Time to “Tune Up” Your Studio Business Practices!
Gail Heywood, NCTM
MTNA Business Digest, Volume 1, Issue 4
Trepidation about inflation, student recruitment, retention, billing policies? Summer is a good time for teachers to complete a five-point inspection on what they need to revamp BEFORE the students return!
- STUDIO POLICY—Every entrepreneur needs a solid “smart” policy that will make your studio run smoother and more efficiently. Is your current policy working for you? Does it factor in the most important parts of your business? My studio policy is only two pages; I have seen way too many studio policies that span several pages. I strive for the most critical items in my studio policy (“brick and mortar”). Remember that your piano studio policies can’t cover every eventuality. Think of your policies as easy to read and succinct guidelines for how your studio runs. Again, keep it simple, use bullet points (not long, drawn out paragraphs).
Here’s what I view as the key items in your studio policy:
- Attendance (including missed lessons): I explain that they are committing to a certain spot for the entire school year. My policy includes that I expect students to arrive on time for lessons. For students who arrive late, you simply need to explain that lessons will finish at the same time no matter what time they start.
- Tuition/Payment Policies: Clearly state when tuition payments are due and how they should pay you. Include any late payment policy in this area.
- Calendar/Holidays: I utilize a separate calendar (hard copy and on My Music Staff), so I don’t include one on my studio policy. But if you don’t use a separate calendar, a simple list of the breaks and days off would be a good idea (you’ll need to send reminders!!).
- Home Instrument/Practice—I do have this in my policy simply because many potential clients don’t understand the significance of home practice.
- Dismissal/early withdrawal—Being that we are a specialty service area, as teachers we occasionally encounter the client that just is not a good fit for our studio (whether it be excessive absences, unpaid tuition, uncooperative behavior, etc.). We need to have an “escape” clause. Moreover, clients need to be aware of what they should anticipate if they wish to terminate early (I ask for a 30-day notice).
Once you’ve modified your studio policy, be sure all your clients receive a copy (some teachers offer an “open house” evening in the studio to provide packets to their customers).
- STUDIO CALENDAR—Most school systems have their upcoming academic calendars available online. In my studio, I have students who are in more than one school district, so I select the district where I teach and have the most students. I determine the number of weeks I plan to teach, coordinate that with their winter/spring breaks and create an academic calendar. Susan Paradis has a wonderful website, and I use her calendar templates every year. All students receive a calendar in their studio binders (and it’s also available on my My Music Staff portal). I am sure to add my special events (recitals, festivals, auditions) so clients can begin planning.
- MARKETING—Whether you need new clients or not, summer is the ideal time to conduct public relations for your studio. Here are a few areas to consider:
- Summer Community Events—“Make Music Day,” local farmers markets, sidewalk fairs and parades. Have flashy flyers created that you can distribute around your community (I just LOVE using Canva—it’s so user-friendly and you can use their print service too!). Don’t forget to check out the bulletin boards at your local ice cream/coffee shop!
- Social Media—Even if you don’t have a website (and you should!) make sure you at least have a Facebook page. It’s completely free, and it gives people a way to see your studio information online. And you can create posts (including videos) in Canva that will upload to your business Facebook page! Facebook’s Business Suite will help you schedule posts for your business pages and tell you when the best time is to post.
- Online listings—Nextdoor, local parent info directories. Parents will start looking for fall activities for their children, so you need to monitor these pages for any comments that may arise!
- “SWAG”/Merchandise—T-shirts (you can give these as prizes to your students), pens, keyrings, water bottles, tote bags, etc. get your business name around your town.
Regardless of where you’re marketing your studio, you need to be sure the public understands the VALUE to the customer. How does your studio stand out from the competition?
- RETENTION—Music studios are essentially a type of subscription or membership business. We’re nothing like a shop, and we’re not even like a regular service-based business such as a lawyer or a nail salon. Although those businesses also rely on repeat customers, our businesses are more like a gym membership, where the customer continues attending until they “opt out.”
It’s more cost effective to RETAIN the customers we currently have than to seek new ones. The summer is a great time to calculate your retention rate. Simply look at your numbers:
How many students did I have at the end of one year? _______
How many returned the following September? _______
Your music studio retention rate is then just the second number divided by the first. For example, if you had 30 students at the end of last year and 25 came back in September, you have a retention rate of 25 ÷ 30, or 83%.
If your retention numbers are low, evaluate what’s happening. Was there a specific age demographic that quit? Sometimes, parents just don’t want another battle with the child regarding practice. How can we better educate our clients to repair this issue? What might we rethink in our own approach to our students?
Having multiple performance opportunities, buddy lessons and practice incentives are just some ways to keep students motivated.
- STUDIO COMMUNICATION—Has anyone ever commented, “oh, we didn’t know”? Well, it’s easy to stop that leak by having a solid communication plan. I have a studio blog that releases detailed information on upcoming events—I can simply revise future dates and set it to go “live” whenever I want! Again, with the use of social media, I create video news items regarding events (and can re-post the same announcement on different days and times).
Email is a terrible way to communicate with your customers. Inboxes are overflowing, apps like Gmail automatically separate your messages into a folder that’s never checked, and many people just don’t open them anyway—no matter how important they are. I text lesson/tuition reminders through the My Music Staff portal, but there are other options available (including Remind. 98% of texts are read, so it’s a much more efficient form of communication. I know I always appreciate the appointment reminders from my hair stylist!
Regardless of how successful your studio may be, summer is a good time to re-examine, revamp and recharge!
Gail Heywood, NCTM, taught music at the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, and at St. Philip Elementary School in Rudolph, Wisconsin, before establishing an independent music studio in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.