I’m going to start this post with a dirty word.
Cover your ears if you are easily offended.
OK, maybe that wasn’t so bad. And certainly not as cute as this adorable little tot.
So, why is marketing such a dirty word to piano teachers?
That is the subject of today’s blog post! Read this post and you will learn…
I’ll begin with a short story.
In preparation for the launch of this blog, I interviewed dozens of teachers and music school owners over the course of several months. I really wanted to understand what teachers thought about marketing. What sort of actions they took to promote their studios.
After scores of conversations, I found that most teachers didn’t like the word “marketing.” And… that they didn’t actually DO marketing.
Most independent teachers tell me that they don’t market because they get all the students they need from word of mouth. Or that they only market when they need new students.
There is a dark side to this casual approach. These teachers tell me that throughout their careers they have felt that they don’t know HOW to get new students when they really need them. A poor enrollment in the fall or many drop outs at the beginning of “sports season” can leave them reeling from lack of income.
Music school owners have a different problem. They think of marketing as “getting their name out there.” Their strategy is to throw money at the problem. They are happy if some of their new students mention they saw their ad.
They are like Kevin Costner in a cornfield: “If you build it, they will come.”
Unfortunately, that only works in Hollywood movies!
I would like to suggest that both mindsets misunderstand what marketing is. Neither the casual approach or the informational approach is ideal.
Marketing isn’t just buying ads and measuring the response. It is not chasing random tactics that you read about in “Marketing for Piano Teachers” type books and blog posts (“Have a Facebook page! Make business cards!” “Have a nice picture of yourself on your Facebook page!”).
Don’t misunderstand – these tactics have their place. But, these tactics can distract us from what marketing is and its ultimate purpose.
Good marketing tells a story that drives people to action.
Marketing begins when a prospective family first hears about your studio. It continues through their decision making process. Finally, your marketing efforts should actually INCREASE once they sign up. These efforts continue throughout their stay with you.
That’s what good marketing is. But what should good marketing do? What’s your goal?
Your #1 goal in growing your studio is getting people to do something. You always want to be driving people to action.
Or to put it simply:
Tell a story that persuades people to do something.
Consider these two separate goals:
One music studio wants to “get their name out there.” They believe that letting parents know of their existence, their location, and their prices is the end goal.
The second music studio wants to drive people to action. They realize that no one was ever “logicked,” “argued,” or “bored” into buying. They know that their Web site, flyers, business cards, and ads must connect with people’s emotions.
The emotional connection must be real and authentic. When you create emotional connections with people, it is much more likely that they will perform the actions you desire (whether that is signing up for lessons or getting a child to practice during the week).
This is abstract. Let me give you a real-world example of how this works in my Studio as it pertains to signing new people up for lessons.
When I first started teaching, my general goal was to “get more students.”
I set up a Web site. I created and printed out brochures to hand out to people. I had little refrigerator magnets made with my phone number and Web site address. I tried out cute little slogans on my promotional materials. I tried funny slogans. I tried inspirational / motivational slogans.
On my Web site and brochures, I used all the standard phrases: “All ages welcome! Professional piano lessons! Teacher that is great with kids!”
Don’t get me wrong… I still built a studio. But, it felt like an uphill climb most of the way. People didn’t seem to value what I was doing.
People would call me for lessons, and we would have a good conversation. I would completely inform them about my studio, my policies, and my credentials. At the end of the phone conversation, the parent would say to me: “Well, let me talk it over with my spouse, and I’ll get back to you.”
I knew what that meant. That was code for: “Have a nice life.”
I would follow up with them by phone and almost always get sent to voicemail. After several voicemails, I stopped trying. This happened more than I care to remember.
I also received lesson inquiries by email. Same scenario. I would provide details about my studio, policies, and my credentials. I would send the email off.
More often than not, I never received a reply. I guess it’s easier to reject someone through email.
I would send several follow-ups. They were always positive and helpful in tone. No replies.
Compare that to the present day.
I now have two goals when people contact me. At each stage, I want there to be an emotional connection and a specific action the person should take.
I would argue that the presence of these specific goals made the difference.
Think about one of your students practicing. Who is going to get more done… the student who mindlessly practices the entire song over and over? Or the student who has a specific goal for the day? (i.e., memorize the first two lines at 80bpm, no stumbles / no stops!)
Of course, it will be the second student! She has a very tangible, measurable goal. That informs everything she does during her practice session.
The same is true for you and I. When we have reasons for doing what we do… we will experience better outcomes (more students, happier parents, a decrease in hassles).
Now… what actions do I actually want people to take when signing up?
Here they are:
People find me through a variety of ways. They find me through Facebook, through Google, an ad, or my Web site. I have purposefully designed these things to drive new families to contact me.
Now, it just so happens that my Web site is the primary way that people find me. I completely overhauled my Web site to drive people to contact me. I did this in several ways:
These buttons and links point to a contact page. That page invites them to leave their name, email, a message, and phone number.
Here’s an example:
This is a screenshot from my Web site
This might sound obvious, but I don’t think it is. The average piano teacher’s site is very heavy on information and light on persuasive calls to action.
