This is a community online targeting women ages 20-60 who are in pre-op decision making, post-op recovery from a hysterectomy.
Funds are generated by the merchandise purchased in the store:
a paperback book from the website, nightshirts, pillow, mugs, mousepads. All merchandise is created to continue the theme of the website.
Funds are also generated by subscriptions for "avatars" in three different levels. The website is free, but to be able to have avatars a voluntary subscription is required.
First level gets the avatar ability.
Second level gets the avatar ability plus a funny plastic crown (follows the theme of "royalty" of the website) in the mail, along with custom titles for the message boards.
Third level of subscription gets all of the above plus a hystersisters.net email forwarding account along with a gift package (book and crown, shirt and crown...members choice)
Our website has been up and running for almost 3 years (3 years in August 98) and started with static content. We add a simple message board when I discovered the women were using the guestbook to ask each other questions and offer direct support. We went to EZBoard in November of 99 and UBB in April of 2000. Because of the constant pruning and upkeep, I purchased the VB license in June or July of 2000.
The website had 100 unique visitors after that first year on the net with static pages. Now, we see stats showing 2000-3500 unique visitors per day along with 12,000+ members since we started on VB (almost a year ago)
Advertising crashed and we can't seem to find targeted advertising for our forums. The store and subscriptions allow stable funds for server and tech fees but it isn't lucrative. I mostly advertise merchandise of our store in the ad banner spaces.
To be a member....This is a women to women website. The mission statement is on the front page and the site is also HON Code monitored (medically monitored for appropriate documentation). Besides being fairly high in the search engines, word of mouth from women to women and from doctor to women is working across the nation.
There are many things about Hystersisters that is done right. There is little room for improvement on the core aspects of the site.
Let me point out three things you have done that will help others here:
1) This site proves that the look and feel should fit the site's personality. When I first visited this site several months ago, I noticed the graphics first and my first impression was country. After a little looking around, I found the graphics totally fit in with the site. The feeling here is layed back and comfortable. Almost like you are stepping into a country cottage.
2) Another thing that struck me as good with this site is the loyalty given by the members here. When the site was having server problems the members took up a donation to not only move the site but purchase a new server with lots of room to grow. This is a degree of loyalty hard to find on a lot of sites. Once you achieve this with your members then your work is a success. Part of this loyalty is most likely created by having a common bond with your members. The rest is from listening. By listening to their needs you have create a loyal following that will be with you between thick and thin.
3) By not having a reliance on third-party advertising, you are making yourself stronger for the future. Any media company that relies solely on advertising will be weaker in times of economic slowdown because this is usually the first budget that gets cut. By selling personal items that reflect your site, you are getting away from that problem. Now you have to convince your members to continue purchasing these items or get enough new members to make it worth while in the long term. However merchandizing is a step in the right direct.
There is not much room for improvement. You might look into encouraging regional member events. This way your members can get to know each other "live and in person". This would be offline and therefore less secure but if properly arranged could be a big success.