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When you're starting or learning something completely new - like setting up a piano teaching business - the worst thing you can do is figure out everything by yourself.
You might eventually get through it, but you'll end up wasting a LOT of time.
Instead of reinventing the wheel, learn from someone who's been there and done that.
Someone like ... ME!
How to Start a Piano Studio
So here's what to expect. We'll learn how to:
I wrote this blog post so that if you're an aspiring teacher with ZERO students, you can build a successful piano studio in half the time and pain it took me to do it. And even if you're not a piano teacher, I promise you'll learn some solid business principles.
Now, I don't recommend planning these action steps in order. Instead, read the entire thing first and then plan out what you're going to do - everyone's journey is different.
However, here's one SUPER-IMPORTANT point: Finish all of these stages as fast as humanly possible - it'll make sense at the end.
And whatever you do, don't neglect anything. Think of all of this as one well-oiled machine - every moving part has to be working correctly at all times.
Okay ... Let's get you some students!!
Will the Real Slim Shady Please Stand Up?
What do you bring to the table? In other words ... what's your USP?
USP stands for "Unique Selling Proposition." This is about what makes you unique.
What makes you so ... you.
This might be the most important point in today's article. The reason is this: if you get your USP dialed down, you won't have any competition.
Imagine there are 20 piano teachers in your area, what makes you special? What makes you different?
Let's take an example from Seth Godin's book, "Purple Cow." Imagine you're driving by a field, and in that field you see nothing but cows. They don't stand out, you just drive right past them.
But what if one of those cows was purple? I don't know about you, but I'd hop right out of my (parked) vehicle and examine that strange mammal up close - while taking plenty of selfies.
So don't try to be "the best piano teacher" (a regular 'ol bovine) but a piano teacher who offers additional services or has special skills that no one else has (a purple cow).
Here's a personal example of how I try to be as "purple" as possible:
One skill by itself might not make a difference, but the magic is when you combine everything together.
And if you were a parent choosing a piano studio, how much would these additional services be worth to you?
Answer: A LOT.
So you must have other things to offer than just piano lessons. Sit down and spend as much time as possible to figure this out.
Look to your free time for additional clues:
Now, you might not come up with anything. If that's the case, just get out there and start learning about as many different things as you can!
Work with what you have - while learning new skills - and your USP will eventually develop over time.
And even if you think you have your USP down, do this anyway.
Here's one last suggestion:
But Wait ... There's More!
If your USP is the "what," now we're going to talk about the "how."
You've gotta learn to communicate your message in the clearest way possible. It's time for you to learn about ... sales.
Now, there seems to be a stigma around selling, but remember that sales is only sleezy if it's done bad (just like a cheesy pickup line).
At its heart, true selling is about filling a need in someone's life. It's about showing the prospect that it's in their best interest to work with you.
By the way, you don't want to be marketing to everyone (a.k.a. don't be a cow). It's counter-intuitive, but by focusing on a smaller pool of prospects, you'll get more business (not less).
Narrowing your message not only attracts the right people, but repels the wrong ones.
Think of this process as a series of interviews. For example, most companies will usually go through several rounds until they settle on a handful of candidates.
So how do we narrow down your choices to find ideal clients who are the perfect fit?
Let's start with question numero uno:
It's like wanting to be in a relationship: The more you can define the qualities you look for in a partner, the easier time you'll have finding that special someone.
And just like figuring out your USP, this will take time. You need to be as specific as possible.
This is challenging because it involves putting yourself in the other person's shoes. You can't accomplish this goal without a healthy dose of empathy.
Here's a useful example: Many businesses work on developing an avatar. No I'm not talking about those freaky looking neon-blue creatures, an avatar is a representation of a single person who represents their entire target audience.
This person could be a 35-year old accountant with a wife and 2 kids who enjoys parasailing in their free time (don't ask me how I came up with that).
So the more closely you define your own avatar, the more precise your communication will be. When that person comes across your message, they'll feel like you're speaking directly to them - almost like you're reading their mind.
Now for question #2:
There's really no easy answer for this. The best suggestion I have is for you to think of all the products you have in your own life, ones that you enjoy or absolutely love. Make a list of everything these products do for you and what makes them special - as well as how the brands communicate with you.
