Your Music School Won’t Grow? Try This
Today on the show I’ll be speaking with music school owner Eric Bourassa, the owner of Fort Worth Music Academy in Fort Worth Texas. Eric and I will be talking about what to do when your student enrollment gets stuck and your school just won’t grow.
In my opinion, the 3 biggest challenges for music schools are…
- Poor-profit margins
- Limited pool of qualified teachers
- High demand
Music Lessons and Poor Profit Margins
Private lessons yield low margins since the payroll expense associated with a single student is often 50% or more of the sale. This can be reminded with group or rock band classes.
Limited Pool of Teachers
You don’t have an unlimited pool of music teachers to choose from. Your teaching staff is comprised of highly trained and skilled professionals. There are only so many people in your community that possess the skills and personality to be successful music teachers.
High demand is oddly enough a serious challenge for music schools. Music schools sell a high-demand service. Most parents at some point, consider music lessons for their children. The problem with this is it’s easy to open a music teaching business with little to no knowledge of marketing. It’s easy to build up a nice teaching schedule by simply announcing “open for business.” Hang flyers in coffee shops, make a simple website, post on social media. Maybe join and engage in local Facebook groups. If you were to implement these basic marketing strategies, there’s no reason why you couldn’t build up a teaching business with 50 or so students. Perhaps you would have another 1 or 2 instructors picking up your overflow of students.
Music Schools Have it Easy
Many businesses don’t have it so easy. Many businesses need to hire a marketing agency to get their business off the ground. How many music schools do you compete with? 3-5 perhaps? Imagine if you were to open a restaurant; how many businesses would you be competing with? Imagine if you were to open a gym or fitness center. How many businesses would be competing with? A lot!
Many music schools get stuck because they can meet their initial enrollment goals with little effort and knowledge of marketing. Word of mouth marketing is your music school’s best friend. Something that I experienced, and that my guest today, Eric Bourassa has hit an enrollment ceiling that he’s struggling to breakthrough.
For me, it was 250 students. I just couldn’t get past 250. Sure I had moments where I made it up to 260 or dropped to 230 but 250 was my ceiling. Eric Bourassa is experiencing a similar phenomenon in his music school. He can’t break past 100. Eric too has a nice percentage of students in groups which certainly helps with his margins but an additional 50 to 100 students would be a nice shot in the arm.
How to Breakthrough Your Enrollment Ceiling
When your school hits a ceiling it’s because 1 or more of 3 factors are at play.
- Your marketing is underperforming
- Student retention is a problem
- You’ve maxed out your market.
Marketing is Underperforming
If your marketing is underperforming it is usually because of your messaging and lack of strategy. It’s often underperforming because your marketing is an afterthought because you’re busy teaching, putting out fires, dealing with billing, collections, scheduling make-up lessons student onboarding, cleaning the bathroom, paying the bills. There’s simply not enough time to focus on marketing or simply put, focusing on growth.
Student retention can be a bigger problem than marketing. You’ll always have a leak in your gas tank with a few students each month leaking out, or dropping out of your business. The question is how big is the leak? Can you patch up the leak a bit so less gas is dripping? How do you get more students to stay in your music school for longer? That’s an internal marketing problem. Fix that problem and you’ll be able to rely less on external marketing. Fix that program and you’ll be able to spend less money on trying to attract new students. The cost of keeping students is always considerably less than the cost of trying to attract new students.
Maxing Out Your Market
Maxing out your market is a possibility. If your school is located in a part of town with an aging population comprised of empty nesters and a small public school system you might be maxing out your market. The more households with school-age children and households with disposable incomes, within a 5-mile radius the more potential for growth. You can easily obtain these demographics and data from a google search. Perhaps you need to change the location of your school and plop it down in a different part of town. A part of town with more money and more kids.
Todays’ show kicks off a 3 part series with Eric Bourassa. As I said earlier, Eric is trying to break through an enrollment ceiling of 100 students. Over the next 3 episodes in this series, Eric and I pull open the hood of his business to look at its engine. Does he have a leaky gas tank? Perhaps the engine needs a tune-up. Perhaps he needs a new engine.
