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How musicians (and other creatives too) can transition their business online ASAP

Suzanne Yada
Mar 14 · 14 min read
Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

I’m a musician, a creative, an instructor, a marketer and an entrepreneur here in the San Francisco Bay Area. And my creative community has taken a huge, catastrophic hit economically when events and large gatherings got cancelled left and right this week.

So I scrambled to piece together a webinar to help musicians and other creatives make the transition from offline to online businesses.

But this is bigger and faster-moving than recording a webinar will allow, and since the situation is changing so rapidly, I’m taking the outline I wrote for the webinar and posting it here on Medium instead. That way I can add links and new info as it arises. I may or may not bother with full sentences, either. I just want you all to get the support you need in this difficult time.

This is for you if:

  • You are an independent worker
  • You are a musician (or other creative) who needs ways to make money online quickly
  • You are also creative with resources
  • You have internet access and aren’t afraid to use it
  • You are willing to implement these strategies quickly
  • You are willing to make some big moves and uncomfortable asks
  • You are also willing to look at the long-term goals

About me (why I’m qualified to give this info):

  • Suzanne Yada
  • Digital marketer at yadaCreative
  • Lead instructor for the freelancer’s program at Uptima Business Bootcamp in Oakland, CA
  • Remotely working since 2014
  • Musician and poet @ Little Spiral @
  • Human

I’m offering this free training because I see the need, not to make a profit. If you choose to hire me later on when you’re back on your feet, great, but there is zero obligation whatsoever. None. Really. I just want to help and give you resources.

First, Mindset

Breathe.

Good decisions are hard to make in panic mode. So literally take a moment right now to just stop, turn off your alerts, close Facebook, and breathe.

I’ll wait.

Take one more breath.

OK.

I want you to know it’s OK to feel whatever you feel. Just get centered for a moment amidst the chaos.

This is your opportunity to turn anxiety into action. Take advantage of the sudden free time you may have and spend it shifting your business online to a more sustainable source of income.

I’m also asking you to hold off on the GoFundMes for now. While there’s no shame in GoFundMes, and you may eventually need to launch one, they are not sustainable for the long term. I would rather you use your energy to sell your offerings first to kickstart a business you can continue to earn from down the road.

The other thing I need you to remember is this:

Money is a social construct.

We all made up money with our minds. We as a society decided what it means. And right now, money does not mean what it used to a few weeks ago.

Money is an energy that’s more flexible than we realize. Money represents relationships, and everything is negotiable, especially now.

With that…

Immediate actions

Negotiate ALL of your expenses and bills.

  • Call the landlord
  • Call banks/credit cards
  • Contact cell phone provider
  • Stop autopayments
  • Apply for forebearance on student loans

Stop all bill payments if you are in emergency. If you can’t pay rent this month, tell your landlord that you can’t, and then don’t. Certain cities have declared moratoriums on evictions. Go over ALL expenses — in this crisis many businesses have programs or are even legally bound to not punish you for late or missing payments during this. Save all your money for groceries and supplies. That’s it.

This one thing can help ease the panic — realize that you are not alone, and people are now having to accept that not everyone can pay bills right now, including you.

After you’ve negotiated everything and there are still essentials left over…

Ask for loans from friends and family.

If you’re an independent worker, treat this as a business loan. Many Silicon Valley startups do this, why not you? There should be no shame around this.

But I also understand that hitting up friends and family for cash is not a luxury many can afford. Family is not always loving and giving, and friends may just be as broke as you.

Unless someone in your network is abusive, I want you to ask anyway. They may know someone, or come across an opportunity and have you in mind.

Emergency loans, grants and resources

This is where I’m just going to list resources and update it as I know more.

Band together

  • Coordinate with other creatives in your field
  • See how you can support each other and pool resources

Intro to online selling

There are four main steps to selling something online:

1) Make a buy button,
2) Attach something to the buy button,
3) Tell a friend,
4) Tell more friends.

If you get overwhelmed, just come back to those four steps.

Do them poorly, imperfectly, awkwardly, but do them, and be open to learning and adjusting along the way.

