Transcript 090 – Tony Parlapiano on Thriving as a Travel Teacher
Transcript: 090 – Tony Parlapiano on Thriving as a Travel Teacher
Transcript for 090 – Tony Parlapiano on Thriving as a Travel Teacher
[00:00:00] Andrea: 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 creating musicians who are branching out and thriving as entrepreneuers. Be empowered by the insights of experts who will help you grow your own studio.
Let’s get started.
Well, it’s a fun week here at Music Studio Startup HQ. We’ve got a new cohort of Business Building 101 teachers starting the course, and it’s not too late to join, but you will want to do so fast. So you don’t miss out on anything. Now for today’s episode, often travel teaching is seen as a way to start a studio. If you don’t have a permanent space or trying to break into a new market, but today’s guest built his career in travel teaching for almost two decades. Today’s interview is chock full of practical advice on how to make it work as a travel teacher. Everything from pricing to policies, there are insights both new and veteran teachers will appreciate.
Here’s my interview with. Hi, Tony. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here today. Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your studio?[00:01:17] TonyParlapiano: My name is Tony Parlapiano . I have been teaching for about 20 years. For the first 18 years of that, or so has been mostly travel teaching, traveling to my students’ homes. And over the last few years really picked up a little bit more with doing some online teaching. [00:01:35] Andrea: Excellent. And you have been on my list, I think since when I started this podcast, as someone to talk to because I see you active in Facebook groups all the time, and you always bring a lot of value and a calmness about your business, and you’ve really embraced the travel teaching. And I’ve just really excited to get to talk to you finally about that. So thank you for being here. When you first started out, did you plan to be a travel teacher or did that happen on accident? [00:02:00] TonyParlapiano: That was completely by accident. I was working at a small mom and pop retail music shop that offered lessons and I was kind of their resident salesperson for the rock band related instruments. I sold digital pianos, guitars, bass, drum sets. I don’t really know too much about them, but I was kind of just the go-to guy for helping people purchase those instruments. I sold a digital piano to an easily impressed mother who wanted me to come to her house and teach her daughter.
It was not something, we offered lessons at the store and we’re supposed to kind of direct people to, to take lessons there. She was not interested in doing that. She called the store twice a week for the next month. And it was just like, have you changed your mind yet? Will you come teach my daughter? And I was interested in it. I was in school for music. I knew that I wanted to get into teaching. And so I had asked the owner of the store. I said, listen, she, she bought a clavinova from us. She’s not coming here for less than she wants someone to go to the house. I said, can I have your blessing? And he was like, yeah, that’s fine.
That was my first travel student. And she was wonderful in spreading my name around town. It’s a very small community. I’m still involved teaching there. I can still to this day trace probably 30, 40% of my studio back to this one person.[00:03:17] Andrea: That’s the kind of fan you want in your studio. [00:03:20] TonyParlapiano: I was very lucky to have her as my first customer and yeah, it was fantastic. [00:03:24] Andrea: So then you started with that student. Did you build it intentionally or was it just her spreading the word? [00:03:30] TonyParlapiano: It started really with her just spreading the word. I worked with her daughter and then she had three children and then quickly she added a second child. And actually the second child wasn’t even for piano, she just, she was a singer and she wanted me to help create music to go with her song lyrics and stuff so she could just play and sing. And I was like, Hey, if this is what people want you to do, and they’re willing to give you money, like just do it. And yeah, it was, it was fantastic. And I always, you know, I kept my expenses very low in college, so it was, I had time to grow it slowly and again, I didn’t even really, that’s not what I was really trying to do. I was still working at the music shop. This was just happened to be my first teacher. But again, it’s a small kind of like community. They don’t even have a grocery store in town. They have to leave town for like everything. So the idea of having someone come to the house was extremely valuable to them.
And once it got out that there was a travel teacher in town, you know, several people asked her for my number and she was kind of involved in the community at the local church. I think she was very involved with like a youth program at the church. So it was just a great person to have as my advocate in that town, in, in spreading my name around. So it happened pretty quickly in that area to where I had two days pretty quickly.[00:04:47] Andrea: Okay. And then did you make a decision at some point, like travel teaching is going to be my thing or has that also been an accident? [00:04:55] TonyParlapiano: Well, it didn’t start entirely by traveling. I mean, that was, that’s how I got started there, but that music shop that I was working at, they were branching out and had new locations and they had opened up a new location that was about 30 minutes away from their main store. And it was in a pretty affluent area of Connecticut. And I just asked, I said, Hey, could I be the piano teacher over there? So I started, I was doing three days at the music shop, and then I have these two days of travel teaching and it wasn’t until a few years later that the shop got bought out by a more corporate company.
