Many people ask about starting a business, in particular, how to teach music.
In January, I met a girl who was building her business and I thought we’d cheer each other on as buddies, because my first rule to excelling in some area is finding a friend in the same space.
I shared my favourite tools and strategies with her. “Friends share their best stuff,” I thought. But every time I asked her opinion, she introduced me to her consulting service.
A few weeks ago, she emailed me:
I’m sorry but I can’t continue with our chats. I don’t have the time to check in every couple of weeks.
Best of luck with everything in your business.
How do people find best friends to grow with?
I don’t have a buddy but I’ve shaken the system up for building a business–here it is.
How to build a community of learners
All my businesses have been based on learning, with a community involved. This is no exception. I thought I’d be running design strategy consulting sessions all summer long, but it has grown beyond that.
Here’s the strategy I ran with this time:
1. Start with one-on-one sessions
I did some free work in the beginning. I spoke at a seminar for free, after which my schedule quickly filled with (paying) one-on-one online business students who found me through word-of-mouth.
These are time-consuming, like piano lessons, but there are a few major benefits:
Each person’s struggles are crystal-clear. It’s immersive market research, first-hand experience. What I can whip up in 2 seconds is not necessarily the case for others and these sessions are good indicators of that.
It’s a stepping stone. Students never know what to expect at the first lesson and tuition is never prepared in case they leave halfway (I suppose). So I allot an extra 10 minutes for running to the ATM. But if I commit to ongoing sessions, I never have to ask about tuition again.
Often I get roped into bigger projects so one-on-one consulting sessions are a good introduction to the higher-end services.
Learn how to over-deliver. To give people more than they expect.
One lady said, at my design workshop last month, “You should be charging three times your current rate. I got more from your teaching than the course at [redacted] University.” I have to stop seeing the yawn in the front row.
Start noticing trends in people’s trip-ups, like maybe you notice how Adult pianists tend to have stiff wrists. Then give them something beyond what you promised.
A lot of my students have more experience than me in other areas of life; one student tried to pay less tuition because she didn’t have the bill on hand and I let her do it, but that set the tone for our relationship.
Nonetheless, running one-on-one sessions is the time to fully understand what each student needs.
2. Provide value that students love
To cut down problems with tuition and lessons, let students know the value you’re giving and position yourself as an expert. Not only are you a piano teacher, but you help them improve motor control and brain development. Or you teach strictly Russian technique so your students get trained with ‘proper technique.’
You have a unique story, and people have to know it in order to appreciate what you do. That way, they will be requesting your presence, not the other way around.
I try hard to shower my students with value. To be surprised with more value than you ever expected means you’ll be coming back, eager for more. Printed handout packages feel more valuable because someone prepared it in advance– bonus points if presented in an envelope.
I never had parent problems as a piano teacher because I was obscenely picky about who I let in and parents knew it. That’s one way to start positioning.
Sort out your value and brand, then communicate this to your students so they can fall in love with what you do as much as you have.
3. Develop a curriculum
Most students struggle at similar stages and I repeat myself to every new student. So I developed a curriculum for simple consumption across the board.
My schedule got tiring within two months of summer one-on-one design consulting and I didn’t know how to ask for a 3x raise. People say it’s a confidence issue, and it’s true– I’m confident in design skills, not social ones.
Think about what you keep repeating to your one-on-one students. Would it be more beneficial if your students interacted with each other? If so, package it into a curriculum.
4. Start a group music class
Once you’ve taught private lessons to 3 students of one type, then you’re ready to start a group class because you understand how the individual student behaves. For example, when I taught piano, I started the first group class for 8-12 year olds after teaching private piano lessons to three 8 old kids.
I couldn’t spend face-to-face time with everyone to design so I developed an online course about building an online business, with an awesome group of students enrolled in the first round.
I roped in my family to help run the course because I spent too much time remaking a video.
“You’re flying by the seat of your pants,” my mentor says. “Good for you.”
How to gain students for your group music class
Once you’ve established the class, you’ll want students–but don’t shove it down people’s throats.
I studied experts who speak and close the sale properly, like you have to keep the same tone of voice when you are teaching and pitching so people don’t tune out, and of course tell a great story. I whipped up the presentation and practiced until my voice was hoarse, to share as many design tips as a person could stomach in 50 minutes then pitch properly.
