A small business can have millions of dollars in revenue and dozens of employees … or it can be a one-man-band, turning passion into a living. This month’s small business marketing success story is about the latter.
Meet John W. Tuggle, a guitarist living in Athens, Georgia. John has been playing guitar for 17 years, and giving private lessons for 14 years. Like many music instructors, John put his knowledge into a “how to” book and built a web site to sell it. That was about two years ago. After 18 months of struggles (he thinks he sold five books), John was ready to give up teaching; he was going to play gigs and be a studio engineer.
Enter Web 2.0. John was already internet savvy, but after listening to some internet marketing podcasts, he realized there might be an audience for his book and guitar lessons. But he had to do what very few music instructors do: market beyond his local area. He went online to search for a professional web developer and found Miriam & Liam Ellis of Solas Web Design.
“When I first talked to this guy,” Miriam says, “I could hardly believe my ears. [He said,] ‘I’m going to have a blog, and a podcast, and YouTube videos and digital downloads and live Skype lessons.’” Those are ambitious plans for any small business owner, but in just a couple months they’ve already worked. Gibson Guitars found John on YouTube and added him as a recommended instructor on their web site. John teaches more than 40 students, including one in Portugal who’s learning via Skype videoconferencing, and has another 10 students on a waiting list. He’s the very definition of a small business online marketing success story.
As with last month’s success story, I have never met John and have no business relationship with him. Here’s our interview.
Matt McGee: My impression of music teachers, no matter what instrument is involved, is that they tend to focus on finding students in the local area. What made you decide to take your instructing business online?
John Tuggle: There is only so much money and so many people you can teach in a local situation. People have day jobs and kids are in school, so you can’t really teach eight hours a day.
I decided to write a beginner’s guitar book, and thought I could make some decent money selling it to music stores. I was wrong. There’s not a lot of money in one instructional guitar book. Everybody has one and they are expensive to produce if you don’t order thousands of them. So, I figured I would start a web site and sell it there.
Tell me about your earlier site. Did it work for you?
I built the site myself using Joomla and spent way too much time trying things that really didn’t matter. I would spend hours just trying to make things line up a certain way. It was ridiculous actually, but that’s the way I am. I try it and beat it into the ground until it’s perfect or I can deal with it.
A bunch of little things took me way too long to do and I focused on looks instead of content. I didn’t know anything about keywords or SEO. It was a really bad web site, but it was my first and it actually looked OK.
What was your approach to the current site?
The current site was a total departure from everything I had done in the past. I had failed in every way, and I knew this time had to be different. I studied about keywords, SEO, and how to market a web site. I knew in the beginning that I did not want to build it myself. I knew I had to come up with excellent, innovative ideas, and put out great content. The blog, in my mind, had to be an integral part of the site. I wanted updates and interaction, and Web 2.0 was the big, new thing.
I submitted an inquiry to Solas, and Miriam called me the next evening on the phone. I was sitting here dreaming up these wild thoughts about putting together a web site that makes money and has all these fabulous features, and no one I knew really knew what to think of it. Then someone calls me on the phone and wants to hear all my ideas and they actually think they’re good. I was really impressed by this, and I felt like I had a partner to help me launch this masterpiece that was just a small vision.
You had a lot of unique ideas in mind from the start — a blog, a podcast, YouTube videos, live Skype lessons, and more. What made you think any of those would work?
Well, I had no idea that anything would work. I researched the competition and found some interesting ideas on how to teach some concepts. There were some good and there was a lot of bad. I felt that I had something to say in this area that wasn’t being said.
[On the] Internet Business Mastery podcast, I heard about people doing marketing through this new media, Web 2.0 age, and I knew I could make it work.
Everybody is doing blogs now and when I learned how to tag, ping, and bookmark, I got more web site traffic in one day than my other site got in six months. Now that got me excited!
I also learned how to promote my podcast from Jason van Orden and his excellent Promote Your Podcast book. After I applied his techniques I saw my subscribers go from five to about 250. So far my podcast has been downloaded about 6,000 times in the last couple months, which is great, I think, for a new business like mine.
After I put up my first few YouTube videos, I immediately got e-mails for more lessons and Internet lessons. I never planned on doing Skype guitar lessons, but someone e-mailed me and wanted some as soon as possible, and I decided to create a service based around it. I’ll be teaching the captain of a US Navy ship here shortly, and I’ve already taught to [someone in] Portugal last week!
