Transcript: Episode 032 – Jake Estner on Using Group Lessons to Build a Sustainable Private Studio
Today’s interview digs into the group lessons studio model. My guest shares all the details on how he runs his guitar studio and answers an important question I hear all the time: How do you switch from private lessons to group classes without alienating your existing students?
Here’s our conversation.[00:00:54]
Andrea: Hello Jake. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for being here today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your teaching studio?
Jake: Hi, my name is Jake Estner. I have basically two studios. I have an in-person guitar teaching studio in Boston, Massachusetts and I also do an online kind of teaching thing that’s totally completely different thing than what I do in Boston.[00:01:17]
Andrea: Totally completely different thing. We’ll have to talk about that one another day about online teaching.
Andrea: But tell me about your studio in Boston and how you came to start teaching.
Jake: So I am from here and I was pretty OCD about guitar from the age when I’m about 12 and so I started teaching pretty early like in high school and I had a few students and it just kind of picked up. My teacher moved away and he gave me some of his students when I was 18 years old and you know students kind of told other students and so it’s just been math since then, just word of mouth and that’s all it’s been.[00:01:59]
Andrea: And I’ve reached and I connected with you because you shared a post on how you teach a lot of group lessons and you didn’t always teach group lessons so you went through the process of converting your studio to have more groups.
Andrea: Can you tell us about how you made that switch? What was your motivation? What was your process?
Jake: Sure, so the motivation came because what I had been doing for a very long time was driving to people’s homes, to students’ homes and giving lessons there which had its problems. One is a lot of time. A new student takes more time in the schedule and I just always felt very squeezed for time and actually, I think this is kind of funny in retrospect that at one point, it might have been 2014, I really made a spreadsheet where I was thinking about like all possible future expenses, cost of things that would come up and I was looking at what I was earning at the time. I was like “Huh. This is not going to be sustainable long-term,” so I either have to– At some point, I either have to change jobs or start a new career and do something completely different and I had heard people talking about group lessons and I’ll admit the original motivation was that it seemed like it was an alternate but similar business model that could result in more revenue without giving up the little bit of life that I had. That was what originally got me curious to explore the idea and the initial hesitation was will that be good for anybody else, you know, because of course, it’s like great! You know more students and less time but like is that a good lessons? That’s basically how the process got started.[00:03:46]
Andrea: Yeah and then how did you process that? How did you come to decide, yeah, it would work for your students, it would work for you?
Jake: Well actually, I think the really important thing is that I didn’t decide that. I tested it and I think that’s like a really important distinction. It was like I can’t say if something is going to work without trying it. I think it’s also relevant like can we instead, like I think whether groups do work or don’t work just depends on so many factors.
I felt like I have had a really good success with my group classes but I heard so many stories of people really bombing where their studio is really not working. I don’t think it’s just like a strategy thing. I think there’s other components there as well and I feel really fortunate that it has worked out here, but I started by testing it. And actually, I think, some of this is really useful. I started really with a question like: What do people want for music lessons? What do my clients want from music lessons, my family, my students? What is like really at the core of it because when someone says, “I want private lessons,” and I think what’s important to me is that there’s no one else in the room, you know, like I don’t think that’s like their angle. They’re not being like, “That’s what I want to pay for.” It’s just having no one else in the room. They associate private lessons with certain benefits and they associate group lessons with certain problems or disadvantages.
So I really thought a lot about like, well, what is a good lesson? What do people really want? And then, is there a way I can do that via group? And I tested it and tried it and started with like two-person lessons that I thought like similar students and so it happened because they matched. I learned about things that didn’t work and things that seem to work well. The first thing I found was enthusiasm, especially from the kids, because I’m not always the most enthusiastic teacher, you know, when you teach a long time. You teach for decades and they feel crunched for time and maybe you feel like if your economic situation isn’t that stable, you’re not coming into every lesson like, “Hey kids! I’m so happy to hang out with you again all day.”
