What is Advertising?

Advertising is telling students about what you do and your availability to allow them to participate in it.

Advertising is the -most efficient- way to find students, and this is important because without students there is no studio!

If you rely on word of mouth or people stumbling on the fact that you teach piano, it will take quite a while to build your studio roster. This may be what you want, of course, and there's nothing at all wrong with that!

If you want faster action, advertising is the way to go. The rest of this file is predicated on that notion.

Five Eternal Truths about Advertising

(1) The main reason new businesses fail is because nobody knew about them.
(2) It takes money to make money. Advertising costs money.
(3) Paid advertising works only as long as you keep it going. See #2.
(4) Free advertising takes longer to produce students. Paid advertising is quicker.
(5) A display ad in a print medium must be "seen" by the prospective buyer at least three times before he "notices" it. And just because he notices it does not mean he reads it or makes the phone call to react to it. Therefore, advertising seen by people who are ready to buy is more productive than advertising seen by people who might one day think about buying. Try to find the places that ready-to-buy people are looking for the service or product you are selling.

Five Steps to Really Effective Advertising

Before you're ready to advertise, you must do some marketing for your business. Specifically:

Let's look at each of these with an eye toward music instruction.

Important! From here on, this file is a hands-on read, so if you don't have time to make the lists requested, -please- do not read further. Come back when you have the time to devote to making your advertising plan as good as it possibly can be. If you wait to do the "written work" until after you've read what -I- write, your advertising program will not be yours, but yours built on mine. Not as effective and tailored as your own program. Please! Take time to make the lists discussed later in the file or come back another time.

You'll need a pencil and some paper. I recommend 8 1/2" x 11" paper so you can put your brainstorming in a file folder to keep for reference or for fine-tuning.

Define What You Are Selling

You've read to this point because you have your paper, pencil, and time, yes? If not, stop now.

What are you selling? Music lessons, certainly, but what else? Be specific.

Do you have a computer lab? Do you have a composition curriculum? Do you have an extensive recital/competition program? Do you have a Christian-centered curriculum? Do you teach fake-book-style playing? Are you able to help students get gigs? Do you teach other instruments? Do you go to students' homes? Do you teach in Vietnamese as well as English? Do you have group sessions or partner lessons as well as individual sessions? Do you offer chamber music sessions and skill development (get together with a string teacher)? Duo piano? Musical theater techniques? Church service-playing techniques? Jazz? Improvisation?

What about the intangibles, such as teaching children how to learn on their own or providing a safe atmosphere in which students can experiment?

Dissect your program. What elements do you normally list on the students' assignment pads (ex.: technique, sight-reading, literature, improvisation)? What do you with your students other than sit on the bench with them every week (recitals, group lessons, etc.)? What skills do you introduce to students who show an interest or aptitude for them but don't offer as a standard part of the curriculum (gospel-style piano, choral accompanying)?

Describe your studio program in 100 words or less, saying exactly -what- you are selling. I know you're reading now, but if you honestly want to increase your income, please stop now and write this so it is not colored by what you will read next. We will be using this list later.

Generally Define Your Target Market

In general terms, and in writing, make broad statements about your target market. A target market is those people you want to teach. (Did you do your previous writing assignment?! If not, please stop here and do both of them now. You are cheating yourself if you allow your thinking to be influenced by what you read here, and your advertising program will not be as effective as it can be.)

Are you looking for children? Teens? Adults? Teens and adults? All ages?

Beginners only? Advanced students only? All levels?

Will you accept vision-impaired students? Do you prefer Hispanic students?

Describe your target market in general terms in 100 words or less. Please do this, too.

Characterize Your Target Market

Now, be very specific in your description of your target market. 100 words or less. Suggestion areas to examine:

What are these parents' goals for their children? (In the case of adults, their goals for themselves, musically.) In general, what do these people value? Are they church-goers? Politically conservative or liberal or moderate? Interested in athletics? Interested in children's activities?

What is the socio-economic status of your target market? How many children are there, on average, in each household? What is the average household income? How many families in your city make more than that? Less?

Do these people live in single-family homes? What is the average price of a single-family home or a multi-family home for this target market? Do these people rent rather than own? What is the average monthly rental fee?

Where does your target market shop for clothing? Where do they go, when they eat out at a restaurant? Are appearances more important to them than to "average" people?

What are their leisure activities? Where are their vacations? Are these pricey? "Exclusive"? Do you think these people value exclusive or high-priced items/activities merely for the price or for their exclusivity?

Where do the children attend school? Public? Private? Both?

What other leisure activities do these children have and how much do those cost (call dance studios, karate schools, etc. and ask for monthly fee)? Based on the monthly costs for these activities, what amount do you think parents are willing to pay for music instruction? Is that more or less or exactly what you propose to charge?

Do the children participate regularly in sports? Are these school-associated extra-curricular activities or non-profit groups (such as Little League)? Is this level of sports participation likely to create a very high rate of requests for reschedules? Do you have a reschedule policy with which you are comfortable? How involved are the parents in these activities? This may say something about how involved they will be in their child's music study.

What is the general education level of the parents/adults? Do they work nearby or have a long commute? What sorts of professions do these people have?

Which media are they likely to read? Which media have you seen that seem to be directed to people like these?

Make notes of any of those ideas which fit and add others to flesh out your description. If you have something down in concrete form, it's a lot easier to work with than ideas floating around in your head. Your advertising campaign will be much more successful if you are working with concrete data rather than, "Let's see now..."

Locate Your Target Market

Where does your target market live? Make some more notes here, please.

Are they near you? How far away? Do they live within a 10-minute drive of your studio? 30-minute drive? How is traffic congestion between where they live and where you teach?

