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In this episode, I’ll tell you about 5 challenges most beginning guitar teachers have to face. Starting your own teaching business isn’t always a bed of roses…but if you KNOW ABOUT the challenges ahead of time, you can PREPARE for them, OVERCOME them and be SUCCESSFUL. I’ll give you some great advice about how to do just that, and I’ll even share a basic marketing plan that will work for every new guitar teacher! There’s a ton of good information in here for ESTABLISHED guitar teachers, too.
PLUS, for STG All-Access members ONLY, I’ll give you 2 BONUS CHALLENGES that are related to MONEY and your MINDSET…two very important areas you need to focus on if you want to be successful!
To call in with a question, a comment or to leave feedback for the show, call the Listener Feedback Hotline at (719) 428-5480 and leave a message! I just might include your recorded message in a future episode.
Items Mentioned In This Episode:
STG 027 – How To Use Niche Marketing To Succeed As A Guitar Teacher (STG All-Access Members Only)
Video Tutorial – How To Set Up Your Own Guitar Teaching Website In 30 Minutes or Less
Product – Email List Training Course
Link – Craigslist.org
Free eBook – Teaching Guitar The SMART Way
Link – Music Teacher’s Helper (Use coupon code 3B007F – SAVE 20% off your first month)
STG 028 – Why 50% of New Guitar Teachers Fail
Link – Dave Ramsey
Link – QuickBooks
Link – Group Guitar Launch Formula
Article – The Biggest Lesson I Learned In 2011
Okay, today I’ll be talking primarily to those of you who are considering starting your own teaching business for the first time, basically to the beginners out there. I spend a lot of time, in the podcast, talking about more intermediate and advanced level topics, and I realize that a lot of your are beginners or maybe you haven’t even started your teaching business yet. You’re just gathering information. So, what I want to do is I want to give you guys some of the information that you need as well so that you can get your business going, and then, at that point, some of the other podcasts will apply to you more as well.
So, hopefully this is going to be some good information for the more established teachers in the audience too. You know, it never hurts to go back and review a few of the fundamentals so that you can make sure that your foundations are solid in your business, so hopefully the things I talk about in today’s episode are going to be useful to some of you old timers too.
So, one of the hardest things about getting started as a beginning guitar teacher, honestly, is not knowing what to expect. Anytime you’re doing something new that you’ve never done before, the fact that you’re new at it is always a big disadvantage because you don’t know what’s coming. When you’re new at something, you don’t have the benefit of experience to guide you along the way, and sometimes not knowing what to plan for can make you feel paralyzed kind of and keep you from moving forward, and sometimes even keep you from getting started. It’s what they call paralysis by analysis, right? You try to figure everything out so much that you don’t actually take any action.
So, hopefully the information I give you today will help you push passed some of that and have a better comfort level when it comes to starting your business off for the first. So, in this episode, I’m going to tell you about five common challenges that most beginning guitar teachers face and how you can kind of prepare for them, and this going to hopefully help some of you who might be sitting on the fence about whether or not to start teaching guitar lessons to feel a little more prepared and be able to have the confidence to take some action towards starting your own teaching business.
So, what I’m going to do is I’m going to give you some simple and elegant ways to overcome some of these challenges that I’m going to share with you. There’s a quote that I love. It’s by Leonardo da Vinci, and he said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” and nine times out of ten, the simplest solution is going to be the best solution to any problem. So, let’s jump right into the five challenges that most beginning guitar teachers face.
Challenge #1 – Attracting New Students
So, challenge number one is going to be attracting new students. For most beginners, this is the biggest challenge of all, and it’s usually the first one that you have to confront when you start teaching guitar lessons. You have to figure out how you’re going to attract students. You have to answer questions like: “Where are your students going to come from?” They don’t grow on trees, right? They’re not going to just magically appear in your teaching studio. They have to come from someplace. And if that’s true, then you have to ask yourself how are you going to find them.
You know, how will they hear about you since you’re new to this and you don’t really have a reputation yet? You don’t have word-of-mouth referrals working in your favor yet. Those things all come as you get more established, but when you’re just starting out, where are the students going to come from? How are they going to hear about you? How are they going to know that they should even contact you for lessons?
