Hi, Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well.
Hi everyone! My name is Katie, but I’m better known by many as The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. I’m an amateur ballroom dancer and writer with a day job and two beautiful German Shepherd/Husky mixes that keep their Mama moving.
The Girl with the Tree Tattoo started out as a simple blog, used as a personal creative outlet and a way to process my experiences as a ballroom dancer. It turned into a source of inspiration and guidance for ballroom dancers around the world.
Adult ballroom dance students are my primary audience, and my writing always aims to shine a light on the challenges we all face but are rarely discussed openly.
In case you’re wondering, the name was inspired by my full-back tree tattoo, which I proudly display at ballroom competitions, despite it being taboo.
The Girl with the Tree Tattoo went from hobby to business when I began publishing books for sale. To date, I’ve authored three books. The first two are digital, short reads: Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance and Dance Diaries: Ballroom Budgeting. My third and signature offer is The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancers, a guide to help ballroom dance students build an effective routine for practicing on their own that fits their life.
With this latest publication and other paid writing opportunities, my business’ gross revenue is averaging about $1,000 per month.
I always dreamt about being a paid author (or more secretly, a dancer). While my day jobs have always been set in the environmental science field, The Girl with the Tree Tattoo brand has given me the opportunity to incorporate both my passions, make a difference in the lives of others and get paid to be who I truly am.
What’s your own background. Were you always proficient in this business, or did it just strike your mind one fine day?
When I was 6 and 7 years old, I took jazz, tap and ballet classes and even performed on stage in roles such as a sailor on the good ship Lollipop, a California Raisin, and Flounder in the Little Mermaid.
I was extremely shy, but I loved dancing with all my being. Then when I was 8, my family moved across the country. When asked, I told my mother I didn’t want to keep dancing. The truth was I was too scared to start at a new studio.
It would be two decades until I walked into another dance studio, and this time, it was a ballroom studio.
It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on ballroom dancing. A former colleague introduced me to the ballroom studio where I still train today. I started by going to their monthly practice parties and attending group classes, while I devised a plan to fit the pricey private lessons into my paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.
I started regular lessons in December 2012. In 2014, I entered my first ballroom competition as a pro-am student, meaning I danced with my teacher as my partner. I did well from the beginning, always placing in the top 3 and most often winning 1st or 2nd place.
The journey wasn’t easy, however. It was difficult to feel like I belonged in the ballroom world when I could barely afford one to two lessons a week and others were taking five or six. I rented a used dress for competitions while others appeared in new, custom designs at every event. My financial challenges ate into my self-confidence about becoming the dancer I dreamt of being.
I used The Girl with the Tree Tattoo blog to express and process my inner struggles with this passion. Creative writing was my other lifelong love. Other dancers began to comment on posts or email me directly to thank me for being so open and honest. They thought they were the only ones struggling with the issues I discussed.
Just as I found my dance niche in the form of the competitive ballroom, I found my writing niche in telling stories about my dance journey. I realized there was a gap in our ballroom training. Our teachers couldn’t really understand what we were going through because most of them had been dancing their entire lives.
Learning ballroom dance as an adult was a completely different experience with its own set of challenges, but no one was talking about them. I had the writing passion and skills to shine a light into the shadowy corners.
This realization eventually led to the publication of my first book, Dance Diaries: Learning Ballroom Dance – What I Wish I Had Known in 2016. It was quickly followed by Dance Diaries: Ballroom Budgeting – How I Afford to Dance since the dance budget was a particularly hot topic among my followers. I was officially a published author!
At this point, I was serious about my dancing but I still didn’t see the business potential around my writing about dancing. I never had much proficiency for business. I grew up with the idea that you went to school, got good grades, went to college, and then got a job working for someone else.
Dancing and writing were “hobbies” and not something I thought could earn you a living unless you were one of the few who were extremely talented and caught that lucky break. It’s no surprise that the two Dance Diaries ebooks were priced extremely low at $5 and $6.
It took the encouragement of an entrepreneurial friend to open my mind to the idea that I could build a business around my passions. They didn’t have to be just hobbies. Then, in 2017, the catalyst for my third book and signature offer appeared.
What went into designing the initial product? Can you take us through the actual process?
My third and final competition of 2017 was the Embassy Ballroom Championships, host of the World Championships. When it came time for the event that would determine the World Champion of my division, I was positive I danced my absolute best.
