2011 MTNA Conference – Monday Afternoon: Smart, Single, Successful!

One of the most exciting aspects of coming to the conference is meeting new people, especially those I’ve previously connected with on-line. One of those people this year is Becky Baker. I was thrilled to meet her and then learn that she was going to be on a panel for one of the sessions this afternoon: Smart, Single, Successful! Effective Business Strategies for Young Professionals. She is joined on the panel by David Husser and Kristin Yost. The panel is being moderated by Karen Thickstun.

The session began with each panelist sharing their story of how they launched their music teaching business following graduation. After each one shared, they were asked a question.

Becky was asked to explain what she means when she refers to Creative Management Strategy.

David was asked how he handled the transfer of the studio of another teacher to himself when he first began teaching. He said that for the first year he just took over the teaching while the former teacher continued to handle everything else. After that, they transferred the remainder of the studio.

Kristin was up next. She recommended checking out Census.gov to research the area in which you live. Some of the information includes: household income, school enrollment, demographics, etc. She used the research she did to determine to move to Frisco, Texas. She also used a free on-line forum specific to her area to connect with prospective students in the area. After teaching for about a year, Kristin launched the Centre for Musical Minds. Kristin adds that she was in the right place at the right time, but she did that on purpose.

Each of the panelists was asked to talk briefly about the value of having a mentor. Becky had many musical mentors growing up, but didn’t have a business mentor until she got married. Her husband is in finance and all of her business decisions go through him. David had a built-in mentor when he took over the studio of another teacher who helped prepare him for the business. Kristin encouraged everyone to subscribe to Clavier Companion (she has an article in the most recent issue!), and said that she has had mentors for many years, beginning back when she participated in a youth symphony program.

Karen discussed the fact that each of the panelists is in a different place now than they originally envisioned, but they were willing to move and pursue the skills necessary to become successful in the field. She asked a final question of the panelists: “If you could give one piece of advice to young professionals, what would it be?”

Becky responded, “Finances, finances, finances!” Even though she grew up under a financially responsible father, it was difficult to learn to budget and manage finances. Don’t take out as many student loans. Save and learn to budget effectively.

David encouraged everyone to be flexible. Keep in mind the possibilities that are out there and be open to new things.

Kristin says, “Enter the business with the idea that you are the CEO of your company.” You have to set up every aspect of the business structure, make arrangements for your own 401K, manage every aspect of the business…”

Questions were then taken from the audience. Kristin was asked to elaborate on her comment that templates are available to new business owners. She recommends Harvard Business Review. Becky added that Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University is some of the best money she ever spent. She wishes that she went through the course in high school.

How did you research or decide what to charge? Kristin called and asked other teachers. David’s prices were already set by the teacher whose studio he took over. Becky’s price was also set by the music store where she worked. Karen said that for those who don’t feel comfortable calling and asking other teachers themselves, have one of your studio parents make the calls for you. She added, “Charge what the market will bear.” Young people should not undervalue what they have to offer.

The next question related to how the economic climate has and will affect the music teaching profession. David hasn’t noticed any significant decline in the field. Do your research and make decisions accordingly. Becky said that although she originally intended to pursue teaching at the college level, another opportunity came her way and she latched onto it. She echoed David’s sentiment that being flexible is an important principle. Kristin spoke last year at the California Music Teacher’s conference. She asked the attendees how many of them had an increased enrollment last year. 90% of those present raised their hands. People will still spend money on what they value. Learn to articulate and communicate effectively.

Next question: All of the panelists come from well-respected music pedagogy programs. Is there any one experience or project that they especially appreciate or have found valuable?
Becky remembers Karen’s classes. David enjoyed reviewing group piano texts. Even though he didn’t teach groups at the time, he later had the opportunity to teach group classes. Kristin recalls seeing a video of herself teaching that was life-changing. She also had a project that required her to create a brochure and develop a studio identity. She regrets that there was not more hard-core business information to prepare adequately for real world experience.

Did any of them have to say no to offers or requests from others? How do you know if an opportunity is presented that’s good? Kristin doesn’t negotiate lower prices. She just says, “No, I’m not interested at this time.” David felt similarly. Becky went in to negotiate with a local music store about offering a piano program through them. Because there was another store close by, she had some leverage.

What kind of piano should you buy when you open your own studio? Kristin feels strongly that you shouldn’t compromise on the quality of your instrument. Would you go to a dentist with yellowed or crooked teeth? All piano teachers should have a grand piano and a keyboard. You can find a good deal if you are creative. David also bought a 5’11” grand piano to have in his house for personal practice and teaching. It will be used long-term. He remembers that his piano teacher growing up had two nice upright pianos that were better quality than his piano. He loved going and playing on them. One of Becky’s primary considerations was the quality of instruments on which she would be teaching at the music store. She has also been saving and will be purchasing a new piano when she moves to her new home soon. Those who can’t afford to purchase a good instrument right off the bat may want to consider working elsewhere for a period of time while they work on saving up for a piano.

How often do you increase tuition? How do you address the issue with the parents? Kristin asked how often people in corporate America get raises. Every year. Teachers should raise their rates every year. Articulate the value that is included in lessons. It’s not just a weekly lesson. This is like private school or college. She charges by the semester. David increases his rates every year. He is sure to call it “tuition.” Becky gave herself a raise by shifting to a monthly rate and incorporating group classes into her lesson structure. This was a seamless way to raise rates without making a big deal about it. Kristin added that she raises rates every year in July, but she offers an “early bird” price that locks in last year’s price if they pay for the following year by the deadline. She referenced Wendy’s brochure, “Where Does My Tuition Go?

Do you teach homeschool students or adults during the day? How do you market to them? Becky teachers a class through the music store and then often adds them to her private studio. David does a similar thing with a local college. Kristin said that the enrollment at their school has about 15% homeschool students just because they value what is offered.

Where do you see yourselves in 5 years? Becky said that maybe eventually she will pursue collegiate teaching again, but for now she loves what she is doing. David also loves what he is doing, and now that he has a house, he will be there for a while. Kristin will be teaching until the day she dies. 🙂 She especially likes working with younger teachers and helping them find their way. She is also launching PianoTeacherSchool.com. It is designed to fill in the gaps that are missed in pedagogy classes relating to the business side of teaching.

The session concluded with Karen thanking each of the panelists and giving a charge to all those in attendance.

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