[Transcript] Episode 001 – Tasha Locke

Transcript: 001 – Tasha Locke

Transcript for 001 – Tasha Locke on Starting a Studio with No Personal Network

Hey, it’s Andrea with Music Studio Startup, the podcast about the business of teaching music. Learn from the startup stories of music teachers who are doing incredible things with their studios. Be inspired by creative musicians who are branching out and thriving as entrepreneurs. Be empowered by the insights of experts who will help you grow your own studio. Let’s get started.

Today’s guest is Tasha Locke, owner of Arpeggio Music School in Alexandria, Virginia. Tasha has only been running her studio for a couple of years, and I think her story will resonate with a lot of teachers who are considering relocating or getting ready to graduate and are worried about starting their studio in a new city. I think you’ll pick up a lot of great tips for my interview with Tasha. Here we go. So Tasha, thank you so much for being here. This podcast is all about music teachers’ startup stories. It’s about how they became music teachers.

what it looked like to launch a full-time teaching career. Can you tell us your story? Sure. So I’m currently located in Alexandria, Virginia, which is part of the suburban sprawl of Washington, DC. And I first started teaching way back in high school, like I think a lot of teachers did, just to some family friends. I was a pianist all through my childhood, and eventually in high school, someone asked me to teach them lessons to their kids kind of casually, and that’s how I got started.

I actually then experienced a huge burnout in high school and I quit piano entirely in my junior year. And yeah, I didn’t play for about five years after that point. So I took a pretty secure detour to get to where I am now. I was also playing saxophone in high school and I focused more on that, I think probably because I had more friends that way and it was just kind of where my interest

were at the time. And I wound up going away to college my freshman year for something that wasn’t music related whatsoever. I realized I wasn’t very happy doing that. And I came home, but I still was kind of lost for a little while. And bombed up returning to music via saxophone and got an associate’s degree on it. I didn’t come back to the piano again until I was preparing for bachelor degree programs and

wanted to get back to piano to try to test out of those music major piano requirements. And as soon as I went back to it, that was kind of my aha moment and kind of found myself again, found piano again and shifted gears entirely to complete a bachelor’s program on piano instead. Wow. So, so it was a roundabout way to come back to the piano. And while I was doing that,

piano program. That’s when I started teaching again, as I was taking piano seriously again. And I did, I think, a typical thing a lot of students do is I had a lot of contract work. I was teaching at music schools and being contracted out to different homes. And I taught through that as well as through an academic master’s program. So after that point, eventually I moved to Virginia where my

Now husband was living and I started my current business that I have now in the summer of 2016. Okay. And that’s really why I wanted to have you on the show because when you relocated from the west coast to the east coast, you built a full studio really quickly without any personal network and. My first students almost always come from a personal network and circle of friends. So how did you do that? Uh, my first student when I moved here actually came through my website.

So like you said, I did move here with no connections, no personal network, and that was a really daunting task that I was coming up to when I was getting ready to move. And I knew that before I got here, I would want to have as many things set as possible. And the main focus that I could do remotely was obviously to work on my website and my internet presence. I knew that that was…

pretty much the first way anyone was going to be able to find me in a brand new location where I didn’t otherwise have any of those other connections that I had in my school network and in my hometown. So what did that look like for you for getting your website ready before you moved? So I am very fortunate that I am married to a digital marketer who knows a lot about websites and advertisements and things like that. So

He was a big help and resource, but the main thing was to make sure that the website looked great because that was going to be the first thing that people saw when they found me. If they wouldn’t know anything else about me because they hadn’t yet heard of me as the word of mouth. So I wanted to make sure that the website really looked great. It presented me in the best possible way, showed a good welcoming environment for lessons that I wanted to present. And

We decided to go with a paid service rather than trying to set up something free on our own. So we wound up setting up an account through Squarespace and making sure it really looked professional and not try to play too much with our own templates and a lot of the things that make a free website kind of difficult to make look 100% professional.

And then how did you get website traffic to your site so quickly? I moved during the summer. So I got to my new location in July, which was about perfect timing for when we knew that parents were going to start looking for new activities for their kids for the school year. So we decided in August and September to run some Google ads. And that was the primary way that we.

started to get the word out and try to get the website visible for people who are searching for me. And for listeners who don’t know what Google ads are, can you explain that briefly? Sure. So Google AdWords are the backend terminology of the way that you can get yourself visible on Google. So when you search for something on Google, typically what you’ll see are a couple of ads and they say, add on them.

