How to Create an Operations Manual For Your Music School | EP 167

How to Turn Your Music School into a Well-Oiled Machine

An operations manual is a set of instructions that tells your business what to do. Every single moving part of your business should be documented in an operations manual. Not only will it help turn your music school into a well-oiled machine, but it also is the best insurance policy you could have for your music school.


What would happen if God forbid something happened to you? Could your music school continue without you? Now you might say to yourself, “Well, I have a really good office staff. They can run the school if God forbid something happened to me.”


Having a well-documented set of instructions that tells your business how to function and how to operate gives you peace of mind knowing that your business can run without you.


I originally got turned on to the idea of having an operations manual after reading Michael Gerber’s book, the E-Myth. Mr. Gerber talks about the importance of having an operations manual, of having all your systems documented, the importance of running your business like a franchise, even if you have no intention of ever converting your business into a franchise. Franchises are only successful when they have repeatable systems that are documented so that any franchisee can open a business and use these documented systems as a guide.


For example, Starbucks. Although they’re all owned by different people, there’s a sense of consistency from one Starbucks to another. Clearly, Starbucks provides its franchisees with an operations manual that allows them to create that consistent experience.


As Mr. Gerber says, even if you have no intention of ever franchising your music school, running and operating your business as if it were a franchise is going to make for a well-run business.


In today’s show, I want to talk about how to create an operations manual for your music school. The day-to-day stuff of running a music school is pretty overwhelming. Once you step back and look at your business from the macro perspective, it will expose the vulnerabilities and will help highlight the importance of creating systems to minimize those vulnerabilities.


Creating an operations manual gives you a bird’s eye view and will also help you identify the vulnerabilities of your business.




The Three Different Types of Processes


  1. Situational processes
  2. Fixed processes
  3. Linear processes


Situational Processes

A situational process, which could also be thought of as a circumstantial process, is something that doesn’t come up every day. A lot of them you can anticipate or predict—student cancellations, snow days, maybe a school power outage, a late teacher.


You’re on a vacation and then suddenly there is a power outage at your school. Wouldn’t it be great if your manager doesn’t even call you because he knows exactly what to do?


Having a system in place that’s documented will not only map out how to handle the situation but will also help alleviate the stress that comes up. Have a set of instructions as to how to handle the situation.


Fixed Processes

Fixed processes are predictable events. They’re predictable because you’ve set them up as reoccurring events. For example, the daily tasks such as cleaning, the opening of the school, attendance; the weekly events, maybe dealing with payroll and restocking the teaching studios; and the monthly events like inventory. Having a detailed process will help you avoid situations that I ran into way too many times.


For example, you run out of toilet paper and now you got to scramble to OfficeMax or hop on Amazon and quickly order. You got to stop everything and run to the store. This is the true sign of a business that is not a well-oiled machine.


Then there are seasonal fixed processes. For example, you reset the thermostat during the winter, maybe you buy salt every December so you can have your sidewalk or the entrance into your school salted, or you just get your gutters cleaned.


Linear Processes

Linear processes occur over a period of time. Promotion, recitals, concerts—these are great examples of linear processes. Documenting all the processes helped alleviate the stress. It eliminated the guesswork. It told me exactly everything that I needed to do from securing the venue to congratulating all the students on what a great job they did.


Creating an Operations Manual For Your Music School

Creating an operations manual for your music school sounds nice, but it also sounds potentially overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be two ways to get started and doesn’t have to be time-consuming. The key is to capture the step processes in real-time.



Simply name the processes that need to be documented in your business. For example, onboarding a new student, creating a budget, managing your finances, hiring an employee. These are all pretty obvious functions that happen in your music school that need a process. Perhaps the seven different categories of processes are a really good place to start.


  1. Human resources
  2. Operations
  3. Events
  4. Customer care
  5. Marketing and sales
  6. Staff training
  7. Accounting


Writing Down on a Notebook

Another thing that I recommend doing, which I’ve also talked about before in the other episodes, is to have a notebook next to you. Whenever something comes up at the moment that is evident to you or becomes self-evident that you need to process for, write it down.


For example, having a process for handling a parent’s complaint. Maybe for you, it’s so obvious what to do, but if you hand your operations manual over to the manager of your business, it might not be so obvious to them. They don’t want to make any assumptions as to how to handle it. They can reference the operations manual as to what to do when a customer complains.


The last thing you want is for an instructor to give you their two-week notice and become consumed with how to manage this and what to do. When you map out what steps to do and what the whole process is, you alleviate the stress and the more manageable the situation becomes.


Identifying the Systems

I use an Excel spreadsheet where I list down the different categories of my business in a column: Human Resources, Operations, Events, Customer Care, Marketing, Sales, Training, Accounting. Then, just to the right of it, I name the process and attach hyperlinks. When you click on the hyperlink, it takes you to another folder. The folder has a bullet point list as to how the process is executed and a screen recorded video of me reading down the list, just talking about how to implement it. It’s that simple.


Keeping Your Operations Manual Accessible

I strongly discourage creating a very lengthy document that is a hundred pages long. It was so confusing as to where to access stuff. Processes would become irrelevant after a while, or they would change. By keeping things in a digital form, in the sort of a video or a bullet point format, it’s easy to review processes and it’s easy to change them as they evolve.



