Building an Empire

Interview between Nick James and Charlotte Desorgher

Charlotte Desorgher

"Building an Empire"

building an empire with Charlotte Desorgher

Nick James:

All right. Good evening Facebook, if you tune in on Facebook, Expert Empires Community if you’re there, Empire Builders podcast if you tuning in. This evening, I’m joined by international belly dance sensation, Charlotte Desorgher.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Hi.

Nick James:

So yeah, first of all, thank you for joining us this evening. Always really grateful when you choose to spend some time, as you’ve done on more than one occasion, with our community, both online or on stage at our events. So really the flavor of this interview, what I’d really like to try and draw out as best I can, is the journey you’ve been on the last couple of years. You’ve been been an expert in the belly dance community for many, many years, but specifically I’d like to talk about the journey you’ve been on the last couple of years where the business has really taken off and start to enjoy some amazing success.

Nick Jame:

And I think many people watching this, or maybe listening to this on the podcast, might be able to relate in some way. You are an expert, you’ve done this for a very long time, you know your shit back to front and inside out. And yet, up until last couple of years, the business really wasn’t performing in the way that it should have been. So clearly in order to have a successful expert business, you need to be an expert in the thing. You had that nailed. So maybe first of all, in fact I’ve given you a very brief introduction, but why don’t you share with the viewers, the listeners, what is it that your business does, please Charlotte?

Charlotte Desorgher:

So I am a belly dance teacher primarily, but in the past I’ve also been a producer. So I’ve done a lot of big theater productions, big international belly dance festivals. And I’ve got a touring company that’s toured around the UK with a big dance production that I created with an arts council grant. And I’ve also got a charity that teaches belly dance to women who’ve escaped from serious violence. So women in refuge, also escaped from sex trafficking and slavery and things like that. But it’s all within the belly dance field, which is actually a big, big subculture internationally. One of those things that, unless you’re in it, you don’t know about it, but it is a big, big subculture, particularly of women.

Nick James:

Yeah. And whenever I share some, at our events or with our community, I share some insight as to your business and the success you’ve had, I always love to share what everyone feels or believes is a very bizarre niche. And almost again, like you say, if you weren’t in it you wouldn’t even know it existed. I remember when we first met and you told me what you did and I’m like, “Is that even really a thing?” But is there enough opportunity here to build a significant business, build an empire. And we discovered pretty quickly, absolutely. It’s a huge, like you said, huge subculture really, which isn’t probably visible to the average man or woman on the street. But actually, in terms of if you’re in that world, in the performing arts space, then you are probably aware of it. So why don’t you just share with us, what’s the typical belly dance teacher, what’s going on in their business, what’s it looking like, feeling like? What challenges are they experiencing? Maybe where you were a couple of years back. So what’s the norm for most belly dance teachers?

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, so the norm is definitely not being full time as a dance teacher, because most people, you can’t really earn a living as just a belly dance teacher. You do get some people who are performers. And they mix performing with teaching and then usually they can make a bit of a living depending on where they’re based. So some of my students for example are dancers in central London and they get a lot of gigs, sometimes quite high paying gigs. So one of my graduates does a lot of work for the Moore family of Abu Dhabi at the moment. So she’s dancing for all their parties and events, so obviously she’s pretty well paid for that, but she’ll always need to supplement her income with usually a bit of teaching. So teaching workshops, teaching people how to belly dance and things. And then also you get quite a lot of people who have full-time jobs and they’ll teach a couple of belly dance classes of an evening. So very, very few of us who are full time in this profession. Really you can count them on the fingers of one hand.

Nick James:

Yeah, yeah. Makes sense. And I think actually there’s a lot of expert businesses that probably are quite similar in that respect. So you know through our community Gordon Merchant, he does a lot of coaching, mentoring, training for martial arts school owners. And very similar in that like 80% of martial arts teachers are doing it, they love it and it’s a hobby, it’s a side, it’s, “I can make a few quid, but it’s not my living.” So what do you think was the difference? What was the key difference for you, being able to be one of the few that managed to break from just, “This is a bit of a side thing and I’m doing it as a hobby and I’m making a few quid on the side,” how did you manage to take it to a full-time income generating business?