And at that time, I, I made the, they were making some changes there that it just felt like the right time to make a move. And so I decided to leave the store. Several of my students had decided to stay with me at that point. And because of the location that they were in, again, I didn’t plan any of this.
If I were going to plan a travel studio, I would have narrowed my, the areas that I serve. But somehow it worked out really well because I was traveling out maybe up to 40 minutes to get to a location. But then once I got there, it was only like a couple miles between homes and that kind of always worked out.
But when I left that location again, it was about a 40 minute ride to get out there. I just had such a great network. And once again, with the word of mouth families just sharing my name with their friends. Yeah.[00:06:17] Andrea: So what was the timeline like from the time you stopped teaching at the store to like, I am, full-time making a living from my travel teaching? [00:06:25] TonyParlapiano: So I did not have very many expenses. I always worked more than I needed to. At the time when I was getting into travel teaching, the only other job I really had, which I had from high school was I worked for another small mom and pop shop, but that was a sports card and comic book store, which was like a cool job to have in high school. And so I worked for them and I worked for a video game store. So I had like the two jobs that everybody wanted in high school. Yeah, it was fantastic work in terms of, it was just very enjoyable. Like there was not a lot of responsibilities. It was basically like, Hey, just make sure people don’t steal stuff and you can kind of do whatever you want.
So it was a great job to have in school. Cause I could get my studies done while I was working. I stayed working there. I, it was hard to get out of there because I was such a dependable employee for him and he didn’t want to let me go. But as soon it got to the point where I was, I was travel teaching five days a week, and then he was having me come to the shop on the weekend and I’m just like, I’m still in my twenties. It’s like, I need some free time. Again, my expenses were, I always kept my expenses down. So I would say that I’ve really been doing full-time travel teaching since the beginning. Really that’s that’s, I’ve never needed another job to supplement it. It was more of just, I was trying to transition out of my childhood job as quickly as I could.[00:07:47] Andrea: As a small business owner, I can relate to them not wanting to let you go when you have good employees, you want to hang on to them as long as possible. And then in the last few years, or last year and a half, how has COVID impacted the work you do? Cause I know when we’re going to get into more of the travel teaching details, but how has that played a role? [00:08:04] TonyParlapiano: It’s impacted me positively in every possible way. Both as helping to make me a better teacher and also from a, for my business. Now I’m not doing as much travel teaching as I was two years ago. I was fortunate that I had a lot of experience with teaching online already. I started teaching online when FaceTime was first introduced and it started really as just college students, like students who are heading off to college, they wanted to keep the relationship going.
So when COVID hit and we had to kind of flip the switch I had already, I had the multi cameras and I had a nice setup already going. And it didn’t take very much to impress people because most people were kind of scrambling to figure it out. And I already had the equipment. I knew I’d been teaching maybe three to five lessons online a week.
Now it just flipped to like thirty-five to 40 lessons a week. And I made it very easy for parents and some of the local community music schools just didn’t get it together as quickly as they, they could have, or the experience wasn’t optimal. So I got several calls from people who, you know, Hey, we were taking, you know, at this place and you know, we’re looking for a new teacher and you came highly recommended.
So I, I got several new students from there. And since I wasn’t traveling, I had all this extra time to kind of fill with adding more students. So that was great for the line item on the income, you know, the boost of the income. And then there was also some good timing where I just happened to have recorded a few podcasts that released right after in like April.
So like March is kind of when everything happened and in late April, a few podcasts came out and it started getting these a few international students where the podcasts were based in. So it really all just grew through that. And then being a part of the piano teacher groups, I think people just saw what I was doing.
They knew that I had been teaching online for a while. So I started working with several teachers who wanted some advice about how to improve their setup. Hey, how can we make this? So that, that became more of a working relationship. So it’s been great for visibility. It’s been great for reducing my travel time, even though I love travel teaching, I love seeing my students in person.
This has been very nice too, and I I’ve enjoyed it in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I really thought that I was going to go right back to travel teaching, but this has made me also such a better teacher, just because I’ve had to really think about the way that I communicate ideas with students. And even though I have fancy software that allows me to, to display all kinds of fun things on the screen, it’s still technology is still just a tool. And just as much as it can be helpful, it can also interfere with the learning process. So you need to be very careful and make sure that most of it’s coming from clear communication.[00:10:56] Andrea: I’ve heard so many teachers echo that sentiment. That they appreciate how it’s challenged them to be clear communicators. And I, I agree. I think it’s done the same for me, so well, it’ll be interesting to see over the next couple of years where things settle between the travel teaching and online teaching for you. Take us back to when you were full-time travel teaching, what was the typical day? Like how many students were you teaching? How many miles are you putting on your car every day? [00:11:23] TonyParlapiano: That’s a good question. I, for the most part, it was after school hours. So a typical day would be right after school, high school students would be at the top of the day. Cause they’d get home first. So it’d be like a two to two 30 start time. On several days I also had some adult students that oftentimes they were parents of children that were taking lessons.
