[Transcript] Episode 074 – Mirka da Pieva
Transcript: Episode 074 – Mirka da Pieva
074 – Mirka da Pieva on Creating Resources for an Underserved Market
Today I’m talking to a piano teacher in Brazil who noticed a shortage of blogs and teaching resources available in Portuguese so she stepped in to fill the gap. She has grown her business to include a blog, in-person and online teacher trainings, and a collection teaching games.
She’s also done some very creative things to build a strong community of Portuguese-speaking teachers and to elevate music teaching as a viable profession in Brazil.
Here’s my conversation with Mirka:
Andrea: Hi Mirka. Welcome to the podcast today. Thank you so much for being here. Can you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
Mirka: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. So my name is Mirka. I am from Brazil and I have a studio in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and I also work as a game designer. I design board games and I recently started to design some games for online lesson as well, especially for Zoom lessons and I also teach other teachers like give trainings to them on how to use the games.
Andrea: Alright. Yeah. How many years have you been developing games and teaching and all that?
Mirka: Well I started doing it seriously in 2012 but I have been working in creating games since–I can’t remember–since I started teaching, I think.
Andrea: Just a natural thing for you to do?
Mirka: Yeah, kind of, because when I started doing that we didn’t have much music shops in here that could sell the games and I thought games were like something that I really wanted to add with my lessons, especially for children because that’s the way they learn. That’s the way they interact with the world is playing, right? So I also thought “Okay, if I can’t find maybe I should create my own,” and that’s what I did. Right now we have a lot of options here in Brazil and even outside. Now with the internet, it’s so much easier to find things around and to buy games and to use them in the lesson. When I started there was nothing so that’s why I’m trying to have this need of creating my own, so that’s why.
Andrea: Yeah, well I’m glad you delved into that. Let’s talk about all those different avenues that you’ve explored. Are your games all in Portuguese or is language kind of irrelevant to the games?
Mirka: Well they’re most in Portuguese but I would say that some of them you could use regardless of the language. Of course the names are in Portuguese, the titles of the games are in Portuguese, but you know, music is a universal language so I think everybody could use it. They were designed to be used in Portuguese but last year I participated in an international seminar about learning music through games in Canada and then I printed my games in English so I could use this. I have both now but of course because I’m in Brazil, I sell more of them in Portuguese.
Andrea: Sure. Yeah. We met on Instagram and we got to chat a few weeks ago and you were describing the culture around teaching and also about entrepreneurship in Brazil. Can you give just a brief overview of kind of what we talked about then so the listeners–a lot of my listeners are Americans but not all, they’re from all over the world–would have some context of what that culture is like in Brazil?
Mirka: Yeah, sure. We’re a growing economy and I think this is something that is also Entrepreneurship is something that is growing a lot in here recently and in 2020 is a year that we have more people becoming entrepreneurs here in Brazil. Around 38.7% of adult people from 18 to 64 years old are going to be working in their small businesses here. I think that’s a big number, almost 40% of the population going into their own business. I think that’s a lot.
Andrea: I think so. I know entrepreneurship is actually on the decline in the US.
Andrea: Yeah. People don’t expect that but I don’t know what all the factors are. I think maybe some of it has to do with, especially in younger people is where the decline is most, I think it has something to do with high student loan debt and people not being able to take on the risk of entrepreneurship.
Mirka: Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. But, yeah, here it’s something that’s going fast and I can observe, as a piano teacher myself, that some of the techniques that I have developed, you know piano teachers, they also believe that piano teaching is something that works for them as a real job and not something that they’re going to do while they even get something better, because in the past when I was in college, most of my colleagues were pursuing an academic career, not going into working in studios because it was not something they would think is profitable.
Right now I can see that more and more people are going to their own small businesses and seeing a piano teaching career as a small business and a very profitable one, more people are more interested in experiences more than buying things right now, especially in this generation that we have now. So I think it makes more sense. I think that has everything to do with people teaching.
Andrea: So like maybe the market of students is growing and that makes it look like a more viable career instead of just a transition job?
