To teach others is a real privilege – and for me, an unexpected one. Funny how things turn out.Suzanne Vennard from danceclass.com
Tell us about your website, www.DanceClass.com. When and why did you start your site?
I simply wanted to show people that learning to dance doesn’t have to be embarrassing. So many people seem to want to be able to dance, and yet when you suggest they sign up for classes, they collapse in a near-faint.
Dance classes have a bad reputation as places where only rows of snooty-faced stick thin ballerinas belong. Yes, some are like that, but most good dance teachers create warm, fun, relaxed lessons where it doesn’t matter how many left feet you’ve got, you’ll be welcomed and encouraged and gently taught how to dance a few steps.
Having a media-ish background, I decided to film the very best teachers, teaching classes to adult beginners. I thought that if I could enable people to take their first class at home, in private via a DVD, it’d give them a boost of confidence – just enough to get them over the threshold of their local dance studio and learning for real.
I made my products first – three full length classes – initially released on video (!) and then, shortly after, on DVD.
I very much wanted to stream the programs rather than have to ship them around the globe, but at the time, the technology was insufficient (unless the classes were the size of a postage stamp and lasted 20 seconds).
But even though I was going to have to wait for the online streaming, I still needed a website. I bought the domain and had my first website designed for me under the DanceClass.com name in December 2000. Such a long time ago. Web years are like dog years.
Are you working full-time or part-time on building your website / online business?
I work full time for myself. But in some unexpected ways.
When I first started out, I thought that if the business were successful, I’d spend all my time talking about the various merits of one type of dance class over the other. In fact, I spend my days mainly talking about online video content…
In addition to those initial three videos, I’ve made more over the years – there are now eight different dance styles that I provide classes for. After waiting six years for the tech toys to catch up with the desire, in 2006 I was the first person to offer full length downloadable dance classes.
So my good fortune has been via my videos, especially on YouTube. I’ve leveraged that success and now run a nearly full time consultancy for SMEs considering investing in online video content. Commercial level video is expensive to do well and easy to do badly. It can be a huge waste of money – like have a plug hole down which you pour cash.
So I now spend most of my time working with clients to make sure their video content works well for their target audiences. This consultancy is relatively new, but I absolutely love it.
As for the website, I’ve now started opening up new sections that are written by guest teachers. They provide their own video content, and write a section of several pages introducing their specialist dance style to my absolute beginner audience – I simply curate the content. It adds new voices to the site, and expertise in dance styles that I have absolutely no knowledge of, like break dancing, for example. (Why would I put myself through that? And I’d end up in traction. So I leave that to the real experts.) And it gives eager, energetic new dance teachers a voice and a platform for their work. I’m just delighted that I can help them with that.
So far, what has been the biggest challenge for you?
There’s dance, then dance classes, then dance classes for beginners. So dance classes for adult beginners is a niche of a niche of a niche (oh my!).
Within my extremely specific field, I’ve done as much as I possibly can to open up the subject. But it is very narrow, so my biggest challenge has been keeping the new content coming. My site is relatively small, even after all these years. Some of my pages and sections are very long and all of them feature original in-depth research of a type that’s never been done before. But still, it’s a very small amount of pages (not quite 150).
I’m slowly solving this by reaching out to others who might want a voice on an established site. And now, as I mentioned above, dance teachers are finding me. So my new content is just edited by me rather than driven by me. And the change in tone or approach of other dance experts I think will provide a much more rounded offering.
I just want to get more people into dance classes. However DanceClass.com achieves that (whether by my own original work or by the contribution of others) I don’t mind a bit. The dancing is the important thing.
What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner?
Like a lot of the others in the series, my answer is a version of ‘freedom’. For me, the fact that I can get up from my desk and go and do something else, ironically keeps me right there. It means that sitting at my desk is a genuine choice; and a happy one.
But most of all, after all these years, I still get an enormous kick out of receiving e-mails that tell me how much pleasure dancing has brought to someone’s life. A gentleman of over 70 wrote to me about how he’d been married to his sweetheart for 50 years, but although she loved to dance, he’d never learnt. Using my Ballroom class DVD he’d learnt a few steps in secret and his anniversary gift to his wife at their Golden Wedding party was to lead her onto the dance floor in front of all their friends and family, take her in his arms and waltz with her. I’m leaking from the eyes a bit as I type this. That was a very good day.
Has your life changed since you started your site? Can you describe these changes for us?
I never really thought of myself as a teacher (I don’t appear as the teacher in any of my videos). But my site (and more recently, my consultancy) has brought out a teacher’s mindset in me that I really love. I think a lot of SBI-ers probably have a natural teaching gene in them – you need that in order to make a really good information-rich site. To teach others is a real privilege – and for me, an unexpected one. Funny how things turn out.
Why did you choose SBI! to build your website / online business?
This year marks ten years with SBI for me.
Remember I said I had my first site designed for me back in 2000? Well…
Bells and whistles doesn’t even come close. It had a piece of specially commissioned animation (yes, really) and a splash landing page – remember those? It was carefully designed – I mean that in the traditional, graphic design way – so the layout, the look & feel, everything was finely worked out.
Being that January and February are the busiest for dance class sign ups, I decided to launch just ahead of that busy time – the site went live in December 2000. To stunning, deafening silence which continued for a good two years.
I was selling the products, but mainly through a distributor, who was taking a massive chunk of the profits. I wanted to sell to my customers directly, but via the website I was only selling the odd DVD every few weeks to some lonely lost soul who stumbled across the site (by accident, probably).
I then went to a rival local firm of ‘web designers’ and explained the problem – I had these great products – the people who bought them, loved them. But I needed traffic. An audience. They swore they understood and promised to deliver. Once again, the design was given great attention and a totally new look and feel launched. And guess what? Same result. Silence. Bit of tumbleweed.
So I decided that I needed to take matters into my own hands. I started to search for information on internet traffic – how it worked and how to get it. That’s how I found SBI. I signed up and got the action guide printed off and spiral bound. I was working full time at the BBC, so left my office at 6pm sharp (like the building was on fire) and rushed home every night to curl up with the guide and a rainbow of highlighters. That’s how I learned what I needed to know and finally took control of a website that was truly my own. I’m pretty sure I learnt more about traffic in those few months of evenings on the sofa than two entire company’s-worth of so-called web designers had known in total.
Most business owners (and ‘web designers’) have startlingly little knowledge about doing business online. Contrasting that with the solid foundation of knowledge you build up when working through the SBI processes still impresses me, even ten years on.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who is just getting started as an online entrepreneur?
Research, research, research. And be honest about what that research tells you.
We all talk about passion, but blind passion can lead you straight down blind alleys. Cultivate being dispassionate some of the time, long enough that you can fully test your ideas – all of them – and go in the direction that the research tells you.
It’s often not the one you think…
Initially I really thought that Salsa and Latin dancing would be the most commercial of all the dance styles. Nope. 15 years later, the Salsa program has sold the least (by far) and the Ballet program sells more than all my other titles put together. Nor did I ever imagine that the success my whole company hinges on would be courtesy of YouTube!
So there you go. Be prepared to go in a direction that you weren’t expecting.
Oh, and one last thing, if that’s OK? If you can, reach out to other SBI-ers who are near you. The London SBI group I meet up with is an absolute blast. We’re a bit noisy and a bit messy, but the whole thing works like a charm. If you ever want to hear what an exchange of ideas really sounds like, sit in a room with 20 SBI-ers!
If you ever dreamt of becoming an online entrepreneur, now is the time. SBI! provides all you need: process, tools, guidance and support.