It could literally be as simple as a PayPal.me link and a Facebook page, or as complex as a multi-tiered membership with bonuses and affiliates and yada yada yada. My own tip jar uses fancy-pants (and kind of pricey) checkout software that I already own for my business, and it also sends you my EP for free automatically, but I’ve been working on that setup for an embarrassingly long time already. You likely don’t have that time or expense right now. Do the fancy things later. Whatever you can do to get started, then just get started. Here’s how:

First, think about your current networks. People you’re already connected to. Check the outbox of your email, or your list of DMs in social media, and start thinking about the people you’ve been in touch with over the last 6 months or so. These are the people who care about you and who would buy whatever you’re selling. You can also think about people in your physical neighborhood, who may be more willing to help a neighbor right now than a stranger on the internet.

Then think about what they could need that matches your skillset. It’s super important to start with their needs first if you want to build a viable business that is more sustainable than this current panicky freakout we’re all in.

What to sell

To help you find something that could match their needs, I’m about to give you too, too many ideas. Pick only up to three that are 1) lucrative, 2) the fastest to implement, 3) that meets your people’s needs and 4) you actually like doing. Any more than than 3 and you’re going to drive yourself crazy spreading yourself too thin.

I would also think beyond the immediate cash emergency and consider a business that is scalable: that is, doing something once and then make money off it over and over again. Imagine it’s like an author who writes a book once, but sells thousands of copies of the same book, as opposed to selling your stuff on Craigslist (you’ll run out of stuff), or selling your hours (you only have 24 in a day).

Other examples of scalable things to sell:

  • Group programs
  • Pre-recorded programs
  • Recurring revenue/memberships
  • Digital products
  • Tip jars
  • etc.

The examples below will vary between not-so-scalable and scalable. Prioritize what you can offer NOW, and what the people in your immediate networks need. Then prioritize a scalable business.

One-on-one teaching and coaching

There’s going to be a LOT of people working from home and going out of their minds. There’s also a lot of kids out of school who need to be entertained and learn something. Whether you’re teaching adults who now have some free time on their hands, or becoming a virtual babysitter so the adults can work at home in peace, here are ways you can use your skills:

Teach your art/craft

  • Music lessons
  • Composition/theory
  • Instruments/voice
  • Writing
  • Production
  • Stage presence
  • etc.

Teach soft skills related to what you do

  • Networking
  • Creative process
  • Negotiation
  • Project management
  • People skills
  • etc.

Teach tech skills related to the tools you use for the job

  • Software (Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton, etc.)
  • How to set up a home studio
  • Project management tools
  • Collaboration tools

Consulting and coaching

  • Song/creative works feedback
  • Weekly check-ins
  • Creative challenges for the bored and the homebound
  • Accountability

Tools you can use for all the above:

  • Zoom — free for one-on-one video conferencing, then it’s free for 40 minutes for more than 2 people
  • Skype — free
  • 10to8.com — book clients to your calendar — free AND you can process payments for appointments
  • Calendly — simpler and also free but no payment processing on the free tier
  • A buy button — hands down the easiest is simply create a PayPal.me link. I’ll be referencing that throughout this article. You can also plaster your Venmo username everywhere, use something like Gumroad for digital products, or eventually upgrade to more full-feature shopping-cart software. Just keep it simple for now.

Sell an online course

How to do this well is a course in and of itself, so I will only recommend tools for now.