Mirka: Yes, absolutely. Okay now, when the Covid hit I thought okay now things are going to get complicated but I lost a few students in the beginning but then I got more students and I’m booked full so are my other colleagues. So what I believe is that people are more interested in having piano lessons because it’s something that they can do for them. It’s just an experience and I think that mentality is something that is growing and it’s growing together with our business because that’s what we do. We give them the experience of playing an instrument.
Andrea: Yeah, interesting. So you were teaching, what led you to start a blog and start doing the games and trainings?
Mirka: Okay, so let’s start with the blog thing. When I started I was already a fan of other bloggers like Joe Morrin and some other great piano teachers. Even people from other countries like in Australia, we have great piano pedagogues as well. I used to follow them on the internet. Maybe I should look for somebody here in Brazil for people that speak Portuguese, right? And I was looking for and there was none like zero blogs in Portuguese. Maybe I should start one, right? Why not? That would be a good idea. And then in 2014 I started to blog about piano teaching and I had no idea how much work it takes when I started but I tried my best. Over the years, especially when I had my baby, it was really hard to keep up but we tried our best to be as focused as we can on the blog. It was a very nice thing to do because it was a very good contribution to our piano teaching community in the country since we have nobody doing that. And also, I think, it was a very interesting point for the other teachers to see there was somebody doing something that they were doing too to connect.
Piano teachers, we’re very lonely. Piano teachers, I think, we haven’t built a community here in Brazil. We don’t have a piano teaching association, for example. We don’t have that here. So I think they could find in the blog and in my posts some of their needs as well and some of the things that they were also thinking about or some of their questions. So it was a very nice thing to have that and have your comments and reader comments and to get in touch with them even virtually because some of them I never knew in person but it was a very good opportunity to connect with them somehow and we have a big country. It’s a really big country so some of them I would never have the opportunity to meet in person because of geography issues but it was very, very good. And also for me to expose some of the teaching aspects and also the business aspects of being a piano teacher, which I think is something that we always have doubts, especially when we’re starting when we’re new; we’re starting a business, we’re starting to teach, there’s so many questions, so many things that we want to know and to have some other teachers to share and to change ideas or knowledge I think it’s always good.
So the blog was mainly for me to post things that I thought would be good for them to read and I always thought, for me, if I were the blog’s reader, what would I be interested in reading so I thought that going through those aspects will be good for them to read so I can post about things that would be interesting for me that I thought that they would be interested in as well. So when I started doing the blog then I did something like a marathon. So for one month I would post every day just to kind of keep things going a little faster in the beginning and that was very, very good. And by that time, I have a friend of mine and he created a WhatsApp group. He told me “Oh you know I’m starting this. Why not work with piano teachers around Brazil? Would you mind if I talk about your blog in there?” And I said “No! Please do that so that more people would know it.” And then the blog started to be more popular around Brazil and now we have more people walking after that. So we need people to start it. We have more people doing that, which is great, but basically mine was the first one because we didn’t have anyone in Portuguese. That’s basically what happened.
Andrea: That’s neat to be able to see your impact so quickly.
Mirka: Yeah, and then what I do is I kind of shared some things that I do with my students, ideas of games they can do, some of the games I just share free so they can download the PDFs to print and to use for their students. I also recommend trainings and courses that they can do related to piano teaching and music teaching in general because as I told you Brazil is a big country. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on and we miss the opportunities. So to advertise about that I think is important so they can choose if they want to do it or not or at least they know. And also, I kind of shared something about how to do things like DIY games or activities they could do. But mostly what I like is to share some of the things that I do with my students, some of my expectations as a piano teacher, some of my things that I think would be important for them to use with their students and to think about, you know thinking about piano pedagogy. Basically, that’s what I share.
Andrea: Okay. And then, did you start producing the games after that? I know you’ve been using them in your own studio. When did they start being something that you brought to market?
Mirka: Well I started, as I told you, I started doing the games. I’m kind of old. I don’t look like old, right, but I’m kind of old. So i started using the games during the 90’s. I was already teaching by then and as I told you, there was nothing here, like no games, then I started to creating my own games in my studio. On that time I used to have in-person lessons only. There was no online lesson like now and the students they would come from once a week for individual lessons and then another time of the week for a group lesson. In that group lesson we would play together. So I have two pianos with two students in each piano or maybe three students and then I would join them playing four hands or eight hands, right? We used to take this opportunity to also have games to reinforce some of the musical elements that we were learning in their repertoire. That was very good and that worked so well having the games because they would participate more. They would end up with the lesson so happy, so anxious to come to the next lesson for the next week.
