Networking, in our profession, is often overlooked as a great way to grow your student base. In a nutshell, networking is building business relationships. When you first hear this word, you may cringe at the thought of meeting new people or just think that it’s too much work. Yes, to effectively network, you do need a plan, be able to follow-through, and follow-up. Building that network takes some patience at the beginning but the results are more than worth it.
About a month ago, I responded to a music teacher’s Facebook status update asking about marketing ideas for expanding your teaching studio. I initially responded because I have been successful in my first full year of teaching as a studio owner and wanted to offer up my advice to others. After responding, she asked if I would contribute to a series of articles on marketing/networking she was putting together for her popular music teaching blog. Why am I mentioning this? Well, this is a perfect example of how to network…putting yourself out there is the first big step. The fact that I was asked to participate and share my success story is a direct result of me putting myself out there, meeting people, sharing ideas, etc. Perhaps a local teacher will read this article and remember my name down the road. Maybe a parent will type in a certain Google key word and land on this article. Networking does not always directly lead to new students but it does provide more exposure, visibility, and create opportunities. The possibilities are endless for what visibility can do for you as a business owner. Just like in Sales 101, a lot of ‘maybes’ usually end up in a lot of good results…filling up that pipeline with quality leads.
My music teaching business has been open full-time since the beginning of this year, January 2011. I taught full-time as a piano instructor at a local music school for about 5 years before my transition into a studio owner. Since January, I have had steady growth in students, along with a steady growth in inquiries. I am to the point now where I am thinking about expanding my business (which has always been the plan) but I never imagined it could happen so quickly. I whole-heartedly believe that Networking & Google Visibility are the two most important factors for the studio growth.
Networking should be an extension of everything that we do to promote our studios. The key is having those relationships create & generate new relationships. How much does it cost to Network? Absolutely Nothing!! That’s the beauty! I’ve spent about $1000 in advertising (3 different ad campaigns) since last November. How many current students saw my ads? 0. Now, that’s not to say that it’s ineffective. Over the course of time, I’m sure that Google AdWords will end up being an important marketing tool. The problem is that my marketing budget is not where I need it to be for AdWords to work for me.
I try to implement a little bit of networking in my everyday life, even if it is subtle. Here’s an example of subtle networking that actually generated several positive leads. I wear my polo, that shows my studio logo, not just in my lessons but when I go to business/networking functions, run errands, or just to get my haircut. Branding your studio is another topic within itself but it leads to building relationships as well. When I get my hair cut, more often than not, I am asked what I do because of my logo and have given out 3 or 4 business cards to different hair stylists this year (yeah, I don’t have a preference!). Just from those encounters that didn’t add any time to my day or require effort (outside of throwing on a shirt!), I had several inquiries about music lessons. Having business cards on you at all times is a must! I constantly have to refill my business card holder and occasionally forget (when I need it the most!).
Okay, now to the nuts & bolts of Networking. Here are some tips on how to get started building your network:
School Music Teachers:
Contact and setup an appointment to meet with your local school band directors, piano lab teachers, and any other type of music teachers. If you don’t feel comfortable with ‘cold-calling’, then have one of your students’ parents introduce you. Most school directors will give you their time because they are always looking to build relationships with quality private instructors & piano accompanists. You can also send a friendly email to teachers introducing yourself and followup with a phone call, if you prefer. Volunteer to stay around and listen to the Concert or Jazz band – show your interest. If you’re lucky enough, they’ll ask you to stay and possibly give some pointers to the jazz pianist, if they have a jazz band. Last year, just by chance, I played a gig with a saxophonist who was an assistant band director at a local high school. After telling him about me starting a new studio, he asked me to come to his school and tell him what I had to offer to their program. I was then able to meet the main director and in turn, all of the other directors and piano lab teacher. The following week I made a point to followup. I was then asked to sit in with the Jazz Band and spent the entire class talking about jazz theory & improvisation. In the mind of the director, the importance of learning theory & how to apply it to your instrument would be a more powerful message coming from a guest. The next month, I was asked to conduct a workshop on ‘Teaching Improvisation & Pop Styles’ to group piano classes. The immediate impact of meeting with the band director resulted in 3 high school students signing up for piano lessons. Long-term impact? Since then I’ve had multiple inquiries & 2 other students sign up for lessons. Hopefully, I have gained the trust of the faculty to the point that I become the top recommendation for piano lessons.
