I am sure we all have horror stories of ‘those’ clients. The ones that seem to truly think that we sleep under the piano bench, our schedule only involves their family, or our policies don’t actually apply to them. We might love the kids, but the drain of week after week of unreasonable & last-minute requests catch up quickly.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way! When I first began my studio, I took on any students I could get. (A familiar method for many beginning teachers.) While I interviewed clients, it was really just a formality to get them to sign the contract. And, that lack of forethought cost me. There have been stressful months where I could hardly wait for the year to end with certain clients, & worse, sometimes those stresses have led to a breakdown of the teacher-client relationship. Over the years, I have gotten better about articulating what I do (& what I don’t do) for my clients which has resulted in much better client relationships.
Be clear about what you offer
How do we get great clients? The simple answer is be clear about what we offer & stick with our policies.
This last week, I received a phone call from a potential client. After talking for a bit, I realized that my tech approach would not fit his needs at all & would have led to an unhappy client relationship. But, I still continued to ask questions to find out what he DID want in lessons. Why? So, I could recommend another teacher for him that could meet those needs. He gets lessons that are perfect for him, the other teacher gets additional income, & I don’t need to worry about a bad client relationship. Plus, by asking all those questions I was able to give him realistic expectations on progress & how the process works so that hopefully the teacher he chooses will have a great client relationship with him. A win for all!
Instead of thinking of interviewing clients as a 1-step process, I look at it as a 3-step process that ensures not only do I get the best clients for my studio, but prospective clients get the best teacher for their needs.
Step 1: Your Website
One of the best places to educate prospective clients is your website. According to the Bright Local’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2017, “53% of consumers search for local businesses at least one time per month”, with 38% of those consumers searching either every day, multiple times per week or every week.
A few other factoids:
- The majority of people use search engines (63%) to find a local business.
- People tend to use their mobile devices (79% between mobile internet & apps).
- Word of mouth still accounts for 68% of reviews & recommendations (with Facebook in next at 47%) … Good news for teachers who get nervous about the idea of overhauling a website.
Pages to include on your website:
- About: your philosophy or approach to teaching music
- FAQ’s or Common Questions: answers to the questions you hear the most often
- Program Options: Include a short description of each option.
- Tuition: to include or not to include … I say yes since we have less than a minute to engage with prospective clients. Not having answers to their pressing questions (like tuition) means that time on our site drops drastically to only 10-20 seconds before they leave. And if they leave your site, they probably won’t call either.
- Resources: While this is more for your current students & their parents, but shows how you support your clientele.
- Calendar: Important dates in your studio (i.e. holidays, recitals, group lesson weeks, etc.)
- Contact Form: Include multiple ways for prospective clients to reach you (i.e. email, phone, social media).
The key here is to have easy & clean-looking access to what people are looking for. If prospective clients are able to find information quickly, they can decide if your studio may be the right fit before either of you commit to a face-to-face meeting. This saves time for both the potential client AND you.
Step 2: Email or Phone
As much as I like my tech, there are certain times I just prefer to make a phone call over sending an email. Almost anything service-based falls in this category. I want to get a sense of whom I may be working with. Often it is just enough for me to confirm the information I already know with hearing the person’s voice & their responses to decide if we could be a good fit. However, people want choice & we should give it to them.
Most common prospective client questions:
- In-home or studio lessons
- Teaching availability
- Programming options
- Lesson lengths
- What is included
- Tuition & payment methods
- How will you meet my (or my child’s) needs?
While these are the most common questions, this is not necessarily the order I hear them nor are they the only questions I get. Once I began answering these questions on my website, the quality of phone calls & emails increased substantially. These days while I may spend about 15 minutes talking to someone on the phone, at the end of the conversation not only do they have a good sense of who I am, but I also have a good sense of whether this might be a match made in heaven (or not).
Having the answers to the above questions & topics presents a professional tone to your responses, as well as ensures that you only take students that fit with the policies & scheduling you have set up for yourself.
We don’t want ALL students to enroll in our studio. Being clear about what we offer let’s us choose the students & clients that best fit our studio.