So I thought, “Would that really work?” And I was doing it with myself with no fancy equipment. We only work with cardboard paper and my old printer at home. So over the years I started to do it more professionally and then I thought, you know, if that worked with my students and I tested all the games over those years, and they worked so well, you know, maybe I should share it with other piano teachers and then sell them. That would be a side business for me as well and that’s what I did. So in 2012 I bought a laminator machine. That was still the homemade phase and then I got a new printer and then I started to doing them at home. I started doing a few trainings. So I was invited by my former piano teacher from the university because she’s very into the piano pedagogy thing. She invited me to go there and to teach and give training to the students, and then other teachers are starting to invite me in 2012. Then things started growing a little bit and people start to know about you and they started to invite you to give trainings.
So in 2017 when I had my baby, then I thought maybe I should do it professionally. In Brazil we usually have one month that you stay with your baby, the time off, but I took two months more because I’m self-employed so I decide how much time to spend with my baby, right? So I decided to stay for six months. It was very tiring. You have a baby. You know what I’m talking about, right, especially having a boy. But at the same time, I have time to be at home and to work a little more with the games and produce them in a very intensive way. So what I did is I hired a person that could make them better, a designer that could work with parts to make them more colorful and appealing to the students especially for children.
Then we went to a professional printer shop that will do it in bulk like create a thousand copies of them. It’s much cheaper to do that as well than to print in small quantities and that’s what I did. So I have boxes and boxes of my games at home during that time. My husband was going crazy with me and things like baby stuff together with games stuff. It was pretty crazy. I wasn’t really thinking over it, but at the same time it was a time for me to really sit down and to make this happen because until then I was doing it but not very professionally. I was not intense about it, I think. I was not as intense as I should be to make it work as a business. After that, I thought then my baby was already 10 months and I thought, “Okay, now I have to start selling these games.” I have this bunch of games at home. I have to start doing something about them.
What I did was I started talking about the teachers who were following me on the blogs that were from different parts of the country. Right now I live in Rio de Janeiro which is in the central east of the country, which is very easy for me to go to other places because it’s very central. So we had an agreement, my husband and I, that he would stay with the baby for no more than 24 hours and then I would leave to give the trainings and then come back.
Andrea: So as long as you could get there and back and give training in 24 hours you could make that okay.
Mirka: Yeah. Usually it was on a Saturday because I was teaching from Monday to Friday. So Friday afternoon I would leave in late afternoon, catch a bus or a plane and then go give the course and then on Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon, come back home. It was really crazy. And then Sunday I would try to relax a little bit and then Monday starting back to work again. But it was really worth it and I thought I could sell them totally online but I decided to travel and to meet the teachers because I thought that was the best way to build a community, to know them in person. At least for the ones that I could it was a little close to the place that I was living in.
When you know someone from the internet, it takes a lot to trust. There’s always a speed of trust in terms of authority, in terms of how much this person really can represent to me as a leader, but the thing is I thought that meeting them in person, even though it was a sacrifice for me, I thought was important for me in the beginning of this business. So from there, then I could build more connections with other piano teachers because it was a stronger connection since we met in person, since they attended the courses, and then from there on they recommended me to other piano teachers from their contacts, and then we started building the community. That was when I started doing the WhatsApp groups. I thought that would be so sad to not having contact with these piano teachers right after we finish this course and we should keep in touch, right? I know WhatsApp is not very popular in the US but here in Brazil it’s something that we can’t live without.
Andrea: Yeah, so for listeners who don’t know WhatsApp is, it’s a messaging app and you can create groups, you know friend groups or family groups or in your case, a much larger group of teachers. So talk to us about how you use the WhatsApp group.
