With countless schools and universities conducting their classes virtually, it was only a matter of time before other fields began embracing the idea of online education. So, what should an independent teacher do to build their own educational business online? In this episode, Jon Aidukonis, Gene Marks, and special guest Dylan Murphy share the strategies that enabled him to successfully launch and market his virtual music academy.

Executive Summary

0:37—Today’s Topic: How Do I Start an Educational Business Online?

2:36 —Setting up a website allows you to have a place where all your potential clients can obtain information about your small business.

5:04—Because of the nature of your product, it’s very easy to provide a tangible demonstration of the services you have to offer using a variety of social media platforms.

7:48—Don’t overly concern yourself with integrating every aspect of your business, unless you’re generating an overwhelming amount of interest.

9:58—If you’re not confident in your web design skills, you can rely on template-based sites or outsource the work to an affordable contractor. The same idea applies to any other creative content you might need.

13:34—In addition to creating your own website, you should also seek out platforms that specifically cater to educators with their own businesses because these can help you generate more customer leads.

14:48—Another marketing strategy for generating leads is offering free classes; however, your free demo lessons should be filmed using professional-caliber equipment.

15:56—Pre-recorded lessons are another option you should provide so that your customers can learn at their own pace.



The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests. And do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.

You’re listening to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast, brought to you by The Hartford.

Jon: Good morning everybody, and welcome back to an episode of Small Biz Ahead, the podcast presented by The Hartford. This is Jon Aidunkonis, and I’m joined by my co-host Gene Marks. We have a very special guest today, Dylan Murphy from MurphCraft, and we’re going to talk a little bit about what virtual music lessons look like in a post-COVID reality. How’s everybody doing today?

Gene: I’m doing good. Dylan, how are you?

Dylan: I’m doing excellent. Thanks.

Gene: I’m glad. What does the MurphCraft do?

Dylan: Well, I guess, it’s really just me that runs everything. So I’m a musician, a little background about myself, throughout all of school from age three, four or five around then I’ve always kind of been focused in on music. So I’ve always had the idea of opening up a music academy. And growing up with the internet, it’s always seemed like a good idea to sort of have an online presence, but before COVID, it was always kind of like a pipe dream, like, “I’ll get around to that.” And when this hit, it seemed like the perfect time. And actually back in February, so just before everything went down, I started meeting with a music consultant by the name of John Mitchell, who’s been a huge help with helping me propel my business, helping me formulate a business plan and all that sort of stuff.

So working with him, we kind of decided that there’s a lot of different things you can do with music digging or working on soundtracks, composing, teaching, all that sort of stuff, and I wanted to focus on teaching. So my goals and the pandemic sort of lined up, it’s kind of a weird way to phrase that, but… So I’m working on building a website for that now, but currently I do have some students that I teach over Zoom and I’m on Facebook, Instagram, all that sort of stuff. So I teach piano, guitar, bass, and ukulele, and I also can teach music theory and composition as well.

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Gene: The point of the podcast here is to, is to try and address a specific issue or question that like a business owner is having. And so in advance, we were emailing, Dylan, and you were saying that you had some concerns about just trying to provide your lessons online, using Zoom or another platform and how to monetize that. What exactly do you mean by that? What is the issue that you have?

Dylan: I guess broad stroke is that I am in the process of building a website and being a small business owner and starting from scratch, building up from my bootstraps. I’m not able to hire a developer or work with many people right now, so I’m sort of trying to do all of it by myself, which can be overwhelming, but I’m trying to do piece by piece. So broad stroke is, how do I design a website that looks great from the student’s perspective? How do I set up a calendar? So if a student has joined, they can see what I’m all about. They can see videos of me. Feel like they can trust me and feel like I’m the kind of person they want to take lessons with.

But before all of this, I was a subcontractor, so I used QuickBooks for my invoices with the clients. So I’m not sure if using accounting software like that makes sense because I want to be able to be responsible tax-wise upfront as I’m starting. And I know PayPal seems trustworthy and Zoom seems trustworthy, but I’m not in control of those. Same as if I’m on Facebook or whatever, Facebook can decide to close its stores, it’s unlikely, but they might, whereas my own website, I’m in control of that. So upfront, I want to make sure that the decisions I make are sustainable long-term as I [inaudible] it.

