Years ago I left academic and institutional teaching and set up my private lesson studio so that I would have the flexibility to work on my writing and performance career. Between the private lessons, and free-lance performing/touring (a whole separate business) I have managed to make a profitable career in music. Many people have asked me how to set up and manage a thriving private teaching studio and so I offer here an outline guide.
-Set up as a business!
When setting up a private teaching studio, you are setting up a small business. If you go through the process of setting up a business plan before you begin, you will cut out a lot of trial and error, have a good idea of what your studio can generate for income, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you might distinguish your self from all the other teachers in your area.
The Small Business Administration website is a wonderful resource for people setting ups small businesses. Here is a link to business plans:
SCORE counseling is offered by retired business people through your local Chamber of Commerce, and in most cases is a free service! Set up an appointment and show these people your business plan. They can really help you hone your ideas and knock out a lot of expensive or time consuming trial and error.
Talk to your local entrepreneurial generator. I approached the one in my area, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation and received some next level business training. This type of group offers classes in writing a business plan, or tweaking an existing plan. I received next-level training as I was considering expanding the various aspects of my business. Depending on the organization, you may be eligible for some training grants.
Diversify. Teach many instruments. I offer lessons in many guitar styles, 5 string banjo styles, four string styles, and classical banjo, Classical and folk style Mandolin, Uke, Lute, Music Theory, songwriting, arranging, and composition.
But specialize. Find one thing you do especially well and make that your forte. I actually specialize in a few things:
-Teaching a thorough knowledge of the entire guitar neck, scales, chords, and a theoretical understanding.
-Musical interpretation. Finding musical solutions to technical problems.
-Fretboard based composition and arranging.
-I also specialize in coaching bands and ensembles in achieving a cohesive musical sound through critical listening, and development of ensemble musicianship.
Think very hard about what you can offer that makes you stand apart from your competition.
Get as much training in teaching as you can. Ask some of the better teachers you know if you can observe their private lessons. Most teachers will welcome your interest in teaching. Notice what makes them the good teachers they are.
Make your teaching level a notch above everyone else and let people know that. Emulate the best teachers and bring the qualities that you admire in them to your own teaching. Make sure you are a cut above your competition.
Offer group beginning classes as a way to build your private students. Move students into lessons as the class ends, or set up an intermediate class to continue the group. Many times you can make more per hour teaching a group.
Offer studio recital days. Set up recitals at local churches, which can be rented inexpensively. Studio recitals are good way to publicize your teaching, show off your students, and network with your students and parents. If the recitals are a fun and dynamic experience, often times the parents and students will talk you up and bring in more students by word of mouth.
Find out what the teachers and schools in the area are charging so you will have an idea of what the market might bear, and what you can afford to charge to be able to compete. If you feel uncomfortable asking people about their rates, have a friend call around and ask for information on lessons. This gives you a good idea of what other teachers in the area are offering, charging, and how they go about setting up lessons with a student.
Price yourself low enough to attract students, and build a studio. As you gain experience, and name recognition, raise your prices.
Your advertising should be captivating, succinct, creative, and different than your competitors. You must make an impression.
Posters: I use posters with my name, phone, and email in rows of tear offs at the bottom of an 8x11. I also make biz card size copies and post them on boards.
Website: Set up a teaching website. Mine has my schedule, supporting info such as my cancellation policy, expectations, music store contacts, and basic pricing. I also give a PayPal payment option to make credit card, or PayPal account payment easy. Make sure your keywords get you to the top of searches.
Photo: A very cool memorable photo (see my many armed man) will set you apart from your competition.
I also use this shot on my web page to display the various offerings:
Craigslist: Depending on your area, some listings work. The upside is that the postings are free. The downside is that you get a lot of garbage and spam email in return.
Music Teacher listing websites: list on on-line teacher sites, many are free, and you never know where a referral might come from.
Facebook: Set up a fan page to talk up your teaching studio. Get the word out.
Print ads: I have had good luck with print ads in my local news paper, and in our local arts rag. I take out mini-box ads that run from $25-$40 a pop. I try to time these expenses for times when people are thinking about lessons—June as school is getting out for the summer, September, for the back to school crowd, and the Holidays when people are thinking about giving gifts.
Gift Certificates: Design a gift certificate that you can print out on your computer. MS PowerPoint has a certificate template that you can adapt.
