If you’re serious about growing your music school or studio, then you must understand this. Otherwise you will never be able to market fast enough to replace all the students you are losing.
Over the years, there have been many markers of my growth as a marketer and studio operator on my way to owning a successful chain of music schools. I remember taking my new wife out for an inexpensive dinner when I reached 10 one-on-one lessons in one week–wow! I worked so hard for those students!! Not only was I hustling around New York City putting up hundreds of flyers on bus stops and bulletin boards, but I crafted individual lessons, scheduled small student showcases in student apartments, and was my brightest, most enthusiastic self–I loved teaching and playing guitar, and I couldn’t believe I was so lucky to be able to earn part of my living doing so.
I celebrated again at 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 and 40 students. By then my strategies for marketing had changed. I had read a couple books on marketing and had developed identifiable strategies and tools like posting flyers, networking, classified ads (yes, 20 years ago those worked!) and a well honed phone sales script. Most importantly, I had created a system of timed marketing activities, and I was recording my marketing successes and failures and learning from them.
40 students was also when my wife said “no more!!” So I hired a friend to teach my 41st student and l opened a one room studio. Those were gut wrenching days–I remember sitting next to the phone, practicing, wondering if I’d make the rent, and thinking “please call, please call”. My goal was to reach 100 students–I wrote that number down and carried it wherever I went. My marketing changed, too–I realized that whenever I wasn’t teaching I could be marketing and I added a web site and began internet marketing. But I still tracked the results!
Over the next 10 years, my one room schoolhouse evolved into a five location chain, with over 1,000 students. This meant working closely with other people–I learned I couldn’t do it alone. I was also forced to learn to create systems for hiring, curriculum, oversight, student shows, and much more and to empower others to manage these processes. However, my primary responsibility in the company continued to be marketing.
After about 10 years of exciting growth, our school reached 1.5 million in revenue. Wow!
And then…we stalled!!
We crept up to 1.6 million and then essentially stayed at that level for four years. Our business had become more complex, rents kept going up, every year profits were smaller–and we couldn’t seem to grow.
What was the problem? And what was the solution?
I thought “I need to up my marketing game! I need to learn new marketing skills, explore new marketing avenues, and do a better job of getting the word about our amazing offerings out to potential students.”
I was partly right. But I was mostly wrong!
In the excitement and carnage of growing a business I was missing the reason why my school had grown in the first place.
Marketing was only part of the answer, and it wasn’t the most fundamental part!
And the mistake that I was making is the same exact mistake that thousands of other music school owners are making. It is a fundamental error in perspective!
Over the years many music school owners have called me up or emailed me, asking if they can get my advice. And the problem they express is almost always the same:
“I need more students. I don’t have enough students to pay my rent…or to pay myself a living wage…or to build the life and lifestyle I want.”
And the advice they ask for is almost always the same:
“How can I get more students? What marketing tools should I be using? What copy should I write? How much should I spend on marketing?”
These are all valid and super important questions. And I can answer them. But I want to share with you the insight that helped my school start growing again, from 1.6M to now almost 3M in revenue–and dramatically increased my pride and joy and pleasure in my school as well.
Remember back when I was a solo teacher, with 40 students and a banging (if less than sophisticated) marketing machine??
I loved my students! And they loved me!
Marketing was not the thing that made it easy for me to teach 40 students a week–no, the thing that made it easy for me to teach 40 students a week is that I had 40 students who I loved teaching, and who liked taking lessons with me and who had a regular weekly lesson scheduled with me.
My marketing didn’t need to generate 40 prospects at a time–it just needed to generate enough students to replace the handful of students who moved, got married, switched to drums etc. The fact that it generated more than those “replacement” students was the basis for needing to hire another teacher, then another, then another.
Marketing wasn’t the genesis of my music school chain–retention was!
Picture a stream of water pouring into a cup with a hole in the bottom. The cup never fills! And–you will always be thirsty!
Then picture the same stream of water pouring into a cup with no hole in the bottom. The cup fills! You have plenty to drink, and the cup is still full. Hey, maybe it is time to get a bigger cup! Or maybe to share with some other thirsty people–like other music teachers who have devotion and skill to share!
So, back to my business being stuck at about 1.5 million in revenue. It was becoming a big hassle to run. I wasn’t having as much fun as I used to. And I felt this relentless need to market and get more students.
Then I’d look over at students like Ed, and Gigi, and Michael. Ed was an older adult student who had started as a beginner with us, and had learned to play and sing well enough to recording his own album–a pretty good one, too! Gigi came into one of our camps as an 8 year old and was turning into a monster teenage guitar player–she was amazing! And Michael, and his brother, and his dad, had all taken classes, lessons and camps for years, and it was so fun knowing that music was a big part of their family life and that our school helped them do it. And they were SO FUN to work with! And they were ALREADY our students–so we didn’t need to go out and advertise to get them to come in, either.
I decided “if this is just the size of business we are going to have that is OK! So I’m going to STOP worrying about growing revenue and instead I’m going to concentrate on making this the best possible school for Ed, Gigi and Michael!”
That’s when we started tracking a number we call “the high-commit student number”–those are the number of students who like what we do and how it makes them feel SO MUCH that they take 30 or more lessons per year with us. I said “from now on, the High Commit number is the MOST important number in our business.” The number was around 400, and we set a crazy, challenging goal, after several years of not growing, to grow our High Commit number to 500. I literally stopped caring about growing revenue–sure, I tracked revenue and new students but these numbers were NOT as important as the High Commit number. And every week or two I shared our High Commit number with all the teachers.
So what happened? We went back to pleasing and retaining students–that’s what!
When opportunities or problems came up, instead of saying “what will generate the most cash” we said “what will make our school a place where students want to stay?”
And we hit 500 High Commit students! That’s right–we hit our goal. And our next. And our next. In fact, we recently hit our goal is 1000 High Commit students–and right now the number is 1024.
Oh, and guess what else happened???
That’s right, our revenue logjam broke open. In fact, it’s nearly doubled.
Marketing is part of that–but it isn’t the most important part.
The most important secret to growing your studio or school is not ACQUIRING new customers. It is KEEPING current customers.
I love marketing and I’m always super excited to share awesome ways to market to potential students. But before you worry about getting MORE students, write this down and memorize it:
TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS, YOU MUST KEEP YOUR BEST CUSTOMERS!
On to Greatness,
Founder, NYC Guitar School