Other useful questions:
Answer these questions using as many business examples as possible (such as Amazon and Uber).
One last piece of advice is to remember that what other people think of you matters more than what you think of yourself.
Let's talk about students ... how to get them.
Your first and immediate goal should be to get just ONE student (even if you have a few, just pretend you don't have any).
This is because you need to small-chunk the entire process. There are many steps involved, and thinking of all of them at once is too overwhelming.
So how many ways are there to get students?
Let's take a look at the first one - in the following section, I'll give you advice on cost-effective (zero-dollar) strategies.
The Social Network
Start with your current social network, because it's going to be the easiest way to get your first student - since people who know you, trust you.
Reach out to everyone you know. Ask friends, family, acquaintances or colleagues - anyone you have a connection to. And don't worry if you're not close to the people you contact, a lot of my own opportunities have come from people I've only met once or twice in my life.
In my experience, most people are more than willing to help you - even if they don't get anything in return (but try your best to pay them back).
In addition, hit up your local venues: small businesses, mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, cafes, the community center, etc.
Many of these places will have a community board. And if you're savvy enough to print your own business cards, leave those with them as well.
Let Freedom Ring
I 100% believe you'll get at least a few students out of this approach, but let's say you've had limited success. If you're not happy with the results, here's a foolproof way to get more students instantly ...
Teach for free.
This might not be a popular choice, but it's a GUARANTEED way to get more students in the shortest amount of time possible - while gaining a ton of experience.
There's always demand for free.
Additionally, since you have nothing to lose you get to test out any ideas you have - no matter how off-the-wall they might be.
And if you end up doing a great job, those prospects will become paying clients.
But if not getting paid sounds too risky to you, add in some constraints such as offering the first month free or 50% off.
SIDE NOTE: Once you have some students, ASK THEM FOR REFERRALS! It drives me nuts when people leave a valuable source untapped - and one that's right in front of their face!
And speaking of referrals, sweeten the pot for your current clients. Offer them free lessons or some other type of reward. Yes, you'll end up losing income in the short term but if you get 2 or 3 new students out of it, I'd say it's a good deal.
It's important to give people incentives to help you - help them help you, that is.
Would You Like Fries With That?
Now, if you'd rather watch paint dry than teach for free, here's one last suggestion. This is the most traditional and popular route - mostly because the previously mentioned methods have some risk involved.
Get a job at a music studio.
Side note: If you plan on operating your own brick-and-mortar studio one day, it's an excellent way to see for yourself what's involved.
Now, a caveat is that the usual requirement is a college degree (and often teaching experience). But if you get past the job interview, you'll get your first student almost immediately.
However, once you have a steady paycheck - and ideally have some money left over - you need to quit as soon as possible.
You might be thinking, "what are you talking about? I just got this job and you're telling me to skedaddle?"
Well, let me explain from my personal experience (I've worked at a few studios myself).
They will usually take more than half of your hourly rate. So if they charge $40 per hour, you're taking home $18 - or even less. And it will be a year or more for a meager raise (if they even offer you one).
Perhaps that sounds okay to you - I'm not saying there's anything wrong with what they're doing. As a business owner, it's not a bright idea to pay your teachers more than you pay yourself.
The bigger reason to get out of there is that you have no control over your work environment.
You have no say when it comes to their policy, as well as getting to choose your own students. You teach who they tell you to teach and work when they tell you to work. And if a student is a no show? Usually, you not only don't get paid, but end up with a half hour (or more time) to kill.
And don't forget, they can fire you at any time they want without any warning whatsoever - read up on the pitfalls of being a contracted laborer.
In short, they don't care about keeping you happy. You're just there to make them money.
This lack of control will make you miserable (unless you don't like making decisions).
So if you choose to go this route, get in and learn what you can. Then get out as fast as possible - that is, if you want to be your own boss one day.
Of course, this is assuming that it's not a good work environment. Personally, I never found a place I wanted to stay at - but who knows what would've happened had I found a great boss.
Now ... If you end up leaving, you might consider our next action step slightly immoral: Take as many students with you as you can.
You might say, "isn't that shady?"
If this is what you're thinking, remember:
Yes, I've done this in the past. And no, I didn't have any problems with it. This is because I sincerely believed my students would be worse off if I left them there.
Which makes sense, because a business owner that doesn't care about his or her teachers definitely doesn't care about the students.
