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Summary: Why do my teaching hours always stay roughly the same? How good guitar teachers get more students.

How to build a client base

One of the most fascinating things I discovered when I ran the Music Teaching Studios is that each individual tutor gravitated towards their own average number of teaching hours completed each week. It didn’t seem to matter how many new students they were fed. For some tutors it was 11 hours per week, for others 15, 22, 25 ; the best performers topped out at around 35.

Over the years I have had guitar teachers email me about many aspects of running a teaching practice and the question is frequently asked:

‘Whatever happens I can’t seem to get my teaching hours above a certain amount – what can I do to change this?’

You rationalise the situation and say: ‘Well I have managed to carry out the right marketing actions to build up my client base to 10 lessons per week. Surely if I carry on with the same actions then there is no reason not to extend that to 15 hours?’

The truth of the matter though, is that we are driven not by what we rationalise – we are driven by what we feel.

The number of teaching hours you attain is the resultant of several different factors. I have tried to isolate them and shown the effect they have on a graph.

Each coloured area shows the effects of one of seven different factors that have a bearing on how your business is likely to grow. The results can be seen to create three distinct phases which I have labelled A, B and C. Each phase has a different slope as indicated by the arrows.

In the first phase (A) you start out driven by a high level of financial necessity. You also have a diary full of spaces set aside for lessons so you have a strong sense of willingness to make time available to teach and to market your lessons. You have a fair amount of enthusiasm because this is a new and exciting project, but this is tempered slightly by the fear of the unknown.

By the end of phase A early results have helped to remove the fear and your enthusiasm has grown as the realisation dawns that this might just work! Other factors have also begun to influence growth positively. Your range of musical, teaching and business skills has begun to broaden as you gain experience. Your salesmanship has begun to develop. Your overall personal confidence in what you are doing is also beginning to take off. Little by little you begin to gain a reputation as a reliable teacher and this produces customer referrals.

The combined effect of all these factors is to cause quite a sharp growth rate during the first six months or so.

Then, as we hit phase B, things begin to level out. Your sense of financial necessity starts to gradually diminish as your income increases. As you carry out more and more lessons each week, you begin to feel you have less time for marketing activities. Also, you spend more time on lesson preparation and working on the development of your own musical knowledge (this is borne out of a fear that your students will overtake you if you don’t keep pushing back the boundaries of your own musical ability!). All this begins to produce a feeling that time available for extra students is scarce.

Your range of skills is increasing however and this enables you to expand the scope of your teaching. You can now take on more advanced students, younger, older, more awkward students. You can teach bass as well as 6-string and even give theory lessons.

Your confidence continues to grow steadily as does your salesmanship.

Towards the end of this phase however, a natural waning of enthusiasm begins to occur brought on by the feeling that this is beginning to feel a bit like a proper job! You’re over the honeymoon period and into the grind!

Your reputation, meanwhile, has continued to grow as you are now doing quite a good job and a considerable number of people have become aware of this. So new students continue to show up demanding your lessons because they have heard you’re rather good!

The third phase (C), which can go on for many years, is characterised by a levelling off of teaching hours. Financial necessity all but disappears as you put your prices up and start to make quite a decent living. Your sense of time available for lessons zeroes as you begin to value time spent doing other things that allow you to get away from teaching and music.

Your enthusiasm settles down to a fairly constant level. Your confidence continues to grow, but is no longer such a strong factor as you have more than enough of it. The same goes for your salesmanship.

Your range of skills may continue to grow but, chances are, you start to pick and chose your students a little more carefully. You tend to specialize. You favour those wanting to learn Jazz and Blues and pass the would-be Rock guitarists on to younger, more energetic teachers!

Of course, this reflects my own feelings and experience of teaching. Others will be influenced more or less by these factors at different stages. Some will experience factors I haven’t thought of. For example, you may be driven by some sense of having to achieve a level of success expected of you by your parents, your wife or your peers. However, all such influences will tend to reinforce the three-phase phenomenon when you think about it.

So back to where we came in: the question asked is:

Why do my teaching hours always stay roughly the same?

The answer is that you have arrived at phase C.
You may have got there quicker than my example above and the various influencing factors may differ, but I think if you analyse your journey as I have done mine above, you will see what I mean.

The other important question was:

Whatever happens I can’t seem to get my teaching hours above a certain amount – what can I do to change this?’

Well, first I suggest you create your own spreadsheet (or rough diagram on a scrap of paper) along the lines I have done. This forces you to examine your thoughts and feelings and how each of them influences your efforts to expand your business.

Then look at what you might be able to change.

You could raise you level of financial necessity by taking out a bank loan to pay for that new kitchen. Or, perhaps more sensibly, by focusing on a project like building your dream recording studio or whatever and dedicating yourself to saving so much per week towards it.

You could fire up your enthusiasm by re-dedicating yourself to becoming a truly great teacher.

Extend your reputation by writing books and articles on music for local publications. Offer to give talks to PTA meetings or whatever.

The best way to raise the valuation of your teaching time is to up your prices. But be sure to also increase the amount you set aside for your dream project so that you also maintain financial necessity!

Get the idea? Look at each factor and see if there is something you can do to affect it towards driving up your teaching hours.

Let me know how you get on!

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