Mirka: Yeah, so what I did is after I finished the trainings I invite them and of course at the end of the trainings I would sell the games, right? So that was the way it worked. And then before I finish I’d say “You know I have a WhatsApp group” so if you like the training and if you like the games and the way that I teach and the ideas that I share, would you be interested in participating into this group that we were going to keep sharing things and exchanging ideas and materials and everything. Most of them said yes and then I started to build up. At each of the training that I gave I started inviting more people over to this group. I’m not really interested into members. I’m more interested into quality of people. So really, when I told them I said this is a group that is not into sharing memes or some funny things. It’s just about teaching and piano teaching and piano pedagogy. But now, we have over 250 people in this group and it’s not a lot but it’s quite a bunch of people interested in piano teaching.
Andrea: Are these mostly people that you met through trainings that you did in person?
Mirka: I would say 85%. The group was created for former participants of my trainings but some of them said “You know I have this friend that really want to join the group. Would you mind having him or her?” And I said “Yeah, sure, no problem.” They need to follow the rules and policies of the group and that’s fine. And so I have 15% of them that were not from the trainings. There is another platform called Telegram that is very similar to WhatsApp but you can have over 1,000 people in the group. WhatsApp can do that too but in Telegram you can do it more easily. First like in the settings, you can preset so only you can talk; only you can share things, and they’re just listeners or readers of the content so you avoid this conversation that sometimes is not related to the topic but you have this bunch of people who’s really hard to control. In WhatsApp there’s a maximum limit. When that happens, I will probably move to Telegram which is another app very similar to WhatsApp but you can have more people.
Andrea: What else have you done to, I imagine, like getting a hundred text messages every day and I think you have specific rules in place to keep that from happening so that the group continues to be useful? Can you describe how you’ve managed that group?
Mirka: Well yes, that’s a very good question. I posted some rules and if somebody wants to join the group I send them the rules first and if they say that they agree then they can join the group and I have the name. But mainly, what we talk about was that sometimes people they just want to advertise about their own trainings so I said “Okay that’s fine. You can advertise on my WhatsApp and that’s fine,” but that’s going to be only on Mondays. So Monday is the day that they can advertise about everything. You can add whatever you want as long as it’s related to music teaching or piano teaching.
And then the other days, what happens is well, some of the days the group is very quiet but some of the days, you know, some days people have questions about how much we should charge or how they’re handling this new thing about online teaching, the equipment that they’re using, so it depends on their questions. Once a week, what I do is I try to post a hint about anything. It could be a video that I think is interesting for them or a training that I share to them. So I try to be there present as least once a week because I cannot respond to them every day. But because it’s a group, people share things and they help each other. I don’t have to be there to manage everything all the time. That will be insane. I try to be as present as I can. If they post a question I always try to answer them, but of course, a lot of people would answer. I didn’t silence the group. Everybody is welcome to talk and to share and I think it’s a very huge thing to have these people from different backgrounds sharing ideas. It’s great to have that. I love it.
Andrea: What made you choose using a WhatsApp group as opposed to like a Facebook group or something else?
Mirka: Well WhatsApp is much more direct than Facebook and I think it depends also on the popularity. Here in Brazil it’s very, very popular. People use it to make calls instead of using a phone. People don’t use the phone numbers anymore. They use the WhatsApp to do that to talk to people. So because it’s there and it’s so easy, you could turn on your phone and it’s already there. I know in Facebook you can use Messenger to send messages as well but because you can share content. It’s very easy to share things on WhatsApp. I think it’s faster to do that on WhatsApp. Because it’s culturally more popular here in Brazil, people check WhatsApp all the time. So if you want to talk to them and you want them to respond fast, send them a WhatsApp message. Not everybody is on Facebook in here, not everybody, but WhatsApp everybody has. It’s like a cellphone number you know.
Mirka: It’s much easier. You can put parents, I have group for the parents. I have group for students so if I want to say something, instead of having all these emailed thing that some people don’t want to them to see it or don’t read, so if I send a WhatsApp with coming back lessons, schedule, things that I want them to know, I send them a WhatsApp message and they respond very fast. That works for us.
Andrea: You just need to understand the audience you’re serving and it sounds like that is the choice that makes sense for your audience.
Mirka: Yes, it does.
