In today’s episode, we have Silvio Franceschinelli with us and he is going to talk about how he built a very successful education business in language learning.
You will also get to hear why building a brand that people recognize is crucial to your online business, how to use live events to gain authority and leverage in any niche and the best marketing strategy to use for long-term traffic.
In this episode, you will hear...
… how Silvio transitioned his in-person classes to online courses successfully.
… how Silvio built a very successful education business in language learning.
… why building a brand that people recognize is crucial to your online business.
… Silvio’s tips on how to build online recognition and reliability.
… how to use live events to gain authority and leverage in any niche.
… the best marketing strategy to use for long-term traffic.
… how to put on or find an in-person event in your specific niche.
… Silvio’s traffic strategies and how he gets students into his online courses.
… the difference between building a strong website vs. social media presence.
… Silvio’s best piece of advice to beginner online course creators.
Hey, everyone, thank you for checking out the show today. We have Silvio Franceschinelli with us who is an expert in teaching different languages. And I think it's gonna be a really cool episode because we have some really neat things to talk about regarding in- person events and online courses.
And I'm just so happy to have you with us today. How's it going?
It's going very well. Hello, how are you?
Very good. Yeah, it's I'm glad that you reached out. And we're able to get on this interview and talk about my favorite subject: Online courses.
And I would love to hear your story and how you got into creating these events in these courses and the school that you have. So if you could just take a moment and let the audience know.
What were you doing, you know, in the past before you kind of got into this role? And then how did you get into teaching and creating courses and so forth?
So my story starts a long time ago, when I lived in faraway countries, I won't name them because it's many. But I one of the ways for me to leave was to teach languages to teach my language, which is Italian. And then sometimes I've taught English.
And then I came back to Italy, my hometown, actually. And from my hometown, I started a language school 20 years ago. It's a normal language school with students come into our classrooms, physical classrooms.
And from the first point because one of the countries I lived in, we focused on teaching Japanese language. So I have many native speakers from Japan. And they teach Japanese.
So, the business was going all right for 15-16 years. And then the pandemic came. And I think we all had to change the way we did business. Before the pandemic, I was thinking sometimes about online courses, shall we do them? Shall we not? I don't know.
But I had the feeling that people weren't ready. They liked, enjoyed coming physically to the school and talk to the teachers and go for a beer after the lesson with their classmates. But then the pandemic forced everybody in their houses, no way we could do classes, especially for groups.
So we promoted heavily the online courses, and they actually went very, very well. There's a long history behind why they went so well. But to cut it short, because people had no other options. So they had to trust the online courses.
And then here we are now. There's no lockdown anymore. And hopefully, it won't come back. But still people are taking the online courses. So the initial kind of, "shall I trust something online" idea is not so strong anymore. And hopefully, it won't come back.
Yeah, it seems like now that people have, like you said, have been home and had a chance to take online courses and learn more about, you know, online education and business. The stigma is not there as much as it used to be.
And like you said, people feel more comfortable with that. So that's really cool that you started off teaching in physical spaces. Because on this podcast, I get people who go about this in many different ways.
Some people start with online courses, some people are instructional designers, and then others like yourself taught in a physical location with you know, students face to face.
And I always feel that those people who do that have a very strong handling of education, because when you're in that physical environment, you really get to fine tune your craft and really learn how to teach people.
So do you feel like when you transitioned into online courses, having that background in education in a classroom and in a school helped that out?
It helped lot because experience in any field helps. But then we also had to change a lot the way we teach and the way we organize everything. So it was sort of lucky that at that point, we had the lockdown.
So me and the teachers have a lot of free time to invest in researching new methods and new software's and new techniques, we even rewrote the material that we use for the lessons because teaching online is different.
So some of the books for some of the languages can be recycled for online courses, but some other cannot. Because because it is different. So we, we have now our own material. So, yeah we are on Thinkific.
There's no particular reason why. Maybe just because when I was looking for one, their advertisement came on the social networks, but it's working fine. So we are happy there. And again, we had to reinvent.
So the previous experience was very useful, but we had to be open to new ideas and new techniques.
Yeah, definitely. Okay, that makes a lot of sense. And Thinkific is a great platform, I recommend different platforms based on the needs of our students, and Thinkific is one that I recommend.
First of all, it's easy and free to get started. And you can try out some of their features. And it's a really well built platform. And so I do enjoy it.
What was the first course that you ever published online?
So, first thing, our courses are not really published online, because they're all live. So the students register for a three master.