Podcast Highlights and Transcript
The following is a portion of the podcast that delivers the most value.
When you have a Kidrock band and they have a name make a poster with that band with their name on it and have them autograph it. It’s maybe the Green Cheetahs, fall 2021, and you frame it and you put it there in the lobby.
Then spring of 2022 the Green Cheetahs will still be a band but it will change a little bit. There will be new members and some will have left, so right next to it is another poster of the Green Cheetahs that’s all autographed but it says spring 2022. You’re creating this sort of legacy of this band so that-
That’s a great idea. I love that. Now here’s my question. How do we do it in a way that the poster looks good? Like is that something we should do outside of class, or we do it during class with them? How much do we let them draw, and how much should we try to make something that really looks good in Canva or-
I’d spend the money, have a graphic designer. Maybe have a graphic designer put together like four different templates. Maybe sometimes the template is just a change of color, so that your graphic designer isn’t constantly creating new designs, but that it’s… All the kids do is autograph it, and maybe you give the kids a copy of that poster.
So now they have a copy of the poster. That poster goes into their bedroom at home, or maybe like mom hangs it somewhere in the house, so it’s a constant reminder that their kid’s in a rock band. They’re also promoting when somebody comes over to visit, a friend comes over, like, “Hey, what’s that?” “Oh, yeah. I’m in a rock band.” “What? You’re five. What do you mean, you’re in a rock band?” “Yeah. I go to Fort Worth Music Academy and I play in a rock band there.”
Or mom has a friend over, so now they’re marketing at home, and then every time they come into the school and they see their poster and it’s framed, it’s like really pro-looking, they’re being celebrated, and the parents and your school… I don’t care how much you market a program, there will be parents in your school that don’t know about it-
… because of the marketing… They’re just tuning out your marketing. All they care about does this message impact my kid? No. Lessons are still Wednesday at four o’clock, I’m ignoring the message.
But then they come in and they see this poster and they’re sitting there in the lobby and they go, “What? These five-year-olds in a rock band? Oh, I’ve got a kid, or I know somebody,” so really trying to come up with ways to… That’s an example of like kind of building community and building-
I love it. That really excites me. Then maybe take a picture of the band, because even though with some of our former bands, we have video of them on YouTube, we don’t have a picture of them. It would be cool to put that with the poster as well.
That really excites me. I think that is a stellar idea. So the kids get a framed poster with everybody’s signature and then maybe a picture of the band, and then we also have one hanging in the lobby so that the kid is reminded of it every time they come in, but then everybody else sees it as well.
Say you’ve got five kids in the kids’ rock group. You print up six posters. Everybody walks down… It’s going to take you three minutes out of a practice. Each kid signs each poster. Now you’ve got six fully signed posters. One is going to get framed and then the other five go home to the kids individually.
That’s so cool. I love it.
Here’s another thing you can do. You can even do this if you’re just like running like a piano class or a guitar group class, is take an audio of the class when they’re having a good performance, record it on your phone, and then have your teacher over the course of like… Say, “Okay, for the next,” really you could just say, “For this class on Wednesday I want you to take just some different videos of the class doing their group piano class,” and then make a video, send it to a video editor. Yes, spend the 15 bucks, and have the video editor do some slow-motion stuff and effects, so you hear an audio of the piano class but you see the video, different shots, different angles, and stills of the kids.
You just maybe do this every two or three months, where it allows the parents to reconnect and the kid to reconnect with why they love it so much, and they can share it on social media.
In the case of kids’ rock, where there’s actual play-along tracks, you could just use the play-along track as the audio, and the video just be different like five-second video clips from the class and you send it to a video editor to put a little montage together.
But creating opportunities… The great thing about recitals is you remind everybody at that moment what this is all about. The problem with recitals is you only do a few a year, right? So how can you… Maybe like every six weeks or every eight weeks, everyone gets a reminder, this is what we’re here for. This is what it’s all about.
It’s not about practicing. It’s not about coming to your lesson. It’s by having these really stand out, memorable moments. Having a whole kind of plan like that can really help with retention.
