An online membership is one of the best ways to turn knowledge into recurring revenue.
Robin Nolan did just that with his passion for gypsy jazz guitar. His music-loving community is a thriving source of fulfillment as well as income.
Tune in as he shares how it all came together, with guidance from James and the features of the 10XPRO software.
02:16 – Born and raised with music
03:16 – Playing the jazz of the gypsies
05:07 – A musician making an online living
08:12 – Why it doesn’t take a huge team
12:35 – The platforms that support the interaction
14:51 – Facebook group versus private forum
17:54 – Who does the Campfire attract?
18:46 – The experience that makes people stay
21:07 – You should always have something coming
23:26 – The joy of keeping things spinning
24:43 – Wolves coming after the sheep
26:16 – The beauty of the supermarket strategy
27:16 – Letting people go, taking them back, and keeping them
30:17 – Dynamics surrounding a group
33:09 – The technology that gets things done
35:37 – How the customers come in
42:51 – A quick sum-up
43:58 – The future that Robin sees
Paid memberships are a great business model, and the subject of several past episodes on SuperFastBusiness. James has spoken with guests on setting up and tuning a membership, building one from a small list, how to sell a membership, and how to manage the tasks that go on behind the scenes.
In this episode listeners will be treated to an inspiring membership case study, with guitarist and membership owner Robin Nolan.
Born and raised with music
Born to musician parents, Robin of course grew up with music. He was always playing guitar, and like any musician envisioned himself on stage.
At a festival in France, Robin encountered and fell in love with a form of music called gypsy jazz. It originated in Paris in the 30s and 40s, and was spearheaded by a gypsy named Django Reinhardt, who attained mythical status for his ability in the genre.
Django, says Robin, reinvented how one played guitar. Any major guitar player will cite him as an influence whether they play like him or not, because gypsy jazz requires no small skill. Robin himself was “blown away” hearing Django’s music played by the gypsies in France.
Playing the jazz of the gypsies
Knowing what he wanted to do, Robin acquired the proper guitar and moved with confreres to Amsterdam. They had no gigs to start, but could play on the streets. While in London they had made a cassette – it was that long ago – with 100 copies. They offered their product at the Leidseplein (a busy square in Amsterdam), where it amazingly sold out in one day.
With cash in their pockets and an audience, the group never returned to London. Gypsy jazz has since become Robin’s life. Around 2000, he wrote a series of song books on how to play the style. They did very well, especially in the States, and fueled a sort of resurgence of Django’s music.
The books established Robin as an educator in gypsy jazz. He was, however, foremost a musician, and was touring right up until last March in Sydney.
A musician making an online living
After a retreat in Melbourne where Robin met John Lint, he hasn’t played at all. He now makes a living online, which for a musician, he says, is amazing.
Robin’s membership took shape just less than two years ago, working with John and the 10XPRO team. Before that, they had done standalone courses and other digital extensions of Robin’s books.
The change was also inspired by hearing James on a podcast, years before, talking of continuity. It struck a chord with Robin, who thought, This is perfect for me. “Because I don’t want to just sell something and walk away. I want to support these people. I literally want to help people, and I enjoy that side of it. So the membership was a great structure to do that.”
Since March, all roads lead to the membership, whether it’s buying a book or a course or building their list through their free crash course.
And the membership is growing. Nothing major, but they’ve built up a healthy bunch from around the world that Robin tends to on a daily basis, much like James. Robin does take inspiration from James, he says, as far as minimizing his hours so that he can both care for his customers and have family time and recreation.
Much of what happens in membership must have been inspired by the music industry, says James, where you record material and then publish and sell it. Of course, you have a lot more control, though. Memberships are like the modern-day version of having your own record label.
Robin agrees. With music, though, you’ve got to play to sell. A membership works day in, day out. He wakes up in the morning and knows what to do. He has the security of knowing the mortgage is paid.
And a membership suits his makeup – he loves the interaction with his members, which even James can see. He’s got a good combination going of a forum (or as they call it, the Campfire), and courses or tracks that people can do.
Why it doesn’t take a huge team
Something that strikes James about Robin’s membership is how small the team is, likely because of the tools they’ve chosen.