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, before I met you, so if we go back a while back, I used to run a business. I used to run a graphic design and marketing business with my husband, although I had trained as a dancer. So my original training is a dancer and I had worked as a belly dancer in my 20s. And I just saw a great opportunity when Shakira became big and Hips Don’t Lie was the big song, and I thought, “That is an opportunity.” So I decided to start teaching belly dancing. And I’m quite ambitious, so I went to a pretty big venue to start teaching and that gave me a lot of credibility. And so actually when I first started teaching belly dance, I would have literally between 50 and 75 people in my class and I was making good money.

Charlotte Desorgher:

And that’s when I started to put on festivals and big shows and all the rest of it, and really built a good business. And then one thing and another happened, and in the belly dance world we had been very big, very very fashionable, round the whole Shakira time and everything. And then Zumba came in and kind of knocked us off our perch. And we kind of slid down to being just one of those things. One of those many things that people do, that women do. And that was when it started to become more of a struggle to actually make a living.

Nick James:

And I suppose this can be related, like if you’re watching this or you’re listening to this, and most people won’t be of course, in your industry that are listening to this or watching this, they might be running a business teaching health and fitness, like a personal trainer. Maybe they’re running a business teaching how to grow income, to be better at sales or marketing. They might be teaching how to become more wealthy through investing in property and things like that. So there’s lots of different niches that you might operate in. But I think all of those niches to some extent are vulnerable as yours was. It took off because of popular culture really more than anything. And it also dipped because of popular culture. So the thing that helped it take off was actually the thing that made it more challenging in the end. And I think that can often be the case, when there are changes in the economy, that is going to impact how people feel about investing in certain asset classes.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, your case in point, the events industry, suddenly… And the important thing is, as you and I both know in business, is just keeping abreast of events and being able to turn on a sixpence and just keeping yourself engaged all the time and trying to use your brain to think of ways around, ways through.

Nick James:

Yeah, yeah. And so I think we’re all to a certain extent vulnerable due to external factors that influences that we don’t have any control over. So when belly dance became less popular and really just was another dance class or something that people take, where was your business then? In that period, like two, three years ago, maybe a bit further back, where was it, what was going on? What were you struggling with? Just paint a picture for those that are watching and listening.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, the most recent time, until a couple of years ago when we met, I was doing something that was giving me a lot of creative… Basically, it was when I created my show. So I created a big show and I got arts council funding, and we were very, very high profile and had enormous, very great respect outside our industry as well, outside the belly dance industry, in the wider dance world. And also creating the charity. So, things were going very well publicly on the face of it. I had this show that was doing really incredibly well that we were taking round the country, I had 20 dancers on stage, it was standing ovations, all the rest of it.

Charlotte Desorgher:

But anyone who actually runs any kind of performing arts organization will tell you that there’s a big, big gap between being creatively successful and financially successful. And even though we did have arts council funding, and even though we had good houses, we were getting fairly good income, the costs of running a touring dance company are massive. And so I always say to you, I was getting all the applause, I was getting all the attention, all the rest of it, but I didn’t have enough money left over at the end of the week to buy myself a Costa coffee. And that was absolutely serious. I was poor. Everyone else was getting paid. And it’s very typical for a director and manager of a dance company like that, that everyone else…

Nick James:

I think a lot of people watching this, listening to this, might be able to relate. Maybe not in such an obvious way, but if you’re watching this or listening to this and you feel like you’re working really hard, making a big difference, helping lots of people, but your income does not yet reflect the level at which you’re operating, the number of people you’re serving, that you’re making a difference to. Then I guess that’s kind of where you were, in that you had 20 dancers and you’re putting on great shows and entertaining people and they’re all loving it, but you’re poor. And that doesn’t feel good and that is not sustainable. So if people are watching this, listening to this, they can relate to that. What was the big catalyst for you? What was the one thing that made the biggest difference to turn it into a viable business that made you profit?

Charlotte Desorgher:

It was you, Nick. I’m sorry, I’m sure you didn’t mean that as a leading question, but honestly, I mean, joining your Mastermind really completely turned my life around. I mean, I know that you didn’t say that for me, but it’s that was the one thing and I’ll never forget that moment.

