Starting from zero is no easy task but with creative networking, some good old-fashioned door-to-door marketing and a true passion for music, it can be the best job you ever had! It is important to be flexible in your marketing approach and to evaluate your situation and location to choose the best and most affordable way to reach potential students. It’s not enough to just place an ad in a circular, or build a slick website and post your résumé. These are good ideas, but for a parent to place their trust in you they need to meet you, talk to you and have a sense of your style and philosophy. Having a solid studio policy that outlines your philosophy is a great place to begin.
WHO do want to teach? Do you prefer adult students? Do you prefer beginners or advanced pianists or are you open to any and all types of students? Do you wrinkle your nose at the latest pop tune? You will find like-minded families if you are clear in your policy about the types of music you plan to focus on in lessons. When someone calls for lessons, schedule a meeting/interview early on in the interaction. It’s best for all involved to meet and see if it’s a good fit. I prefer the term “meeting” to “interview” – it seems less intimidating and stressful. Have your policy/philosophy sheet ready and have a plan on how you will interact with the student. I usually teach them something by rote, and have them sight-read. I want them to leave with something new they can play immediately.
WHAT are you going to teach your students? What are your strengths as a teacher? What is your passion–Jazz, Pop, Classical or all of the above? What types of instruments do you have in your studio and what type of piano would you require from your students? Have you considered investing in a set of keyboards for small group instruction? This can be a great way to attract young students and adult students who like the idea of learning in groups.
WHERE are you going to teach? There are many options for teachers just starting out, but if you have a piano and a comfortable workspace in your home or apartment, it can be an affordable and convenient option. Being professional doesn’t mean you have to work outside your home, but it does mean making the home space devoted to teaching a professional one. Invest in good storage shelves or cabinets for music, resources and bookkeeping. Keep track of all expenses and receipts for your business, and keep your work environment tidy and professional.
WHEN do you plan to teach? Scheduling can be one of the biggest challenges for piano teachers but for those just starting out, try and schedule your students back to back in solid teaching blocks to maximize your time and effort. Students scattered throughout the week with a lot of dead time between students can be frustrating and inefficient. Choose two or three days that you offer for lessons until those days are filled then expand later.
Moms look through those coupon packs! If you are in a hurry to get students coming in the door as soon as possible, consider a “try-me” coupon in the local coupon circular booklet in your community. The initial cost will be an investment ($100-$300) but you can reach several thousand families at once. Offer a brief outline of your credentials, picture, website info and a free interview/lesson with reduced rate for the next three lessons. It may not garner the best students initially, but it will get your studio going. One happy student can bring many more.
DOOR TO DOOR When I moved from a small town in to a major city, I needed to get students as quickly as possible. I made a flyer and my son and I walked through our neighborhood rubber-banding them to my neighbors’ front door handles! I found a handful of students who studied with me for several years! Proximity is a real asset for parents. I had the philosophy of wanting to build great students, not just inherit them.
CAR MAGNET One of my students’ parents is a piano teacher and she proudly features her piano studio information on her car. That’s a billboard in the driveway of your neighborhood or supermarket! Great idea!
PIANO ORGANIZATIONS Being a member of professional piano teaching organizations is a no-brainer. The dues are worth every penny and your fellow teachers will help you to connect to students and the community. Don’t be shy about standing up at the opening meeting and be sure to introduce yourself to everyone there. Have your business card ready and volunteer for committees and events. The Music Teachers National Association has local chapters throughout the United States, and the National Federation of Music Clubs also has many active groups. The articles in the journals you receive also provide additional support. Get involved!
CHURCH BULLETINS Place an ad in your church’s bulletin – and talk to the music teacher or choir director and let them know you are in the community.
SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHERS Reach out to the school music teachers in your area. They often have lists of private teachers that they give to parents inquiring about lessons. Provide references.
MUSIC and PIANO RETAILERS Reach out to your local music stores and be ready to prove your worthiness if need be. They don’t want to recommend a piano teacher without some knowledge of their skill level, so offer to play for them and/or provide them with references. You may be a concert artist in your skill level, but remember they won’t just take your word for it.
PERFORMANCES Nothing attracts students to the piano like hearing other students playing the instrument well. Make sure the students are prepared–their playing does reflect on you as a teacher. As soon as you can get a group together, have a public recital and invite parents and friends! Organize a performance at a nursing home, senior center, church or even the mall. After the first recital, my studio grew from 15 to 40 in no time!
SOCIAL MEDIA Many local groups of piano teachers have formed their own closed Facebook groups to have a way to interact with fellow teachers. This can be a valuable resource for information and a place to connect. Search for one in your location for the best opportunity of support.
DECIDE ON FEES Consider a tuition-based fee structure so students are committed for a specific length of time. Parents will be less likely to cancel if the lessons have been paid for in advance. Some teachers also suggest a sign-up fee to hold a student’s lesson time in the studio and a music resource fee to help with music costs. There is a free sample policy sheet on the homepage of iPianoTeacher.com under “Featured Freebies.”
BIG STACK OF MUSIC The best advice I ever got was to make sure my students always had a big stack of music in their book bag. Students who only have one book or few options will get bored quickly. Methods are great, but no one book will be enough to sustain interest. I’m always amazed at teachers who are stingy in having their students buy music fearing the parents will not be supportive. If you have a music resource fee at the beginning of the semester, parents won’t feel the constant “nickel and dime” fee of paying for each and every sheet or book. It becomes part of the overall cost of lessons they pay for up front. Professional teachers know this–just visit their studio and you will see an extensive music library!
BE DILIGENT, JOYFUL AND ENTHUSIASTIC To close out this article, I reference Robert Schumann in his “Rules for Home and Life” (from the Op. 68 Album for the Young).
- Rule 61: Through diligence and perseverance you will bring yourself ever higher.
- Rule 62: From a pound of iron, which costs a few cents, let yourself make many thousand watch springs, which are worth in the hundred-thousands. Use the pound God has given you conscientiously.
- Rule 63: Without enthusiasm, nothing real can be accomplished in art.
- Rule 68: There is no end to learning.