So sometimes I had started a little earlier, I would say for the most part, maybe by one o’clock I would start my travel teaching day and I’d teach right up until about nine o’clock at night and then I would travel home. So depending on where I was, I had, I had like three days that were pretty close to home that were, you know, 15 minute ride and I’m back home. And then I had the two towns that I started in when I first started that were more like 45 minutes and even up to close to an hour. So on those nights, when I finished at nine o’clock, I might not get home until 10 o’clock. But having those kind of scheduled breaks in between, I, I enjoyed it. It’s like every day had its own feel because I was in a different town every day. And again, I wouldn’t have designed it that way, but it’s just kinda how things unfold.[00:12:30] Andrea: And then did you have breaks throughout the day? Like, did you just pack your dinner and eat it in the car or did you take a pause in the middle? How did that work? [00:12:38] TonyParlapiano: I didn’t schedule any, any breaks. I didn’t say like, okay five to six there’s no lessons. I’m going to have dinner then. I oftentimes would pack a meal or some type of snacks, or just get me through. And I I’d eat before the beginning of the day or something like that, but it’s, I never really scheduled breaks because things always come up, you know, a cancellation will occur and you’ll, you’ll get a pocket of time. And also I’d miss out on all the home cooked meals that the families would send me home with, which should happen fairly often. You know, that’s the one thing about travel teaching is you really get to know the entire family and they take care of you and when it’s dinnertime for them, they’re, they’re offering you a meal too. [00:13:18] Andrea: That is true. I have done very minimal travel teaching, but that did happen and it was quite a nice perk. So how do you handle student scheduling? This can be challenging for even a brick and mortar studio where the students are coming to the teacher, but you’ve got the added complexity of travel time and traffic and all that. So how do you do that? [00:13:37] TonyParlapiano: So for scheduling, I have to be in charge of the scheduling in limiting options. You don’t want families thinking that it’s easy to request. Hey, you know, soccer came in. Can we have four o’clock on Tuesdays. Now for the most part again, I’m in each of these towns one day a week. So the families know that, Hey, I’m in your town on Mondays. I can’t be here any other day of the week. The one thing that I think is important to kind of communicate to your families, and this is really hard to do because you don’t want to come off as arrogant, but you do want to let them know like, Hey, you’re lucky to have me. You’re lucky to have me coming to your house and providing the service.
This is not something that a lot of people want to do. And a lot of people maybe start their careers this way. They start as a travel teacher, but then eventually they want students to come to their home and you’re getting somebody who’s a very experienced teacher. And you should prioritize this time.
Now, as far as traffic and things like that. I, it, that used to be extremely stressful cause I don’t want to be late. And so something I borrowed from a, I learned a lot over the last three, four years joining these groups and I’ve met some great friends in one of my friends, Mark Paulson, he had this thing in his policy where he would have this variance. So there was, there’s a 15 minute variance, a lot of between the lesson scheduled time and the instructor’s time of arrival. So I have a very small policy, but that’s, that’s one of the things that goes in it. And I just let them know that there’ll be notified if I anticipate being more than 15 minutes late.
So would that 15 minute variants, if it’s a four 30 lesson, that means I could show up 15 minutes early or I could show up 15 minutes late. Again, trying to be on time for the most part, but I don’t want to be in a car running late and then figuring out like, how do I text this person now that I’m running late? Like I’m driving. So I just let them. I might be up to 15 minutes late. If I’m going to be more than 15 minutes late, I’ll pull over to the side of the road. I’ll send you a message. I’ll see if it works for you, but building in some type of flexibility right there so parents know don’t just reserve this 30 don’t book things right before, right after piano.
Like this is, this is your piano time and there needs to be some flexibility. The other nice thing about that is I don’t want to be a clock watcher. I don’t want a 30 minute lesson to mean like, okay, you got to go the next person’s here. Like if the lesson needs to go 32 minutes, 33 minutes, you know, 35 minutes even just to have this natural cadence point and feel like it’s complete, it’s nice to be able to have a little bit of that flexibility, knowing that I can get to the next house, you know, a few minutes late and nobody’s, nobody’s going to be upset about it.
