Basic Marketing for Bassoon Teachers

marketingDo you have as many private students as you would like? When I started this blog ten months ago, I did not have enough students. (Perhaps that’s why I thought I had time to start a blog.) Now I find myself with more students than I can handle. A waiting list is a beautiful thing.

The following is an edited version of original comments by piano teacher Kris Allphin Brakenhoff. She describes many of the steps I used to grow my studio. You can do this, too!

The only person who determines the monetary value of your service is YOU.

People value a product by its price. It takes years of practice and commitment to master your craft. Your ability is a commodity and has monetary value. Do you want to build your business on quantity (many students for a lower price) or on quality (a few students who pay a higher price)? In the end, the money you earn is about the same–it’s the time you spend teaching and the quality of your students that is the variable. Do people choose you because you’re the bargain or do they choose you because you offer the best quality? There are many examples in marketing of products that are priced too low. They don’t sell. Don’t be that teacher.

Higher rates benefit everybody

When I first started teaching, I was at the low end of the market. I got tired of people who had no commitment to lessons. These were families that wouldn’t be taking piano if it wasn’t a bargain. I increased prices and lost students, but in a few months those that remained became very dedicated. If the lessons cost an appropriate amount, the families will see piano as an investment and will make sure the kids practice.

(A note from Jessi: When I have dedicated students who can’t pay my higher rate, I offer them a partial scholarship. It allows for the benefits mentioned above while accommodating those great students who can’t pay. See MusicLink for more info.)

Always have a full studio – Even when you really don’t

Always have a full studio with only a few available spots. This will eliminate cancellations. Try to stack all your students into one or two days and when those days are full, open another day. Don’t explain this to families, just say “I have one spot on Tuesdays.” Always try to have a short waiting list – even if that means you teach only two days in order to have the waiting list. Explain to new students, “I don’t have any openings, but I am considering opening another day in a week or so. Can I put you on a list?” ALWAYS have a waiting list. Tell your current families that you are opening another day of piano due to demand. Ask them for referrals in this now-or-never context. Tell your families that you prefer to take referrals since you have such great families and those families know other great families. This creates a feeling of exclusiveness and emphasizes that you are in demand and their friends are fortunate to get a spot. In marketing we call this creating a demand and controlling distribution.

(Another note from Jessi: As bassoonists, we have better results when we advertise our “limited openings” directly to local band teachers. Keep a list of the email addresses for your local middle and high school band directors. Send them a quick note stressing your limited availability. This has worked for me a number of times.)

Sell the benefits, not the product

Remind parents of the benefits of lessons with you and what you bring to them before you emphasize what you demand of them. My policy statement lists teacher expectations before it lists student expectations. You can read the policy statement here. Once I explain what they can expect from me, I list what I expect from them.. “playing on a maintained piano, practicing daily, bringing all assignments and materials to lessons.” My policy statement also lists the activities and events that my studio offers.

Remind them of the value they are getting

I send out a monthly newsletter with the tuition statement. They aren’t just getting a bill reminding them what lessons cost them, they are also getting a reminder of the benefits of my studio. The newsletter includes upcoming events but it mostly contains information about piano, practice tips, how music study is beneficial to education, etc. The newsletter re-emphasizes my knowledge of my profession. It also educates parents and gives them some ownership of why the child practices scales or helpful practice tips or why we use the metronome occasionally. The more knowledge and ownership a customer has of a product, the more invested they will be. Educate the parents about music.

Have a firm makeup lesson policy

Even handling makeup lessons can be an opportunity to re-emphasize your value as a business. Patiently remind parents that you are very full (aka in demand). Don’t set yourself up to determine when a cancellation is appropriate or not. Make it about your demand. Communiciate that not being able to reschedule is, to some degree, out of your control. I even include reminders of the makeup policy in my newsletter in a very friendly way. “We all are very busy during the holidays and missed lessons are unavoidable. Remember that makeup lessons can be scheduled the first Saturday of the month at 8:00 am but the Holiday makeup lesson will be pushed to February 2nd.” Whatever your makeup policy may be, use it to re-emphasize your value. I schedule the makeup lesson very early in the morning on the first Saturday of the month. The early hour alone deters parents from missing lessons. Only if they are very dedicated, will they reschedule that early on a Saturday morning. BUT I’ve given them an option, but it’s not an option that is beneficial enough to miss many lessons. Again, it’s the psychology of the consumer.

Respect that your students and families are busy

Families are busy. The only way they can function is if they stick to a very tight schedule and organized routine. I don’t throw in a lot of extras. One of the things I get the most positive response for is that I don’t schedule anything extra at Christmas. Kids learn their Christmas pieces and we make a big deal about recording a CD, but they do not have to schedule an extra night for recitals or parties during an already busy season. Finals, church and school programs are overwhelming. I found that I would lose students if they felt too much pressure during this time of year, even indirectly. I see the panic in parents’ eyes when I announce Spring Auditions as they have no idea what the schedule will be like. I instead insist that every student prepare for auditions and they can decide closer to the date whether they will be able to do it or not. Most are prepared and will make every effort to do the event but again, I don’t give them the sense that they have to choose between baseball and a piano event. When prepared, they often choose the piano event. Again, like children, you work with the psychology of human nature.

Final thoughts

These are just a few of the many ideas I’ve developed. We moved to a new community a few years ago and I started over. This is a small community with a very reputable college. The college has one of the best music programs in the state. I wasn’t sure I would be able to grow a piano studio here as there are many teachers and MANY college students willing to teach students for very little money. But I have grown a healthy studio, and I credit my understanding of marketing and product demand to my success.

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