How To Grow Your Studio With Group Classes With Eric Bourassa | Episode 27

Private Lessons VS Group Classes

Would you love to grow your studio with group classes? The profit margins for group classes are substantial but it can seem like a risky endeavor. Especially when moms seem to want private lessons.


Music studio owner Eric Bourassa isn’t afraid to take risk. A few years ago he switched all of his students from private lessons to group classes.


Students began dropping out.


But not enough to damage his business. Not enough to take away from infusion of cash this change made. The students who stayed were thrilled with this new social component and sense of community that formed in his studio.


In this weeks episode Eric shares with me his secrets on how to grow your studio with group classes and how to make it a win for the child, the parent and the studio owner.


Private Lessons and Weak Margins

The challenge with current students is that they most likely are having their needs met with the private lessons. So, trying to sell group classes to them is asking them to add on an additional class, which will most likely require a second trip to your studio. And who knows, maybe every once in a while you have some good scheduling karma and you can have that student step right out of that private lesson into their group class.


Grow Your Studio With Group Classes

Group classes can be an attractive offer to your students that are really committed to being better musicians. And every studio has those kids, those kids that just can’t get enough of your studio. But unfortunately, those kids tend to be in the minority.


The marketing challenge that new leads pose is that they’re calling for private lessons and now you’re trying to persuade them that group classes will give them what they desire as opposed to private.¬† You have to persuade them of it you’re going to try to direct them into the group class over the private lesson.


Interview With Eric Bourassa

[The following are all quotes from Eric]

I always felt like for the amount of money that parents were paying, that a kid’s only getting to come to one group class a week for 45 minutes, just wasn’t enough. And they weren’t practicing correctly at home. As we all know, they tend not to practice at all or not practice effectively. And I thought, how could we get students coming here more without having to charge an arm and a leg? How do I just add value?


Another issue was flexibility. Once kids had that class that they were signed up for, they were locked into it. We’ve always done a max of five per class. So I started experimenting on a small level before he did it. School wide of letting some kids come as much as they wanted, doing an unlimited thing.


Sales and Group Classes

I’m going to make sure that I’m leading the conversation by asking lots of questions, learning about what it is they want, what they want for their Kiddo. I just tried to get them in for an intro lesson. That’s all I’m trying to do. I typically don’t go into details about the group lessons or the private lessons at that point unless they, uh, asked me about it. They say what kind of programs you have. Then I’ll go into detail.


I know that if we get them in the door, there’s like an 85 to 90% chance that they’re going to sign up for lessons.


So most of our group kids are coming maybe one to three times a week. But we have a few that are coming five, six classes a week.


Teaching Group Classes

I try to make it as simple as possible. I created a nice little visual chart for my teachers to follow. The first and the single most important thing is setting expectations. When the teacher introduces themselves, even if the kids have been there a million times before, the teacher reviews the rules and the expectations to help assert their authority and guarantee a good flow of class. Because if the teacher doesn’t have control over that class, it doesn’t matter what awesome things they have planned, it will not go well.


Make sure that the instructors pick like three different tiers of things that they get. Well, first of all, we don’t let them plug in. Uh, during the classes we have them. You bring electric guitars and keep them unplugged because as soon as they start plugging in, everybody, the levels start changing. And one kid thinks they’re not loud enough and they secretly turn themselves up and then the other kids do, and it takes so much time for them to plug in, turn on, get to the right channel and everything. We just, we, we’ve taken all that out of it. It actually works really well having five unplugged electric guitars.


Now the thing about some students moving faster and dragging others down, I think of it just like a school teacher would or just like a group exercise class might function where the teacher would say, okay, we’ve got three different levels. You can choose what level you need to be working at. So maybe let’s say there they’re doing, um, something really boring like scale exercises. Well, a beginner might just be practicing three notes on one string only. Someone who’s been playing a little bit longer might be practicing it on all six strings. And someone who is even more advanced might be doing that scale with legato or with two hand tapping and they can all be working on that concept at the same time, but at their own level.


Training Instructors 

I do find that for the group lessons as well, they do have to have the right personality and temperament for it. But even with that, it requires a good deal of training.


I try to make it as simple as possible. There’s a basic chart, like a flow chart that shows here’s what needs to happen during these parts of the class. Very simple, very easy to understand. But then I also have a more detailed video training as well as documentation. What do I do if this happens? What do I do if this happens? And it’s all in there.


If the student needs to be watched every second or they stopped practicing, they cannot do our group lessons. They have to be somewhat independent and where we say practice that for a couple of minutes and then I’ll come check in on you. If they can do that, then they’re going to get a lot of benefit out of it. So one of the benefits is the classes are 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes. Another benefit is we basically have them practicing the whole time.


The teacher is doing very little explaining, it’s mostly training and we divided into three sections. So they have the first topic that they’re working on, the second topic and the third topic. And that helps keep it fresh and interesting for the kids by getting to focus. So if they really hate the first thing are practicing, there’s a good chance they’re going to love the second or third thing that we’re practicing for the day.


How You Can Grow Your Studio With Group Classes

They actually get to like make friends with these kids. Whereas private lessons is such an isolated experience. That’s the one thing when I see these kids coming in for private lessons only I, my heart kind of breaks for them because I feel like it’s just them and the teacher and I want them to be a part of our community and get to know some of the other kids cause it’s way more fun like that. Another thing is, the kind of games and friendly competitions that we do with the kids pushes them. And so they’ll show up to class that thinking, you know, oh I gotta be better than little Johnny or little Susie today because they were better than me last week. So now, now they have that motivation. They have that carrot for wanting to work harder and wanting to come back a, the other thing is playing with other people.


We’ll do some ensemble stuff where they all have to actually play in time together. And that is such a difficult skill to learn. You know, I remember for myself, and I’m sure a lot of people can relate to this, I practice in my bedroom for a couple of years by myself and I was like, Oh, I’m pretty good now. And then I started a band and we were awful because we didn’t know how to play together. So when we start training these students from a very young age and how to play it, I mean, you know how it is like with kids rock in junior rockers, teaching them how to play together, uh, very early on is a really awesome skill to have.


Persuading Parents

Parents just want private lessons. They just do. I felt like for a long time I was trying to sell people something they didn’t necessarily want and I would have to convince them of it. Most of the time I can sell them on it and then they love it afterwards. But there are some parents who are just going to say, I want private lessons for my kids and there’s enough of those people that I would, I would rather them be a part of our school and be a part of our community in some way than in no way at all.


I think any steps forward that my business has taken has been because I’ve been willing to take a calculated risks that are met with a lot of pushback from people out side my business. I’d say, Eric, I don’t think you should do that. Taking those risks and just moving forward, with that heavy feeling of fear and like, oh my goodness, this is probably not gonna work is actually what has led to, um, any degree of success we’ve had.


So I would say you just, you just have to do it. You can’t overthink it. You have to just start, you have to be okay with knowing that there are going to be people who don’t like it. You are going to lose students over it. And, uh, it’s gonna take, yeah. Like I said, for me about, it took about three months before I even started to feel a little comfortable. And now here I am, years later, it’s nothing. I can walk into a class with five students I’ve never met before with zero plan.

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