How Tim Topham Went From Side-Hustle To Full-Time Musical Pioneer With Content Marketing [AMP 067]
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Did you know that you can scale and grow a business from zero to thousands of customers by using content marketing? You can see a massive ROI and even build an entire marketing team through blogging, video content, email lists and social media. Today we’re going to be talking to Tim Topham from TimTopham.com about this very topic. Tim has created a global community and has built his company around content marketing. You won’t want to miss today’s episode, so sit back, relax, and get ready to glean lots of great info from our discussion.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
- How Tim’s background in music led him to founding his company, TimTopham.com.
- How Tim made the leap into pursuing his dream full-time.
- What Tim’s marketing looked like prior to his launch, including how he built his email list.
- Why having a specific niche has helped Tim to be so successful with his marketing strategy and with his company as a whole.
- The different types of content Tim uses, as well as tips for not getting overwhelmed as you build your brand from the ground up.
- How Tim makes decisions and plans his content ahead of time.
- Tim’s best advice on taking a passion and creating a full-time opportunity out of it.
Jordan: Do you think it’s possible to scale and grow a business from zero to thousands of customers all on the back of content marketing? Can you see massive ROI and even build out an entire marketing team through blogging, video content, and email list in social media? If you answered yes, you are right. If you wanna learn what it looks like to do exactly that, you are in luck because today’s episode features Tim Topham.
Tim operates in a very cool niche over timtopham.com where he helps piano teachers use innovative, modern methods to become better at their craft, and more engaging with their students. He’s created an entire global community and built a company around this using content marketing. It’s very fascinating and exciting, and even inspirational, the way he has grown, and how he’s used content marketing to do it. Plus, because he’s a friend from Australia, he’s also an absolute blast to listen to. Alright, I’m Jordan with CoSchedule, let’s hop into my conversation with Tim.
Tim, thanks so much for being on the show. Can you tell us a little more about timtopham.com, your community, and what else you’re up to these days?
Tim: Jordan, absolute pleasure being here. Thank you so much for having me on your show. Always happy to speak about what I’m up to because it’s a little bit unusual, it’s very much a niche.
I’m actually a piano teacher, and over the last eight years or so I’ve curated a community online for supporting piano teachers to teach in a more creative way. That’s really the background to what I’m doing online. What I found is that a lot of instrumental music teaching, wherever you are in the world, is very much based on what teachers did back in the 1800s, literally. A lot of it hasn’t changed, you kind of teach kids how to read, you show them how to perform, and they do recitals. But unfortunately, it’s not connecting with students in the same way as it might have done 10, 15, 20 years ago, so teachers are coming to me for help to try and keep their kids engaged as much as possible. That’s why I’ve created the timtopham.com. It was a blog firstly, and then a podcast, and now a community where I can really support teachers and nurture their growth, both in the studios, and also in their teaching through my online forums, and also my courses.
Jordan: This is such a fun conversation for me. You and I talked a little bit, I’m a Music Ad major.
Tim: Yes. Good connection.
Jordan: Yeah. Exactly. I was in that same kind of world where seeing what you do and how you do it, and how you’re connecting with teachers, and then helping them connect with students today is so cool, because you really are doing it differently than everybody else’s band. I think finding that niche is so fascinating that you were able to do it in such a broad context, like music education. You mentioned you were a teacher for a long time. Really, you worked this like side hustle as a passion project. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey from that perspective?
Tim: Sure, yeah. I’ve been a teacher for 20 years or thereabouts, but not a piano teacher. In actual fact, that really only happened in the last 10 years or so, but I’ve really focused on the music education, and particularly piano. My story, to just be brief, is I studied music, music major at university. I focused on audio engineering, and a lot of fun stuff like that. I did a diploma of music so I learned how to teach music. But then I travelled, and I actually got really into outdoor education, which over in Australia means taking kids away on camps and helping them rock climb, canoe, and all that kind of stuff. It’s a big part of the school curriculums. Yeah. What more would you wanna do as a 20 year old than have that as your job?
I actually did that for about 10 years. Took a complete break from anything music related. I was still playing, so I would have friends that I might have a jam with, I would teach maybe just a couple of people on the side every now and then. It was very random, and really, the focus was on the outdoor education.
I even ended up on an island between Melbourne and Tasmania, which is our southernmost state, there’s a strip of water, really treacherous water called [bestride 00:04:53]. There’s a couple of islands there, one of them is called King Island, my last outdoor education posting was running a residential campus for 15-year-old students that would be sent away from their school, that would live together in houses. They cooked their own food, they’d study together, it was an incredible experience. That was my last work in outdoor education. It was amazingly isolated but incredibly effective at getting these kids bonded together and really thinking outside their little bubbles. That was brilliant. Eventually, I came back to Australia, I tried making a living as a music producer, that didn’t work so well.