  • Facebook groups — Free, quick and dirty. It now has a space for “units” so you can organize a series of tutorials in order. Convert your group to a social learning group, make it private, upload your training videos in the units section, then in the settings, turn on the questions feature for anyone who wants to join. Ask two questions: “This group is a paid course that costs $__. Have you paid for it at paypal.me/______?” And the second question: “What email is associated with your PayPal account?” Done.
  • MemberVault — free hosting space and marketplace for your info products for up to 100 students. (They just raised the user limit due to the emergency, and included a free month if you use the code CARE). Many more fun options than FB groups, including gamifying your course, but it takes some time to set up. My MemberVault is here so you can get an idea of how it works. I’ll also be adding free resources there for you all as the days go on.
  • Teachable.com — premium platform to host pre-recorded video trainings. High quality and reasonable cost for what it does. They also have a robust blog and resources on how to create and launch your online course.
  • Video camera — Your webcam or phone is just fine to record yourself. Don’t let perfectionism stop you.
  • Video editing software — QuickTime is free on Mac and can record screens. iMovie or Windows Movie Maker is free and comes with computers. Divinci Resolve is free and seriously pro — it rivals Premiere and Final Cut in my opinion. Camtasia is not free but specializes in creating video tutorials and it’s the best and easiest tutorial-recording software I’ve ever used.

Live streaming

Get a paypal.me link for a virtual tip jar and include the link on your live streams. Again, there could be a whole course on just this piece (and Molly Mahoney does an excellent job with training on social media livestreams, and Cherie Hu has a fantastic comprehensive resource here), so I’m just going to list tools and platforms you can use for livestreams:

Commissions

Create custom works for people. You can charge hundreds for one piece. Tiamo De Vettori does trainings on this for musicians (and here’s a very helpful Facebook Live). There’s plenty other possibilities for other industries too. You can sell your custom works for:

  • Weddings (whether in the future or for ones that just got cancelled)
  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Mother’s Day
  • Companies who need to promote themselves
  • Remote office motivation / mood booster
  • Friends
  • Enemies
  • Comic relief (think Coronavirus parodies)
  • Ringtones/alerts/reminders/wallpaper

For quicker, smaller creative commissions, you can also take requests and prompts over social media and post a PayPal tip jar there.

Music-related services

  • Record instrument tracks
  • Custom production
  • Vocals / voiceover work
  • Post on Fiverr or SoundBetter

Multimedia services/virtual assistant

  • Podcast editing
  • Video editing
  • Copywriting / copy editing
  • Graphic design
  • Social media
  • Web design
  • Post on Upwork or Fiverr

Data entry

Job boards

Sell extra gear you may have lying around

  • Craigslist
  • FB marketplace

Sell your backlog of merch

  • Run a sale to your email list/social media followers
  • Gumroad — easy payment processing for creatives
  • Digital bundles or USB drives

Custom merch — print-on-demand

Sell digital products

  • Art itself — Your music/film/visuals/etc
  • Compilations
  • Curated digital bundles
  • Templates
  • Gift cards
  • Writer’s prompts
  • Spreadsheets
  • Directories
  • Workbooks
  • Trello/Asana boards
  • Calendars/Planners
  • DAW files
  • Stems and samples (many online libraries out there)
  • etc.

Subscriptions

Depending on your body of work, subscriptions can work as either exclusive access to your entire catalog of work plus behind the scenes stories, or you can offer a new thing every month. If your subscription is monthly, think about how you can offer a discount or bonus if someone purchases a year upfront.

Platforms:

Presell work

Now that you may have some extra time on your hands, consider preselling all the new work you will be making. You can do that by:

  • Selling discounted booking fees for future events
  • Gift cards
  • Rain checks
  • Sponsorship
  • 50% upfront on commissions
  • Exclusive bundles
  • Annual subscriptions
  • Simply asking for upfront payment

Be an affiliate

This is selling something on someone else’s behalf and earning a percentage of commissions. This is ideal if you have an already established audience centered around one big commonality. So many marketplaces and software have affiliate programs, it’s just thinking about what your audience needs. Things like:

You can also ask your people to be affiliates for YOU. Gumroad has an easy option to add affiliate programs for anything in your marketplace, and you can empower your networks to spread the word about your offerings by splitting the sale with them.

How to find people to buy

Start with your current networks

Like I mentioned earlier, at this point, you need to start with your own connections first. Email them all. In fact, this is exactly what I did to launch my own business (which you can read about right here.)