Nick James:

So thank you. I appreciate that. And that wasn’t the reason I asked the question. Just what I’m looking for is, tactically or strategically, what did you do, we do, to get you a better result?

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yes. Okay. So what we did that together with your guidance was to create first of all, to harness or to exploit my expertise and to value that expertise and to put together a program that aimed at my ideal customer. Really one of the most important things, I think we both know, and I think everyone in the Expert Space knows, is the importance of really, really understanding your avatar, your ideal client, and focusing all your attention on that person.

Charlotte Desorgher:

And what I did was, belly dance is enough of a niche already, but what I did was I really, really super niched. That’s not enough of a niche for me, there are thousands of people teaching women to belly dance. But what I did was together, we said, who is my absolute ideal client? And then let’s create the perfect package for her and let’s price it properly. And that’s the hardest thing for a lot of us who work for ourselves, particularly those of us in the creative industries, we’re very, very bad at valuing ourselves properly. And so yeah, I’m always wanting to undercharge and you’re always telling me off.

Nick James:

Well, and I think it’s probably not just something in the creative or the arts industry. It’s the nature of people who automatically go to a place of service. They go to wanting to help and make a difference and support people and make an impact. And so automatically their default position is to go for free or low cost; they just want to help. And that’s very honorable, but it also, if you’re not careful, leads to you being poor, which isn’t healthy.

Charlotte Desorgher:

I think in many ways, it was good for me to have that period where I really, really had no money. I mean, no, I had enough money to contribute to the household income. I didn’t have nothing, but I had enough to contribute to the Sainsbury’s bills and all the rest of it, but I really had nothing left over for a lipstick, or as I say, coffee out or anything like that. No new clothes for a couple of years and nothing. And I think it’s quite good having that, because you get to the point you think, “I’m just not going to have that anymore. I’ve got to do something about this.” Because when you’re really working hard and you’re helping as many people as you can, you can do it and not earn proper money for so long, but there comes a time when you have to say enough. And that was certainly where I was.

Nick James:

Yeah. And I guess you reached what is known as pain threshold, it’s like the pain of not having the lifestyle that you want became so great over time that you went, “Enough’s enough.” And of course, then you became open to exploring a different way to present your products and your services and to price them accordingly. So you were saying that we found this real detailed sub-niche of people. So who was that? And what were the primary services or products that you started to offer to them and what price?

Charlotte Desorgher:

So what we created was a mentoring program. I already had a nascent one that was horribly under priced, of course. And it was a 12 month mentoring program. And it was aimed at advanced and professional, semiprofessional dancers who wanted to become the best dancer they could be. So it’s very much aimed at the…

Nick James:

Yeah, let me just pick up on that. So that market, just that alone, these are advanced or semiprofessional dancers. So these are the sort of people that they’re not doing this every now and then as a bit of a side hobby, they’re serious. And that bit’s important because, and I think this is important, often people at our events or in our community talk to me about, “Oh, I don’t know what niche to go for.” And I think you got to go where you’re passionate, and you’re of course hugely passionate about belly dancing and the arts. You got to go somewhere where you’re credible and you have many, many years of credibility behind you to do this.

Nick James:

But also you’d kind of go where the money is and you’ve got to go where it makes logical sense that people are going to be prepared to invest. And if you’d have gone for people who are thinking about starting try out belly dancing, you’re not going to be able to command the kind of fees that you are when people are already at an advanced level and they’re looking for somebody to really train them to be semi-professional, professional. Which by the way, that’s a very small part of the market.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yeah. Tiny, tiny.

Nick James:

But it’s where the money is.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, it’s tiny, but it’s big enough. You only need so many people and to make sure that you are giving them the best possible service and something that they really, really need. And also something that isn’t available already. So I had somebody do a testimonial for me, one of our current dancers did a testimonial from me yesterday. And she said, “I knew how to do all the moves, but to actually create real magical dance, to become a real dancer, a real performer…” You look at all these people, there’s a lot of internationally famous dancers in our sector. And of course, with YouTube and things they’re seen internationally. And I’m always saying, you look at those people and you don’t understand, “Why don’t I look like that?” And she said there’s nothing, nothing to help you get there, but what I do is I help them get there.

