There is no question that it is far easier to hang on to current students than it is to go find new ones. This is true with just about any business venture – it pays to invest in keeping your current customers. It is less costly and easier than trying to constantly find a steady stream of new customers. If you’re teaching in a busy music store, this may not be as important to you, especially if you have a steady stream of new students coming through the store and a long waiting list to pick and choose from. But if you’re like me, you value each and every student in your care, not just for the money, but most of all for who they are and for the relationship you have developed. While some students will inevitably come and go, some will stick around for a long time if you treat them well. Here are a few suggestions for hanging onto your current students.
Manage expectations. A wise friend once reminded me that the key to great relationships is all about managing expectations. It’s no different with your students and their families. Naturally, it all begins with having clear, concise studio policies that are communicated effectively to your families. They need to know what to expect from you, and what you expect from them. This sets the stage for a great working relationship. Also, you need to communicate your calendar and schedule in advance. I plan my teaching calendar in accordance with the school year, and I hand it out every September. I post it on the website, and email it regularly with reminders about when breaks or special events are happening.
Be timely. First of all, be timely means keep your lessons on schedule. Oh, I know, we all get off schedule a little bit. But I aim to keep my lessons within five minutes of start time/end time. I feel like it really isn’t fair to keep students waiting much longer than that for a thirty minute lesson. Also, return phone calls and emails promptly, deposit checks promptly, and order new materials promptly.
Be a little flexible. Yes, we have solid policies for a reason. But sometimes, you need to be a little bit flexible. Sometimes, we need to give a little, whether it be a free book here or there, an occasional free lesson, or a special reward for good work.
Be approachable. Be the kind of person that parents and students want to talk to. Be kind, courteous, and open. Be willing to discuss their questions and concerns, and willing to work out a solution together. Sometimes, an upset parent just wants to have their feelings heard.
Develop relationships. Invest some time in developing a rapport with your students – what are their likes and dislikes? Did they have a good day at school? Are they tired from a long day at work? Who is in their family? What music do they like? What things do you have in common? One particular student of mine loves when I ask about his weekly math tests, another likes to talk about her hair.
Incorporate a little fun. A lesson doesn’t have to be all business. My students love music games on my iPad, playing fun ditties, or telling silly jokes. If the students enjoy their lessons, their parents are going to be happy, too.
Meet the student’s needs. Some students need a break in the middle of their lesson, some need to play easy pieces, others need to be challenged. Find out what makes these students tick! Do what you can to help them feel comfortable at their lessons.
Praise a job well done. A key ingredient to good teaching is pointing out what the students are doing right, not just what they are doing wrong. Point out the good technique, the right expression, fingering, or dynamics. They’ll feel like they are making progress, which will give them ownership of their skills.
Enjoy your students. Most of all, just enjoy your students! Appreciate them for who they are, and they will know that they are valued, important, and special.
Keeping the lines of communication open, managing your studio efficiently, and appreciating your students will go far in helping you keep your private music studio full and thriving. You’re not just making an income, you are investing in the lives of some very special people. And that is a true gift to everyone in your studio.