Tips on sending this email:

  • Do not worry about if you’re profiting off this scare. You are on this blog post because your income has been impacted and you need help. Do not be afraid to ask. You may be surprised by who responds. Plus, because you are offering something that people could actually need, it is a full and proper exchange — nothing to feel guilty about.
  • Keep the subject line personal and in your style. Don’t be all business-like, which is easy to ignore. And consider sending the subject line in all lowercase because that actually helps your email to stand out amid all the other business-type coronavirus-related emails they’re getting.
  • Only list a limited number of services. Listing 20 will overwhelm people and inspire them to not act on your ask at all. Aim for 3 to 5, then tell them they can reach out if they have other ideas.
  • If you have no idea what to charge for things, have them start a conversation with you and ask them what their budget is. Say your prices are negotiable, but don’t undersell yourself either — don’t put in hours and hours of work into fulfilling something you’re only charging $20 for. As an independent contractor, you’ll need to give yourself a 30% raise from a typical employee so you can cover the costs of taxes, admin and marketing your services.
  • Give them a deadline and a reason to act now. In normal business circumstances, you’d offer a discount, bonus or introductory deal that expires after a limited amount of days.
  • Do give them an option to just give if they don’t need your services right now. Have that paypal.me link handy.
  • If you do NOT have solid offerings in mind, you can try sending a list of things you’re thinking about offering and having them respond and tell you which ones they would consider buying, and for what price.

Here’s the structure of an email you may consider sending. Make it personal and in your voice. If you need to add a story, do. But do keep it concise and connected to hope — we are already so flooded with tragic stories that we risk compassion fatigue, so we need to keep the call-to-action simple, doable, positive, helpful and actionable for people.

— — — — — — — —

Subject line: can we help each other?

Body:

Hi friends, family and colleagues:

As you’ve likely seen in the news, the world is being impacted by the current coronavirus scare. In my commitment to public health and safety, I’m transitioning parts of my business online, and I’m reaching out because I think you or someone you know could use my help. I could use the extra business and I know people could use my services, so let’s make it happen!

Here’s what I’m offering:

  • [Option 1]
  • [Option 2]
  • [Option 3]

As an introduction to my work, I’m offering a deal for first-time customers: [talk about your deal/bonus and give them a deadline when the deal expires]

Email me about prices and let me know your budget. I am available for other services as well, just hit reply and tell me what you need!

And if you don’t need my services at this time but would still love to support me, here’s how: [insert PayPal link]

I hope you’re well and safe, and please let me know if I can be of any help to you.

Thanks, [name]

— — — — — — — —

If you’re less of an email person, I would not recommend group texts or DMs, but instead you may need to reach out individually to everyone. Yep, it’s going to take some time. Start with the simple message:

Hey, I’m transitioning my business online and could use your feedback. Would you or someone you know be interested in [Option 1, Option 2 or Option 3]?

Expanding beyond your current networks

This is the multi-million dollar question, isn’t it? A perennial one, too.

I could do entire trainings on this alone (and have done). There’s also excellent training at Indepreneur.io that’s specifically about music marketing for the long term. But here’s a quick and dirty list of right-now-must-make-money avenues:

  • Neighborhood groups like Nextdoor.com
  • Upwork
  • Fiverr.com
  • Craigslist
  • Social media
  • FB groups
  • Partner with someone who leads a community who would love your services. Think outside the box. It could be a podcaster, blogger, YouTuber, TikToker, FB group admin, and offer to collaborate (and perhaps split sales).
  • Use FB ads ONLY if you can afford them. Best way to use them cheapy: Put $10 on an ad to people who have already interacted with you who may not have been on your email list. I have a video about this here, and some free intro training here.

One step at a time

I hope this post was helpful, and I know it can be overwhelming too. This time we’re in is overwhelming. But in times of crisis, the best of people are put on display.

This post was focused heavily on how to make money online ASAP. But there are also other productive things you can be doing with your art and furthering your career. Laurel Thomsen has a great post here.

Let this be your best moment, and allow others to shine in their best moments as they support you.

We will find ways through this. Together.

Suzanne Yada

Written by

Facebook/Instagram ads specialist at yadaCreative.com. Songwriter at littlespiral.com. Thingdoer at DoTheThing.club.

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