Have you ever felt the sudden urge to clean your studio or practice when it’s time to do admin work or work on your studio business?
It’s easy to trade the admin time for teaching time — that’s what we do best. It’s easy to put off raising rates, accept students at inconvenient times and sometimes just make up that forgotten make-up lesson – because, well, sometimes in the moment, it feels like it has to be done. A well-run studio business puts students first. You’ve likely felt this in your own studio business. Healthy tuition, a smooth client experience, and a well-thought-out program nurture a strong studio community and strong business.
Resources, activities, fun ideas are exciting and inspiring — and these are so great! Seeing your students light up when they learn a new concept and have a blast playing a game that reinforces it is so rewarding. Implementing change in your studio business doesn’t often ignite the same excitement. I get it.
Implementing change in your business can feel scary. It means making decisions, taking action, and telling your clients about it. Many teachers shy away from making changes for fear of students quitting or families getting upset.
It seems easier not to upset the proverbial apple cart.
Long term, however, procrastinating working on your business can cause you to feel overworked and eventually burnout – which isn’t good for you or your students.
These topics are top of mind this month at TopMusicCo. Today we are talking about a simple way you can keep client satisfaction high so that when you do implement change, it’s smooth (not scary). We’re excited about our upcoming Studio Biz Challenge for teachers (more on that later), and we’re here to offer guidance and resources to not only make your teaching the best it can be but also the client experience and your professional day to day experience as a teacher. The business stuff doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It’s just that lots of musicians spent a whole lot more time in the practice room than in business class.
So what do you do when it’s time for a change?
First step: Consider your client’s value perception.
Value perception is the amount of value clients see in music lessons at your studio. We all know that music lessons are valuable. What do your clients think? Do you communicate with that in mind?
One of the best ways you can strengthen retention and prepare clients for any changes is to consistently enhance value perception. By highlighting the immense and varied benefits of music lessons in lots of different ways throughout the year, your clients recognize deep value in music education. When the client consistently feels that the value provided is higher than the tuition they are paying, it makes investing in materials, events, and adjusting to change a lot easier.
When you know how to communicate the value of the service you provide clearly, clients have a strong sense that the service is a must-have. Take a moment to think about monthly or annual recurring bills you pay — I’m sure there are some you hem and haw about and some that are steady ‘no-brainer’ transactions for you. Netflix maybe?
We know most people look at budget line items in two categories: non-negotiable expenses and optional ones. Music lessons can be on the chopping block at any time based on a families’ financial situation alone, not to mention scheduling conflicts or other events of family life. The goal I have with my students is to have clients excited about their tuition payment, not just tolerating it.
“I told my friend that lessons at your studio are expensive, but they are so worth it” – a studio parent told me this a few months after signing up (her friend’s daughters signed up too.). Just recently, the same parent said, “I can’t thank you enough. Honestly, the confidence you are helping build in my daughter is amazing.”
In the years since I’ve worked on strengthening value perception in my studio community, I’ve noticed a significant shift. Thankfully, it’s not as complicated as it might seem. Here are 3 ways you can do this, too.
What does this look like in real life?
Language like “The studio is open Monday to Thursday 2-6pm, closed Friday-Sunday” communicates clearly. Exceptions are up to you, but personally, when I modelled the value of the lesson time and experience, my clients responded in kind. Everyone shows up for their lesson or gives notice if they miss.
A wise mentor of mine, Neil Minturn says, “Protect your time. No one else will.”
He was right. When I was more casual with my approach to rescheduling, a student simply forgot to show up and expected a lesson at a convenient time for them.
Many things go into setting rates like your experience, location, education, expenses, and your commitment to continuing professional development.
Why charge a premium rate?
It allows you to provide a premium service. Studio equipment and maintenance will always be up to date, and you will have time and tuition for your own professional development – always working on improving your client experience.
The other reason: when people have enough ‘skin in the game’, they invest their time. The tuition fee is a pretty obvious indicator of value, and most people respond to investments with care.
I’ll never forget a great conversation with composer Ernst Schneider who said matter of factly: “You’re a professional. You need professional tools, and you charge a professional rate.” I was already charging a healthy rate, but to be honest, it just felt like I was granted permission. And sometimes, as the lone wolf independent music studio owner, we look for that.