Business cards or a brochure: Business cards are available inexpensively on line these days. Have 500 to 1000 printed up with your very cool picture or logo on it and spread them around. Make sure you bring your cards everywhere you go.
Perform as much as you can. If people hear you perform and do a great job, they will ask to study with you.
Make sure your picture and some sort of press release is in your local paper every 2 or three months at a minimum. Build your name. When I was starting out, I wrote music reviews of local concerts for the paper so that my name was in print every few weeks. If you don’t have a paying gig, set up a freebee and publicize the bejeebers out of it so you do have media time.
You control your own image. Think very hard about how you want to portray your self. Work very hard at publicizing that image and make sure you live the lifestyle to support that image. Make sure you release your own PR for each gig, or teaching venture. Work hard to make sure your classes, lessons and performances live up to the PR you put out. Make sure you are the best you can be.
Send email newsletters to your students. They will appreciate hearing from you and feeling like they are part your student community.
Music stores are great for referrals. Set up relationships with the music stores in your area. Find out what entry level instruments they sell and direct students to them for rental or purchase. If they don’t have a rental program, encourage them to do so with entry-level instruments.
Ask them to stock the supplies they need for your students—strings, picks, tuners, books, etc. Make sure they know which of your students have approached them and bought or rented intsruments. Ask them if there is anything that you can do to make their lives easier to deal with your students.
Meet teachers and players of other instruments. Start a database so you can refer people to them. Become the music lesson, and “find a musician” info go-to person in your area.
If you can’t teach at home or in your apartment, ask a local church for space. You may be able to get the space for a nominal fee, especially if you become a member, or offer reduced rates for church members, or offer to play special music for church in exchange for teaching space.
Here is what you need for the minimum teaching studio:
2 chairs for the teaching area
1 or 2 more chairs for parents or guests who want to sit in.
Set up a waiting area for students and parents.
pencils, pens, highlighters
make sure you have a digital tuner available for students. Clip one on to the stand.
Have a practice amp so the students don’t have to schlep an amp. Have two guitar cables, one for you, and one for the student.
Keep extra supplies on hand incase students forget to bring things. This is what I keep on hand for extras:
The most common instruction books
Extra set of strings for each instrument you teach. Someone’s going to come in with a broken string and you will have to help them deal with it.
-Professionalize your business
Computerize everything. Keep your schedule and calendar synced with your computer.
Use Quickbooks Pro to track business finances.
Keep your contacts up to date in your favorite database program. Excel works just fine. You can also keep your contacts in your computer address book and use the notes section for notes. Quickbooks Pro will also track your student info in the customer profile.
Dress professionally when teaching. What ever style you chose to dress in, make sure it is just a cut above what most of your students wear. If you want to charge more money, make sure you look like you are worth it. When you go out around town, look like a professional. It will bring in more people who are willing to spend more money for professional lessons. Not to say you can’t wear jeans and a T, but make what ever you wear is something that says “pro”.
-Look for opportunities for private teaching while you build your own teaching studio. It will bring in extra income, and provide many good contacts and references.
Ask to teach at:
-Community music schools
-After school programs
-Adult education programs
-College community Ed. Programs
-At-risk teen programs.
Give back to your community. Volunteer to work on community arts related projects—a non-profit coffee house, a symphony board, a community music school. The non-paid work you do for your community will come back to you a hundred fold. Volunteer to play for your local hospital, nursing home, farmer’s market, etc. Teach a free workshop for a local music festival. Offer to play a half hour set to go along with the workshop. If a local non-profit group asks you to play for fundraising, say yes. The money gigs, and teaching will come.
When you play these gigs, make sure you have biz cards, brochures, $5 off your first lesson coupons,and CD’s on a table somewhere near by.
If you are asked to play a pro-bono gig, make sure you send a press release to the local paper. There is no harm in getting the PR exposure for playing the gig—it may net you a student or a paying gig.
Don’t let people take advantage of you however. Limit your pro-bono work to organizations that are meaningful to you, and for which you would be proud to work with.
-Enjoy What You Do!
Find the joy in teaching others, helping them to blossom in the music as you did when you first started exploring your instrument. Enjoy the satisfaction of working for yourself, and constructing a meaningful way of supporting your self, family, student, and community through music.
I wish you success in your music, teaching, and business!