Griff Hamlin, Global Online Guitar Teacher: Paying Attention to Your Customers Leads to Success
Griff Hamlin was 15 years old when he began teaching people to play guitar. Now, almost three decades later, he is one of the most successful guitar teachers online with over 40,000 students worldwide. Hamlin believes a personal touch is the key to maintaining customers and understanding where to take his business next.
Hamlin recently shared what he's learned at The University of Texas at Austin as part of the Herb Kelleher Center's Entrepreneurship Live! speaker series.
Pay Attention to What Works
It all began for Hamlin in elementary school, when he would strum a guitar while his father played the piano. At age 12 he had his first private teacher and three years later, as a sophomore in high school, he got his first teaching job. One day while walking home from school, he passed a music store. On a whim he ran in and asked the owner if he could teach guitar. Hamlin landed his first job.
In his first year teaching guitar, Hamlin said he learned much more than his students. "Teaching was not natural to me, what was natural was to pay attention," Hamlin said.
His teaching improved as he gathered feedback, used what was successful, and tossed what wasn't helping. He later approached selling lessons online with the same mindset.
He realized most of his online students were in their 50s, and that there was a huge market in this segment of the population. Through observation he gained an understanding of what they liked to play (the blues), where they tended to search for lessons (Google), and how to sell his lessons successfully (on DVD).
Hamlin began to sell lessons online in 2006, but it wasn't until three years later that he saw any significant success. It took patience and hard work for Hamlin to turn a profit.
Don't Have a Plan B
In his early days teaching as a high school student, he earned three times what his friends made at their fast food jobs. However, Hamlin's parents wanted to make sure he had a backup plan, and so he went to college to study computer science.
But Hamlin soon realized his interest wasn't in computer science or college — it was teaching guitar. "If you have a Plan B, you're going to use it," Hamlin said. So, he made sure he had no choice but to pursue his passions.
"I sat my parents down and thanked them for paying for college but told them it wasn't working out," Hamlin said.
Hamlin still values education. He believes in pursuing passion and later attended the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California in 1998.
Find the Market Before You Make the Product
After leaving college, Hamlin offered his services in a music store.
Without realizing it, Hamlin had found a clever marketing strategy. He had planted himself exactly where his potential market would come seeking services and made himself the first to offer a solution the moment they asked.
Since then, his marketing has grown more sophisticated.
People Want to Connect With People
Hamlin still emails his students personally and he chats with them almost every day on a forum he created. "At the end of the day, everybody wants to connect with another person, not a large company," Hamlin said.
He doesn't use graphics and banners in his emails, and simply types them up himself. Staying in such constant contact with his students not only helps him maintain a good customer relationship, it also allows him to see what his customers want.
Hamlin said whenever a topic becomes "loud" on his forum he will generally try to answer that question with a lesson. "For every person who is active on the forum, I know there are nine others out there who are not and probably have the same question," Hamlin said.