They know. Setting up those kinds of things in a policy, I think is helpful. You know, you can’t help certain things like traffic, but I will say that for the most part, if I’m going to get into an issue with traffic, it was going to be at the beginning of the day. But because travel teaching is kind of at these odd hours, people are working these nine to five type schedules and I’m going in at like three. I would usually be in town by that time. So it’s very rare that I’d actually run into heavy traffic cause I’m not working in a city where I’m dealing with like heavy traffic all the time. It’s just, I’m navigating around back roads and a little like country towns.[00:16:53] Andrea: Yeah, I didn’t think about that. That would make a difference. And then, did you have any situations where maybe a student who had been studying with you for three years, just the schedule would not work to get them fit in? You know, they’ve got new activities, your schedule has changed. Have you ever had a situation like that? [00:17:10] TonyParlapiano: So I don’t think I’ve ever had a situation where scheduling became, like, we couldn’t make it work with a student that had already been there. It’s definitely prevented some people from getting started in the first place. Like my availability doesn’t line up with theirs. So we don’t get started. I have had students where I usually like to think, like when I get a student I’m going to have them until they graduate high school.
That’s my head space is they’re here for a long time, but I also worked in a lot of towns where kids were sent off to private school and oftentimes boarding school. So they would move out of the house for the school year, live on campus and sports were a very intense thing at the schools they were going to. They’d always have to do two sports. And so sometimes parents would make the decision that like, okay, when they go to high school, that’s when they stop. So in that sense, it was a scheduling thing, but I don’t think there’s ever really been a situation where a parent really wants to continue and I just can’t, I can’t offer them a, a time that works fortunately, with being in these smaller towns and doing a lot of referral-based some of your families will know some of your other families. And if you tell them, it’s like, Hey, you know, Charlie and Alex has got a thing. Like, can you guys switch for like six weeks or something? Like, I’ll come to your house first. And most people want to help, you know, they want to help. Cause it’s their neighbor. Hey, we, we got them in with you. So maybe I’m just lucky, but it’s always kind of worked out.[00:18:33] Andrea: Yeah, definitely. I’ve seen teachers take a lot of different approaches to pricing for travel teaching. How have you thought about it? [00:18:41] TonyParlapiano: So with traveling. Since I was only traveled teaching, I never really had to think of a travel fee is like a separate thing. It’s not like, okay, your lesson fee is X, and then we’re going to add a travel fee to it. Also, I don’t think that that’s a good way to make friends with the people who are giving you money. You know, it’s the free delivery in a sense, you know, even though it’s not free delivery, you’re, you’re taking it into consideration in your overall rate.
I think that is something that needs to just be included in your pricing. The way that I typically would do it is I would add about 15 minutes worth of time. So if somebody was booking like a 30 minute class, I would charge what a studio teacher would would do for a 45 minute class. Based on that kind of rate, I’m basically charging them an extra 15 minutes worth of time.
And scheduling is everything. You want efficient travel routes. It’s very tempting sometimes to just do whatever you need to do to accommodate a student, but if it gets you to where you’re got 30 minutes between classes and you’re, you can’t do that, you really can’t do that. It’s just, it’s going to eat up too much of your time.
But the benefit is, is you also have all of these, you know, the mileage you get as a write off. So I’ve seen teachers say, you know, you should charge double the price, you know, for, for all this stuff, you have to take all this stuff into consideration. There’s, there’s a balance there, you know, you get the, the mileage helps a lot.
It’s a huge write off every year and I’ve found that just by, there is a perceived value, you know. Like you can’t, I don’t think you can just always charge double what it is there it’s and I think 15 minutes for me has always covered it because I’ve never really had students scheduled that were more than a 10 or 15 minutes drive.[00:20:27] Andrea: How are your prices compared to others in your area? Because there aren’t a lot of travel teachers. So how do you think about the service that you offer in terms of pricing? [00:20:35] TonyParlapiano: I’m certainly in line with premium pricing and, um, I’m more expensive than any studio that I’m aware of here. And it’s, it’s a fairly big range here.
I’ve seen the lesson fee kind of span almost $20 on the half-hour mark. Like I’ve seen lessons as cheap as $20 a lesson up to 35, 40 for a 30 minute lessons. So that the local studios around here, I don’t know if they’re paying attention to what each other is doing or not, but it’s hard to know it. For a long time I just never really paid attention to it. But now that I’ve a little more aware through these Facebook groups, like what people are charging in different areas. I try to price myself in line with premium pricing because I, I do feel I’m providing a premium service. Like traveling to somebody’s home is it’s not as convenient as it used to be. Because like now with parents shuffling kids all over to different activities, it’s like sometimes now it’s like, we’ve got to get them back home for their piano lesson. It’s like, it’s almost no different from them having to take them and bring them to a studio. It is nice that it’s just, the kid just has to be home, you know, with an adult.
