022 – Lessons from a Long Waiting List

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Episode Summary

Organizing, keeping, and maintaining, a waiting list; I hope my hard lessons will be ones you can avoid!


Items Mentioned

Amy’s studio website contact form


The title of today’s episode is likely either making you a bit jealous or perk up with intrigue – maybe a little of both.

However it’s making you feel, the goal today is not so much for us to have a chat about how to market your studio and build a waiting list, but things to consider if you keep one and how to organize and manage it.

I’ve certainly learned a few lessons over the years from while maintaining quite a long list myself and I hope that my hard lessons are ones that you will be able to avoid.

Let’s go!

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space we talk about all things teacher-life related from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

Even though our goal today is to talk about managing waiting list I think we still have to start by addressing the most important question: Do you actually want a waiting list? Is it something that is desirable for you and your business?

For the large majority of teachers, the answer is going to be yes. For some, the answer might actually be a “NO.”

The most obvious reason you wouldn’t want to keep a waiting list would be if you’re looking to cut-back your student load.

The second reason could be that having a waiting list can actually be somewhat of a double-edged sword in that yes it’s nice to have insurance but if you let it get too big, and don’t groom it properly, it can feel like a large weight on your shoulders if you’re not able to accommodate those families. Not keeping a list can be an easy way to alleviate that pressure if it’s something that affects you.

The third reason might be that you simply want to encourage families to not delay in their student’s music education and keeping a list may feel like false hope if you know you will not be able to take them on soon enough.

If this is you, then I totally get it! Some of these concerns though, I think can still be addressed and handled while still keeping hold of a list – even if it might be a year or more before you can take them on.

Keeping a waiting list is generally a good idea because it’s something you can pull from easily, removing the stress of having to market for any last minute openings. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s actually a great marketing tactic as it’s a sign to your potential future customers that you run a healthy and desirable business.

This is actually my favorite reason because even if you’re never able to take them on, simply telling them that you are so full and that students rarely your studio that it could potentially be a few years before you have an opening is HUGE marketing. Think about those people then going out in the community and sharing with other people about the teacher that is so good that people don’t leave their studio.

So, let’s continue with the mindset that we have a list that we will actively maintain.

Next let’s talk a little about actual tools for managing your waiting list. That is, how are you going to gather their information and save it for easy future retrieval.

One of the simplest ways would be to keep a basic spreadsheet. In my early days, this is what I did. I would have an actual conversation with every single person that was interested in lessons even ones I couldn’t take on as students.

As inquiries for lessons came more frequent and regular, even with 1-4 inquires a month, this became completely unpractical and too labor intensive. Plus, it was taking a toll mentally as all I was doing was telling people I was not taking on any new students. Talking to every inquiry individually just opened the door to more questions and back and forth that was unnecessary if I wasn’t able to take them on at that moment. Eventually, I stopped answering my phone and simply placed a voicemail directing them to my website.

Thanks to the studio management software I am currently using, they have an embed form I can connect to my WordPress site that allows students to sign up on my site and have their information sent directly to my waiting list. Setting up this automation means that it removes you as the middle man. A shout out to Nicola Cantan who I learned about this from through a blog post which I’ll link to in the show notes.

Whether the perspective student calls you on the phone, send you a text, email, or a message on Facebook, I always state that I am currently not taking students but that they can add their name to my waiting list and filling out the form.

Here’s the kicker that some might find controversial but is something that is the answer to some of the concerns of someone who might not want to keep a waiting list – Alongside offering to add their name to my waiting list, I offer to send them the contact information of other teachers I know of in the area as well.

Screech. Put on the brakes now – yeah – I know you guys – you’re about having a heart attack that I’m handing out information for other teachers! You guys – we are not enemies. Let’s cheer each other on and support each other.

Think about it with more of a marketing perspective too – doesn’t that show this potential client that you care first and foremost about the music education of their child – that your waiting list is not delaying their ability to obtain piano lessons? This is a great way to build rapport with families – even if they don’t end up studying with you. You’re showing that what’s important is not that you hoard the names of potential students but that their student gets started in piano lessons.

If you’re concerned about giving recommendations, let this one slide off your shoulder’s. That’s not your job. I just make a statement at the beginning of my list that I am simply passing on contact information and that finding a teacher that best meets their students needs is for them to decide.

Sending out a list of other teachers in the area is something else that I used to do manually. Even when I stopped answering the phone – I mentioned on the voice mail that they could leave me a message and if they wanted a list of other teachers I could send it over then I would manually either via text or email.

Nope. No more.

Now, my online signup form includes two options for them to select:

  1. Add their name to the waiting list and obtain a list of other teachers.
  2. Don’t add their name to the waiting list and obtain a list of other teachers.

Once they fill out that form, my studio software will send an automatic email reply that includes a list of other teachers in the area. I get notified that they signed the form and if I see they want to add their name to my list, I keep it in MMS and if they don’t, I delete their entry.

If you want to see my wording on all of this, feel free to visit my studio website which I will link to in the show notes.

Now, if you’re not using a studio management software or are not comfortable with automatic forms, consider at using an online form like Google Forms. They’re easy to create and all submissions can be downloaded into a spreadsheet format. You can tell it to send you a notification when someone submits the form and then if they request a list of other teachers, you can forward that on perhaps by keeping an email template you can just copy and paste into the reply.

If anything, just do your best to automate your waiting list.

Now, let’s take a brief moment to talk about something I sometimes hear teachers talk about online in regards to waiting lists. Sometimes teachers are concerned about adding people to their waiting list if they haven’t met with them already and determined if THEY are going to take on the student.

I guess a lot of this depends on how you approach and intake students. I don’t think I’ve every actually turned a student down, so I’m not overly concerned about having people on my waiting list that I wouldn’t “accept” into my studio once I have an opening.

Besides automating my waiting list as well as my list of contact information for other teachers in the area, there are two more big lessons I’ve learned over the years. The first is to be sure that students are not waiting with false hope. That is, make sure it is very clear what the potential realistic timeline or timeframe is for them actually getting an open spot in your studio is when they sign up for the waiting list. They might be willing to wait a year but not two or three.

Second, don’t let it go stagnant. I was guilty of this and in hind-sight feel really bad that I was not more active in maintaining it. Some of it was simply due to the fact that life just got really crazy and it was easier to let it sit dormant for two years. When it came time for me to contact the next student though and I realized it had been 2-3 years that some people had been on my list, I realized how unprofessional this was.

Granted, a lot of people luckily just found another teacher but I realized that I needed to follow-up and touch base personally with each person on my list at least twice a year to see if they want to remain on the list. This let’s them know that you are aware that they are waiting and care about the fact that their name is even there!

Phew! There is so much that goes into our profession! Every little element that clients come into contact – even if it’s just the matter of submitting a form for a waiting list – is important for us to consider in detail. How we present ourselves both in actual contact as well as in digital contact sets the tone for our studios.

I hope you learned a few lessons from my hard ones and have found these tips to be useful for managing and maintaining a full and healthy waiting list.

If so please consider taking a moment to leave a rating and review over on apple podcasts. I really appreciate those that have already done so!

Find me on social media at amychaplinpiano on instagram and pino pantry on facebook.

As piano teachers, I’m wondering if some of you might relate to this fun fact: As a freshman in high school, I was the fastest typist in my class clocking 110-120 WPM. While I attribute a lot of that to the fact that I taught myself to type on my mom’s electric typewriter in middle school and already knew how to type going into that class, I also swear that the piano fingers have a lot to do with it as well. Do you type fast? Don’t forget, if you ever want, feel free to send me a voicemail – the link is at the bottom of the show notes. Have a great day!