Focus. Let's be real for a second....in our time and culture it can be really hard to tune everything out and focus all of your intention on one thing. Even as I type this blog I have two unfinished blogs saved under drafts and a half dozen more ideas I'm bouncing around. And that's just the blog! There are many aspects of running a music school and each of them seems to have a hundred sub-aspects under them.
But then something cool happens. He picks something.
Once he decides, more often than not, that is where he will spend his entire playtime. If he picks the slide, he's going to slide 74 times before we have to go inside. I love his dedication and focus and I think there's a lot to learn from it.
What he picks is irrelevant. Does it matter if he picks the slide over the trampoline? Of course not. He's playing and having fun. It's the same for us. There are a TON of great options and it's easy to get overwhelmed.
So what do we do? Pick something and start there. I like to have a few big goals in mind and then have some daily or weekly goals.
My big goal this summer is gaining students. All of my time and energy is focused on getting my studio's name out there in as many places as possible and talking to potential students. I have done dozens of different things over the past six weeks. But, for the most part, I did them all one at a time.
Most students have a similar big goal as mine: Get more students! So, what can you focus on right now? It doesn't matter what it is. Just pick something, focus, and get it done!
Disclaimer. I'm definitely not a Yelp Guru. I'm still very new to it. But these are the simple things that I did that made a big difference for me. Hopefully you get similar results.
Let's start with where I went wrong:
We set it up and uploaded a bunch of pictures and put in some of our basic info. At the time we were also setting up about 20 other profiles on similar sites so we put no time or effort into it and only did the bare minimum. It only had our name, website, phone number and a few pictures. If you searched for us by name it pulled up our profile but if you searched for something like guitar lessons or music lessons....nothing. Even though I had us classified under Music Lessons and Instruction.
Here's why....they are looking for content and they seem to rank you based on content. So I started filling in our content. Yelp makes this super easy and will even guide you through the process. There are a few categories that you need to fill out.
Most directory websites have something similar and I decided to really start using mine to be unique. Every place that offers music lessons is going to say basically the same thing...I wanted to stand out. Our niche is that we are very community minded and laid back and help students to embrace and develop their uniqueness through music and community. Like an Island of Misfit Toys. Our profile reads that way. Another important thing is to use keywords that people will search for. I included every instrument that we teach and some variations. For example, I made sure to include the word sing as well as voice lessons in case someone searches for singing lessons. Talk about everything that your studio offers and what makes you special. We also mentioned our Little Rockers music class for kids and I mentioned babies, toddlers, and preschool as keywords in case someone searches for toddler music classes. This is the space to let your studio identity and philosophy really shine through.
Use this space to talk about where you started and how you've grown. Take the opportunity to brag a little about your humble beginnings and how you've worked hard to end up where you are now. Talk about the studio, not yourself. That's coming next. What are you doing as a studio that you weren't doing last year?
I also used this space to mention awards that we have won. This is the space where people want to see that you have been around long enough to be trusted and that you are continuing to learn, grow, and innovate.
Meet The Business Owner
Get really personal here. People want to see a real, living, breathing person. Talk about your personal accomplishments, how you got started with music, what led you to start your studio, and any other personal information you feel comfortable sharing. Talk about YOU. Let people make a connection.
I used the space to talk about what makes me unique: I play a bunch of different instruments. A multi-instrumentalist educator and studio owner is different and gives me a unique perspective. I talk about being married with a kid and dogs. Not having a family isn't a dealbreaker but I think it works to my benefit for potential parents and students to know that I have a child of my own and that I've been married for almost a decade.
You have the opportunity to post a picture of you here as the owner. Make it count. If you run a really formal studio, post a formal picture. We're laid back and community and family oriented so I posted a picture of me and my son on a hike.
**Note: Apparently Yelp has to review your user photo before it appears and this could take a few days.**
Yelp gives you the chance to recommend other local businesses. I don't see many other pages taking advantage of this and I definitely think you should! I listed a few but it looks like only the first one comes up on our page. For us, that was the Guitar Store that I mentioned in our previous blog. I'm glad to give a shout out to another awesome local business and I think it helps for people to see that you're a team player. Local businesses have to stick together so think of a good one to recommend!
You have the opportunity to post pictures of your studio. Post some awesome ones. Here's some mistakes I made. Don't post stock photos. Don't post real photos that look like they could be stock photos. Post pictures of happy students. Post pictures that highlight your studio. Post pictures of your students performing. Post LOTS of pictures. You want people to be able to scroll through and see how diverse and awesome your studio can be. You want them to connect to these photos and be able to envision their kids as happy and talented too. You never know what pictures will resonate with people so make a good selection.