Gene: So the issues that we have here is you’re trying to provide this online education. You’ve got questions about maybe what platform would work best, like Zoom or something like that you don’t about. Without using a developer, because who has the money to do that, right? How should you be using your website with this as well? You want to accept payments, maybe using PayPal, how do you tie this all into your potential accounting system? In other words, how do you get a professional online education business up and running that looks good and that you’re able to monetize? And I’ve got some thoughts on that, but Jon, I’m going to start with you, just pick any one of these topics that I just mentioned, Jon, and give me some of your thoughts.

Jon: Yeah. It’s interesting because they’re all kind of tied together as different as they sound. So what you’re really talking about is developing this virtual hub that can not only act as like your front door and the lead generator, but also kind of like be the centralized point of service where you can use your calendar, like you were mentioning, kind of collect payment, potentially tie it back to some kind of accounting software so it’s all really together. What I think is interesting as kind of, I think you’re on the right track of thinking, so what do students want to learn and what do you need to kind of show them to trust you?

And I think what’s really interesting and exciting for you is you actually have a before and after product. So you can very easily show what life is like before you help them and educate them and kind of after. So I think about that. As an interesting content strategy or a piece of one, kind of really setting expectations on what does a virtual lesson look like because I feel like music lessons are so kind of intimate and such a physical thing like learning to play an instrument. So it feels awkward probably for some when they’re like, well, how do I do this when you’re not there to help.

Dylan: For sure.

Jon: But I think you can definitely take that opportunity to kind of help set expectations, and know what they’re kind of walking into. And I think what’s interesting even just from a content promotion perspective, you have an opportunity to kind of show progress over time. So it’s like the plastic surgery websites, like the before and after, you can take an approach like that to say, with my help, we can accomplish some pretty incredible things.

Gene: Jon, what do you think about Dylan’s use of YouTube, for example. It seems to be the natural place to go to get at least samples or some examples of what Dylan does. How do you feel about using YouTube?

Jon: Yeah. I think that sounds like a great platform for you. One, because you could almost kind of give a sample virtual lesson. So you could actually [inaudible] that and let people kind of try before they buy, right? I think what would also be interesting is, are there other trends that you can kind of jump into to kind of get a little bit of exposure? So I think about like video reaction trends, so could you as a specialist in music actually kind of critique or provide feedback on other cover musicians or instrumentalists who are kind of releasing their own music and kind of show what you would add if you were educated in that?

Dylan: That’s a great idea.

Jon: I think there’s a lot of new things you could do.

Gene: I think I agree with Jon, Dylan, from a marketing perspective, you should have a YouTube channel that you’re contributing stuff to it every day. And I wouldn’t be afraid about giving stuff away for free even teaching many lessons, because no matter what you give away for free people are still going to want personalized advice, and at least they get to know the kind of instruction that you give. And they’re like, “Yeah. I like that guy. I’d like to hire him to do more.” So that makes complete sense. Some other thoughts that I have for you, Jon is an expert at marketing and branding, so you’re doing stuff on YouTube and positioning yourself in that way. It’s great. I don’t know Dylan, if you’ve got to really worry so much about having one platform that does it all or integrating it all together.

I mean, for example, you could have a really nice website that you set up using like Wix, for example, or GoDaddy, there are plenty of providers out there that will provide you with the templates to do that. Those platforms will allow you to build in payments on the websites. Think about, if I was looking to come to you to learn how to play the guitar, first of all, maybe I can find you on YouTube that is, I can see the kind of stuff that you do and I’m like, “Yeah. I Like this guy.” You make sure that there’s calls to action on YouTube to take me to your website, or I can read about the different programs that you offer. Hey, we have a monthly plan, we have an hourly plan. We have, whatever that is.

I can certainly reach out to contact you if I have questions, I can pay right through my website using a PayPal plugin. Again, GoDaddy, Wix, they provide those things for you. And then once I’m signed up, then you’re like, “Hey Gene, great. Our first lesson is going to be on Zoom. I’ll send you a Zoom invite and then away you go.” So in other words, all these things aren’t necessarily integrated because the only time you really want to worry about integrating this stuff is if you have a lot of volume. And, no offense, but you’re not Amazon, you’re not going to have thousands of-

Dylan: Yeah. Yeah.

Gene: So you can keep them separate and just use each of those platforms for what they’re intended to do. Does that make sense?

Dylan: Yeah. There are all kinds of different lenses on the same piece.

Gene: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Now, what are you doing now? Are you using Zoom or have you built your website up using one of those services that I mentioned?

Dylan: Yes and no. I have a domain name through GoDaddy and I’ve been using WordPress to sort of experiment with different layouts, but, the best way to put it is that, the nonsense Latin paragraphs are still on the website. I haven’t really developed the site at all, but I’ve gotten that first step.