So ... should you be upfront with them? Should you let the studio owner know exactly what you're planning? Personally, I'd totally be okay with it. Heck, I might even be motivated to work with you (I like ambitious people).
But I'd imagine you're better off keeping this tactic to yourself.
If You Build It, Maaaaybe They'll Come
Now let's talk about getting the word out about who you are - we're going to focus on marketing.
Think about Zoom and Uber Eats. Why did they EXPLODE in popularity when the pandemic hit? Well ... they were online and everyone was home - DUH.
But it's also because they were in position to capture everyone's attention at the right time.
And where is everyone's attention these days? On their phone, a.k.a. the internet.
So let's look at some ways to get that attention for yourself.
Cast Your Net Wide
Get on as many different platforms as possible. Position yourself everywhere you think people might be looking for piano lessons - and even places where you don't think they're looking (you'd be surprised).
And make sure the messages are relevant to your target audience (a.k.a. don't SPAM people).
Remember that your language needs to be specific. We're on all the platforms but we're not marketing to everyone.
I don't have time to go into it here, but here's a bare minimum of what you'll need to set up:
I say bare minimum because there are many more out there. You also want to be on the lookout for any emerging platforms (social media, apps, websites, etc.) as well.
This is because they all have a "life cycle." Remember when Friendster and Myspace
were popular? If you don't know what I'm talking about ... I envy your youth.
Well, the same fate awaits Instagram as well as everything else. You just don't know when it's going to happen.
The other reason you want to be everywhere is that you don't know in advance which source will be the most effective. Where the traffic comes from will most likely be different for everyone.
For example, I get most of my students online (Yelp or Google). However, nearly all of my wife's students have been through word-of-mouth (personal referrals).
Now, once you have this set up it's time to ask for reviews and testimonials. Don't be bashful. If you want people to sign up with you, they need to be able to trust you first.
And there's no better way to do this than by showing them what your current clients think about you.
So once you have these reviews and testimonials, plaster them all over the place.
This is social proof - like that guy you knew in high school who got all the girls. The ladies were willing to date him because he had an excellent track record to back it up.
When you're done with that, you'll need to actively develop content (blogging, videos, podcasts, etc.). Imagine your online presence is a fire - content is the wood that keeps it burning. If you just set everything up and leave it as-is, it will slowly die out.
So what type of content should you post? That depends on your USP. If you did a good job developing it - and you've done enough research to know what you're talking about - the content should naturally arise.
By the way, all the amount of advertising and marketing in the world is not going to help you if people are confused about who you are and what you do - especially if you're the one confusing them
Hmmm ... clear communication seems to be a theme ...
Measure What Matters
So once you've "lit" that fire - and you're keeping it going with content - you should be getting a lot of inquiries.
Next, start capturing data. You're going to measure everything - how many hits you're getting on what platforms as well as what type of person is contacting you.
DO NOT skip this step. The reason why is you'll either verify you're on the right track or notice you'll have to change things up.
This is because the type of business you get depends on what's out there. In other words, the market.
Here's a personal example. When I started out, I thought there would be plenty of demand for intermediate classical pianists. What did I base this on? Pure Imagination (cue Willy Wonka).
What did I get instead? Beginners. Literally nothing but beginners - for years (and to this day). Which was actually a great experience for me - when you know how to teach complete beginners, you can teach anyone.
Not to mention the market for beginners is HUGE.
So, you might want to have a studio full of little Mozarts ... but reality doesn't care.
You can't change what's out there, you have to work with what's available (unless you're willing to pack up your bags and move).
Now, that might change later, because once you have an established reputation - and people are spreading the word about you - it becomes possible to create demand where there previously wasn't.
But if you're not getting enough bites, you need to change your messaging because people aren't buying what you're selling.
If you made it this far, give yourself a healthy round of applause. Get yourself something nice because you've done a LOT of hard work and you deserve it.
Now I want to share one of my favorite sayings in life:
And a second one:
This means you must simply work on improving. Tirelessly. Endlessly.
Read books. Attend workshops. Watch masterclasses. Absorb EVERY bit of knowledge that you can.
And don't just stick to purely piano or classical music. Nearly everything I've learned that has helped me to become a better teacher, I've learned outside of piano.