What are the roles that run the membership?
The core, says Robin, is him and his best friend, Jason Rogan. Jason hails from New York but also lives in Amsterdam. Robin points to him as the brains of the operation, while Robin is the visible guy on camera playing guitar. Jason, however, introduced him to internet marketing, which Robin also enjoys now in a small way.
Jason works behind the scenes, emailing, tending their list and keeping a lot of moving parts going. Robin is on the other side, logging into the membership and looking after the customers.
Other elements of the team are their graphics expert and their website guy, both in the Philippines. Then they have two wonderful ladies in Minsk, Belarus, doing their customer service and emails. Jason liaises with the four, communicating what the business needs and making sure things run smoothly.
“The bigger you go, the more complex it becomes.”
Robin considers something like Scott‘s Bass Lessons the benchmark of a music membership. He realizes, however, that the bigger you go, the more complex it becomes. For the moment, he feels at home with his small team, and very much in control. The smaller scale also allows him, as he says, to really love on his members, really help them learn the style. And that is helping both to retain people and grow the site.
James can totally relate. It’s okay, he says, to have a small, profitable business and a comfortable life. You don’t have to set the world on fire with a monster-sized business. Working up to eight figures, you start needing bigger roles. A Chief Technical Officer, for instance; definitely a general manager or a CEO. Things get more corporate-y, which isn’t for everyone.
James’s own team is just eight people, all in the Philippines – not big at all. They also have contractors to assist with specialized areas. Everyone plugs into Slack, and they can get expert help on a contract basis with everything from copywriting to SEO to ad campaigns.
The platforms that support the interaction
As a membership owner doing 1000 plus posts a month, James is interested: how does Robin find operating the platform to interact with customers? James himself does a lot from his mobile phone, and uses Dictate and button shortcuts.
Robin works on desktop, and admitted to a small learning curve. He does some back end things, and is always curious about the members, looking at the member list and some of the sales pages his team does. Essentially, though, he works in the forum, the Campfire.
A 10XPRO user, he also employs the app that John and his team have rolled out, and which James says is a game changer. It allows Robin to answer and help people as well as post photos and videos from his phone. He gets notifications, is on top of everything happening in his forum, doesn’t miss a post.
Both Robin and James like the instant stats they get logging in.. Robin says it keeps him motivated, seeing the snapshot health of the business the last 30 or 90 days.
Facebook group versus private forum
Was there ever a felt need to have a Facebook group, and was there any pushback to having a private environment?
Robin said a Facebook group was an urge he had to resist. He knew there would be instant engagement, but they absolutely went with the decision to use 10XPRO’s forum capability.
He was concerned at first about the amount of people and engagement, but has since reached the stage where members are making their own conversations, answering each other’s posts, and welcoming new members. It is perhaps, he says, the most joyous thing to see, when another member will welcome a new member and say, “You’re in the right place.”
He also thinks people are getting jaded with the Facebook experience, especially these days when things are starting to turn somewhat rancid and people realize how they’ve been controlled. From what he can tell, his members actually enjoy logging into the forum. They know they will leave with something, be it inspiration or a new chord or lick, a song or answers to their questions, without distractions.
Robin opines, too, that we’re all at that stage where time is all we’ve got. And the last thing we want to do is spend an extra hour on Facebook because we got distracted. He enjoys logging into their 10XPRO site, because there he knows he’s going to be productive and useful. He’s going to help people, move his business forward, and not be distracted.
“The written word is powerful.”
The forum is not as flashy as Facebook, but that could be a positive. The written word is powerful, and people write meaningful posts in the membership.
Who does the Campfire attract?
While Robin’s club has young members, the demographic in general is guys his and James’s age, plus. And it’s not a hindrance, he says. In the last 10 years, they’ve learned to upload a video and get things off their phone into the forum.
The experience that makes people stay
The campaign to make a member stay starts the moment they join. Robin knows the purchase is a big decision, and he takes inspiration from James and John to validate that decision.
Robin welcomes customers with a friendly Bonjoro video, congratulating them and giving some clear starting instructions – log in, don’t stress about the courses, say hi to the community if you’re up for it. Let us know what guitar you play. People would love to hear from you.