So, a lot of people, when they’re just starting out – I know this is what I did at first. It was a mistake that I made. A lot of people just ignore this part – the attracting students part – and they just get started with one or two people that they might know who happen to come their way, just a handful of students. And honestly, that’s better than not starting at all because you’re actually doing something. You’re taking action, and that’s an important thing, but you usually, if you kind of just don’t really plan too much on the student attraction side, you find out pretty quickly that it’s not as easy as you thought it was going to be. I know that from experience.
So, what happens after a few month when your business isn’t growing as fast as you hoped it would, you know, maybe three month goes by, six months go by, and you know, you still only have three or four students. You know, you’re not attracting a lot of people. You know? That’s typically what happens if you don’t plan. So, how do you add enough students so that you can eventually make a full-time living out of this thing if you’re not going to plan ahead for it? So, I’m just saying it’s usually the first challenge that a new guitar teacher is going to face.
And the answer to this challenge is to have some good marketing in place. Marketing is the solution. So, as musicians, the ability to market ourselves typically doesn’t come naturally, does it? If there’s one thing that all the guitar teachers I talk to have in common is that they don’t really understanding marketing and the whole business side of it, so that’s one of the main reasons I decided to do this podcast; is to help people learn how to market themselves better, guitar teachers in particular. So, it’s not something that’s an innate ability that we have. It doesn’t come as naturally as playing the guitar. It’s something that we have to learn about. It’s a set of skills, right? Just like playing requires one set of skills, teaching requires one set of skills. Marketing requires a set of skills as well, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
You just need a basic understanding of how marketing works for a guitar teacher. You don’t need to know how to market yourself as a stockbroker, for example, or you don’t need to know how to market yourself as a fashion designer or a computer programmer. There’s specific set of tactics, techniques, and skills that will work for you as a guitar teacher, and those are the only ones you really have to learn. You can learn more about it later if you want to expand your marketing skills, but to actually get started and get some new students coming in, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Remember: simplicity is the best way to go.
So, it’s easier and it usually works out better if you can have a basic marketing strategy planned out before you get started with your business. It just kind of saves you from jumping in without knowing how to swim and not getting new students as quickly as you normally could. So, what I have for you is something really cool here that hopefully is going to be valuable. It’s a basic beginner’s marketing plan. Okay, these are some steps that you can take, three very simple steps that you can take, to put together your own marketing plan as a beginning guitar teacher who doesn’t really have any students yet.
So, what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to basically answer these three questions. And the first one is – number one: who is your target? Who is your target? That’s the first phase of your beginner’s marketing plan. So, what I recommend is trying to focus on a certain type of student. Don’t let your target be so broad that you can’t hit it with an arrow. You want to make sure that you narrow your focus down a little bit and try to get a certain type of student. Don’t try to attract everyone who wants to play the guitar.
Now, I’m not going to get into all of that stuff because I did a whole podcast about it, Episode 27, which is How to Use Niche Marketing to Succeed as a Guitar Teacher. That’s available to STG All-access members. So, if you want to know more about how to kind of narrow your focus when you’re doing marketing, you need to listen to that episode because it tells you all about how to do it. But just to start with right now, just understand that your target is not going to be everyone in your city who wants to learn how to play guitar. Okay, it’s a lot easier to market yourself and to attract students if you narrow your focus and go after a certain subset of people. So, that means you’re going to actually, instead of all people that want to learn how to play guitar, maybe go after a certain age group, a certain skill level, a certain genre of music, a certain technique that people want to learn, a certain geographic location, something like that, or some combination of those two or three or four things.
So, you narrow your focus and you focus on a specific target, and then you want to identify this ideal student, this target, first. And if you do that, then the rest of the process – the next two steps I’m going to give you are a lot easier. So, that’s the first thing you’ve got to do; is identify who your target student is. Who it is that you really want to teach.
So, the second step of this marketing plan here is you have to answer the question: what problem can you solve for them? What problem can you solve for that specific group of people? Once you have a basic idea of who your ideal student is, then you want to figure out what their biggest problem is as well. And if you can solve that problem, then you’re going to have a much greater chance of being able to reach those people and teach them. So, ask yourself this: what frustrates them the most about learning the guitar?
What is the biggest thing that drives them crazy about trying to learn the guitar? And if you can identify that, then you can come up with a solution. So, what solution or benefits can you provide that are going to help them with that one main problem that they face? So, that problem can be different things for different people. You know, for beginners that are trying to learn how to play acoustic guitar, it could be that their fingertips hurt. They get rubbed raw by trying to hold down the chords and things like that because they don’t have calluses yet. So, maybe you could come up with a really cool solution for that, or maybe the number one problem with a lot of the students in your area is that they just have a bad sense of rhythm and you can focus your curriculum a little bit to address that for them.
