Week One: Prepare
Day 01. Psychological hurdles. Are you comfortable calling yourself a teacher? If you don’t say, “I’m a private music instructor,” nobody will. Most of your students will have no experience with music. Would you enjoy helping them learn? Before proceeding, make the commitment to teach, and take pride in it.
Day 02. Clarify your goals. What can you teach? Who can you teach? How much do you want to earn? What percentage of your income should be from teaching? How much of your time will you commit to teaching? Sketch out some figures to get a sense of how these goals can be reached.
Day 03. Decide where you’ll teach. You can teach almost anywhere: community centers, local schools, colleges, or the student’s home. Perhaps there is a section of your own home that you could use. Make your teaching space as presentable as possible. Even a small section of an apartment with wall dividers can make a wonderful teaching environment.
Day 04. Decide on your initial rate. Call comparable teachers and ask for their rates. It is tempting to charge less than your competition to attract students. This is a bad idea. A low rate sends this signal: “I am an amateur. Because of my lack of qualification, I am charging less than a day laborer to teach music lessons.” Let others learn. Aim for median or higher. Be valuable.
Day 05. Write your lesson policy. What is your policy on cancelled lessons? How will students pay you–weekly or monthly? Will students pay in advance? Will you teach a first lesson free? How about a refund for unsatisfied students? If you’re skeptical, see below.
Day 06. Develop a “Unique Selling Proposition”. What is it that makes your teaching business special? Perhaps you will make recordings for students to take home. Maybe you will coach an ensemble and direct recitals for friends and family to attend. I offer a free initial lesson, and a satisfaction guarantee: if you’re not happy with your first month, I’ll refund the lesson fees. My colleagues think I’m insane. However, nobody’s ever asked me for a refund. This promise builds trust because it shows that I am willing to stand by my service. Remove the fear and doubt from the student’s mind and they will happily join.
Day 07. Determine your market. Do you live in a large city or small town? How many schools are in your area? How many music stores? How many potential students? Are your competitors doing a good job at advertising, or are they slacking?
Week 2: Get moving!
Day 08. Separate your teaching business. Your manager has Lady Gaga on the phone. She needs a player for her upcoming tour and wants to speak with you in person. Does “music teacher” create the best impression here? Probably not. Create a new entity for your teaching business. You might even consider creating a business name and keeping your own name more private.
Day 09. Create a logo. Go to eLance.com and sign up. The fee is $10USD. Post a project for a “Logo design for small business.” Soon, dozens of proposals will pour in, from $25-100. Look for a compromise between price and quality.
*Note: this section suggests you hire contactors on eLance for several jobs. You can “batch” these jobs into one posting to save money.
Day 10. Phone number and address. What contact info will you use? If you need privacy, get a PO Box and an 800 number. A PO Box can be written as a physical address. This will be handy later. An 800 number is extremely cheap, looks professional, and can be routed to any phone.
Day 11. Business card, flier and brochure. Remember when businesses advertised with brightly-dyed tree pulp? Nothing says “amateur” faster than a black-and-white advertisement with tearoff strips. You’re not an amateur; you’re a pro. Post another job on eLance for the design of a business card, flier and brochure. Make sure the files are delivered in a format you can make changes to, as future edits are inevitable.
Day 12. Website domain and hosting. You’re going to need a website; no getting around it. For convenience, I use GoDaddy, which sells domains and hosting. A domain for yourname.com will be around $10 per year, and $4 per month for hosting. Once you’ve registered, create a text file that says “Coming soon…” and save it as index.html. Use an FTP program to upload it to your server to make sure that everything is working.
Day 13. Create a website! Your first website should be simple. Create an email account through your host for email@example.com. For design, you can use a graphical editor or free CSS templates. You can also have one built for you on eLance for around $150-300. For now, let’s get a template. Find one you like. Open it with a text editor and then with your browser. Put these two windows side by side and you can edit the code of the template, save, and then “reload” your browser to see the effect. Once you’ve set it up to look exactly the way you want it, save it, then “save as…” and create a new page. Make sure that the A HREF SRC=” tags in the template navigate to the file they’re supposed to be linked to. Be sure to create a few pages with relevant information, for instance the location of your studio, policies, resume and biography. Upload your website to the root directory of your server.
Day 14. Finish your website. Making a website is hard work! Be sure that all of the information you want is there, and that it looks good. Consider including a professional photo. It’s also a great idea to put your number and address in the footer of each page. Now that you’ve finished your site, you want it to be ranked highly on search engines. Make sure keywords such as your city, your instrument, and words like “lessons, teacher, instructor” are prominent in the page filenames, the TITLE tag, the H1, H2, H3 tags, and in the actual text of the page. If you live in a metropolitan area, be sure to use the name of your neighborhood or borough as an extra keyword; “Brooklyn Piano Lessons” is much easier to claim than “NYC Piano Lessons”.
Keep track of your ranking on Google and try to find out how to get higher on the search engines without cheating. A little Search Engine Optimization can have a huge impact for local businesses because the competition for keywords is often very limited. This keyword of mine leapfrogged 35 places in just one week because I worked hard to make a great website and get it listed.
Week 3: Promote!
During Week 3, you will actively promote your business. Instilled with confidence from your professional designs, you are ready to aggressively seek students.
