Want help sharing your story and growing your audience? Sign up for my weekly newsletter for my best tips and advice.

The Secret to Growing Your Business Online: Customer Service

David TaubDavid Taub successfully transitioned his guitar instruction business to the online world, and now earns his living via the web. Today, I want to share the reasons that online made sense for him, and his tips to building a successful online business.

David’s brand is Next Level Guitar, which I profiled a few weeks back. He and his business partner Tim Gilberg create guitar lessons on video, promote them via YouTube and sell them via subscription & DVD on their own website.

Why online?

  • Scale
    David had a successful in-person guitar instruction business where he lived, but couldn’t expand further. He had about 30 students a week, which was his max. Likewise, there is only so much you can raise prices before he is priced out of the market. He hit the wall in terms of trading time for money.
  • Expand his Reach & Influence
    David has been playing guitar since the 6th grade and has been teaching others for years. As he honed his skills more and more, the brick & mortar nature of his business limited his influence. He may be the best guitar instructor in his area, but people in other states and other countries would never benefit from his teachings.
  • Differentiate His Product Offering
    People learn in different ways, and for his in-person lessons that meant constantly creating custom lessons for each individual student. With virtual instruction, David could productize these lessons to fit a wide variety of teaching styles and musical styles. Today David sells a variety of DVD packages in addition to his online courses and has several other instructors teaching for him, each with their own flavor and teaching style.
  • Build a Stable Business
    Before the web, 100% of David’s income came from him showing up to teach someone. Today, is clearly the linchpin of his business, but he has come a long way. He has a business partner who runs part of the operation, he has brought other instructors into the fold, and while he still works long days, it is certainly possible for him to hire others to help run the show if he needed time off or focus his efforts elsewhere. All along, he has been honing his skills as a businessman, understanding how to build a stable foundation and plan for growth.

I had a chance to speak with David recently, and these are the tips he shared for building a succcessful online business:

  • Focus on Things that Deliver Long Term Value
    Don’t wait to go ‘viral’ – that’s akin winning the lottery. Give your online business a solid backbone, focusing on core customer needs and building great products. It can be tempting for some to do a hard sell, trying to scale revenue quickly. This may work for some people in the short term, but it is difficult to build long term value this way.
  • Customer Service is Critical
    David feels that most companies miss the boat because their lack of focus on customer service. David works long days, and his top priority is ensuring that all emails are answered quickly, all products sent out immediately and that daily operations are running smoothly. There are always hiccups in business systems, and David focuses his energies to ensure these don’t affect customers.
  • Have a Plan
    I’ve seen many brands approach their online business by allowing their most junior employee to sketch it out and launch. Senior managers wait for it to pan out before they give it their attention. This only hurts your business, and makes it harder to re-align once you do approach it properly.David and Tim spent months prepping for the launch of their business, spending long days recording videos and setting up their online operations and marketing efforts. To this day, they still work long hours creating new material and taking measured steps forward.  They are conservative about spending money, and are risk averse.
  • Build on Your Strengths
    Don’t focus on some wild new idea that is outside of your core competencies. David spent decades honing his guitar playing and teaching style and Tim has a strong background in the web and marketing. They each stuck to their strengths and partnered to create more value together than either could by themselves. Find out what your existing customers value most, what you do best, and focus on bringing that experience online.
  • Keep Overhead Low
    David and Tim each work from home, research all expenses before making a decision and keep their operating expenses as light as possible. For their camera equipment, they buy budget cameras and lighting, ensuring they balance quality with price. Don’t assume that ‘the big boys’ are buying expensive systems, so you need to as well.

Every step of the way, David mentioned his focus on serving customers, and each of the tips above reflect that. So many companies worry too much about finding office space or complicated promotions instead of just creating a great product and ensuring their customers are happy.  Thanks to David for sharing his story!

  • I like that David and Tim are taking their product beyond the in-person lesson and applaud the efforts for creating video sessions. Have they considered ways on connecting with the remote students such as web-video sessions where multiple people can join, test sessions, etc where there is some connection between student and teacher even if it's remote?

    Otherwise, I see them as following the traditional customer service approach of being available and responsive in a distribution company vs. a services company.

    Thanks for any additional insights.

    • Hi Tara – good insights and good question! I hadn't discussed the idea of a webcast type lesson with David, it is certainly a premium service they could offer. Overall, a next step for them could be something like this – something that is truly communal, perhaps even awarding certificates when students progress to different levels, and matching students up to help teach each other. There could be regional meetups and even allowing advanced students to teach courses on their web platform. Lots of opportunity, but as with any REALLY lean startup, I get the impression that David and Tim are trying to focus on what they know and take measured steps. From what I have gathered via web searches, Tim is interested in promoting his theory on how to make money via online video platforms, so he seems to have less than a full-time focus on Next Level Guitar. David on the other hand seems to be 100% about NLG, and working long days to support it. Perhaps more business/web/marketing partners are needed to grow it in the ways we are discussing.
      Cool ideas – thanks!
      -Dan