Today’s guest post comes from Kristin Yost, founder and executive director of the Centre for Musical Minds in Frisco, Texas. You might also recognize her name from her popular workshop session entitled, “How I made $100,000 my first year as a piano teacher.” Kristin has much to share with teachers in the area of finances and entrepreneurship and I am excited to welcome her to the ComposeCreate blog! You’ll be seeing more articles from Kristin soon and you can read more about her on the Centre for Musical Minds site and her new PianoTeacherSchool site (finally, a business school for piano teachers…more later!). Here is her excellent article that was also published in the California Music Teacher Volume 34, Number 1, Fall 2010. This article is copyright by Kristin Yost and used with her permission:
Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk – and to act.
~ Andre Malraux
Ah, “the economy”. This seems to be the overwhelming response when people talk about numbers being down in comparison to anything prior to the most recent recession. This “the economy” response always comes in a more somber, lower tone of voice and refers to conference participation, domestic vehicle purchases, new home building, etc… It could refer to fewer carrots at the grocery store if we let it. Mother nature didn’t cooperate because of (insert somber, lower voice here), “the economy.” Numbers at Apple certainly aren’t down, and dare I say, look at their profits from the last quarter….and so, we have to ask ourselves why. To me it is plain and simple: People are loyal to what they trust, what they know works, and innovation. In Apple’s case, pretty packaging doesn’t hurt either.
Welcome to our ever-changing new reality. Instead of thinking of the infamous economy as being down, I propose we take this as an opportunity to change our perception. Instead of the somber tone and lower voice, it is time we view our economy as our reality. This is THE economy, not the “down” economy and we will embrace it with a sense of excitement and endless possibilities! The sooner we can grasp onto our “real” reality, the sooner we can get our studio numbers up, and keep them up regardless of the GDP.
There is no question about it, consumers (your clients) are watching where they are spending their money, more now than I can ever recall. It is imperative you examine your studio from all angles, and determine what is and what is not working. Take this recent recession as an opportunity to evaluate yourself, your studio and your value system. Ask your best clients what it is about you, your studio and your personal musical values that make them want to stay involved. Once you determine that, ask the same valued clients “if there is one area of improvement you could see, what would you recommend?” Notice the boundary, just one area of improvement. You can thank me later.
Reflection is a good thing. I personally like to focus on positive reflection, and I particularly like to study what other people do that works. The good news happens when you take a look at Apple’s sales – clearly people still have disposable income! When a consumer is buying a product that they believe in, they relate to and VALUE, they make the sacrifice and deem it a worthwhile purchase. If they like the result, they will tell their friends. When you are a teacher that has families that believe in you, relate to you, and VALUE you, they will be sure that their private music lessons are core to their lives, not optional. They will also tell their friends.
This brings me to my next point. It is your responsibility to communicate and instill an understanding in your clients that private music lessons are not optional. The question you should be asking yourself is: How can I make myself indispensable? Once you determine that, the next step is to articulate and implement how you will achieve your STRATEGY. Yes, I said Strategy! You as a music teacher need to have a strategy in how you will keep, and add new students to your studio over the coming year(s).
As the Music Teachers Association of California conference this past July, I had the privilege of sitting on a panel with Scott McBride Smith, Lee Galloway, Michelle Sissler, Bonnie Blanchard, Brian Chung and Gary Ingle. Our topic was “How to Keep Numbers Up In a Down Economy”. When I began my spiel, I asked the audience how many of the teachers in the room had experienced growth in their studios this past year. Like I thought, about 3/4 of the room raised their hand. Sound surprising to you? These are the innovators, the thinkers and the shaker-uppers that have growth; not the people who keep doing what they are doing, hoping (expecting) things to improve.
If you choose to keep “doing what you’re doing” and change nothing, how do you expect your studio numbers to improve? Let us take a look at where you are. As an example, say you have 30 students, and you would like to retain your 30 and gain 10. Create a 5-question survey about what your families like about lessons with you, and ask for one area of improvement. Show your client base you are listening to them, value their voice and take steps to show them.
Once you know exactly why your families love you (or don’t love you), implement a way to emphasize those qualities that make them want to stay with you. One of the main reasons my families love me is because I radiate positive honesty. I view all of my students as accomplished learners but make a point to not lie to them (e.g. saying “great” when it wasn’t). I make them earn the “great” and they know exactly why. It’s addictive; seeing progress and feeling it.
Once you know exactly why families love you, figure out what you can do to attract the same kinds of people (your favorite families!). Be sure you are giving incentives to people who recommend you. Everyone loves iTunes cards, t-shirts, gift card, t-shirts, etc…people love rewards. Just ask your students.
I may be criticized for saying this, but how you present yourself is very important. People like to be around other people who are attractive and fun. Buy a new pair of designer jeans and wear with a professional looking top. A hip new tie or a pair of outrageous shoes will liven things up. For something easy, upgrade your look with a new office color, or add Guitar Hero to your waiting area. Imagine how many people will talk about that!
During the conference panel discussion, Michelle Sissler talked about the importance of a niche, something that gives you an edge over the teacher with identical credentials as you, who is about five minutes away from your location. What makes you different? What are you doing that makes you stand out and that makes a family want to be a part of your studio? Whatever decisions you make, be sure you are clearly communicating it to the general public.
During that same panel, Bonnie Blanchard talked about the importance of professionalism and having fun; letting your inner enjoyment shine through in everything you do. She discussed teaching all the non-musical habits and ideas that are so integral to success in life, but using music as her tool for the positive corruption of America’s youth. Ms. Blanchard made it clear; from promptly responding to emails, scheduling, to setting boundaries and beyond. Her point is we must represent a level of quality in all that we do; from the way we dress to the way we end our lessons.
Lee Galloway addressed numbers, pure and simple. If the parents of your students aren’t getting a raise, do you think it is the wisest thing to raise your rates? Gone are the days where we can take an annual raise for granted, but we can embrace where we are and make the best of the situation.
Brian Chung spoke about the importance of innovative, creative ways to boost your numbers. His point being to tap into the baby-boomer generation and focus on gaining some adult students. Have you thought outside the box? What kind of age demographics do you have in your area, and how can you capitalize on those?
You are at a beautiful time in the development of your studio. This is an opportunity. An opportunity to determine what works and eliminate what doesn’t. This is an opportunity to reacquaint yourself with what you do best; instill the values that matter now and throughout the lives of your students. We seem to spend our whole lives trying to be just like all the others. Set yourself apart! Whatever you choose to do, please enjoy the journey you are currently on and look forward to the plan you set in motion to achieve your goals and dreams.