What happened in the meantime was I started teaching piano on the side because I needed some money. It’s interesting how people I hear get into piano teaching, or any musical instrumental teaching because of a need for some income. Suddenly, I went, “This is what I should be doing, I should have always been doing this,” and I just loved it. Reconnected with some old teachers of mine who really taught me how to do things and that’s pretty much when I started the blog. I started writing down ideas about things I was doing, with no intention of ever becoming a business, or anything more than writing down some ideas. Slowly, people used to fund it online, and I think that was one of the real reasons that I’ve built my business on content is because of that early success.
Jordan: That is like the most fun story ever. I absolutely love it. No wonder why you’re such a good marketer.
Tim: I gotta tell you too that that position on King Island, King Island is well known for two things. Cheese, and beef. Just amazing beef farmers, apologies to vegetarians or vegans out there, but amazing, amazing place to live for food, and cuisine. Just great.
Jordan: I have a hunch that they will forgive you, Tim, I do. We have a very gracious audience. That’s another thing I thought would be so interesting in hearing from you, because I know a lot of our listeners have a side hustle, this passion project they’re working on, it’s something a lot of times too where we just need some extra income. That’s where a lot of our listeners are at. What did the leap into doing this full-time look like for you?
Tim: I might have missed just a little segment of my story. Once I came back to Melbourne and I was working as a media producer and teaching on the side, I realized that I really enjoyed the teaching. I ended up getting positions in schools, and that’s where I got back to full time teaching in schools. I taught at one school for about five years, then more recently at another school for three years. It was in the last 2-3 years that I really had the side hustle going on.
The blog had built up, I’d started the podcast, crazy when you look back on it. I was working full time and that was a big job often starting at 7:00, 7:30 in the morning. Often, we’d like concerts at night, it was huge. It really took it out of me as anyone who’s doing this will know.
What I found is that I tested my market before I decided to make that leap. I would encourage others to consider whether this would help them as well. I found out what my audience really needed most of all. I did that through, obviously listening to what they were saying when I’m replying to comments, and email questions that I get in that, those sort of things. I created a course about teaching pop music, because that just didn’t exist anywhere online. I spent a good six months. I remember one of my school holidays, I had three weeks of school holidays, and I just sat there and recorded these videos and edited them, did everything myself. I put together this course that I released at the end of 2014, I think it was. As we were saying when we had a little chat earlier, I released it and the cut off date was New Year’s Eve that year. The cut off, the promotion, I ran it, I had affiliates helping me and I had a discount at end of the New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve here is a little bit earlier than where it is with you guys. The funny thing was that also this New Year’s Eve party with my family, for the first time, I was making sales online. I just kept getting pinged by Paypal, saying, ‘another purchase’, ‘another purchase’. It was the coolest experience and I know that anyone who’s had this same thing happen when they’ve released something online will know exactly that feeling. It’s so fulfilling to know that you’re obviously, yes, you’re building a little business, the side hustle might just work. You’re also supporting paper with the content you’re producing.
It was really as a part of that that I decided to create the community, the membership because I wanted the continuity in a subscription service so that I could support people because people that buy one off courses, it’s hard to support them that well. They’ll often buy and then forget to use it or something. Creating that community has really helped with that, so I can serve them better. But I also have a subscription business which allows me to know a little bit more about the income that’s coming in, obviously.
It was the combination of those two things, and building up a certain number of members that made me decide at the end of last year to go I think this is the right time. One of two things is gonna happen if I don’t quit the full time teaching and go into this full time, it will either crash and burn, or I’ll crash and burn. I didn’t want either of those two things to happen, and I thought, “You know what, I can come back to teaching any day. Let’s give it a shot.”
Jordan: I know exactly what you mean to, that moment when you start saying, “Oh, wow. My marketing is working.” I’m getting sales, I’m getting conversions, I’m getting traffic. Whatever it is that you’ve been launching, releasing, when it starts to gain traction, that is a magical moment for a marketer.
You had built this course because you knew what people wanted. You knew what was resonating with them, and you knew that there was a gap in the market place, so you validated your idea. I really, really like that. I think that’s so important to do. Can you talk about then how you promoted it? What did your marketing look like leading up to the launch?