I create what the customer wants to see. If I see an interest for a product I try to go about creating something that is of value and already has a market. Business 101, really. I don’t create things and then look for a market.
The videos you do — tell me how much time is involved and the process you use. A lot of small business owners are considering video these days, but are probably hesitant about the time and effort involved.
The videos for me are really fun, and I can’t wait until I can afford some fancier software. They can be time consuming, though, if you don’t have a clear plan of how you want to put it together.
I divide the videos into a couple different categories depending how good I want the video to look and sound:
For promo videos that I’m not selling, they are really simple. I use a Panasonic 3CCD mini dv camera, and a couple 120-watt, soft white fluorescent bulbs mounted on stands, which cost me about $50 bucks. Lighting is extremely important and will make the most difference when shooting video.
For the DVDs and download lessons it gets a little more complicated. I use two cameras, one to see each hand, and I do an intro and closing of my full self, unless the lesson calls for something different. I record both cameras at the same time and I also record the audio separately, which gives a lot better sound quality.
To me, YouTube is the future of marketing. I get a lot of traffic from them and I am certain that I wouldn’t exist without them. Anyone wanting to do some serious internet marketing better start making some videos.
How do you find the time to do all this?
Obviously blog posts can become tiresome, because it’s not just a blog post. If all I had to do was write a guitar lesson or story that would be easy. But first I check HitTail and look at the suggestions and what I need help in ranking for. Then I determine what keywords I need to focus on and figure out what I can write about that will interest people, while at the same time help me to get searched or improve rankings. It’s a double edged sword. You want to get some good rankings out of the post, but at the same time you have to write good content for people.
Now that you’ve got a good lesson or story, you have to insert keywords, create some pictures, and make it interesting. And then you have to bookmark. I typically bookmark about 15 different sites after I do a blog post. Digg, Delicious, Mixx, and Propeller are some of my favorites. I also use Slideshare and Scribd, which get excellent rankings in Google.
So, yeah, sometimes the blog post or podcast can be a bit of a pain now and again, but it has to be done.
Of all the things you’re doing — the blog, podcasts, YouTube, etc. — what’s working the best for you?
It’s hard to say which one is working the best, because I get a lot of visitors to the site from each of those areas. If I had to pick one I would say YouTube. I’ve had about 40,000 views of all my videos in three months, and I get a lot of visitors that buy from YouTube.
Learning marketing has been the best thing I’ve ever learned how to do. I see tons of talent go to waste because of the lack of how to get the word out about yourself.
Do you read any marketing sites/blogs?
I always want to learn more about how to get more people to the site, and how to give them the best online experience they can have. This is kind of the new phase I’m in — using all of the analytic data and creating a way to make this stuff translate into customers receiving a great experience when coming to my web site.
Right now, Avinash Kaushik is my new hero of this world, and I’m reading his book, Web Analytics An Hour A Day. It’s a great read, and he does a fantastic job of taking boring stats and turning them into actions one can take to put the customer at the prime level of importance.
As for blogs I read, I try to read up on these: Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Graywolf’s Seo Blog, SEO 20/20, Aweber blog, Matt Cutts’ blog, and I just started reading Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushik.
There’s so much good info. out there that it’s impossible to get it all everyday and still run your business.
What kind of advice would you give to other small business owners about online marketing, particularly people like you who are flying solo?
Blog all the time, and submit videos to YouTube. But even before you do this, research your keywords and determine which ones are money makers and which ones you have a chance in winning.
Once you’ve narrowed down your keyword list, use them in your blog titles and Technorati tags, as well as your YouTube videos. Learn how to ping using WordPress, and create a system that will let you bookmark social sites by pressing a button in your toolbar. Make it easy for yourself to do these things.
With podcasts, use the same keywords in your description, and podcast titles, as they can get ranked as well. You’ll need to submit your podcast to many different podcasting directories, as well. Then submit your blog to every blog directory you can find.
In the beginning, I spent about 15 minutes every day finding friends on YouTube. It takes a lot of work all the way around, and any method to the madness will help your cause. One person can only do so much, so don’t beat yourself up about trying to do everything at once.
Thanks, John. Keep up the great work.
John is a great example of a business owner making the most of being small. He has the freedom to try new marketing techniques, like Skype and YouTube lessons, and he’s making them work.
If you are (or know of) a small business owner with a great story to tell about how you’re using the Internet to grow your business, please contact me at my blog, Small Business SEM.
Matt McGee is the SEO Manager for Marchex, Inc., a search and media company offering search marketing services through its TrafficLeader subsidiary. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.