For example, this week, three groups with Japanese and one with Korean languages are starting. And then every week, they can go online, download their PDF material, but they have two hours of a live teacher teaching them and asking them questions and checking their homework.
So most of my job, organizationally, is to match my teachers, with the students and sending the link to the students and uploading the material on the platform. We have some pre-recorded courses, but we give them for free just to attract the attention, the famous funnel, and that works predefined.
But I always emphasize that those free courses are not interactive. So for something like a language they're just useful to see if you like the language and if you might be interested in spending money for it. But you can my opinion, learn a language if it's not interactive.
Okay, very cool. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And when you are doing these live courses, are you– so you're hosting these courses through the Thinkific platform?
So the material is there to download. And the free courses with pre-recorded videos are there and they can watch them in streaming. And then they find every week or lesson that is just a link to the Zoom online live lesson.
Okay, gotcha. So the think if ik platform is hosting the material, and then when you go to teach the actual material live, you're doing that through a zoom call?
Yes. And then our quizzes every month to keep them interactive.
Okay, brilliant. Awesome. Very cool.
So when you first started putting this together, I assume that you decided that you were going to do this first course or your first couple courses and have them live.
How easy was it to get students into those courses? I'm assuming that because you already had the live classroom stuff going on, it was those students coming over? But did you have any problems, you know, promoting it or getting people into that course?
The first step was to move the courses we already had online. And that was not so difficult. Actually, some of the groups we had refused to go online, they just said, "We'll stop until we can continue in the classroom."
But then at that point, nobody expected that it would last over a year and a half. So finally, they all had to go online because it was taking too long to come back physically.
And then as I said, the story is quite long, our success story because we've been always very, very active in promoting our courses at physical events. Especially, for example, the Japanese people who study Japanese they love animation and comics and manga and those kinds of pop aspects of Japan, as well as the traditional ones, like Ikebana and bonsai.
So we went to these kind of events that host workshops and presentations and concerts. And we became part of the organization so that people started to know us even 15 to 20 years ago.
And now we have a brand name there is consolidated because after more than 10 years of being very physically present, everywhere in Italy. And at that point, I was doing it, mostly because it was fun. We started because we promoted the physical courses in my city.
And then we opened in two or three other cities, just for Japanese. But then it was going really everywhere, with maybe the dream project was to open a classroom in every city in Italy, but seeing it from now, it's impossible. It's a lot of money to spend in classrooms, and it's a lot of organizational work.
And then it all the pieces came to build a nice picture. Because all of the potential students we've been nurturing for years and years, wherever they come from, now they can come to our courses.
Now we spend a lot also in promotion on social networks, like Instagram ads, and Facebook, are sponsored posts, which spend quite a lot. But I think there is a real difference. When a person sees a sponsored post, and they can connect it to something they have met physically.
This course I remember, it was that guy who brought famous Japanese DJ at that festival, or in that club, or they organized, I think, an exhibition in my city with paintings many years ago. So there is something that clicks in their memories when they see the advertised posts. And that helps a lot.
I think that gives us an advantage compared to other people who are promoting the same courses but have never been physically so real for the people.
Right. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You can associate that person that event. You know, like you said, with the ad or the social media posts, I think that that's absolutely brilliant.
And I do want to dive into the the event thing, especially if you didn't start with in person teachings, and you started with online courses, and you haven't done any in person events, or any kind of physical events like that. I feel like that would be some good material to cover on this episode.
But before we get into that, I would like to go back to when you said that, when you first put your online courses, it went really well. You said part of that was just for the fact of it being a pandemic. And people you know, had to be home and they started learning about online education.
But what were some of the other reasons that you felt like in the beginning, your online courses really took off?
People know us. So at some point, if they have to choose which course to take, they will take a brand that they know, or a name or they can associate with a positive feeling they had in the past.
And I think also, if you are very active and do a lot of things, this can be my piece of advice to future teachers out there. People will Google your name, or your brand name or your school name. And if nothing comes up, it's like, does it even exist? Or is it a scam?
When they Google my personal name or the name of the cultural association behind the events, or the name of the company behind the courses, these three names are all very related online. They see that we do a lot of things that we are everywhere.
And if they pay me by credit card, they can come to my next event and tell me, "Hey, where's my money?" If I disappear. So I think one of the obstacles to going to spend money online in something that is not Amazon that is very trustworthy. These were will my money go. What if I pay and then there is no course on this website or if this person disappears?
