A Picture (and) a Number are Worth a Thousand Words: Studio Retention-Rate Marketing

It was happening – that moment independent music teachers (generally) dread…

It was nearing the end of the semester and a mom came in after the lesson to get her kids. As we were chatting, she brought up that they were thinking about going to another teacher next year – not because of this dissatisfaction with me, but because this teacher was a traveling teacher who would come to their home. With four kiddos under the age of 8, home life was feeling hectic and the thought of having piano come to them was highly appealing at the moment.

As she’s talking, my mind is simultaneously whirling.

“Oh no,” I think. “I don’t want to lose this family – I can’t lose this family! I love working with their kids and it would be a major loss of a good students. OK, Amy this is it – you have to convince them why you’re worth it.”

So, I pour my heart into the variety of reasons why they should stay with me, bid them a good weekend, then wait patiently.

Will I be able to retain them?


What is Retention-Rate Marketing?

Webster’s Dictionary defines “retention” as:

The power or ability to keep or hold something.

Retention-rate marketing then is a way of marketing your studio using your retention rate and thus your ability to keep ahold of students.

What does that mean? You produce happy students (and families!).


Why Should I Track my Retention Rate?

Tracking retention rate is valuable not only to your current and potential customers but to you as a teacher and business owner.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, a number is worth a thousand words.

Displaying a number in a format people can easily relate to like “88% student retention” proves to current and future customers:

  1. Consistency
  2. Customer satisfaction (student satisfied with the teacher)
  3. Value of the customer (teacher valuing student)
  4. Whether or not you’re delivering your brand promise

For you as a teacher and business owner, if your retention rate is low, don’t be discouraged, look at it as an opportunity to re-evaluate.

What can you do to hold onto those customers a little harder from year to year? Maybe it’s focusing on building relationships more with students, changing your marketing strategy, or experimenting with a new teaching style.  The sky is the limit!

You might be surprised to find you have a lower or perhaps even higher retention rate than you anticipated.

It’s such a simple number to calculate. I only started doing it in the last few years but it’s now an annual task in my yearly business flow.


how to Calculate Your Retention Rate

Your retention rate is the number of students who stay in your studio from year to year – those who keep coming back for more.

A few exclusions apply.

Definitely, do not include:

  • Newly enrolled students (for obvious reasons. 🙂 )

You may or may not choose to include:

  • Graduating seniors. Generally, they don’t have a choice to return so I don’t include them. If you’re lucky to have one who’s not moving away and continues, then you may count them in.
  • Adults. This one is your call but if you’re like me, I allow my adults to come and go and it seems to make it to tricky to calculate properly


The calculation? It’s simple.

Start with the total amount of students (minus your exclusions), then subtract those you lost who could have returned (students who quit for financial or whatever reason).

Divide your retained students by your total students and voila, you have your percentage.


A Specific Example from My Studio

In the fall of 2016, I had 29 kids enrolled (excluding adults).

I had no graduating seniors in May 2017.

I lost 4 students at the end of the 2016-2017 school year

  • Student 1 – moving into senior year and realizing that even though they love the piano, they need to focus on what they’re planning on doing in the future – something had to give
  • Student 2 – financial reasons
  • Student 3 – a variety of reasons including financial, lack of student effort over the past year, and parental desire to have kids focus on one area that interested them the most and for this child, it was a dance
  • Student 4 – lack of interest

Thus, going into the next school year, I retained 25/29  = 86%

Crazily enough, this is the exact same rate I had the year prior, which is great! I’m very comfortable seeing my rate here and while yes, I would love to increase that rate (who wouldn’t?), I now have a goal to shoot for and can compare from year to year.


Now that You Have it – Market It

Now that you know your number, you have to do something with it! Let the world know YOU DELIVER.

Use Canva.com to design a simple social media image. Here’s the kicker though. Don’t just make a text image that shows your retention rate – you MUST include a photo of happy customers!

Last year I designed this one:

Retention Rate Ad

  • Happy students – check!
  • Happy mom – check!
  • Fun – check!
  • Unique (mom playing with kids) – check!

This year, this one:

  • Older students (sticking through) – check!
  • Unique experience (department store) – check!
  • Professional – check!
  • Camaraderie – check!

Post it on your studio Instagram page (that’s where my older students are!), Facebook page, Twitter, and on the front page of your studio website.


So What Happened – Did They Stay?

In case you’re curious how the story ended, a week later, I get an email from my parent who was considering switching teachers.

Hey, I just wanted to let you know…

I’m nail-biting… sweating… oh, my this is it..!

We decided to continue lessons with you.


Was it my amazing persuasive skills?

In this case, not really. It was thanks to another family sharing their strong satisfaction with the results of their child’s studies that convinced them to stay.



  • If you’re selectively excluding students who may negatively impact your retention (new students, adults, graduating seniors), isn’t your retention number at best inaccurate and at worst deceptive?

    • I guess I don’t see it that way. To me, you’re looking at people that are engaged in annual lessons – that is, school-age kids. There’s no reason why a graduating senior should count against that number when they’re moving away and going to college. I have many-a seniors who were with me 6-8 years. They’re not necessarily leaving because they don’t like taking lessons with me. I intentionally set up my adult lessons in an a la carte formate to allow them more flexibility. They pay for 6 weeks at a time. 90% of my adults continue for extended periods of time – such as a year or more but occasionally I have some that will do 12-24 weeks and then life gets in the way. I guess it’s just how you look at it, of course, you could calculate it including both if you felt that was more accurate. Thanks for sharing your point!

      • If 90% of your adults do continue year over year, then you should definitely include them in your retention calc – they’ll boost it!

        I think I understand your thinking. You allow adult students flexibility, so therefore they don’t stick around as long as school age kids, so you don’t want to include them in your retention calc, because you’re not really trying to retain them. But wouldn’t you be better off instead designing a program that does encourage adult retention?

        • It’s not that I’m not trying to retain them, I’m just offering the type of lesson option that I’ve found most adults find most appealing. Every adult I’ve ever talked to always seems to appreciate the flexibility rather than feeling like they’re tied into an annual fee or monthly rate for ongoing lessons.

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