Day 15. List yourself in every directory you can find. Search for directories and organizations that might give you a link. If anybody you know has a website or blog, ask for a link. There are many possible “paid” listings, but carefully weigh the benefits first. Dues-paying members of organizations like MTNA or MENC are eligible for being listed in members-only directories. Make sure to clearly insert your service and location, preferably in the title of your listing. Mine says, “Greg Arney, Guitar Teacher in Boston“.
Day 16. Write 3 Advertisements for posting to online classifieds. Write three persuasive advertisements for your business. Make each advertisement speak to a particular reader. If you write an ad for moms, 90% of readers will ignore it. If you write an ad for moms and teens, 100% of readers will ignore it. Try to make the advertisement useful and valuable, while clearly showing your intent to offer lessons. For instance, you could write about useful tips for getting your child to practice. You could write about some great ways to improve musicianship — or an article on how to pick out your first tenor saxophone. Upload your ads to Craigslist and Backpage, on a daily alternating schedule, every week. (3 times per week on Craigslist, 3 times per week on Backpage). Put live links to your website in the ads.
Day 17. Sign up for Google Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Yelp, InsiderPages, MerchantCircle, YellowPages. These are local business listings. Use the same information in each listing. Bing will actually send you physical mail for proof of address, so don’t use a fake one. If you can think of ANYBODY you’ve given lessons to — even for just one day — ask if they can write a review for you on these pages. This gives you a small but worthwhile bump.
Day 18. Get indexed. Join Google Webmaster Central. Upload a sitemap, which you can make with this free sitemap generator and make sure to tell the 3 search engines to index your website. Search for “[Search Engine] AddURL”. Submit your website address to the “big 3″ (Google, Yahoo, Bing).
*A note about search engine listings: expect a lag of up to 2-3 months.
Day 19. Setup Pay-Per-Click ads. Set up PPC accounts on Google, Yahoo and Facebook. Start with a conservative ad budget and adjust until you are comfortable. PPC ads are worthwhile because you can display advertisements to local users visiting worldwide websites. One potential student of mine was looking for tabs of his favorite songs when he saw a PPC ad that said “Looking for guitar lessons in Boston?”
Day 20. Ask everybody you know for referrals. Think of yourself as a music teacher. Behave like a music teacher. There are probably at least a dozen possible students within one degree of separation from your immediate network. Don’t be shy. I teach lessons to a Professor from my college because I was willing to solicit students through my network.
Day 21. Print your materials, distribute them. Print your fliers, brochures and cards. Distribute and mail them everywhere you can think of. Put fliers up at colleges, schools, Laundromats and grocery stores. Mail brochures to “sister organizations” such as karate schools, yoga studios, dance clubs, community centers and sports clubs — anywhere you might find lots of parents or lots of children. Consider having customizable promotional swag made from your new logo. I ordered 1000 guitar picks from PickGuy. Leave your business card everywhere you go.
Week 4. Teach!
Day 22. Keep track of lessons. If you’re going to manage more than a few students, you need to learn to schedule. I use iCal. Lessons are color-coded black and designated by the student’s first name. If the lesson is “tentative”, I put a question mark after their name. I also keep a separate Google Calendar synced to iCal. This shows what hours I am available to teach. Students can visit the URL and see at a glance what times I have available.
Day 23. Track all income and expenses. Most students will have weekly lessons, so review your accounts every week. Note any payments you received and any lessons you taught. Make note of cancelations. Save all of your receipts and expenses so you can deduct them. When students have billing questions, it’s useful to be able to show them that you’re not doing it all in your head.
Day 24. Keep notes for each student. Jot down ideas during lessons. This habit helps avoid confusion, and makes it easier to create seamless lessons. Students should never be allowed to sense doubt or hesitation.
Day 25. What happens when they call? Be confident. Be a music teacher. Not only a music teacher, a great one. I bend my schedule as much as necessary to book the first appointment, because after they are sold they are more flexible. Scheduling is usually easier in person; getting the relationship started is the important part.
Day 26. First meetings. Be professional and prepared. Ask some questions to get to know the student. I have them fill out this form to let them know I am seriously interested in making sure that our lessons fit their goals. After a few minutes, start the lesson. It’s better to start with something too easy than something too hard. Get them learning and having fun. Be encouraging, but realistic.
Day 27. Build lasting relationships. If you promise a student some sort of resource, write it down and get it to them quickly. Don’t be afraid to send up a follow-up email after the first lesson–and keep in touch! Make it clear that you’re available if questions arise during the week. Support the student in whatever goals they have.
Day 28. Lesson materials. Create lesson materials. If you find yourself writing down the same information many times, make it into a handout. These can be from the web or your own. Eventually, you will discover your own teaching method, which your materials will support.
Day 29. Sharpen the saw. Your teaching business is booming now. You’re getting calls and emails from new students every week. You’re getting a return on your investment in branding materials. Keep at it. Never allow your skills or your senses to get dull. A student recently left the studio of a more established competitor and joined mine, saying the previous teacher seemed “unenthusiastic.” Apathy will cost you.
Day 30. What now? If you followed the steps in this tutorial, you probably already have a few students by now. If not, don’t worry: they’ll find you. Until then, what can you do to make your business more effective and get more clients? Who can you contact? What kind of promotions could you create? What kind of events could you co-sponsor? How can you create an irresistible incentive for people to provide you with referrals? There’s no end to what you can do if you apply creativity to your business. Spend time promoting, improving the visibility of your website, and advertising your service. Try new ideas. Take risks. Don’t rest until you’ve met your goals.