When dance instructor Stephen Banks moved to Los Angeles in 2015, he hoped his passion of training professional performers would get stronger traction than it had in the saturated Dallas market. Once in LA, he started working full-time with world famous dance company ImmaBEAST, giving him the financial ease he needed to explore the right target market for 8IGHTY/2WNTY, his own hip-hop, dance and entertainment company. He soon identified a need in LA for professional movement instruction for beginning dancers — and since then, his business has boomed. Now with the 6 to 8 hours each week of additional dance teaching he earns through Thumbtack, he makes an additional 50 percent of his full-time salary. Here’s how Stephen got his creative business off the ground using Thumbtack.
How did you build a winning profile?
My profile has changed a lot. When I first wrote it, I was targeting performers needing professional dance and movement coaching. I was targeting artists, musicians—people who knew they wanted to learn movement, timing, musicality, and emotional investment. It wasn’t working. It was LA in 2015 and that market was saturated. I realized I wanted to reach people who weren’t professional performers.
So you saw a hole in the market and responded?
Yes! It can be intimidating to a take a dance class in LA. More than anywhere else, an LA group dance class is made of pros who are there to tighten up their moves. They know choreography, they know dance steps, and the classes aren’t meant for people just wanting to learn. There’s not a lot of space for beginners.
Now my profile is gentler. It’s more appealing to someone who’s new — 97 percent of my students have never danced before. I shifted my profile and my message talking about how I bring dance and movement to people who want and need it.
Has it been easy to get reviews? How do you go about it?
I always tell my students, “I’m not a master. I’m looking at what you need and trying to fill that void. So if there are things that I can continue to do to improve, I want to know.” I say that and I send them a review link and say, “Ideally, you share your experience about why you came to lessons, and hopefully your message can help someone who had the same fears you did.” I tell them, “Good, bad, or indifferent — I don’t care what the review says, but you writing it will help me learn and help other people looking for something I can offer.”
Many of my students are looking for something more than just dance or movement. It’s a release, it’s a way to move through an emotional block. The way my students show up and give always amazes me. I just want to keep growing to help them even more.
How do you hone your services to attract this different market of students?
In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing at first. I was creating a new system to teach people about movement. Now I incorporate a lot of ideas from movement science therapy. Beginners don’t need to memorize dance steps or choreography, they need to learn to move their bodies. I’m becoming less about dance — even though it is all about dance. Some students I motivate, some are breaking out of something emotionally. I am an outlet to them. Dance is the main thing they’re looking for, but there’s something under that.
Do you follow up on customer introductions?
I have an extensive sales background, but these dance lessons are not my number one job. When I reach out and don’t hear back, I do follow up and say, “Hey what’s going on? Just checking up to make sure you got my information and see if you have any questions. Here’s my number — let’s set up a time to talk.” I think most other dance pros don’t have time to massage the situation like I do, but I do have the time to sit and chat and give out free sessions because I have the flexibility — it’s not my main job. I’m not overselling. I can provide time and energy with no pressure.
Is your Thumbtack income starting to measure up to your full-time job income?
Thumbtack as a whole, as far as crunching the numbers, is now bringing in up to 50 percent of what I make in my full-time job for ImmaBEAST. It allows me to save, invest, take trainings, buy new materials, travel, and — best of all — reach more people.
I’m now taking motivational speaking seminars. I’m teaching dance class, but my students need a lot more than dance. I’ve taken suicide prevention classes. A former student of mine in Dallas recently committed suicide. That breaks my heart. While I’m with these kids and adults, I have to be everything for them because they are giving me everything in return. They may not have other positive influences in their lives, so the more I am aware of, the more helpful I can be. I want to support them in any way possible.
How many hours per week do you work through Thumbtack?
Typically 6 to 8 hours of work per week through Thumbtack. As of right now, I have 13 regular clients. The simple fact is that I never have a Saturday off, but I’m okay with that. I have more clients, and I have met more friends than I had last year. My work and life is never a dead zone, it’s always an upward swing.
Besides expanding into this new area, what business opportunities has the site provided you?
A celebrity’s manager contacted me via Thumbtack, lo and behold to get her daughter into dancing and acting. I worked with them for 3 to 4 weeks and still do when they’re not traveling. She’s been promoting her latest movie, so they’ve been gone, but it’s amazing that this app has the credibility that celebrities will utilize it outside of their standard sphere.
Any parting advice for other pros?
Figure out what you do. My issue at first was that I didn’t really know what I was offering. I wasn’t set on who I was going to help and what I was going to offer and was therefore unable to get that message across. Once I established who I was going to reach, it was night and day.
Where do you see 8IGHTY/2WNTY going?
I want my company to be an art development platform for those artists who want to go pro. In addition, I want to have summer programs for fun and train others in my teaching methods. I want to reach as many people as possible and teach people to move.