But I think, again, going to the parents and trying to get into their mind as to… I think the question is I really could use your advice. I really want kids to stay in our school longer. What advice could you give me that you think would help kids stay here for longer? Maybe you say to them, “The typical student stays here for a year and I really would like to extend that to two years.”
Here’s a quote I want to share with you from Jay Abraham. He says, “A business not examined on every variable that can be improved, enhanced, is a business not worth owning.” This whole idea of looking at every aspect of the business and asking yourself what can we do differently here? How can we enhance it and improve it?
The big thing is talking to your customers. I found that once you start talking to your customers it’s like oh, I want more and more. I want to talk to more like there’s a gold mine of information. They’re hiding from you their… They’re not deliberately hiding from you their feelings, but you’ve got to ask them for it.
Yeah. Let’s quickly talk about lead generation. I know this is something that we’ve talked about. How are you currently capturing leads, and how many inquiries do you typically get on a weekly basis?
I’m looking at my list from the last couple of months, and we’re averaging about a lead a day right now, or maybe a lead ever one and a half days, so probably… It looks like we’ll end up with probably 20 to 25 total leads for August, and the same thing for September.
And out of those leads, how many will typically convert, roughly?
Looking at this, at least 50%.
Of that 50% who don’t convert, what do you do with them?
Well, typically the challenge is just getting the initial contact with them. It may be someone who has filled out a form on the website, and then we email them and we call them and we’re just never able to get ahold of them. It’s really rare for somebody to come in for a first lesson with us and then not sign up, so that’s always my goal.
I just got to get them in the door. If we can get them in the door we can get them signed up about 95% of the time.
Is there a point… Do you have a kind of a built in… Is there a certain point where you just give up on them?
How do you define that? Is that a set number?
I put them on a… They’re on an email list, right? So they’re still getting regular marketing from us that way, but they’re not hot leads anymore. But I would say I’m usually… They’re at the front of my mind every day when I’m sitting down to work for three or four weeks. Usually about after that first three or four weeks is when I say, “Okay, they’re not ready right now and let’s kind of put them on the back burner.”
I think really sitting down and figuring out a long-term plan with these people, where you’re going to go I’m going to… My school, I would… Okay, you got to call them back within an hour. We’re going to email them X amount of hours later, maybe it’s like 48 hours. We’re going to call them again 72 hours later. We’re going to email them again a week later.
Then you get to a point where it’s like okay, they’re clearly not responding. Then at that point… Like never give up on those people. That’s the thing. I think those people need to move more into a content marketing funnel, where you know longer are trying to sell to them.
This is where I think a lot of music schools… It’s a missed opportunity, is where you begin to be a source of value, where you’re providing them emails about topics that they’re interested in. I think we’ve talked about this, where you… Or maybe sharing with them the top five family events in Fort Worth this weekend, where you’re no longer selling at all and you’re not talking about your music lessons, but you’re trying to position their mind as someone who sends emails, that they occasionally will read, that they occasionally enjoy.
Oh, top concerts this summer in Fort Worth? Yeah, I’ll open that email. Then to kind of… Do you have an email tracking software, like a-
Yeah. We’re on ActiveCampaign now. We switched over to it about a month ago and I love it.
Right. Right. So using something like that and beginning to… Just trying to stay on their radar. The more you’re top of mind for them the more likely they are to consider reaching out to you, and they’re also likely to be a referral. Perhaps they’ve reached out to you because their child was interested in music lessons. It turns out the kid doesn’t really want to do music, they want to do dance instead. They’re done with you.
But if they’re getting emails from you that aren’t annoying, that aren’t salesy, that are maybe coming twice a month even, maybe they have another kid who in a year or two is going to be ready. The more they can keep hearing your name and have a positive response to those emails… That’s the thing. If those emails, if they’re a nuisance, they start to feel like spam. Even though it’s not spam, even though they opted into your email list, if it feels like spam it’s spam, and they’re going to opt-out. It’s fine if they opt-out.
But how do you feel about that, like having a content marketing strategy via email where once, twice a month they’re getting an email from you and you’re not selling at all, or you’re not marketing?