And those will be the first couple of results that come up before you then see kind of the regular, what they call organic search results. So because I was brand new and didn’t have anyone who had ever visited my site before, I wasn’t something that would show up right away on that first page just for anyone who wanted to randomly search for piano lessons. So we started out with paying for Google ads so that I would show up on those first couple paid ads.

search results when someone would search for panel lessons in my area. Okay. So those are the ads, those first couple of sponsored search results that come up and like the side ads in on your Google search results page. Yes. All right. When you pick those ad words, you choose keywords, right? To target. Yes. Did you have a strategy for choosing those keywords? The first thing we started out doing was just to imagine, um, if I were a parent,

and I wanted to search for something, what’s the first thing I would type into Google? So if I were looking for a restaurant and I wanted an Italian restaurant in my city, I would probably say Italian food, Alexandria, Virginia. So if I’m a parent looking for piano lessons for their child, I would probably just type in piano lessons Alexandria and start to look at the first things that came up there. So that’s where we started and then thought of other

more creative ways that people might not know that they were specifically looking for piano lessons, or they might say music instead of piano. And we kind of thought of other ways that people might think that they are looking to search for piano lessons, but might not necessarily use that exact word, just other ways that they may have had the thoughts to look for that kind of lesson experience for their child.

Were there any other forms of advertising that you invested in in that first year? We did invest a little bit in Facebook ads. I didn’t get any direct students that had clicked a Facebook ad and then signed up from there and became a student, but we did feel it was really important to still have that online presence across the other platforms. Now, when you search for something on Google,

the more that your name or the more that you come up on the internet, the more that will help you in search results, as well as when people look for you. They may not necessarily click on your Facebook ad or they might not necessarily follow you on Twitter. But if they search for you and they see that you exist in more places, it kind of helps to lend a little bit more legitimacy to you are a real business, you are something that

can then look into even if the only thing they actually wind up clicking on is that website. Sure. Yeah. It’s like, you kind of feel skeptical if you Google someone or search for them on Facebook and don’t find a profile. Are you a real person if you don’t have those other internet profiles? Exactly. So how much did you invest in Google AdWords in that first beginning stages of your business? I think at the upper limit, we wound up spending about

$200 on those two months of campaigns. We weren’t really sure exactly how much it would wind up being, but we started out with a $100 budget. And then after we saw how well it was doing and how much traffic I was getting quickly, we upped it so that I would continue to get those inquiries rolling in. Yeah, that sounds fantastic. How many students do you credit to those Google AdWords? In that first round, by December, I had seven students.

Which for the first four months of being in a brand new location, I considered very successful. Yeah. And the huge return on investment of $200 worth of ads, you quickly recoup that in tuition. Yes. And then from there, did you keep running ads or what are you doing today? We did one more round of ads in January of 2017. So that was about six months after I had started. Um, we’ve won at the time it.

around when people might be searching for lessons again. After new semester starts, new sports schedules may change and parents are looking for new activities. But since then, we actually have not run any more paid ads that seem to be enough to really give my online traffic enough momentum to where now I show up on the first page of search results. And the, like I said, the momentum just kind of kept rolling from there and we haven’t had to do any more paid.

effort in order to keep it going. So after you first started those Google AdWords, how long before you got the first inquiry from a student? The first inquiry, we actually got in that first week that I launched the website. So it was very quick. Wow. Yeah, that’s incredible. I attribute some of that to the timing because we did launch it right there in July, August, just as I think a lot of parents are starting to start their search for lessons, new activities

So from there, how long did it take to get your studio to where it felt like a full-time studio and you had the momentum you wanted and a nice running business? Mostly over the course of this past year, there were multiple moments when I felt I had reached that moment. I kind of kept redefining that moment. So at the end of last summer, summer of 2017, that was when I got a huge wave and I think

the 30 student threshold, which felt pretty full time. And by January of this year, I had completely maxed out my afternoon times and was starting to put new inquiries on a wait list. Wow, that’s great. I currently have 42 students and a wait list because I cannot fit anymore in those afternoon times. I am still subtly, slowly taking on any that can come during the day.

preschooler there, but for the most part, I am now having to put most people on a waitlist. Do you have any tips on where someone who doesn’t know anything about AdWords could learn more about getting started? There are a couple places online where you could go to start to train yourself if you want to really invest in that more in-depth knowledge of how all of that works. There’s places like Lynda.com. That’s Lynda with a Y.

It’s a paid subscription and there’s online courses on many different topics, including digital marketing basics and Google AdWords. And there’s free online tutorials on YouTube as well. Okay. Great. We will share some of those links in the show notes. Were there any surprises you experienced in your first year of being a studio owner? The thing that probably surprised me the most was how little

parents would actually ask me details about my qualifications. So I would give a full trial and show how I might work with their child, talk with them about my approach to teaching my approach to running my business. And I kept trying to leave open questions of, do you have any more questions for me about my training about anything else that you’ve seen today or haven’t seen today and I almost

never would get any follow up of wanting more details about that training that I have. Which I found very surprising in this area. This is a more driven kind of high professional area being a suburb of DC. And it surprised me that that was not a question that would come up as often. I’ve had the same experience over in Maryland, northern suburb of DC. And yeah.