I opened the doors to enrolment in the group course at a workshop I was invited to teach.
If you can package your services for the right audience, you will be well-received. Once you have an idea for a type of class or product, here’s how to gain students by pitching to a person or group.
1. Stop keeping secrets
Don’t keep secrets in the hat. People sense when you’re holding back, so never think in terms of “giving all your secrets away.”
If people fall in love with your free service and you genuinely make a difference in their lives, they’ll be salivating to pay you for the premium stuff.
That’s why music student interviews should be free. The goal of the interview is not to determine how good a student is, but whether you like working with him or her.
If you agree to meet a student, then they would’ve passed the first round based on talent already, as you’ve seen their playing through a recording. If you don’t field people, you might get so many requests from Random Joes that you’ll have to charge for interviews and it might seem ‘good for business’ to charge, but you will be setting up for disappointment because the student is already expecting a full lesson’s worth of value during the interview.
And if you manage to make a difference in their playing in such a short amount of time, then they will be eager for more. Would you rather have a “maybe-student” for one lesson or many loyal students for years to come?
Bottom line is, you want to over-deliver.
2. Your pitch is an invite
At the end of my workshop, I said, “If you’re ready to take your blog to the next level using design, then I invite you to join my course.”
The course wasn’t a new idea when I was pitching, so it didn’t feel forced. I’d introduced it during with my personal story in the beginning of the presentation. Your pitch shouldn’t feel forced, so phrase it like an invite.
When you’re speaking at a seminar or workshop, warm people up to your premium service or class by mentioning it throughout your presentation. If you’re speaking about practice tips and your premium program is a summer music class, you want to say throughout your presentation: “Focus on ________ when you’re playing fast passages. This is a skill that we drill down on in our summer music class.” This piques interest.
To condense your pitch for a small group, introduce the concept (of a course or service) then give an example of this in action, followed by the invite. (Introduce idea > Example > Invite)
If I am pitching the idea of design to a potential client, I might say, “I help people get their business goals using design, like increase sales or gain clients. If you structure a website a certain way and you look at who’s clicking where, then you can increase sales by placing the most important elements where people are clicking.”
There is no invite here because it’s implied; if the person thinks of a way to work together, they’ll inform you right away. You don’t want to be desperate.
3. Value, service, benefit, are words you likely need
Keep these in your back pocket because it’s what you’re sharing. You’re providing value, sharing knowledge that serves people, or teaching skills that benefit lives.
You want to use these words with students to maximize demand for your service and you don’t want them to forget what a gem you are. Instead of a mere “thank you” that drifts away in seconds, try planting these seeds in their heads.
At the end of the first interview or meeting with a student, you can say, “Thanks, I enjoyed our meeting a lot. I look forward to our first lesson and I hope the piano skills that you learn in the next 3 months will benefit you in other areas of music as well.”
If you have to ask for tuition, it might be, “Have you prepared the tuition? I hope our lessons serve you well as you’re preparing for competition.” Remind them what immense value you’re providing.
After introducing the idea of a group class to a private student, “I think these group classes will serve you really well because you get to work with other students who are at a similar stage and also try activities that you can’t do alone.”
And so on.
4. Be prepared to flop
Your pitch might not work. You might not get eager students flocking to your door.
This is my second online course; the first was a different topic and it flopped– there was never an official launch and leaked fuel until I lost interest. But a hundred mistakes you make this time will be a hundred things you get right the next time.
Two months ago, I was invited to speak at a small seminar where few people gave me a second glance before I stepped onstage. Afterwards, people kept stopping me as I was trying to leave.
That makes me a little sad. I want to hang out with people I enjoy and people who honestly like me as a person.
“If you’re not sure, treat it like a scam,” my dad says. “Scammers waste your time.”
“But some people are good to me,” I say. “Fantastic.”
I’m learning how to find friends when alone in a community. So I’ve come up with a piece of advice for myself that might be useful for you too:
Stop wearing your heart on your sleeve. There is a difference between being genuine and feeling emotionally attached to everyone you meet.
Learn it and flaunt it.
Do you teach a group class? If so, how did you get started? If not, what’s holding you back?
Just leave a comment below to join the conversation!
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