Start a Music Teaching Business. From Solo Teacher to Multi-Teacher Studio
When I decided to start my music teaching business I had one objective; fill my schedule. I needed 30-40 students to accomplish this. 40 students seem like a lot when don’t even have 1.
Music lessons are a hot commodity. I hung a flyer in a coffee shop and the phone started to ring. Within a few months, I had achieved my goal of 30 students. Now what? I decided to start a music school and redefine my business model.
Making the Jump for Solo-Teacher to a Multi-Teacher Music School
In this episode, I speak with Jason Thompson, owner of Edge Music Academy in Chicago about his plans to take his teaching business out of his home and turn it into a multi-teacher music studio. Our conversation was recorded in December 2020. I’m pleased to report Jason made the leap from house to storefront and is off to a good start.
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Backwards Engineer Your Path to Success
We all get to a point where we realize that we’re limited as to how much we can grow our business as a solo teacher. Jason’s a young guy, he’s married, and doesn’t have kids yet. We talked about the importance of connecting with people that are further down the road than him. People that maybe have kids 10, 15 years older than him, try to get a sense of how much money he’s going to need when he’s maybe in his 40s or 50s. A 20 something-year-old newlywed doesn’t have the same financial needs that a 38-year-old married person has with two or three kids.
My advice for Jason to try and get a sense of what his financial needs are going to look like in 10, 15, maybe 20 years, and then backwards engineer his business. Try to figure out what has to happen in his business to get to that point. To start a music teaching business with a clear goal in mind, becomes a way to measure your own definition of success.
Forecast Your Future
Perhaps Jason’s plan is to start a music school with just three or four other teachers. He could easily go into a spreadsheet and figure out how he can scale that, and what his expenses might be. I encouraged Jason to reach out to a music school owner who’s further down the road who may have a type of school that he would like to model his on, to try to get a sense of what the expenses are.
It’s hard to forecast your expenses when you’ve never operated a multi-teacher music school. It’s easier once you’re maybe a year into operating a business like that, to forecast your future expenses. Most of us tend to underestimate what those expenses are going to be. The reality of those expenses is often very different from what we anticipate or budget in the early stages of forecasting. Getting your numbers right is key to starting a music teaching business.
Experiment with Different Business Models
I encourage Jason to experiment on paper with his business model. Let’s say he wants to pay himself $150,000 a year, his take-home from his music school. Totally doable. Ambitious, but doable. Is it doable with just private lessons? Maybe he needs to introduce groups. Maybe his school really needs to lean heavily into group lessons. Perhaps he needs a second location. These are all different things that he can experiment with on a spreadsheet. I encourage you to do the same if you haven’t done that. To backwards engineer your entire business.
How Much Money Do You Want to Make?
For most of us, our initial objective is just to grow. We just want to get it bigger, more students, more students. That’s great. That has to happen, but what about you? How much money do you want to pay yourself? Sure, your business is all about helping kids and passing on the tradition of music to the next generation, but you have to take care of yourself.
You have to figure out how you can make a nice living from your music school. Everyone has their own definition of what a nice living is, of course. Everyone has different needs, but start with you, start with your financial needs, your financial future, and then backwards engineer from there.
Casting Your Music School Off To Sea
Something you’ll hear me refer to during my conversation with Jason are boat analogies. Let me just clarify here, because I do think it’s important to discuss this. When you’re a solo teacher, when it’s just you, success is determined by your ability to fill up your schedule. You allot maybe 40 hours a week to teach, and once those hours are full, you have succeeded. You have maxed out your ability to earn. Now you can raise your rates, you can maybe incorporate group lessons into your teaching. Jason runs his business out of his home, or he was during the time of this conversation in December of last year. He could certainly incorporate group lessons into his home.
Be The Captain of Your Ship
That stage of any music school, I compare to floating in a kayak around the San Francisco Bay, the water’s relatively calm. Well, there’s the occasional shark in the San Francisco Bay, but it’s just you and you’re paddling around in your little kayak. In order to go out beyond the Golden Gate bridge, in order to go out on an adventure into the ocean, the kayak’s not going to cut it, you’re going to need a bigger boat, a boat with sails. Perhaps you need a rowing crew and you’re going to have to function as the captain of that ship. In order to be a successful captain of your ship, you need to be focused on navigating your ship. In order to be successful as a music school owner, you need to be focused on navigating your business, looking out into the future, looking out at the conditions around you, looking at changes in the market, exploring new ways to navigate your business.
Your Music School Needs a Decisive Leader
Many music school owners struggle to be the leader that their business needs. They struggle to stand on the bow of the ship and look out onto the horizon. Instead, they’re back with the rowing crew rowing or they’re manning the sails or they’re working the rudder. Initially, as your boat floats out to sea, you don’t have the kind of crew that you’d like. You have to get there, get in the trenches with your crew and row the ship. You need to man the sails and work the rudder. That’s going to limit your success. Ultimately, you have to stand on the bow of the ship, be a leader, lead your team and focus on navigating your business.
Commit to Learning About Marketing and Leadership
In order to do that, you’re going to incur some expenses because you’re going to delegate your teaching to other people. Your payroll goes up, but if you have the faith in your ability to lead, your business will grow. Your sales will increase. Your business will be more successful. In order to do that, it requires knowledge. Knowledge of…
All of this requires a commitment to learning.