Meeting our client’s needs & goals = happy clients + great word of mouth advertising.
Step 3: In-person interview
Sometimes everything has seemed great in the emails or phone conversations. I think that we will be a great fit. And, then we do an in-person interview. This is the final check for both you and the prospective client before signing a contract.
Whether you call this an interview, meet ‘n greet, or introductory lesson, the end result is the same. Do you want to work with this family? Do they want to work with you?
Things to find out in the interview:
- Student name(s) & age(s)
- What type of piano is owned (If acoustic, how often is tuning done?)
- What are the goals of the student? What are the goals of the parent? (Do those goals have anything to do with each other?)
- Musical background & any materials already owned
- Willingness of parents or student to purchase new materials
- Practice expectations & routine setting
- Skill sets for (young) beginners:
- Ability to read or write … May or may not be a requirement in your studio
- Able to say first 7 letters of the alphabet in order
- Skill sets for all beginners (modify for individuals with learning difficulties):
- Able to focus on a single task for a specific length of time
- A good rule of thumb is 1 minute per student’s age, up to 30 minutes. (i.e. 5 year old focused for 5 minutes, 13 year old up to 13 minutes)
- Follow simple instructions … How many in a row?
- A young child should be able to follow 1 instruction in a row, but by the time the student is a teen 3 instructions in a row is reasonable.
- Find patterns … later will use for keyboard recognition & analyzing songs
- Listening & repeating … later on will use in rhythm & melody playbacks
- Able to focus on a single task for a specific length of time
- Personality traits:
- Eagerness to try something new
- How he/she reacts to mistakes
- Stick with something when it is difficult
- Give up quickly
- Get angry & lay blame
- Shy or extroverted
- Primarily auditory, visual, or kinesthetic in their learning approach
So, how can we tell if a client or student will be a good fit? To be honest, there is no way to be 100% sure. But, often there are red flags that come up in the last 2 steps that can serve as warnings that perhaps not is all as it seems.
- Asking for exceptions early in the process.
- Lessons on non-teaching days or times
- Makeup lesson policies that allow for last-minute cancellations
- Payment schedule that differs from what you have set up
- No piano, but will purchase “if this works out” … If you are okay with it, a specific, limited timeline to upgrade a piano/digital piano can work. But, the contract automatically ends if the upgrade doesn’t happen in time.
- Bringing up regularly how busy they are with other specific activities … probably will not be making time for practice & may cancel lessons often.
- Asking for discounts on tuition … Asking about a discount once is fine, multiple times is not.
- Related to this is, “This other teacher charges only x amount. Are you willing to match that?”
- Mentioning going back to another teacher if “things don’t work out” or “the schedule fits better”.
- Parent wants a heavy exam focus & child(ren) want more recreational focus. (especially important for pre-teen & teen students)
Prospective clients are entitled & should be encouraged to make the choice in studio that works best for them.
We are entitled & should encourage ourselves to do the same.
Choose the clients that best reflect the type of studio you want to have & let those that don’t reflect that find a teacher that will be a great fit for them.
Everyone ends up happy!
Getting the Best Clients
Ironically, the best clients for one studio will not be the same for every other studio. Knowing what you offer ensures that you can best meet the needs of the students you choose to include in your studio.
By following this 3-step process, you will increase the likelihood that the clients & students that come into your studio will be a great fit.
- Information: Make it easy for prospective clients to see what you offer & answer their most pressing questions in a format that reaches them wherever & whenever they want.
- Phone/Email: Have answers to the most common questions & practice articulating those answers in a professional way. Set the tone for your relationship right from the start.
- Remember that while someone may ask for an exception, you do NOT need to give them that exception.
- In-Person: Meeting face-to-face ensures that everyone is comfortable & knows what the expectations are for each person (i.e. teacher, parent, student) before anyone commits to a contract.
Perhaps you are getting ready for registration or are already deep in the trenches.
What is YOUR process for ensuring you get the clients & students that best fit your studio?
I would love to read your comments below! Have a great weekend!