was in a way easier to get started in a way a lot harder because you had to know a little bit of HTML here and there, a little bit of coding involved.
So but I could cope with that. So it's a different world now. So in a lot of ways, a lot easier. In other ways (inaudible).
Melissa: And if I understand, right, you've just kept it to the same membership. So this membership you've had the entire time, you kept it to one offer and it's really simple with your business.
Can you tell us a little bit just about that? Like it's, it's it's the same membership that you've had all this time?
Cathy: Yes, yes. We just have one product on membership. We launched it in November, 2007. I suspect we still have to this day. Two or three people who joined us in November, 2007, 15 years.
So that's just very that's a blessing to me. And to really, to know we must be doing something right. Those people are still there. It changed very recently because I didn't anticipate just growing like we did. So we bumped along with about 500 to 700 members for a lot of years, we sort of hit that plateau and I added things like community and the coaches and that worked and people were paying 30, $40 a month for coaching, you know, full on coaching and then come 2018, 2019.
I'm getting on to YouTube. I'm getting known by other YouTubers who are adept at doing that. And I am suddenly they start talking about us and we went and the whole thing just blew up overnight. The beginning of COVID, we doubled in a week, we just launched just as lockdown was starting. And people were like, well, what do I do now?
Again, we launched again, in October, 2020, and it grew the same amount again. So effectively we traveled in six months and I started realizing that 700 people coached by three mentors. That worked because not all of them posted at once when you're now dealing with 2000 members, two and a half thousand members, the mentors are going to be a little stressed out.
So, I mean, in COVID times, it kind of worked because they also work in theater and film and all of those jobs shut down. So they came to us and did some extra work for us instead. But I realized that we couldn't sustain a membership charging $40 for that much individual help. So we split it into two tiers where the top tier for the coaching went up in price because there was no point just adding a lower tier because everybody would still want the $40 a month coaching.
So that had to go up in price and we produced a slightly cheaper version that included everything that was scalable. So back to the sort of magazine idea, everything we were publishing fine, you know, thousands of people enjoy it and it's not a problem, but the coaching had to become a separate tier.
And if I'd have the foresight, if I could go back and do it again, I would've forseen that earlier, you know, you can give away too much in trying to become more successful and then it explodes and you've got a problem.
Paul: I mean, that that's great perspective because I think a lot of people when they build a membership or course, so they put any offer, they think like, oh, the first day that they go out with it, like that's a permanent decision that they can't change. It can't evolve. So a lot of people don't launch, they don't put something in the market.
Because they're trying to create some perception of perfect, you know, before they do it. And it just great the, hear your evolution over these years, because it sounded like you really listened to your people, but you also listen to yourself, you know, and it's like, what's sustainable. And you realize like these certain resources, these deliverables, they had to change just because of dynamic.
Cathy: You know, sometimes what works at one level. Might break you at the next level. So you've also got always gonna be thinking ahead. The most useful thing in that initial cost, the little text course was that the teacher had said to us Just get something up there in terms of building that site and putting it up, just get something up there.
It doesn't have to be even great as long as you've, as soon as you've got something on that. That's the hard part. When you've got something up that you can iterate and tweak that thing to your heart's content and you'll have a great time doing so it's just getting that push and 1.0 up there, is the hard part. So whatever it is, that it be what it is.
Just get version, you know, scrappy version one point, no, just get it up there and then start playing.
Paul: I love that. And if we could, with this perspective that you do have now and having that as like a resonating thing. Cause I think that was an incredible piece of advice that even to this day, you remember, because that's what started you on this path . Of where you're having your current and future successes.
If we could go back to your version 1.0 self and we can rewind back, but with the knowledge and expertise and the perspective that you have at version, whatever you're on right now. Is there any advice that you would give your 2007 self based on the, what you know now
Cathy: that's a good question. I would say always get built here. Thought of would this work with 10,000 people? Not hoping that maybe one day we'll become that, but expecting it to get that big because when it gets bigger, when it does get successful. It isn't just like, oh, the ships come in and everything's great. You know, you get a new level, you get new problems.
So if you can be always planning ahead, I'm expecting to get big. I'm thinking about, will this still work when it has twice as many people, three times as many people and you. And I say, I'll take late to having to back pedal and think of ways of doing things that don't look like you're taking something away because it doesn't work anymore.
Yeah. When things, when things scale, things start to get tricky because then you are a lot more visible. So building it up on the onset like you expect thousands of people to be interacting with it in the future, will save you a heart attack later.
Melissa: Excellent. And we always like to hear about people's perspective on marketing and something creative. We like to ask all our guests is if you only had $500 to market yourself, how would you use that money to get your message out there?
Cathy: If I was starting right at the beginning again with the tech we have now, I would spend $500 on a reasonably decent camera.
I kind of bloggers use and a good audio pack and start producing video, whether it's YouTube or TikTok or Instagram or whatever you want to do, you start getting yourself out there. But the thing that really makes the difference that you can start out with just your phone. It's fine. And you can, you can define what you're starting out with, what you've got.
If you've got $500 to spend, if you just have good audio, it makes all the difference and you come across as 500% more professional. So I think I would spend that money on just a little bit of equipment. I need to make video, that's just a little bit higher quality, and then that will get more traction more quickly, but just to stress, it's not, that's not a barrier to starting, but it will help.
You know, you can notice if you go back and look at youTube is when they started. And when they started getting better, more popular, one of the big changes is when they get good audio, when they get a nicer camera, when they take care of background, when they got tripods over the thing is at the right height. So there's just subtle things a little bit better.
Other than that, you wouldn't necessarily need money for it. But I would still go for aim for being a big fish in a small pond, find a small pond and be a big fish, you know, rather than trying to compete in a huge crowded market, you make it much easier on yourself
Paul: I love that because we constantly fight the battle of hearing about niche down, niche, down that's down.
And then a lot of people get, get afraid of niching too far. But what would really resonates, I think on this conversation is like, what you did is you found your people and they found you and you get each other. and how you were just explaining like your audience and the different diversity of backgrounds and their, their purposes and reasons why, like, you do have a large cross section of people that have found you for their own reasons, but you have one common thing that you all are passionate about. And I think that's key when it comes to niching is just really finding that common problem or that common interest or aspiration.
Cathy: Certainly a diagram of different people that are interested
Paul: yeah, that is awesome. So we're going to naturally have some people that are going to be like, oh my goodness. I love Cathy. I want to figure out how I can follow her or get into her world because they most likely this resonates with them today. And this might be an outlet or a passion that they want to pursue.
Is there any contact or anything that you have that you, you could provide or you know, how somebody can get in touch or get into your world?
Cathy: My watch site where the membership is foundationsrevealed.com
Melissa: Excellent, Cathy, thank you so much for your time today. We've really enjoyed chatting with you and really it just, it's so inspiring to see how you took one idea and your passion and you just put it out there and how it's evolved and also just inspiring.
Paul: You kept it simple, you know, you're off. You have enough, it proved it evolved throughout the years. And so it's just really inspiring. And I know everyone's going to really enjoy listening to this interview with you today and following your journey as you continue to touch lives and you know, really get yourself out there in the world with what you do.
Well, thank you very much. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. I would encourage anybody listening to just go for it. Don't be afraid to be in a tiny, tiny home to just do what you to do any luck, because it will carry you for years and years and years. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.