So if you are physically present in a lot of different environments, first people trust you more and second, the trust your knowledge. So one second piece of advice could be see if there are events related to what you teach, and try to go there as a speaker because then people will trust you don't expect to be paid to there.
At first, you'll have to pay for your hotel and you have to travel and everything. Or even maybe you might have to pay to be there and talk. But it pays back in terms of visibility if you do it long term that I think is the main difference with online courses which might fail, and others which might be successful.
Let's talk a moment about the live events that you put on and that you host because I think this is a really cool aspect. I feel like if someone who has online courses, but maybe they want to do some things in person, you know, where would someone start with something like that?
Let's imagine for a minute that I teach a course on on cooking or baking or something and I would like to take these courses offline and maybe help people. Where would you start? What would be some of the first steps to putting an event like this together?
So it's, of course researching and analyzing your niche. So if it is cooking courses, if I was a chef, or even just an amateur cook, and I'm Italian, so I am a cook. I would research what events there are.
I'm sure that are fairs that are festivals that are expos and maybe I would see what big companies are there. If there is a company selling ingredients, and they are there, what I would do is contact the ingredients company and say, "You know, I have some very cool recipes that I can use your ingredients with. Why don't you invite me as one of your guests? And I can teach cooking if there is a possibility of our live class in the festival or in the event."
Or you can even contact restaurants or I think restaurants might be quite open to tasting of different foods. So see where the action is in your field, and try to be the protagonist of that action, or at least to help people who are the protagonist, you can even go just as far for the main chef and tell him you know, "I really love and appreciate what you do. And I would like to come as a second chef or third chef and or even just clean in the kitchen. And I can help you."
And that gives you a bond to a personality in that field. And then maybe one day you can be the personality in a smaller event. And that will help. Of course, writing online also helps a lot I mentioned before that people will go and google your name.
So I think it's nearly necessary to have at least some social networking channels. I don't know maybe YouTube or maybe Instagram, you can choose all of them. And you should probably have a blog, or even better write for other blogs.
So if you're a chef, start sending your recipes to all the cooking blogs around there and ask them to republish then tell them you will promote on your social networks, the articles they publish, and then they will be happy because they have free content.
And that content will be promoted by you. And then you will be more known you will have visibility. So be very present online and physically. It's a very time consuming strategy, but it's a strategy that pays off.
Okay, very cool. And then you can start, you know, reaching out to these different people, different events, maybe becoming speakers at these events.
Do you ever put on your own events? Do you ever host your own workshops or your own events in any way?
Yes, we started with our own small events. So talking about Japanese culture, we have let's say a small origami workshop or a small martial arts demonstration.
But then it pays off much more, you work much less and you have much better results if you take part into a large festival. So if I do it here, I will spend some money to promote it. And I will spend a lot of time in organizing it with the same amount of time and money.
If I am a guest at an event that has 100,000 visitors in a weekend, then there's no comparison, which of the two gives me more visibility?
Okay, cool. And when you speak about these events, you're you're speaking in terms of not necessarily the language learning, but in other aspects of the culture that might be influential.
So for instance, like a martial arts class. So if you go to an event, you host your own, or you're going to a big event, and you're putting on, say, an origami class or a martial arts class, how are you transitioning that material into your online course where you're teaching Japanese?
Of course, there are spatialized events that focus on languages, but then it will be me and all of my competition. So it's hard to be more noticed in that kind of environment.
If I go to a Japan related, Japan culture related event, of course, all of the people who are there will be somehow interested in Japan, and maybe 20% of them are so interested that they're willing to spend money in learning the language.
So I think it's better to go to not exactly your niche, because your perfect client might not be there. Again, a cooking teacher, I wouldn't go to a cooking event, I would go to a food event, or to leave healthy event because food will be important there.
I don't know, if I cook Italian food, I would probably go to an Italy Italian culture event more than to a cooking event.
Okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, you're looking more broadly about where you're, where your niche can fit in. And then applying that into the course that makes a lot of sense.
So if you are, let's say you're doing a an event where it's about, you know, living healthy. And there's, you know, different workshops going on people who are talking about fitness, and people who are talking about dieting, and people are talking about yours would be you know, cooking healthy food, maybe.
And you do that workshop. And then while you're in in that workshop from there, are you able to promote your online course or say something at the end? Like, if you want to find out more, go check out this website. How does that work?