Yeah. I love it. I actually… Like for our adult lead guitar contacts, I have a lot of… I have a huge long automated list that goes out at least a year from when they first contact us, where they’re regularly getting mostly contact emails. Every now and then something that just asks for a sale, but for the most part it’s just like, “Hey, check this out.”
Now let me ask you about this because my only concern is like should we be sending out emails that are not related to what we do because what happens in my mind is I think then people are going to be like, “Why are they sending me an email about this? That’s not what they do.”
Yeah. So what do you think about that?
Okay, I love it. I just want to rephrase the question, the question being what’s the point of sending out an email that has nothing to do with your product? But you and a parent have some similar interests. Your similar interests or your similar link and bond is you’re both interested in kids, and you’re both interested in the well-being of kids, and you’re both interested in trying to help kids become better people, so you just focus on that.
Because that is kind of… For most parents, their primary concern is not even really music lessons, and that’s not even their primary motivation for sending them to us. Most of the time it seems like… You can correct me if I’m wrong, but what parents usually tell me is they want their kid to be well-rounded and they want them to be exposed to lots of different kinds of things.
They just care about the general well-being of their child. So in that way we might be able to send content marketing that is focused on how to make kids more productive, how to be more involved in the community, things like that?
And it impacts how people perceive you. Wow, it’s Fort Worth Music Academy. I mean these guys, they really seem to care about kids. It’s not about music lessons for them.
The more you say to parents we’re not… It’s not about music lessons at all here. We’re in alignment with you, mom. We want the exact same thing you want for your kid. You want your kid to… There’s something that your child is not getting at school and you feel compelled to reach outside of school, to look at after-school programming so your child can discover a sense of individualism and sort of discovering an aspect of their identity and personality that they can’t get in school. That’s what we want for your kid to.
You know what? We’re going to send you an email of the top five dance studios in Fort Worth, because that’s an activity we also know that parents are interested in, so where you’re really positioning yourself as a resource for information that they value, but that information is also directly tied back into your music school.
If you go to a parent and say, “Hey, these are the five best dance studios in Fort Worth and here’s why,” that’s totally tied in with you. You’re trying to help them out by finding an activity that’s going to help their child out. You’re actually also promoting your competitor at that point. Dance studios are your competitor, but it doesn’t matter.
Then mom is going, “Wow. This is valuable information.” Maybe for you, it all started with a Google search. Maybe you Google searched it. Maybe you partner with… Maybe you go to some dance studios and say, “Hey, we’re going to do a blog post about the five best dance studios in Fort Worth. We’ve chosen you and we’re going to link to you. We’d really appreciate it if you’d email out to your list that you’ve been featured on our blog.” Now they’re marketing for you. Does that make sense?
Yeah. And we can even share backlinks, because giving those local backlinks is a big deal for Google, right?
It’s huge. So you could write a blog post about, five best martial arts studios in Fort Worth. You let the studios know that you’re doing this. You could hire… You shouldn’t do it. You hire… It could be a virtual assistant or an admin to do the research, write the blog post, send out an email with a little teaser about what it is, “Click here to read the blog.”
Now what’s happening is you’re getting these people who are on your email list who aren’t interested in music lessons, you got them back on your website and they’re reading about dance studios. These dance studios are also emailing out to their list.
You can say to the dance studio, “Look, this is an opportunity for you to show how you’re being recognized by other organizations and how you’re considered a leader in the community.” Give them an incentive to do it.
Now they’re going to be directing people back to your website at that point as well, but everyone is cross-promoting each other at that point.
Did you know that most music schools have an age minimum for private lessons? I certainly did. Perhaps you do too. We all know what can happen when you place young children, with small developing hands, and short attention spans into private lessons. Not only do these students often quit after a few months but many of them are turned off to the idea of playing music since they perceived it as being something that’s hard to do.
Kidzrock teaches children ages 4-7 how to play the guitar, keyboards, and drums in a real performing rock band. By using modified instruments and creative teaching techniques, the program allows a whole new age group access to music performance.