And then not only does that help you stand out, but it really helps your students and gets them excited about learning and stuff, because you’re solving that big problem that they have. So, a key part of marketing is understanding who your audience is, what problems they have, and what solutions you can bring to solve them. If you start thinking along those lines and kind of write this stuff out, it’ll make it a lot easier for you to attract students.
And then the third piece of your beginner’s marketing plan, and this is really an important one, is how will you get their attention. I’ve talked about this in other episodes as well, but marketing and advertising is basically, if you boil it down to the core of what it really is, a battle for attention. So, now that you know who your potential students are and what they want, then you need to figure out how you’re going to get on their radar screen. Because if they don’t know about you, if they don’t find out that you can help them with their problems playing guitar, then they’re never going to ask you to start taking lessons. So, you’ve got to get on their radar screen somehow.
And the best way to do that is to figure out what methods of advertising your potential students would “see” the easiest. So, that’s typically going to be word-of-mouth referrals, typically at first. Their friends are going to tell them, or if they’re in the market for guitar lessons, they’re going to ask people that they know: “Who’s a good teacher that you would recommend?” Okay, that’s typically the first way that they’re going to find someone, and the second way is going to be through online advertising, doing Google searches and things like that, and Craigslist and places like that.
So, referrals, the first piece of that, are going to build automatically over time. If you just do a good job with your lessons, your students are going to recommend you to other people, but that takes a while. So, what I recommend starting out with is building an online presence for your teaching business. It doesn’t have to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just a basic website that basically offers your services. It tells people who you are and what benefits you have to offer and how you can solve that problem that your potential students have.
So, you’ve got to get on their radar screen, so if you setup a basic webpage and maybe get listed in some of the local search places, like Google and places like that, that have business locations in them, then people will start to find you online and they can contact you about taking lessons that way too. So, that’s usually typically what I recommend that you do first, and you build that up while word-of-mouth referrals are being generated as well. That part kind of happens on its own.
So, here’s your basic online section of your marketing campaign. It’s going to involve three things to get that online presence started. The first one is a website, and like I said, this is just a basic website to explain the key points and the benefits about your business. And if you don’t know how to do that, if you don’t have it yet, then check out my free video tutorial: How to Setup your own Guitar Teaching Website in 30 Minutes or Less. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, and it’s about a 15 to 20-minute-long, two-part video that takes you step-by-step through opening up a hosting account, registering a domain name, and installing WordPress and putting a theme on it, and setting up basic pages. Getting your basic website framework setup, and that’s completely free.
So, you definitely want to check that out and follow those instructions to get your website set up quickly and easily. The next piece of your online marketing campaign is your email list. You guys hear me talk about email all the time and how powerful it is and how important it is. Well, this is a way to capture contact info from potential students who visit the website that you’re going to build that I just mentioned so that you can follow-up with them later. Okay, it’s an important piece of the puzzle. You don’t want people to show up to your website, think: “Oh, that’s cool,” and then leave and then you never hear from them again. You want to capture them somehow so that you can then tell them how cool your lessons are and how you can solve that problem that we mentioned earlier.
Okay, so I have a whole training course that I put together. It’s affordable and it’s very thorough and comprehensive. It teaches you how to setup your email list and do everything that you need to do to get it up and running, and you can find that if you go to StartTeachingGuitar.com/Email-Training. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well so that you can check it out if that’s something that you think would help you.
And then the last piece of it, once you have a website and once you have an email list, then you want to start putting out a few ads on Craigslist that link back to your website. So, if you go to Craigslist.org – I’ll link to that in the show notes for you -, you can post classified ads there, and Craigslist is pretty much global. They may have a different kind of online classified ad service that’s the most popular where you live, but Craigslist for Americans and people in the UK and stuff. It’s free. A lot of people go on there to find things that they’re looking for. So, look for the equivalent in your country if you live outside the USA, but start putting some ads out on Craigslist and make sure you include a link back to your website so that people will see your Craigslist ad, go to your website, and then hopefully sign up for your email list, and then you can start collecting a group of prospects and get some new students out of that.