More of my Web site visitors contacted me once I added in all these elements. You also can experience an increase. Add links that point towards your contact form to EVERY single page.
There are dozens of tweaks that you can make to your Web site to persuade people to contact you. That’s not the point of this post. This point is…
You must ask and inpsire people to take an action. If you don’t, you lose the opportunity to sign up many of the people who visit your Web site.
OK, so they’ve contacted by email or phone. What now?
My second goal is simple: get them to agree to schedule an introductory lesson in person.
If I can get someone to meet me in person, it raises the likelihood of someone beginning lessons to about 95%. It is rare for someone who comes in for a meeting to NOT sign up.
Thus, I have a standard email and phone script that I use for these first conversations. I have tested many variations of these scripts over the years. I’ll use either – but I have found more success with talking to people.
During this first conversation, I tell a powerful story about my Studio. I reduce the concerns and fears that parents have about piano lessons.
I end the phone call or email conversation by scheduling an introductory lesson.
At the in-person meeting, I have one goal: drive them to schedule their first month of lessons.
Notice that I didn’t say: “Sign up for lessons”. That is too general.
When I finish teaching the child, I let them play on one of my digital pianos with headphones.
I turn to the parent. I talk to them about how it went. I give them the opportunity to ask questions. When we finish the conversation, I chat briefly about how well they did. Then, I smoothly transition by saying:
“The only thing that remains would be to compare schedules and see if our schedules match up. What days are best for you?”
Notice that I didn’t say: “Would you like to begin lessons?”
Yuck. That’s uncomfortable for everyone.
Sales and marketing experts call this “talking past the sale”. When I use the scheduling question, I’m making it easy for mom to say “yes” to begin lessons. By answering, she is saying “Yes” to begin lessons – even though I didn’t directly ask her!
I’m making it EASY to take action.
This guy knew a little something about talking past the sale
The final goal is simple. I want new families to email me back with their scheduling choice. Also, I want them to make sure they come to the first lesson.
I don’t want my hard work to be for nothing! I follow up quickly after the introductory lesson by sending an email that contains my available time slots.
The day before their lesson, I will send another email or give them a call. I give them clear instructions on their new time, where to park, and what to bring.
Again, this might sound obvious. Yet, many teachers that I’ve spoken to don’t perform these simple actions.
Telling people exactly what to do demonstrates authority and commands respect. It alleviates pressure and anxiety in the mind of your customer. It makes it more likely that people will do exactly what you want.
People naturally gravitate towards and respect those who they perceive to “have it together”.
People follow leaders.
Having a plan (like the 4-step process described above) exponentially increases the odds of families signing up for piano lessons. A plan increases the number of people who contact you each year. It makes it possible for you to raise your rates. It will allow you to increase the quality of your instruction (because you’re not afraid of losing students).
Furthermore, you are sending a subtle message that you are a strong person. I cannot emphasize how important this is for the ongoing relationship once they’ve begun lessons. The respect you earned at the beginning will pay dividends when it comes time to have a difficult conversation about tuition or a makeup lesson.
You can make changes today. Add more buttons to your Web site. Think through your “first contact” email or phone call. Change the way you close a trial lesson.
Be more purposeful in all your email communications! The difference will astound you.
How Do You Want to Grow Your Studio?
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“The respect you earned at the beginning will pay dividends when it comes time to have a difficult conversation about tuition or a makeup lesson.” – An excellent piece of advice!
Great post. I’m planning to work on giving clear instructions and making phone calls (instead of texting) for communication, to become more personally connected to current and potential students.
Don’t underestimate the power of social and other short form messages.
Short form (like texting) is often the place where friends communicate. If they are comfortable enough to add you on Facebook or Snapchat or text with you…. Sounds like you are doing something right!
I would like to know what you do at a typical free first lesson. Do you start with a method book? If not what type of activities do you do to make them want to sign up?
A great question. Two thoughts:
1. Would encourage others here to answer this question as well
2. I think this would be a great topic for a future post. In the meantime, here is the rough outline:
a- Bring people in and start some small talk with the parents and talk to the kids and make them feel comfortable.
b- I teach them the first 14 pages of the Faber primer book in about 12 – 15 minutes
c- New customers think in big concepts. I don’t want to put the “wrong” thoughts in people’s heads. So, if a teacher is not careful, you can actually say things that set yourself up for failure!
For instance, a teacher could thoughtlessly say phrases like:
“Try before you buy” “Come in and see if you like it” “Have a free trial and you will see what my studio is like”
When you say things like this, experts (such as Daniel Pink or Robert Cialdini) say that you are subconsciously setting the frame where IT IS POSSIBLE FOR PEOPLE TO SAY NO!
Allow the “success” of the lesson to be on your terms. Don’t phrase things in such a way that you give people room to judge you at all!
So, for instance, say things like:
“Kids are surprised at how much they learn in the first lesson” “At the first lesson, kids learn 5 songs in 15 minutes” “When you come to the first lesson, you will see why so many families have joined my studio”
This is all very subtle, but the cumulative effect of using STRONG language vs WEAK language projects leadership and authority.