He puts a written message as well into their inbox, along the lines of, “Great, you’re in. This is going to be good. I’m here to help you all times.” This, he thinks, is quite powerful. People may have connected with him via email or Messenger, but shifting it into the membership signals a sort of tie to him that is only available as the person stays a member.
Then the team in Minsk send them an email to help with passwords and other tech. They also include a Calendly link. Members have the option of a 15-minute call with Robin. Not everyone takes him up, which is fine, but those that do usually become longtime members. And that’s their initial onboarding.
You should always have something coming
Another retention tip Robin learned from James is to always have something coming. When members log into the dashboard, they get that straight away. Next live with Robin masterclass – that’s the live element of the membership. There’s one coming, and it looks enticing.
“The secret to a subscription business is you’ve always got to have something to look forward to.”
James credits Dean Jackson with that tip. Per Dean, the secret to a subscription business is you’ve always got to have something to look forward to coming down the pipeline. James himself has been running live training now 80 months in a row. The recorded archive is phenomenal, and it becomes something powerful to anticipate.
The joy of keeping things spinning
SuperFastBusiness has been running for 11 years straight, and James logs into the forum every day to answer questions. He’s been told it sounds like a lot of work. It’s actually just a half-hour a day that he’s happy to put in.
How does Robin feel about the upkeep of his membership? It’s joyful, he says. Hand on heart. Aside from answering questions, he does a monthly live teaching session, about an hour. He backs it up with tracks and PDF charts, and it becomes a standalone masterclass, of which he now has about 50 in the membership.
The live element, says Robin, used to be every two weeks, till overwhelm started to creep in. He reined it in to once a month, and it’s worked great since.
Wolves coming after the sheep
James recalls when his trainings were every week. The story behind that is interesting.
He’d had some over-enthusiastic members come in, looking to siphon off his audience. They’d start, he said, organizing some little trainings and inviting other members. Next thing he knew they were putting up sales pages and creating memberships on various topics, automation or copywriting, etc.
Now, this was James’s paddock. He didn’t mind sharing wool, he says, but he had to protect his sheep. He took the topics these bandits were tackling and put together his own training, releasing a session a week for several months.
When he’d covered his competitors’ topics, James stepped back to monthly training. The response, he says, was a collective sigh of relief. Now people could keep up with it.
The beauty of the supermarket strategy
James admits he lost some members during the weekly training phase, because they couldn’t keep up and felt they were paying for something they weren’t using. So he loves what Robin tells his new members – there’s a lot of stuff here, ignore it. Tell me about what you’ve got going, and I’ll show you what you need.
“We don’t go into the supermarket and buy every item on the shelf.”
James calls this a supermarket strategy. You don’t go into the supermarket and buy every item on the shelf. You just go in and get what you need today. In his membership, he tells people, If you don’t know what to do, just tell me. Just say, “Hey, I don’t know what to do. And I will show you where to go.” And that works great.
Letting people go, taking them back, and keeping them
When people do leave Robin’s membership, the reasons are not unusual – a financial thing, or a time constraint, an operation or the like.
What’s the policy on letting people back in? If someone goes with the intent of returning in a few months, the Minsk team keep tabs. They look out for an email when the person wants back in, and help them start off on the same footing as when they left. They kind of keep in touch, Robin says, without really an exit strategy in mind.
Back in May they started a club hangout via Zoom, which Robin moderates. Out of roughly 300 people, about 50 joined the first call. It’s an open mic event, for which people prepare music during the week. And it’s become a weekly thing, the “ultimate something’s coming, for the hardcore”, says Robin.
People stuck indoors have found the hangout a social lifeline to others just like them. It’s now a major retention tactic, with Robin looking forward to it each Sunday just like everyone else.
Dynamics surrounding a group
It’s like the anti-goodbye, says James. He goes through the dynamics of a group: forming, when they first get together; storming, where people compete and fall into their pecking order; norming, getting to know each other; and performing. The last phase, after that, is when the group breaks up.