They don’t, they don’t, you know, not everybody has to be home or the parent doesn’t have to like shuffle the whole family to get one kid somewhere. So it’s, it’s a, it’s a nice little perk and, and parents are really willing to pay for that. So I find that I’m probably at a premium rate for my area, for sure.[00:21:58] Andrea: And you brought up at the beginning, a lot of people start with travel teaching. And so you’re getting less experienced teacher, but you are not a beginner teacher. I mean, you’ve been at it for 20 years. So that is also a factor. [00:22:12] TonyParlapiano: Right? My friend Mark Paulson, I mentioned here, he said I wouldn’t teach out of my house for double the money and parents wouldn’t travel to me for free lessons.
So everybody’s happy meaning that the areas that we teach in a lot of the families that I worked with, they’re trying to shuffle kids around. They have nannies. They want the convenience of someone coming to the house. And so even if I could teach out of my home, chances are they wouldn’t, they wouldn’t be able to get the kids to me.
And I’ve always liked having that separation between my home space. I mean, I I’d, I’d entertain the possibility of a commercial location if I offered a little bit of a different service, but I never really wanted to turn my house really where students were coming in without building a whole separate location for that.[00:22:58] Andrea: Have you made any investments in your studio that are perhaps unique because you’re a travel teacher? [00:23:04] TonyParlapiano: That’s an interesting question. I, I don’t think I’ve had really any unique things. I, the way that I teach is pretty unique. I, I do a lot with writing, so I, I show up with some nice almost like art supplies in a way, like, like a lot of colored pencils, things like that, fun markers and things.
And I get students to write in their, in their music books. Everybody’s got a composition notebook, everybody’s got a manuscript book and I like to make the lesson experience as creative as possible. And I believe in writing as a way of helping students with their reading. And so we compose a lot and I let them pick fun colors and things of stuff like that.
But it’s just kind of from like fun little novelty, stuff like that. Nothing really extravagant. I, you know, I have like Bluetooth speakers and things like that. I have a little backpack that I carry around with me that has like all my travel stuff in it. No, actually more of the investment is now come from doing the online stuff where I’ve kind of tried to invest in some programs and things like that to kind of deliver as close as I can, to that in-person experience.[00:24:08] Andrea: I was curious what you carry with you for lessons. What’s in your bag? [00:24:13] TonyParlapiano: I have a bag full of actually like dice. Musicians die. I have these 12 sided dye that have all the letters of the piano on it. And then I use all these kinds of like odd sized dialect deviates, and like four-sided die eight sided die and they represent different things. And. A lot of games would that like theory games and I carry a Bluetooth speaker. I carry a ton of fancy writing supplies. Always manuscript books and stuff in there.
I mean, those are the main things. I, I have a lot of things that I don’t even use. Like there’s, you know, there’s a metronome in there, but if we don’t, we don’t use a metronome in class. I use that more if I’m just trying to figure out the tempo of a song and see how close I can get. Yeah. It’s mostly that it’s mostly writing supplies and dice.[00:24:56] Andrea: And talk to us about your typical student. What are characteristics of a person who prefers travel lessons? [00:25:02] TonyParlapiano: So that I, I don’t know if I know the answer to that as I think I certainly know that. You know, busy families are the ones who want it. I don’t know that it’s comes so much from the student. If the student’s a child it’s, it’s really comes more from the parent.
And again, I, it wasn’t like I really ever offered both. It was just if they came to me and they wanted me as their teacher, well, that’s just where lessons happen. They happened in their home. I don’t know that I ever really got that down. I all I’ve ever heard was, it’s so nice that you come to the house because it’s just that one, one less thing.
So I think really travel lessons are for everybody. I don’t know that anybody would really prefer… people, you know, like that idea of like, Hey, we’re going to, we’re going to go somewhere. But I think most families, they got more than one child and they’re involved in more than one activity. If, if you can give them one less thing to travel to, they’re going to love it.[00:25:57] Andrea: Okay. I said I had minimal travel experience and that’s really true. I think I’ve taught five students traveled teaching. And in one situation, I thought, you know what? This was just a little too easy for these parents. The student would not have taken piano lessons. If her parents had to bring her. It didn’t cost them enough.
I felt like in terms of like, they often missed lessons, didn’t really support her practicing or just really didn’t set her up for success. And in that one situation, I know this was not typical of my other students, but have you encountered that at all? Or do you have ways, questions that you ask maybe in the interview process to kind of weed out the students that maybe just are not going to be supported enough to have a successful music experience?[00:26:45] TonyParlapiano: Not really. One of the things I really like about travel teaching is I get to be in their space. So I get to observe how the student reacts and responds to different things that are going on in their environment. For example, let’s say I’m working with siblings and I might be working with one who anything could be going on there. You could have painters in the room and, you know, people moving furniture around and they’re totally locked in and focused. And another one, there could be a pin drop in the other room. And they’re like, what, what was that? You know? And it’s nice to be able to say that to the parent. It’s like, Hey, you know, they really need a quiet space when they’re practicing. And so you can kind of advocate for the student with, with that and let them know what’s going on. Uh, as far as the piano, the location needs to be tuned. I remember seeing so many teachers mentioning when they first started teaching online. They’re like, I cannot believe what my students are practicing on.