Gene: So another thing that I can say to you is first of all, sites like Wix and GoDaddy, and there’s a few others out there, they provide templates. That if you want to spend a few hours, you’ll be up and running in a very short amount of time. But you know what I mean? No offense Dylan, you’re not a website guy you’re a musician. So if you go to someplace like a FIVERR, for example, it’s F-I-V-E-R-R, you can contract out with people super cheap that you give them your domain and your Wix login, and they’ll get everything set up for you in just a couple of hours, you don’t even have to worry about it. And then you’re just up and running. You know what I mean? You’ve got yourself going. And I know a lot of startups that rely on just some contractors from a Fiverr who helped them do that. Jon, what do you think of that?

Jon: Yeah. I think Fiverr is a great resource to kind of augment creative service work. I think it’s all about the level of comfort you have with sharing things that you’re going to kind of use as a key asset in your business. So whether it’s really letting them get up and build, or whether it’s something where you want to stretch your skills and use a template-based site that would suit your needs, like Gene was saying, Wix or Squarespace. There’s a lot out there where they’re pretty intuitive and you have a little bit of control to you.

Especially if you’re someone who needs help with like copywriting or if you wanted to do kind of like voiceover work or logo design, Fiverr is a really easy way to kind of contact a whole broad network of creators across the country and even the world, I think. I believe they might be international, but don’t quote me on that. But yeah. You can access a large pool of talent pretty quickly and at a budget level that suits you. So you kind of look for folks who are doing the type of work you need in your budget range. Like any contractor, it’s something you’re trusting that they have the skill set to do, but sometimes find quick and easy working connect with people directly.

Dylan: I think, like you said Gene, I’m definitely a musician who’s offering my services as a teacher, and the website is really just a means to an end. And even all the other social media as well, I just really want to get to the point where I’m up and running and I don’t really want to think about that stuff. I just want to get the students, teach the students and that’s where I come in.

Gene: Just a couple of points on that. So my wife just started up a nonprofit last year and she teaches kids with dyslexia how to read. Yeah. It’s really awesome. And it’s similar, she’s not a musician Dylan, but she’s doing what you’re doing. She’s using Zoom. So she set up her website on Wix and she knows nothing. Okay. She is like a technology Luddite. She got it set up on Wix, but she hired somebody from Fiverr to help her do that. And they got it going. It cost her a couple of hundred bucks [inaudible] all the smoke cleared, but it was worth it. And then she gets people signed up on her website or she uses the website just as an introduction to her. And then she’ll talk to people on the phone.

And I think if I was going to take a music lesson with you, I’d probably want to talk to you on the phone. I don’t know how many people are just going to be signing up on your website just without meeting you. So I think that’s, you’re going to drive it up through just your contact with them, making sure it’s really easy, they can reach you. And then once she gets somebody signed up and they pay her, she accepts credit cards on her website. Then she says, “Great. We’ll set you up with a Zoom meeting and I’ll start teaching your kid.” And then she just uses Zoom for that. It’s not connected to her website and she doesn’t need to, so Zoom is just a conferencing tool.

Now, the other thing I can also suggest to you is there are platforms, there are sites out there that just cater to educators like yourself, that do all sorts of things. There’s Udemy, it’s U-D-E-M-Y. There’s Eloomi, which is E-L-O-O-M-I.com. And there’s others that you can Google.

Dylan: Skillshare is one I use.

Gene: Perfect. Yeah. Skillshare, it’s great. And the way you succeed on those platforms, in my opinion is, you go all in. I mean, you sign up for whatever their plan is, you drink the Kool-Aid, you make sure you’re setting up your site on their platform the way they want you to do it. And then you’re using whatever marketing tools they provide, because you’re competing against other people that are dealing with the same thing, but their job is to draw people into those sites that are interested in the type of services you provide. And then your job is to try and beat all your competition on that site to provide those services. And then they also give you the tools to do it, like Zoom does. So that might be another option that you focus on entirely or you focus 30% of your time on. So you’re doing that in addition to get another channel that you can go out.

Dylan: You know what? It’s funny you mentioned that because that’s my six- to 12-month goal. I think where I am now is, like you had said, if I’m coming at this from a student’s perspective, if I’m not a musician and I want to learn guitar, I’m not just going to find someone online who has a website and just give them my money. I want to see that they have YouTube videos up, they have Facebook, Instagram, whatever the specifics are, they have all this stuff. And I’m also offering the first lesson for free, so if all of that doesn’t convince you, we actually do have a one-on-one session with no commitment. And then at that point, if you’re like, “Okay. I like this person. I like their teaching style. We personally relate let’s do it.”