Find some generalities about your city:

Of course, this represents a lot of data gathering about your city! Where are you going to find these data? Try:

While you're looking through the phone book (Yellow Pages), local-focus magazines, etc., check your competition.

When locating your target market, think local. Local, local, local!


Because most parents will select a teacher based on proximity. Within walking distance of the child's home would be terrific, but a 10-minute car ride would be acceptable. A 30-minute car ride (one way) is the outside limit for a drive to a music lesson, in the minds of most parents.

As teachers, we would -never- select a music instructor based on proximity, but most parents are uneducated music consumers. They base their decisions on criteria they understand and value. Convenience and time are things parents rate highly.

Therefore, you're going to find most of your students living near your studio. And how do you figure out what "nearby" is? With a map.

Using a street map, draw a circle with your studio at the center of it. The radius of that circle should be however many miles can be traveled in 10 minutes at a reasonable rate of speed. You remember good old D = RT. For the rate, use a non-rushed driving speed based on the roadways your students are likely to travel. If you live in a congested city, a 10-minute drive might not be very far away because you will have to figure using 5 mph or even foot traffic speed. If you live in the suburbs, 45 mph might be a good speed to use. If you use 10 minutes and 45 mph, for example, you'll end up with 22.5 miles, so draw a circle with a -radius- of 20-25 miles (not a diameter).

This circle represents the -farthest- feasible distance a parent will drive. That's a really dedicated parent! My guess is that most of your students actually will come from within a *10-mile* radius of your studio; that's a drive of 12-15 minutes (in the suburbs). Within the first circle and with your studio at the center again, draw another circle representing a 10-mile radius. Now draw a third circle that represents a 5-mile radius. *These* are the most likely people to want to study [with you] at your location.

Now look at the area within that -smallest- circle (the one with the 5-mile radius). Characterize the people living here:

Compare this characterization with the characterization of your ideal target market. How close are these two descriptions? If they're not close at all, you must modify your target market, modify your location, or modify your product/service because as things are set now, the people within that 10-mile radius of your studio probably will not be interested in what you have to offer.

Perhaps you need to investigate an off-site studio location (if you have been teaching at home). Perhaps you need to consider teaching all ages instead of just children; or all levels instead of just advanced.

Again, writing down all this will be -very- helpful in focusing your advertising campaign. I urge you to do so.

Define Which Media Will Reach Your Target Market

I've mentioned this in passing several times, but let's get specific now.

As I advised you to "think local" in regard to the pool from which to draw students, I also advise you to think local for media in which to advertise.

I have moved many times and re-started my studio many times, and I have found that local media are much more effective at producing phone queries and, ultimately, students than less-local media. For example, if you live near a large city, placing an ad in that daily paper's "local edition classifieds" is not going to be as productive as placing an ad in a local-focus newspaper (one perhaps published as seldom as weekly or bi-weekly). One reason is that fewer people subscribe to "that big city paper" and thus fewer will see your ad.

Over the years, I have found that the following media consistently generate the most calls and result in the largest number of new students:

Other local media are well worth your investigation. One of these might pull splendidly for you (by pull, I mean produce calls that result in students): If you're looking for children - - and children are the mainstay of most teachers' studios - - the *absolute pinnacle of all advertising media* is the elementary school newsletter (sometimes called PTA newsletters or Principals' Bulletins). Tattoo this on your arm!

Middle school and junior high newsletters pull -substantially- less well. These kids already have other enrichment activities in their lives and probably have no room for an additional one, especially one which requires so much time. High school newspapers, in my experience, pull abysmally for the same reason, and junior college newspapers are a pure waste of money (they can get lessons right there on campus, sometimes for free)!

If you keep an effective ad running in the newsletters of however many elementary schools there are within a 10-mile radius of your studio, within twelve months you will be full, right up to the top and spilling over. I promise! (Probably it will be sooner than this.)

What Do People Really Buy?

People buy benefits. They are buying the ability of this thing to bring them pleasure or to help them avoid pain. They are attracted to what a product or service can do for -them-. They want a problem solved or they want to receive something of value, even if it's an intangible.

Look at the general descriptions you wrote (ahem) earlier under "what are you selling?". If you didn't write these things down, kindly do it now. You are penalized one letter grade, however.

Under "what are you selling?", you have listed the features of your studio program.

But you need benefits for your advertising.

What's the difference between them?

A feature is a description of some element of your program. A benefit is the same element, but *put into terms which mean something to this particular buyer.*

The paragraph you just read is the nucleus of effective advertising, no matter what is being sold. Another tattoo, please.

Suppose one feature of your curriculum is computer-assisted theory drill. To put this element to work as a benefit in your advertising program, you must be able to explain to the callers you want to turn into students (callers from your target market) exactly *what they will gain* from your having computers and software for theory drill. For example:

Here's another pearl of advertising wisdom worth tattooing on your arm: the *features you are selling* must match the *benefits that the target market wants* (or thinks it wants).

If the benefits sought by your target market and the features of your program do not match, you must modify your target market, modify your product, or recast your features and benefits.

For every feature you wrote down in "what are you selling," write down several benefits which someone in your specific target market will gain from that feature of yours.

Suppose you wrote "private lessons, not group lessons." That's the feature. What could benefits be?

Here's another example of how to write benefits deriving from a feature. Suppose my target market lives in an upscale part of the city. I want to appeal to exclusivity. My fine-tuned benefits for them:

The benefits of private study are certainly well-documented, so you are not saying anything that is untrue, you are simply -emphasizing- it.

Obviously, some of these benefits are the same benefits from the previous list, but now they're more re-aimed toward those who value exclusivity. And some of them, such as the opportunity to hobnob with other well-heeled families cannot be stated in such a bald manner, but you get the idea. (To get across the idea that a student would be associating with the "upper crust," you could mention that your recitals are "held at Greengage Country Club" or that your students play community service holiday recitals "at the Ultra Big Bucks Retirement Spa & Paradise.")

