There are few things that give us greater joy than to shine the spotlight on successful online instructors who are using Thinkific to create and sell their online courses. Over the past few years, we’ve witnessed countless individuals from around the world build successful online businesses by creating online courses to share what they know with others. We’ve seen people create courses on how to use Microsoft Excel, how to train your dog, money management, and pretty much everything in between.
And just when we thought that we’ve seen it all, we met Deanne Love, a former primary school teacher turned online instructor who has been busy inspiring and teaching thousands of people around the world how to dance with hula hoops (aka hoop dancing) with her Hooplovers online school.
Inspired by her success, we reached out to her to learn more about her incredible journey, and have her share her insights to help other online instructors succeed. Here is her story:An inspiring story of a primary school teacher turned online instructor. @HOOPLOVERS #teachonline Click To Tweet
From primary school teacher to online instructor
Before she became an online instructor, Deanne Love worked as a primary school teacher in Australia for several years. She later relocated to Tokyo, Japan to live out her childhood fantasy of being on the streets of the busiest, coolest city in the world – as she describes it. “I just had this overwhelming desire to move to Tokyo in Japan, so I did that”, says Deanne.
She arrived in Tokyo in 2003 after accepting a one-year teaching contract, but after falling in love with the culture and lifestyle, she decided to stay longer. She ended up living in Japan until 2011, at which point the frequency and intensity of the earthquakes became enough to convince her to move back to Australia. During her time in there she also met her husband, who is now her business partner at Hooplovers.
Deanne’s interest in hoop dancing started in 2007, after she randomly discovered a YouTube video of a woman dancing with a hula hoop. Deanne has always loved to dance, so naturally she was inspired. “I discovered a woman on YouTube, and she was just rocking out”, Deanne explains. “She wasn’t a skilled gymnast, she was just having fun and dancing to this really crazy dance music, and in that moment I was just completely mesmerized. I was like, if she can do this, I can do this. I love dancing. This is going to be great.”
That same day, Deanne purchased her first hula hoop and started practicing. As she researched and practiced her newly discovered passion, she realized that there was actually a large community of passionate hoop dancers around the world. “I was practicing and I realized that there was a whole world around the plant of adults who were enjoying this contemporary style of hoop dance, particularly in California, like in L.A. and San Francisco”, says Deanne.
Unfortunately for Deanne, Tokyo wasn’t exactly a hotspot for hoop dancers. In order to connect with other hoop dance enthusiasts, she relied primarily on the internet and social media. She even flew to Australia and the U.S. on several occasions to learn from and practice with other hoop dancers. “It was in those early years living in Japan that I personally felt really isolated, so I was looking for ways to reach out to the rest of the world, to first of all, as a student, learn and then naturally as a teacher, teach”, says Deanne. “But because we were geographically separated from each other, the idea of starting to build online lessons or ways that I could really succinctly and clearly teach online was really bubbling.”
Quitting her job to teach hoop dancing full-time
By 2009, after honing her skills as a hoop dancer and instructor, Deanne decided to quit her job to focus on teaching others how to hoop dance full-time. She admits that this was not an easy decision for her to make. “I was working at an international school and I really loved it,” says Deanne. “It was actually a hard decision because I really enjoyed my job.”
But this new direction did allow Deanne to combine her passion for teaching with her passion for hoop dancing, so in that sense, it was an exciting transition for her. “I was a teacher so naturally I was still going to continue my career but if was just in a different mode,” says Deanne.
In the beginning, most of her teaching was done offline. “We didn’t have the platforms to share as succinctly as we do now”, Deanne explains. “I was doing a lot of teaching in real life. I was doing workshops and a lot of classes, so that was a major support for community and income and my teaching skills in dance.”
She also started publishing free hoop dancing videos on her YouTube channel, which helped her to build her brand and audience online. “We started with YouTube and we still have a really strong YouTube community. I teach on YouTube every week, and obviously that’s free”, says Deanne. “So we were like, ok well, if we want to have a sustainable business and we also want our students to see the value and feel really connected, then we need to start filming online courses.”