Robin has found a way to keep the connection going, and that’s part of what keeps people in a membership, the social aspect.
James applies a micro version in the SuperFastResults community, using 10XPRO‘s social wall feature. No calls, no consults, just posts. And every weekend James sends a desktop notification asking members what they’re up to. It lands on the wall, and members update.
The social wall encourages commitment and consistency, which the members appreciate. They actually look forward to the update, as evidenced when James once forgot to notify and they started following up.
Technology that gets things done
The live masterclasses that Robin puts out are done using his iPhone 11. He schedules a YouTube Live, and the link goes into 10XPRO, so that the members see that’s coming. He then puts his phone on a stand, and the live begins. No extra phone or camera at all. And it looks good and sounds good and goes straight into the membership.
Now they do a gig, as well, streamed using 10XPRO. Again, with the phone setup, they do their series of gigs from Robin’s living room, appropriately called Living Room Live. It’s advertised at 10 bucks, complimentary to club members because it streams inside the club.
People get caught up, says Robin, with adding content and lessons to their memberships. It’s actually thinking outside the box and providing joy, enjoyment and inspiration that keeps members coming back – not just the hardcore data.
How the customers come in
How does Robin get customers? The membership, he says, has always been a challenge. Their traffic basically comes from YouTube. So at least every week there’s a YouTube lesson on their channel, Gypsy Jazz Secrets.
They use Facebook as well. There was a period, says Robin, of doing Facebook lives at least every week. They built a large FB following, which now drives to the membership.
They’ve been cultivating an email list over the years, giving content every week.
They also do giveaways, relevant things that their market would be interested in. Their first prize is a $3,000 gypsy guitar. Then there’s a range of other prizes, which are practical, real solid, physical things that they’ll ship to their winners.
The giveaways are only for club members, so it works two ways. You join the club to enter the giveaway, and once in, you get other chances to win, because Robin aims to do three or four a year.
Back when retreats could still be done, they had four a year in different parts of the world, and attendees would get an annual subscription to the membership. It was an easy way to sell the membership, because joining was a means of keeping the relationship from the retreat alive.
As far as paid traffic, they use Facebook, not necessarily advertising the membership, but promoting courses and maybe a Black Friday special. YouTube is something they’re not doing yet, but could be something they look at.
They also have a crash course that builds their list daily. It will teach you your first gypsy jazz chords, your first rhythm. You simply enter your name and email. They get 20, 30 leads that way.
From the crash course, there’s an upsell to a $25 “action pack”, as they call it. People can choose rhythm, soloing or repertoire. The pack actually pays for itself, and that fuels the Facebook advertising, while Robin gets free leads.
They send email sequences as well to people who take the crash course but don’t buy after the cart upsell. James predicts that’s where many of the sales will come from.
Robin also did a book with a publishing company on Amazon called Beginner Gypsy Jazz Guitar, which did really well – number one in many countries. Besides being a great book, it’s their first book with QR codes that lead to a landing page in 10XPRO. And it basically advertises or gives tips from the membership, so they’ve had members join from the book.
A quick sum-up
All in all, Robin has built on his expertise to create a great recurring-income business. This he owes in large part to a small but very good team and a terrific platform, in this case 10XPRO.io.
His work is easily accessible to him, and in normal times would let him enjoy travel and a gypsy lifestyle. He enjoys what he does, and his customers love the membership. Because of the care and attention he shows his clients, they tend to stick around, and it’s overall a profitable venture for him.
The future that Robin sees
What is Robin most excited about moving forward?
The future, he simply says. The path is set now. He know what he’s doing every day. And if he does it every day, sure enough, things are growing in an organic way. There’s no flash in the pan, no suddenness. It’s a really steady thing, which he enjoys. So he’s excited about the future.
One thing he hasn’t mentioned is how much he’s been playing guitar lately. He wakes up in the morning, picks up the guitar. And having the membership, people will ask things which he doesn’t always know the answer to at first, but he’ll kind of work it out for them. And then he’ll have learned something as well.
So he’s playing a lot of guitar and feels himself improving as a guitarist, as a communicator, as an educator, as a teacher. And he just feels very positive about the way things are going these days.
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