Daniel, I love what you are doing here. As a veteran teacher of 22 years, you are addressing all of the things I have thought about and still think about over and over. This is so helpful. I can’t wait to keep following your posts!!!!!
And I cannot wait to keep the conversation going with you here!
Send me an email at [email protected] if there is a particular topic you’d like to see covered!
Fabulous insight! Thank you!
Daniel, really appreciate all your ideas on advertising. When you advertise the free lesson, do you also advertise the words “interview/ setting up an appointment”? During the interview process is the time I am learning what the student does or doesn’t know about music etc. I also use this time to describe my teaching methods and how I run my studio. If I advertise this as a free lesson, I wonder if that wouldn’t go over so well since it’s not an actual lesson. Any advice on this? Thanks again for sharing your tips.
Similar to you, I actually never refer to it as a free lesson anymore. I call it an introductory lesson.
And yes, I am teaching the first lesson from the book. So, it’s not dishonest to say that for my studio.
I actually like to see how quickly the students learns in that situation! As I mentioned in the comment above, I expect a child to learn 5 songs in 15 minutes. 20 minutes if they are under 6.
Seeing how they react to my instruction and how quickly they learn can speak VOLUMES. There are some children that have presented themselves as very respectful / polite / calm that began to show significant resistance when put under the extended pressure of having to sit still, pay attention, and follow directions.
Great ideas! I’m on fire to initiate many. Still trying to maneuver around the FB personal v. business pages but am confident I can work it out. Tricky part is sharing my husband’s iPad and remembering to log into my FB account when using it to post pics. I know my current families will benefit from some of the ideas you’ve presented here and in your Studio Guide. Thank you for keeping it so simple!
“Keeping it so simple”
That is the best compliment you could have paid me. Thank you!
HI Daniel , what if my schedule fills up and I can’t take any new students. Do I still offer the free lesson and offer to put them on the wait list?
Fiona, that’s a great question.
I have done it both ways… I’ve given the trial lesson and then had them wait.
I’ve put them on the wait list and offered the trial lesson when it’s time.
If someone explicitly asks for the trial, I’ve given it (even if I’m full).
I guess it depends on the outcome you are looking for… what kind of outcome do you want?
This is very helpful! I would like to ask, how do you manage to get students through so much material in their first lesson? (Or so much material in general – I have seen your studio website and Facebook page and am very impressed!) Especially if the student has never had lessons before, I find that many do not even know how to keep a steady beat, or do not know what a quarter note is, etc.
How do you have time to take students through so many songs in one lesson where they can effectively go home and practice, knowing exactly what they should do? Any tips you’re willing to share would be most appreciated!
Brent, this is a great question.
The short answer is: It would probably be easier to see this than for me to explain it.
To that end, I’m putting together a video that shows what my first lesson looks like. It’s not ready yet, unfortunately. It’s on my list of things to do along with about 1,000 other things. However, this comment has inspired me, and I now feel like I should make this more of a priority.
So, thank you for that!
The long answer is: I have tested different approaches to teaching every single page in the Primer book. When I find something that works, I instantly replace the way I had been doing it before.
Then, I start testing new ways of teaching that page.
I’m constantly doing this for everything that I teach.
Now, for what you are specifically asking… I believe that it is possible for a child to learn this fast, but ONLY if you ask them to take responsibility.
So, I try to be as “unhelpful” as possible in the first lesson. I teach the concept (with very very very carefully chosen words that work on 99.9% of kids) and then I absolutely do not help them when I ask them to show me that they understand the concept.
This can be as simple as identifying a “two black key group” on the piano in the first lesson. I introduce the concept by talking about the two colors on the piano (black and white; yes, I know they are technically not colors). I then say: “Here are two black keys.” I then play them and say: “Can you play them?” And wait.
I try to say as little as possible. I’ve found that it works better than over-explaining. They either can do it or not.
Most kids can.
This might sound obvious. But I literally do this for every concept. I think it’s a combination of the “right words”, my playful attitude, and my lack of anxiety of coming in to “rescue them” when they don’t understand something.
Final thought: believing that the child can do it makes a huge difference. I expect every child to be able to play the next song without much help at the end of their first lesson. I truly believe it.
And, they do.
I think that belief changes everything. It changes your attitude, your choices, your words, your mood, your anxiety level, and your interaction with the student.
There might be something else, but overall this works with about 99 out of 100 children. They are reading out of the book without my help by the end of their second lesson.
Again, seeing it in action will probably help, so I’m going to get on that video project soon.
Thank you, Daniel! This gives me a lot of food for thought, and I would definitely love to see the video when it is ready! I think that would be very helpful.
I also sent you an email with a separate question about repertoire. As with many other teachers, keeping students motivated to continue their studies longterm is one of my primary concerns. Finding music they enjoy (usually pop songs they know) but are also are capable of playing can be challenging at times. What resources can you share for finding music that is both appropriate and relevant for students?