Up until the last six months or so I never had trouble getting music students. I usually carried a teaching load of 30-40 students and had a waiting list at least 10 long. And then, all the sudden, things started to dry up and last July I found myself with less than 20 students. Scary since about 60% of my income comes from teaching music. I really needed some ways to find new music students.
What You’ll Learn
- All the places I’m using to get student leads
- Which ones work and which ones seem useless
Why did this happen? No idea. The turnover was normal. People quit music lessons for all kinds of reasons: Work gets in the way, moving to another city, going away to college. On average I keep a student for about 6 months. Some I’ve had for years, some only come for a couple months. But that’s the average. So the number of students leaving wasn’t out of the ordinary, just the lack of new ones coming in.
So I had to go digging for places to get new students. For the last 15 years I really didn’t do any advertising except on Craigslist. My ads there always pulled 3-4 leads per week without fail. But I noticed I was getting far fewer.
What did I come up with? I’ll list below where I managed to pick up students from as well as some places that didn’t work well for me. Mind you, I’m still not completely full, but doing much better. I could still comfortably add another 8 students which I’m working on.
Referrals from other students – You can’t beat word of mouth. I offer my students a free lesson after the person they referred pays for their first month. Most of them refer anyway and are surprised when I remind them that they get a freebie. 🙂
Craigslist – This is still a mainstay despite the lower lead numbers. I can usually convert about 1 in 4 or 5 into a paying student. I repost my ads every Monday, one ad for each instrument I teach. I’m also experimenting with posting ads in other locales for Skype lessons, but nothing much has come of that yet. I know they get picky about people posting in a bunch of different areas, so I’m going carefully on that. Also, I’m posting in small towns that probably don’t have a huge supply of experienced music teachers. Best part, of course, is that Craigslist is free.
LearnMusicOnline.com – This site is a bit hokey looking, but if you’re looking to get into doing lessons via Skype, it’s not a bad deal. It’s $5.99 per lead and you prepay for 5 or more. For a long time I resisted paying for leads, but if you have a rough idea of your conversion rate and how long you’ll keep a student on, you can still make plenty of money.
I’ve paid for (and received) five leads with this company so far. They also send you some free leads which are less likely to convert (hence the freeness). Those would be people in far flung countries and such. I managed to convert one of the leads into a paying student. And I kept him for 3 months until he lost his job and couldn’t afford the lessons. I recently paid for another 5 leads and am waiting to start receiving them.
Incidentally, this is an interesting business model. If you’re good with SEO and can bring the leads in, you can sell them to multiple teachers (which I’m sure he’s doing) and make a good chunk of change for each one. It doesn’t have to be done on a huge scale like Betterfly either. This guy has a small site. I’m sure he’s not getting rich, but good supplementary income.
Update: Leads from the site have crawled to a standstill. With my previous order of 5 leads, I think I’ve received one and am still owed 4. I suspect the guy’s not pushing his side as hard as he used to.
Thumbtack.com – This is another pay per lead service that deals in more general categories. With this one, you’ll get an email about a lead and you can look it over before deciding if you want to pay to send them a quote. Leads cost, I believe, 3.99-$7.99 depending on how many you buy at once. I started with 3, now I buy 10 at a time to get the lower price.
I get roughly six leads per week emailed to me. But I might actually only pay for and quote one or two of them. You do get two pieces of good info from each person. Their zip code and how far they’re willing to travel to meet you. I discovered that most people will put more mileage than they’re actually willing to drive. They may say 10 miles, but that’s clear across town and I know they won’t actually drive that far. So I usually subtract 2 or 3 miles from what they say and then quote if they’re still close enough.
Now despite then number of leads, I’ve yet to actually convert anyone to a paying student from this site. So I’m not sure how much longer I’ll continue to use them. But the nature of the thing is that people get all excited about learning to play music and start throwing lines in the water to find a teacher. Then a couple weeks later life takes over again and they never do anything about it. I’d really like to see Thumbtack filter a little bit more and tell people that the providers have to pay to talk with them. It might get a few more of them to respond.
Update: Thumbtack has made some improvements. They changed their payment system to something involving credits. I’ve still got a few prepaid ones from the previous system, so I haven’t used the new one yet. Their lead emails have been improved. They include a little map that lets you see what neighborhood the lead is in without having to look up the zip code. I’ve taken to only paying for leads that are within a 10 minute drive of me.
