3 Steps to Growing Your Music Teaching Business | Ep 93

What Type of Music Studio Owner Are You?

In this episode, I map out the 3 levels of music studio leadership. These are 3 different way you can grow your music teaching business. Each approach has its pros and cons. Each level defines a different business model as well as a different mindset.  These levels are.


  1. The solopreneur
  2. The reluctant entrepreneur
  3. The entrepreneur 


LEVEL 1: The Solopreneur 

The solopreneur is a fancy way of saying, solo teacher. The solopreneur is limited by his availability.  The solopreneur puts most of his energy into improving teaching skills and the lesson experience. Marketing is something the solopreneur does when he needs more students. Since the solopreneur has limited availability for teaching he has the luxury of charging a premium rate and being as niche as he wants; as long as there are enough people that want his offering. 


LEVEL 2:  The Reluctant Entrepreneur 

This is where things can get tricky. The solo instructor wants to scale her business so she rents out a studio space and hires additional teaching staff. New expenses, new responsibilities, and not enough time to keep up with the demands of teaching and management can become overwhelming. 


Typically a Level 2 leader just wants to increase their revenue but feels resentful with all of the new demands of their business. They love to teach and often neglect the needs of their business. Marketing is something the level 2 leader knows is important but just doesn’t have the time to learn about or focus on. The Level 2 leader might even dread or resent the pressure to focus more on marketing. Hence the title reluctant entrepreneur


LEVEL 3: The Entrepreneur 

When a studio owner can fully remove herself from teaching; she enters the realm of a Level 3 studio. She is no longer identifies as a music teacher. She identifies as a visionary, a business leader, and an entrepreneur.  She understands that she needs to maintain a birds-eye view of her business. If she does teach, it’s because it’s a part of her growth strategy.


The level 3 studio owner views his studio as an organization defined by a vision and marketing strategy. The level 3 studio owner doesn’t work in the trenches but rather stands at the bow of the ship; setting a course and scanning the horizon for opportunities as well as threats. 


The entrepreneurial mindset is the secret to turning a Level 1 or 2 music studio into a level 3.


What’s your mindset? Are you a solopreneur, a reluctant entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur?


grow your music teaching business


A Question Every Music Studio Owner Should Ask

Someone had posted this question in one of the Facebook groups recently. They asked, “How much money can they expect to make in the music teaching business?” This person was just getting started out and wanted to know how much money they could make if successful. In my opinion, that’s not the best way to approach this topic. A better way is to ask yourself, “How much money do I want to make?” That is,  what type of salary would you like to pay yourself?  Put your music, teaching business to the side, and just focus on your needs.


Define Your Future Financial Needs

Before you begin to map your plan for growing your music teaching business it’s important to define your personal financial goals. Let’s say you are 30 years old and have recently married. Over the next five to 10 years, you may have kids and want to move into a bigger house in a nice school district. Well, then, your expenses will obviously increase.


Perhaps you’ve talked to someone who’s a little further down the road than you to get a sense of what kind of money you would need to make. Someone with kids and who lives in the school district that you want to move into. Let’s say at this point you’re making $40,000 a year, but really you need to be making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Let’s agree on this figure, you know, just to have a nice, firm number to work with.


And I would start with that. I want to start a teaching business. I need to make $100,000 a year and I need to get there in, say, five years. I mean that’s really how I wish I had started my business.


And really what I want to talk about is these three different levels of mindset. There are three different mindset levels for a music studio owner, but you have to start with that number.


Three Stages in the Life of a Music Studio Owner:


  1. The Solo Entrepreneur
  2. The Reluctant Entrepreneur
  3. The Entrepreneur.


So let’s say, that number is $100,000. I’m just going to set that aside for a moment, as I explore these three different levels of music studio ownership. And it’s really all said about the mindset. I experienced all three levels. We all start out with level one when you’re just a solo teacher. Level two is where you are teaching, but you’ve brought on additional one or two teachers. So your business is starting to expand a little bit. Level three is where you’re no longer teaching.


I’m going to name these levels. I’m going to call level one the solo entrepreneur. Level two, I’m going to refer to as the reluctant entrepreneur, and level three the entrepreneur.


Let’s say, you’re very passionate about teaching Celtic, hip hop. You have yourself a business as long as there are enough people in your market that are looking for your specialized interest. You made have to open up revisit your business model if your objective is to scale.