Now, take the features of your own program and re-write them as benefits which -your target market- would find appealing.

When fielding telephone queries, listen especially to those who did not buy. Why didn't they? Make a list of the reasons. This will help you re-focus your advertising message, target market, or studio curriculum. It's generally easy to discern why a prospect didn't buy because she says so: too far away, too expensive, didn't have one or more programs she required, didn't come to the home, didn't have lesson availability which matched student's free time, and so on.

Paid Advertising

As I mentioned previously in this file, the disadvantages of paid advertising are that it costs money and that it works only as long as you keep it in front of people. These drawbacks pale in comparison to the advantage: it works.

It works quickly, assuming you have written an ad which is effective for the target market you've selected and which is placed in a medium which the target market will see.

A New Teacher's and an Established Teacher's Differing Needs

If you are starting from scratch after graduation or a move, your advertising needs and immediate goals are likely to be different from a teacher who has been teaching in an area for a year or more. You want a quick expansion of your studio roster; he needs a steady trickle of students to fill openings which develop in the weekly schedule.

I recommend that new teachers use business cards, aggressive print advertising, and setting up a network for referrals.

Established teachers should continue to cultivate their referral network, place ads just prior to seasons when students may stop lessons (June, Christmas), and continue with promotional activities.

More details on all this below.

Business Cards

Business cards are absolutely critical to a studio teacher. You need to know why they're important, how to give them out, what to put on them, and so on. If you don't have business cards, get some right away!

Display Ads in Newspapers

A display ad is a "picture" ad in a newspaper or magazine, even if it is only text. (The other kind of ad is a classified ad.)

Display advertising takes a long time to work for a studio teacher. This time lag creates a problem, especially for teachers who want to ramp up their studios quickly.

Display advertising does not work until it has been "seen" by a person at whom the ad is aimed at least three times in -exactly the same place- (ex.: page four of the lifestyles section, upper right-hand corner). The reader will be conscious only that there's something printed there the first and second time he flips through that section; on the third time, he'll distinguish that the thing is an ad, not text or a photograph. This is because the reader is not searching for the ad. Several insertions later, the reader may recognize the ad as an ad, but he probably will not read it. Even if he eventually glances at it out of curiosity, a week or so even later, he may not be interested in lessons and not read any further. Unless he is thinking about lessons, he won't clip it out and save it.

Display advertising is expensive. Suppose the cost is $50 per insertion. You must spend $100 for the first two insertions and the reader didn't "see" your ad yet; at the $150 level, he is conscious that an ad is there. Then you spend several hundred more before the reader gives you ad the time of day. Is this cost effective for you?

What size ad would it take to get the reader's notice more quickly? Could you afford this?

Display advertising is revenue-intensive for the newspaper, so you will be encouraged to buy it.

Will display advertising work? If you want a lot of students fast, no. If you want to keep your name before the public (a type of promotion), perhaps.

What goes in a display ad? The same sorts of things that go into a business card:

As to ad layout, I urge you to keep it simple. Leave plenty of blank space (air) around the text. Make it easy for the potential student to locate your phone number!

If you do not have camera-ready copy (an ad which can be dropped directly into the layout with no spiffing up), you may want to use the services of the newspaper's graphic artist, which may be an extra charge (sometimes it's included in the cost of the ad). Before your meeting with the artist, prepare a dummy, which is a sketch of the ad. Show where you want text, where you want art, etc. Ask the artist's advice, though; after all, you are paying for it one way or another!! Give the artist typed copy; don't make her take it from the dummy, as this invites errors!

Art may come from copyright-free clip art you have (such as Dover books) or a library which the newspaper has (which they may offer as part of the ad cost). It's better to have one large piece of art than several small ones because the large piece is the place the eye goes. Several small pieces of art confuse the eye: it doesn't know where to "look."

The impact of the ad is largely a result of the layout, so don't take layout lightly and think you can fake it. Presumably most piano teachers are not graphic artists, as well. If you can't afford the services of the graphic artist right now, investigate other alternatives. Some newspapers offer seminars for their clients on how to design display ads. Contact your local college or junior college to see if there is a graphic design major who would help you for a reasonable fee. There also are many books on advertising at your library.

Proof your ad and ask at least one more person to do so. You want to eliminate spelling and grammatical/punctuation errors, unintentional humor, and ambiguity.

Become more attuned to ad layout. After an ad catches you eye in the newspaper, analyze why it did.

As a rule, I believe display advertising in a newspaper or magazine is a waste of money for a private studio teacher. Your ego might get a boost from seeing the ad, but I sincerely doubt you'll see an increase in revenue because of it. There's another way, though, and this one works for sure: classified advertising.

Classified Ads in Newspapers

Although display advertising requires some professional help if it is to look good, classified advertising is a real do-it-yourself project! Layout makes no difference. All that matters is content.

Another reason display advertising doesn't work is because it's not very likely that someone looking for piano instruction is going to find your display ad. This is because he's not expecting a -display- ad for piano lessons. No, he's going to look in the do-it-yourself classifieds.

As with display advertising, classified advertising works only as long as you keep it before the eyes of people looking for piano teachers. This means you have to keep it running continuously until your studio is as full as you want. If you are short on funds, this means skipping meals out, movies, and other discretionary entertainments; it might mean dipping into savings and postponing non-essential purchases.

Your alternative to an aggressive advertising campaign is to build your roster slowly by indirect advertising (more below).