I found that when kids are with other kids and there’s the energy that they’re feeding off of each other that kind of make them just, you know, more smiles and walking out of the lesson happier. I do feel like even regardless of pedagogical and curriculum things like with kids especially, but also adult students, if they’re enjoying it more, that really has a lot of value in it, not just business value but it’s like they’re going to like to keep learning more. They’re more likely to stick with the process.[00:06:32]
Andrea: I think that’s a great approach and I imagine when you presented it to parents, they picked up on it. And it sounds like you just approach it with an open hand, like “This may work, it may not, we’re just going to try it.” It’s an experiment.
Jake: Actually I would say that I didn’t communicate that to parents necessarily, see. Yes, that’s a good question because I think with those initial families and like a few students here and there that I tried putting together is duos, I think with them, I didn’t come to them and say, “This is going to be amazing. This is going to be great. This is going to be better,” but I didn’t say, “I want to try this. I’m not sure if it’s going to work.” I think that if they’d ask me that I would have given them a direct answer. But I think I learned a lot about sales, just general research on sales and courses and stuff and I thought it was a dirty word, but I think what was important that time is that I had some benefits that I believed in and I was like, “Hey, you want to try this with (random hypothetical girl name)?” Do you want to try this, it will be this, this, this and these benefits, which I guess people already know, I mean, it might be more exciting. They’ll get to be able to play songs together and play in time together rather than just sitting with me because I’m boring.
I actually do use that line on almost every sales call with the new parents. I’m just like they’re just hanging out with this 35-year-old guy like playing scales in a dark room, you know, and I usually get like at least a little chuckle out of it. So no, I told them about benefits and I ask if they want to do it. I didn’t communicate like how much was resting on the experiment and I didn’t say, “Maybe it won’t work and so that’s okay.”
But then, once I had some reasonable confidence that it could work at least for a lot of my students, I then like in the fall of 2016, for everybody who was already with me in my music studio, I was like, “We’re all going to try groups,” like that’s basically what I said, and I sent out a letter and I was like, “This is what we’re doing and this is going to be the default.” And I said to everybody, “Here’s the thing,” I mean like you saw in that post on a very long list and it’s a really long thing that had, I mean, I spent the whole entire summer or whatever, but I said—and this is really important—I said, “If you don’t want to do this, that’s fine. Talk to me if you still are interested in private lessons even after this. If you don’t want to try it, that’s fine. Talk to me and we’ll just work it out.” I didn’t make it mandatory. I made it the default, which is a distinction.
Now, things are a little different and actually, nobody insisted on the private. Nobody was like, “No way. I don’t want to do that.” They made a comparison like, “Well, we’re a little concerned that he’s this or that.” There’s one parent in particular who was like, “You know, because my son is a little this and that,” and I said, “Well, let’s try it,” or like, “If you don’t want to try it, that’s fine. Let’s try and see how it goes.” And that kid has been in the groups ever since, like three years, you know, and doing great too.[00:09:37]
Andrea: So you tried it with that small pilot group of students it sounds like and then announced to the whole studio that they would all try it for a time? How did you approach it?
Jake: These students, it was like this will be like the default for them because one detail is every fall I kind of make a new schedule because people are coming back from summer and everyone has gotten new activities and some of them are adults too, so as I was making this new schedule I was like this is what the default is going to be. Basically, people want to do something different and I earnestly like was totally fine to do it differently because these people had hired me for a certain type of lesson. I mean, in some cases, I’d say to some other studio owner whose making this switch to groups that you might want to and might just have to be for business success like I can’t do a private anymore. I really like that it worked out that way to me because I was like, “I can, but I’m going to tell you all the reasons why I think we should try this and why it’s going to be great and why I believe in it,” and I spend all my energy on that rather than on being like Mister No. You know what I mean?
And I think it made a difference. Those kind of things make a difference in the type of relationships I have with my students and students’ families. I’m not Mister No. I’m “Mister here’s all the ways that I’m going to help you.” Do you know what I mean?[00:10:56]
Andrea: Yeah, I hear like a very respectful approach like, “I think this will help you. If you try it and it really isn’t working for you, we’ll do something else because that’s what you originally signed up for,” but just honoring the relationship that you have with the students in the process.
