Build and Grow Your Music School with Jonny Wilson | Ep 49

October 31, 2019

How Jonny Wilson Built a Music School With More Than 2000 Students

I’ve heard of music schools with 500 students. They’re rare but they’re out there. I’ve never heard of a music school with 2000 students! Jonny Wilson loves music. He loves business. He loves helping people. Jonny combined these 3 passions to build a massive music school as well as a program to help studio owners like you grow your dream music school.

 

– – Interview Transcript – –

 

Build a Music School

 

Jonny:

I built my school from 30 students to a couple of thousand. We’re going for 11 years, It was extremely hard as you know, you’ve built your own successful school. We did a lot of things wrong in the first half, and we did a lot of things right in the second half. We started getting a lot of schools around our country and around the world, getting in contact with us after won a bunch of awards. I won The Young Business Person of the Year award in some charitable awards for the charitable work we’re doing.

 

We started getting attention. I just realized that there are just so many schools that didn’t have the resources that we had that were still struggling in the 100 to 500 student mark. We just had all these incredible resources that we were prepared to give away and coach people with to help them. Just pretty much to, I say, to save them, blood, sweat, tears, and prayers. Because it’s really hard growing a successful music school, especially the first 500 is really hard.

 

Jonny:

I built the, Build a Music School program over a couple of years after sort of looking at and seeing what was there that would be suitable. If I was to start again, that would actually help me build a school of my size and caliber from scratch. There wasn’t anything that I thought was on the level that I would think would get me there.

 

We set out to build it. That’s what we’ve done. It’s really taken off. We just crossed about 5,000 members on the Facebook page. I won’t mention numbers of how many people in there, our Band Squad group, which is our Build a Music School community. The coolest thing is it’s just saving people a lot of time and hassle. Giving them resources that we’ve literally spent tens of thousands on so that they can shortcut the mistakes.

 

Dave:

Tell me a little bit about the Bam Squad and some ways you’ve been able to help music studios.

 

Jonny:

Yeah, sure. Let’s see. Where do I start? The Bam Squad, basically I’ve mapped out this one key program called The Music School Blueprint, where I take people from literally how I would do everything all over again. Really concise from zero to 2000. I walk them through all the business side or the marketing side, everything you need to know, building a team. We give every single resource that we possibly can and we’re updating it all the time, building things.

 

Literally, there’s everything in there from hiring your first team member, contracts, guidelines, interview templates, job application, posts. There’s every awesome marketing campaign we’ve done. We provide the Photoshop files for all sorts of marketing files, so you can tweak them and make them your own. We’ve written about 25 plus music curriculum books that we sell to students. We literally give everyone those curriculum books. They can put their own covers on them and sell them or give them away.

 

Jonny:

There’s a full-on digital marketing program where we show people how we actually have used Facebook really well to scale things and all the hidden tips and tricks. Everything from how to show an ad on someone’s birthday with a free voucher through to pipeline, so people don’t always see the same ads. All sorts of crazy stuff.

 

What else do we do? We have resources like all the curriculum books we give video play-along for all the students, so your students can have demonstrations. That’s to set your school apart from the competition. So when someone lands at your school, you’re giving a resource to help the parents to help the kids at home. It just shoots you above the competition, which is really cool.

 

start a music studio

 

Jonny:

All that sort of stuff. We go right into the more higher-end stuff. Those people that are running successful schools and want to build something big, as I’ve done. Really taking them through the necessary leadership skills, the structural business side of things, diversifying your company. I was sharing a video two days ago at the Band Squad on showing them my P&L statement. That’s a profit and loss statement from year one to year 11. Showing the difference in expenses and how we sort of see things grow and what’s important and what expenses are coming up. How we’ll be getting into more detail about the percentages we use to try and stay profitable and all that sort of stuff.

 

It’s far more mapped out and concise than I just rambled to you. It is an ongoing thing. Every time we build something, every time there’s a question we haven’t answered, it gets added in with really great-looking professional resources.

 

Dave:

What of these different areas? The areas that really kind of caught my attention are just these sort of, where you talked about general business operations and procedures. Talked about marketing and the whole customer experience. You’ve got a great, I don’t know if it’s a video, but I listened to it in my car. If it’s a video, I only experienced audio of you talking about the whole onboarding process. All these little touchpoints that you hit in your onboarding and you gave it away for free. It’s so great. That was really awesome. You also talked about curriculum. Looking at those different categories, which ones do you feel like music studios really want to learn more about? Is it more of the operational side? Is it more of the marketing or is it more curriculum development?

