Over three billion people have downloaded TikTok making it the fastest-growing social platform in the world. The platform’s algorithm remains a mystery to most as it’s changing constantly. However, the app gives more of an equal playing field to users when it comes to virality—whether you have 10 followers or 500,000, you can go viral on any given day.
There are both pros and cons to going viral—while it may increase your follower count and therefore your audience, it’s hard to replicate. Trying to expand your brand on TikTok by repeatedly going viral isn’t sustainable for creators, and it will not bring in consistent revenue. When we asked Kajabi Heroes about the platforms they make the majority of their income on, 0% said TikTok while 57% said Kajabi. TikTok is notoriously difficult to make money on which is why its primary value lies in building and connecting with your audience.
Trans vocal coach and Kajabi Hero Renée Yoxon understands what it feels like to go viral firsthand. In May 2020, they posted their first TikTok talking about their work as a trans vocal teacher and it immediately blew up—racking up an impressive 382,000 views. “All of a sudden I had more students than I could handle…I had to change how I was teaching in order to reach a larger number of people, and that's how I found Kajabi and started making e-courses.”
But, they knew social media wasn’t the only place to share their knowledge. Since going viral, Renée has seen success with online courses where they’ve been able to help people in the transgender community through their lessons.
Let’s dig into Renée’s experience as a viral TikTok creator and how they’ve been able to use their social media presence to build a successful online course business.
For a quick version of the interview, check out Renée’s answers to our Rapid-Fire Q & A series below!
Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Can you start by telling us your story and how you got started?
For many years I was a singer, songwriter, and voice teacher. I did that for about 10 years. And then in 2018, I made the conscious decision to focus on teaching voice, specifically singing, to trans and disabled people. I made that choice because I'm trans and disabled—I just felt I had something to bring to those groups and it was a better teaching experience for me. So I created a scholarship program called The Right to Sing Award which provided free voice lessons to people in those groups. And because I made that scholarship, a local organization in Montreal found me. The organization was called Project 10, and they asked me to teach a trans voice workshop. I became immediately passionate about it. One thing led to another and I started teaching more and more workshops. In May of 2020, I put out my first TikTok about my work as a trans voice teacher—it immediately went viral. All of a sudden I had more students than I could handle, and I had a wait list going for my private lessons. I had to change how I was teaching in order to reach a larger number of people, and that's how I found Kajabi and started making e-courses.
Why do you think you went viral?
I don't know. Who knows how the TikTok algorithm really works. I think that it prioritizes new creators on the platform and it was my first TikTok so I had an advantage there. Plus, I was saying something people had not heard before. A lot of trans people were like, “Oh, I didn't even realize I had voice dysphoria until I found your content.” It is wonderful when you can help someone find a way to alleviate discomfort.
After you went viral on TikTok, what made you decide to start courses instead of growing on TikTok and trying to make money there?
I was always a one-to-one teacher. I taught people, that was what I did. So teaching e-courses was a very natural progression. I went from teaching one-to-one lessons, to teaching workshops, to teaching courses. But the reason I didn't go and monetize through TikTok was, first of all, there's no monetization stream on TikTok for Canadians. And secondly, I am not an influencer. I've never been an influencer. I've never had access to brand deals and advertisers so it wasn’t even a question for me. All there was was making an e-course. Once my TikTok went viral, my website was set up so that people could book their own lessons and consultations with me—they all got booked quickly. Then I took my website down and replaced it with just a place to capture email addresses that said, "Something is coming. I don't know what yet, but give me your email." Thousands of people gave me their email. I wasn't even offering them anything in exchange. That showed me very clearly that the demand for this service was overwhelmingly high. And I knew that a course would be successful.
Before your TikTok went viral, what was your view on what you were going to use social media for versus how you see social media now?
I started to move away from using social media in a personal way a couple of years ago. It had started to become the place where I was collecting students, and so I stopped posting about my personal life. I'm in my 30s, so I remember the time when we were all posting our meals and stuff on Instagram, but that has shifted over time. Nowadays, I'm focusing on using social media strictly to share informational content. One of the things I try to do is have the e-courses people can purchase, but I also try to make as much information as I can freely available on social media so that it's a little bit everywhere. There are so many different types of learners in the world. There are people who really thrive in an e-course environment, who want to be by themselves, and who are maybe not out yet and just want to be alone with the information. Whereas other people really need one-to-one lessons. Other people just want to dip their toe in it with TikTok. If you provide all of that, then every type of learner is being catered to.
What's your take on social media algorithms? When you're creating content for TikTok or Instagram, do you think about that?