Growing Your Music Teaching Business Level 1: The Solopreneur 

This is where most of us start. It’s just you, and you’re students. Let’s just say, you’re running it out of your house. And like I said, that’s how I started. Everything centers around you, the instructor. You’re the star of the show. People are there taking lessons because they’re there to be with you. And you really have the freedom to make your teaching business really about whatever you want it to be about, as long as there are enough people to fill your schedule. Let’s say, you’re very passionate about teaching Celtic, hip hop. You have yourself a business as long as there are enough people in your market that are looking for your specialized interest. You made have to open up revisit your business model if your objective is to scale.


It makes me think of my bass teacher. When I was in high school I played double bass, and there was a guy named Henry Lowe. He played for the St. Louis Symphony. He was the principal bassist, and he only taught serious students, mostly adults or college-aged kids. By the end of my high school career, I was getting pretty serious about the double bass. As a matter of fact, at that time I was seriously considering pursuing a career in a symphonic orchestra. So it was a really big deal that I got to take lessons from him. He charged top dollar but that, as you may have guessed, gave me nice bragging rights.


Learning From a Legend

I could tell people, “Hey, I study bass with Henry Lowe.” People would say, “Henry Lowe, the guy who is the principal bassist in the St. Louis symphony. Wow, that’s so neat!” So I got status from that. Really, it was my way of being able to tell people that I was really serious about double bass.


He taught me whatever he thought was important. The whole experience was about music. It was all about grooming me to be a top-notch bassist. Had I gone in there and said, “Hey Henry, can you teach me how to play some Charles Mingus?” I’m sure he would have rolled his eyes and said, no, that’s not what it’s about here. This is all about my vision for my students. And he was the star of the show. And that’s exactly how it was for me.


The Benefits of Running a Small Teaching Operation

When I started my teaching business, I was just teaching bass guitar and I taught kids the way I wanted them to be taught. It was focused on what I thought was valuable, what lessons they needed to learn. And I was open to their suggestions. You know, they also shared their ideas about what they wanted to learn. But at the end of the day, I had a very specific course for my students. They either bought into it, or they went elsewhere.


Fortunately for me, I had enough students that allowed me at the age of 25 to make the kind of money that I wanted to make at that point in my life. There aren’t a ton of bass students out there, and I was living in Manhattan at the time. Fortunately enough, there were enough bass students in Manhattan to allow me to run what I defined as a successful teaching business.


grow your music teaching business solo

Level 1 – The Solo Entrepreneur, Its Pros and Cons

So let’s look at the pros and cons of this model. The biggest advantage is control. You’re in complete control of the business. The music studio owner that has a staff of, let’s say, eight instructors, isn’t likely to have as much control over the delivery of the product. Another benefit of the solo entrepreneur model is that it’s all about music. It’s all about you and your approach to music. Sure, you also consider what the students want. Your focus is planning lessons thoroughly and creating a better music learning experience. Once your schedule is full, you don’t have to put in much effort. You only got 30 or 40 hours available a week to teach. Once those hours are full, that’s it. You’re trading time for money.


Now let’s look at the downsides of this business model. Well, for one, once your schedule’s full, how do you make more money? Of course, you can increase your rate. That will give you a few hundred extra dollars a month. If that’s enough, then great. But honestly, if you want to achieve your the goal of a hundred thousand dollars a year and a price increase of $10 or even $20 per student, isn’t going to get you there. You have got a problem because the solo entrepreneur model is not working for. Perhaps, you may now want to switch to the group class model. Well, as long as you can genuinely believe that model is beneficial for students, then great. Now you can certainly increase your profit margins and your earnings a lot more. You have a much greater chance of hitting the hundred thousand dollars figure with this model than the previous one.


Trading Time For Money

Another downside to the solo entrepreneur model is if you get sick if you can’t show up, no revenue comes in. So three sick days mean three “no pay” days. You’re sick for three days, you won’t get paid. Period. So the solo entrepreneur has to show up in order to get paid. What I like about the solo entrepreneur is that things are very clear while you’re in that stage. You know exactly what you need to do to be successful. You’re not consumed with thoughts of marketing and systems. All the systems are in your head. You’re not burdened with rent, with payroll, with insurance, with managing employees, and with employees who don’t show up frequently or who don’t fall in the line or buy into your vision. People pay money to spend time with you so that you can help them and teach them how to play music. Now let’s look at the next level– The reluctant entrepreneur level. This is the level where the solo entrepreneur says, “Hey, I kinda like this music teaching thing.”


