Several months ago I was asked to write a blog about marketing for Lindy Hoppers. At the time, the idea was to write about marketing tips for local schools to grow. Being busy running my own marketing agency and taking care of my clients, I never got around to it.
Since then, marketing for Lindy Hop has taken on completely different implications. Now people in every stage of “professional” Lindy Hop, from the most established international instructors to the smallest local schools, are struggling to move online and stay alive.
Shout out to Daniel Newsome for his post, How to teach dancing online (and make money doing it), which inspired me to hit the keyboard today.
Personal & Professional note –
Before digging into this topic, I just want to say that many people know me from my role as a board member for the Frankie Manning Foundation. Please keep in mind that the Foundation is not an example of my marketing knowledge. As a volunteer organization, I have only been able to put in the smallest fraction of effort towards the Foundation’s marketing. I wish I could find time to give FMF the marketing attention it deserves, but running an agency and focusing on the work that gives me an income has to come first. That’s a hard lesson I learned after closing my own dance studio in Toronto because I was giving all of my energy to running Frankie 100 in a full-time, 100% volunteer role for over a year.
On the subject of Self Promotion in Lindy Hop –
Let’s be honest. For many years, it felt “non-Lindy-Hop-ish” to promote yourself too much. It was ok to promote your local dance school in the name of spreading Lindy Hop, but self promotion on a wider level somehow felt icky. We all tried to be so humble and the few outliers who did promote themselves kind of ended up looking tacky. I’m saying that honestly. I think we can all safely agree now that the days of Lindy Hoppers being shy about self promotion are over. Now we are finally at a crossroads: for this dance to survive, our community’s talent needs and deserves proper remuneration. That includes Lindy Hop professionals in all forms including teachers, organizers, administrators, and musicians.
Now down to business.
Running an Online Business: Questions
There are three essential questions to running a successful online business:
- What are you offering?
- How are you monetizing it?
- How are you marketing it?
Your marketing is as important as your offer. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If people don’t know about it, you aren’t going to make enough money and you’re going to fail.
1. Your Offer, aka. Your Value Proposition
What value can you offer in exchange for money? What sets you apart and what benefits can you offer? Dance lessons don’t have to be the only part of your value proposition. The market has been flooded with online lessons since the start of the pandemic. That’s given the few companies that were already online, like iLindy.com, a massive edge. Kevin and Jo already had over 1000 videos online at iLindy before the pandemic started while other teachers were left scrambling to put up their first video.
With a flooded market, you need to augment your offering in as many ways as possible to shape your unique value proposition. Considerations:
- Education value – What else can you offer besides the mechanics of Lindy Hop? Consider the value of sharing your dance philosophy, dance history, and more. You have knowledge to share. Think creatively about this.
- Entertainment value – As Lindy Hoppers, we’re pretty fun people! The visual nature of the dance offers huge potential, but depending on your skills and personality, you could find more ways to increase your entertainment value. This will really augment any education you’re offering.
- Personal connection value – It’s time to leverage the fact that you’re a “person of interest” in either your local community or in the greater global community. Don’t shy away from personal branding.
I think there’s a lot more opportunity for education value surrounding Lindy Hop than has really been explored yet. There are thousands of people all over the world who are passionate about Lindy Hop. Probably hundreds of thousands. (Nobody has a clear number about Lindy Hoppers globally and I do want to spearhead a Lindy Hop census through the Frankie Manning Foundation but that’s another topic.)
But most of those people just * don’t* want to take online dance lessons. Many people just don’t have the drive or interest to take lessons at home. But that’s ok, there is so much more potential to be explored.
So what else can you offer? As one example, when the pandemic hit I had a chat with Daniel and Åsa Heedman about offering some online dance philosophy talks. I thought this approach would be great for them, both because I know it’s a topic they are passionate about, and also because I would personally be interested in this subject. It looks like they recently started this and I hope it’s successful. I think it’s great to diversify your offerings, even if you’re also teaching lessons.
Incidentally, I put artistic value in with entertainment. Your entertainment value could come in a lot of different forms, especially if you’re sharing lots of inspiring dance videos, including rehearsals, experimentation, and ideas. (Someone who shares wonderful, inspiring videos is Ramona Staffeld!)
If you’re funny, leverage that. Or if you are [or can learn to be] good on camera, that’s gold. Don’t be shy. Try it out This will add so much to any educational value you’re offering.
There’s an amazing case study to look at for entertainment value and that’s Live.Collegiate.Shag. They aren’t focused on Lindy Hop—though they do slip it in—but they’re definitely part of the greater Lindy Hop community and they are killing it! When it comes to leveraging social media for your brand, they’re hands down the most digitally successful swing dancers. Every week on Mondays they share a new dance video. Their videos are short, fun, and several have gone viral.
Live.Collegiate.Shag has got over 47.1K followers on Instagram and 101.9K followers on TikTok. To my knowledge, no other swing dancers have come close to those numbers. Few Lindy Hop brands have even broken 10K on Instagram. The next biggest looks to be Ksenia with 22.7K followers, then iLindy with 10.7K, then Pamela with 10.4K. (Please let me know if I’m missing anyone with a big following, as a marketer I find this stuff really interesting.)
Speaking of TikTok, it’s not my personal favourite platform by any means, for months I’ve been wishing it would dry up in importance the same way that Snapchat has mostly fallen out of marketing conversations. But the pandemic has fueled TikTok’s popularity. And by the way, if you haven’t checked it out yet, one of the biggest trends on TikTok is dancing! Yet Lindy Hop has hardly been tapped on there. Just be careful that you don’t go down a rabbit hole making content that you can’t monetize.
