Successful singing instructor discovers it’s never too late to learn

Sistas 2006 Roma 070Peruse Roma Waterman’s bio, and you could conclude she’s achieved all the fame and fortune as a professional singer and voice coach she dreamed of. Roma recorded her first demo at age 18 and never wanted to do anything but have a career in music. With more than 20 years as a professional singer and voice coach to her credit, she’s built an impressive reputation in her field, with stints as a judge for Australia’s version of “The X Factor” and “The Voice” and steady work as sought-after session vocalist.

The other side of Roma’s career, and her current focus, has been Christian music—traveling to train worship teams and helping smaller churches with music and gospel choirs. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it’s more gratifying in other ways. Still, travel is expensive, and she’s always fundraising to support her mission.

Don’t let self-doubt get in the way
Following up on an idea suggested years before, she thought she might be able to put her music online and bring in extra money that way. “I did some Googling, and Udemy came up,” Roma recalls. Instead of immediately signing on as an instructor, however, “I got distracted for months and bought lots of courses on how to make courses, realized it was feasible and decided to try it out.” And yet, this veteran performer was really nervous—was she too old to learn this stuff in her 40s? “I know I’m a good teacher, but to do it online, I wasn’t sure it would work. It was a confidence thing.”

Nevertheless, Roma made her first course, “How to Sing: Singing Lessons Online,” completely on her own, and it’s still her most popular course. It took her three months to finish, and her expectations were quite modest. “If I made $5,000, I thought it would be worth it,” Roma says, “but my husband thought even that was aiming too high! Well, we blitzed that in eight weeks. It got bigger and bigger, and we couldn’t believe it.”

To date, Roma’s earned about US$30,000 and taught more than 5,500 students on Udemy. Many are people from worship teams and churches, and it’s turned out to be a boon for her music sales, as this same audience goes on to buy her albums and books. Not bad for a novice who thought her total lack of marketing experience would be her undoing. Again, Roma credits Udemy “because I don’t just produce courses; I can take them,” pointing to courses on Facebook marketing and SEO that have been particularly helpful. When people ask her secret, she gives credit where it’s due—“I took courses and did exactly what they said.”

Rewards that transcend the financial
Roma lets out a hearty laugh as she tells her story. “I feel like a kid again learning lots of new skills,” she exclaims. She also learned a lot from watching videos from other instructors, like Miguel Hernandez. “He was himself, he was funny, he made mistakes,” she says. This was revelatory for Roma. She’d seen other singing courses and was discouraged that she couldn’t produce anything as good, but then she realized no one else could offer what she had—her own unique style, personality, and experiences. “Just because there are already lots of courses in the market, you still have your own unique fingerprint,” she says.Sistas 2006 Roma 008

The extra income from her Udemy courses has seen Roma through some tough times—losing a parent, having to sell her mom’s house, her husband being out of work—which enables her to keep doing more charity work. But she has a choice bit of advice for new Udemy instructors: don’t just look at teaching online as a money-making vehicle. “I’m proud I’ve earned as much as I have from my courses, but I’ve worked very hard at it,” she says. “You can be a good teacher and produce a terrible course or fail at the marketing.” Besides, fixating on revenue will blind you to the other, larger payoffs. “One of the best assets a teacher can have is encouraging people and giving them confidence to move forward. To be part of that is so rewarding.”

Roma’s favorite part of teaching online is her interactions with students around the world. She’s very active in discussion forums, checking in a couple of times a day, and offers extras like when she issued a challenge asking students to post a video of themselves singing and to share the YouTube link with her. “I feel so privileged they’re doing my course; it gives me goosebumps.” Others have asked for private lessons via Skype, something she hasn’t done yet but is seriously considering.

In fact, it’s all so rewarding for Roma, “now it’s become my mission as much as my charity work. Something that I thought would be a side thing is now something I love so much, and I’m having so much fun. This is how we should live — loving what we’re learning.”