Charlotte Desorgher:

So I know how to get them from being a good dancer, good local dancer, and if you saw them, you’d think, “Yeah yeah, she’s a great dancer,” but to have that extra polish and special something. And that’s something that I’m the only person that does it. I do it in partnership with another dancer, a famous dancer from Canada. Together, we put together this program. And yeah, it’s unique.

Nick James:

So a 12 month mentoring program.

Charlotte Desorgher:

12 month mentoring program. It costs just under £2000 for the year. Well, it depends. There’s two levels, there’s the £2000 one and there’s one that’s £2,500.

Nick James:

Cool. And compare that to what do most people charge for belly dance classes or mentoring or lessons?

Charlotte Desorgher:

£5.

Nick James:

Yeah, exactly.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Five for an hour.

Nick James:

£5 for an hour’s class that you could attend at your local town hall, or online even now, probably on Zoom. It’s a fiver a go versus two grand, two and a half grand for a year. Well, straight away. So I think you’ve identified what the differentiating factors are between your program and what else is out there. How did you get people who are traditionally used to paying £5 an hour to part with two, two and a half grand for your mentoring? How did you go about doing that?

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, because I’m really understood their pain. And first of all, I only really approached people who I knew were in good jobs, as I said earlier, most in belly dance it’s their sideline. It’s either their copy or it’s their side hustle. So there’s a lot of people on my program are [inaudible 00:21:00] they work in the city, they’re corporate lawyers, these are women with good, good jobs. And there’s no point in me offering my services to someone who is a single mum with a part-time job or something, because of course, she’s not going to be able to afford that.

Charlotte Desorgher:

And that’s what I now do with my new program, which I know we’ll go on to talk about. But certainly when it comes to the one-to-one, you have to find people who have got the wherewithal to pay it. And who also value, who see it as an investment. That’s the other thing is that people will actually see that as an investment, they get a return, but also they have that income that they can afford to do that. And I think actually recognizing that, and that’s part of knowing who your target market is.

Nick James:

Sure. And I suppose doing that got you to the point that you could afford to go out for a coffee every now and then, if you want.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yes.

Nick James:

Which was nice, I’m sure. And you shared with me a few of the things that you chose to treat yourself to.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yes. I got a brand new MacBook Pro. That was a lovely moment. And I paid for it cash.

Nick James:

Yeah, lovely. Lovely. So, things like that, if that’s important to you and you want to reward yourself, it’s important to do that. So that got you to the point where right now you’re making a proper income from your expertise, from your expert business. So what then has enabled you to take it from, “I’m making a decent income now as a belly dance teacher and mentor,” to, “I’ve now got a proper business,” like really, and you wouldn’t mind me saying this, you’re not just teaching people UK anymore. You’re literally teaching people globally all over the world through various different programs and your videos are now getting like millions of views and stuff. It’s crazy. So what was the difference, I asked you what made the difference from where you were at the very start to, “I’m now making a solid income,” what was the biggest difference that took you from solid income to global businesses?

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, I think there’s two things to say first of all. First of all, to go back to what you said about people like us usually, we come from a place of wanting to serve and wanting to help as many people as possible. So, I’ll be honest, I could have carried on as I was just running my program, making a nice income, and not knocking the pipe out too much. But I have got this drive to help as many people as possible. I absolutely believe in what I do. I really believe in my dance form. And I know that there are hundreds, well millions of women around the world who I want to help, and I want to reach out to. And of course the great thing is these days you can do that online. And online is just the most amazing resource. Our industry, which should have been absolutely decimated at the end of March, dance teachers just took their classes online and they’ve been able to keep working through this pandemic, which is an incredible thing to be able to do.