Live.Collegiate.Shag is primarily offering entertainment value and I’m defining their success in terms of #1 – offering consistently fun and entertaining dance content, and #3 – getting in front of the most eyes possible on a regular basis. When it comes to building a dance brand online, they have knocked it out of the ballpark. However, I really haven’t got a clear idea of how they’re monetizing their success. I know they get some free merch and they probably have some viral videos that they make a bit of money on, but I’m not sure what else they’re doing for consistent income.
Both your entertainment and education value definitely tie in with your personal connection value. Particularly for the international dancers who are well known in the community, do not underestimate the attractiveness and therefore value of people feeling personally connected with you. You are unique and your unique dance style and personality have helped you get this far. If you put yourself out there, it could be what saves you while the dance economy sorts itself out. The same thing goes for local community teachers and how you interact and market yourself within your smaller niche community.
Note to Dance Administrators
These examples focus on dance instructors, but I don’t want to ignore dance organizers. Though I was also a dance instructor, I have been more unique and skilled within the dance community as an organizer and administrator. If you’re a dance administrator on any kind of level, believe me; you have skills that offer value. The dance community has had a very hard time appreciating and also remunerating administrators. Most of this work is either unpaid or extremely underpaid. But you are the people who make it happen and you have skills!
I used my 15 years of experience running a dance school and organizing events to transition to running a successful marketing business. Take a good look at your skills and you’ll find more doors available to you than you may realize.
Delivery Methods: How Will You Deliver Your Product?
The other part to work out with your online offering is the delivery method. How are you delivering your product and how are people consuming and paying? Are you streaming? Is it a download? Is it live and interactive? Are you offering a subscription or a one-time purchase? How are people paying and conducting transactions?
You need to make your delivery both easy and also exciting and attractive to people. Whether that’s watching a pre-recorded video or interacting in group discussions or some other format, I think the options still needs to be explored. Especially for something like a philosophy talk which hasn’t been tried and tested the same way as online dance lessons. I’m not sure what the right format will be to maximize the interest and success.
I think that many of the teachers I’ve seen so far are underestimating the power of personal connection and interactive experiences. There are smart ways to scale interactive experiences to still make good money for your time investment.
So for everyone, figure out what you can offer. Figure out the best way to deliver it. And make sure it’s something that can actually make you some money.
What can you offer that’s enticing, what easy and inviting method can you use to deliver it, and are you offering value that people will actually want to pay for?
2. Monetizing Your Offer
At the end of the day, if you aren’t making any money you better be having a damn good time, or believe passionately in what you’re doing, because otherwise you’re expending a heck of a lot of energy without putting any food on the table. This has always been a problem for us in Lindy Hop well before the pandemic. It certainly was for me. And it could be an even bigger problem now.
You need an irresistible offer that people actually want to pay for. Do not underestimate the problem of partner dancing in a virtual format. Especially during the time of Covid-19. Just offering partner dancing online is extremely challenging; people don’t have partners, they’re alone, they’re lonely, they’re not motivated on their own. This is a period when Solo Jazz and spin offs related to solo work, whether it’s fitness, drills, exercises, routines, rhythm, and style could potentially be better received than partner dancing.
Remember, you need to make it clear and easy way for people to “sign up” and pay. These days people do not want to have to email you and arrange private payments. You’ll never know how many clients you lose because your system is unclear or cumbersome. People want an easy sign up method that uses their credit card or Paypal in just a few clicks; the less work they have to do and the more clear the user experience, the more money you can make.
Think about what you should charge. While you shouldn’t undervalue your offering, be careful about charging too much too. This is a tough time economically for everyone and a lot of people are going to have less disposable income. If you’ve got a scalable offer that isn’t directly a one-on-one use of your time, consider that a slightly lower price could bring in more people.
Scale your offering. Compare the work/time/energy/talent that goes into making your product vs. the amount of monetary return you’ll get from that offering.
One of the best options in any online business is to generate recurring monthly revenue rather than relying on one-off sales. This is one of the reason I coach new and aspiring online entrepreneurs to steer away from one-off projects like building websites and instead find ways to create ongoing monthly packages, like monthly marketing packages. Rather than just thinking about promoting single, individual classes, consider selling access to an entire series or better yet, a monthly membership.
Patreon has grown in popularity since Covid-19 and seems to be a reasonably straightforward way for many dancers and artists to secure recurring monthly income. If you’re feeling more ambitious, you can set up a subscription service through your website, but you should have enough content to justify that investment. The nice thing about a service like Patreon is that it takes care of this for you. It also helps people to understand that they’re contributing to you on an ongoing basis as an artist, rather than just buying a single commodity. Just keep in mind that this service suggests that you’re being patronized by supporters for your work and is a less of a formalized “business” setup, so it depends on the nature of your offer and what you’re trying to achieve.
If you’re offering one-off online events or classes, you could also use a ticketing system. At the time I’m writing this, there’s a deal on AppSumo for a ticketing system I use and recommend called EventsFrame. This is an amazing lifetime deal for $49USD that offers NO FEES ON TICKETS. I picked it up last time it was available and it’s a steal. These deals expire so if it’s available when you read this, act fast.
3. Marketing is Everything
This is already getting to be a really long article and I haven’t even gotten to the biggest part yet, the actual marketing. So as I reach this point, I’ve decided to split this into a 2-Part post.
In the meantime, if you’re itching to get a head start, feel free to check out my business marketing blog.