I’m not too conscious of social media trends in terms of how algorithms are shifting in social media. Like I said, I have chronic pain, so my business needs to be sustainable for me, and I'm going to do what works for me. And if what works for me is creating short-form video content, great. If in two years short-form video content no longer works, I may decide then not to make it anymore. But I'm not keeping my fingers on the pulse of Instagram and researching reels versus stories. I'm just doing the best I can every day. Sometimes the algorithms serve me very well. In the case of TikTok, they pushed my content out to hundreds of thousands of people and that was amazing—and sometimes it serves me less well.
Was there a time when social media backfired on you? Or a time where you felt it wasn't serving your business?
I mean, it was stressful to go viral. I think anybody will tell you that being exposed to so many people so quickly messes with your head a little bit. But no, there was never a point at which social media was negative. Social media for me ranges from neutral to positive.
It's one of the ways that I connect with people. I'd say it's the way that people discover me, but it's not the way that I connect with my close community. They find me on social media or through SEO. Then they’ll usually give me their email address in exchange for something that I've created. I've got a few free pieces of content that are downloadable, like an anatomy book that doesn't gender the anatomy, which is a lot more of a pleasant reading experience for trans people. And then through my newsletter, they'll find out about the things that I have to offer.
How important is it to you to build community within your business?
Community is an interesting thing because I tend to think of it as something that happens in real life. Your neighbors are part of your community and maybe your family and friends, the people in your real world. But trans and disabled people have difficulty finding an in-person community because it can be a really isolating experience. We tend to be more spread out. So building online communities has been really, really important for trans people. Finding each other and finding people who share their experiences. I don't think my business alone does that, but I think that all spaces in which trans people congregate are a form of trans community.
Did you struggle with imposter syndrome? If yes, how have you been able to overcome it?
I don't struggle with imposter syndrome. I know that's kind of rare. I completed a physics degree right out of high school, and I don't do physics now. But one thing that it gave me was unearned confidence—if I can do that physics degree, I can do anything. In terms of why should someone learn from me, I have been teaching voice for over a decade. At a certain point you know you can do the thing you’re saying you can do—I've seen so many students grow and improve. As a teacher, it's not my job to make people better. It's my job to foster a learning environment for people so that they can discover for themselves what they even want to learn.
How important is it for you to have someone's email address?
It's one of the most important things. Email is much more predictable than social media—if I send out an email to my list, I have an idea of how many people open it. I have an idea of how many people will convert to a sale if I'm selling something. But with social media, I have no idea. It's complete guesswork, and I like having a little bit of predictability. That way I can sort of guess, okay, if the product costs this much money, how much can I plan to make for this launch? I'm not always thinking about that. Sometimes I just want to get the course out because it's important, but sometimes we also need to know how much money the business is making. You need way fewer people on your mailing list than on social media to get the same result. My TikTok has over 100,000 followers, but my mailing list only has 3,000 people on it—I can run a whole business with 3,000 people. Those hundred thousand TikTok followers aren’t worth as much in the end.
Knowing what you know now, what would you tell new creators who use social platforms as the only way to connect with their audience?
I would say start a mailing list. It's absolutely crucial. And this is not the first mailing list I've ever had—I've been collecting emails in a variety of forms as a musician, then again, as a teacher for the last 10 years. And even before Kajabi, when my friends would ask me, “How should I run my business?” Whether you're a creator or if you're a private teacher and you're not creating anything online, having a mailing list is one of the best ways to stay in touch with the people who want what you have to offer.
What do you think it is about Kajabi that helps creators and entrepreneurs like you be successful?
My experience with Kajabi is that it has helped me to do what I want to do. I was looking for a platform where I could host my website, have my mailing list, make my courses, and have a good student experience. It was just everything I wanted. Kajabi is great because it supports me and then gets out of the way so that I can do what I need to do. I love that I get to run my business from home on Kajabi— I mentioned earlier that I have a disability, and I have chronic pain. Before the success of this business, my income was really precarious and I had trouble managing my pain. I need to take breaks whenever I need and do therapies in order to maintain good health—I was never able to do that before the success of this business on Kajabi. And truly, without Kajabi, I would not be able to travel as much as I am and experience the life I'm experiencing now.
The takeaway: Virality is short-lived
Going viral only lasts for a day or even for a few short hours. On the other hand, digital products like online courses are the ultimate scalable asset you can create once and sell a thousand times. It’s important to have a way for you to monetize your social media audience outside of platforms so you own your audience and build a sustainable business.
Capturing emails outside of social media and creating different ways to migrate your audience into your business ecosystem is a crucial step for creators to monetize their followings. Like Renée said, “You need way fewer people on your mailing list than on social media to get the same result. My TikTok has over 100,000 followers, but my mailing list only has 3,000 people on it—I can run a whole business with 3,000 people.”
Hear from these other Kajabi Heroes on how they are being affected by the dark sides of the creator economy: