Case Study: Building an Online Guitar School Membership Website
Voted one of the best training resources of 2012 by Worship Leader Magazine, Guitarmann is a valuable online resource for learning to play the guitar, no matter your skill level. The membership website launched with SubHub in 2009 and has helped well over thousands users to pick up the guitar and start learning using the wealth of free and paid for resources.
SubHub spoke with Stephen about his company, his website, and how he turned his passion into profit: “The number one piece of advice is to start something around what you are passionate about. To be successful, find your niche (no matter how small) and be the expert in every way shape and form…”
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led to you to setting up your membership website?
Stephen: “When I was in middle school, I discovered talent and even hunger to play guitar. I would spend 4-5 hours practicing every day I could. Later in high school, I started getting requests to give my friends lessons. Even though I graduated from college with a business degree, I found myself devoting my time and effort toward teaching lessons and developing a bullet-proof way for people to learn everything they need to play guitar at any level. My time teaching paralleled my time leading worship in churches, camps, and other organizations, so I wanted to create a resource that would benefit anyone wanting to play guitar but with song examples geared toward the worship setting. I’ve been running my site now for over 14 years.”
Why did you decide to use SubHub?
Stephen: “One of my hobbies in college was creating websites, so I was fairly picky in choosing a hosting platform. I remember different options that were cumbersome and static. SubHub was the clear front runner in terms of membership features, great support (which is a must), and fair pricing. Setting up the site was simply a matter of clear communication as to what I wanted in a design and happened within the time we agreed upon. We have partnered together for over 14 years now, and I’m happy to have SubHub as my platform!”
How involved were you in developing the website, and did you have any experience in creating a website before?
Stephen: “I was very involved in developing all of the layers of my site because I enjoy it. I was able to setup different membership types, different series of lessons, free music charts, and more. After the site was launched, I was also able to try different promotions with promo codes, and setup future “publish” dates for my weekly video lessons. All of these features are built into the platform and made it very easy to create the site I wanted.”
How hands on are you with updating your site? Do you create everything yourself, do you have any staff, or do you outsource?
Stephen: “I personally maintain my site. I could see how outsourcing may be beneficial to others, but I have found it rewarding to be as hands on as possible. I still post a new video lesson every week and address any question my users have. In fact, I think that being personally involved has helped others trust me more as a teacher and has demonstrated my commitment to them as students.”
How much time do you spend updating your website?
Stephen: “I launched the site with 4 different series of video guitar lessons. Since then, I’ve posted several articles and music charts to keep the site fresh; however, most of my time spent is creating a new video guitar lesson every week. Even though this can take me a few hours each week, I think fresh content is essential to a subscription site.”
How do you interact with members and what’s the key to keeping them happy?
Stephen: “I made a commitment when I launched the site to personally answer every email I get within about 24 hours. This is another discipline I’ve had which has shown my students that I care about them. I think the key to happy members is providing them with what they are signing up for: quality content and strong customer service. The key to making them happy is to deliver.”
How has SubHub enabled you to grow?
Stephen: “The absolute beauty of a membership site is scalability. Being a business major, I know that growth can ironically hurt businesses. You can grow too fast, run out of product, and be incapable of delivering. With a membership site, you can accommodate rapid growth without worrying about physical warehouse space, etc. SubHub’s built-in database management has made growth over the years an easy and natural process.”
What kind of content is most popular on your website and why do you think that is?
Stephen: “Free content is obviously the most popular content on my site, and I provide a whole lot of it! I have hundreds of music charts that are free and several videos that are free. Free is normal on the internet, so it’s expected for potential members to experience content for free before they commit to becoming a member.”
How have you grown your email subscribers and how do you manage them?
Stephen: “Over the years, I have amassed an email list of thousands! Even though I have a lot of free content readily available on the site, I also have content that can be accessed only when you sign up for the email list. This is the next step with potential members engaging the site. They are able to provide something of value (their email address) in exchange for something of value (free exclusive lessons). When they see that I respect their privacy, never spam, and let them unsubscribe whenever they wish, credibility builds. I manage the list through MailChimp, which automates much of the work and makes sure you are in compliance with standard practices in mass emails.”
How important is your website for your business?
Stephen: “For me, my website is my business. My members aren’t an extension of something else, they are the core of what I do. Living in the cyber-word as a business is incredibly rewarding. I’ve been able to interact with and help people from literally all over the world. It’s one thing to read about globalization, and it’s another thing to help someone from a different country accomplish their goals.”
Now that you’ve created a website, how do you make money from it?
Stephen: “The way I make money from my site is primarily through my different membership types which allow access to all of my guitar lessons, all of my bass guitar lessons, or both. Users, simply choose what they want access to, and subscribe. The payments operate on a recurring schedule, just like Netflix, and users can cancel whenever they want.”
What has been the most effective way to drive traffic to your website?
Stephen: “Because my website offers video lessons, the best way to generate traffic for me is through my video channel on YouTube. I have almost 2 million total video views on my channel and about 9 thousand YouTube subscribers. Once again, free content is essential to generate new users!”
From your experience, what are the basic steps somebody needs to take to setup and develop a successful website?
Stephen: “I have advised several people who have wanted to launch a website on what to do and what not to do. The number one piece of advice is to start something around what you are passionate about. To be successful, find you niche (no matter how small) and be the expert in every way shape and form. Let your site be an expression of your passion and your commitment. So many great sites are free, so in order to make money on a site, you will have to provide something truly special that’s not readily available elsewhere. That’s next to impossible if you’re not passionate about your content.”
“The other piece of advice is to copy success. The web has progressed so much in the past few years, so it is important to benchmark what works and why. Finally, think of it as a sprint and then a marathon. It will take a lot of work to get it where you want it, but it will be worth it. Once you have it running, make sure to keep progressing and working. If your idea works, others will try to copy it. This is another reason why you must remain the expert in your field and constantly demonstrate your passion and your commitment to members.”
What advice would you give somebody thinking about starting their own website with SubHub?
Stephen: “I think SubHub is a great platform for a membership site, and I have directed several people to SubHub over the years. The hardest part about starting a website is deciding what exactly it will be. It’s similar to building a house. Spend time fleshing out your vision, your site-map, you membership options, your preferred look, etc. SubHub will then work with you to make sure you get what you are looking for.”
Discover more about Guitarmann at www.guitarmann.com or visit their social media channels for more information. To get started with your own website, visit SubHub.com and start your free 14-day trial now.
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