Tim: Obviously, I promoted it heavily to my email list. Another thing that I would encourage people to do, if you got the time, and patience, because this is a slightly longer term game, is to build some kind of audience before you release something so that you have two things. One is a group of people you can ask about what they want. Two is a group of people that you can promote it to early on. For me, the marketing was by email, predominantly to the people who I already had on my list. I might have had back then, I would guess, maybe a couple of thousand perhaps on the list. It wasn’t massive, and it’s an achievable thing if you work hard at your content.
The other thing I did is I mentioned I had some affiliates, so I found some other piano teachers around the world who had blogs, and who I already had a relationship with, because I’m very much a networker, I love connecting with people. I was able to tap them on the shoulder and go, “Hey, this is my product.” They all loved the product anyway, and they were happy to promote it. In fact, they probably would have been happy to promote it without the affiliate income, but obviously that made an impact too. Those two things. I wasn’t hugely using social back then, I would have done a few posts. But obviously, Facebook Live wasn’t around. I would have used that today. It was predominantly email, blog, and those affiliates that got the word out.
Jordan: Email has been a really important part of our growth at CoSchedule, nurturing our list. It sounds like, since you built this up slowly, you didn’t try to monetize your list immediately. How did you think about that like when you were building your email list, did you have this longer term game in mind and sort of slowly nurture it and not try to monetize it immediately and sell them stuff? How did you think about your list as you built it?
Tim: I was blissfully ignorant, Jordan, because I had no plan of doing any of this. I was just literally producing content, and people were absorbing it, and interacting with it, and leaving me comments, asking more questions. Again, I didn’t have that goal of, “Alright, I’m gonna monetize this in a year, and I wanna make this much money,” or anything. I was just sharing ideas. In that regard, I was somewhat lucky because while I was doing that, I was obviously working full time and making income in other ways. It truly was a side hustle for a long, long period of time before I finally got to that point where I thought, “You know, I’m getting so many questions about this particular topic, the pop teaching topic. I can provide more than just a blog post. Let’s actually record me at the piano teaching and show people how this is done.” That was the genesis of it.
Jordan: You sort of were doing everything right, even though you didn’t mean to, and it sounds like it’s just would you say it’s because you had such an intense focus on helping people in the way that they really needed help because you listen to them well? How would you say that that worked for you?
Tim: My primary goal for writing was to help. It was also a little bit selfish in some ways, because I also wanted to get my own ideas down for my own use. If I read a good book, I would literally write a book review on it online and I’ll put it on the blog. If I went to a great lecture, I would do the same thing, I’d just write down my main ideas that was useful because over here to keep your teaching registration, you have to have certain provable professional development hours and book reading and things like that are relevant, if you can show that you’ve read a book, and so that was how I was keeping track of things. It’s like, “Here, this is my professional development.”
Putting it on the blog allowed other people to find it. That could be something if people listening are interested in this idea and you like reading books on the topics that you’re interested in, or go to lectures, or workshops, or masterminds or whatever. Don’t just take note for yourself, you could share those notes with other people, that could be a way for you to start building.
Jordan: The story of going from a passion project, to side hustle, all the way to a full fledged company on the back of content marketing is so inspiring to me. I love hearing Tim’s story and seeing where he’s come from. How he’s just learned every step of the way and he’s focused relentlessly on being as helpful as he can to his customers. If you are enjoying conversations like Tim’s, or our other podcast episodes, please consider helping me out and leaving a review on iTunes. Let me know what you think, let me know how our episodes have helped your marketing. If you do so, make sure to send me a quick email to firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what your t-shirt size is and your postal address because I’d love to send you a CoSchedule care package as a way of saying thank you for being a listener, and for taking the time to review and let us know what you think of the show. Alright, now let’s get back to my conversation with Tim.
It sounds like content marketing has been the heartbeat of your growth. Even if you wouldn’t have called it content marketing, that’s what you were doing. Why has it been so successful for you?
Tim: My audience is predominantly piano teachers. I would guess piano teachers would generally be in the middle age, just slightly older category, that would be the bulk of where piano teachers are at the moment. Their main source of information is by Google. It is for all of us, but I guess some of us might have other apps or tools that we might use, but for a lot of piano teachers when they found they’re having an issue with a child, a kid comes into a lesson holding some pop music they can’t play, what do I do? They would google how to teach a pop song to a piano student. How do I get kids to improvise? How to play jazz on piano? Or, how to teach improvisation? Whatever it is.