So, that’s your basic beginner’s marketing plan. Figure out who your target it, figure out what problem you can solve for them, and then use online marketing to get their attention, using a website and email list and Craigslist. That’s the easiest way to start if you’re a beginner. So, that’s challenge number one. If you do those things, you’ll get some help with attracting new students.
Challenge #2 – Choosing A Curriculum
Challenge number two is choosing a curriculum. So, now that you have a basic plan for attracting new students, you need to start thinking, as a beginner, about what you’re going to teach those people. So, when I first got started teaching, I remember that awkward feeling I would get sometimes when I’d have students sitting with me and I would have some stuff prepared, and we would go through it too fast and still have 15 or 20 minutes left in the lesson and I wouldn’t know what to teach them next. You know, maybe the student claimed to already know everything that I prepared for in the lesson, so now what? What do I do now?
Well, having a good curriculum plan in place is going to help you always know what to teach next. And your curriculum doesn’t have to be complicated either. Again, simplicity is the best way to go. You can use a few good method books, some free online resources, and you know, all that coupled with your own experience to put together a curriculum that works well for you and your students. So, now, there’s this ongoing debate about what kind of curriculum works best. You know, a lot of people argue back and forth whether you should use method books or whether you should write your own curriculum.
Okay, I’ve mentioned before that using a method book exclusively can sometimes be way too rigid and it can bore your students and it can make them want to quit. You know, I wrote an article about it called Death by Method Book. And it’s true. I mean if you don’t use a method book in the right way, I was just having a discussion with one of the people on the STG forum not too long ago, and that’s what we were talking about. He was very pro-method book and he was challenging some of my thinking on some of this. And you know, I’m totally open to have discussions about any of the things that I teach you guys. If you have different opinions or something like that, I would love to hear them and talk about them, because that helps me better formulate the things that I’ve experienced and teach.
So, sometimes it can be too rigid if you don’t use the method book in the right way. But it’s also true that using too much of a free form approach can create a lot of extra work for you and it can be less effective because you’re not using proven, tested materials, and that was the point that this person I was discussing this with was making, and it’s a very valid point. So, in my opinion, the best way is to use a combination of both. It doesn’t have to be either or. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can find and purchase some of the best method books for the genre of guitar that you teach. Those are going to be full of concepts, full of exercises, full of lesson plans and really good ideas that you can use in your lessons and also as ideas to develop your own stuff.
And I have links to a really good, free method book. It’s in my free eBook. It’s Teaching Guitar the Smart Way. So, if you go to GetFreeGuitarEbook.com, you can just put your name and email address in the form, and I’ll send you, right away, a free copy of my eBook, Teaching Guitar the Smart Way. And there’s a method book that’s free that’s listed in there. It has a bunch of great material in it that you can use if you are really starting on a shoestring and you don’t have any money to buy a curriculum or books. So, that’s a great one to start with because it has a lot of basic information in it that people are going to want to learn, especially if they’re beginners on the guitar.
So, yeah, get books. I totally recommend that you buy books. Any books you think are interesting that are going to help you, but make sure that you customize your lesson plans for every student that you teach. Okay, don’t force them through the books, page-by-page-by-page, lesson-by-lesson-by-lesson. You know, in my experience, guitar students aren’t really one-size-fits-all. Different students are going to have different attention spans, different learning styles, different interests, and different musical goals. You know, the fundamental skills they need to learn are going to all be basically the same, but the approach that you need to take with each of those students is probably not going to be the same.
So, try to accommodate those differences and give them what they need. Give them what they’re paying you for. You’re there to help them. It’s not just about following a book. And there is a nice balance between the two extremes, where you’re not reinventing the wheel, but you’re still giving your students the individual instruction that they need in a fluid, responsive way. So, the key is to not rely on the method books as your sole curriculum. You know, that’s not what you want to advertise. “I follow this curriculum and I will take you through Method Book One, Method Book Two, Method Book Three.” Instead, use them as basic building blocks, but make sure that you use those blocks to build what each student really needs and that you engage them as an individual. That’s just my opinion on that, and that’s what I recommend.
So, that’s the second challenge; is choosing the curriculum. So, basically, what I recommend is you find some good books, and then, if it’s a good fit for a student to just work through the book, they’re very studious and they want something structured, go for it. You know, if it’s a good fit for them, but don’t try to squeeze everyone into the same mold. It’s totally okay to skip around in the book or to take stuff from different books and present it in the order that you think is best. So, that’s how you take care of the curriculum challenge.