Quite often what happens to people in the level two-phase is that they look up one day and realize they’re actually making less money than what they were making when they were on their own. That defeats the whole purpose of hiring other teachers


Level Two – The Reluctant Entrepreneur

I can make more money if I hire additional teachers. So they go and rent out space. They hire a couple of teachers. They’re still teaching. They have these new expenses now to deal with, you know, the rent, insurance, utilities, and payroll. This is where a lot of studio owners go wrong. They tackle the second level the same way they tackled level one, but that’s a recipe for failure. You see, what worked in level one does not apply to level two, because that’s a different ball game altogether. To be successful at level two, a whole new mindset needs to come into play. If you continue to run your studio with the same mindset and the same approach as before, you’re going to have a lot of tension in your business. While growth may occur, it is likely to be not at the pace that you had hoped for. Once you hire an instructor, you are an organization, and every organization needs vision and leadership.


More Students But Less Money

Leadership requires goals. It requires a mission. Ask yourself, “What’s the purpose of this organization.” Most people—I was no different— hire that first teacher, that second teacher, and they just say to them, “Hey, now you’re a part of this teaching studio. You do your thing, and I’ll do mine. And here’s what you’re going to get paid.” In short, the new teachers are left on their own. And then what happens? Once your schedule fills up, you start funneling extra students over to them, but there’s no consistency, no consistent experience from one teacher to another. Everyone’s just doing their own thing, which means they’re not operating as an organization. If you continue to run your level two the same way you ran your level one, if you use the same strategies and tactics that you used in the level one phase, you’re not going to experience the type of growth that you’d hope for.


Quite often what happens to people in the level two-phase is that they look up one day and realize they’re actually making less money than what they were making when they were on their own. That defeats the whole purpose of hiring other teachers. And I named the second level the reluctant entrepreneur because quite often the owner is thinking,” I love teaching music. I got into this only because of my love for teaching music. I hired more people because I want to make some more money, but all this business stuff overwhelms me. I don’t really understand this marketing stuff. I just don’t know where to begin, even though I realize I need to do it. And the fact of the matter is I’m not making as much money as before. I have all these expenses now. So I’ve got to teach more to keep my expenses down or to offset my expenses.


Getting Stuck in Your Business

It’s easy for music studios to remain in the level two stage for years. I probably stayed in the level two-phase for eight to 10 years. I have had my music studio for roughly 17 years now. I’d say for a good eight to 10 years I was a reluctant entrepreneur. I didn’t understand what entrepreneurship really was. I didn’t understand that my business had certain needs that weren’t being met. It’s important that you look at your music studio as a living and breathing entity that has its own needs. Once it becomes an organization, once you have one or two employees, it needs leadership. And we’ll talk a little bit about what that means. So the advantage of the level two-phase— that is, of a music studio run by a reluctant entrepreneur— is that it has significant growth potential.


The groundwork has been laid. You’ve got a staff and a building and are dealing with new components of running a business. The big downside to the level phase is the threat of burnout. This is where many people suffer from burnout. Studio owners who are at stage two often tell me that they feel like they’re burning out. That’s probably because, when their music studio business is in the level two-phase, they have to do everything themselves. They’re teaching, cleaning the bathroom, billing, paying the bills, collections etc. The list goes on and on. The other big downside is that you may end up making less money than before.


 Level Three – The Entrepreneur

This is a music studio whose owner has fully embraced what it means to be an entrepreneur. This is when you, the studio owner, can take a step back and get a birds-eye perspective of your music studio business. You only acquire that bird’s-eye perspective by making real changes in your business, real changes in how you manage your time and how you position yourself inside the studio.


To allow you to gain that perspective, have you ever gone to your music studio, on a Sunday? When you’re closed and you walk in there, there are no students, no staff, and you feel a little sense of relief. Maybe, you’re able to appreciate a little bit more what you’ve accomplished because you’re standing back. You’re looking at your business from the outside. You have some perspective in that moment. The entrepreneur is always working towards that perspective and existing at that, in that space all the time, there are certain things that only you, the entrepreneur can do.