Jake: Yeah and this community where I’m in in Boston, I think that’s very important to where it’s a very– it’s a student’s happy place. It’s a community-oriented community, you know, where it’s like this neighborhood in Boston where it’s like the vibe around here is not just like where everybody is going to just like look out for themselves and you know, everybody is trying to screw everybody else or this or that and “My kid is the best and he’s better than your kid.” That’s just not the vibe here. It has to be sort of be in line with that as well because we talk to each other.[00:11:43]
Andrea: Yeah, definitely. Alright, so you sent that out. It was an email over the summer or in the fall?
Jake: Yeah, an email that has like my version of brief like so I laid it out and then I was like, “Look, if everybody has more questions, if you want more details, there was a link to a pdf.” It was every objection I could think of, everything that my students would say and it was stuff that I earnestly thought of and I was like, “Well, here’s how we’re going to address this problem or try to address this problem,” so that if anybody was like, “Oh no,” then at least they could read that first. I don’t remember anybody having any problem with it. Nobody even wrote back like, “I’m really nervous about this. I don’t think this is going to work for my kid.” I had like 50 students or something. There might have been one girl that was just too nervous about it, I mean, a 10-year-old girl and her parents actually really wanted her to do it. They thought it would be great for her. She was just too nervous going like this. Its fine you know.[00:12:45]
Andrea: So tell us about the logistics of your lessons. How many are in each group? How did you schedule those?
Jake: There are people who are studio owners who have this stuff dialed in way more than I do. I could probably tell you just as many problems with having as many groups as I do as there are solutions like a sort of negative to come out with positive scheduling can be challenging for me. I think other people in their systems have found ways to make it work better and that’s something that I’m in the process of doing, but I set it up for the school year and I go into it with a “This is what it’s going to be. There might be some opportunity to change if you need to. Here’s the schedule.”
I do in the afternoons kids’ classes and then usually one or two adult classes in the evening and I started with the idea that there is just a couple of level of kids classes and like a teen class. In that way, I think originally it was a Kids 1, Kids 2, Teen, Adult Beginner, and Adult Improv. It sounds like comedy but it’s not. So that way, there are bunch of kids that are at that Kids 1 level. They could all be in different classes or come in at different time and I can make it work with that. Those people who gather a teen and a 7-year-old, it just doesn’t work for my systems. I think it’s easier to say what I did like this past or I have a school form and I had parents put in what are the times that are possible and what’s your number one pick, basically.
I made it so it was really hard to answer that form and not give the correct information and that’s important to do because parents have a million things to do. They don’t want to be messing around with forms. Then I took that information and I did things better this year. I had it all in a spreadsheet and I associated like a level and some note with each student as closely with their availability and use filters. It was kind of time-consuming but then, at the end, you would get classes that kind of work well together.
Some people who do group lessons aren’t so concerned with who gets booked together. I think part of the reason that my groups do work is that I do pay a lot of attention to who’s put together and that kind of goes with the respect thing. And the enthusiasm, as I said before, people are leaving smiling because they’re having a good time with people that they like working well with. They’re like, “Man, I hate being in class with that guy,” then that’s not great for anybody. But, yeah, it’s a lot of work but it’s a lot of work once and then it’s kind of done for the year.
Some people have these rotating things and that I think is a lot more scalable. Your listeners can’t see my air quotes and that’s like for people who want to really grow, it has to be something that works better than, I think what I just describe really is people do want to grow and have the teachers and expand their program.[00:15:59]
Andrea: That’s a really helpful acknowledgement. I think that if you are a solo teacher, there are levels of systems that are not for a solo teacher and there’s nothing wrong with that if you only need the level system that works for you and your goals.
Jake: Yeah and that’s it. Think of something like the pros and cons, at least just in terms of a business model, like even regardless of pedagogical concept. The groups thing is that it can be great as a solo teacher and then it does get a lot harder with all the scheduling things and curriculum things and managing other teachers. I know and you probably too know a few studios that are doing really well on that model. A lot of people try and just can’t. It’s like too complicated with other employees doing all the things for you. It can get complicated to make that a big operation.[00:16:51]
Andrea: So how many are in your groups? Are they all approximately the same size or…?
