Danae Florou teaches Greek online and has recently started a membership program (aka a “paid community”) for the language and culture lovers. I met Danae a few years ago in a Facebook group for online teachers, she then joined the Opted Out Facebook group I ran at the time and later our Smart Teacher’s Library. She also signed up for a 3-month mentoring program a few years ago where we focused on her niche, core message, positioning and social media strategy.
Since paid online communities are becoming increasingly popular I thought I’d ask Danae about her experience building her own membership program. Enjoy the interview and check out my notes at the end of the post. ~ [E.M.]
I’m Danae Florou, the sun – loving Greek teacher behind Alpha Beta Greek.
Having lived abroad for several years in two different countries, I understand how beautiful but also at times frustrating is to express yourself in a different language, in order to connect with others.
This is why I help Greek language enthusiasts move from short chats to conversations, when their dream is to express themselves & connect with locals in Greece, their friends and family.
Why did you decide to create a membership program for your community?
For several reasons, really! First, because I enjoyed learning in a community (yours) and even though it wasn’t language learning, the idea of bringing people together but without the pressure of weekly classes felt very fitting to how I learn as well.
Then, when I moved countries (or better, continents) for the second time, some of my students were in different time zones. I wanted to offer them an opportunity to learn at their own pace, without set classes. This is when I started playing with the idea of creating a community-based membership program, but I wasn’t sure how to do it.
I also like that you mention “for my community”, because this is true: I already had a free online community on Facebook, to which I’m still posting regularly. However, it made sense to move to a membership, where members learn without the distractions of social media.
I also love creating and the idea of writing a little book with a podcast around a monthly theme of interest, is just lovely and playful and I enjoy it thoroughly.
In terms of business, I was hoping that a membership program would be a sustainable format, without the pressure of looking for students all the time.
Having family responsibilities was also a major factor: When your child is sick, you need to cancel the lesson. When your husband needs to travel, your whole schedule is turned upside down. And this year, having experienced several times both, I decided it was time to give this format a try.
Lastly, after almost 17 years of teaching, I think I also wanted a change and to try something different.
How is your membership program different from other programs/services you offer?
What I offered was based on 1:1 learning, more or less. There are the typical private lessons and the two specialized speaking programs, which are also a 1:1 experience. The students work weekly either with homework and classes or with speaking activities and speaking sessions.
The Greek at Heart Learning Circle involves a community. I’d say it’s for learners who like learning at their own pace, without weekly appointments, but who also enjoy learning in a casual and friendly group, with resources in natural, everyday language.
One of the members liked how there was nothing “textbookish” in the mini-book – this is exactly my goal and I was happy to hear this. And another one commented on how people from different parts of the world come together to keep learning Greek and this is my other goal: a community, a Circle of learning.
How did you know that a membership program is a good fit for your clients’ needs?
Because first with the blog and the newsletters and then with the free Facebook group, there was already a community forming. I was very often thinking: “What if this person met this other person, they have so much in common!” I wanted to bring them together!
This came partially true with the creation of the Facebook group. But the distractions on social media are often “killing” the sense of community. The posts are lost somewhere in the social media “sphere” and the endless hours of work and possibilities of real learning are lost as well. Plus there are many participants too shy or reluctant to post on social media.
Transferring all of this to a safe, friendly space with focus, purpose and necessary but gentle time frames, solved this issue.
'The distractions on social media are often “killing” the sense of community. The posts are lost somewhere in the social media “sphere” and the endless hours of work and possibilities of real learning are lost as well.' ~ Danae Florou: Alpha Beta Greek.Click To Tweet
What did you have to establish before you built the program (how long it took you)?
The answer is partly found above, when I mentioned the blog and the Facebook group and how a community was already shaping through them.
In terms of time, it took me 3 years of working intensively towards a business that had meaning for me: everything you teach, Elena, about digging deeper & finding why you do what you do as a teacher, what’s your core message, who are the people you can help and how.
This was intense work and, as you know, involved lots of sweat, self doubt, disappointment and fear (and tears!).
I think the answer – better, the reassurance – came to me when, in a very unpleasant situation (a copycat issue I faced), I received an incredible amount of support I didn’t expect I would.
It was then that I knew there are people, my students, my readers, who have my back, the same way I have theirs. This is what a community is all about, people coming together, understanding and sharing. I wanted to honour that and I wanted to honour them & their learning needs. I turned from self-doubting to confident.
What challenges did you have when launching and then engaging with your community within your membership program?
One of the first things I thought was: “Who would pay for something they can have for free?”. Because I had already decided to keep my free Facebook group, I wasn’t sure how clear the difference was.
And then I also thought about commitment and how when you have a community you’re responsible for it: to offer interesting material, to create and keep a safe environment for everyone, to be there for all the members, despite the absence of 1:1 interaction with video calls.
The engagement wasn’t challenging, because most of the members had already been my students and/or members in the Facebook group. I felt I knew them and now they were kind of invited to a “private” party!
The difference to a private party is of course that a community is co-shaped, co-created. I’m quite confident that “sharing in a learning Circle”, as opposed to “learning in a traditional classroom”, is a natural space for engagement and dialogue.
Lastly, I think it goes back to our own confidence and how we ask ourselves: “Do I do this right? How can I improve?” . I guess that all the challenges I faced and will face, need lots of listening and introspection.
What would you recommend to anyone who thinks they would like to give a membership program a try?
To be part of a paid membership. By “be” I don’t mean to sign up to a community, never to show your face again – or, worse, to “lurk” and never interact meaningfully with others.
If it works for your learning – any kind of learning – and you love it, then you’ll do it genuinely for others because you’ll see the meaning and the value of it. I’m actually taking part in Jessica’s (French Sunny Side) membership program and just as it happened with your community, this is now one of the most beautiful things in my week.
But most importantly, I’d say to be part of your own community on social media, on the blog, wherever you are, before you start a membership. Make real connections, be helpful from your heart and be yourself.
- Check out my video feedback on Danae’s membership program page created for the Online Teacher Summit 2020.
- To set up the recurring payment system Danae used this booking software service*
- Danae was a part of our community for 2 years and then invested in a 3-month coaching program with me in 2018.
- “Music In the Silence: Build Authentic Communities Online” is the book I wrote for online language teachers who want to grow their communities online but don’t know where to start.
- How to build a tribe of fans on Instagram: a guest post by Elfin Waters, helpful for those who are starting out on Instagram.
Big thanks to Danae for the interview. If you have any questions for her (or if you just want to thank her for being so generous and sharing her tips) please drop them in the comments below. Connect with Danae on her website, on Facebook or on Instagram!