Also, take the opportunity to write a short caption for each picture. You know what is happening, but prospective students don't. Use this opportunity to sell your studio! Talk about the gigs that your students get to play. Talk about how excited you were when a student finished a lesson book. Show pictures of happy teachers and students. Show group classes and private lessons. Professional pictures are great but candid shots from your phone are good too! People want to see real. That's what Yelp is about.
This is really the heartbeat of Yelp. And they take it seriously. It's a lot easier to get reviews on Google or other sites. They filter reviews pretty strongly so some reviews may not show up. Still, it doesn't hurt to try to get some of your students to write you reviews. It seems like reviews often don't show up if it's from someone that is posting their first review and is new to Yelp. I'm going to try adding a badge to my website to see if we can get students to review. A fellow teacher with an awesome Yelp page did write me a review and I feel like that definitely helped Yelp to take my page a little more seriously. Try to get at least one legitimate review, but obviously the more the merrier!
So, that's my experience with Yelp so far. I haven't gotten any students or inquiries yet but I feel like it's helping to boost my SEO and taking the time to do these few simple tasks definitely made a SIGNIFICANT boost in how I am viewed on Yelp.
Two days ago you could only find me if you searched for me by name. Now I'm in the top 3-5 in every search, often ranking over the local big guys that I can't top on Google searches. I'm still tweaking my page but you can check it out here if you're interested.
Have you had a great or awful experience with Yelp? Any tips to do it better? Let us know!
So...who are you?
I'm just a guy with a music school. Like most studio owners, I started as a teacher and watched my personal studio grow over the years. I opened my studio in 2014 with about 60 students as pretty much the only teacher. Two years later we're over 100 students and we have about ten teachers. But, in the words of perhaps the most prolific Disney princess, I want more.
I don't have a lot of money and I'm not super popular. I don't have connections. No family members to chip in and help and I'm the sole provider for our family of three. My wife stays at home with our toddler son. So, when I started there could be no failure. We had to succeed.
I build this website as a way to keep track of everything I'm doing so I know what's working and what isn't. Also, I've been doing so much that I'm bound to forget some so I wanted to keep track of everything so I can go back and repeat it or tweak it for further use.
I do better with stories and explanations than short bullet points so this website will operate that way. I'll tell you what I'm doing, how I feel about it, and what the results are. Everyone likes a good story, right?
I'm 31 years old and can be a bit socially awkward...
I'm definitely more comfortable through email (or blog in this case) than in person or on the phone and have directed most of my business to run that way. I'm very comfortable in my studio. It's my domain. My home.
I've never been comfortable boasting and selling my studio. I don't want to come across as brash or annoying. Word of mouth has been doing fine so I let students and parents do the talking for me. Except that, at some point, it stops being enough. You have to do more. If you want to go somewhere you've never been you have to do something you've never done.
For me that meant reaching out to local businesses and starting to form some partnerships. I am NOT that guy and it is really awkward and difficult for me to reach out but so far all of the local businesses have been really cool.
Here are just a few of the 15+ places that I reached out to:
1. Local Guitar Store.
We have a small store. Ok, REALLY small. We have a few guitars, tuners, capos, and strings. That's about it. There's a local guitar shop about 1/2 a mile from where our studio is that also does guitar lessons. But I think they do lessons on the same level that we have a store. I've been in before but for some reason I always viewed them as competitor. Or that we were too small to reach out to such an established business.
I was wrong. They already knew of me by reputation and because we have students and teachers that go in frequently. I reached out first through a Facebook Message because I saw they were normally quick to respond. I just introduced myself, flattered them a bit, talked about who we are and what we do, and asked if they would want to swap advertising. They were all for it and I dropped off some cards the next day.
I talked to the owner and most of the staff for about 10 minutes and walked around the store with my family. The owner made a point to tell his staff to send anyone that asked for lessons that they don't teach (everything but guitar, bass, and uke) our way as well as sending us students that wanted lessons on instruments they taught but couldn't make their schedules work. He said it was more important to make sure that his customers got lessons and that they were taken care of than to tightly hold on to every potential student that walked in the door. I feel exactly the same about our "store" and that's why I regularly send customers his way. I took a picture of their ukulele selection and shared it on our Instagram page, tagging them in it and encouraging our students to go check them out.
