Thursday, August 30, 2018

You Need a Website for Your Teaching Studio. Here's Why.

A few years ago I was interviewing a new student and her mom and the interview was going quite well. Towards the end of the meeting I asked if there was anything else they needed to know about my musical activities. The mom replied "No. I've read up everything to know about you online and I know all about your musical activities. That's why we're sitting here in your studio."

As it turned out, I accepted this student and she has been studying with me for the last two years. But what that really hit me in that interview was just how savvy parents can be. They know the lay of the land on the internet, they know how to navigate online services, register their kids in activities, find information about people and services, and Google things that they don't know.

Which is why I'm quite concerned about the long-term prospects of music teachers who don't feel that it's important to have an online presence, and are leery of spending the time or money to set up a studio website.

I still recall a workshop that my friend Nikki Loney (co-founder of the Full Voice series) gave in Burlington a while back. Nikki doesn't remember saying this, but I always take notes in workshops so that I remember important off-the-cuff things that clinicians say and then forget afterwards. What Nikki said that had such a huge impact on me:
If they can't find you on Google, you don't exist.
In the marketplace of today's business world (and teaching piano, voice or any other instrument, like it or not, is part of it), you need an online presence and social proof in order to show that you actually exist. Nothing too complex, just a good website, a mention here or there, a bio for a festival, a few concert programs for starters. A blog or a YouTube channel are even better because you can churn out a steady stream of fresh content which works well for building a captive audience and search engine optimization. A Facebook presence is also worthwhile if that's where your market is. 

I experienced a frustrating moment when my studio reached capacity this summer. The usual studios I send students to were also mostly full, and I feel it's important to send prospective students to excellent teachers in my area (especially ones integrating The Royal Conservatory's Certificate Program). Taking a quick look at some of the teachers in my area on a few online directories, I hadn't heard of them before and decided to Google them for more info. In most cases, I came up with nothing. If you choose to appear on online directories only without any other web presence, that can present a problem if parents can't find any other information when the Google you. They might assume you've moved, retired, or passed away. Either way they'll look for someone else that has a more substantial presence before they decide to call or email anyone. Or they'll look for the larger online presence of a music school and what their integrated programs might have to offer.

As a former President of Hamilton-Halton ORMTA, I discovered an interesting and potentially challenging situation with individual studios. Many teachers in the area who had been successful for many years were experiencing falling numbers and had difficulty attracting students in their area. At the same time, many teachers in the same area who were able to leverage their online presence had studios which were completely full.

If you're in a city or suburb of a city, I strongly feel that the old neighborhood piano teacher business model (advertising through bulletins put up at churches, supermarkets, and community centres) is no longer entirely viable, and in order to succeed in 2018 and beyond, you need to be able to attract students from much farther away in order to fill your studio. Once you can fill your studio, you'll also be more justified in raising your rates year over year. I've recently talked to several teachers over the last while who have not raised their rates in ten years because of the fear of neighborhood competition and a declining market.


One of my major goals for the coming year is to educate music teachers about how important it is to have an online presence and what it can do for you. This summer I gave a workshop at The Royal Conservatory's Summer Summit 2018 in Toronto entitled Creative Approaches to Technology in the Teaching Studio. This workshop arose out of a reticence and fear I had noticed among many music teachers regarding technology, and a desire to explain why it is important as a precursor to taking first steps in this field. Having a working knowledge of technology for me was as simple as writing a blog, running a studio website, and using cool tools to create interesting lesson experiences for my students. Over the next few weeks I'll be fleshing out many of the ideas from my Summer Summit presentation.

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