I ended up placing 5th out of 7 couples, the lowest placement in my competitive career. I was crushed. How could I have danced my best and placed my worst? My ego took a major blow, and I questioned whether I was even a good dancer or just got lucky all these years.
While I was throwing a mini tantrum during a dance lesson post-Embassy, another teacher made a harsh but valid observation. He asked if I knew all of my routines to the point I could dance them on my own. No, not 100%, I replied. He responded that if I had known them 100%, maybe I would have placed better.
Ballroom dancing involves a lot of nonverbal partner communication, known as lead and follow. One person cues the other person what steps they’re going to do next in a specific direction and specific timing.
For the competition, even though you don’t know what music will be played, it’s common to choreograph a specific routine for each dance (i.e. Waltz, Tango, Cha-Cha, etc.) because the timing of the dance is always the same.
I play the following role in the partnership and while I need to wait for my lead’s cue when dancing, knowing what’s coming takes some of the stress out of the equation and allows us to perform more fully.
So yes, knowing my routines 100% would have helped me at Embassy. I was still living on a strict budget in order to train as a dancer though, so I couldn’t afford to take additional lessons to practice with my teacher.
Practicing on my own was the only part of my training where I could add more time without adding more expense. My solo practice up to this point was disorganized. I became obsessed with building a framework around my solo practice that would be highly effective without requiring me to be in the dance studio to train hours every day.
The result of that work was a vast improvement in my dancing over a very short time period. Not only did I know my routines better, my technique improved, but my connection with my teacher was also stronger, and I had more confidence in myself.
I felt like I had unlocked the secret to succeeding as a competitive dancer who still had a full life outside of the ballroom.
I knew my solo practice framework was the next thing to share with my audience. They have dedicated dancers on limited budgets, so they would appreciate being shown how to effectively take ownership of their dance training.
I worked with a graphic designer to create a free, downloadable Solo Practice worksheet, asking only for email addresses in exchange so I could start building an interest list for the full Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing.
Talk us through the process of the launch of your business
I was in a group coaching container for entrepreneurs when I released the Solo Practice worksheet, and my launch coach pointed out that I didn’t need to work for free while I developed the full Guide. I could utilize a paid beta group.
They would get early access to the content at a discounted price, while I would get feedback before officially releasing my product. I invited my email list of just over 100 people to join the beta group, and the 10 available spots sold out in a week.
The beta group proved useful in keeping me accountable as well. Over six weeks, I wrote six chapters and released them one per week to the group. I couldn’t procrastinate on completing the chapters because people were expecting to receive what they had paid for! It also helped eliminate the bad habit of overthinking what I wanted to say.
Once the beta review was done and I was ready to officially release The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing, I formed a launch team, again inviting people from my email list to join. They would get early access to the finished book and the opportunity to earn commissions as an affiliate. I had 9 people join, in addition to those who opted in from the beta group.
The actual launch went “ok.” I did a preorder launch, hoping to sell enough to cover the cost of printing the first batch of 100 hard copies. I sold 11 books, about half of my minimum goal. Looking back, I see what I could have done differently.
Working with such a small list, I exhausted my potential buyers before the Guide was even available for preorder with filling the beta group, creating a launch team waiting list, and then inviting people to buy into the actual launch team.
Nearly everyone who was going to buy on the list had already bought by the time The Solo Practice Guide officially “launched.” Focusing on just a beta group and then preorders would have yielded better results with fewer resources.
If I look at the broader view however, from beta group to preorder launch, the sales conversion rate was excellent – 30 sales from a list that was between 100 and 120 people.
How is your repeat customer rate like? Can you take us through how you attract and retain customers?
I like to call my audience a small but mighty tribe of followers. There aren’t many repeat purchases since I only have three books for sale (although a few have returned to buy Solo Practice Guides for their friends). What I do have is a highly engaged core group of people who read every weekly blog post and interact with nearly every social media post.
Being in such a niche market, the most important thing I’ve done to attract and retain my audience recognizes what works for them in particular instead of looking at broader marketing strategies or jumping on the latest trend.
My audience first encounters me either through reading stories on my blog or my social media. They relate to my personal experiences, so focusing my marketing on The Solo Practice Guide itself proved less effective than stories of how The Solo Practice Guide has helped me personally.