Charlotte Desorgher:

So at the beginning of the year, so before this actually happened, I decided that what I wanted to do was to create a membership community to actually start teaching online. So instead of teaching just advanced and professional dancers, there were two things I wanted to do. One is I wanted to be able to teach outside my geographical area. So most of my people were in London and Southeast because they were coming to me for one to ones before. So I wanted to teach outside my geographical area and I wanted to teach as many people as I possibly could. And so what I did was I created an online membership community, whereby people pay a monthly fee and that’s just an automatic recurring monthly fee, and for that they get online classes that are pre… Actually, I was filming today. So filming this week’s class, which will go up on the site on Friday, and that will stay up there for people to access whenever they want to.

Charlotte Desorgher:

And it’s aimed at intermediate and advanced dancers and teachers. So teachers, I say to them, anything that you learn from me, you can actually teach that to your people as well. So I’m really giving as much as I possibly can. So there’s online lessons that stay there on my site. I also, when the lockdown happened, I started to teach Zoom classes as well, because I realized that one of the things that people desperately needed was community. Because one of the big things in belly dance is community. And we also have a Facebook group and we do Facebook lives. The teachers who are part of my community, they’re all members obviously, the membership community; the people who are teachers, they’re actually teaching classes in my Facebook group. We’ve got an incredibly lively group. We’ve got 100 people now, and I’ve got dancers from Guatemala, from Columbia, from the US, from Belgium. And that’s just the start.

Nick James:

It’s incredible really when you think about where you started a couple of years ago and where you are now. I’m curious, how important do you think it is… Because I know a lot of people watching this, listening to this might be thinking, “Well, great, let’s go big, let’s go international, let’s serve the masses,” which is kind of what you’re doing now. How important do you think it is or was for you to start off with that real tight sub-niche of advanced and semi-professional dancers, high-priced program, rather than trying to do something for the masses at an affordable price, that you started with less clients at a premium before you went to scale. How important do you think that was?

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yeah, I’m really glad you asked that actually, because it is really important. It really taught me a lot, just that focus that I had, and I got really, really good, at my job, really good at my job. I can really understand what a dancer needs and just that thing of being close to people. And I think one of the things that is really important, and you said this at the beginning, we have to be sure that we are experts at what we do. There’s an awful lot of people that say, “Oh, I’m a world-class expert at this. I’m a world-class expert at that.”

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, that’s all very well, but you have to make sure that you can actually deliver on that and you have to keep your skills honed all the time. And that’s really important to me. And I think it should be important to everybody in the expert space so that you are giving people the best possible product or service that you can. And for me, that was extremely important to have that time. Well, I think the other thing as well is it focused my energy, by just doing those one to ones, it really clarified a lot of things. It focused me. And it taught me a lot. I definitely became a better teacher as a result.

Nick James:

Yeah. And I think from my experience, I think anyone who’s in a space where you’re not maybe as financially abundant as you would like to be, and so you’re in a place of like, “I need to get some money in,” if you’re coming from that place and you’re trying to go out to the masses that that doesn’t really work so well in my experience. And my belief is that you’ve been able to very quickly launch this new membership to the masses. You’ve got 100 members in there straight away, and that’s just the start. I don’t believe, tell me if I’m wrong, that you would have been able to get 100 people in that membership as quickly as you have, if that had been your first plan. I think getting the foundations of a solid business laid where you had good income for mentoring belly dancers one-on-one, so that you could then build the lower price mass market offering later, I feel is a smart way of doing it. Whereas everyone seems to want the other way around, doesn’t make any sense to me.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yeah. I think the other thing as well, Nick, is that I was able to take time to learn the skills that I needed to learn that we get from your program. Let me at least talk a little bit about your program because you do teach us a lot of skills. And the input that we get is incredible. I mean, really incredible. And if I hadn’t have had all that, if I’d just kind of thrown myself out in a big market, I think I would have lost a lot of money. I mean, it’s not free. Well, first of all, I remember you saying the first thing you got to do is get some income in, you’ve just got to get some money in. And that’s one of the things about doing one to one is that it’s cheap. Whereas me doing my membership community, I’ve got to pay for my automator for Infusionsoft, and my membership program, there’s a lot of outgoings.

Nick James:

And it takes time. It takes time, to build a mass market program like that takes longer and it costs more money for you to market [inaudible 00:30:58], whereas selling your one-to-one mentoring was something you could do quickly with very low financial risk.

