Music teacher as CEO: Marketing your strengths as a teaching artist
During this political season, you will hear a lot about small businesses and their role as the engine that drives our economy. Did you ever stop to think that the politicians are talking about piano teachers? As an independent teacher, YOU are a small business.
You are the owner and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of your business—a business dedicated to teaching music at the piano. You are also the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the head of various departments: marketing, public relations, customer service, retention, and accounting. In all likelihood, your music degree did not teach you how to man- age all of these departments, nor did it teach you how to maintain and grow your business.
You are in charge of your own decisions—personally and in your career. Eric Booth's incredibly accurate term for teaching musicians is "teaching artists."1 You are a teacher, but you are also an artist, and you are fortunate to own a business that truly enriches the lives of others. But without a strategy, you may be in for a rude awakening, realizing that more than just artistry and devotion to teaching is required in order to earn a comfortable living.
Define your strategy
Nearly every corporation in existence has a strategy for growth, and your business should have one as well. As a piano teacher, you have a valuable (and somewhat unique) service to sell. But you still need a strategy to identify, attract, and retain clients. A CEO without a strategy is one without a job!
You might be thinking, "Wait a minute! Strategy? What strategy? I am a piano teacher!" Many of you have heard the 'old' strategies such as networking within your local music association, reaching out to local teachers, printing professional business cards, passing out flyers, and hanging up posters in public venues. In recent years, however, many teachers who do all of these things still do not have full schedules, and some are even struggling to pay their bills or live comfortably. The 'old' marketing tactics can be useful, but they are not enough in today's competitive economy.
When you want to play a twenty-page sonata, you will have a strategy for how you will learn and memorize, and you will even strategize performance venues. As a business owner, you have to have similar strategies to help you achieve long-term goals. You want to earn a comfortable, respectable living doing what you love, and you should be able to plan for your future, enjoy vacations, and protect your time and resources. Let's examine some effective means of implementing a strategy for your business.
One of the most important parts of any business is marketing. A business can create the best product in the world, but if nobody knows what it does and where to buy it, the product will sit unnoticed and unsold, and its quality will be wasted.
Webster's Dictionary defines marketing as, "the act or process of selling or purchasing in a market or the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service." In simple terms, marketing means creating an image and communicating it to the general population. It's a necessary component to building, developing, and keeping your clientele.
Focus on your strengths
Begin by asking yourself what you would like to be known for, and then articulate those attributes or skills clearly and concisely. Are you good at working with young children? Children with special needs? Adult pianists? Beginners? Advanced students? Are you a specialist in a certain style or genre of music? Perhaps jazz and pop, or world music? Do your students consistently win competitions? Are you skilled with music technology and computer applications? Can you teach distance lessons online? Are you known for creative recitals? Teaching composition? Chamber music? Other keyboard instruments such as organ or harpsichord? Do you have specialized training or degrees?
You have the power to choose what you want to be known for in your community, and it's your responsibility to "sell" your image accurately, effectively, and concisely. From your list of attributes, practice concisely communicating (in 2-3 sentences or less) these attributes to someone who is inquiring about piano lessons. Put together a short "pitch" that highlights your strengths and defines your business. If you can't do that, you won't be effective at selling yourself and your business. Once you have this initial pitch memorized, you can think about elaborating, but it all starts with a few crucial sentences. Your pitch should be ready to be delivered instantly in print, on the phone, through email, and on your website.
Creating your public image
Another department essential to any business is PR, or Public Relations. As a teaching artist, you must make sure you have a public image that speaks to your audience. In the year 2012, this requires that you have a website in addition to traditional print materials such as brochures and flyers. Optional items might include a blog or social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Not only do these items help people learn about you, putting them together helps you sort through and define your musical goals and how you achieve them.
Your website is your company's spokesperson, and it is where most of your potential clients will get their first impression about your business. It plays a crucial role, and it should reflect not just you, but the clients you are trying to turn into customers.
Are you trying to attract young children? If so, cater to the young mothers in that demographic and allow your website to be "cutesy" and highlight fun, age-appropriate, and developmentally-appropriate materials. Show young children enjoying music, and let people know how music can have a positive impact in the early years. One of our favorites is www.Kindermusik.com
If you are marketing yourself to school-aged children who may or may not go on to study music as a profession, skip both the crayon writing and the boring paragraph after paragraph of your musical philosophy. Use your newly formed "pitch" as an attention grabber, and then elaborate. Of course, we are partial, but here is a favorite of ours: www.CentreforMusicalMinds.org. Jump right to the smiling girls' and boys' faces!