Your second step after ordering business cards is to call area newspapers and request the classified ad rates. Details:

Ask about frequency contracts. These are agreements to keep the ad running for an extended period. The longer you run the ad, the cheaper the per-insertion cost is. What is the duration for the lowest-possible per-insertion cost? If you buy a contract, may you change the text slightly during the contract or are you locked in to the original wording?

Now hang up. Don't buy an ad yet.

Construct your ad. There are six basic elements to a classified ad for a studio teacher:

Don't worry about features and benefits in a classified ad. You can take care of these when the person responds to your ad.

Look at the ads for music lessons currently appearing in the paper. If you were a parent, would you respond to them? Why or why not?

Parents don't care much about anything other than that you have a degree. Therefore, leave out your professional affiliations and the names of awards or competitions you've won. Some parents particularly look for an experienced teacher. If you're a new grad, focus on other benefits of study with you and don't mention experience at all.

Now write an ad. Write another one and put a different slant on it. Write a couple more. You might use parts of all of them to fashion one fantastic ad, or you might use one ad in one medium and a second ad in another medium.

Unless you are certain - - and you probably aren't - - that one particular paper is going to be your best source of new students, don't buy more than a three-month contract. (More below on how to evaluate your ad campaign.)

As I mentioned above, -think local- when it comes to selecting media in which to place classified ads. The most local paper you can find is best, in my opinion.

If you have a choice about under which heading your ad will appear, think like a buyer. If you knew nothing about music lessons, which heading would you look under?

You are unlikely to find a paper with a "Music Instruction" heading, alas. (I did have luck one time in talking the paper into creating this heading!) Most will have "Education," which isn't very focused (or "Tutors and Instruction" or "Schools"). If you can, and you may have to sweet talk the ad person into allowing you to move your "education" ad to another section, advertise in "Musical Instruments." Presumably someone buying an instrument also would want instruction. Point this out to the salesperson - - or to the supervisor if you must go up the chain of command to get your yes. Also point out that a successful ad keeps running. (Make it a -benefit- to her to let you place your ad under a non-standard heading! Your ad pulls, so you keep it and/or your buy a longer contract.)

Some communities have what I call "shoppers' tabloids." These are little booklets of classified ads which normally are not arranged in any order at all. If they do have some organization, it rarely extends past "Autos" and "Other." A person looking for music instruction is not likely to spend half an hour pawing through ads for pure-bred kittens, hubcaps, and garage sales in the hopes of stumbling on an ad for a piano teacher. And often rates are higher in these publications than in a regular newspaper because their circulation is smaller. In all, I don't recommend this medium. Stick to your local regular newspaper.

When to run the ad? Whenever you want students.

The most productive time to run an ad is when people are looking for a teacher: beginning of September (school is beginning and activities schedule for the year is being set), end of May or beginning of June (school is out and there's going to be more time), early January (Santa brought a piano). These are the primo time to runs classified ads, in my experience.

Run the ad on a trial basis of three months. No, don't faint at that length of time!

**Less than three months not only nets you few students but doesn't give you any information to help you write and place a more effective ad.**

Here is a common scenario when a teacher places a classified ad and gets cold feet. It's the end of the first week for your ad, and you have not had a single call, let alone a new student. You're thinking about dropping the ad because it isn't working. Don't do this! The ad -is- working; be patient. Classified advertising is fast, but it's not instantaneous! People have to see your ad and then remember to call you. Or maybe they have to wait until the next day's paper arrives because they forgot to clip out the ad and then have to find it again.

Ads in School Newsletters

Even better than newspaper classifieds are ads in elementary school newsletters.

This placement is *unsurpassed* as a source of new students (if you want elementary school children, and most teachers do, as elementary children are the backbone of the studio roster).

If you must choose between a school newsletter and the local paper, go with the school newsletter every time. It's also much cheaper.

Parents seem to have more confidence in a teacher who advertises in the school newsletter. Although no endorsement is implied by the ad's appearing in the newsletter, you come off as interested in children and "down to earth" by using that medium.

The text in an elementary newsletter ad should address the target market directly. "Specialize in children," "15 years of teaching children," and "very patient with children" make good copy. If you have a specialty which would be of interest to readers of the newsletter, mention that ("experienced with dyslexic students" or "special program for gifted children").

Bring in the benefits! Remind parents that music lessons foster higher-order thinking skills such as comparison, analysis, and synthesis. Recent studies indicate that piano lessons result in better test grades ("the Mozart effect"). Group lessons are great for developing social skills. Performances are good for poise. It's an opportunity for a young child to have another authority figure and role model beyond her parents and classroom teacher. It's a way for a shy student to shine.

To appeal to families who view music instruction as a long-term endeavor or who are thinking ahead to admission to a good college, use words such as "invest," "enrich," and "quality." Note that these same words would work for the previous target market which valued exclusivity.

References are a -very- powerful marketing tool. If you have students who attend that school, say so in your ad ("Hilltop School references available"). If you don't have students from that school, still say "References available" (unless you have no students at all!) and revise the copy as soon as you have Hilltop students.

Here are three good classified ads for an elementary school newsletter:

Piano lessons. Give your child the life-long gift of music! I specialize in children in the elementary grades. Degreed, experienced. References. Name/phone.

Piano lessons. Invest in your child's future with piano instruction from a patient, creative teacher who's taught children for 10 years. References from Hilltop School. Two degrees. Name/phone.

Piano lessons. I'll come to your home and share the joy of music with your child. Classical and pop styles. You save time while your child receives a solid musical foundation! Degreed. Name/phone. [This is a new teacher without experience, so the ad focuses on benefits the other teachers might not have had room to run in their ads.]

Call the schools' offices and ask for the person in charge of the newsletter. It could be a secretary, and it could be a volunteer parent. Whoever it is, it almost certainly will be someone with no experience in layout or selling advertising space. This can be to your advantage; more in a minute.