It’s like, well, you don’t need to be a travel teacher to have a conversation with a family about like what their instrument is. But that’s kind of the nice thing is you don’t have to ask too many things in the interview process. As long as you do some type of trial lesson, you know, before. And that doesn’t mean it has to be free, but just some type of let’s come once and we’ll see what you got for an instrument.
I usually ask people if they have an instrument. It’s just question to get the conversation started, but you can have a lot of those conversations once you get into the home, you can see a lot about the environment, so you don’t have to talk about too much of it. So I do like having phone calls with parents. I do like making sure they know what my rate is before I come out for any type of trial or introductory session. And for the most part, I used to do like a free introductory session. I don’t do that anymore. Not because I don’t believe in them. I, I it’s, it’s, it’s nice to not have that pressure in the beginning and just kind of have this thing.
Cause it’s like, I don’t know if I want to work with you yet. I’m gonna come. I’m gonna meet. You know, we’ll talk, but right now it’s just because I’m not really trying to grow. I’m certainly not trying to grow my travel teaching studio. It just got to a point where it doesn’t make sense anymore to really offer a free thing. It’s, I’m at a point where I’m just kind of maintaining that studio.[00:28:47] Andrea: What does marketing look like? Or what does it look like to maintain a studio instead of trying to grow it. [00:28:53] TonyParlapiano: So those are, again, two things, you know, this whole thing really happened so organically that I’ve never really had to focus too much on marketing. The maintaining a studio part, so I, you know, obviously I’m not actively campaigning to go out and put my name anywhere because all I’m going to say is, okay, well, call me in three months and see if I have a spot or something like that. As far as the differences really. You get to focus a lot more on just creating really awesome relationships with the people that you have, because you’re not worrying about am I going to lose students and how am I going to replace students?
I need to have a waiting list so I can feel secure. The most security for me has come from just establishing really wonderful relationships with the entire family and realizing that as a travel teacher, you know, you’re not just the piano teacher for a lot of the parents. You’re like their company at the end of a long day.
And they want that three minutes a chitchat or something before you go out the door. So if you have that kind of a personality where you can, you know, just have a few moments to chat with the family. I can’t remember the last time anybody ever asked me, like, well, how’s my child doing in piano lessons.
They know because of the results, the results speak for themselves. They hear, you know, the progress and I’m maybe I’ll mention something. But for the most part, I noticed that they. They just wanted to connect to, you know, they, they want to like you as a person. And that is the most security that you can possibly have because whether the student is progressing or not, you know, however fast progressing, they like having you in their home. They want to keep that relationship going.
And that’s why I’ve been fortunate to have that feeling of security that, Hey, if I have this, unless something really comes up, I’ve got them until they graduate. So that’s what I think that that would be the big difference. When you’re maintaining a studio, you can just focus more on the students that you have, and you don’t have to worry so much about like, well, how am I going to get new students?[00:30:43] Andrea: Yeah. And I think anytime that’s a good strategy to be thinking about, but it, when you’ve got the pressure of, oh, I’ve tried to build this studio, I only have half the students I need, it can be hard to think of that, but I think it’s absolutely, [00:30:55] TonyParlapiano: well, I think a lot of energy goes into it. You know, people what’s the best way to market what’s, you know, and I think the best way to market is just get out into your community.
And I’ve noticed that this wasn’t intentional, but anytime I mentioned the word that I’m a piano teacher, Wherever I am, somebody knows somebody or they want a card or they, you know, it’s, I I’m at, I’m at a coffee shop. I’m not even talking about piano teaching. And I see something and I just say something like, oh yeah, one of my piano students, I’m not even trying to market it.
But I just said one of the family piano families that I, that I teach, they have one of those. And they’re like, oh, you teach piano. Immediately the conversation shifts. Do you have a card? Can I get your number? That’s that’s what I find is the nice marketing is like, when you don’t even really expect it, you’re just out in the community and you let people know what you do.
