One of my favorite articles in the MTNA American Music Teacher Magazine is “It’s
None of all Your Business”e by fellow Indiana colleague Karen Thickstun.
Karen is not only an excellent teacher but she’s highly intelligent and business savvy. I am blessed to know and get to work with her on the Indiana MTA board of directors. (P.S. I also have to mention that she’s a nominee for President-Elect for MTNA in the upcoming election. Consider that my endorsement) 😉
In the current August/September 2016 issue, her article “Re-Defining Word-Of-Mouth” mentioned (with permission) some of my findings I presented in my 2016 MTNA conference session The Wild West of Marketing: How do you know what really works?
“When Amy Chaplin opened her studio in a small Indiana town a few years ago, she implemented 40 different marketing strategies. Two years later, she had a full studio and waiting list. She meticulously tracked every inquiry, every registration. Of those who inquired, but did not register, 35 percent came from traditional marketing (location near an ice cream store, fliers, print ads); 20 percent came from personal marketing (referrals, networking, personal connections); and 13 percent came from online marketing. However, when she analyzed who inquired and registered, she found that 54 percent of her students learned about her studio through personal marketing, 20 percent through traditional marketing and 6 percent through online marketing.
As evidenced by Amy’s research, word-of-mouth is a trusted, powerful method of sharing information and building a studio.”
It’s true. Word-of-mouth does still work, ESPECIALLY in a small community. (Just remember it can’t be your ONLY form of marketing – but that’s another topic!)
Lots of people inquire when they see you online, or they see your great location. When it comes down to making that commitment, however, it’s those who know you best–customers who refer you, teachers you network with who recommend you, and those you already have some connection or relationship with that ultimately drive your business.
So what does this mean for us? What else can we do besides be the best teacher we can be and hope people will recommend us to others?
Building rapport means that we’re working to develop mutual trust, understanding, and emotional affinity. If I want someone to know I care, I show interest in more than one aspect of their lives. In our case, I care about my students beyond the piano.
“If people know you’re thinking about their lives, they’re more likely to want to do business.” -Brad Johnson
How can we do that? Of course, there’s a multitude of ways but let me share just a few. You may attend a choir concert in which you have students performing or send a card if there’s death in their family. Have conversations with parents and students about topics other than piano. Treat them as real people – your neighbors – not just a client that needs to be scooted out the door.
Let me give you a quick personal example.
I was chatting after lessons with a mom whose family had just moved to the area. She said they were going out for her birthday dinner that night but wasn’t sure where to go. I love food and restaurants, so I spent 5 minutes talking to her after lessons and gave her advice. Two days later she texted me a photo and feedback of how they took my advice and loved it!
By the way, the next week, she told me she had a friend from church that had called me about lessons but wasn’t going to follow through because of cost. This mom told her they loved me and looked at it as in investment and that very afternoon, the other mom called me and said she changed her mind and asked me to put her on my waiting list.
(A few months later, I had an opening, they registered and paid the whole year up front for two kids).
The last example on how to build rapport I want to share with you today has to do with sending postcards.
Marketing with a Postcard
Most of us, when we hear “Marketing With a Postcard,” automatically think literally and start imagining some mass-mailing marketing strategy.
This is way easier and much cheaper!
Every year, I send my kiddos a hand-written postcard for their birthday. I love hearing their excited voices when they come to lessons thanking me for their card.
Last year I decided to do something different, and I simply wished students in my newsletter a happy birthday with a link to a recording of me playing “Happy Birthday” on the piano. Of course, no one said anything about NOT getting a card, but they also never mentioned the video. I realized wishing them happy birthday in the newsletter was not enough as they’re not even the ones reading the newsletters! Plus, I missed hearing their excited voices when they got their postcard in the mail.
Occasionally I get a neatly-printed hand-written note from one of my closest friends who I spend time with quite often. Every time I get a card like this in the mail my heart smiles as I tear it open. A few days ago I got one from her, but it was a thank-you note for donating to a local charity that she runs.
I have to admit, I was disappointed because I was looking forward to reading a personal note!
At that moment I realized how my students must feel when I send them a hand-written birthday postcard. So this year I’m doing it again and plan to continue for good.
Let me share how I streamline the process.
Organizing Student Postcard Mailings
In my fall registration form (filled out by all students), I always ask for date of birth (even if they’ve been with me for years). At times I’ve written down dates wrong, so I like to go through every fall and double check the dates.
I have birthdays written down in two places:
- An Avery address label template.
- A master list in Evernote titled “Student Birthday’s” by month. The note is tagged under “newsletter” so every month when I write my newsletter I can quickly pull up the list.
On the Avery labels I write it like this:
First Last (Day/Month of Birthday)
Billy Smith (3/10)
1 Keyboard Way
Piano Town, USA
All postcards for the whole studio get labeled and stamped in August. I then place them in date order in one stack next to my computer monitor, so I see them all the time. A week before the birthday I write a personal note and send it out.
Here are a few examples of what you might write:
Hi, Tia! Just wanted to wish you a Happy Birthday! I hope you have a great day. I missed working with you this summer. Did you have fun playing t-ball? You’ll have to tell me about it next week at our first lesson. See you soon!
Hey, James! Happy Birthday to you! I can’t wait to hear about your party – you sounded so excited about it last week at lessons. Hope it was a great day!
Hi, Leah! I just wanted to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I can’t believe you’re already 16. It seems like yesterday we started lessons – how fast these 10 years have gone. I’m so proud of you and all that you’ve accomplished!
Hey there Gabe – sorry this postcard may have made it a day late but I hope you had a great birthday. I just wanted to say thanks for all your hard word. I appreciate how you come to lessons always giving your best. You’re such a joy to teach!
One Final Resource
Teach Piano Today recently posted a printable Piano Student Accomplishment Postcards. I may do the same thing with these as I do my birthday postcards. I’ll print out enough for all my students, pre-stamp them, then when I feel a student has accomplished one of these pre-titled postcards; I’ll drop it in the mail.
Remember, building relationships with families IS building your referral network. It doesn’t have to be a gigantic effort, just simple, thoughtful moments.
What little things do you do for your students/families to build rapport?