Creating her first online course
When Deanne and her husband created their first hoop dancing course, they sold it together with their live classes from their website. It was essentially a collection of videos that their customers could download and watch as a complementary resource to the live classes. “We just shot some basic videos, like the foundations of hoop dance, and we put that into a video file”, says Deanne. “Then we had a really simple link on a very simple website that combined the sales of my real life classes with this one download.”
Looking back on that first set of videos that they created, Deanne is proud to say that they’ve definitely come a long way. “It was so terrible compared to what we do today. Today it’s like ‘lights, camera, action!’ and it’s a formal setup, and we have invested a lot of time and energy and funds into how we shoot today versus back then”, says Deanne. “It was embarrassing, but the crazy thing was that it was working because there really wasn’t a lot of that style of online teaching, particularly in the niche market that we were working in. So I was able to successfully build my popularity as a teacher.”
When Deanne and her husband left Japan in 2011 and moved to Melbourne, Australia, they decided to re-shoot the videos that were included in that download package. “We re-shot the whole download file package in the corner of a warehouse with a crazy graffiti backdrop. There was no lighting, there was no studio, there was no microphone or anything, and it was all voiceover”, Deanne explains. “In those days we were really just doing what we could with what we had.”
Those early videos, although imperfect, helped them acquire their first customers and generate revenue that could be re-invested into their business. “Those early day videos helped us to build capital, to build funds so that we could improve”, says Deanne. “And I think that because we were supplementing our online courses with weekly YouTube videos, we were giving a lot of value. Our customers from those early days are still with us, and because we share things for free they don’t mind re-purchasing new things because I will always add value each time.”
Creating their first course also helped them learn more about the needs of their customers based on the feedback that they received. That feedback helped guide their decisions as they created new videos for their customers. “It didn’t happen overnight, but the teaching, the online business, and the building of community all started to come together”, says Deanne. “We learned so much from those early days.”
Using Thinkific to set up their online school
As their business evolved, so did the technology that they used to create and sell their online courses. In the beginning, they packaged their videos into a single file that could be downloaded from a simple website. They later switched to WordPress, but found it difficult to create a website that provided their customers with a user-friendly experience that was consistent with their branding.
“I was looking for something that was more flexible and beautiful. It’s hard enough to learn movement online, so I wanted something that was really flexible and accessible so that my students could learn step by step, chapter by chapter, and really take their time if they needed to, or have the option to rush through it”, says Deanne. “I have been a student my whole life as well as a teacher so, and I also get a lot of feedback from my students as to how they like to watch things and how they need things really, really simple, so it has to be super user friendly.”
According to Deanne, many of their customers didn’t actually want to download entire video files to their computers. They wanted to be able to watch a little bit at a time, and stream videos instead of downloading them. It was also important to their customers that the course interface be easy to navigate.
That feedback from their customers became the criteria that guided their search for a suitable platform to host their online courses. That’s when they discovered Thinkific. “What we were looking for was something that would support all of our students and that I would love the look of as well”, Deanne told us. “So when my husband found Thinkific, he was like ‘I think this is the one’.”
It was also important to Deanne to be able to customize the look of their online school to match the branding they had on other platforms such as YouTube and social media. “I really wanted a fresh, modern, clean, not clunky interface”, Deanne explains. “It was really important to me that Thinkific could match our branding, so that it didn’t look like this really old-school business package; that it was going to allow us to shine the brand that people were really familiar with that would make our audience really comfortable.”@Thinkific lets you customize your #onlinecourse website to match your branding. #teachonline Click To Tweet
Another reason why they made the switch Thinkific is because it allowed Deanne to create curriculums for new courses quickly and efficiently, without getting frustrated or delayed by technical challenges. “It was important to me that as new workshops and courses came to me creatively, and I was developing them, that I could put them online and that I didn’t have to have these huge barriers”, says Deanne. “My development of courses could be translated really quickly to Thinkific. I could have the courses up really quickly, and they were accessible, they were branded, they were just neat, perfect, and beautiful.”