Vission is Key to Growing Your Music Teaching Business 

Only you as the studio owner can establish a vision for your business. Only you can establish the systems and the strategies for growth. Everything else can be delegated, and yes, this includes even the teaching. If you’re teaching in your music studio, you are limiting your ability to grow. You’re not meeting the needs of your music studio; your music studio, above all, needs a leader. When you’re teaching, you’re in a room with one student thinking about that one student, meanwhile, outside the room, many things might be happening in your music studio. It’s your business happening, and you’re nowhere present. You’re not physically present, nor are you mentally present. So let’s say you teach two or three hours a day. Let’s say you’ve got 10 to 20 students on your roster. When you’re thinking about those students as well during the week, you’re investing mental and emotional energy into those students outside the lesson.


What If You Could Spend More Time on Growing Your Music Studio?

What if you use all the time you spend on the students you are teaching, including the time you spend planning their lessons and thinking about the wellbeing of your students outside their lessons, on improving and growing your business? Well, you’d probably have more students. You’d probably have a more efficient music studio. So I think the pros and the cons of the level 3 stage are pretty obvious. Simply put, a music studio that’s led by an entrepreneur is a music studio that has its needs met. You’ll never be able to take your music studio to the third stage if you’re a reluctant entrepreneur. If you don’t like business or marketing, that’s probably because you haven’t ever had time and peace in your life to focus on those things.


If you find yourself saying that I know that marketing is important, I know that having a tighter and well-defined system in my studio is important, but I just don’t have the time to get around to those things, you’re running an upside-down business. What are you spending all your time doing then? Well, I bet you’re likely spending your time on billing and emails, sales calls, pacifying upset parents, and a whole bunch of stuff that can be easily delegated. As to how you do that, well, that’s a matter for another day. I just want to drive home the point that only you can define a vision for your music studio. Only you can define its purpose statement. Why does your music studio exist? How are you making the world a better place? Only you can define that, and only you can establish a framework for a culture and a community within your music studio. Only you can develop the systems for your music studio to operate.


How to Avoid Music Studio Stress and Burnout

You can develop marketing strategies that will help fuel your music, studio, and growth. Everything else can be delegated. Music studio success is ultimately found by the solo entrepreneur, the level one music studio owner because it’s very clear to the solo entrepreneur what the objective is. It’s very clear what they need to do to be successful. And real success can be found by the music studio that has reached the third level. The music studio that’s led by an entrepreneur, a visionary, a person with a plan, a person who’s not so emotionally invested in the day-to-day operations of the studio, a person with an assistant or maybe two assistants that are running the ship. But as standing on the bow of the ship, looking at the pathway ahead, planning for the future, trying to identify how to get to the destination, the owner of the music studio that’s at level two exists in a world of stress, of tension, of chaos, of burnout.


And it all begins with mindset. If your objective is to be a level three music studio one day, you have to go through the first two stages. You’ll have to go through a stage where you’re still teaching full time, but if you’ve got a plan in place to get out of that to stage two, and eventually to level three, you’re moving in the right direction. You should be saying to yourself, “I know for now I need to teach and teach a lot. I can’t afford not to teach, but there are specific things that have to happen in my studio in order for me to get out of teaching. And this is my plan to allow me to be the entrepreneur that I need to be, to allow me to be the leader that I need to be, to allow me to serve my business and my customers.


The Value of Placing the Customer First

You can be a truly customer-centric music studio and place the customer before everything only if you are a level one or a level three music studio. You can’t do that as a level two music studio, especially if you’re a reluctant entrepreneur. If all you want to do is teach music, if teaching music is your passion, don’t hire more music teachers. Make it all about you. Be like my music teacher when I was a kid, Henry Lowe, the principal bassist of the St. Louis symphony. It was all about him.


He was the star, and he was a great teacher. And all he focused on was music. He didn’t care about marketing or entrepreneurship or leadership. He didn’t have to. The minute you hire the first employee, the implications are significant. Most of us don’t realize what those implications are. We continue to run our business the way we always have. So to go back to my opening comment, determine how much money you want to make in your business, and then identify which business model is best suited for your needs.. Once you’ve identified the right business model, put a plan together. Now here comes the hard part, implementation, follow-through, action. You got to take action.

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