Ask how often the newsletter is printed and how/when it is distributed. You already have found out how many students attend each school during your marketing data gathering, so you know approximately how many students your ad will reach.

Find out the deadline for each issue and ask if there are any layout restrictions (for example, display ads may be horizontal only, borders are not allowed). Ask if there is a word- or line-count restriction for classified ads.

Ask the cost of one insertion ("What does one ad cost?").

If the school has never had an ad in its newsletter, find out who could authorize accepting your ad. It might be the principal. In exchange for letting you buy an ad, offer to do a special presentation to the combined 5th-grade classes on music of the American Revolution or something similar. Let the principal see that you will provide a -benefit- to her students by her instituting advertising in the newsletter. You also might point out that your ad fee will cover the cost of paper for the newsletter every week. Breathes there a principal who has an adequate budget?!

If the school never has carried ads but is amenable, it's likely they won't know what to charge. You, however, are prepared: "Junction Elementary charges $5 a week. How does that sound to you?" If you haven't done so already (or to this person), point out the benefit: "That $5 will pay the cost of your paper for the newsletter each week."

If the school has ads already, ask if there is a lower rate for multiple insertions. Don't be surprised if the person has never heard of such a concept. If not, probably it is because no one ever asked. So you say, "It's $5 per week, right? I want to run an ad every week for three months. Would you accept $3 per week? That's a total of $36." Don't be surprised if you have to bargain, but usually coming prepared wins the day. Besides, the secretary (or whoever) doesn't have any kind of personal interest in what the ads cost. If you're polite and present a reasonable argument, you probably will get what you want.

On publication day, pick up a copy of the newsletter to make sure your ad did appear and that it appeared correctly. (Go in the morning; the newsletters might be all gone by 2:00 PM.) Particularly check the phone number in your ad. If there was an error, ask for an additional two weeks free, one for the non-working ad and one as recompense!

Call the wrong phone number given in the ad and explain the problem. Ask if they would be so kind as to give any callers your correct phone number. If they do this, tell them you will give them a finder's fee. Send them a small gift or cash. This should be tax deductible; ask your tax advisor.

How did your ad look in the newsletter? Is there anything you can do to improve it? Would using a font different from the text of the newsletter help your ad stand out? A border?

If the newsletter is a cut-and-paste operation, the editor will need a stack of mechanicals (that's the camera-ready copy they use) of your ad to paste in. Label each one with the issue date and send two or three extras as backup. Put your name and phone number on the envelope. If it's a computer publication, the editor probably will copy (pick up) your ad from one issue into the next one. Offer your ad on disk rather than having it typed by someone from the newsletter; this insures your ability to control accuracy and size. (Re size: don't try to pull any fast maneuvers! Stick to the size requirement.)

An elementary school newsletter is one medium in which a display ad is better than a classified. School parents are used to seeing art used to transmit information ("Spring carnival!"), so they will be used to paying attention to display information.

Select words carefully because you won't have room for as many of them as in a classified ad. The art should be child-oriented. Rather than a grand piano, how about a child dancing in delight on a piano keyboard? If possible use the school mascot in your ad: "Fly higher than an eagle with piano lessons!" Consider transforming the mascot into a musical mascot: if it's an alligator, make his tail into a piano keyboard; a kangaroo can have notes and a keyboard in the pouch.

The best time for ads in schools newsletters is the end of school and the beginning of school. Plan ahead! Any time of year will be fruitful, I believe you'll discover, so don't wait because it's not the beginning or end of the school year.

Ads in Local-Focus Magazines

Ads here are probably a waste of money, except for an image or name-before-the-public use. I don't recommend them as a cost effective to produce students.

Direct Mail Campaigns

Private teachers generally do not do a direct mail campaign, which is a mailing done to many people in hopes of turning up some who are interested in the product or service. An example would be to homes within a 10-mile radius of the studio, since this is where most of a teacher's prospective students will live.

Obviously direct mail is expensive. Not only do you have the cost of the direct mail piece and the postage, but you must have addresses. These must be purchased from a mailing house.

Generally private teachers would not use a direct mail campaign. If you think you might, get specific information about what's entailed by calling a mailing house, a company which handles direct mail campaign for bigger business, or checking the library or the Web.

Flyer Campaigns

A flyer campaign is less cost than a direct mail campaign but more work. Placing flyers under windshields of cars parked for the spate of Saturday soccer games and on mailboxes of homes near a school may produce students. Again, select your target locale carefully. (Note: You may not put the flyer -in- the mailbox; this is a federal offense.)

Another use of flyers is as an "add-on" to a school newsletter. You will have to receive permission to send your flyer home with students. As I mentioned above, volunteer to give something of value to the school, such as a program about music in the Wild West. You will bear the cost of printing the flyers, and you may need to give the physical labor of stapling the flyer to the completed newsletter. The choir director at church might also agree to send your flyer home with his choristers. (We'll hope she's not actively looking for piano students, too!) Also consider sports coaches; you may need to reciprocate by agreeing to buy an ad in their directory or program(s).

With both flyers and direct mail, keep the piece simple, have plenty of air, use a few pieces of large art (or one to two pieces if your flyer is 8 1/2 x 11"), and focus on benefits.


These may be sent to those who call in response to an ad or may be handed out as a flyer. Have a brochure designed by a graphic artist (again, try to locate a student artist), use a brochure paper which is part of a pre-prepared "set" of papers which include business cards and so on, or make your own brochure using a photocopy machine.

You can have much more content in a brochure than in a flyer, direct mail piece, or a business card. All of the following is appropriate and effective for a brochure:

Note: If you are considering listing teachers with whom you have studied, please be aware that the general public will have never heard of these people. Your colleagues may have, of course, but not the public, unless your teacher was Ludwig van Beethoven. Instead, use the space for more -benefits- the student would accrue from study with you. Focus on the -student-, not you!

