Written by & under Finances, Program Development.

risk-and-reward-787129This past spring, I decided to take a bit of a risk with my studio.

I’ve taught private piano lessons for about nine years.  Since having a child two-and-a-half years ago, I’ve kept my studio relatively small.  I only accept twelve private lesson students, since I like to be a mostly stay-at-home mom.  In March, all my private lesson spots filled up, and I began a waiting list.  I have always hated turning students down both because I love my job, and let’s be honest–no one likes turning down money.  But I know that being home with my little one is most important right now, and in order to make a substantial enough leap in income, I would have to take on quite a few more students which means quite a few more hours away from my little one.

So, I decided to branch out from private lessons.  Before moving from Wisconsin about two years ago, a public school there had approached me about teaching piano lessons in a group setting as part of their summer school program.  I was all set to begin a certification process, but ended up moving to Montana before I could see it through.  The idea of teaching group piano entered my head again this spring when I thought of the way it would work out really well in allowing me to teach substantially more students at my studio without taking away the amount of time from my daughter that it would require if I was to teach each of these students privately.

So I took the plunge.

I began by taking online classes and purchasing training videos from the piano method I decided to use (the Mayron Cole piano method, for teachers who might be interested).  Once I realized this was something I could see myself doing and felt equipped and comfortable to move forward with the idea, I purchased seven digital pianos, stands, and benches and set up a group piano lab in the basement of our home.  It gave me a lot of anxiety to purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment before I had students enrolled in my studio.  But I knew that I needed to spend the summer setting up the lab, and also wanted to be able to show parnets and students the space if they wanted to interview me prior to signing up for lessons. Since I am definitely known in the community as a private lesson music teacher, I also spent a lot of money on getting my name out as a group piano teacher, and educating my community on the benefits of group piano classes (only one other teacher in town offers group piano).

I will admit that I panicked when, the week before lessons began, I only had five students enrolled in three group classes–meaning that I was basically giving one student a private lesson for the cost of a group lesson (I charge less for group lessons).  But the day my first class began, I had a few last minute registrations and enrollment grew to seven students.  A few weeks later, I am up to nine students in three classes and was recently approached by a local junior high to teach a group piano elective one afternoon a week (a perfect job as they will be bussing students to my studio during my daughter’s naptime!).  

How do you decide if your risk is one worth taking?

  • Is there an underserved area of the market in your community? 
  • Would the purchase of additional materials/resources distinguish you from other competitors?
  • Can you afford to fail?  If you lose your investment, will you still be solvent?
  • Has growth in your current studio become stagnant?
  • Are you a self-starter who is willing to stretch yourself in a different way?

This whole process has taught me the importance of taking risks as a studio and small business owner.  It was a scary thing to branch out of my comfort zone and take a chance that it may not be successful.  But I saw an opportunity and an unfilled niche in my community and decided to go for it.  It was especially nerve-wracking to invest money into the equipment and advertising necessary to launch my group piano lessons without knowing if I would have the students to pay back our savings account.  In the end, the risk ended up paying off.  With only two-and-a-half hours more per week of teaching time, I have been able to take on fifteen more students.  And the time that goes into preparing for these classes is something I can do while my daughter sleeps, so it doesn’t take away time from my most important fulltime job–being a mom!