I still deny most leads, mostly because they are too far away and I want a little more sure thing if I’m going to pay for them. They also emailed me to ask to feature me on one of their pages, which is nice. A few little interview questions and I have a front page feature. Unfortunately, they’re featuring me on a page for a town that’s 30 minutes from me. So it’s not much help. They said they might be able to get me on the right page within the next couple months as their algorithm updates. Yikes.
They’ve also just added a feature where you can ask the lead a question or two before paying to quote them. That’s a very cool thing, but I haven’t used it yet.
The number of leads from Thumbtack has been steadily increasing. 4 or 5 a day sometimes now. Most of them are still to far away for me to quote on, but the volume is there. They’ve also started refunding credits if your quote isn’t looked at within 5 days, I believe. Of the few that I actually quote, about 60% get refunded.
I have since converted a few leads into students and they’ve been fairly steady. At least average with my other students. So I’m still making plenty of profit on them after the credit costs.
I don’t travel to students’ houses to teach. They have to come to my studio. But I’m willing to bet you’ll convert more if you’re the type that does in-home lessons. Just a hunch.
TheZoen.com – This is a new site for online lessons. They’re going through a few growing pains, but I think it’s going to be a good company. You use their proprietary video chat system rather than Skype. Leads are free and they take 20% of each lesson. Again, I don’t like giving money away, but I’ve had to reconsider to open up new possibilities.
As soon as I signed up, two nice things happened. I was able to do a video chat with their teacher manager guy, whose name also happens to be Phil. We had a good chat and he won’t over the whole system with me. I also started to get leads right away. 3 or 4 in the first week.
The problem was, they were the flaky types like everywhere else. So they’re redesigning the system with a filter. When someone wants to contact you, they actually pick out an exact time from your schedule (that you preset) to do a trial lesson with you. That act of committing to a particular time should help immensely.
Strangely, once the updated their system, I starting getting absolutely no leads. They’re still in business, so somebody must be getting something out of it. I need to check back in with them and see what’s going on.
And those are pretty much the only ones that I’ve seen any action from. And still with referrals and Craigslist being pretty much the only ones that have yielded real customers. But I’ll give you a list of other places to get listed. Why? Because it doesn’t hurt to get listed. Plus a lot of times you’re also getting a targeted link back to your website which is good SEO juice. So certainly get yourself listed anywhere you can for free.
Be careful with some of the free sites. They appear to be free and you’ll spend a half hour setting up your profile only to find out that you have to pay in order to get or contact leads. I don’t do business with companies that aren’t honest up front about what’s entailed.
GreenBeard.com – You can actually charge per minute on this site for people to get advice from you.
iPlayMusicLive.com – Online lessons. When I applied they weren’t hiring for their online program, but it’s another place to be seen.
LocalPinch – This is a place where you can set up a coupon for your lessons.
MelBay.com/findateacher.asp – If you’re a guitar teacher you can get listed right on the Mel Bay site.
Betterfly.com – Free to get listed, but they charge for the leads. And waaaay too much in my opinion. I won’t pay $20 for a lead that isn’t super super qualified.
Here’s some things I’ve tried that didn’t work:
Flyers – I put up a bunch of flyers in different places within two miles of my studio. The kind with little “call me” pull off tags on the bottom. I hadn’t used any in years and now I remember why. The people that call generally can’t afford you and tend to be flaky.
Event Sponsorship – I’ve done a couple of these. Put an ad in a children’s theater program twice. I didn’t really expect much honestly. I mostly did it to support the theater company. And my expectations were met. The other one was for the private school that is literally half a block from my studio. They were having an event and offered me a good price for an ad in their program. Turned out it was still too much because I got zero response on it. Frankly I think I shouldn’t have included my picture in the ad. My look can scare conservative parents until they know I’m a nice guy. Still trying to figure out how to crack into that school.
Here’s a couple other things I’m working on…
I guess this falls under referrals, but a friend of mine from high school wanted her daughter to take piano lessons after school at her private school. They don’t have a teacher so my friend suggested hiring me to come to the school one after per week and teach there. Not something I generally do, but I’ll be giving that a go.
