4 Signs You Need To Change Your (Studio) Business Approach

Running a studio, or any business, is not a static thing.  It changes & evolves over time.  But, how do you know when to change your business approach?  Because let’s face it.  That’s not an easy thing to know when you’re in the midst of the day to day.

I’ll not only share signs you need to make changes, but advice to help you along the way.  You’ll hear about what this has looked like in both my studio & The Unfinished Lesson.  My hope is the lessons I’ve learnt along the way (& continue to learn) will make this an easier process for you.

You’ll also notice that I tend to use “business” instead of “studio” throughout.  One, you are running a business when you run a studio.  Two, with so many teachers creating resources & running a side business it’s important to look at each business for the best results.

A peek behind the scenes

This last year (2022) was a really hard year (something that I have heard from a lot of teachers).  Not necessarily on the business side of things … though it certainly manifested itself there as well.  Earlier in the year, my dad had a medical emergency that meant he spent a month in the hospital.  It affected not only him, but our entire family as well.  We all tried to deal with things in our own ways while trying to support each other.  We’re so thankful that he continues to heal (it’s going to be long-term journey), but it’s always the “messy middle” of getting to “okay” that’s the hard part.  By June, I desperately needed a break (something I recommend every business owner does on a regular basis – get link).  And once I was back from that break I quickly realized it hadn’t been nearly long enough.

My goal has always been to support you as a teacher & studio owner.  And, I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t effectively do that anymore.  By October I made an unprecedented decision to step away from almost every aspect of The Unfinished Lesson.  In some ways I felt like a fraud considering I talk about balance so much (both on the admin & teaching sides of running a studio).  But, I also reminded myself that I need to practice what I preach. 

The people who have taught me the most were generous in their vulnerability.  They shared what worked, but they also shared that “messy middle to change your business”.  It was a well-timed decision because I needed that extra time & energy when life suddenly added more at the end of the year.

In seven years, I have never taken a break that long.  But, it was an important one to heal personally.  It also gave the time & space to be very intentional in what my business approach would be heading into the new year.

In the process, I discovered these 4 main signs to change your studio business approach.

1. How do you feel in general?

I know it seems like an oversimplification & perhaps a bit nebulous to focus on feelings.  You run a business.  Decisions are supposed to be made on facts, right?  Yes.  And, no.

More often than not, do you feel:

  • Stressed?
  • Frustrated?
  • Unmotivated?
  • Like you lack direction?

These are all signs you need to change your business approach.

Running a studio business (or secondary business like I do) is not easy.  You are going to feel all those emotions & many more over the lifetime of your business. That is normal.

Look at the big picture 

One of the approaches in my marriage that has been helpful is to look at the overall picture.  Are most days with my husband “good”?  The overwhelming majority are.  But, you can’t be in any long-term relationship without some rough patches.  Whether it’s spots of miscommunication, redefining things as you both grow & change over time … or just life circumstances, daily perfection is just not reasonable.  Or, healthy.

And, guess what?  In many ways, you’re in a long-term relationship with your business.  Those spots of miscommunication might be with students or clients.  Redefining things happens as you learn what you love & don’t love about your business.  Or, perhaps what you are best suited for.  It might be like me, where outside forces that had nothing to do with the business put it under stress.  

We each have a purpose & your business should reflect your purpose.  It’s okay if that gets tweaked over time.  Give yourself grace as you check in to see what your overall emotional state is.

For me, I want to end the overwhelming majority of days feeling a sense of excitement, accomplishment & that I made a difference for someone else that day.  What about you?

2. Are you honouring your priorities?

Your emotions tend to be a good initial barometer on whether something is wrong.  Looking at how your day & week look compared to what you say you hold dear is eye opening.

In my early 20’s I was fortunate to come across the Ladder of Priorities.  It’s had a profound impact on my life & is an exercise I highly recommend doing multiple times throughout your life.  You can see what this looks like here.

When you aren’t running your business in alignment with your priorities & what you value, you create extra friction.   In essence, you make it harder on yourself.

Tip 1: Decision making

Almost every studio policy decision has come from my Ladder of Priorities.  

  • Working super late meant I felt guilty about not bonding enough with my kids.  
  • Makeup lessons meant I was burnt out & couldn’t learn new things or spend time feeding my soul (aka fun activities). 
  • When I allowed clients to pay by credit card, having everyone pay a month ahead of time took away the financial stress of running after payments for taught lessons.  

That last one came at a time when I’d made it a habit to compare my policy with that Ladder of Priorities before I made changes. 

If you have a habit of checking in with your Ladder of Priorities & making business decisions with that in mind, you will have less friction.  And that’s because you are more likely to be living a life & running a business you actually want.

Keep in mind, moving away from your priorities doesn’t tend to happen in one fell swoop.  It’s insidious & often will leave you wondering, “How did I get here?”  So if you’re wondering that right now, give yourself grace.  We’ve all been there at one point or another.

I leaned heavily into the bottom rungs of my Ladder of Priorities these last months.  It was absolutely necessary for healing from the stress of this last year.  And it’s a big part of the goals & business approach I’ve set for the upcoming year. 

Tip 2: Making it a reality

Prioritize doing something for your mental health each day.  I’ve been reminded this needs to be just as important as all the tasks that “need” to get done.  It can be as simple as: 

This is different from your priorities.  It’s waking up in the morning to check in with yourself.  What do you need today?

Schedule time for your priorities each day. Again, I know that to-do list never ends.  That’s why waiting for time to  magically show up never works.  