So part of that includes having a YouTube presence with that sort of stuff, but also pre-recorded courses and maybe four skill level guitar courses and piano courses, whatever it might be. And I have looked into those sites, but again, I do want to make sure if I do that, I have professional audio and video equipment and I have a plan. And that takes time to make sure I have it professional. So that’s a [crosstalk], but I’ve definitely looked into that.

Gene: I agree. And I’m glad to hear that. And by the way, I’m really happy that you mentioned that you give away like a free lesson. I think in your business, I’m just talking as a consumer here, please keep me away from any musical instruments. But if I did want to get a guitar lesson, I need you to give me stuff for free. I need to see you in action. I need to have a sample lesson or two with you. I wouldn’t be afraid of doing that because once you connect with somebody and they like you, and they’re learning, they’re going to want to pay in the long run. So I’m glad you have that attitude, I think you should be giving away lots of stuff for free, because I think that will turn into revenue for you over time, if that makes sense.

Jon: Well, I think it’s interesting, because you just said something that kind of piqued my interest a little bit, but the pre-recorded lesson thing I think is kind of cool. Because I think what you could almost do is sell that as a package, right? So maybe it’s someone who wants to kind of learn, they don’t really want to come in. Maybe they’re insecure about being in front of the camera with someone and they just want to see like, can I even get a grasp? Maybe it’s like a four-piece package of pre-recorded lessons and they get them [inaudible] and they’re interested. They’re like, “I want to go deeper.” And then they can kind of engage in a custom.

And if you can come up with an angle for that, if it’s some kind of like contemporary music or something that you know people are wanting to learn just because it makes them feel cool and it’s like a relevant to a cultural moment, I could see that being something for sure. I think what’s interesting too is that I would assume with the world and where we are today and kind of post-COVID and all the changes that made, self-directed learning seems to be a really interesting thing for folks right now, where they’re trying to learn a new skill or pick up a new pastime, so it feels like there might be an opportunity there. But also kind of on your comment of YouTube, I don’t think you need to stress too much about perfection in order to kind of get progress. I think that’s one of the really interesting things with some of the bigger YouTube creators. Is that their audience actually likes them for them as a personality. And they’ll kind of grow with you over time.

So it’s tough to create a business account, then go and then get like a thousand followers in like a month, right? It’s going to take time and consistency. But it’s something where you do have kind of pre-recorded lessons or you can do that in a way that’s kind of dynamic and interesting and you’re kind of having a conversation with a friend while you’re doing it. And you are posting on a regular cadence even if not every day, but like every Friday is a new step in a guitar kind of progression. That might be an interesting way for you, to kind of have a library of content, a steady stream of posting without feeling like, I need to spend 10 grand on an audio setup, or I need to record like three hours of footage a day to get a 30-minute video. So I think there’s definitely ways you could do that in a way where you can dedicate some time, but then kind of a steady drip. So you’re not overwhelming yourself or preventing yourself from taking an action because it seems so.

Dylan: Yeah, I agree with that. And I think I’m sort of doing that on a smaller scale on Instagram right now. I have a MurphCraft Academy, Instagram, and I’m posting 30 to 60-second videos. And just every few days it’s like, “Hey, here’s how you play a G major chord on the guitar. Here’s how you play a C major chord on the ukulele.” Whatever it is. And those little bite-sized chunks is consistent to post and also gets me in front of the camera. People can see my face, hear my voice, see me with an instrument teaching them something they can learn in two minutes in that video.

Jon: Yeah, that’s awesome. Anything that’s the key is kind of getting people comfortable seeing your skill set and giving them a reason to want to learn more. So it sounds like you’re doing the right things there.

Gene: Good stuff guys. Well, Dylan, I hope this information helps you. It’s great talking about your business and both Jon and I wish you the very most success. Join us, Dylan, back ahead on, and everybody else, on smallbizahead.com, you can comment on this podcast as well as look at some of the other articles of advice and some of the things that we’ve talked about here, which we’ll try and reference in the show notes as well. So Dylan, again, thank you so much. On behalf of Jon Aidukonis and myself, Gene Marks, we want to thank you for listening and we’ll see you on the next Hartford Small Biz Ahead Podcast.

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