Andrea: Okay and now take us back to the in person training. So those are trainings where you’re teaching teachers how to lead group classes and use the games that you produce, it sounds like, is that right?
Andrea: And then at the end they have the opportunity to buy the games which is a great business model that get paid twice for it. Good job. You mentioned at the beginning that you don’t have a national music teachers organization like we have here in the US we have MTNA. So we’ve got these little groups that already exist all over the country of teachers that meet once a month. You didn’t have those pre-existing audiences so how did you gather groups of teachers to do those trainings?
Mirka: So everything started with a blog, I think, and also of course I had some former colleagues from the university when I was doing my major and they now live in different parts of the country. They live in different states and we kept in touch during those years and then we talked about it. When they heard that I was teaching, giving some trainings to the university students with my former teacher and my university and they started sending me messages asking if I could be able to go there and to teach in their cities as well. But in the beginning, what I did is instead of people inviting me I invited myself. I sent emails to some of my friends and I said I know that you’re living in Sao Paolo, which is a major city in Brazil right now, and I said “If you’re looking at Sao Paolo I’m giving these trainings about these games that I’m producing, really nice and we can teach children to learn about music theory with them. Would you be interested in helping me to set this course in there?” and they mostly would say yes.
Basically, what I needed was just a place where I can have the people and also, I have these people to advertise for me in their community because even though we didn’t have a music association or organization like MTNA, people know each other in their community. They know the teachers because mostly they’re still teaching there for such and such years. They know each other so it was easier for them. And then we started gathering these people around the country and they keep these connections to happen. In the beginning it was like that. I’m basically inviting myself to do that. And because I was posting on my Instagram and Facebook accounts about the trainings, more people would get interested and then I started to have invitations without having to invite myself. So other people were like “Oh I heard that you’re teaching and giving these trainings about your games. Would you be interested in coming to my studio and teaching the music teachers?” Some of my games are not only related to piano teaching; it’s like music teaching in general so it’s just to reinforce music theory, right? And then I would go there to teach.
In 2018 I gave around 18 courses during the year. It was a lot but I tried to be like if I could be in two small cities around each other on the same day and travel from one city to another or maybe be in a city that would have other cities around that people could come in or could travel a short distance to be there to attend. That was basically what happened how it developed. In 2019 I started giving relaxed trainings because I felt I built enough community. It’s a very tiring thing to do that. It was very exhausting.
Andrea: Especially the 24-hour trips that you were taking.
Mirka: Oh yeah. That was crazy. That was really crazy but at the same time it was very good to know to meet them in person. This connection, this energy, it’s different to knowing people from online and then meeting them in person, it’s very different. As I told you, you build strong relationships with people when you know them in person it’s different. It’s always different. From there on I thought, okay, maybe I should now focus more on selling them online since I already have this strong community going on. When people buy the games they start promoting it for you since they take pictures and they add your WhatsApp or your Instagram account on their posts and everything so that’s really nice because more people would know about it. So in 2019 I focused more on selling them online instead of going to the trainings.
In 2020, because of the Covid, I started teaching the trainings online, which was really good and worked really well. And they’re not only about the games but about pedagogy in general. So other aspects and things that I would share on the blog I would then transform those posts into a training that would be helpful for the teachers.
Andrea: Okay. Then back in 2018 or 2017 when you were still gathering teachers in trainings, were there any things that you learned in that process that helped teachers advertise more effectively or anything about the way you structured the trainings like two hours was the sweet spot? Was there anything you noticed there?
Mirka: I think for me what worked well was getting to know at least one person that would be the influencer of that community that would know more people that would gather them. You always have somebody that is kind of the leader that if the person says “Go and watch this training,” people would go. Finding this person is the key because more people will attend. The people who knew me from the blog, people that were reading my posts and knew me for longer, they were going anyway because they already knew that they would identify with the things that I was doing and then would go anyway. But if the person never knew about it and they don’t know who I was, but knowing it from another person that they trust was the key. So I would try to find very carefully the person that would help me to promote the in-person trainings in those places.
Andrea: And then being strategic about the cities that you had the events in.