Jake: For the kids’ classes I usually do a maximum of about four in terms of a regular class and they’re not big classes and the adults, sometimes five. I think some kids classes could work with five, but I like four because for the way my classes operate I really do need to be able to hear what everybody is doing. I actually don’t do like the headphones thing that’s really popular for some group programs, just like everybody having their own station or like keep them playing together and the energy, but I need to be able to hear everybody and I have good ears, good on all skills but to hear like six different guitars at the same time and be able to hear which person left out one note and the chords is really difficult. So that’s the max, but sometimes in the class they’re duos and that’s hard with the scheduling. The problem at times is that it would be nice if everybody could be spread out evenly just from like a business perspective and the time management perspective. Sometimes you get a class of two and I try to move that around and sometimes that’s what you end up with. It takes some effort to make it not so.[00:18:05]
Andrea: How do you handle enrollment and people who might want to join in November?
Jake: Oh, it’s the way my classes work that’s really easy. That’s actually one of the easiest parts because I teach like a multi-level kind of way so within reason, you know, I wouldn’t have like Van Halen and like a 5-year-old in the same class necessarily though that may be fun for both of them, but I have people do a handful of solo sessions with me to start. I call those “Intro to group class.” Another thing that I think that could be really problematic for a lot of studios to try to implement that if you got like a lot of students, but I found that to be very important so that way they can come in and after a few sessions, anywhere from two to eight, is what I usually say two to eight sessions, and they will not be at the same level. The other kids or other students, adult know the mechanics of the activity enough that they can participate at lower levels. So for example, we’re doing some song with some chord progression but I give them an easier version of those chords. They need to be able to read a chord chart I gave them. There are certain levels of fundamental things to be covered. I wouldn’t even say that the fall is the heavy enrollment time usually like January or like July, so people can just join in whatever.[00:19:35]
Andrea: Okay, so you have sort of an onboarding process that’s more individual than the lessons. Interesting! That’s a good way of handling that.
Jake: And that’s a big distinction with my groups and this probably really toward a pricing discussion is that it’s not like, “Okay, the guitar course or the one year guitar class and you know, Week 1 we’re doing this, Wee 2 we’re doing that.” It’s much more dynamic in playing to who’s in this class and what do they need this week, which again is great for them and it also helps me and it’s a reason why I may charge more than a person with other group classes but it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time and a lot of attention to detail.[00:20:17]
Andrea: You started to touch on this, tell us more about how you price your lessons and how you do the terms. Is it a semester or a month? How do you handle all of that?
Jake: So we do basically monthly, so there’s no commitment beyond a month and that I find that for what I do that works pretty well and retention is good. I think I might have just said this that I don’t think of it like a week guitar course or like a one semester guitar course where there’s Week 1, Week 2, Week 3. It’s more dynamic and then where the billing works plays into that because it’s kind of like private lessons where you start it and you work on what you’re working on and then you just keep going until you aren’t finding the value anymore or your teacher gets sick of this. That way I really like the idea. There are so many things about “group” lessons that I think people associate that I think don’t work as well and like sort of an 8-week beginner guitar course, I think.
It’s not that it’s just bad; it’s just so not what I’m doing. It’s really, really not what I’m doing, so the idea that it’s like we keep going and we keep learning. And actually, a fun fact that I think is very subjective but because I do more than just teach group lessons and on my website there’s a contact form and you can just fill out like general adult contact form. There is a group specific contact form if somebody just wants to go there and they’re explicitly interested in groups. I find that often, the people that fill out the group form are the least suited for the groups that I teach, I’m mostly referring to the adult group students and I don’t mean this to sound like brag. It started to come out that way but it’s just that I think because the adult group lessons I do are so different than what people would normally think of that as like an adult group guitar class. Those folks are usually not a good fit. But so often the people who fill out the regular one when I tell them about the groups that I offer and I do this as an option, they’re like at minimum cool with it but usually, pretty stoked about it.[00:22:28]
Andrea: How do you think about pricing relative to your private lesson prices?