Technical and personal skills.
Why do you gotta keep going? It's because I've seen so many successful businesses STOP DOING THINGS THAT ARE WORKING. Either that or the quality of their service or product just slips to a pathetic level.
The hardest thing is to stay patient and to continue to strive for progress - if you're dedicated to mastery, you have a long way to go.
So how do you keep yourself from giving up?
Honor the process.
When you purely focus your attention on the action itself, it keeps you motivated and happy. You enjoy what you're doing because you enjoy it - and it keeps your mind off of results.
If it's going to be a long road ahead, you better enjoy it as much as possible.
And remember, don't get complacent - it only takes one bad experience to lose a good client and student.
Let's say you've "done" it. You're successful, at least on your own terms.
I would then have 2 questions for you:
And even if you answered yes to both questions, remember that anything can happen. I pray that you have a long, fruitful life devoid of any tragedy. But for the sake of argument, let's play Devil's Advocate.
What if something happened one day and you weren't able to teach any more?
Like ... permanently?
Look, I can't imagine retiring from teaching any time soon. But not having the ability to teach and play piano seems like a total nightmare.
That scenario would definitely be one of the worst experiences I could ever imagine going through. That being said, I have plenty of other interests and skills I could fall back on.
If you can't say the same, then that's your entire source of income down the drain. Not only that, if you haven't learned to be good at anything else you're basically starting over.
When you're young it doesn't matter so much, you've got drive and plenty of time to look forward to. But when you're older, you don't have that luxury.
So start thinking about it now, pleeeeease listen to what I have to say. If you want to be set for life there's more work to be done.
Now even if you're healthy for the rest of your life, there's a limit to how many students you can teach in a day, or even want to teach. If you want to make more money this way, the only way is to increase your hours.
Of course you should be raising your rates too, but there's a limit to that as well.
So ... do you want to work more hours? Do you really want to be up until 9pm every day? Trading your time for more money ultimately means less time to do other things you enjoy - as well as learning new skills to increase your value (and your rate).
Instead of putting in more time for money, how about putting in time for more time AND money?
It's about having options. Doing something because you want to, not because you have to.
What I mean is you need to set up a system. Something that makes money for you without needing to consistently put in more hours.
If this doesn't make sense, let's define teaching piano as active income (one-on-one) and setting up a system as passive income (one-to-many).
One way to set up passive income is to open your own music studio and hire teachers.
I'll be honest, to me this is the least appealing choice (but hey, everyone's different).
It's just because there's so much upfront work involved. Not only that, you need to know the ins and outs of everything.
There's also a ton of risk involved - according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, 1 out of 5 businesses fail within the first year and after 5 years half will fail. And you incur a LOT of debt, such as a business loan (if you can even get approved).
On top of that, there's more expenses - rental, insurance, taxes, licenses - AND you need to find a venue to teach at (finding a place to rent is NOT easy). Not to mention the responsibility of training every single employee you hire.
As the official business owner, teacher AND manager, you are responsible for everything my friend.
But if you're up for the challenge, go for it! Just do it while you're still young.
What I've found to be a better option is teaching what I know online - instead of working in your business, you work on it.
So you can start a YouTube channel, get really good at social media - and perhaps create an online course or an ebook - or start a blog (like me).
Don't get me wrong, it still takes a ton of patience and effort but the result is being able to make money without constantly increasing your hours.
Now you might even do something completely different at this point - like workshops. It's not exactly passive income, but if you can get a lot of people to sign up you're making a lot of cash at once.
And these are not the only choices, the opportunities are endless - it really depends on your resourcefulness.
For example, I remember mentoring a colleague of mine a few years back. He took what he learned and set up an audio recording/engineering business during the pandemic AND while he was still a college student.
Whatever the case, decide what you want to do. NOW.
You've Got This
So there you have it, my master plan for any piano teacher starting from ground zero. I hope you take what you've learned here and use it for your own success.
Remember to come back and re-read this post as many times as necessary, you'll have better results - it takes time to fully internalize each step.
There are definitely many ups and downs in your future and on your toughest days you'll want to quit, but remember that you've got this. Every problem has a solution and even if you don't find one here, use what you learn to find your own answers.
Don't depend on luck - be deliberate in your actions and you'll have good results.
I wish you nothing but success.
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