Good question. First, let’s examine the importance of leadership
I want you to imagine for a second, that there are two American football teams. One football team is from Texas, and the other one is from Florida. The Texas team has skilled players and a coach. The team from Florida also has quality athletes, but they don’t have a coach. They had to make some budget cuts. They decided that their quarterback is qualified to serve as both the coach and the quarterback. The quarterback in American football is the leader out on the field, so he’s an obvious choice to be the coach. The Florida and the Texas teams go head to head in a game. Both teams are equally matched in skill and ability, but one team, the Texas team, has a coach.
Which team do you think is more likely to perform better in this game? I’d put my money on the Texas team, the team with the coach. Why? Because the coach is on the sidelines and he has a bird’s eye view of the game. He has a macro perspective of what’s going on with his team and with the opponent’s team and all of the dynamics at play on the field. The Florida team’s coach, their quarterback, is focused on his performance. He’s focused on what’s happening on the field, but because he’s so close to the game, because he’s in the trenches, he’s unable to see all the dynamics at play. The same applies to you and your music studio.
If you are teaching in your music studio, there’s a good chance that you’re unable to see certain dynamics at play. You’re dealing with the students; you’re dealing with all the fires that come up daily. A music studio owner that doesn’t teach can step back and not only look at their studio and identify its strengths and vulnerabilities, but they’re also able to look at the dynamics in the market.
I want to break this down a little bit more. I often think of something I heard Tim Topham once say, (and I’m paraphrasing) “A lot of music teachers back their way into being a music teacher. They almost accidentally stumble into their profession. They don’t deliberately go and seek this career.” That certainly applies to me.
When I was a senior in high school, a freshman boy asked me if I would give him some bass guitar lessons. It didn’t even occur to me that I should charge for this. Little spikey-haired Eric Olsen came over, I gave him his lesson, and at the end, he handed me a $10 bill. I told the kid I didn’t want his money. He said his mom insisted so I took the money and a light bulb went off. “
I just made more money in one hour teaching than I do in an hour at my busboy job. Maybe there’s something to this teaching thing.
Perhaps you have a story like that where somebody wanted some help with learning the piano, and you were glad to help them out. One thing led to another. The next thing you know, you have a few students, and you have a nice business for yourself.
Many of us embark on our journeys as music teachers, and we’re just drifting out to sea. We’re so caught up in thinking about teaching that we’re unable to see the massive body of water we’re drifting out into. Knowing how to run a business, even a small music studio, requires knowledge and strategy.
It’s not uncommon for the studio owner to feel a bit annoyed or turned off by the business component of the business. Besides we’re all artists, we’re here to teach.
Ultimately you have to embrace what it means to be a business leader if you want to grow your studio.
I want to first break down three different music studio types. Perhaps mindset is a better word. These three different mindsets are…
Many of us start out as the solopreneur or the solo teacher. The objective at that point is to fill up your schedule. When you only have a handful of students getting up to say, 30 students can seem like a big mountain to climb. Most of your marketing’s word of mouth. Maybe you hang some flyers up at the local coffee shop. You’re just trying to get to 20 or 30 students and you then you max out.
Once your schedule is maxed out, your options for growth are a little more limited. You can try to open up your schedule more, raise your rates or move to a group lessons model.
I want to return to this idea of mindset. A studio owner’s mindset needs to shift if they want to scale, grow, or bring in new teachers so that they can lead a lifestyle well beyond what they’re currently able to sustain. To accomplish this, they have to adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur and business leader.
You can have this mindset from day one as the solo teacher. Many of us though, myself included, didn’t develop this mindset straight away. I didn’t until my music studio hit the 200 student mark.
I want to talk about the next step in the journey of the music studio owner. The music studio owner now decides that, “Hey, my schedule is maxed out. I want to make some more money. I should rent out a studio space. I need to hire another teacher or two.”
Great. Now there’s potential to bring in an additional revenue stream. They bring in some teacher, someone who is seasoned and demands a high rate of pay. Maybe 40% or 50% of this new revenue is going back into the studio. Some of that revenue is contributing to the costs of rent, utilities and insurance. You now have to rely on a high-volume business to offset these new expenses.
If things go your way and your enrollment continues to grow, you should begin to increase your salary significantly. Great news! But there’s a good chance you’re teaching in your own studio.
I call this step of the journey the reluctant entrepreneur. Quite often, the studio owner has the same mindset that they had when they were the solopreneur. They want to generate more revenue, but the way they think about their business hasn’t really changed. Again, we return to mindset. The reluctant entrepreneur relies on the same tactics and strategies that they used to build up their solo practice.
Your mindset needs to shift to really scale your business. You have to start thinking more like a marketer and understand your customer’s wants and needs more. You must begin to think about what type of messages you’ll broadcast that will resonate with your ideal customer and what tactics you can use to deploy your message. If you’re teaching in your studio still, marketing is most likely an afterthought.
Most of us have to teach when we initially bring in those first instructors. You can’t afford not to. What you can afford to do is to say to yourself:
I’m teaching today because I have to, because I’m not generating enough revenue to not teach, but I plan to stop teaching to better focus on the business.