If you look at my social media, images of just The Solo Practice Guide are rare. What you’ll find instead are images or videos of my dance training or performances, with stories of how I incorporate the strategies in The Solo Practice Guide.
After the initial launch in June 2018, I returned to the Embassy Ballroom Championships in August 2018 to take another shot at the World Title. This time, with a year of structured solo practice under my belt, I took 1st place out of 11 couples and officially earned the right to call myself a World Champion. In the two days following the competition, I had 8 new orders.
They continued for a total of 17 sales in the month of September, making it the biggest month of the year. I didn’t need to “launch,” I just needed to share what a difference this book made in my own life as a dancer.
Something else I’ll mention – I’ve never spent a lot of money on social media ads. Organic and partnership traffic has proven more effective for my audience.
For partnership traffic, I’ve done guest posts on other ballroom websites about solo practice, sometimes with promotional discount codes for their readers. I’ve also sent complimentary copies of The Solo Practice Guide for other dancers to review on their blogs.
The storytelling and personal relatability are key to communicating the value of this book to my audience. They’re sold to so frequently on their dance journeys that it can make them wary of “one more thing.”
This is where being in the same position as my potential clients really helps my business. I understand them because I am them! It helps me communicate more effectively, and it helps set me apart from others selling expert advice on ballroom dancing.
What is the current situation? How do you see yourself in the next 12 months?
This year, I began selling The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing on Amazon in addition to my own online store. While sales were enough to bump it up to no. 4 in the ballroom category, it hasn’t yielded a significant return yet.
But it’s Amazon, so I’ll keep it posted and maintain my seller’s account so I can add other products in the future.
My business mentor always says you should double down on what’s working, and for my brand, the organic and partnership traffic drive the most sales. So I’ve focused on gaining additional visibility in 2019 by partnering with dance shops and dance camps where The Solo Practice Guide is a complementary product to their main offers.
Again, the personal connection proves valuable. The most successful partnership has been with a dance camp run by the owners of my dance studio. They sold all 6 books that they took with them and received additional requests after the copies were gone.
I will also “brand jack” events I attend. For example, I attended a dance camp held by a large competition that is very active on social media and always reshare posts they’re tagged in. So I posted on my own social media about attending the camp with The Solo Practice Guide and tagged the host competition on every post. They reshared almost everything.
The Girl with the Tree Tattoo brand has evolved like an underground movement. It’s not super flashy or visible at the forefront of the ballroom industry, but at every event I attend, someone I’ve never met recognizes me or my tattoo.
I believe it’s developed this way because I’m down in the trenches with my audience. I’m one of the crowds, not the one up on stage.
This side business has yet to be profitable, but that isn’t surprising considering the business is also covering dance training expenses. The Solo Practice Guide for Ballroom Dancing at $67 retail wouldn’t cover the cost of one private dance lesson. Just like the business is a mix of my passions, to be profitable, it will need to be a mix of revenue.
In addition to selling my published works, revenue is generated through paid writing assignments for other dance sites and organizations. Within the next 12 months, I also plan on launching multiple new products to provide an array of tools that dancers can use to enhance and improve their training.
Through a mix of book sales and paid writing assignments, The Girl with the Tree Tattoo is averaging about $1,000 per month this year, about a 30% increase from 2018. Book sales make up about 45% of revenue. As I release new products, I anticipate the revenue from product sales will increase.
As a woman founder, do you see this as only financially uplifting? Or otherwise too? If yes, then how?
I have gained so much more than just a few extra dollars in the bank from building my business. Of course, those dollars go right back out again into my dancing. It’s amazing how similar the journeys of entrepreneurship and dance are.
To succeed at both, I’ve had to develop a discipline around my desires and be comfortable taking action even when I’m scared. I’ve become more confident and speak up for myself in situations that would have made me shrink in the past.
I’ve had to learn how to put my ego aside and ask others for help, as well as trust myself to be strong enough to move forward on my own when necessary. Both paths have triggered incredible personal growth and development. I am not the same person I was before ballroom and entrepreneurship. I have evolved into a greater and truer version of myself.
What tools or services did you use?
Honestly, looking back, I’m not sure why I was so convinced I needed a separate website for my shop. I could have just as easily upgraded my wordpress.com account and added it to the blog website. Now that it’s built, I’m not stressing over it.
