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On teaching piano online, working 4 hours a week, and earning $40k/month

  • Jacques Hopkins

  • From Louisiana, USA
  • Creator of Piano In 21 Days

  • Business Model: Authority
  • $40,000monthly revenue
  • $20,000monthly profit
  • All info self-reported by interviewee
  • Published April 9, 2020
  • Reviewed and edited by Rita Epps

Who are you and how do you make money online?

I’m Jacques, Louisiana native and founder of Piano In 21 Days.

I used to work as an electrical engineer, but I was always fascinated with the idea of starting my own business. It took some trial, error, and hard work but I now fully support my family by selling my Piano In 21 Days course online.

Since I spent 12 years of drudgery taking piano lessons as a kid, I always knew my lessons had to be different!

There’s no sheet music, repetitive drills, or Mary Had a Little Lamb in sight. Instead, I teach a chord-based approach that is simpler, faster, and a lot more fun.

My students love that they can play songs they hear on the radio rather than spending endless hours trying to master Moonlight Sonata.

On average, revenue is around $40,000 per month with profit being around $20,000 per month.

💻 Editor’s note: see our full list of ways to make money online.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

My workdays are very flexible, which is a big deal after 8 years of working the typical 9-to-5!

At this point, most of the “behind-the-scenes” tasks for Piano In 21 Days are outsourced or automated.

I sit down with an iced coffee and review a daily report that my assistant updates for me each morning – just to check KPI’s and make sure the train is still on the tracks.

I have a small but solid team that stays on top of the minutiae so I don’t have to.

I still make sure that I am in tune with what’s happening, and I’m as interactive as I can be with my students to make sure they’re having a great experience with my course.

Every so often I have course updates to make, new videos to film, and changes to make on my website.

But at this point, my schedule is pretty close to the famous ‘4-hour workweek’ ideal.

So after my course became sustainable and successful, I got to ask myself a fun question: “What do I want to do with most of my time now?”

I had become really passionate about helping other course creators grow, so I started a podcast. This is where I can share my early struggles with starting an online business, what’s worked for me, and more.

The Online Course Show allows me to interview other successful course creators and hopefully inspire new ones! Helping those new and aspiring course creators is now where I spend a lot of my time.

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea for your business?

Engineering seemed like a natural career path for me when I was young, but after I entered the workforce I started to realize that I also wanted a business of my own.

I’d read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and it opened my eyes to the potential of having an online business. 

I wasn’t sure where to start – I worked on a few apps, tried designing a physical product, tried blogging… nothing clicked.

At a certain point, I realized that my number one outlet after stressful and busy days was playing the piano. Not only that, but when I was supposed to be working on my new side hustles, I would procrastinate by playing piano instead.

Bingo! Turning my hobby into a business was the game-changing idea I needed.

Soon after that realization, Pat Flynn posted a podcast episode that just so happened to feature a successful online piano course creator, Steve Nixon. Hearing his story helped me validate my idea for my own course.

While I wasn’t a career piano teacher or a world-renowned virtuoso, I knew that I could teach a simpler way for everyday people just like me:

How did you prepare to launch the business?

Launching my business was slow going at first.

I started a YouTube channel and I created a free workbook as a lead magnet to build my email list. I knew these were important steps, but the pressures of working full-time made it a long process.

It took about eight months to put together my full course.

This involved writing out my lessons and getting them into workbook form, creating and editing numerous videos for each, and building my members’-only website.

There wasn’t a lot of information at the time about even simple things like how to rig an overhead camera to video my keyboard! 

There was a lot of trial and error.

I officially launched Piano In 21 Days in 2013. But I didn’t have any background in marketing and I didn’t know how to tell my story in a compelling way. I sold one copy of my course during that first launch.

It took time to build marketing skills, but that is how I was eventually able to increase my sales to a sustainable level.

How much money did you have to spend to get started?

I spent about $10 to buy my domain, and bootstrapped most of my course creation process. I kept my software budget very low at first, and I didn’t start outsourcing until things were up and running.

My wife and I had set aside some savings and that allowed me to quit my job and spend up to one year to make my piano course financially sustainable.

Looking back, I think I could have succeeded faster if I had spent a bit more money learning the ropes from a coach or outsourcing more of the work sooner.

It’s great to be frugal, but in retrospect, I believe having some help would have accelerated my business growth earlier on.