Charlotte Desorgher:

Yeah. I’m getting hold of people on Messenger and saying, “This is what I’m doing,” an email, Messenger, and it’s just me and them, so I haven’t got great overheads.

Nick James:

I guess it was a case of picking the low hanging fruit quickly to get some money in, as you rightly say, and then you’ve got that stability. You can build on top of it. So, first of all, thank you for sharing so openly. And I do appreciate all your very kind comments about the support that we’ve given you and our program. So I’m now going to ask you a direct question since I feel you’re open to sharing. So what advice would you give to someone, maybe somebody watching this or listening to this. They might have been to one or more of my events. They might have watched interviews and stuff and listened to the podcast. And maybe they’re sensing that a Mastermind, maybe our Mastermind, might be the thing that’s going to give them the impetus or give them the nudge to get their business to the point where it’s making a full-time income, or to accelerate their growth or scale it big. What advice would you give to someone who’s kind of thinking, “Maybe this could be something worth considering?”

Charlotte Desorgher:

Well, my husband, who I did run my last business with, is a very, very careful person and he’s naturally risk averse. And he said to me, “What could we have done with our business if there had been a Mastermind available when we were running that business?” Because you didn’t have those things. And he, when I said I’d invested in it he was like, “Oh, don’t know whether you’ve done the right… Are you sure?” But now when he saw the results, he said, “What could we have done with that business if we only had the support that you’ve had from Expert Empires, if we’d had that in those days, what could we have done?” And I recommended my sister, who is also an incredible expert in her field and she was working in, she’d come from decades in the NHS. I think you’re going to be interviewing her as well, actually, aren’t you?

Nick James:

Over the weekend I believe, Saturday morning.

Charlotte Desorgher:

But she’d come from decades in the NHS, she is a real expert in a really important field, but no sense of being able to actually charge a sensible amount of money for her services. And likewise, she’s also got risk averse husband who said, “It’s the best thing you ever did!” All I could say is, I could not be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t invested in Mastermind. I’m absolutely 100% sure of that. I could not be where I am now if I hadn’t made that decision. That time when I said to you, “It’s not possible to make money out of belly dancing,” and you said, “Try me out.”

Nick James:

And the truth is, I had no bloody idea how, but I just believe that when you’re as much of an expert as you are, and as passionate as you are about what you do, and as driven as you are to make a difference, that there’s always a way. So listen, thank you. First of all, thank you for your very kind words as always. I really do appreciate it. I’m very humbled whenever we speak and whenever anybody shares the love about their experience in Mastermind as you have. So yeah, and I really appreciate you taking the time this evening to share some of what helped you on your journey. I hope that maybe even if just one person watching or listening to this has maybe a distinction or breakthrough that they hadn’t made before, that’s going to support them in the growth of that empire, then we’ve done our job here. So thank you, Charlotte Desorgher, for your time this evening. Congratulations [crosstalk 00:35:13].

Charlotte Desorgher:

Can I say one thing as well. Just one very quick thing. Your podcast, bloody brilliant. And I was listening to the one on strategic planning a couple of weeks ago, and so inspired. So I have actually written out my five year plan, which I will send to you. And I hope you enjoy it. Because I’ve got big ambitions, Nick, watch this space.

Nick James:

I’m excited to hear your five-year plan. I don’t know this plan.

Charlotte Desorgher:

A global belly dance empire, yes.

Nick James:

What I do know is, it’s been an incredible two years so far, and it’s just the start. So we’ll see what the next five years has in store. So yeah, well thank you. I really appreciate your kind comments of course. And if you’re watching this, show some appreciation for Charlotte Desorgher for sharing so openly this evening. Hit the likes and the loves wherever you’re watching this, whether it’s on my Facebook profile, in our Expert Empires community group, hit the likes and loves. If you’re watching this on replay, drop a hashtag replay in the comments so that we know who’s tuning in. And thanks Charlotte again, for joining us this evening as always. Thanks everyone else for tuning in. Remember in always, more you connect? More you collect.

Charlotte Desorgher:

More you collect.

Nick James:

There we go. See you.

Charlotte Desorgher:

See you. Thanks Nick.

 

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