2. Local Family Fun Center
This is a fairly new place in town that is owned and operated by a husband and wife, like our studio. They have an arcade with about 25 games (pinball, racing games, video games) a pool table, air hockey table, and a small indoor putt-putt course. It's small and low budget...like us. I like these guys already. We stopped in after lunch at a nearby restaurant on Father's Day just after lunch and cashed in for $5 worth of quarters and had a blast. My two year old son loved playing the racing games and my wife kicked my butt at air hockey.
[Side note: It really helps if you buy stuff in places that you're trying to work with. I bought some guitar picks when I stopped into the local guitar store. It helps them realize that you value them as more than just a place to get new students.]
I didn't initially talk to the owner about a partnership because I was just scoping the place out to see if it would be a good fit. I sent him a Facebook Message last week to ask about a partnership and he quickly and enthusiastically jumped on board. I headed over last weekend to talk with him and swap some cards. We had a great talk and I found out his son has a drum set and is interested in lessons. Our town is in the middle of major expansion (building new schools, community center, etc) and he is planning to grow with it and told me about how he plans to expand.
Here's the cool part: by getting in with him while he's still small and young, I can grow with him and I can help him grow. He put some of our rack cards and business cards on their front desk. Everyone can easily see it as soon as they walk through the door! I hope to talk to him soon about throwing in a pass or two for free putt-putt as a reward that I can use in a contest and as a way for him to get some extra business. They gave my son a small ball and now he's a huge fan. I took pictures of their arcade and putt-putt area to share on social media later.
I also saw that they offer parties so I may rent out the room in the future as a reward for students and have a big party. Win-win for both of us as I'm sure our students would love it and he would appreciate the business.
3. Local Video Game Store
Our teenage intern loves this place so I stopped in to get her a giftcard and was blown away. It's a cool little shop with a ton of old video games for sale (I grew up on NES and SNES and dabbled in Atari) and a huge room in the back where kids can pay $10 and play video games all day. It's almost always packed but what really stuck out to me was the community. It's a family, like our studio is. The owner is super knowledgeable and was playing games with all of the kids. It just has a great feel.
I bought the gift card and a nintendo game I had been trying to find for years (Battletoads, anyone?). Remember, try to always be a customer first! Within a week I was back in the shop to let him fix my old Nintendo, trade in some gear, and pick up a few more games. I haven't been in since April, but I sent him a message on Facebook (you're using Facebook messenger for your studio, right?) and he told me he was interested and wanted to talk about it more in person. When I stopped in last weekend (to buy another old game....BE A CUSTOMER!) he was playing Super Smash Bros. with a bunch of kids so I talked to his sister who runs the front desk and swapped cards with her. She put them out front next to the register where kids and parents will see them. He's also got a stage set up for Rock Band so I was thinking about sponsoring a tournament sometime.
4. Local small town theatre
I found out about this place from a student that performed in a show there last year. Then I hired a new voice/violin teacher that specializes in music theater that raved about this really cool local theatre. It seats about 80 people and they do shows every couple of months. I've heard they may be starting to offer acting lessons soon and they do summer acting camps. Turns out that it's just a few minutes from my studio and next door to a coffee shop where our students used to play.
I reached out to the owner on....you guessed it...Facebook and she responded the next day that she had heard of us through our newly hired teacher and was excited about a partnership. I'm heading in next week when they're open for a rehearsal to drop off business cards and pick up some posters for their upcoming show.
BONUS: I'm buying an ad in the program for their next show. I haven't gotten the details yet but I imagine that it's a pretty small program so there shouldn't be many ads. It's a great way to get our name out there in front of an already artsy crowd and also support local arts.
There are more than a dozen others that I reached out to and almost all of them enthusiastically got back with me about forming a partnership. I haven't had any negative responses and only a couple that haven't responded yet. Local businesses have to stick together!
Here's a small listing just to give you an idea of some local businesses:
- local music stores (I reached out to 3)
- local dance studios (I reached out to 2)
- local restaurants (I reached out to 5)
- local coffee shop
- video game store
- family fun center
- local place where I get my haircut
- local card shop (pokemon, magic, yu-gi-oh)
- local family farm with petting zoo
I've got a really exciting announcement and blog about the last one (family farm) coming up soon. Reach out to other local businesses! They are happy to help as long as you are also offering something for them in return.
I have wanted to do this since we opened but as the new kid on the block I felt like I needed to earn my spot before I started reaching out. This probably isn't completely true, but I do think it helped that I've been around for a few years and most places have heard of me and what we do. I'm really excited about getting our name out there more on a grassroots level and will keep you posted about how it goes!