Creating a Process for Student Intake

Identify from a very macro perspective all the things that have to happen to onboard this new student. The first step is I either get an email or a phone call. This is going to be my process for an email inquiry. Later, I get the sale. Confirm with the parent the lesson. The second step is a process of follow-up. Perhaps my competition does something great for students after the first lesson. This is going to help me enhance the customer experience.


Exceeding the Customer’s Expectation

With every process, I have a section called surprise and delight. I want to first identify what customers expect out of this onboarding process. Surprise and delight allows me to ask myself, “Is there something I can do that the customer doesn’t expect, that would surprise them, would delight them, would exceed their expectations, exceed their expectations just by a little bit. It doesn’t have to be that big of a production.”

Johnny Wilson of Building a Music School talks about how he asked a parent what their child’s favorite candy is before they show up to the first lesson. And then, they have this gift, this candy bar for the kid. It’s something simple, but it has an impact. It exceeds the expectation of what a parent would be expecting. By simply asking yourself, “How can I surprise and delight the customer at every touchpoint within my business?”, you’re able to greatly enhance the customer experience.


Student Inquiry

I get an email inquiry. Step one is to have an auto-reply message. In that auto-reply message, it’s going to talk about what the next step is, that is, I’m going to contact them in 24 hours, include a little brand language, and have some Calendly times listed for a phone call.


Step two is I’m gonna call the prospect within 24 hours. Even if they don’t schedule a Calendly time, I’m still gonna call them right away. I’m a big fan of getting on the phone with leads. The phone humanizes your brand.


Step three, if the prospect answers the call, I deliver a sales pitch. In Episode 165, I mapped out a seven-step sales framework for music schools. It is a framework that I use when I was on the phone pitching my music school. If I get a voicemail, I leave a scripted message. A day later, I call and send the prospect a scripted text message which I used to leave on their voicemail. If they answer, I go back into the sales pitch mode. If nothing happens after that, a day later, I send them a template email. Three days later, I call and text again with a new message. Four days later, I email with a new message. If there’s no response, they become a cold lead and I move them into my cold lead in my CRM.


Student Acquisition

The parent has agreed that they want to sign up. Step one is to send a confirmation email. Through that email, ask the parent for a picture of their child so that you, their teacher, and your office staff will know who to be on the lookout for at their first lesson. You upload that picture into your CRM. The last step is to send out a lesson confirmation 24 hours before the first lesson, which can certainly all be automated.


The Process for the First Lesson

What do you do at that first lesson? Step one. Through brainstorming, I came up with the idea to check for new students every day by getting alert notifications scheduled on the calendar. Step two is to identify which student to look for through referencing with the students’ picture. That’s important, especially if you have two new students coming in at the same time and the same day. It just makes them feel so much more welcome instead of saying, “Okay, which one of you is Brian and which one of you is Carson?”


You might have a big LED screen in your waiting area with a programmed, personalized welcome message display “Welcome, Carson.” Then, you have a welcome folder with the paperwork ready for the parent. When you introduce yourself to the parent into the child, maybe you stand up the moment they walk in. It’s such a sign of respect. Then, you have a little welcome speech prepared for the new student. You give them a short tour of the facility, and you tell them what the next steps are.


The Process After the First Lesson

Now, what do you do after the first lesson? How can you exceed the customer’s expectations after that first lesson? Maybe you decide you’re going to send the student a postcard from their instructor with one or two sentences, “Dear Carson, it was great meeting you yesterday at your lesson. I’m really looking forward to playing music with you and watching you develop and grow as a musician.”


What a great way to make an impact on both the child and the parent, because most likely the parents gonna see the postcard in the mail before the child does and it’s gonna be “Wow, this is really impressive. Look what these guys did.” Then they know mom gives Carson the postcard.


Perhaps step two is two weeks into the lessons, someone in your office staff emails the parent a short email, “We hope your child’s enjoying lessons”. Just a two- or three-sentence long template. It’s even in your CRM, and it just goes out automatically.


Three months into the lessons is something that I did all the time. I would pop into a student’s lesson and would listen for a minute or two. I’d ask the student what they were working on, ask them to play it for me with their teacher. And then I would write the parent a two-sentence email, “Julia, just popped in on Carson’s lesson and was so pleased to hear how great he sounded playing Sweet Home Alabama with his teacher.” The time commitment for that is just a few minutes, but it has a lot of impact.


And then, maybe every 12 months, have one of those just-popped-in emails from your office. Then twice a year, the teacher sends an accomplishment postcard to each student—praising the student for an accomplishment that they had in their lessons.


These are all the steps after the first lesson. And a lot of these would fall into the category of surprise and delight. These are unexpected gestures, but they’re all systematized so that no one’s having to think about when to do this.


The Best Insurance Policy for Your Music School

Your operations manual is not static. It’s always changing. You’re always keeping to come up with new ways to improve your systems. Having your systems documented in an easy and clear fashion allows your business to run by itself. It allows you to remove yourself from your business. At some point, you’re going to physically exit your business permanently. You’re going to sell your business. You’re going to want to retire, pass it on to your children, or God forbid something terrible happens to you. Your business can still be a source of income for your family, if and only if you have well-documented systems and an operations manual.

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