Jake: Right. I knew back then when I was starting off with more group lessons that the thing that I expected to fight was that people thought of group lessons as less and that actually goes along with that with what I was just saying and everything is sort of fitting together. People think of it like it’s less attention, less instruction, less progress, less individualization. All those things just mean less value. And I was like, “Whoa. It doesn’t have to be that way.” That’s true because that’s maybe the way that people are often teaching group lessons. So I didn’t want to make it significantly less expensive because I really– and this is still so important to me now doing what people call group. “Cool! Yeah, because that’s probably cheaper, right?” Because you started out and you got multiple students and it’s like, “Yeah, it’s a bit less expensive than the private but it’s awesome.” There’s so much in it for the right student, of course. It’s not for everybody.
So at the time, what I did was I basically took what I was doing for half hour lessons at my studio, for half hour private lessons, and I made them 10 minutes longer for the kids classes and a similar thing would be a 45-minute adult privates became the same rate for the 55-minute group. I think my rates weren’t on the bottom end at that time even for the privates. I admit those are pretty aggressive pricing strategy in a sense and it was a little like because I’m looking back and the tenacity of myself at that time because it’s like that was definitely a risk. And the thing is that I believed in it strongly enough and I think that if anybody must price a new program on the aggressive side, you just have to really go for it and really believe in it and really be ready to sell it and talk about it. I was ready to also be like if this doesn’t deliver the value that I want it to deliver. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to make it deliver the value that I want. That’s really important. It’s not just like, “Okay, this is the price,” and like hopefully people will pay iy. It’s like this is the price and I I’m like I want everybody to be so stoked about it that they believe that it’ll be worth twice as much.[00:25:05]
Andrea: You mentioned that one of your motivations in addition to just pedagogical value but one of your motivations was to build a more sustainable career in teaching. What are you doing now? Are you teaching the same amount as you were teaching before, same number of students? Have you taken on fewer students at a higher hourly rate? How does that impact your life now?
Jake: I will say that the economic portion did work out very well because I made the program work and I put a lot into it and people like it. And when people don’t like it, and I think this is super important It doesn’t go great when people don’t like them and people aren’t happy. Again, under the hood I try and figure out by now and try to fix whatever the problem is, and I didn’t try to control by them, like sticking my guns and like, “No, you’re wrong and this is like super valuable.” So yes, it has worked out well and there were certain goals, economic goals that I’m proud to say I did reach and I was saying before that I think it was, you know, I took risks on the pricing and so I told you before that I don’t want to get into real specific numbers but I guess I can say that I took risks on pricing and maybe potentially aggressively and it’s been a popular program and it’s gone well, so you put those things together.
In terms of time, this is more psychological problems than business problems, but like I kind of keep myself busy. So I maybe could have myself in a situation where I was making the same income or a bit more and just have more free time to relax and drink lemonade or something, but it just wasn’t what wound up happening and that’s sort of where the online teaching came in because that’s like you said, that’s a discussion for a different day but that started picking up after I started doing a lot of group lessons because there was more flexibility with my time. That’s actually been awesome and that’s more involved like the music for that person that he likes a lot and the things that are more personally interesting to me and that was just like I planned it all but then there was time to do that.[00:27:11]
Andrea: Yeah, there are all sorts of ways to use newly-found time. So when you’re talking to prospective students or parents, how do you pitch group lessons differently than you would a private lesson?
Jake: I sort of wind up to it. It’s like winding up to the pitch so to speak. When I think somebody might be a good fit for something with me, we often do a phone call and I don’t start that phone call with like, “Let me tell you about the group lessons. Let me tell you about private lessons or the online lessons.” I am more I’m just like, “Tell me about your situation” and I have some questions I like to ask them and then if I do think that kid, for example, will have success and fun in the group classes. Then I tell them about the classes I do when I start right away with like I know when those people are working in group classes they are usually thinking and I tell them about how this is different. I try to phrase things in a way so that I’m focusing on the benefits that the kid will receive and the benefits that their family is going to receive. I also always kind of like in the initial introduction of the group in total I never make it mandatory. I’m always like, “This is what a lot of people do in my studio and do you want to do it?” Sometimes somebody might think that my studio is like all groups and I do offer privates. It’s just that usually I’ll tell people about the groups and they’re excited about those and that’s what we wind up doing, often to the point where they don’t even ask about the private.
