By Louise Lee
If you’re seeking to build a private teaching studio, you’ll need to recruit students and, just as importantly, hang onto them once they sign up with you. Pulling off those tasks requires more work than posting ads online and showing up for lessons.
Successful recruiting requires projecting a professional image. You’re more likely to impress prospective parents if you show that you’re investing time and energy into your studio and demonstrate that you’re not some fly-by-night operation.
So do your up-front legwork.
Here are four areas to concentrate on:
1. Build a Website
Marcia Neel, president of Music Education Consultants in Las Vegas, Nevada, advises teachers to first create a website that may serve as the first impression of you to prospective parents. On the website, highlight your teaching experience, education and professional credentials, and teaching philosophy. Include some photos of yourself, and, if you can get them, comments from others familiar with your teaching. If any current or former students have received awards, won first chair in the local youth symphony, or been accepted to a prestigious music program, say so. Make up some professional-looking business cards, brochures, and flyers that summarize the material on your website.
2. Join a Club
To run a private studio, you don’t need special professional licensing or accreditation (you’re a string teacher, not a physician). But just as doctors join associations, in part to enhance their professional image, so should you. Join the American String Teachers Association (ASTA), Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), or National Association for Music Education (MENC), all of which can provide resources and even training through annual conventions and seminars. If you teach using the Suzuki method, join the relevant Suzuki organizations as well. Note your affiliations on your website and other materials. Although it’s not always essential (you should check with the local planning department), you should also consider officially becoming a business and getting a business license. “It legitimizes what you do, and it’s a more professional approach,” Neel says.
3. Volunteer with the Public-Private School Set
You want to plant yourself in the minds of people whom parents would likely ask about a string teacher for their kids. To do so, you need to build relationships with general-music teachers and ensemble directors in your local public and private schools. Phone them and introduce yourself, but don’t just say “send me kids,” Neel says. Instead, establish yourself in their minds as a reputable string educator by offering to help them in their efforts. You might propose that you direct a string sectional, coach small groups of students, or serve as a classroom assistant and straighten bows and lift scrolls.
Be prepared to work for free, and remember that it’s an investment. The teacher or ensemble director will get to see you in action, and you’ll be top of mind when parents ask them for a referral to a private instructor. To further cement the relationship, ask the teachers if you can add them to your mailing list and invite them to your studio’s recitals and to any performance that you might be giving, says Andrei Pricope, who teaches 70 cellists and violinists at his studio in Park Ridge, Illinois.
Another way to make yourself known in the local schools is to present a short classroom demonstration about your instrument. Pitch your presentation (think: “provide enrichment”) to preschool directors and school administrators. Once you’ve made it into the classroom, don’t play the heavy concertos. Instead, play something the students are likely to recognize, like movie music or show tunes, Neel advises. You’ll become known within a school, and some kids are likely to go home and tell their parents, “There was a violin teacher at our school today… Playing looks like fun!”
4. Direct Your Mail
Renting mailing lists is expensive, and you could end up sending mailings to people not interested in lessons, Pricope says. A simple and less-expensive strategy is posting your brochure or flyer on community bulletin boards at the coffee shop, libraries, churches, and anywhere else where parents might see it.
If you still want to use direct mail, but want to guarantee that your mailings go only to your target market, you could try a method that Pricope has used with some success. He drove around neighborhoods in his area and wrote down the addresses of homes with basketball hoops and minivans in the driveway and bikes and toys on the lawn. Later, Pricope sent postcards about his studio to just those addresses.
To publicize your studio further, look for venues where you can put yourself in front of large numbers of families. Malls, for instance, often allow teachers and their students to perform in the common areas. Or arrange to perform at the summertime downtown arts festival or other community events.
Follow these tips and your studio should be bustling in no time.
- The NAMM Foundation’s resources for music educators
- Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) studio operations guide
This is the first article in a two-part series on building and maintaining a private studio. This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Strings magazine.