I mean, we have awesome jobs and people love music and I’m always amazed. It’s it’s, even though it happens all the time, it’s just like, there it is. Again. I just mentioned it with no intent on, on getting a student here I am having a conversation about my work.[00:32:00] Andrea: Yeah, it is a great job for building connections with people because everyone’s got a story they want to share like, oh, I took piano lessons when I was a kid and I quit or I wish my mom hadn’t let me quit. If you know, I have a difficult thing, but yeah, everyone can connect over music lessons. It’s amazing. So if you were looking to start a travel studio, say you’re a young teacher, just starting out. What characteristics might you look for in a community to try to get involved and start establishing yourself. [00:32:29] TonyParlapiano: So I saw this question and I had to ask a friend of mine what he thought. This is my friend, Mark Paulson. Cause he usually has a lot of good insight on stuff like this. And I think that that is something that has always a little bit terrified me. Is this idea of like, what if I were to move somewhere? How could I recreate this? Because my studio really was built organically and by accident. And I have to say for myself, I think that any community would support a travel teacher, but in order to get the kind of wage that you really need, you need to go to a community that values that kind of delivery service. Places where DoorDash and Uber’s are, you know, like where people are really getting the convenience. Like if they’re kind of more like, Hey, we’re just going to stay home and we’re going to have a barbecue in the backyard. And it’s just kind of like that kind of community. There’s not a lot of activity in that. Like they’d rather do it themselves. It’s I think that that’s probably one of the things that I would, I would look for is like, where are the communities where people are really appreciate and value that kind of like white glove service.
We want it delivered to our house. Anything we can hire out, you know, if people are cutting their own lawns, like that’s maybe not the community for you, you know? But if they’re, if they’re hiring out for that, they’re going to hire out for this.[00:33:51] Andrea: I didn’t think about DoorDash and those kinds of delivery services being an indicator. So if DoorDash isn’t available in your community right now, people might not value the delivery service. Like you said, that’s, you know how you tend to see retail stores kind of in similar clumps. Like you might see a Target and a Hobby Lobby and a Marshall’s all in the same sort of area because they look for similar characteristics and yeah. [00:34:15] TonyParlapiano: And it’s all kind of for myself. I still, even though it’s not a money thing, but. If I order something, I like to go out and get it, but that’s mostly because I enjoy traveling. I just want to get out of the house for a few minutes and just kind of a break in the routine. So it’s not necessarily an indicator, but it could be. I think that those are maybe good things to look for, but that’s more from the angle of, are people willing to pay a premium for that travel service. But I think if you just wanted to go and set up, I don’t think anybody would be opposed to having lessons in their home. I think that you could support it. It’s just more from that. If you want to charge a premium rate, go to where people are willing to pay premium for things to be delivered to their home. [00:35:00] Andrea: Is there a book or resource that has had a strong influence on you as a piano teacher or as an entrepreneur?. [00:35:07] TonyParlapiano: I haven’t read too many entrepreneur books. I pick up a lot of stuff from, um, my friend, Eric Brenner, who we both know in the Fonz family. And I’ve bought a bunch of books that he’s recommended and I need to get through them and read them. But for my teaching, I will say that there’s a book that I’ve read that’s called The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz. And that is really about understanding how structure determines behavior.
Basically the structure that you implement for students, establishing a positive structure will establish powerful results or desirable results. And it helps me understand a little bit about just human relationships. And people being in reactive and responsive orientations versus creative orientations.
And really the book is about helping you to become the creative force in your life. And rather than feeling stuck with just options, I need to choose between this or this, really creating a vision for what it is that you want. Coming up with a very accurate description of current reality, where you are, and trying to map the best path to get you to the vision, which is what you want. And so that has been extremely helpful for me because sometimes you can get caught up and say, this is what the world has presented me with. I have to decide between doing one of these two things, but, well, what if that wasn’t there? What is it that you really want?
Because there’s a way to get to where, where you really want. And I found that those two things, having a clear picture of the desired outcome of what you want and being able to really. Accurately, describe where you are. You’ll be able to map out a path. That’ll get you there. One step at a time.[00:36:44] Andrea: It sounds like a fascinating book. I’ll definitely be reading it. And when Eric was on the podcast a year and a half ago, two years ago, he sent me a picture of his bookshelf with this list of book recommendation. So I’ll link up to that in the show notes too. And what’s next for you? What’s a goal that you’re working towards in the coming year? [00:37:03] TonyParlapiano: So over the last three and a half to four years, I’ve been developing my own curriculum that’s called popMATICS, and it’s a concept based music curriculum, which means I focus on kind of big ideas. It’s not so much subject material. So rather than having kind of a linear path, it’s more of this like circular thing where we have all these concepts that we explore and we keep digging into and peeling back a layer and going more into, so students get to kind of pick the material that they want to learn.
And so I’ve been developing this over the last few years. I just, as a two days ago, I picked up, I just ordered 350 copies of my most recent popMATICS composition book. So my plan now is to start sharing it with the world because people have found out about it and they’ve been pushing me to do things like build a course, do this, and I’m just, it’s not ready yet.