So I really focus on basically just what they’re going to get, what their kids are going to get out of the process. And that comes back to those thing before about how it’s not so much like group versus private that I think people want. It’s like other things. No, it’s not like whether there’s a person in the room or not, another person in the room or not. I think by starting the exchange with asking them a lot of questions and just being interested in their situation, I’m already showing them earnestly that I’m interested in what they need and how I can potentially help give them what they want out of the lessons. I think that goes a long way, beyond just being like, “Your kid will have fun like learn how to rock out,” you know what I mean?[00:29:28]
Andrea: And you alluded to some challenges to having group lessons or that model. Can you just tell us really briefly when will you not suggest a teacher pursue group lessons? Is there a brief answer to that?
Jake: Well actually no. That one I can answer briefly because I think anybody should give it a whirl and like I don’t think anybody should be like, “Alright, I’ve never taught group lessons before, I’m just going to teach only group lessons next year and just you know, hope it goes well,” you know, that’s a huge risk. I think trying it a little bit might be great for everybody because I found certain things even just musically like that was like, “Man, my private lessons are really never made students like play with me and play in time and not stop,” and things like that. We do way more of that in the group lessons and that’s like little things like that.
But in terms of like I think if what you’re driving at is kind of like what are the downsides or what are the things to be aware of or where like it wouldn’t work, I think that everybody have different goals and if someone really wants to turn their music teaching into a larger business, like owning a music school or having multiple locations, I think there are some people who do that with a lot of group classes, but I think a lot of people, I’ve heard of a lot of people trying to do that and not going that great. I heard more stories of failure than success but that’s just my limited exposure.
I think a lot of these things I’ve been talking about today have a lot to do with me giving a lot of attention and care to each student and each family. And also, to be frank and not to sound arrogant, but certain musical skills that really have to be there like aural skills and arranging skills and creating a curriculum that makes sense and all of those things and I think I’m pretty good at, I think if I were to do my own assessment, and I know that some teachers aren’t.
So it’s similar to like for a studio whose considering for themselves or a solo teacher or a studio that already does this great but maybe wants to hire other teachers to do it, it’s a lot more than just the private lessons. So it has limitations and actually there’s a good example. I know a good friend who I was telling you about before we start recording who really has several schools and her schools are doing great. She gave group lessons a shot and did a lot of group lessons for maybe a year or something and it just really didn’t work for her systems in her school and now she does only private and things just run so smooth for her and it’s great and that works for her schools.
I would say if someone is approaching it as like, “I’m going to build my business and then gradually have this very large music school and groups is a nice stepping stone towards that,” I’d challenge that. I’d have a very in depth conversation with them about it because I think that like they have had other teachers working for me and I do like the idea of having these same systems going but having multiple classes happening at the same time and for that degree it’s like, you know, I’m not like old right now but I know like as time passes and I get older and older than these kids, my energy, my enthusiasm, it may not always be enough. I know somebody who just has their focus on teaching but is using my curriculum and my systems and that will be great. I found that it just takes a lot to get to that next level and have the time to train teachers and everything when I myself am doing so much teaching.[00:33:18]
Andrea: And really briefly, I don’t want to get too far into the pedagogy because that’s beyond the scope of this podcast but someone on Instagram asked what curriculum do you use for your group lessons? Is that something you’ve developed yourself?
Jake: Yes and just I pause there, I just wanted to add another thing to the previous question that I think some things that are also real big considerations when somebody is like considering doing groups, more groups or do all groups or whatever, it’s like different areas, different geographies, different demographics, like people want different things out of music lessons in different parts of the world, parts of the country and even parts of Boston and people are attracted to different teachers or different studios for different reasons. I feel like I’ve kind of found a nice thing were the people that are attracted to my studio and the neighborhood that I’m in, it just worked well to be teaching all our group classes.
I think for a variety of reasons, any of those things could be a little different and just might not work as well and I think every teacher’s got to be like aware of that and open to that. I think it’s like a bunch of almost weird intangibles sometimes where can I make it work or not. Just like what I’ve said like test it, you know.[00:34:33]
Andrea: Yeah, thank you for saying that because I think that’s true with so many things. What works for one teacher great may not work in another area for another teacher and some of it is just our personal values and goals in teaching and so yeah, so many variables.
