The month I signed a lease on a very affordable office suite was a very exciting time for me. I had taught privately for many years and worked out of other lesson studios and it was finally my time to go into business for myself. I painted, hauled office furniture, set everything up just right and soon I was ready to receive the throngs of people that were ready to knock my door down.
It wasn’t quite that easy. Not by a long shot. The suite I signed a lease on was off-street and had no visible signage or street presence. As a result, I learned some very important lessons on marketing (many the hard way). I thought I’d share a few of them here in hopes that others may get a laugh or a new idea from my experiences.
1) OUR EXISTENCE ALONE WILL NOT GUARANTEE A FULL ROSTER OF STUDENTS
Not only do we have to exist but people have to KNOW we exist before they will pay us for our services. While it would be ideal if our teaching skills were so revolutionary and cutting edge that word would spread across the community like wildfire and people would bang down our door just to witness the majesty…odds are that won’t happen quickly enough to pay our rent on a consistent basis. So we have to let people know we exist…and more importantly…
2) PEOPLE WON’T CARE THAT WE EXIST UNLESS WE GIVE THEM A REASON TO DO SO
Buying an ad in the paper just to announce our existence doesn’t explain to people WHY they should care or what it means to them. “I Give Guitar Lessons” Ok…..so what? What does that mean to me? Worse, “since 1980” Why do I care how long you’ve been in business? (Hint: are we trying to communicate the fact that we have decades of experience and that will help them become a better player in half the time? Is that best expressed by “since 1980” or are we leaving it up to the reader to make that connection? Will they?)
Let’s use the example of guitar lessons. Think about what we’re really selling when we advertise guitar lessons. People typically see guitars in the hands of their favorite rock stars on TV and in magazines. Rock stars are cool and cutting edge. People buy guitars because they want to be cool and cutting edge also. Can we adjust our marketing approach to tap into that? Would “Play Like A Rock Star!” have a better pull than “Guitar Lessons Since 1980”?
What about instruments that may not have the sex appeal of guitar, like oboe? Perhaps people have conducted studies on the benefits of musical education that can be tapped into – something about higher SAT scores, public performance skills translating into increased confidence in all aspects of life, etc? Would a parent considering oboe lessons for their child connect with that approach on a personal level? Perhaps those benefits may make them feel like a better parent? How could that be expressed in our marketing approach?
3) MARKETING IS LIKE A SHARK THAT STOPS MOVING – STOP MARKETING AND WE DIE
Any benefits we receive from our marketing are more than likely the results of the marketing we did several months ago. People don’t always respond in a timely fashion. In fact, studies have shown that it can take 5-6 instances of exposure to our marketing before they are even aware that we exist. Even if they are aware of our marketing efforts, they may take months to respond to it.
Think of marketing as planting seeds. It may be months before we see the flowers. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead.
If we get more students than we ever imagined possible as a result of our prior marketing and decide to put our current marketing on hold…..four months from now when the inevitable student dropouts occur and the phone stops ringing we will wish that we hadn’t. Sharks die when they stop moving. So will our business. We can’t assume that the phone will ring four months from now unless we do something now to make that happen. We can never assume anything.
4) STUDENTS WILL DROP OUT. THEY MUST BE REPLACED.
Inevitably, students will realize that learning to play takes practice and effort, students will get laid off from their jobs, they will move, etc. And when that happens, they will no longer take lessons. Marketing guarantees that someone will be there to replace them. If not, our income will decrease and our overhead will not. If this keeps occuring and compounds over time, it could put us out of business. Marketing is insurance against that scenario.
5) “I’M A MUSICIAN, NOT A SUIT.”
As soon as we accept payment for our services, we’re a business – regardless of whether we work out of our car, our home, or the homes of our students. If we accept payment for our services, we’re a business. Businesses need customers. Marketing creates customers.
Hopefully this article highlights why marketing is so important to a successful business. In future articles we’ll roll up our shirt sleeves and get down and dirty with the specifics. We’ll also review some important books that can help us along the way. I look forward to exchanging ideas with all of you and making 2009 our most successful year yet!