096 – Manage Your 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! (this episode is a replay of episode 22)


Items Mentioned

Support Piano Pantry on Patreon

Giving Tuesday: 10 Music-Based Organizations to Consider

How to Set Up an Automated Piano Studio Waiting List (Colourful Keys)

Amy’s studio website contact form (this form on my website has changed since the original publication of this episode)



Welcome to episode 96 of The Piano Pantry Podcast! The goal today is not to talk about how to market your studio and build a waiting list, but ways to organize and manage that list once you built it.

If you’re new around here, Amy Chaplin, your host, and a piano teacher who built up a new studio to 45 students within two years in a very small town. I don’t teach that many students anymore, but I’ve certainly learned a few lessons over the years while maintaining quite a long list myself, and I hope that my hard lessons are ones that you will be able to avoid.

I was planning on this week being a “how-to” episode on using the forScore app, but once I started writing the content, I realized I needed more time – to the point that it might turn into a 2-part episode.

So, I decided rather than working over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to finish up that episode, I would stick in a replay of one of the early episodes of this podcast – episode 22, which was originally called “Lessons from a Long Waiting List.” Just because it’s a replay, don’t jump out early, as I have a fresh, tiny tip you’ll want to hear at the end.

Lastly, tomorrow – Wednesday, November 29 I’ll be sharing with all my “Piano Pantry Insiders” over on Patreon – a look into how to create your own digital content – whether that be sheet music, social media content, worksheets and resources for your students, or books for other piano teachers. If you want to get in on this, join at the $7 per month level over at Patreon.com/pianopantry

I realize that this is a little bit time-sensitive, but the day this episode drops is called “Giving Tuesday.” If you’re not familiar, Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving held on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. If you’re looking for new ways to give, there is an article over on the Piano Pantry blog where I highlight 10 music-based organizations teacher might want to consider supporting. I’ll link to that article in the notes.

Even though our goal today is to talk about managing waiting lists, 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.

Yep – 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 shoulders. 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 student’s 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 voicemail that they could leave me a message, and if they wanted a list of other teachers, I could send it over, and 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 the studio software, 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 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 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 talking about online in regard to waiting lists, and that has to do with concerns on hen to add students to your waiting list. That is, do you let anybody just sign up for your waiting list, or should you meet with them and complete an interview before you determine if you want to actually accept the student.

Now, the tricky thing is, if you’re the kind of teacher where you’re auditioning students to be accepted into your student, but you’re not taking on any students at the moment, then you could potentially be doing a lot of interviews for not even being able to take students on. So you have to kind of weigh the approach and what you’re needs on.

I don’t think I’ve actually ever turned a student down, so I’m not overly concerned about having people on my waiting list that I wouldn’t necessarily “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 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 completely guilty of this and in hindsight, 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 very unprofessional this was.

Granted, a lot of people had 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 lets them know that you are aware that they are waiting and care about the fact that their name is even there!

There is so much that goes into our profession! Every little element that clients come into contact with – 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 and 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 useful for managing and maintaining a full and healthy waiting list.

Speaking of tips, I have a tiny one for you today! I hope you don’t laugh at this one or think I’m crazy for even thinking about something like this in detail.

My tip today is to consider different types of Kleenex products for the space in which you are using them. I suffer from post-nasal drip (sorry if that was TMI), but I have to have Kleenex nearby on a regular basis. I recently discovered that the drawer in the side table of my bedroom doesn’t do well with the rectangular boxes where the Kleenex comes out of the middle of the top and like stands up, because the box is the same height of the drawer and when I close it, the kleenex bunches up. Instead, the rectangular boxes where the Kleenex sits down inside the box work better in that space.

On the flip side, I keep a box on a lower shelf of my side table next to the couch. In that case, I like the rectangular boxes where the Kleenex sticks up and out of the middle because it’s easier to grab from up high.

In our Jeep Grand Cherokee, the square boxes fit perfectly inside the center console.

So there you go, choose your Kleenex wisely. Thanks for being here, everyone!