Music Teachers Association:
If you haven’t already, join a local music association! Don’t just pay the fee and think that you will automatically get students. Become an important asset to your association. Show up to meetings & share your ideas. Participate in the volunteer activities. Why go through all this trouble? Well, you establish a solid reputation among your peers which is beneficial on so many levels. Less than a year of being part of my association, I was asked to become Vice-President. This is a group that has been established for close to 50 years. Yes, it’s more responsibility. However, with a little organization, you should be able to fit these tasks into your schedule. When I tell prospective students, parents, or teachers/directors that I am the V.P. of my association, their ears perk up just a little. You must be doing something right if you bear more responsibility. You can also join multiple associations and connect with teachers in other areas. Where I live, there are probably 5 associations within 10-15 miles. That means there are probably 50-75 teachers in the area that are part of an association. You can probably at least double that number to get an estimate of how many actual teachers there are. Another reason to join is a more obvious one: you get listed in the handbooks, website, etc as a piano teacher in so-and-so area. Getting referrals from teachers in your association (or one that you are not a part of) is a sign of mutual respect. If they have a full schedule, it’s a great feeling knowing that others trust you to do a great job.
Business Association/Networking Events:
Yes, we run a business. We wear many hats and one of those is being a business owner. If you don’t think this way, then you will continue to fight an uphill battle in your hopes of achieving financial success. In Google, type in your ‘city’ and the word ‘business association’ and you’ll find a lot of resources. I have my studio listed in the local business directory & and am registered on various websites linked with my communities businesses. This will increase your web presence as well. Find out when your city or community has Networking events. Check your local businesses to see if they have any network events posted. When you attend, make sure to bring a smile, firm handshake, and your confidence. This may be the first time that the local business owners network with a music teacher so make it a good first impression. Don’t forget your business cards! Also, make sure to have flyers (attractive) just in case you exchange offers with other owners.
Attending conferences & conventions:
With Summer on the horizon, this is also the time for music conventions & conferences. As teachers, we attend these events for lots of different reasons. We all love to be inspired and have that renewed sense of motivation. Whether it be from amazing performances, mind-blowing seminars, or finding the next best technological gadget to use for teaching. This is also the best opportunity for you to meet others in our field & start building relationships. If you really want to build your resume and get noticed, look into conducting your own class. I am currently brainstorming ideas and hope to be up on the stage presenting to others within the next couple of years. Make it a point to converse with experienced members, whether it be to get advice, pick their brain, or exchange contact information.
By now, I’m sure most of you realize the importance of keeping up with the times in this tech age. The question is: How to use these sites effectively? Start with the basics. Connect with your students & parents. Keep them informed of the studio events. You don’t have to blog or post daily tidbits…doesn’t hurt though. Connect with other teachers, studios, music-related sites. You can learn how to be effective just by observing other studio & teachers posts. I like to post daily if I can to establish a consistent presence on the internet. You can link all of your social networking sites together so that you only have to post once. Once you get the hang of it, then start communicating & share advice with other teachers & colleagues. This is when you start to build those relationships and become more visible in the online community.
Pay It Forward:
Even though the initial act of performing is not networking, the result of volunteering your musical services will give you networking opportunities down the road. You want to create as many ‘give & take’ relationships as possible. Connect with your local downtown associations. Contact them to see if you can setup your keyboard at various events and provide free music in exchange for setting up a table with your business cards & flyers. Even if you don’t get any inquiries (which you probably will), you will be appreciated and called on again for more opportunities.
In summation: Connecting with people and developing relationships, either in person or online, is an effective & invaluable way of generating business. If done properly, business can generate itself as long as you keep yourself & your studio visible. Make sure to always follow-up with people that you connect with. Make a list of everyone or group that you have contacted and/or started to establish relationships with. People lead busy lives and sometimes we have to make it a point to ‘remind’ them that we are here.