I think that’s what made my content work and build, was because of SEO, really. Helping people how to find my information on Google when they needed help with something. I also had YouTube videos, and I think those helped too because I obviously come up, they’re obviously rated well in Google search. People would find those too and be able to see me sitting at a piano and saying, “Right, this is what you do. Here’s how it looks, this is what you tell your student to do. Come and do it.” I even uploaded videos of me with a student, teaching them live. People really felt that was really helpful to see.
Jordan: That’s like next level how to content, that’s really cool. You sort of give people this live case study, almost, you’re modelling what you’re doing. I think that’s really, really smart.
Tim: Teachers really love seeing other teachers teach. If you happen to be in an education area, then that is an absolute win. I still love seeing other teachers teach because you learn so much from them. That has been good, and I keep getting asked by my members, I wanna see more videos of you, and also other experts teaching. Show me how it actually looks.
Jordan: I think that’s probably true of almost every, I guess you can call it, vertical industry, whatever, that people are passionate about. You wanna see other people who are competent. You wanna see what they look like in the field, so to speak. That’s a really good rule of thumb, for all of us, even if we’re marketers, or if we have products, whatever kind of companies we’re at, is understanding people like to see it in the real world actually at work. That’s a great illustration for us.
You’ve mentioned a few different things. We’ve talked a little bit about podcast, you’ve got YouTube videos, you’ve got video content on your site, you’ve got blogs. Could you just zoom out for us like how many different content types are you publishing?
Tim: I think we should both preface this by saying to anyone who’s at an earlier stage, you don’t have to do a list, and you shouldn’t do a list to start with. I started with a blog, and that was it. I did that for ages before I added… probably some social would have come next. Then, the podcast later on. It builds. Don’t freak out. It can be really overwhelming for people just starting that they suddenly got to have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, everything covered, posting all the time, blogs, podcasts. That’s too hard, I’m not gonna do this.
What I’ll just say to you is you can do it, but you’ve just gotta start with one thing and really put your effort into that one thing and try to avoid the shiny object syndrome of seeing the latest little app that will automate this, or the next great Periscope or whatever it is. Just set it aside, focus on one thing, double down on it, and really build that before you start spreading yourself too thinly. Although you can get other people to help you, we might be able to talk about that later.
But to go back to the types of content, definitely blog, podcast episodes weekly, although I’m changing that next year to more of a seasoned release. Facebook is my next biggest, and there’s a lot of free Facebook groups for piano teachers. I try and jump into them and help answer questions. I also have my page where I promote things and I release my podcasts and blog episodes through that too. Twitter, yes. Instagram, yes, but less so of both of those two.
The other thing to remember too, Jordan, is that you’ve gotta go where your audience is. Most piano teachers aren’t on Twitter, and they’re not on Instagram. They’re not places I spend most of my time. I know my audience is on Facebook, and is on YouTube. For me, next year, YouTube is something that I really want to increase, and improve. Facebook, I’m already feeling pretty good about.
One of the big impacts has been obviously Facebook Live video. I’m sure you’ve had other guests talk about that. In fact, I had a Facebook post go viral for the first time this year. This was incredibly fun and exciting for me. Again, not planned at all, I recorded this series of really short little quick win videos that are about three or four minutes me standing with a whiteboard teaching. This one was all about the way I teach reading and a really simple approach to that. It just went boom! Literally, it’s amazing how the algorithm worked. I had people commenting who I didn’t even remember were friends, who I haven’t spoken to for 10 years because Facebook saw that it was popular and just threw it into everybody’s feeds. It’s remarkable how it happens, but you know what I’ve tried again and again for that to happen. It’s almost like finding love, it’s like you gotta stop doing it to actually make it happen.
Jordan: That is the best marketing analogy I’ve ever heard in my life. Going viral is like trying to find love. You heard it here first, everybody. Tim Topham.
Tim: That one wasn’t even a live video, everyone talks about how live video is being promoted by Facebook. This was just a normal video that I added subtitles to, and just put it out there. It’s funny how those things work. I gotta say, one other trick with Facebook too that we found recently is that less can often be more. I found that one line questions to my audience can get the biggest responses of all, literally. I’ll just say, “What’s the weirdest instrument you’ve played?” Or “Christmas presents for students?” Little one liners like that. The simplest things, and it’s amazing the response we’ve got to those, more than many of our bigger, more complex posts. Good little tip, try it out.
Jordan: Let me ask you, just transition a little bit and ask you sort of a final questions here so we bring this one in for a landing. You are publishing quite a bit of content. I know you said you’re gonna re-organize your calendar, your content calendar into this next year. I really like what you said about not trying to boil the ocean right away.
Tim: Right. It’s a good analogy too.