The moment you have that mindset, everything changes. You now can put pen to paper and ask yourself “What does my business need to look like for me to stop teaching? How can I gradually transition my students over to my teaching staff?”
Quite often, a studio’s payroll makes it seemingly impossible for the owner to remove him or herself from teaching. Paying top dollar for your music instructors is often the culprit. Maybe it would be more cost-effective to hire good musicians who have never taught, and you teach them how to teach. You’re going to give them a skill that they have for the rest of their lives. You don’t have to pay them $40(US) an hour. You can pay them $15 to $20 an hour. If they are solid musicians, great communicators, and have a way with kids and adults, they’re trainable. Hire for personality. Train for skill.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “but Dave, I love teaching music. I got into this business because I love teaching and working with kids.” If you lack a passion for business, perhaps you should focus on being a solopreneur. A larger multi-teacher studio isn’t for everyone. A solo teacher doesn’t have to worry so much about the market. She needs to find enough students that align with her way of teaching. He needs to find enough students to fill his schedule.
Most likely, you hired more teachers because you want to generate more revenue for yourself. Your personal financial needs are demanding that.
This is where the tension begins to develop: “I just want to teach, but I can’t generate the revenue I need as a solo teacher.”
I don’t want to get sidetracked here, but here I go.
Business leadership and marketing is an art form in of itself. Just like music, it requires practice. Once you see your business growth due to your improved business and marketing skills, I promise you you’ll fall in love with all this business stuff—pinky promise.
To learn insights on branding your studio, try our podcast episode with music school owner Danny Thompson.
If you want to make more money and operating as a solo teacher can’t get you to your financial goal, you need to begin to think like an entrepreneur. Once you hire 1 or 2 teachers, you are no longer running a teaching business. You’re running an organization, and an organization needs leadership, a vision, and purpose.
Suppose we go back to the football analogy. The team from Texas had a coach — a visionary leader who thinks strategically. The coach isn’t thinking about one individual job in the organization but at the big picture.
Meanwhile, if you’re teaching in your studio, you can try to think of the big picture, but it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about students during the week. Perhaps you’re coming up with new ideas for lesson plans or troubleshooting ideas. You’re investing mental energy into your students. You’re burning brain calories, thinking about your students and thinking about their musical needs.
Your organization has needs. Those needs should be the top priority. Your students’ needs are, of course, a priority, but for your students’ needs to be met, your studio’s needs must to be met to sustain itself. There are certain things in your music studio that only you can do. Only you can come up with a vision. Only you can come up with a mission for your studio.
A mission means, simply — how does your business make the world a better place? What impact are you trying to have on the world? What impact do you want to have on children? You need to articulate that in your sales language and build your marketing around that language.
You can be thinking about those things, even when you’re the solopreneur. Again, it’s all about mindset.
At what point in your journey do you take on the mindset of a business leader? I encourage you to ask yourself this question.
Write down everything you do in your music studio, from taking out the trash, to collections, billing, rescheduling, teaching, etc. Ask yourself which of these things on this list can you delegate to somebody else? Not that you have the money to do that right now, but to identify and categorize things that can be delegated. Everything can be delegated, except things that fall under the category of leadership.
The leader doesn’t have to do the billing or even the sales calls. People can be trained to do that. The leader should be standing on the ship’s bow to lookout ahead into the ocean and identify potential problems up ahead. Their purpose is to define the destination, and why are we headed there? A leader needs to inspire the crew and make them care about the mission. That is how all great business leaders think.
Related: read an article on navigating your way through growth with a teaching roadmap guide
The third level in a music studio owner’s journey is the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur is no longer teaching, but just like the coach on the football team from Texas, they’re standing on the sidelines, looking at the team, looking for vulnerabilities. Where you’re vulnerable is where your competition can strike and take advantage of you.
The entrepreneur or business leader can look at dynamics at play in the market. They can understand their business better because they take a step back to analyze all of the pieces in motion. When you’re teaching, it’s hard to do. When you’re in the room with a student teaching, your music studio is going on outside of that room. There are all these people moving about. While you’re along with one student, you could be talking to parents and students milling about and forming a deeper connection with your community.
You’ll be able to do a much better job at building culture and building community in your studio by getting out of the teaching room and focussing on all your customers feeling like they have a personal connection with you.
So, to review, there are three different mindsets of a music studio owner.
There’s the solopreneur, the studio owner, who’s just trying to fill up their time, raise rates, maybe shift to a group model to make more money.
There’s the reluctant entrepreneur, which many of us are in. Many of us stay there for years. We get stuck there. It is hands-down the most stressful because you’re teaching and you’re doing everything else. And there’s a lack of leadership, just like the football team that doesn’t have a coach. There’s some leadership out on the field, but no one is standing back looking out for the team.
Then there’s the entrepreneur — the leader who’s looking at the business from a bird’s-eye view, identifying strengths, vulnerabilities, and opportunities. And I challenge you – there’s no reason why you can’t develop the entrepreneurial mindset from day one with your very first student.
Related: Dave Simon speaks on three mindsets of studio owners:
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