Brochure layout is important. Study some brochures (for any product) which made you do anything more than toss them into the recycling pile. What caught your eye? Art? Color? Analyze the layout; what kind of information was put on which page? Particularly look at brochures for other teachers (if you can find them!), dance companies, symphonies, and other arts groups.

A few generalities:

The cover should invite you to open it and is probably the most important part of your brochure. The second page should draw the reader even more deeply into the message. The back cover is important, too. It may partially be given over to mailing data, but if not, consider it a "second cover" and give its contents just as much attention as you did the front cover. You will have no control over which cover the reader will see first.

The font should be easily read. Anything smaller than 12-point is a mistake. For body text, select a font with serifs on it. An ornate font is a big mistake, as it makes the brochure look amateurish and also makes the text difficult to read. Don't succumb! (Serifs are the little bars that decorate the letters. Examples of fonts with serifs are Times Roman and Courier. Fonts without serifs are called sanserif fonts. Helvetica and Arial are examples. Sometimes sanserif fonts are used for the headlines and serif fonts for the body text.)

Consider preparing several brochures if your target market is diverse; for ex.: separate brochures for preschoolers, adults, and learning-disabled students.

As I mentioned earlier, a brochure is a good follow-up to a phone call about lessons. Time it to arrive, if possible, between the call and the audition. The brochure keeps you in the prospect's mind and also can help fill in pieces of missing information. Set up a sure-fire cross-check to make sure you actually do send the brochure which was requested/which you offered, such as a list of names with boxes beside them. When the brochure is *mailed*, put a check in the box.

Advertising on the Web and in Special Interest Newsgroups

If you have your own Web page (a.k.a. homepage or Web site), you can advertise to your heart's content (unless your Web host forbids this; ask).

On newsgroups, advertising is banned since most of them are "discussion only" groups. Some have allied "marketplace" newsgroups, and this is where your ad belongs. On the main newsgroup, you should mention only that you've posted a new ad.

Another way to advertise on newsgroups is to put your URL in your sig (lines of type which are sent automatically with every e-mail or newsgroup post).

Other Ideas

When you're trying to grow your roster quickly, you need to look at all kinds of advertising. Consider:

Free Advertising

All the stuff you've read about so far costs money. Big money. A real financial burden, perhaps, when you're starting a studio from scratch and on a shoestring. There's another way.

You mean you can get advertising you don't have to pay for? As in free? Why didn't I say so early on? Because you wouldn't understand how valuable it is until you saw how much it was going to cost you to do it by paying. -And- the free method takes a -really long time- to work.

If you want students fast (let's say you have monthly bills to pay), you have to use paid advertising as your main advertising program and rely on the free advertising to fill any spots in your schedule which open up and to provide you with a steady stream of students for your waiting list.

Please don't rely on free advertising and think it will do the job in any kind of timely manner. It won't.

If you are an established teacher, however, free advertising probably will work just fine if you are not looking for a lot of students quickly but need only "maintenance."

So, what is this wonderful free stuff? Free advertising is a referral. It's free because it costs you nothing and someone else does it.

The *Most Effective* Kind of Advertising Bar None - -
Even Print Advertising in Elementary School Newsletters

The very best advertising there is is a personal recommendation: a student who is so thrilled with your teaching that he tells someone else about it. A personal recommendation is both the highest compliment to you -and- the strongest influence on another prospect to sign up.

You have no control over this kind of advertising except by the excellence of your teaching. Since it is the most effective advertising there is, work to merit it!

Solicited Referrals

You do have control over solicited referrals.

A solicited referral is asking people if they will give your name to anyone they hear is seeking piano instruction.

The problem, obviously, is that you have to -ask- people to give your name to others.

Asking means you probably will have to overcome some shyness.

It also means that you'll have to discard the long-standing notion that it's "crass" to tell people about your skills or say you are looking for students. The idea that you should not earn a decent wage in exchange for your time and skills is an outdated doctrine that should have been buried long ago. Do not engage in this kind of thinking! You have every right to ask for realistic compensation for your work. As an independent musician, you also are an independent businessperson, and if you want regular income, this means being business-minded. One aspect of being business-minded is looking for ways to increase your revenue. Asking for referrals is one way to do this.

In short, asking for referrals is good business practice, and you should not feel uncomfortable doing so.

Here's how.

Family and Friends

Contact your family and close friends to tell them you're looking for new students; these folks are easy to approach. "Now accepting new students" is a convenient euphemism, if you care to use it. Give each of them a dozen of your business cards (more to your mom and dad, of course!) and ask them to pass the cards along to any they know who might be interested in music instruction. Ask them to talk it up if the occasion arises.

College Faculty

Although you probably don't know these people, they can be a very big help in growing your studio.

Telephone your local colleges and community colleges and obtain the name of the chair of the piano faculty (failing that, the chair of the music department).

Call each one and say something like this: "My name is Martha Beth Lewis, and I'm a piano teacher in the Northwood area. I'm calling to ask that you place my name on the list of teachers for referrals." Easy, no? You're not saying you need students at all; you're saying only that you'd like to be placed on a list.

The conversation then should turn to your background, what age or achievement levels you prefer, and so on.

When you ring off, ask the chairperson for the referrals: "I'd appreciate any referrals you could send my way." You must *ask*, however. If you don't ask, the person will forget why you called. Remember that this person doesn't know you from Adam's house cat. Get over your reticence.

Another tattoo: *Ask for the referral or you -won't- get it.*

Now the clincher: Follow up each call with a letter (not an e-mail). Thank the person for her time on the phone and for help in securing new students. Touch on anything else that was unique to the conversation to establish a connection between you and the other person, such as your desire to join a group playing Satie's "Vexations" in complete form. Enclose a half-dozen business cards and a copy of your brochure. If the situation warrants it, and you'll know if it does, include your curriculum vita.

