For everyone, it seems, there is a “new normal” in this time of coronavirus. Small business owners who run in-person classes may be feeling the pinch at this time. In fact, we’re seeing many of you working to transition your classes online now, and we’re here to help make that shift a little easier
We spoke with three businesses — all listed on Care.com Explore — that have taken their classes virtual to hear how they are making it work. Here, they offer tips and best practices to get your online business up and running today.
1. Start with your loyal customers
For all three companies, their regular customers were pivotal in helping to move their businesses online. “My normal clients have become my family now,” says Riesa Fischer, owner and teacher at Key to My Art in Amityville, New York, noting how her community has become tight-knit during this.
Phoebe Hunt, executive director of Little Folkies, which offers original folk music classes for infants, toddlers and caretakers says the first thing she and founder Irena Eide did was reach out to their customers via email and reassure everyone that they were still there and would do everything they could to help families during this time.
2. Do a trial run
New to offering classes online, Fischer decided to test drive her new online art classes with family and friends before making the classes more widely available. This way, she was able to work out a number of the kinks before customers joined. “I did two guinea pig sessions, and they were amazing,” Fischer says, who offered the trial classes for free.
3. Use Zoom
Fischer’s classes are available through her website and on Care.com Explore, which uses the video conferencing platform Zoom to offer classes online. Instructors on the Explore platform have free access to premium Zoom accounts, which are normally $14.99/month. A premium account allows hosts to have up to 100 participants with no time limit.
Vanessa Silva, founder and director of Culinary Artistas in San Francisco, says she was hesitant at first to move her kids’ cooking classes online. “What really opened my eyes was when my 10-year-old daughter had a Zoom class with her dance troop. It was such a joy for her and such a big deal for her to be able to see her friends. So I said, ‘This makes sense.’”
Hunt at Little Folkies says their customers have found Zoom very straightforward and easy to use for interactive classes.
4. Restructure pricing for online classes
When setting your price point for online classes, consider whether your costs will change. One benefit of going online, Fischer notes, is that she can reach far more people now and, in fact, she has seen a big uptick in business. Given this, she’s decided that she can lower her costs per class. “Before I was charging on average $25 for an in-person class, and now I’m charging $10 per class online.” Her overhead costs, too, are lowered since she’s generally not providing the art supplies now.
At Little Folkies, they’ve dropped their prices from $25 per class to $20. They, too, experienced a surge in numbers during their first online class, which had 42 students compared to an average 15 in person.
Silva is treating the early days of her online business as an opportunity to learn what works and is offering her classes on a donation basis for now.
5. Make classes interactive
One of the biggest benefits — and selling points — of an online class is that students can interact with the teacher and see the other kids in class; it’s not just plopping a child down in front of a YouTube video. “There is a special energy that comes from a live interaction, where a teacher knows they are being watched and students know the teacher is watching back,” Hunt says. “It’s different when they are watching something pre-recorded; they know they are not part of it.”
At Little Folkies, they call out questions to the kids as they sing. For example, an instructor asks, “What other birds can fly in the sky?” while singing about birds and encourages students to unmute themselves if they want to share an answer.
6. Get creative with supplies
At Culinary Artistas, ingredients and equipment are usually supplied on site, so Silva had to find a workaround online. To make sure parents know what they are getting into, she puts a copy of the ingredient list in the class description and then sends a reminder email ahead of class with a copy of the ingredient list, again, as well as what equipment they need.
Silva says they’ve also taken this opportunity to teach kids how to be more flexible when cooking. “What was always frustrating for me as a kid watching cooking shows was all of the fancy ingredients they’d use. So we are using this as a chance to teach kids how to be flexible and substitute things on the spot when they don’t have something.”
7. Consider it a new way to grow business
If you’re used to running your classes in person, moving online may feel unnerving at first. Silva says she sees this as a way to extend her business offerings, not as a permanent switch in the way she hosts classes. Eventually, she says, things will go back to normal, and maybe this will be an additional way to offer classes in the future.