I’ve been teaching at this private school for about 18 months now and it’s been good and steady. I’m only there one day per week and for just two hours. But it’s another 4 lessons for the kitty. I generally lose one or two during the summer. But I usually have to turn a few down in the fall due to being full.
You could look into private schools in your area and find out who needs a teacher. There will be wrangling and back and forth and approval processes. We’ve been working on it for two months now. And you may have to get a LiveScan to make sure you’re not a criminal. Those cost a little money, but have to be done. I believe I spent $90 or so on the last one I did.
And the reason I did that one was to get into the vendor directory for a charter school. And I’m still honestly not completely sure how this system works. But people that home school their kids work through charter schools and find vendors for stuff the parents can’t handle teaching themselves. Like music!
I got signed up with this one for a particular student that came to me directly but wanted to use the charter school money. The billing is a pain, but it’s another avenue to getting students. I was also able to send a digital flyer out to the whole student base for the charter school and get a listing in their directory. The flyer did nothing and the directory has yielded one phone call so far that didn’t sign up.
In April I’m going to do a free guitar workshop at my local library. They have classes and such all the time. So I’m going to do 90 minutes with some beginner to intermediate guitarists, hand out some business cards, and hope to hook some of them in for private lessons.
Update: I did this workshop a few weeks ago. Two people showed up despite the library doing pretty good promotion. The promo inside the library wasn’t that great as far as flyers and such. But they did have their teen librarian getting word out to local schools and the local guitar society mentioned it in their newsletter.
Of the two that showed up, one was an adult who’d been self-teaching for a few years and had a lot of holes in his knowledge. The other was a kid who had been playing guitar for a week. So it was a bit of a challenge to work on topics that would interest both of them. But it turned out to be a fun hour. Gave them both business cards and we’ll see if they ever contact me. Plus the library paid me $100 for doing it, which I wasn’t expecting. So good deal either way.
If you really want to go hard core and build your studio, there is a lot more you can do, of course. You can join the Chamber of Commerce, get involved in the community. You can really go full time with it. For me, that’s not really in the cards as I prefer to perform. But you might check out Music Money Formula from Tim Guille. I have NOT bought the program so I don’t know entirely what’s inside. But from his free videos and such it looks like he’s got some solid ideas.
And if you need some good software to keep track of your students, schedule, and do invoicing with, you need Music Teacher’s Helper. I’ve been using it for a couple years now and it saves tons of time just on the invoicing and such. Definitely worth the price.
Ok, so that’s what I’m doing to try and rebuild my music teaching business. If you have other ideas on how to find new music students or comments on any of the companies I listed, leave a comment below. I’m happy to hear them. And as I try out new things, I’ll update this post to reflect them. Thanks for reading!
Update: My student load is just about full again. I only have one spot open. My goal was to have $4000 of potential lessons per month. By that I mean that many lessons before accounting for cancellations and days I have to miss for performances. It still fluctuates, but it’s a higher base to start from.
So, looking over where those students have come from in the last 5 months, here’s what I came up with:
13 new students
– 5 from the deal with the private school. Probably could get more there, but I don’t have room in my schedule for another day there and there’s a limited amount of hours they can have me there.
– 3 from Craigslist ads and two of those have already quit. Which if fine. Both of them were kind of a pain in the ass anyway. 😉
– 1 from a referral. My mother used to run a day care center and one of her former clients was looking for piano lessons.
– 1 from Bing. I don’t advertise in Bing specifically, but imagine it led her to my website.
– 2 from Thumbtack.com. They’re slowly improving and I get a ton of leads. If they can just get them closer to me we’ll be in good shape.
– 1 from an unknown source. She couldn’t remember exactly where she found me.
So, as you can see… There’s not one standout that is really filling everything. But those are the only places that are generating anything for me. So starting with Thumbtack, Craiglist, and your own site plus referrals looks like a good plan.
I’m currently at 32 students with a potential monthly income of $4600. Summer is coming on so I’ve got a bunch on vacation and such. But that just leaves me more time for performance tours. 🙂
One new advertising avenue I’m trying is a display ad in a a magazine that is distributed at golf country clubs. So, people with money. It’s costing me $300 for a year, but I really only need one student from it to make it pay off. I’ll let you know how it pans out when the ad is out.