At this year’s InfusionCon event, the user conference hosted by marketing automation platform InfusionSoft, three thousand small business marketers voted Brooklyn Music Factory the winner of the 2016 ICON Award. The contest celebrates outstanding small businesses that have used Infusionsoft to transform their operations.
Nate Shaw, cofounder of Brooklyn Music Factory, shares how automating marketing processes transformed the business, changed the business model, and put them on the road to success.
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Small Business Trends: Before we jump into what you’re doing with the Brooklyn Music Factory and the award you won not too long ago, tell us a little bit of your personal background.
Nate Shaw: I spent probably the first 15 years as a jazz pianist. I moved from that world gigging 5, 6 nights a week here in New York and then making records with bands and touring. I moved from that world into the scoring world, which means I was writing music for both TV and film. I did that for about 5, 6, 7 years. I wrote for the Oprah Winfrey show and did a bunch of reality TV shows.
Six years ago, I and my business partner, Peira Moinester, founded the Brooklyn Music Factory which is a school here in Brooklyn. It’s a contemporary music program, primarily pop and rock. We have private lessons on piano, bass, drums, voice, and guitar. We have about 45 different band classes that meet every week and connect kids as little as 4 years old at our mini keys class all the up through adults in our adult band classes that meet at night. In a nutshell, that’s what we do and that’s who I am. We’re about 6 years old here at the Brooklyn Music Factory and going strong.
Small Business Trends: Talk a little bit about the business model that you have with the Brooklyn Music Factory because I remember when I was taking my piano lessons back in the day, way, way back in the day, it was a little different the way my parents paid for my piano lessons.
Nate Shaw: When we first opened our doors, it was a much more traditional model in that people would pay either per lesson or the band classes, we had a trimester program. I decided when I first started using our marketing and CRM tool, Infusionsoft, that we would move from the traditional music model to a membership program.
Basically, when we enroll a family, and the reason I describe it as a family rather than a single student is because our perfect customer is a family. A pair of siblings taking piano and voice lessons as well as one of the parents either playing in our adult band or taking a private lesson. What we would do is we would have them pay a nominal membership fee. I think it’s $35 now. That membership fee would put them in our system and we would then have them commit to an annual contract. Their credit card would get hit each month for whatever that subscription fee would be.
For example, if they were in an hour long lesson, I think it’s maybe $325 a month.
That’s a huge shift actually for parents to start thinking about signing their kids up for lessons because one of the first questions a parent might ask is how much is it per lesson. My goal was to move a parent away from thinking about music lessons from a per lesson idea and price point. In our curriculum, it takes about 10-12 years to get through it. The idea of saying, first, you’re not signing up for a lesson, you’re signing up for a year of lesson. Actually, you’re signing up for a 10-12 year commitment for us to have your child really benefit from our curriculum and develop the level of musical fluency that we think they can achieve.
That was a painful shift at first, honestly. People still really want to know what does it cost per lesson. What we’re trying to say is, “Look. You don’t ask what does it cost per class when you go to college.” You might actually price out the cost per credit, but generally, what you think is, “I’m paying a tuition and I’m joining a community. In that community, one of the benefits is the private lesson or the class I’m taking, but there’s so many other benefits.”
That’s the kind of mindset shift that we’re trying to get with our customers, to say we offer free concerts, we offer free workshops, we offer multiple performance opportunities for both the bands and the private lesson students. Our business model is pretty radically different. We don’t offer any house calls, everybody comes to our facility. We really are looking for families to make a long term commitment to growing as a musician.
Small Business Trends: How many employees does Brooklyn Music Factory have?
Nate Shaw: We’re at about 14 employees now. I’d say probably 8 of them are full time. Many of them are part time as well. We’re planning on hiring another 4. It’s kind of a seasonal business in a way because we have a summer camp season which is July and August. That is a very busy and profitable part of our year. We may hire extra employees for that. We also hire what are called MITs, musicians in training. Those are just our 14-18 year olds. They’ll come in, some of them are interning some of them are paid positions. This summer we’ll have maybe 20-25 MITs in addition to our faculty and staff. We’re managing a whole lot of human resources, actually. It gets a little bit dicey. We’re working a ton, actually, on automating that process, both managing those that are hired and also the hiring process itself.
Small Business Trends: You mentioned the key word, automation. What role has automation played in making it possible for you to do all these things?
Nate Shaw: I am a huge proponent of automation and building systems that really promote the use of automation whenever and wherever possible. Let me be clear about something too, when it comes to automation, I think sometimes it gets a little bit confusing when people hear about the possibilities with automation. Number 1, the end goal with automation, in my mind, is creating more time to really do the things that present value to your customers.