Mirka: Exactly, yes that was another thing. The training was a short thing. It would take around two hours total. So I would teach them about the games, how to use the games, how to use the games on the lesson, and then I would teach them how to create their own games if they wanted for their studio with some tools. And then, again, I would promote my games, show them the games and I would sell them, of course with a discount, because they’re buying it for me. I sell them online on an online platform that you sell your games so you always have to pay for it so it was more interesting for them and for me to sell directly.
Andrea: Yeah when they purchase the games in person they don’t have to pay the shipping cost. You kind of professionalized the games a few years ago and they are. They are professionally manufactured. They’re decks of cards that looked like what you’d buy in a store and pieces and things there that are really professional. After your son was born and you started focusing more on these games and professionalizing them, was your goal to make that a more significant part of your income so you could teach less? What was your thought there?
Mirka: I was looking for something that I could stay more with my son and teaching less and I still have some other plans for the next year because I want to spend some more time with him. After I become a mom life changes completely. I totally wanted to spend more time with him and teach less and there’s a limit of how much you can teach in a day, how many students you can have. Even if you have group lessons, there’s a limit of time or a limit of hours that you can teach. And then selling the games is something that you can do when you’re sleeping. You’re sleeping and then you’re still selling the games online, right? Something that can help you to do something that is more automatic and doesn’t need your constant presence in there. I was looking for something like that. That’s why in 2019 I started to decrease the amount of trainings that I would give and then to focus more on selling them online, so basically yes I was looking for it. As I told you, I was still searching for some other changes on my career of having something that can help me to have less time teaching individually or in group.
Andrea: I feel like it’s a constant work in progress. Different things work in different seasons. Right now where is your income coming from in terms of percentages, like what percentage is teaching? What percentage are games, trainings?
Mirka: I would say that since I started around 30% of my income is from the games and the trainings and 70% is still from my teaching because I have a lot of students but the idea is maybe to increase that a little bit more. In 2020 that was the idea of increasing the sales but the problem is that because of the lockdown I could not deliver the packages for a long time. So because they are physical games you know I could not go to the post office. The post office wasn’t working. So what I did was I changed a little bit the idea and I have a partner, a friend of mine. She’s from Sao Paolo. She’s another piano teacher from there, another major city in Brazil, and we’re creating this online games that the teachers can use online, and because they’re online, of course, we don’t have to ship them. You can just download them in a pdf form or on PowerPoint. We gave them a training this year and it was really good. A lot of people bought it and they started to use on their online lessons. It was great for us because we could do something to help teachers during those struggling times. So changing it all of a sudden to online lessons and at the same time we could change a little bit the games format to online as well. That’s something that we’re starting right now. We’ll see how it goes.
Andrea: Do you see that continuing to be a part of your business that you develop even post-Covid or will you go back to focusing more on physical games after that.
Mirka: I think it will be like half and half so far. I’ll see what’s going to happen once people get the vaccine and things start to go kind of normal or go back to normal. We’ll see how the physical new normal is going to be. I think when that happens we’ll see. Right now I’m just observing things, see how things are going to be, how people are going to react. I definitely think that the online teaching is going to be something that’s going to happen from now on.
Andrea: I think so too.
Mirka: There’s no turning back from there. I think it’s a growing thing anyway, but anyway we’ll see. We’re kind of focusing on both now. Right now, when I finish this podcast I’m off to deliver some games. I have to go to the post office. I have two boxes here ready for me, but we’re still having these online games that are on the platform that people can buy and download right now.
Andrea: I’d like to ask more about the manufacturing process and finding someone to print the games. How did you start that? Did you do a Google Search for game printer or where did that process start?
Mirka: When I hired the designer he also knew the places that we could print in a very affordable way because it’s very expensive to print them professional. So he knew it because he was in the business. He gave me all the hints and he told me how to do it so I didn’t have to worry about it. He took all the control and he went to the places and he did everything. For me it was kind of a relief because having to deal with that which is something that I don’t really know and I don’t really understand really well, it was really good. He took care of that and we only brought the games, the boxes, and because it was very demanding to put them together because they came in small parts, like little cards all separated, they cut everything in the printer place. But anyway, I had to put them together and to put them inside of the bags and settle them together so they could ship to the person that would buy it.