Yeah, both, of course, in the beginning, and at the end of presentation that we do, we mentioned the fact that we also sell language courses. And we always ask, in exchange for the contents we bring, we asked for a booth, which could be just a table where we are there eight hours a day for the duration of the events, giving information and flyers.
And again, it's not so necessary, I feel to be so straightforward in promoting what you do. If I organize an exhibition, for example, we had some very nice Japanese pictures, and we take them around in exhibitions, or we talk to Japanese artists and we organize their exhibitions.
We don't directly promote that we also teach languages, but our logo is there as the organizing Association agency, and then people notice the logo. And then when they look for a course or when a Google ad appears in their computer, they recognize the logo and they trust it.
Again, you have to work long term, don't expect that you finish your presentation, and five people will come and give you money for your course. But if I do a presentation in June, and in September, I promote the courses and they see it and they see another promotion that is my competition, they will probably come to me because I'm more trustworthy and they know me.
And maybe we even started some personnel British relationship because they came and shook my hand. And that, again is a point I have more than the others. So really work very, very long term.
You start today, maybe in three, four years, people will recognize you. But if you don't start today, you will never get there.
Awesome. That's a great piece of advice. I love that and you know, everyone wants that quick win. Everyone wants that immediate results and make millions of dollars in the next six months. But you know, that's not really the facts of life.
And if you look at it as a long term strategy as you you're talking about, you're setting yourself up for success. But I really love this strategy. Because you're making the brand and the business more real, I feel like by going out by meeting people by shaking their hands, by offering trainings and workshops and interacting with the community.
Like you said, people are going to notice that and they're going to remember that. You know, people have an online business, it's a dime a dozen Nowadays, everyone has an online business or an online course.
What are you going to do to stand out from that crowd? And by meeting people in person, that's a lost art, you know, that a lot of people don't do or aren't willing to do.
And if you're willing to put in that time and put in that work, to go meet people, shake their hands, meet them face-to-face, have conversations, I feel like that could be super powerful.
And the best thing is, actually, it's a lot of fun. It's much more fun to be at an event. And again, shake hands with people and then go for drinks with them with other maybe influencers in your field than it is being home and posting on social networks and writing blogs.
For me, I am very sociable, and I really enjoy going out and meeting people. And if you aren't a teacher, you should be that kind of person, probably.
Yeah, you're personally inspiring me, because I always had the idea that I would be a speaker, you know, some type of speaker on stage and going to these conferences.
And it's really exciting me on a personal level right now to start thinking about, you know, how could I take this business in this brand, and go to an event?
And like you said, go to a marketing event or go to a home business event or something where there's different types of home businesses, and I could teach people how to create online courses as one of those types. So this is some really great information.
Let's talk about some of your traffic strategies and how you're getting people into your courses online. We talked about the live events, but let's shift now to what are you doing that seems to be working with social media ads?
I know you mentioned that use platforms like Instagram. So are there any strategies or any tips or tricks that you can give us that seem to be working really well for you right now online?
Yeah, so the main difference between promoting physically and online, is that physically, the same rules have been working for 20 years now. Online, it changes so fast, and it's hard to keep up because something, let's say Facebook was working perfectly even without paying until 10 years ago.
And then Instagram came, and then you have to do YouTube videos. And it all works for two or three years. And then the algorithm changes or even the social network changes, because now YouTube is for all people and you have to go to twitch, and then it's Tik Tok, and it's going so fast that by the time you build a following in one place, the people have already gone to another place.
So what is the strategy? Of course, good content is king, they say or something like that. Blogs are probably here to stay because a post I wrote two years ago on Facebook, nobody's going to find it. Even if they're looking exactly for that post, it will never come out if you look for it.
But blogging, if Google stays on top of the market, then in two years on in four years, or in 10 years, they'll probably find it if it was good content. So one negative side of the social networking business, I feel is you have to keep on producing good content every day for years and years. And that is very hard.
And it might all go wasted if that social network loses power. But if you have a good website with good contents, you can publish maybe once or twice a week, it should be enough. Of course, the more you publish, the better and it stays there.
Things I published 15 years ago are still there. And if you look for information and some advice or tips about that field, it will come out and my name will be there and probably there will be a link to my business website.
So my advice is you have to be on social networks. You have to produce good content. But the main point where you want your future or present clients to go is your website because that is yours. You can always promote it, it will not disappear. So it will be there. So you're not investing in something that might go out of fashion.