 

Jonny:

I think it’s definitely the business side. The reason why Tim Topham and I have done so well is sort of, being friends and partnering up on some projects, is that he’s incredible at the curriculum side. I’d followed him for years on the curriculum side. My target is around growing your business. Because when I set out, first of all, I didn’t think of building something as big as I had. I thought maybe I’ll get a couple hundred students. Aa I had to grow to a couple thousand, there was nothing to follow on the business side that really said, “Hey, you should be thinking about this percentage of your turnover towards tutors and this percentage towards net profit.”

 

There’s nothing that actually really stepped you through even the growth side or the business side. I think that’s what’s the most appealing. It’s not long fluffy videos talking about the philosophy of teaching or anything like that. It’s really trying to be as to the point as possible.

 

Dave:

Really intrigued, 2000 students.

 

Jonny:

I talk about our numbers definitely fluctuating a bit. At the moment we were about 1800.

 

Dave:

I’d say round it up, 2000 it is!

 

build a music school

 

Jonny:

Yeah. We’ve definitely crossed 2000. I think we even got to 2100 for a bit. Now that was like a number we were pushing for, for years and we’ll cross it again in January. We’ve got a school with like 300 coming on board and all that sort of stuff. What’s more important is once you’ve ticked off that number, “Great, who cares?” You’ve ticked that box, you can quote it.

 

What’s most important is that you diversify your school. I don’t know if I mentioned this when I was talking about the tracking of the P&L statement before. I was showing our Band Squad that we have 14 different revenue lines. If the crap hits the fan with say, private teaching or a school’s program or merchandise or something, we would say, you’ve got more links to your stool. So that the stool doesn’t fall over because one leg gets taken out. That’s one thing that I really try and help our Band Squad work on. When they get to the right level it is diversifying, so they’ve just got more protection.

 

Dave:

Can you clarify for me, you talked a couple of times about working with schools. Are you going in to the public schools?

 

Jonny:

Yeah. We don’t have one building where 2000 people show up. That would be amazing. We also go and work in schools. What I did is I created these music buses. Strip them out and put in little tables for keyboards. They fold down. You can have electronic drum kits and guitars and ukuleles. We go run beginner classes in small groups in these buses. We’ve built that up to about five buses in Lubeck and a few other spaces. Probably more than half of our students in school programs. Then other activities are happening at our building. We’ve got our charitable foundation as well. There’s a whole lot going on.

 

Dave:

The bus thing sounds like the coolest thing of all.

 

Jonny:

It’s actually incredible. That’s definitely our key to success for the astronomical growth from the early hundreds scaling up, because you not only have a vehicle that’s providing a classroom where schools might be short of space, it’s convenient to the parents and you have a mobile billboard. If you can imagine for us we’ve got five buses going out where you would pay thousands of dollars a week in advertising to have your bus canvased on the roads in front of tens of thousands of people.

 

In terms of branding, it’s awesome. Say that whole division of my company, I’ve literally got every single system in place, every curriculum thing, every marketing aspect, every school’s agreement. I just give that to our Band Squad. We’ve only been going for about a year and two or three months. There’s one member that’s just in the process of securing his first music bus. I’m really excited about that.

 

start and grow your music school

 

Jonny:

In Canada. As an example, I’m excited about this because more people should do it. It’s just such a good business model. Because you get groups of five kids for half an hour, 10 kids at the school. It’s daytime work, which is usually harder to fill for tutors. You’re talking like a very high alley. We charge about $17.50 a student. It’s $175 an hour. You pick out five, six hours a day, we’ve got about seven tutors going out a day, seven or eight. It really adds up.

 

One of my staff members was with me for six or seven years. He moved to a city about two hours North and set up a music bus program. Again, just gave him all the resources. Within six months, he had about 250 students all lined up. It’s crazy.

 

Dave:

Well, and also I feel like the bus, in and of itself, is such a symbol of the musical touring artists. The bus itself rolling up on a school. Really kids must get so excited when they see you.

 

Jonny:

Oh, I love it. They love it so much. It’s so good for just raising your level of professionalism and getting taken seriously as a music teacher. It’s pretty awesome. Kids love it.

 

Dave:

Now, you might be a little young for this, but do you remember the Partridge Family?

 

Jonny:

No, I don’t.

 

Dave:

Google, look it up. Everyone over the age of 40 who’s listening is shaking their head. Now we know you’re not 40. But the Partridge Family, they were a family pop group, TV show, in the early ’70s. They had a school bus. That was their tour van. It was painted really cool in psychedelics.

 

Jonny:

So cool.

 

Dave:

In the bus, you can hold a classroom. I know you guys do, or you convert it into a classroom. I know you do rock bands at your school. Can you have a full-on band pumping away in the back of the school bus?