People just want to know that their kid is going to enjoy their lessons and not hate practicing. What personal habits do you have that contribute to your success as a teacher? Being an in-home teacher, I think we, most of us can really relate to, um, that feeling that it can sometimes be a very isolating lifestyle, you know, if, especially if you’re in home, but.

even I think in a commercial location, just by nature of we’re alone for a lot of the time or one on one for most of our time. It can be really easy to kind of go a little stir crazy or to kind of start to fall into a rut and burn out after just kind of doing the same repetitive thing day in day out. So I think one thing that’s really helped me avoid those things and to keep me really focused and successful is I’ve been able to

try to fight all those things by reaching out to any teaching community or professional development opportunity I can find. So I attend all of my local MTA meetings. I go to as many conferences as I can. I sign up for webinars that might come across my Facebook feed or different blogs I subscribe to. I participate in those many online Facebook teaching groups and online forums. And I even take my own private lessons.

So I keep kind of one foot on the ground of what it’s like to be a student, as well as continue to improve my own skills. So I, I try to find as many ways as I can to bring fresh ideas in for myself and for my students. So I, I just do my best to keep reaching out and to not let anything, uh, not take anything for granted. That’s great. Can you recommend a book that has influenced you as a studio owner? One book that was really helpful for me.

especially starting out was the Independent Piano Teachers Studio Handbook. That is by Beth Klingenstein. And this book was really helpful starting out because it covers just an overview of almost every topic that you can think of that might not be covered in an undergraduate piano program even if you’ve had some pedagogy courses within that program. So everything from-

lesson plans to policy planning. It’s, it was a really great overview of things that I may not have realized I needed to think about and did come up over the course of first starting out. And it was really helpful to kind of have this resource to just get all of those things on the radar while I started to build my business. Thank you. I’m sure that’ll help lots of people. What are you loving outside of teaching right now?

Right now I am still working on my master’s thesis. So that unfortunately takes up a lot of my non-teaching time until I get that written. Well, you’ll have to share that when it’s done. I know you’ve got some exciting things coming up for your studio. Can you tell us about some of your goals for the next year? Sure. So I’m currently in the process of figuring out how to change my business structure in order to be able to take on other teachers as employees.

So I have built up this large studio with a wait list, I think on a faster timeline than I was anticipating. And I want to be able to continue to bring students in. And the next step would be to have other teachers that can take on those students. So I’m kind of working on this on two fronts. So I’m keeping my eye out for commercial locations. And if I find the perfect one, then I’m going to jump on it. But…

It’s very difficult in this area. So the first step will probably be to bring on a teacher that can come out to homes. That’s a great way to get like, dip your foot into that hiring a first employee without having to make the whole investment of a commercial space. I really liked that idea. This area is a difficult area to find a good place at a good price point. So that will probably be what the first step finds up being.

That sounds great. Tasha, thank you again for coming on the podcast. How can listeners get in touch with you? So I have put my studio out there on multiple platforms. There is the website and my studio name is arpeggio music school. So the website is arpeggio music school.com. I also have a Facebook, the Facebook name is also arpeggio music school. The handle is arpeggio piano.

facebook.com slash arpeggio piano. And the Twitter handle is at arpeggio piano VA as in Virginia. Okay, I’ll include all those links in the show notes. Well, Tasha, we are rooting for you and all the goals you have for your studio. And we can’t wait to follow that progress. Let’s talk again soon. Great. Thank you so much.

Hey, it’s Andrea again. I want to highlight a couple of really smart things Tasha did with her startup strategy. First, she did what she could from a distance by setting up her website before she even got to her new city. This gave her a head start and one less thing to worry about on top of a cross-country move. Even if you’re not relocating, setting up a website while you’re still in college or working a day job can help position your studio for a strong start once you’re ready to launch.

The second thing I really liked was that she wasn’t afraid to invest some money to get things moving, and she didn’t even have to spend a lot. Just a couple hundred dollars on Google AdWords was enough to get her studio off the ground and her website ranking on the first page of Google search results. That was all the momentum she needed to get things rolling. On top of that, Tasha pointed out that the timing really helped. Running her ads right at the beginning of the school year caught people when they were looking for after-school activities. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Tasha.

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[Transcript] Episode 008 – Scott Stratton