How Do You Find Students and Run a Successful Business In a Small Town?

by Rachael

Rachael says:

Hi, just a little note to say I've enjoyed your site.

I'm a guitar and piano teacher too.. also living somewhere off the beaten track (a small town just out of Melbourne in Australia). Just recently moved to do an artist residency in the country, so I am trying to build local students. Do you have any tips on running a successful business when you're living in a small town?

Many thanks- Rachael

Dana replies:

Hi, Rachael,

I was on the Piano Adventures Forum a couple of months ago, when a similar question was asked, only then it regarded "How to find homeschoolers?" (because they can be your best students, frequently, and their parents are very dedicated). Along with others, I offered my two cents' worth... Here is the same advice, but not limited to homeschoolers:

Call the local Parks and Recreation people (usually a city entity) or Boys and Girls Club (non-profit charity, I think), and ask if you can offer classes through them, at their building. I'm talking about group classes, here. If they take you on board, they will do all the advertising (which may include announcements/brochures at the local school and also at the radio station!) It is a great partnership, and a good way to attract private students.

You want to have a sales pitch ready. "I was thinking of doing introductory group keyboard classes for beginners... just 4 weeks... 8 weeks... I was thinking of a Summer Music Camp..." etc. Think CHEAP for group classes, but not for private!

It's great that you play guitar -- guitar classes are VERY popular (though I don't recommend group guitar classes for YOUNG beginners). It might be a good way just to let people know who you are, if you offered guitar lessons as a "set" of lessons that would wind up and be all done in 10 weeks, for example. How about group singing classes, as a way to get your foot in the door, and have a product to entice parents?

As far as piano classes go, you call it "Keyboard Classes," and tell them they must bring their own keyboards! (You would need to have a good set of electrical plug-ins and an extension cord that you could bring with you -- my husband made me a fancy one years ago, and I still use it for group keyboard classes. You also need a portable keyboard of your own.)

Many, many families have keyboards, forgotten in the closet, or friends from whom to borrow them. No, they're not ideal instruments, but many children just want a "taste" of the piano, so it can be a great introduction for them.

Get to know the people at the local music store -- IF THERE IS ONE in your small town -- and leave your cards there, if you have a business card. Or drop by frequently and ask if they have any requests for guitar and piano teachers, and a list of teacher names.

Attend all local recitals that you hear about, and introduce yourself to the teacher or group leader. Offer to accompany for a struggling choir, whether a community choir or a church choir.

Go up to the local school and introduce yourself to the band and choir directors, or such music teachers as exist. Ask if they need any accompanying done from time-to-time. Lots of churches also need back-up pianists, (though I would personally not attend a church just to play the piano, unless I was paid, because church attendance is an important priority for me, and I don't go to church just for the music!).

For Locating Homeschoolers:
Find out who homeschools, and call parents up and chat with them. Most people are pretty friendly, and homeschool parents' ears perk up when they hear the word "teacher;" don't assume that they want to do all the teaching themselves!

Places to find out who the homeschoolers are:

Churches. Call the pastors or secretaries and just ask if they have a group of homeschoolers and if so, is there a group leader or a mom in particular who wouldn't mind chatting with you about the need for more teachers in this group? There are many play groups/shared classes among homeschoolers.

The local school band & choir teachers. They will probably know who homeschools.

Dance studios, maybe.

The local Boys and Girls Club, if there is one. When my oldest daughters were little, the homeschoolers kept that place busy the first half of the day.

Oh -- and give recitals! Even if you have only 3 students, give special recitals, because they will invite family and friends, and word will get around!

Good luck!

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