 

Jonny:

Yeah, definitely. We don’t use acoustic drums for that. We use electronic drums. But yeah, we could. We’ve got the small little electric guitar amps and bass amps and everything. We break it up into, you choose your instrument, learn. If you want to learn drums, you’re with five drummers. Want to learn ukulele, guitar. If you want to play in the school band, we’re taking six or seven kids on their instruments. Some schools have two bands, three bands.

 

Dave:

Then, do you turn this into a social media opportunity? You could get so many great photos and videos on this bus. Do the parents sign off to allow you to do that?

 

Jonny:

Yeah, we obviously have to be careful. We have those agreements locked in. We’re filming stuff all the time. We’re putting out loads and loads of videos. We have a media team at our school. We’ve got two full-time people that are just doing cameras, videos, websites, helping with marketing, capturing stuff, and putting it out to students and film projects. It’s pretty full-on.

 

grow your music school

 

Dave:

Well, and I just think people could look at you and think, “Wow, he’s got all these students. I could never do that.” It’s really your creativity that’s what’s got you here. There’s no reason why you can’t be creative with 20 students. Maybe you can’t do a bus yet, but there’s no reason why you can’t do something that’s really going to capture people’s attention. I am sure the parents and the kids that all are connected with this bus experience, talk about it.

 

Jonny:

Yeah, definitely. I don’t know how many thousands of thousands of kids. It’s a well-known thing in our city. It’s really helped leverage all sorts of opportunities, not just the buses, but everything we do. I didn’t share it on the Building Music School Facebook page. An example is I’ve become good friends with all the local politicians and the mayor and all that sort of stuff.

I had the mayor come and visit the other day because it’s sort of political season at the moment. They’re running for local council. I just said to him, “Hey, we need to raise an extra $100,000 a year towards our charitable work. Can you just introduce me to a few of your rich mates? I’ll see if they want to come and see what we’re doing.”

 

Jonny:

Within like two days, he introduced me to this one guy who’s, big, tall promoter brought over Elton John here, Bon Jovi, or the big X. Then he’s running for council as well. He put a full-page spread in the newspaper yesterday, unexpected from me, saying, “If I get elected, I’ll donate my whole salary to Goodtime Music Academy.” Which is our music school.

Some of those things you just wouldn’t even be able to plan them. But through building a school and networking and marketing, some things like that come along, which are pretty insane.

 

Dave:

Tell me, you had mentioned early in the interview that the first half of your business or your school coming together, you did a lot of things wrong. Then later you started doing a lot of things right. What did you do wrong coming out of the gate and what did you ultimately correct and do right?

 

Jonny:

I try to be as vulnerable as possible to all the Building Music School staff, because I genuinely want people to not make the mistakes that I made. I’m just thinking, in one of the modules, there’s a bonus episode at the end where it’s called my 17 Dumbest Money Mistakes. I lay out the 17 dumbest mistakes in the first five years, probably.

A couple that would spring to mind, number one, would be, thinking that you could hire two people that are sort of on a lower end of the scale. Maybe you only pay them $20 an hour versus hiring one awesome person and paying them $25 an hour, $30 an hour.

 

Dave:

Why was that a bad decision?

 

Jonny:

Well, I hired two younger people that had the potential to be great later on, but two average people do not equal one awesome person. It just doesn’t work. A real key lesson was when you get the right person, it’s worth paying the right money because they will make that difference in your business.

I think that was a really big lesson. So often we just want to save money and we think, “What can I afford?” Of course, we have those limits. But we often sacrifice the growth or even the stress levels by not hiring the right person who was an extra $3, $4 an hour. We go for the cheaper person and they’re just not at the same caliber.

 

Jonny:

That can cause all sorts of damages. If it’s an admin person or their communication can be more poor, the organization can be more poor. Their experience with customer service or sales can be more poor. If you’ve got someone that’s 20, 30% less effective, well that could be costing you 10, 20% of your sales or conversions or up-sales.

That would be an example of one idea that I’d go into detail about is a real failure. I definitely did that in 2011, 2012, I think. It cost me a lot of money and I ended up having to move these two people on and hire the right person. That was a real tough lesson to learn.

 

Dave:

What message do you really want all of the people in Band Squad and music schools in general, what’s the one message you want them to hear? What do you hear a lot of music schools across the board tend to struggle with it that you just really want to help them get?

 

Jonny:

My key message is that this is a business that works if you have the right strategy and support and resources. So many people give up, stressed out of their minds, spend no time with family, are broke. Working for $7 an hour by the time they calculate how many hours they’re putting in and paying themselves. I’ve been through all that. It sucks. It is tough on your marriage. It’s just stressful.