This letter should go out -within two days- of your conversation. Otherwise, the person won't remember you at all, and your effort will have been wasted. Better than the two-day interval is a follow up -mailed- on the same day: "Thank you for speaking with me this morning."

As you talk to these professors, if you sense interest from them, ask for an appointment to present your vita in person. A face-to-face contact is more valuable than a faceless phone call. (Be prompt and dress professionally.)

This is also a good time to ask about master classes, seminars, possible part-time off-campus employment as a piano teacher, and so on.

Schools, Churches/Synagogues

Just as you did with the professors, call the school district office and ask for the music supervisor; call individual public and private schools and ask for the music coordinator. Ask for referrals, as described above. At churches and synagogues, respectively, ask for the music director or cantor. Say you are "accepting students."

Community Musicians and Musicians' Union

Directors of community bands, choruses, symphonies, handbell choirs, etc. can be another source of students if you call and ask for referrals.

Is there anything you can do to help these organizations, such as accompany at a rehearsal? Do they have free tickets they'd like you to distribute to students and their families to help fill the hall?

If you're a union member, you probably already have been in contact. If not, you might want to join.

Other Music Teachers

I hope that you are a member of the local music teachers' association! (If not, you should join!) Ask the president to place you on the list of teachers with openings in their studios.

If you've been a member of the group for a while, you will know which teachers are likely to have studio overflow. If you are new to a group, ask the president to identify them. Call these teachers or talk to them at a meeting. Tell them about yourself if they already don't know you well enough to refer to you with confidence. Follow up with a letter of thanks and a vita ("I'm sure that, like me, you don't want to send referrals to someone you don't know, so I'm enclosing my résumé. I'd be happy to talk with you any time about other aspects of my studio program or background, so please do call if you have questions."). Keep the résumé brief, though; for this purpose, it needn't be the complete one. Just hit the high points that another teacher would be interested in knowing so he would feel confident about your abilities.

Don't forget to contact teachers of other instruments! A violin teacher might have a student whose brother is looking for a piano teacher!

And later you can join studios for chamber music or send one of your students to her studio for accompanying experience.

Retailers and Technicians

Your local instrument dealers are a primo source of students. Many students looking for a teacher ask at the place where they bought their instrument.

Visit dealers to say hello. While there, ask about their rental piano programs (you will be asked often by students where to rent or buy a piano). If the dealer has a list of teachers, ask to be put on it. Ask if you may leave two dozen business cards; return in a week to say hello again and to leave a business card holder (a dollar or so at an office supply store). This refreshes the manager's memory, which is important if you are new in the community.

Some stores may not want to put you on a list or take your cards because they will have in-store teachers and funnel any requests for teachers to these people. There's nothing you can do about this. If you like, send your students to another dealer, if there is one.

Print music retailers are another good source for students. Go in and take a long look at the store's stock; purchase a couple things, if you can. Chat up the manager/owner about how long special orders take and so on. Ask to be put on their list of teachers and also ask if you may leave some cards. Probably the answer will be yes; leave two dozen. If the owner doesn't say where he wants them, place the stack by the cash register where everyone will see them. As with the dealer, go back in a week with a card holder. Buy something more if you can.

Send your retailers a "shopping list" of materials you use most often (such as technique books, beginner methods, etc.) so they can keep a stock on hand for your students. Send your people to that exact store (or stores), rather than leave the choice to them. When your folks go, ask them to find the manager and tell them that they are your student. Better: call the owner and tell them "the Smiths are coming down with a shopping list." The owner will begin to recommend you to people looking for a teacher, if only because you send customers to him.

Technicians are another good source for students, especially your own tech. Many times people spruce up their pianos preparatory to seeking a teacher. Give her two dozen cards. Ask for two dozen of hers.

This mutual business-boosting is called networking.

Keeping Your Referral System Active

I've mentioned follow-up letters several times. These letters are the way you keep your referral system healthy and productive.

**If people see you noticed they did something for you, they'll refer students to you again. If they think you didn't notice, the next time they have an opportunity to do it, they won't bother.** Tattoo time!

When a prospect calls, ask how that person found your name. If it was a referral, *write* a note to the person doing the referral. Immediately. Even if the caller did not become a student, for whatever reason. Mention how much you appreciate the referring person's thinking of you.

Writing a letter of gratitude is *critical.* A phone call or an e-mail just isn't enough. An old-fashioned written thank-you note, something he can hold in his hands, is concrete evidence that you recognize his efforts. And since so few people have the good manners these days to write a thank-you, that fact alone will make you stand out in his memory and thus he will send you students again.

Another way to recognize others' help is to give small gifts. Remember these people at the holidays.

If one of your own students refers someone to you who becomes a student, make sure to thank him, too! Some teachers give a tuition reduction or a number of free lessons, but I strongly advise you not to do that! This reduces your income when you're trying to -build- it! Instead, give a gift, which is tax deductible (ask your tax advisor to be sure what you have in mind is deductible).

Incentive Program

Gifts can be used as a method of giving thanks, and they also can be used as incentives to encourage people to make referrals. Again, don't select a tuition reduction as your gift! Do something tax deductible! How about a rose? The grocery store will wrap it up in cellophane with a bit of greenery and a ribbon; you add a little card with a note. Present this at the next lesson.

Some other ideas: music the student will need or in which she has expressed interest; pocket music dictionary; cut flowers or a potted plant (buy at the grocery store and deliver yourself to save money); musical t-shirt, baseball cap, shoelaces, barrette; stickers; keychain; appointment calendar; composer plaque/bust; book/coloring book; calendar; bookmark; refrigerator magnet; coupons for ice cream cones, etc. The Yellow Pages (again, under "Advertising Specialties") will have a host of companies just waiting for your order!