Marketing Hooplovers and attracting students
Deanne has created some incredible courses, but she also knows that simply creating courses and hoping people will find them is not a strategy for building a sustainable business. She has spent a considerable amount of time building her audience online and testing different marketing strategies to promote her courses.
We asked Deanne to reveal which of the marketing strategies she’s implemented have been the most effective for her, and it turns out that the majority of her sales have come from just 4 strategies. In no particular order, here they are:
Most hoop dancing enthusiasts flock to YouTube to search for videos to learn new dance moves. For that reason, creating a YouTube channel was a no-brainer for Deanne. It didn’t happen overnight, but she now has over 55,000 subscribers on YouTube, and most of her videos receive thousands of views shortly after being published. Her video How to Hula Hoop for Total Beginners, for example, has been watched over 800,000 times since it was published in 2013. Very impressive!
The two things that have contributed the most to the success of Deanne’s YouTube marketing strategy are the quality of her videos and her consistency. She publishes high quality videos on her channel every single week. She also includes a link to her online school in each video description and on the homepage of her channel. “What we do is we create a new YouTube video every week, and that’s obviously for free, and with that, link to other value points, either a blog or lesson downloads, or printed out downloads that they can use”, says Deanne. Her videos are great resources for her existing customers, but they also help attract new customers by sending traffic from YouTube to her course website and email newsletter.
Quality and consistency are important factors in #YouTube marketing. @HOOPLOVERS #teachonline Click To Tweet
Discount codes for courses
Offering occasional discounts on specific courses has helped Deanne experience sudden increases in student enrolment each time she runs a promotion. She offers these discounts primarily to the subscribers on her email newsletter, although she sometimes offers a course discount to her social media followers as well.
“Thinkific has allowed us to give discount codes which is really great for us as a business, and it is wonderful for our customers too because we can give them rewards for being so beautiful and loyal”, says Deanne. “From time to time we have really great sales, and we can give just our newsletter readers a discount code, so it’s like a special code just for them, or sometimes it might be for our Instagram followers.”Creating discount codes for your #onlinecourse is great for rewarding loyal customers. #teachonline Click To Tweet
Every successful online instructor knows that having an email list of people who are interested in their course topic is extremely important. When you have a list of email subscribers, you have the power to promote your latest content and courses to people who have literally requested to receive information from you. So when Deanne told us that email marketing is something she has been focused on since the beginning, we weren’t surprised. Today, there are over 13,000 people from around the world that are subscribed to her newsletter.
“My email marketing is really strong, so we have worked really hard to build a solid email list and we do that through all the channels of social media but also by offering and trying to create really valuable opt-ins”, says Deanne. “For example, last year we shot an incredible video called 15 Hoop Dance Moves Your Body Will Love and we shot it on this gorgeous island in Queensland in Australia. Then we came back to Melbourne and I shot a small tutorial for each of those moves and that is available for free when people sign up for our email list. So that is definitely my strongest and clearest connection with the audience or with my community and my students, because I chat to them like every week through the email.”Successful online instructors know that building an email list is very important. #teachonline… Click To Tweet
The two social media platforms that Deanne spends the most time on are Facebook and Instagram. “I love Instagram”, says Deanne. “It’s so playful and it’s got this whole other circle of movers and shakers and it’s fun for me. It’s a really personal brand. My Instagram is like my own style, even though it’s connected to Hooplovers, I can just be super authentic on Instagram which I love and videos are really great for any movement/practice.