The two sites are linked and people are able to place orders without a hitch, so I’m leaving it alone! The e-commerce components on practiceballroomdance.com come from Woocommerce, which I chose after a Woocommerce shopping experience on another entrepreneur’s website.
I went with MailChimp as my CRM simply because it was free and I had heard of it before (sometimes that’s enough).
I’ve been told this hurts me in the algorithms, but frankly, I don’t have the time to organically create the same post on three platforms! I fit the strategy to me, not myself to the strategy. My blog posts are also automatically shared to Facebook, Twitter, and more recently, LinkedIn.
My two cents on platforms: if you’re trying to decide which one to use, just pick two or three, compare briefly, and then sign up for one of them. Don’t get caught up in trying to find the absolute best one because you’ll end up never taking action, which means you’re not growing your business.
Am I happy with the platforms I use? More or less. They don’t need to be perfect; they just need to do what I want them to do so I can focus on more important things like writing, dancing, and serving my audience.
What are your key challenges today? How are you planning to tackle those?
One of my top challenges has to be time management. I still work a full-time day job while training in ballroom, growing my business, and taking care of my fur babies and home. Along with time management is energy management.
Sometimes it’s not that I can’t find the time, it’s a struggle to find the energy because I try to do too much at once and burn myself out quickly. I’ve had to learn how to hustle at my own pace that keeps me productive and moving forward without draining my energy. I’ve also had to shift my mindset to see all of my activities as part of one whole life, instead of compartmentalized into “day job life,” “home life,” “dance life,” and “entrepreneur life.”
When I tried to compartmentalize, I found myself feeling guilty when I was exhausted from a hard day at the day job and opted to rest that evening instead of jumping back on the computer to work on the business.
I felt pulled between putting in the time to practice my dancing and write about my dancing. It’s all part of the same whole though. Recognizing that has helped me to feel not necessarily balanced between all aspects of my life, but definitely more aligned.
Whatever needs more attention gets it, and that indirectly serves everything else because it’s all connected.
Which are some resources, books, articles or podcasts that have been useful to you, and would share with your readers
More than books or podcasts, my business and dance coaches have been the biggest influences in the evolution of the Girl with the Tree Tattoo. They saw me for who I was, guided me when I was lost, and stepped back when I needed to stand on my own two feet. The support system I have around me has been a key factor in my success to date.
I do listen to a few business and dance-related podcasts when work at the day job is really dragging, including Lewis Howes’ School of Greatness, Jennifer Kem’s Femmefluence Radio, and Galit Friedlander’s DanceSpeak Podcast.
When I want more straight-up business talk, I will also binge-listen to Barbara Corcoran’s Business Unusual. This collection may seem a bit eclectic, but they all inspire me in different ways, which all support my growth as a dancer, writer, and entrepreneur.
As far as books go, I have more entrepreneurial or personal development books waiting to be read than have actually been read. I’m a storyteller and therefore, love reading stories. I like to be transported to another world when I read a book, so I really prefer to read fiction. I am currently rereading The Lord of the Rings series while my entrepreneur books sit patiently off to the side.
Many times, women feel that businesses are for only for men. What’s your take?
Just like in traditional ballroom dancing, women are typically taught to be followers in life. The men are the ones in charge. Anyone can learn to lead though. If we have a passion and we want to support our life with it, then we can build a business around it.
If we see a need that isn’t being fulfilled, we can build a business to fill it. It doesn’t matter whether we’re male or female. Women make great leaders and great entrepreneurs because of their emotional intelligence, resilience and innate desire to serve others.
We may approach entrepreneurship in a different way than men, but that doesn’t make it the wrong way. Just like the most popular marketing strategies may not work for my audience, the strategies men employ to build their businesses may not be the right ones for women. We have to stay true to ourselves because when we do that, anything is possible.
I am the sole founder of The Girl with the Tree Tattoo. If I can do it, you can do it!
- Blog: www.thegirlwiththetreetattoo.com/blog
- Shop: www.practiceballroomdance.com
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/thegirlwiththetreetattoo
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/thegirlwiththetreetattoo
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/treetattoodance
- LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/katie-flashner-b0a7173a/
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The Girl with the Tree Tattoo - how a niche passion is making $1000 per month
Hi, Tell us your name, what you do, and about your business. Please do mention the monthly revenue for our readers as well. Hi everyone! My name is Katie,