An incentive gift is most effective when given right away. Mail it immediately or present it at the next lesson.

Establish parameters for your program. Probably you will give the gift only if the prospect becomes a student. Use a thank-you letter for the others. Watch the cost of each gift; consult your tax advisor for the latest rulings on the maximum cost of gifts in order to make them a deductible business expense.

Publicize your incentive program in your studio newsletter. (You don't have to say what the gift is unless you want to; just say you'll give one.)

Evaluate the effectiveness and cost of your incentive program. The purpose is to generate new income, so if your incentive gifts cost as much or more than the tuition generated from students resulting from them, you need to eliminate the program or use less expensive gifts.

List of References

Prospective students find it very helpful to talk to a current student, especially a student the same age, sex, and advancement.

As soon as you can identify students who seem pleased with your teaching, ask if you may use their names as references. Do not give out names without asking permission!

Evaluating Your Advertising

There are many, many suggestions here, but which ones work for you? You won't know until you try the ones that seem most likely and then track the results.

In the case of a classified or display ad, if you create a dynamite ad, you want to know that so you can use it again. If it's a bomb, you'll want to identify which one it was so you can revise it or trash it.

Gathering Data

For all print ads, clip a copy of the ad and paste them on a sheet of paper, noting the dates they ran and the publication.

On another sheet of paper (or use your spreadsheet software), down the left side list all publication names under the heading "medium." Across the top make two other columns labeled "inquiry only" and "student." For a call that doesn't result in a student, make a tick mark in the "inquiry only" column; if the call results in a student, make a tick mark in the other column. You will see easily which placements are productive.

Of course, you will want to find how the caller found you. Do this by asking and making a note of it.

Often you will find that the ad which produces the most calls is -not- the one that produces the most students! Although the number of calls is fewer, the other ad is pulling better because the conversion rate is higher: that is, the caller is more likely to be a fit for your program. You've been effective in zeroing in on your target market with this placement and this ad content.

Your evaluation also will reveal any medium which you think was pulling well, judging by the number of calls, but actually isn't resulting in any students at all. One time I bought an ad in a paper that served the town adjoining mine; the town was within the 10-mile radius, so I thought that would be fine. What I didn't know was that paper went by different names in several towns beyond the one adjacent to me, and that my ad appeared in all of those papers. Meanwhile, I had lots and lots of calls, but when I did my analysis I discovered not one student had been gained from the ad. I was puzzled. By looking further at -which- newspaper of the group the caller was reading (that is, the town in which the caller lived), I discovered that the bulk of the calls were from people in these outlying towns, and they wouldn't drive that far! I dropped the ad immediately despite the busy telephone.

Do the same sort of evaluation you used for your print media, but this time using the names of those who refer to you. Take appropriate steps to insure that they continue!

Do an analysis at the 2-week point if you are new to the area and at the end of the month if you are a teacher who's decided to increase the size of the roster. Your data here will be tentative but probably pointing in a specific direction. Re-do the analysis after three months. Now your data will be solid enough for you to make sound decisions about where to spend your advertising dollar effectively.

How to Do the Analysis

The method described just above is really an eyeball method and give you only calls vs new students. I'd like to explain two other methods of analysis.

One method is called cost offset. It is a "quick and dirty" method, also, just like the calls vs. new students method, but you do get some numbers to compare.

Suppose the ad runs weekly. As soon as you gain enough new students from the ad so their tuition each week covers the cost of the ad each week, you're breaking even; the ad is "free." Therefore, the student's/students' tuition offsets the cost of the ad for as long as you wish to run it and is no longer an "extra" cost. The ad is not really free, of course, because the money for the ad's cost doesn't go in your pocket, but you are no longer running in the red in order to run the ad, the way you were when you placed the ad.

If you gain students beyond those necessary to cover the cost of the ad, that is pure profit.

Another analysis is unit cost comparison. For a given period of time, divide the cost of the ad by the number of students resulting from it. This gives you a "cost per student," for that period, for that ad.

This number might change, depending on the time of year. For example, in September the cost per student probably will be lower than for the same ad in March.

You must decide whether the cost per student is too high. A lot depends on how your other ads are pulling, how many students you need to find in order to have a "full" roster, and so on. In deciding whether to keep a high cost-per-student ad, look at your more productive placements and ask if that same money could be spent in placements similar to the ones which are already producing students well. What is the cost-per-student of your most successful ads?

As I said earlier, often newspaper classifieds are not anywhere nearly as effective as ads in elementary school newsletters. Compare these two types directly when you do your analysis. It's money in your pocket!

How Long Does it Take for Advertising to Work?

With an all-out effort - - business cards, perhaps continuous classified advertising (depending on how it pulls for you), continuous ads in elementary school newsletters, plus aggressive requests for referrals - - you can expect to be comfortably full in as few as six months, probably three, maybe two. In a year, you should be packed to the gills and working from a waiting list. Provided you keep up your aggressive campaign on all fronts. (Yes, this take effort and a lot of time to keep tabs on which aspects of your advertising campaign are working best and which least well.)

The two/three/six month figures reflect my experience when new in town. Your situation is unique and will be influenced by many factors: whether you keep your ad campaign going; general economic climate of your area; arts climate of your area; how much in demand your particular skill set is; how effectively you write and place your ads; and how you handle telephone queries and in-studio auditions.

I have great confidence in these precepts. I've started my studio from scratch in a new town a great many times using exactly these ideas. I know they work. Otherwise I wouldn't recommend them to you!

copyright 2002, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me about reprint permission.

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