Creating (and Selling) Community: The Business Plan Behind Jim Cooney’s New Membership Program

What’s it like to launch a business centered on your knowledge and experience as a performing artist? Jim Cooney shares why and how he created Amplified Artists, a new online membership community designed specifically for performing arts professionals. 

Jim Cooney, a young white man wearing a blue shirt, brown belt and khaki pants, leans against a dark wall.
Jim Cooney’s Amplified Artists capitalizes on his years of experience as a performing artist. Photo courtesy Cooney

It’s common to hear about dance artists launching their own businesses—from making gourmet snack bars to arranging custom floral bouquets to designing dancewear.

But what’s it like to start a business that doesn’t provide customers with any tangible product, but rather sells your years of experience and knowledge as a performing artist?

That’s teacher and choreographer Jim Cooney’s challenge with his new Amplified Artists membership program, designed to give people working in the performing arts the essential resources, tools and networking opportunities that they often can’t get elsewhere.

Dance Business Weekly talked to Cooney about how—and why—he launched the program.

The Birth of Amplified Artists

Before COVID-19, Cooney—who has forged a career as a much-beloved master teacher at Broadway Dance Center as well as a director/choreographer for musical theater—had visiting-artist engagements at universities, where he helped students better manage aspects of their careers that they don’t often learn in the studio, such as doing taxes or developing reels.

But it took the pandemic for Cooney to have enough time to translate those experiences into the membership program he’d been mulling over for some time. “So I dove headfirst into it because there wasn’t anything else like it out there,” he says. “And, I knew from teaching and the feedback I’ve gotten that people want this content.”

What the Membership Includes

Amplified Artists is $39 for a monthly pay-as-you-go membership, or $395 for an annual membership. Members get access to a growing library of outcome-oriented, self-paced courses that cover career and life topics, such as developing your artistic mission and vision, money strategies, and best practices in building websites and utilizing social media.

Members can share resources and feedback amongst a community of peers in various stages of their careers. That might include sharing positive experiences with specific studios, classes, teachers or agents, providing tips on filming locations or voice-over equipment, or asking for tips on resumés or social media engagement.

Cooney also holds monthly Q&A calls that are recorded and archived, covering topics like the benefits of being an LLC, how to build relationships with people you want to work for, and general questions about auditioning, the industry and marketing yourself.

How He Prepped

Cooney knew he needed to do some significant logistical research to get his business off the ground. So, he joined the Membership Academy, a training community for membership-site owners. Just seeing how the Academy structured its own site was valuable, and experiencing firsthand how its members interacted with each other helped Cooney develop a list of customizations he wanted to implement with his site. “I wanted the live calls to be indexable and searchable so they can be archived as part of the library of content,” Cooney says. “Chances are, if you have a question, someone else does too, and if it’s already been answered, then you can immediately get what you need instead of waiting until the next call.”

Cooney has his content planned out six months in advance, and his prelaunch marketing strategy involved a waitlist.  “Once I decided to build this community, one of the first things I did was share a post, on social media and through my email list, giving the most basic description and letting people know how they could start joining the waitlist,” he says, adding that about 100 people from his network signed up. “Most everyone I talk to these days is missing the sense of community, and I do think that is something that Amplified Artists provides that benefits everyone, regardless if you want to dive into the courses.”

Cooney self-financed his start-up costs, which included the platform software with custom build-outs, content indexing and forum software, freelance help and legal costs, but he recouped it all after the first month that the site went live. “It surprised me that there were quite a few people who chose to sign up for the annual membership fee. I was expecting more monthly sign-ups,” Cooney says, adding that his goal is to add 20 new members a month to allow for attrition.

The Future of Amplified Artists

Throughout Amplified Artists’ development and launch, Cooney documented all of his processes. That way, if he hires someone to manage the day-to-day aspects down the road, a troubleshooting manual already exists.

Cooney is not currently taking a salary, though he’d like to at some point. “But I know it’s an investment and it takes time,” he says, adding that he’s also already been in discussions with some universities about offering discounted student or faculty memberships, and he envisions inviting other experts to eventually create courses or participate in recorded interviews.

Cooney’s goal is to spend less than an hour on Amplified Artists each day once things get back up and running post-pandemic (although he spends more time on it right now due to additional free time from the industry being shut down), focusing on developing and releasing one new course each month and leading the monthly call—a setup that will give Cooney the freedom to take on new creative and teaching projects once the pandemic ceases.

The time involved with developing Amplified Artists was a labor of love, but running a business isn’t always just about the money, Cooney says: “A lot of us downplay the gifts we have to offer, but if we know something that can help others improve their life and we don’t share it, we’re robbing them of their opportunity for their own self-growth. If you have knowledge that other people can benefit from, it’s your duty to share it with the world.”

Hannah Maria Hayes has an MA in dance education from New York University and has been writing for Dance Media publications since 2008.