Jake: If someone is known like a classical violin teacher and the neighborhood and the community knows them as like the person to go to if you want to get your kids to like ace all the competitions and exams and stuff like that, that’s very different than the type of teaching I do. Maybe there’s really creative ways to make that kind of goal happening with lessons too, but that’s not how I do it so like if that person, that hypothetical violin teacher, started doing tons of group classes, then if they’re usually attracting these sort of high achieving kind of families who are looking for music as like college resume kind of thing and competitions and stuff, I don’t think that would work as well, you know, but somebody could make it work but that’s not what I do for sure.[00:35:34]
Andrea: Not your angle, yeah. So as we wrap up, there are some questions that I ask every teacher. Is there a book that has had a strong influence on you as a teacher or as a business owner?
Jake: I don’t think there is. It’s just like a conglomerate of random advice and courses and all sorts of things over the years now; not one book, no.[00:35:53]
Andrea: What’s next for you? What goals are you working towards, either personally or in your studio?
Jake: I’m saying about earlier how teachers are working for me in the past and it’s a crazy couple of years because I got married and I moved and it’s all super time consuming things. I do want to get back to trying to get other teachers involved and taking more overseeing role and making sure things are going well rather than necessarily being there and teaching every lesson. I’d like that to happen and a lot of things to figure out, to see like I was saying it could be complex with groups, but I definitely want to keep on trying to make that happen. And if not, I’m not really sure.
I definitely want to move away in some fashion from what I’m doing now and I think that’s an important thing because even though like I think I’ve had good success with this group program and the private lessons I’m doing and the online stuff, that all adds up to a number of hours per week that I know is not sustainable, so something’s got to get adjusted.[00:37:02]
Andrea: Always a work in progress.
Jake: Yeah, for sure.
Andrea: Well where can listeners get in touch with you to follow you on that journey?
Jake: The only thing that people can observe of me is if they’re interested in really nerdy guitar stuff, they can follow me on Instagram but there’s not going to be any– except for this podcast where maybe I’m talking about the inner workings of my teaching studio, I suppose.
Andrea: Alright, well thank you for dishing here.
Jake: Sure. Thanks for having me.[00:37:36] [End of interview]
Andrea: You’re probably picking up on a theme in these teacher interviews. Teachers who make sustainable careers run their numbers. They test their business models to make sure their studio is set up to actually support them. Jake brought up a really good point when he considered the sustainability of his studio not just in terms of economics but also in terms of his own energy.
Teaching private lessons can be exhausting. When you have a new student walking through the door every 30 to 60 minutes and you want to show as much enthusiasm for the last student of the day as you show for the first, and you might see 10 or more students in a day, it is mentally taxing. If your business demands you teach 75 students a week to make a living, that certainly won’t help the attitude you bring into lessons, which impacts your students’ experience, which then impacts your attention which then impacts your bottom line and on and on. I firmly believe that a studio’s financial stability is just as important for the students as it is for the teacher and Jake has taken this into account.
My other big takeaway from my conversation with Jake was his focus on values first. The first value I picked up on was Jake’s commitment to good teaching. When he first considered doing group lessons, he thought about what he considered a “good lesson” pedagogically and then test it to see if he could provide that in a group setting.
Another value I noticed in Jake’s studio is his concern for individual students. He shared that he spends a lot of time developing his schedule that works well because he cares about individual students having a great experience. He also doesn’t just throw his students into groups and hope they figure it out. Instead, he has a system for onboarding them and prepping them to thrive in a group setting.
Jake’s studio illustrated how identifying your values can really provide clarity and how he builds their businesses. I touched on this in a visioning podcast a few weeks ago. I don’t believe there is one best business model. I know from all the conversations I’ve had with you listeners that we all have different values and goals for our teaching and our businesses. What maybe one teacher’s dream studio might be a nightmare for another. The moral of the story is that it’s up to us to figure out what is important to us in our studios and then to figure out how to construct a business that is both personally fulfilling and financially viable.
If you’re trying to solve this challenge for your own studio, I invite you to check out my financial planning course for music teachers. This course is designed to help you take that vision for your studio however big or small and then test its viability. For more details, check out musicstudiostartup.com/finance.
That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed my interview with Jake. I’ll be back next week.