 

You’re wondering, should I just go get a real job? You look out and you see people old enough to be your parents living the same life. You think, “Is that my future?” I’ve been in that spot. Then once you get through and you get all the right stuff in order, I just want to fast-track that and show people, you can actually make a great living doing what you love. Not be stressed out of your mind. It’s not going to be easy. I can save so much time, money and stress for people. That’s what I want to do. That’s what I get excited about when people are getting these huge wins and short cutting problems that I had to go through.

 

Dave:

I think that stress, the life/work balance, even with the wisdom and knowledge that you do have, it’s still going to be there to a certain degree. I think Tim Topham has this whole idea of a lot of music studio owners just kind of stumbling into their careers. They pick up a few students. Do you feel like a lot of music studio owners sort of struggle with what it means to be an entrepreneur and that they struggle with their musician self?

 

Jonny:

Absolutely. Here’s the key issue I see. Two people are musicians. They know that they can charge themselves out at 50, $60 an hour or something. One builds a waiting list and wants to be able to hire someone to help them, but they can’t afford to pay them the same amount or there’s literally no margin. They pay someone less to come work for them.

 

Now they have a business, but they feel bad the whole time that this other person could hypothetically go earn twice as much on their own. They have this deep down feeling of, “Oh, this person’s going to steal my students. They’re going to leave. They’re going to go do their own thing. I’m ripping them off.” They have all these feelings and self-doubt. This is just calling out what I see all the time.

 

Jonny:

It needs to be spun on its head. You’re providing an awesome job. That person wants to follow you and be a part of what you’re doing. If you actually take out that mentor of leadership and go, “Hey, I’m building this thing. It’s going to be flipping epic, come join me. We’re going to change some kids’ lives. We’re going to build this.” If you actually have a strategy to know, this is how we’re going to build it, you’re that much more compelling to join and be a part of.

 

I think that’s where that confidence issue and being able to back yourself is a real challenge for a lot of people. But everyone, if they actually put their mind to it, they can actually do this. You’ve probably heard some of my stories. I failed most of high school. Was not a public speaker in any way. Didn’t think of myself as a leader in any form. But once you start actually intentionally working on what the skills that you need, people will follow you.

 

Dave:

Wow. People are clearly following you. It’s been great to see the impact that you’re having on music studio owners’ lives and on kids’ lives around the world.

 

Jonny:

Yeah. Thanks Dave. It’s pretty cool. It’s been fun because I guess I am an entrepreneur. The progression of teaching students. Then it was coaching the teachers. Then it’s coaching my managers. Then it’s coaching music school owners. It’s been a really cool progression to be able to just keep pushing things down.

 

That’s one of the secrets at our school, is we always intertwine leadership with music. [crosstalk 00:24:11] everything from, “Hey, we need to do a student concert, so we need an MC.” “Well, I could be the MC and I’d do a good job or I can get a 16-year-old student that’s confident to do it and coach them.” It’s all about everything that you can, without the thing falling apart, pushing down leadership and opportunities. Then people feel part of something.

 

Dave:

That is an amazing idea. Having your kids and see your events.

 

Jonny:

Yeah. Well, here’s the contrast. I talk about this a lot. One of my competitors, we started about the same time. She named her school after herself. It never grew past 60 or 70 students. When you go into the hallways of our music school, it was all photos of her performing. Her with famous artists that she’s met. It was all about her. Learning with her was the best thing that you could do. She got about 60, 70 students. Had two or three staff.

 

For me, I did not name my school after myself. It was all about just pushing other people into the spotlight. That’s what built our community and the vibe that we’ve got. That’s something where people feel like, “Oh, I’m part of that.” I can actually raise these levels. I can get new opportunities, experiences. Whether it’s helping out on a little holiday program or MCing a concert or taking the tickets at the door or being a teaching assistant for a day after school or helping coach a kid that couldn’t afford lessons, all of those things. Tips and tricks and secrets that need structure and resources and systems. They help you not just build a music school, they help you build a movement.

 

Dave:

I’ve seen a lot of music schools use this idea of empowering kids through music. This is a great example. You’re empowering them through music, but you’re also empowering them through their involvement within your community, which takes it to a whole nother level.

 

Jonny:

Yeah, definitely. It’s great to see these. Just keeping kids out of trouble. Keeping them busy. We sort of say things like, “Every kid’s going to spend their time doing something. The more that we can fill it with positive hobbies, with positive role models, the better off they’ll be for the rest of their lives.”

 

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