Growing through music: Pivots
To achieve the highest versions of ourselves, it is necessary not to be rigid. After all, being alive means we are in a constant state of motion where nothing is permanent. There are times of significant forward motion and times where things are much slower. Sometimes we have substantial shifts, and other times we take smaller, baby steps. There are even times of dormancy. Like a beautiful plant, when we have the right conditions, we have the potential to flourish and thrive. We will grow gorgeous flowers at certain times of the year, and we may lose our leaves during others. It's all part of the evolution of our being. Do you ever ask yourself what the conditions look like for you that allow and encourage you to flourish and bloom?
Personally, in order to bloom I need to have change. Evolution, if you will. Pivots. Shedding of leaves. I have intense and impactful phases of motion and creativity, and then I have periods of time when I just want to lie in bed in my pajamas and watch reruns of Monk. That's okay, too. It is in boredom where I find the greatest creative spurts happening. During 2015-2016, I was in a state of dormancy where I did write a book on teaching, but I wasn't really creating anything new. It was an important work of self-reflection, an integral time for me to prepare to bloom again. I was at a frustrating point in my teaching career and I needed the space to see if this was, in fact, the way forward for me. Giving ourselves grace to be where we are has been a great life lesson that has carried me through teaching as well. Celebrate the dormancy because there will be plenty of vibrant colors in the next season!
When we make shifts in our career, it's important to ask ourselves: Will this change/pivot help me become more honest with my values and get me closer to my goals, or, am I doing this for my social self—the version of me that I want my colleagues and peers to see. I don't know about you, but I started my teaching career in the "social self" sector but have grown into my authentic/essential self over the years.
Expand your reach
After almost ten years of owning a music school, I have realized it is easier to make more money than it is to cut back significantly on business expenses. As an example, to expand my market, I recently began offering our music lessons in-home and at a local private school. I wanted to see more blooms in the community! I was able to enter another geographic area for little effort or extra investment. Just like that, we had another fifty students! Fifty students multiplied by $616 (one semester's tuition) is $30,800 in gross revenue. With a profit margin of fifty percent, this comes to $15,400. Add some promotions and advertising in there, and the business will net approximately $13,000. We will likely add twenty to thirty percent to this next semester.
Another example of being able to pivot into uncharted territory was when I threw out the traditional recital because it became boring to me. (Gasp!) I replaced it with a themed event. This past year was creativity-based—as long as the student didn't play a piece "as written," and included some kind of modification or accompaniment track/art to go along with it, it was approved for performance. The buy-in we get from our clients at our events is phenomenal.
Even further yet, I have created an adult beginner learning system that includes a method book with engaging music and corresponding video series (coming to market soon). What excites me is that my system changes the order of how concepts are introduced, reflecting how I actually teach beginners. With over ten years of teaching experience, my retention rate of students is substantial with all levels of learners. What this has taught me is that to keep my students interested in learning for years to come, my approach, while thorough, isn't stale. I constantly ask, "How can I help this person be her best self through music?" My new method book/video series is an outgrowth of this goal. It's evolutionary.
Running a business is expensive and advertising comprises a large part of that. It is also necessary for those of us in saturated markets. When I opened the Centre for Musical Minds in 2008, it was one of two music schools. Now, it is one of nine with a large population of independent teachers. I have to remain competitive if I want to keep my doors open. Google AdWords has worked phenomenally well for us. By February 2018, we had already surpassed our enrollment goal for the semester, and, based on metrics, this has been the biggest driver for new student enrollments—by leaps and bounds.
Facebook and Instagram sponsored ads have also worked well. Many middle- to high-school-aged kids find us on Instagram! They are choosing to study music based on their listening tastes and types of experiences their friends are having. I have also invested thousands of dollars to be placed in our local independent school district's resource magazine for parents. The big impact comes when people see you, hear about you, and then see you again—in many different places. I have been meticulously strategic in defining the type of student I am trying to attract, and I craft advertising around that.
There are many facets to our careers as professional musicians. You may not own a music school, but as a teacher you are definitely a business owner. We have times where we focus on our teaching careers, our business, or performing. We also have times where we may expend a lot of energy writing or researching. We may even change our business models. At the core, my business hasn't changed, but it has definitely evolved in the last ten years. We have added new instruments, package options, performance experiences, and classes.
About eight years ago, I started buying and selling good quality used pianos. My relationship with my piano technician has led me to find good instruments around the area. I buy the piano with a price in mind that is fair to the seller as well as fair to the buyer, with a profit margin of 15-25% built in for my work and expertise. The goal for me was seeing more students with quality acoustic instruments at a price point that wouldn't break the bank. Adding services to your existing client base is smart business strategy.
These pivotal changes are where I have felt most energized. As I see it, all growth is change, and those who are blooming are in a constant state of motion and change. A pivot would imply movement away from a central purpose, but what if the movement is actually toward something that is more authentic to you?
What is your why?
Why do you make strategic changes in your personal life, business plan, and other areas? I feel confident in what I have put together, so why am I always changing it up? It's very simple to me: I want to keep growing and realizing my highest potential. This means teaching potential, market share potential, earning potential, and giving potential. I am constantly looking for ways to improve, and of particular interest to me is human behavior. Some changes for me over the last two years have included the following:
• I gave a facelift to every single one of our performance events on the calendar;
• I retired from adjudicating;
• I took two years off from giving presentations;
• I wrote a book;
• I co-created a new older-beginner method and wrote the music and video curriculum; and,
• I expanded the school's market reach by offering in-home lessons and after-school lessons in private schools.
Why? Impact. It is more important to me to make a splash in my community than it is to keep the status quo. It is imperative for me to create my own path. Integral to my human experience is getting the message out that music exists in every child and that each is able to achieve extraordinary results at any level of playing. That's the part that excites me most. After a dull 2016, I needed to get myself blooming again. After all, if I'm not blooming, then how are the people around me going to?
Pivot, evolve. Do what you need to do in order to reach your best self. Cheers to the beautiful garden we will create!