I hired a person to help me to put the games together. So once a week there was this woman that would help me to put the games together and when she could, she could help me also to post them on the post office as well. Sometimes you have a delivery to do it right now and then you have to teach all day and you can’t go because at the same time that the post office is open is the time that you’ll be teaching. It was tricky sometimes and you don’t want to get late with the packaging delivery so it’s a great help.
Andrea: That’s like the opposite of a virtual assistant. And then talk about the investment. What was the minimum order size when you order those games from the manufacturer and how did you fund that?
Mirka: A very good question. I had a percentage of my income that I would set apart for that project and I did that over a year. I don’t like to be in debt so what I do is I save the money and I only do that when I know that I have the money for that so that’s what I did for over a year. I saved to make the investments because it was quite expensive to buy it because I have to buy it in bulk but it was, for us in Brazil, I have four different games and I ordered 400 of each. It was quite an investment but it was totally worth it and the profit was very good as well. Because I bought it in bulk, the value of each game was much less than if I had ordered just 50 of them and then sell them and then order another 50. The margins were much better in terms of profit because of that.
Andrea: Because of the quantity.
Mirka: The quantity, yes.
Andrea: And then, how did you price them? How did you think about margin and how much you needed that margin to be?
Mirka: It was hard for me in the beginning because as a piano teacher I have no idea how to do that. Offering a service is different from offering a product and you also have to think about how much time and effort you put into that. It’s not only the manufacturing. It’s not only the materials. It’s everything. I try to put my margins as to be like 50 to 60% of the price of each game. That was pretty good for me.
Andrea: Yeah, and that has to cover your plane tickets to do trainings like all those marketing expenses that are not directly linked to sales necessarily.
Andrea: And then, were you setting targets like “I’d like to sell these many games this year” or “I’d like to sell these many,” at each training?
Mirka: Yes, yes, I had that. And sometimes it’s so interesting and also depends on so many things. Once I went to a training and I had 30 people attending. That’s a lot. I thought “Hey, that’s going to be great if everybody buys this game.” I was hoping to have such and such sales and then only six people bought it over thirty. It depends on the place. Here in Brazil we have very different people depending on the state that you’re living in. The culture is different. The way that they buy things and why they buy things is different. It’s so crazy. It’s always important to set your goals anyway. It doesn’t matter. You never know how people are going to react and how things are going to be but I try to get better with my pitch, like presenting the games the better I could to sell. I read a lot of books about it to make it better to see how to present it better so people would understand how important they were. Yes, I try to. Depending on the amount of people that would be in the trainings, I would make a little idea of how many games that I would sell.
I also did that online as well. I have this strategy of getting every day to send an email or a message to people about the games, advertising about the games, getting contact with music schools. We have a lot of music schools here in Brazil like private music schools with different instruments and everything. They’re more popular here and more popular than studios. I talk to them and to the owner of the school, talking about the games, and then eventually selling them. It’s something that I’m still learning how to do and trying to improve. But definitely, having goals of how many games to sell by month or having a year goal and then dividing them by months and then how many I would sell in months. It’s a very nice thing to have.
Andrea: And it’s fun to be at that stage of a business. When you get a system in place and it’s kind of rolling and you get to tweak those little areas like I could improve sales by reading a book on sales and then practicing it myself and when you’re tweaking the pitch rather than writing a pitch for the first time. I think that’s a really fun stage to be in.
Mirka: It is. But it was something that I was learning during the process, I think. The first one that I did was not good, I mean, it was not good as I think I do it now and I’m pretty sure I can improve even more. So it’s something that we learn through the process. It’s a fun thing to do; I like it. I love selling.
Andrea: Well this has been so interesting Mirka. Thank you for sharing the vast array of projects you’ve tried like talking about how they’re all interconnected. I am really excited to share this with listeners. Before we go, are there any books that have had a strong influence on you as an entrepreneur, maybe in sales or maybe in something else?