It’s all about saving valuable minutes or hours in any given week that will allow for a deeper engagement with our customers, our families. Just to be clear on that. I don’t view automation as a tool to maximize revenue. For example, even though I think it does really help in that, I view it as a tool to deepen relationships and the benefits that we provide our customers.
Ways that we automate? Where do you even start with something like that. I first really became obsessed with it when I saw the possibilities from a marketing standpoint and also from a communication standpoint. I mentioned earlier that we used Infusionsoft as our CRM and marketing tool. Let me put it in real world examples of automation here at the factory, we have very normal logistical challenges when it comes to communicating with our customers. In the case of our business, we’re seasonal. We put on about 60 different events on our main stage each year. If we had a staff member who was literally having to manually communicate the details about those events, we would never be able to pull off 60. What we’ve done is created simple email campaigns that are triggered based on tags that go with families that are involved in each one of the events.
Let’s say you’re putting on an event that has 20 of your customers, in our case, families that are supposed to be at that event, and you need to automate 5 emails that go to them starting at 5 weeks out, letting them know the details of when and where, etc, they’re supposed to be. In addition, you might also have a text that goes to them morning of reminding them of a couple details. Those things can all totally be automated.
Once you put the family on the pipeline, they’re set. If a family needs to leave, you simply remove a tag and they get pulled out of that. That’s just a super simple example of how you can automate communication. My staff member then needs to simply tag the families appropriately based on what gigs they’re going to do. That will send them into communication.
We’ve actually taken it a step further here. A tool like Infusionsoft is really good for communicating when it comes to marketing and sales. For us, what that means is we offer all kinds of workshops that are free to our members but they require them to RSVP. They need to fill out a web form saying I want to show up to this because we might have say 8 spots for a workshop on how to run live audio. We might run a music theory class that’s only 4 classes over 4 weeks. We’re broadcasting that opportunity to 265 members but there’s only 4 slots or 6 slots.
Infusionsoft has been great for automating that kind of enrollment process in addition to all of the followup communications. It’s not actually great for communicating in an improvised or spontaneous way. When you have faculty like I do and they each have relationships with our families and the families that they’re teaching, you want to give them an opportunity to communicate quickly and easily.
Small Business Trends: You mentioned Infusionsoft a number of times. You were the 2016 Infusionsoft Icon Award winner. What has that meant to win that kind of award from that kind of company?
Nate Shaw: First of all, totally awesome honor to win that award. I went to Icon, which is Infusionsoft’s conference in 2014 for the first time. It was really inspiring to me in terms of all the possibilities that the software had to offer. Also, really just expanded my view of the possibilities of systemizing my business, building standard operating procedures for every facet of it, and empowering my staff and faculty. I left with a huge to-do list. I came back and one of the things I realized right off the bat was that I wasn’t going to do it alone anymore. My partner and I weren’t going to do it just the two of us.
What happened was, I realized number 1, the value of building a great team. Number 2, the value of empowering them and getting them to feel like they could actually help create the system and the processes that we needed to in order to run our business better. Also, just from a straight up geek standpoint, I loved working on the tool, which was Infusionsoft, which was an incredibly powerful tool, but there was no way that I could stay under the hood there working on it and also lead our business. I needed to empower 2, or 3, or 4 other people to get in there and see the value of a great, great tool like Infusionsoft is.
I spent a couple of years really trying to build on that. Over the course of doing that, we ended up creating pretty awesome systems in growing our business three-fold from 2014 to 2016. Winning that award was a total shock to me. Number 1, just even being nominated as a finalist because there’s so many great businesses that I was surrounded by. I think the number 1 thing that that award did was just validate the efforts, if that makes sense.
When we were nominated and then we won the award, it’s a pure voting process. There’s 3,000 people and a majority of them vote for your business saying that we’re really inspired by what you’ve done, if nothing else, and it just feels really good to know that all of the time, and effort, and studying, and late nights, and everything that we put in, our whole team has, is recognized by my peers. That alone is totally worth it. It just feel amazing.
We won $10,000, that’s awesome but that went straight back into the business instantly. There was nothing amazing that came out of that beyond just keeping us alive for another month and keeping us inspired. Much more than that have been the people I met and the validation of the whole process, these first 6 years. That was wonderful. I would strongly encourage anyone who’s checking us out to make the bold move of putting your business out there and applying for whatever opportunities you have to be recognized for your efforts.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.
Brent: What an inspiring business story! Personally, I have mixed feelings about automation, but I know it could work out fine, without missing out on the personal touch. I will listen to your interview during my walk.