Schedule in priorities first, then use batching, templates & systems to streamline the work.  This is something I help other teachers & studio owners do through coaching.  It’s also the only aspect of my business I didn’t step away from because I knew it made a positive change.

3. Are you trying new things?

Businesses that stay static tend to die. But, businesses that don’t have enough consistency also tend to die … & have burnt out owners.  So, where is the happy medium?

Your clients need to feel safe & secure that not only will lessons have a certain amount of consistency, but the way you run your studio or business does as well.  It’s stressful when a teacher suddenly changes something.

Having said that, I can assure you that no matter how well you plan for a change there will be some manner of tweaking as you get it to work just right for your studio.  It’s all how you handle the lead up to changes (& tweaks) that makes the difference.

Tip 1: Embrace experimentation

My clients know from the very start that experimentation is a part of our studio.  Students are encouraged to explore both during lessons & during practice times.  And, as I learn best practices or new approaches this will mean tweaks to programming or how the admin side runs.

The truth is a massive part of entrepreneurship is experimentation.  However, it does get easier if you go into it with the same compassion you show your students.  

You wouldn’t get mad at a student for trying a new approach to a song when something isn’t working.  If it worked, you’d celebrate! If it didn’t, you would guide your student into tweaking that approach until it worked.  

Give yourself the same permission (& grace) when it comes to admin tasks, teaching styles, marketing ideas & more.

Tip 2: Choose experiments with thought

For big changes to your studio, I recommend only once per year & give ample notice of the change.  In my studio this typically happens in May & relates to changes coming in September.

Keeping big changes to once a year gives clients the stability they need & reassures them you’re not just flying by the seat of your pants (so to speak).  You’re making thoughtful decisions with an understanding that it’s a win-win for you both.

Studio programming is also an experiment that needs to be handled carefully.  I use an annual studio theme (whether that’s music lab or off-the-bench) to create a sense of community & simplify my planning.  While it changes year to year, once it’s set everyone knows what to expect.  Clients know when group lesson weeks are months ahead of time since those are changes to their schedule.  Including this in our monthly studio newsletter makes it easy for them to register & keep their family calendar in sync with what’s happening in the studio.  All of these began as experiments that became part of our regular studio programming & grew in scope over time.

While experimentation in lessons needs to still be thoughtful, it can be much more in the moment than the previous two examples.  I remember not being impressed with a hip hop dance teacher that had no clue the moves he had taught us the previous week.  “I improvise dances each lesson.”  He had no structure & could provide no support.

Combining structure with experimentation allows changes to happen organically during lesson time.  One of my students wanted to do more sight reading & more transposition.  That lesson, I taught her Twinkle Little Star by rote & helped her transpose it to a minor key (her favourite mode).  Then, we made a plan to include a short, simple sight reading song each lesson that she would transpose into a different key.  This combined experimentation in the moment with structure.  She loved it & was no stress for me!

4. Are you leaning into your strengths?

It’s easy to fall into the “should” trap.  I know I have more than once.  And, that’s even knowing better.  Thankfully perfection isn’t needed to run a business.  Though, leaning into your strengths makes it a lot easier.

As you grow & learn as a business owner, it means your strengths will change.  As you go through life, it’s normal for priorities to change which often leads to strengths.   My hand-eye coordination (outside of piano) certainly improved once I had twins who liked dropping things on a regular basis.  

If neither your strengths or priorities ever changes … It means things have become static.

Tip 1: Create time

The teacher I was 20 years ago is a very different teacher than I am now.  That’s a good thing.  But, it has led me to wonder what advice I would give myself as a starting teacher.  

Turns out, there is no way to fast-forward the process.  It took becoming a mom for me to move away from workaholic tendencies & toxic work environments. (Yeah, I didn’t learn that the first time around.) It took starting my own studio to lean into my strengths in a way that I never could in a general classroom.

Understand that it takes time to learn your strengths.  And even once you do, every bit of learning & growing either builds those up … or possibly changes them.

Tip 2: Change isn’t “wasted” time

When I first started The Unfinished Lesson, I wrote about whatever came to mind each week.  The only focus I had was making sure my writing sounded the same as if you heard me in person.  Then, I focused more on technology as it became a more important part of my studio processes.  Next … I floundered as I tried to figure it out because tech tutorials become obsolete almost as soon as they are made.  So, I moved more towards the admin & teaching side with (eventually) a dose of balance thrown in.  And, it will modify again as I continue to lean into my strengths.

I’ve been told that I should have chosen a focus & leaned heavily into it.  And, in some ways I have.  But, the truth is that my journey as a teacher & an entrepreneur had to happen so those changes in focus could happen.

This site & the resources here are a library of the learning I’ve had over a lifetime.  The things that have become my strengths have become the inspiration for everything here.  If I hadn’t gone through that journey & embraced those changes … this site would be much emptier & I may have missed creating something that helps you at just the right moment.

Signs to change your business approach

While it isn’t always easy, the good news is that changing how you run your studio, or any business, is possible.  Especially if you use these signs to recognize problems before they become overwhelming.  

Which of these 4 signs stood out for you as a sign to change your business approach?

  • Feeling frustrated, anxious or unmotivated
  • Disconnected from your priorities
  • Struggling to balance stability with experimentation
  • Creating an approach that leans into your strengths

Let me know in the comments & I’ll help point you to resources that will help you change that.  Or, if you are wanting more one-on-one help, click here.

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