Possibly every private teacher in the city would benefit from a stronger teaching climate and stronger student base. Certainly, every private teacher in the city would benefit from improved student-to-teacher matching. Marketing successfully goes a long way towards improving our teaching climate and matching process.
I've had a number of coffee conversations with younger area private music teachers, as well as colleagues in SAS, and I wanted to share some brief thoughts on marketing to students in SA below.
The Big Picture
The student-to-teacher matching process in San Antonio is still very underdeveloped.
There's no large centralized resource or non-profit school where students and teacher interact on a regular basis. It's difficult for families to find and contact the most qualified private lesson teachers, and almost a black magic for dedicated families to meet several teachers in search of the best match. It's no fun starting from scratch, trying to find a violin teacher.
One way I've fought the lack of a developed matching process is to increase the variety of useful marketing tools that I use, while also trying to learn more about the student population that is seeking lessons. Successful marketing seems to involve casting a wide net, and having a mechanism for filtering in well-matching students.
Word of Mouth from parents and students is always the strongest advertisement
How strong? Almost every student that comes into my studio from a word of mouth recommendation has no interest in my credentials, experience, or track record with students.
I've actually heard: "Our friend/teacher recommended you, and that's enough! No need to sell it." Amazing, right?! I come away thinking: "Why did I bother getting a degree then?"
It seems that the most intense families, the most hard working students usually come from a word of mouth recommendation. They have probably spoken with another family, or even heard a student play violin in church or a public recital.
Sometimes, increasing word of mouth advertisement is a bit of a mystery. It's a social currency. With current students, I'll sometimes mention: "If you have some ambitious friends at school that might like to take lessons, be sure to take a business card."
Moo.com prints excellent business cards, and I keep in mind that I'm selling violin lessons, not tree trimming services. Cards have to look nice.
Word of Mouth from private teachers and school teachers is also very strong
I'll mention to teacher friends occasionally: "please keep me in mind for student recommendations." I suspect(hope!) that some recommendations are reciprocal.
There are a handful of private teachers that teach up to about book 3 or 4 of the Suzuki rep, and then decide to move their students to teachers with conservatory credentials and professional performing experience. In most other cities in TX and in the northeast U.S., those advancing student pipelines are much more solidified.
Some very good recommendations have also come out of middle school classrooms. Those students tend to be a little bit more hit or miss in terms of adaptability. Not having a private teacher until 7th or 8th grade means that there has been no existing practice structure or routine. That's a tough thing (but not impossible) to start building from scratch in adolescence.
I personally wish that private lessons were pushed hard in 5th grade strings or earlier. Many parents just have no clue that private lessons are an option, or even useful for their beginning string player. All of the best public school programs have a high percentage of students enrolled in private lessons.
Websites and Internet Marketing (matthewzerweck.com, Youtube, Google adwords)
These days, it's easy enough to use a website template on Weebly or Wix, etc., but very few area teachers have website presences. My weebly website, matthewzerweck.com, has been a good tool for allowing students and families to make contact, and my youtube channel is a peek into the tone/approach I use for lessons.
Google adwords express is a tool I've been experimenting with for the last couple of years.
It's greatly increased the number of calls I've received around August and September when most students think about starting lessons or switching teachers.
It allows for a targeted radius (within X miles of anywhere in San Antonio) for about $50 per month. So, my website comes up in certain areas when someone searches for "violin teacher." My google business listing shows up on Google Maps, and also includes a couple of shots of the violin studio. It looks official.
The Website and Adwords have yielded a couple of students, and also help give the impression to many potential students that I'm serious about playing and teaching (and not just some dude that happens to play the violin). It's a huge weight off my shoulders when I can avoid giving a sales spiel about my experiences as a performer and educator.
Angie's List, Yelp, are pretty much worthless for private lesson matching.
Yelp, especially, is directed towards businesses with hundreds of clientele, so it's near impossible to achieve reviews from a small and steady client base. Those reviews often get flagged and deleted. Advanced marketing on Yelp is prohibitively expensive for a private teaching studio (several hundred $$ per month). Craigslist and Nextdoor Neighbor tend to attract bargain hunters. I haven't had success using either.
One area teacher I know has found a lot of success reaching out to mommy Facebook groups and offering instrument demos at a local music store. Then, onsite, the potential students can by signed up for instrument lessons and rentals.
Directories for Teachers
The best directories allow website links and information about the teachers.
The YOSA directory is a great growing resource.
SA String Teachers is also an effort in that same vein.
Teacher Directories at public schools are inherently flawed
Literally, there is usually a name and a phone number, so there's no differentiation between BM+MM Eastman School, SA Symphony, and someone that simply calls themselves a violin teacher, but maybe their main instrument is ukulele.
Contacts from public school teachers' lists are hit or miss. It's equivalent to opening a phone book and using it as a dating service.
I'm not saying that these lists are useless, just extremely random.
A normal cold-call conversation goes like this:
Parent: My son's orchestra teacher told him he needs a "violin tutor."
MZ: Okay, how did you find my contact info?
Parent: Well I called 10 people on the list, and you are the only person that has called back.
MZ: Huh. Okay, do you know anything about me? Have you Googled me?
Parent: Nope, not at all, we don't Google, we're just starting to look for a tutor.
MZ: I'm happy to see students of all ages and ability levels. Why don't I send you some information about my availability, policies, and rate structure over email, and I'll also include some other recommendations. What Area of SA are you in?
Parent: We live in Pebble Oak.
MZ: Sounds great! I'll send you a detailed email in a few minutes.
I've found a number of very bright, hardworking students though these lists, but there have also been a lot of redirections. I have to wonder what happens to the students that don't receive any call-backs.
Teaching at a for-profit music school
Teaching at a music school is a good way to gain a large number of students with very little additional effort in marketing. I taught at a well-respected music school for one year, and decided that it wasn't a good fit, a personal decision.
Know your market:
Anecdotal information below may be slightly skewed due to my location, age, pricepoint, race, and gender.
In SA, there's been an exponential growth within the last 10 years in the number of non-SAS teachers focusing on younger students and beginning students. There's also tremendous growth in the city in upper and middle class areas on the north and west side of town.
I've taken care to not reveal any personal information below.
General Locations of Potential Students:
Student density indicated by yellow highlighter. Over time, the driving distance for potential students has increased. Several students have driven from Uvalde, Austin, and Victoria, TX. There's still a segment of the population that's averse to driving 25+ minutes. That's surprising considering the expression: "everything is bigger in TX"
In this chart, I break down the location and approaches that incoming students had when they joined my studio. About 25% of all current students moved from another state to San Antonio, after previously having lessons.
Ages are now pretty evenly split in my studio, which is a big change from 2010, where most students were high schoolers from the YOSA Orchestras.
I suspect that I may actually have a larger than normal number of male students for a violin studio.
The overall slow trend over time in my studio is an increase in home school students and charter schools students. You may wonder why the number of public students is small. Generally, it's because those students come in around 7th-10th grade, and there's a much higher rate of turnover. Home schoolers and charter school students tend to start lessons very young and stay for 7+ years.
Success for some students means moving up a couple of seats in school orchestra or a youth orchestra. Maybe it's learning a skill like vibrato or playing in 3rd position. And for others, success is bringing a memorized etude and scale to each lesson and competing in local competitions.
Having high student retention means that students generally like coming to weekly lessons, and ultimately find those lessons meaningful. Younger students will enjoy praise and parental attention, while older students are drawn more to self-individuation, accolades, and self-expression. The student population in SA is extremely diverse, and having a large studio that accepts many ages and abilities means that flexibility is going to be a useful strength.