Mirka: Yeah, sure. I would say two of them. One is “Start with Why” from Simon Synek. I love that book. I really love it. I think when you have the motivation of why you do what you do it has everything. It represents everything. You can do everything. If you really know why you’re doing what you’re doing and then everything else going to its place when that happens. There is another one that is related to music teaching which is “The Savvy Music Teacher” by David Cutler. I love that book. It had so many different ideas of how successful people could be into music teaching in a very creative way, in a different way, because that’s what I think this new generation have to do is online, more technology-based world, is going to change everything. We have to change every day. We have to make it better every day. We have to do it differently and better. We cannot teach the way that we’ve been taught. Things are different. People are different. The students are different. I think that helped me to have an idea of how different people, different piano teachers and other music teachers as well, how they did it and how it worked for them. That was really nice.
Andrea: We’ve had many recommendations for that book on the podcast. We’ll show those both in the show notes. What goals are you working towards this year?
Mirka: Right now what I’m trying to do is to look for an online course so that I could sell it online and not being there every time in person, every time that the course is being taught like asynchronous course so people would watch it and see it and learn from it even though it’s right there in the platform. They can download it and they can learn from it. They could interact with me in a forum or on a Facebook group or something like that to post questions and everything. I already have this project for this year. I’ll probably send you a few emails to tell you.
Andrea: Yeah, I’d love to hear about that.
Mirka: Basically that’s what I’m looking for us. I’m still going to invest in my studio. Hopefully, now with the vaccines, things will go a little bit more into what it was before of people coming here because right now I’m teaching 100% of my lessons online. I still don’t think it’s safe enough for people to come in here. I will still invest in my studio but parallel of my studio business I will try to do that with the courses teaching people how to read music and how to play the piano in a course that people could download for beginners. Let’s see how it’s going to go.
Andrea: And where can listeners get in touch with you and follow along with what you’re up to?
Mirka: Well I have my blog which is Mirkapiano.com and I also have my Instagram profile which is Mirka piano and also my Facebook which is the same.
Andrea: Alright. I’ll put all this in the show notes. Okay Mirka, thank you so much. This is really fun.
Mirka: Thank you.
[00:54:10] [End of interview]
I love Mirka’s determination and scrappiness!
The way she set aside a percentage of her income for a year to invest in a bulk order of games and how she made the most of her 24-hr trips to do trainings proves that where there’s a will there’s a way and Mirka will find it!
Mirka’s instinct to focus on relationships and community-building in order to get the word out about her games is really powerful, especially since there weren’t organized teacher groups in Brazil. Her whole business is built on connecting people and delivering value.
She mentioned that she actually enjoys the sales part of her business, and I suspect her approach to sales probably contributes to this enjoyment.
The idea of just asking someone if they want to buy a game, isn’t super compelling. But that’s not how Mirka approaches it. She starts by delivering value and helping teachers through her blog. Then she invites them to go deeper with trainings that help them be better teachers, using all sorts of tools. Finally, she invites them to buy the games, and by this point teachers know all about the games and whether or not they’ll be a useful addition to their studios.
Mirka doesn’t have to resort to slimy sales tactics or manipulation. It’s way more fun to get behind a sales process that’s helpful to teachers at every step of the way!
As teachers, I think we actually have an advantage here. We teach people all day long. If we can release our pre-conceived notions about what it means to be a salesperson, and instead just do our thing as educators, I think our skills here are actually a super power we bring to the sales process.
In Episode 072, Julie Knerr Hague talked about a mindset shift she had in the early days of getting the word out about the Piano Safari curriculum when she realized that teachers just wanted to learn about the curriculum. She didn’t didn’t have to sell them on it, she just had to teach them about it.
In episode 067 the idea of sales as a discovery process was a strong theme in my interview with Jason Bay on Non-Salesy Sales. I’ll link to those in the show notes.
Thank you, Mirka, for this fun conversation and for all you’re doing to bring teachers together in Brazil.
This week I get to do one of my favorite things – I get to present a virtual workshop to some college kids. “hey, hey!” to any Ohio University pedagogy students listening! I love doing these workshops for MTNA chapters and student groups so if you fall in either of those categories and want to have me talk with your group, send me an email and we’ll get it on the calendar.
As always, you can find all the links and show notes for this episode at musicstudiostartup.com/episode074.
That’s all for today. Thanks for listening! I’ll be back next week.