If your goal is to attract serious, classically-oriented students, take a look at www.TheAchievementProgram.org to see what a splash they make. They make learning attractive while setting an extremely high performance standard. This website makes learning look exciting! As a parent, if you are looking for a more serious piano teacher or music school, I cannot imagine having a more effective program. As a piano teacher, using this program will attract the kind of students who take music learning seriously and those who aspire to achieve.
Your website should be attractive, informative, and easy to navigate. You will save yourself a lot of phone and email time if you post all of your studio information on your website. When people inquire about lessons, direct them to your website, so that they can read more information after they get off the phone with you. Once you have had contact with a potential client, follow-up with an email that includes a link to your website, your blog, and/or your social media site. You should also have a package of materials ready to email to anyone who contacts you.
Some parents and students also prefer to receive information by 'snail mail.' As odd as it seems in this digital age, receiving a piece of mail with studio information can sometimes 'seal the deal' for a potential client, as long as your package is very professional. In our digital age, quality print materials can really stand out and make an impression. This package should include all of the materials that are available on your website, in a sleek printed format.
Your visibility in the local community is also an important part of your PR. Your students can be your best representatives, so feature them prominently! Area nursing homes, hospitals, schools, community events, and festivals are great places for your students to get valuable performing experience, but the human contact also provides great publicity for your studio. Send press releases to local media (both print and online) when your students have won awards or performed a service to the community. Your own performances also increase your visibility as a teaching 'artist.'
Customer retentionA marketing strategy to attract new clients is crucial to the success of your business, but you also need to keep your customers happy so they remain with your business for many years. Does your company (you) have qualities that make people stick around and talk about all of the wonderful things you do? Are you introducing students and their families to new and valuable musical experiences that they want to share with their friends and families?
How are you showing your clients your appreciation? Do you record or make videos of students performing a 'polished' piece at the lesson? Can you compile all of those performances onto a DVD or downloadable movie for your students? Do you send thank-you cards or referral gifts? When you publicize your business, don't just focus on new clients. It is also important to communicate your accomplishments as a teacher and performing musician to all of your existing customers, so they know what is happening and feel like they are part of a vibrant, active business.
These communications can be in the form of electronic and print newsletters, a video of a performance that you share with clients, or even just hanging performance notifications outside your door for all to see. Remember that above all else, word of mouth is still the best advertising. How you work with your clients and how much they like you will have a large impact on your studio!
The way in which you communicate with new and prospective clients is also extremely important. Respond to all emails within twenty-four hours and return phone calls sooner. The average age of the parents at the Centre for Musical Minds is thirty-seven. These parents are used to getting instant information from computers and mobile devices. If you wait for two days to return an email from a prospective student, there is a good chance that parent has already moved on to someone else.
To ease communication with current clients, set office hours. This will make you appear more professional to your students and their parents, and it will also make your life easier! Post your office hours on your website and make your current clients aware that you are available to talk with students or parents at a certain time of day. For example, you could hold office hours from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. every day. Since many independent teachers work from mid- afternoon until 9 or 10 p.m., provide current clients with a reasonable time of day that they will be able to reach you.
Show your passion!
As we've seen, there are many hats that the teaching artist/CEO must wear. If it seems overwhelming, take things one step at a time, and remember that like most CEOs, you are an expert in your field. Spend some time writing down your strategies for your business and then lay the groundwork for your marketing plan. Design the materials you'd like to appear on your website and in print, then create a website or hire someone to create it for you. Devise a plan for thanking your current clients for their business and their referrals. Then plan at least one new event to make your studio more visible in your community. Be sure to send publicity releases to the local newspapers and event blogs.
In your business-related activities, always let your passion for music shine through! Successful people create good plans, but they also are excited about their work and pass that excitement on to their clients. You hold the key to a successful studio by using your own enthusiasm for music teaching and applying it to business!
1. Booth, E. (2009). The music teaching artist's bible: Becoming a virtuoso educator. New York: Oxford University Press.
Graphics designed by Linda Hiort.