Between Facebook and Instagram, Deanne has close to 50,000 followers, whom she shares videos, articles and images with on a regular basis. She sometimes takes advantage of Facebook’s advertising capabilities by running ads to promote her courses. “Facebook has always been there since the early days so I do use it”, says Deanne. “We do put our posts on Facebook too to advertise our Thinkific courses.”
Helpful tips for other online instructors
Deanne has certainly learned a ton of valuable lessons as she built her business. For those of you who are just getting started as online instructors, or thinking of creating an online course to share some of your knowledge and experience with the world, here are some friendly pieces of advices that Deanne would like to share with you:
1. Become the face of your business
Don’t be afraid to become the face of your business. Build a personal brand around your area of expertise and make sure that brand is consistent across your website, social media channels, email marketing, etc. People are less interested in following specific companies, and more interested in following specific people. Show your audience the person behind your business.
Having a strong presence on YouTube and social media, for example, has really helped Deanne build a personal brand, which she admits has had a dramatic impact on her business. “When I really stepped into that role of being the face of the business, it’s just made the branding so much stronger”, Deanne explains. “So not only was it Hooplovers but there is also this woman, which was me, Deanne Love, who people could communicate with and could speak with and it felt like they had a connection with.”Don't be afraid to be the face of your business. Build a #personalbrand. @HOOPLOVERS #teachonline Click To Tweet
2. Don’t wait to create your course
Don’t let perfectionism keep you from creating your first online course. Accept that your first course may not be perfect, and just get it done. Yes, there is a chance that not everyone who takes your course will love it, but until you actually create it and get it out there, you’ll never know.
“If you have an idea, and you have an audience or you’re growing an audience that is connect to that idea, then don’t wait”, says Deanne. “If I didn’t put out any of my content, if I didn’t create any of my courses, I wouldn’t be able to get that feedback. Just start now.”Don't let perfectionism stop you from creating your #onlinecourse. @HOOPLOVERS #teachonline Click To Tweet
3. Listen to your audience
As you build your audience and enroll students into your courses, pay attention to the feedback you receive from them. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is invaluable. Listening to her audience has helped Deanne to better understand their needs and frustrations, giving her with valuable insights to create more content and courses that can help them.“Contemporary hoop dance is always moving forward, there is always something new”, says Deanne. “I listen to my customers really carefully, and I always ask them to open up conversations. So I do have a lot of connection with our customers and I listen to them and I provide them with what they really want.“Start creating. Start moving forward. Start listening to your audience.” @HOOPLOVERS #teachonline Click To Tweet
Training the next generation of hoop dance instructors
After enjoying several years of success as a hoop dance instructor, Deanne decided to create a second online school, Hoop Love Coaching, to help other hoop dance instructors build successful businesses. She created this course in response to all the requests she was receiving from people in her community who wanted to learn how they could generate an income by teaching others to hoop dance.
“For the last two years since we have been powering along with our online courses, there’s been a demand for other teachers or other hopeful teachers around the planet to also do some similar stuff to what we’re doing”, Deanne explains. “It’s my largest course and it’s training teachers, so there’s a lot that goes into it. I really love it. It’s probably like my biggest passion because what I’m doing is not just supporting teachers to facilitate hoop dance classes and workshops and parties, but also to start their own online business and their own community business, so I really get to like pour both my passion for business and my passion for hoop dance movement into this training course.”
Living a life of freedom and fulfillment
Building a successful online teaching business has enabled Deanne to live a life of freedom and fulfillment. Today, with a total of 9 online courses (2 of which she offers for free) and over 1,600 students from around the world, she is living her passion and helping others to do the same every single day.
“Making the shift to teaching online through Thinkific and Social Media has meant we have the time and financial freedom to travel and meet hoopers around the world while still creating and sharing our passion”, says Deanne. “Our income has substantially increased. The ease of course delivery has exceeded what we ever dreamed of, Thinkific has changed the way we create and share.”Teaching online through @thinkific means we have time and financial freedom. @HOOPLOVERS #teachonline Click To Tweet