Success with hyper-niche music courses: How this pair of creators found success teaching the hammered dulcimer.
Mary Lynn Michal and Laurie McCarriar are the founders of HD Homeland, an online course built with Heights Platform that teaches people how to play a musical instrument called the Hammered Dulcimer.
Ever since the launch, HD Homeland has been a huge success: Laurie and Mary Lynn managed to reach $50,000 (and counting) in revenue from their online courses.
Wondering how these two passionate musicians managed to build such a successful course around this unusual musical instrument? Keep reading below to learn about the journey that brought them here.
The Story Behind HD Homeland
We recently had the opportunity to talk to Laurie, a hammered dulcimer player living in Virginia, US, who founded HD Homeland together with Mary Lynn.
For those of you who are not familiar with the hammered dulcimer, it is a trapezoidal-shaped stringed instrument, played by striking the strings with light, hand-held hammers.
Before the launch of HD Homeland, Mary Lynn helped to write The Complete Guide to Theory and Mapping for the Hammered Dulcimer, with Ken Kolodner, regarded as one of the most influential hammered dulcimer players in the U.S. Laurie produced all of the charts, illustrations, and graphic design for the book.
“Mary Lynn and I were just talking about how cool it would be if we could help people go through the book. Because it's one thing to buy a book, and the next thing people do is put it on the shelf. And so we wanted them to engage with it.”
As Laurie is an expert in graphic design and digital marketing, she was already aware of the world of eLearning. They were already using Heights Platform to teach tunes, and had the idea of creating an online course to provide even more resources to those who purchased the book.
So this is how the online course HD Homeland was born. But how did Laurie and Mary Lynn manage to grow it and reach $50,000 in revenue?
Let's see how HD Homeland attracts clients and what marketing strategies Laurie and Mary Lynn have been using to scale their business.
How HD Homeland Attracts New Clients
The main way HD Homeland manages to attract new students is through cross-promotion, especially between the book and the online course.
If someone purchases Ken Kolodner's book, after a couple of weeks they receive an email inviting them to check out the online course (HD Homeland).
The people who bought the book are a great audience, as they are clearly interested in learning how to play the hammered dulcimer and having an interactive tool such as an online course at their disposal is a great added advantage.
Cross-marketing between products is overall an excellent way to increase sales and create a community around your brand, as you are promoting to a "hot audience" who already knows you and is familiar with your content.
Another way Laurie and Mary Lynn grew their online course sales is through their community.
The Sandbridge Hammered Dulcimer Retreat, now in its 17th year, began with an idea by Ken Kolodner (enthusiastically supported by Laurie) to create a community around learning the hammered dulcimer in a fun and supportive setting. Mary Lynn began attending the workshop in 2012 and is now Ken's Teaching Assistant for all 5 weeks of the retreats.
“We run this workshop at the beach every spring and fall attracting nearly 120 students per year who come to the beach and learn with us.”
Hammered dulcimer players from all over the country attend year after year, to learn and play music (and spikeball) together. The book, online courses, and all of the other online resources available from Ken and from HD Homeland extend the learning year-round, and also serve to attract new students to the retreats.
From the community, people who took part in the workshops or enrolled in the online course are more likely to tell their friends and fellow musicians about it. Word of mouth is an extremely powerful way of promoting any product and it is how HD Homeland gained its success today.
"We've got a good solid customer base. We've gone beyond the Sandbridge community and we're getting international sales too. A lot of it is people telling their friends about it."
The Importance of Niching Down
HD Homeland is an excellent example that shows the importance of finding a small niche and segmenting your value proposition.
Laurie and Mary Lynn understood very well that the more you "niche down" and the more you adapt your content to fit a very specific interest or group of people, the better are your chances of being found by your ideal customer.
Their community is the ultimate example of a small niche market. Not only is the hammered dulcimer a quite rare musical instrument, but Laurie and Mary Lynn niched down even further and they shaped their signature online course to focus mainly on teaching music theory for the hammered dulcimer.
Many creators are worried that only focusing on a specific niche might affect their visibility and they are afraid of losing potential customers.
In reality, focusing on a smaller niche gives you the opportunity to attract customers that are the right fit for your business, and if possible you will gain even more sales, as potential customers are able to identify themselves in your online course.
“With online marketing, if you are in a very specific niche, you just talk about it! You just have to keep talking about it. You've got to tell your story. And you'll eventually find those people who are interested in it.”