Talk us through your first few months (or first year) in business.

I had heard so many success stories, people being interviewed on podcasts talking about selling 100+ copies of their course during their first launch.

But that wasn’t my experience at the time.

I had a lot of doubts about whether this online course business could actually work.

As I did start to make a few more sales, it really encouraged me to hear that my students were getting good results. They were enjoying their experience with my course, and I knew if I could just get it into more people’s hands that they’d feel the same way too.

That’s what motivated me to keep going and not quit.

My wife was very supportive of my efforts, but I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about Piano In 21 Days to co-workers early on. I was struggling to fit working on my course into my schedule while employed full-time, but I couldn’t say that to the same people whose company I planned to eventually quit.

Like I mentioned earlier, marketing was not something I knew how to do.

So writing effective sales copy, getting comfortable with pitching my course, and everything associated with that was a big challenge for me at first.

A few things really helped move the dial for me with my business.

Setting up an evergreen funnel, giving away a free 5-day workbook that was filled with valuable information, making some YouTube videos that still provide a big percentage of my web traffic even today… it all added up.

Outsourcing certain aspects of my workload also made a huge difference.

I eventually connected with a good video editor, I hired a virtual assistant, and now I also have a podcast editor. The help they provide with customer support, content creation, and administrative tasks enables everything to run more smoothly.

How did you make your first $100 online?

My one and only course package available during my initial launch was priced at $97, so my first sale was basically my first $100. 

Most of my traffic came from YouTube early on, and it still does.

Late 2016 was when I really started to see more traffic and more sales, meaning it took about three years from initial launch to replacing my previous income from my old job.

How does the business make money today?

My top three traffic sources are YouTube, Google search, and Google Ads.

I’m always finetuning my evergreen funnel, working on new content for YouTube, and asking past students for testimonials in order to boost social proof. 

I have a lot of calls to action and I offer a lot of free value to prospective students.

This makes a big impact on both traffic and sales.

Once people enroll, I try to maintain connections and encourage them to keep learning. But since I sell one main product I don’t have to worry about marketing to them after their enrollment. 

I try to be very proactive with SEO – if you Google some of the biggest piano search terms my website usually shows up near the top.

I tailor my YouTube content to what will bolster search results, which has been helpful.

Other things like Facebook ads have not worked out so well for me.

It seems like a lot of people focus on creating courses before they have an audience, but I think it’s important to build your audience first. 

Even though I didn’t make a lot of sales at first, building an audience and offering real value gave me credibility before my course even launched.

I recommend looking at your course like an entire business, not “just” a course.

What are some of the challenges particular to this kind of online business?

I don’t have a lot of complaints about where my business is at today.

It was relatively easy to scale, it is profitable, and at this point, I don’t have to spend a huge amount of time keeping things on track.

But due to being online, it is more common to see hateful comments and hear from people who don’t like what I do. Some piano teachers don’t like that I’m offering an alternative to their traditional lessons!

And sometimes people are just rude or hurtful.

If you’re starting an online business, you have to learn to brush off the trolls and the haters.

There’s always going to be some negativity no matter how great your product is – it’s usually not about you at all. That’s just the nature of the internet.

Jacques accepting an award for earning over $1,000,000 through ClickFunnels.

If you were starting the same business today, from scratch, how would you do it?

If I had to start over, I absolutely would!

The very first thing I’d do would be to create a YouTube channel.

I’d focus on providing as much free and authentic content as possible, and start building an audience there.

I’d also set up a website with a free opt-in and a strong call-to-action in order to collect email addresses. My YouTube channel could then direct traffic to my website.

I’d work to build rapport with my audience, listening to their struggles and needs in my niche. That would give me a framework to build on for future course content, and a built-in set of customers because my solutions would be tailored to their problems.

What books, podcasts, courses or other resources would you recommend to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

My top book recommendations for online course creators are:

I always recommend that course creators listen to the stories and tips that successful online entrepreneurs have to share.

I interview a lot of big course creators regularly on my Online Course Show podcast, so definitely check that out – there’s a lot of great advice that can benefit new and existing course creators alike.

📚 Editor’s note: see our ultimate list of the best books for online entrepreneurs.

What are your top 5 business tools?

I rely on several tools to keep my business running smoothly. They include:

Where can we go to learn more?

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