Jordan: How do you plan ahead, though? How do you plan your content? How do you make your decisions, like how you’re gonna pivot with it, what you’re going to do? And more importantly, why you’re going to do it?
Tim: One of the best things we decided to do was to theme our months of content. This could be a good idea. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with the whole coming up with ideas concept, to theme your months can be a great way to streamline that. In CoSchedule, we would have themes laid out for the year. Something on group teaching, maybe improvising, teaching special and aged students, so this would be the month’s focus.
Then all of the guest posts, the blogs we write, the podcast episodes, and even other courses that we release for teachers in our so-called membership are all related to that theme. That can be a great way to do it. I have to say that as we’ve grown, there is absolutely no way I could have done all this stuff without your calendar.
The CoSchedule calendar literally has enabled us to do these. What you’ll find is that as you grow, you start to want to hand over some jobs and you’ll need to get people on the side to help you perhaps write, or curate content, or whatever it is. It’s so difficult to try and do all that by email. In fact, I would say just don’t even try. That’s where we love CoSchedule for being able to have all our team members inside one place where we’re all looking at the same thing, we can communicate through there. Some of the tricks you’ve got, like when you release social helpers, if people don’t know what that is then google it or find it out, it’s one of the best features of CoSchedule. If you’ve got a big amount of content, just allowing you to get different people to come in. I’ve got one person that will add the images, another person that will write those social comments, someone else curating the other side of the blog. Just to do it all on one spot is phenomenally helpful. I gotta say thank you to CoSchedule for that.
Jordan: Thanks so much for the kind words. That’s exactly why we make it. I think it’s really cool to see your evolution from just doing this solo as a side hustle, into now you have a team who is working on different parts of your content, you have workflows mapped out. You have this entire marketing machine that you’ve built and run and built a team around, Nathan, the other host of this show, we always like to ask for this final sage wisdom. Are you ready?
Tim: Yeah, let’s do it.
Jordan: Alright. What is your best advice to give people with a side project that they’re passionate about to transition into making it their full time gig like you’ve done it.
Tim: Ultimately, you’ve gotta sell something eventually. What I would say is don’t wait too long to perfect the amazing course, or download or whatever it is that you’re going to release. My early downloads are embarrassing. I’m in fact just going back through some of them and updating them because they’re such an embarrassment. I’ve heard people say before in a marketing podcast, if you’re not embarrassed by your first product, then you’ve launched too late, I think it is, or something like that.
What I’d be saying is that if you’ve got this side project you really wanna build and make it into something bigger, then you’ve got to create something, and you’ve gotta get it out there. One of my Australian online business people who I like following, his name is Dan Norris, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Dan. He has a little quote that says, “You don’t learn until you launch.” I like this mantra because it’s so true. I really didn’t know what was gonna happen until I launched that first product. That has enabled me to build the rest of what I’ve got. I’ll just say focus on one thing, get it done. Don’t try and follow all the different shiny objects, and get something out into the public, and that’s when you’ll start learning, and that’s when you’ll know if you’re on to the right thing.
Jordan: Tim, that is absolute gold. That is fantastic, seriously. You are not simply a piano teacher, or a teacher. You are teaching us marketing today.
Tim: It’s been great fun, thank you. I’ve listened to your podcast for some time, so it’s a real pleasure to be on here. I love sharing these ideas with people. Particularly if you’re in education, and you’re interested in what I’ve done, get in touch with me via my website.
Jordan: Tim, can you just finish by telling us a little bit more about where we could find you. Your website, social channels, where are those places that you’re active?
Tim: My website is timtopham.com, that’s where you’ll find the blog and the podcast. Also on iTunes, obviously. In fact, very exciting Jordan, just in the last month I’ve released my own app to enable teachers again to just find all my content in one spot. If you’re interested in that, or you’ve got friends, or piano teachers perhaps who might find it valuable, ask them to download my app. Just search for my name again. That’s the best place to contact me, you can also find me on Facebook too.
Jordan: Tim, every time we turn around, you’re like, “Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you I invented a new social network.”
Tim: Again, it’s something that’s just evolved. It evolves slowly overtime. I gotta say I’m so thankful to my team for all they’ve been helping all the teachers around the world to follow what I do, and enabling me to do what I do. It is not something I’ve done on my own by any means.
Jordan: It certainly shows it’s a credit to you and also to the team that you’ve built. Just the level of work that they’re doing. Thank you so much for being on the show and for sharing with us.
Tim: Absolute pleasure, thanks for having me, Jordan.
January 9, 2018