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How Teach Music Online grew from a $500 course to a five-figure membership business
Featured in this Story of Awesome: Teach Music Online
Launched May 2020
Teach Music Online is a paid community that offers a course plus guidance for music teachers looking to build an online business and teach their students from anywhere in the world.
The Spark: After creating a course for a partnership that didn’t pan out, Carly decided to try building one on her own with a community at its center.
Carly’s Mighty Moment: “I’m always trying to figure out how to be a better content creator and a better coach to these music teachers. And part of that is seeing what other creators are doing, and seeing how my peers are building their own communities.”
Carly Walton had spent over three years traveling the world and teaching music online. But when a music company reached out for a prospective partnership, she wasn’t sure where it would take her.
Curious about the world of online courses, she agreed to create one for the company. But after a year, the collaboration just wasn’t working. Carly and the company decided to part ways:
“They basically said, ‘You create the course and we’ll sell it,’ but they never sold it. It was rough because it was a lot of work. But afterward, I thought, ‘I need to do this on my own."
Inspired to put her own spin on things, Carly launched her venture: Teach Music Online.
The right kind of content, the right kind of people
First things first: Carly wanted to make sure she would be creating the right kind of course, and that she could get it in front of the right kind of people.
She started by creating a private Facebook Group and invited her fellow piano instructors to join, collecting their emails as they came in. Then, she probed them with questions about online teaching: What did they want to know? How did they want to utilize online teaching?
The response was huge. After two weeks, she had 500 emails, a burgeoning community, and enough feedback to create a minicourse. And that’s when Carly started thinking about adding a membership component:
“I had seen a couple of online ads about membership sites, and I was really inspired by them. And I thought, ‘I should launch a beta membership, coach these music teachers, and give them a chance to build their own successful businesses.”
Four weeks later she launched a beta membership site to 50 music teachers, using Memberspace for payments and her own Squarespace for the coursework.
When it came to building out the actual course content, Carly didn’t worry about creating it all at once, as she had with the music company partnership. Instead, she opted to create the course for her new members live, as the course rolled out:
“It was pretty mind-blowing. I was able to create an income for myself without building anything beforehand. And I was able to get feedback from my members along the way.”
Once her first course was done, Carly moved it to Teachable for a one-time $500 fee. But in the back of her mind, she wondered whether there was a place she could host her courses, community, and membership in one spot:
“It was messy in the beginning. There were a lot of moving pieces. I knew I wanted to offer more than just the initial course, but I figured I would just get to it later.”
But later came sooner than Carly expected when COVID-19 hit.
At the start of the pandemic, Carly thought about how she could best help the music teachers she wanted to serve. She made a few quick decisions: She would create a pay-what-you-can offer for her course and tie it into the launch of a new membership site on Mighty Networks:
“I knew people were going through a hard time. And I wanted to show them that I could lead them through this and help them successfully transition their music studios from in-person to online, which was so critical to their ability to keep teaching.”
Carly took the Community Design Masterclass and opened up her membership straight afterward. She targeted only her most recent course students—the ones who took advantage of her pay-what-you-can offer—and gave them further incentive with a 20% discount.
Instead of planning ahead with a big launch, Carly opted for something smaller:
“There was so much urgency. When the pandemic first hit, it went from 5% of music teachers wanting to teach online to all of them. So instead of having this really big launch, I opened it gradually. If my members want to keep learning from me, they know the membership is there for them."
Finally, a course, community, and membership in one place
Today, Teach Music Online has over 200 members—all music instructors who are learning how to take their music studios online. Membership is priced at $47.99 per month, which includes both access to the community and her foundational course, the Teach Music Roadmap:
“When I’m promoting the membership, I’m really promoting the flagship course and its value. This is a course that was $500 before, but now members can pay monthly to get access to it. In addition, they’re getting a great community, coaching sessions, and so much more.”
To introduce new members to the community, Carly created a New Member Start Guide as a Course in her Mighty Network. There, she walks members through the basics of navigating her Mighty Network, from crafting their member profiles and managing notifications to exploring content.
The last “lesson” of the New Member Start Guide guides members to the Teach Music Roadmap, which covers the basics of teaching music online. Carly has set up up the course with short, easy-to-consume videos that won’t overwhelm members:
“One of the things I’ve found is that you don’t need to teach your members every single thing you know today. You don’t want to overwhelm them, because a lot of times that will make them leave because they don’t feel like they can use all the things you’re giving them.”
While the course itself is largely foundational, the Teach Music Online community is more topical and allows members to go deeper with key concepts. Here’s what else Carly offers inside her community:
Monthly themes. Every month, Carly introduces a subject, like studio communication. Then, she posts around that theme throughout the month, including a weekly Discussion of the Week and a corresponding live workshop that is later archived in the Monthly Virtual Classes course.
Topics. Carly uses the Topics feature as a lightweight way to categorize her posts. Teacher Success Stories is home to monthly teacher interviews, while the Group Classes and Recitals topic gives members a chance to learn best practices for digital events from each other.
Coaching sessions. Carly hosts a live Q&A session every month. There, she dedicates time to teachers who are looking for support with specific challenges, or have questions about technology, marketing, studio growth, and more.
Open Mics. Teach Music Online hosts monthly open mics, which gives members the opportunity to listen to each other play and share some of their favorite pieces.
Throughout her offerings, and even before someone purchases membership, Carly makes an effort to bring a personal touch, and create real connections:
“I realized the more you can connect one on one with people, the better. So I read every email. It might take a day or two to reply, but I get back to everyone. And I can confidently say what a difference that makes because of what teachers have told me.”
Learning from her peers
So what does the future look like? Carly hopes to have 500 members by the end of the year. To get there, she‘ll leverage her Facebook Group—which is nearly 8,000 members strong today—and her Teach Music Online Podcast, by offering free monthly webinars that align with a topic she’s covered in the membership, or something she’s discussed on the podcast.
Because she has a good idea of who her members are, she knows that this approach is especially useful for potential members who are on the fence:
“Some people take seven to 20 times hearing you, seeing you, or attending a webinar before they fully commit. So I don’t ever want to write off the people in my Facebook Group, or the people on my email list that haven’t converted. Sometimes it takes a little while for them to warm up.”
She’s also finding new ways to incentivize her members to stay. At the moment, she’s working on launching a certification program. Certified Pro Teachers will have access to a quarterly mastermind and higher-level courses and get a badge for their own personal site that says they’re a certified online music teacher. That way, she can celebrate their hard work, and give them something to show for it:
“It’s a lot of work and a lot of time. So I think adding that extra level really just shows everybody that these people aren’t just listening to videos. They’re building their business.”
Meanwhile, Carly is still experimenting with her community, and learning from her fellow Hosts:
“I’m always trying to figure out how to be a better content creator and a better coach to these music teachers. And part of that is seeing what other creators are doing, and seeing how my peers are building their own communities.”
3 Key Takeaways from Teach Music Online’s Story of Awesome
- You don’t need months of planning to launch a course. When you build your course live, or as you go, you don’t just save time. You also get the opportunity to incorporate member feedback along the way.
- Do things that don’t scale in the beginning. Carly’s personal touch may not be possible as her membership grows, but that’s okay. By creating one-on-one connections with her members, she’s setting a firm foundation for her community and building up her brand.
- Less is more. You don’t have to teach your members everything right away. By offering content bit by bit—whether via courses or resources—you can make them feel like they’re making progress and getting that much closer to achieving results, which is what they’re there for.