And now I feel really after this last year of teaching online that it’s ready. Now, I’ve gotten to the place where people used to ask me questions. Well, how do you do this? And I’m like, I’m not sure yet I’m still working on it. But now I feel like it’s really kind of Bulletproof and I know all the steps, not that they have to be in a linear fashion, but I know it feels very complete to me now. And that’s not to say I won’t ever add to it, but I feel like I’m ready to start sharing that with the world[00:38:22] Andrea: And the world will be better off for it.. Well, this has been really interesting. Thank you for sharing everything you have learned over your two decades of being a travel teacher. Yeah. It’s just really great to see someone who’s just embrace that and thrived in that setting. And I think listeners will get a lot of value out of what you shared. Where can listeners get in touch with you? [00:38:42] TonyParlapiano: So my website is parlapianostudio.com. And on there, there’s a contact form. You can send me a message, my phone numbers on there too.
I feel safe putting that out there cause like only 2% of the population still makes phone calls. So, but yeah, that just parlapianostudio.com. You can send me a message. If there’s something you think I can help with or you want to talk about something that’s probably the best place to get me.[00:39:04] Andrea: All right, Tony. Thank you so much. [00:39:06] TonyParlapiano: Thank you. [00:39:13] Andrea: I love talking to teachers who have been at it for decades, plural, because their studios have stood the test of time. They’ve experienced an adored different economic seasons internally with changing personal financial needs and externally as business owners that operate in a broader economy. Plus it’s one thing to get a bunch of students, but it’s another thing to keep those students for years and years like Tony has done. Often, there’s this antagonistic relationship between art and money or teaching and business. A sense that by acknowledging the business side, one has to make sacrifices on the teaching side. I think Tony and his studio are such a great example of why that doesn’t have to be the case.
I get the sense that Tony is not overly distracted by the business side of his. He’s given it due attention with setting prices and policies to make it sustainable. But with those in place, he doesn’t have to give it a ton of attention. He’s free to focus on his art, his creative pedagogy and the incredible mentoring and relationship building he does with students and their families. To thrive as an entrepreneur and music teacher doesn’t mean constantly obsessing over the business side of a studio or becoming a full-time administrator.
It might mean that, but it doesn’t have to. There really are a lot of paths to sustainability depending on your interest. Now to switch gears because it’s tax season, I thought I’d elaborate a little more on what Tony said about the mileage write-off because often teachers don’t think this deduction is worth the hassle of tracking.
Of course, I have to give the requisite disclaimer that I’m not a tax preparer and this is not to be taken as tax advice. This is me, a person working through a tax form and doing basic math. I will be focusing on the U S teachers for a minute. I didn’t ask Tony how many miles he drives a week, but one of my childhood teachers travel taught for a few years. So I’m going to use what I estimate her numbers might’ve looked like. In my example, my teacher moved about 45 miles away and came back to teach two days worth of students each week in a pretty small geographic area. I estimate she drove about 225 miles in those two days, 180 miles back and forth between her house and our city and 45 miles between students.
Now every year, the IRS sets a standard mileage deduction rate. It’s an easy number that takes into account gas, maintenance, and wear and tear on your car so you don’t have to track every gas station and oil change receipt for 2021. That standard mileage rate was 56 cents a mile. This means that for every mile you drive for business, you can expense 56 cents to your business.
So if my teacher drove 225 miles a week, 40 weeks out of the year, that’s 9,000 miles. At 56 cents a mile, that’s a $5,040 mileage deduction. That’s about $770 saved in self-employment taxes alone, plus savings on federal and state income taxes that could roughly double that amount, depending on the tax bracket the teacher falls in. Obviously these are very rough calculations and every person’s situation has a lot of variables, but you can see that it’s well worth the time spent record. That maybe you’re not driving thousands of miles a year, travel teaching. This deduction could still be for you even a teacher who drives only 25 miles a month for business.
So you drive to MTNA meetings or workshops or the music store, even that little driving could add up to about $45 a year off the tax bill for about five minutes of record keeping. Thanks, Tony, for pumping this conversation, I never want to miss an opportunity. Tell the music teachers be more strategic with their taxes.
If you have more questions about taxes, I have quite a few resources for music teachers, including a handy-dandy reverse calculator, where you put in your monthly expenses and it’ll tell you how much you need to earn an income to cover those expenses. Plus what you should be saving for taxes each month.
I’ll link to all those resources in the show notes at musicstudiostartup.com/episode090. And one last plug for the Business Building 101 course. Reach out to me ASAP if you want to join this cohort, that’s all for today. Thanks for listening. I’ll be back next week. .