Nice. Yeah, this is this is really great. This is something I thought about a lot myself building this business. I've tried to take a three prong strategy. And I've created the podcast because it's the content that I enjoy the most. So I did that one first.
And then I started the blog for the same reasons that you're talking about that those blog posts will outlast social media, as you said, and then YouTube would be my third I haven't started yet.
But it's kind of like Google in the sense where YouTube videos will also you know, stay for some time versus Instagram, or Snapchat or Tik Tok, where people might not even see it, or it might go away very quickly.
And so I feel like what you said makes a lot of sense that it's going to be, again, a long term strategy. And doing research on these platforms. I've also come to learn that Google will rank you based on the authority of your website, meaning how many people are coming to it, how many people are linking to it.
A website is like good wine. It grows old and it grows better. Because Google values it more.
Social media is like fresh fruit, you have to buy new every day. And the more you wait, the more it will decay.
I like that. That's a really good analogy. And you're absolutely right. And the longer that that material sits there, the more growth is going to have and people are going to find it.
So yeah, this has been a really great chat really good conversation on different aspects of your business and how you've able to grow in it so well.
Thinking back to when the pandemic hit, or when you first decided to start teaching online, I know that you probably had some questions and some fears and some ideas about, you know how it was going to work and how you're going to make online classes be profitable, or to get students in there.
We have people listening right now who are in those early stages who haven't put their courses online, or they just put a course online and they're kind of feeling you know, maybe stuck a little bit.
What would be your best piece of advice that you could give to those people who are just starting out, knowing what you know, now versus what you knew back then?
One piece of advice that doesn't come from me, but nearly everybody who made it are giving out is start even if your product is not perfect. Even if the quality of your camera is not the highest, record something and go out, be there and keep on improving.
Because if you do the same video next year that you're doing this year, people won't follow you. But people will notice the improving the quality of what you do. So even if you start very low quality, you have to start soon, because the more you wait, the more competition you will have, and then work on the improvement of the quality.
So invest on cameras, if you're doing videos or microphones, if you're doing audio. And invest in knowledge, I bought a lot of books, I spent all my lockdown time reading books, and blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos on what teaching online is and how to promote and how to push your WordPress blog.
I really read a lot and study a lot. And I took online courses, all of the free ones, of course, and then even paid for some because you have to learn, you have to start as soon as possible. And you have to improve and keep on studying, keep on improving, keep on outputting material of all kinds.
Amazing. I love it. That's some great, great advice. I appreciate that.
And thinking to how far you've come from the early days of creating your first school, to building these online courses to the workshops and everything that you've done so far.
And just looking into the future, maybe two years or five years or 10 years down the road. Where would you like to see this business? Where do you see yourself?
Actually, I'm ambitious. But I'm also very happy with what I have. So worst case scenario, if I am in the same position as I am now in 10 years, then I'm happy.
Of course if it grows enough for me to take more time off, maybe to go live in another country and work less hours than I'll be very happy. But again, I am very happy now, and I'm not making six, seven figures as a lot of people promote they're making and I don't know how they can do it.
But I'm making a normal salary doing what I like doing. And this is the best I can think that can happen to me.
That's awesome. And if you're content with where you are and you enjoy that that's all that matters. Because, you know, I know people who are making six or seven figures and they're not happy, you know, they're not happy with where they're at in their lives and different various reasons.
So that's really cool that you say that I appreciate that a lot. Silvio, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. It's been an absolute pleasure talking to you and hearing some of the strategies.
And I love your mindset and how you go about your business. I think that it's impactful. And if people take this information, and use it, it will be to their advantage.
If people want to find out more about you and what you're doing online, where can they go?
Well, they can google my name in the podcast, it will be available. So find my name and Google it or Scuola Mulino is my company, the school that provides lessons.
And then, Ochacaffe. This is a bit of a different foreign spelling. So maybe we'll have to write this somewhere near the podcast. But this is the cultural association that supplies content to festivals.
So if you want to see how we work in the promotion of our courses, you have to look for that. And if you want to write me an email, or contact me on Facebook, or Instagram, or wherever, and work together, or ask for advice, or give me advice, because I might have said something totally wrong, then just contact me available for everybody.
Very cool. Well, we always have show notes, and I'll make sure that I put all of those links in the show notes for you. Just stay tuned to the end of this episode to find out where you can get those.
And, again, yeah, I appreciate you today. I appreciate all your wisdom and advice. And I just look forward to your continued success in the future.
Yeah, and I want a lot of success for your podcast, especially this episode.
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