The BEST outcome of this change in my own business was unexpected: My students progressed faster and were happier. When they value their lesson, they show up and practice more — win-win.
Your clients will notice when your inspiration and energy level are renewed regularly. I find this is reflected back to me in my students. This week I taught two sisters who have had online lessons for over a year. Often during online lessons for their age, we break for 2-3 games throughout the lesson to keep engagement and attention levels high. Both girls were just SO excited to play their pieces and progress that they insisted on playing their pieces and sight-reading for the whole lesson. I didn’t think much of it until their Mom texted afterwards, thanking me for my enthusiasm. Then it made sense: I’m always so excited to show up, to see them, to hear their music and guide them as they improve. They just respond in kind.
With my own inspiration and energetic tank full, I can better deliver to my students.
My students and their families love hearing about classes I take, composers I meet and things I’m doing to improve their learning experience. My young students often giggle and say, ‘YOU still take lessons?’ and I say, “yes, and I STILL practice! And I STILL make mistakes in lessons.” Just recently, I had a great session with Bradley Sowash, and I got SO nervous during parts of it. What a fabulous reminder of how our students sometimes feel. Families love feeling a part of the studio experience and hearing about your journey. This creates a reminder of the value of continuing education and that their experience continues to grow in value as you continue to develop your skills.
Normalize the value of learning, having mentor relationships, setting goals and reaching accomplishments. Take the time to recognize your own and your students’ diligent work and achievements – both to them and to their families. This is a big piece of the life skills puzzle that music lessons serve up well. I regularly take time to recognize when students raise the bar, showing diligence, grit, creativity, resilience and other life skills during the lesson or with a quick text, or mentioning after the lesson to parents. We have a tradition of taking a photo after accomplishing a new milestone and sending it to the parent — students love the extra attention, and parents enjoy seeing the expression on their child’s face. From time to time, I even take photos of my adult students when they reach a significant milestone. They love it too.
Since I adjusted my own habits to model value in my studio, I’ve noticed a trend in the type of clients attracted to my service. Many parents and adult students are teachers, professionals, or highly invested in other kinds of education. This also means that investing in books, performance opportunities, and other investments that go along with music lessons are not only natural but exciting for these clients.
When you consistently model respect for the music lesson experience and studio time, your students will respond in kind. I’ve spent years honing my communication skills so that clients easily and consistently perceive the high value of music lessons. It didn’t happen overnight. (I sure had a few nervous, dry mouth moments discussing rate raises.) Having high-value perception is great in and of itself, but a big advantage is that it helps when it’s time to implement change in your studio business. When client satisfaction is high, changes don’t feel as scary. When you feel confident that your clients feel good, you can feel confident to make changes that are the best for you and for your students.
As an independent music teacher, the freedom to choose your curriculum, your clients, and your schedule is pretty fabulous, right? It also means it’s up to you to initiate the tides of change. Also, much like on an airplane, we’re instructed to put our own oxygen mask on first and then help others; when your business is set up in a way that is a great fit for you, it will flow to the client experience. Believe it or not, while raising rates and making changes in your studio business seems like it’s best for you and inconvenient for your clients – when it’s done right, it will enhance your client’s music lesson experience.
If it’s time to create change in your studio business, we’re here to guide you through it. If you’re looking to take action, you’re invited to join us in the TopMusic 3 Day Biz Challenge. We’ll boil down studio business topics to the essentials, give you directed homework assignments, feedback on your work, and a deadline — so you know you’ll get it done and set yourself up for a fabulous 2021-2022 teaching year.
Join the TopMusic 3 day Challenge and learn exactly how to:
✔️ Attract new students without spending $ on advertising
✔️ Raise your rates simply and effectively and avoid the stress storm
✔️ Run your studio efficiently and profitably, so it serves you (not the other way around.)
👉 Learn more here: topmusic.co/bizchallenge
Sarah Buckley is a piano teacher and course creator in Keswick, Ontario, Canada. Connecting musician entrepreneurs to resources and services that advance their practice and spread the love of music drives Sarah. You can find her drinking coffee, having dance parties with her daughters, or at a CrossFit class.