Challenge #3 – Setting Up Your Teaching Space
Now, challenge number three, whenever you’re a brand new guitar teacher, is setting up your teaching space. So, when you’ve never done it before, deciding where to over your lessons can definitely be a challenge, because your location is important. You want to make sure you end up setting your studio up at the right place because a bad location, for a lot of reasons, is going to make it much harder for you to grow our teaching business. You know, you’ve got to put yourselves in the shoes of your potential students and, if they’re children, their parents, and you’ve got to think: “Wow, if it was me, would I bring my kids to this place? You know, or if I was an adult wanting to take lessons, would I be comfortable coming here to have my lessons?”
You know, you’ve got to think about it from that perspective. And there are basically two options that you can choose, right? Places you have to pay for and places that you don’t. Places that are free. So, obviously, if you possibly can, you definitely want to choose the free place if it works, or if you have to pay, make sure that you pay as little as possible, because obviously, as a business owner, you want to keep your overhead as low as you can. If you’re spending all your tuition money on rent, there’s not going to be a whole lot of money left for you to take home at the end of the day, so you want to try to keep this as low as possible, and free is even better if you can do that and make it work.
So, here are a few options for you, just really quick. Some paid options. You can rent space at another music school. That’s a good idea, especially if they don’t already have guitar teachers there, something that you can look into. You can look at maybe your local middle school or high school. You can maybe look at renting space at a church at night or something like that, or you can look at commercial space, where you’re actually renting your own business area, which tends to be the most expensive option. And free options, you know, would be obviously your house. If you could do that, that’s probably the best way to go. You could, if you have a friend that lives in the area, in an area that would be better for your students, you could maybe work out a deal where you could teach out of their house, or even you could teach outside, in a public place like a park in the summertime or something like that, or under like a band shell or like a pavilion somewhere.
You know, there are a lot of options. You just need to kind of check around and see. And if none of those would work for you, maybe you can even barter for some teaching space. So, you could offer some free lessons in exchange for rent, or if you have other skills, if you’re not doing this yet full-time and you have some other skills from your job, maybe you can offer some other service that you can provide that’s not music-related, like maybe you could do website or graphics design in exchange for a place to teach, or maybe you could do painting or construction or auto mechanic work, or something like that, and trade them. Instead of paying cash for rent, do some work for them instead.
You just want to try to find the most affordable place you can in the best location for your ideal students that we talked about earlier. And for most new teachers, honestly the best place is the living room of your house or your apartment. And once you get somewhat established and you have, say, ten students or something that you’re teaching, then you can look into a better place that you can upgrade. But when you’re just starting out, your house is probably the perfect place to start, but the important thing is that you don’t let location stop you from taking action. The important thing is to just start teaching as soon as you can. You can always make adjustments and midcourse corrections to improve things in your business as you go, but the important thing is to not procrastinate and start teaching wherever it is. And you can always improve your location as you go. So, that’s challenge number three: setting up teaching space, something that every beginner is going to have to face.
Challenge #4 – Managing Your Schedule
Okay, challenge number four, when you’re a beginning guitar teacher and maybe even beyond being a beginning guitar teacher, maybe you’ve been doing this for a while too, but challenge number four is managing your schedule. This is something that trips a lot of people up in every kind of business. If you’re not one of those organized people, where everything is in order, you’re always on time for stuff, you have it all organized and figured out – if you’re not one of those kind of people, then managing your teaching schedule can be really difficult sometimes, but think about this.
It could be a disaster for you, as a business owner. What happens if you forget a lesson and you don’t show up? Someone schedules a lesson with you. You forget to write it down, and they show up at your teaching space and you’re not there. You know? How does that make you look? What does that do your word-of-mouth referrals? It kind of has the opposite of the intended effect, right? So, what happens if you double-book two students at the same time? You tell one person: “Yeah, come at this time,” but you don’t write it down, and then you talk to someone else and you look at you calendar and you say, “Yeah, come at this time,” and it’s the same time the other person was supposed to be there and they both show up to get a lesson at the same time. How does that make you look? How does that make your business look?
You’ve got to think about these kinds of things. What happens if a student cancels a few days in advance, right? They call you and say, “Hey, I can’t make my lesson. My dad is going to be in the hospital,” or something like that, and you say, “Oh, okay, that’s cool,” but you forget to write it down. And then you show up for the lesson, you prepare for it, you’re there, and then they’re not there and you totally forgot that they had something important that they had to do. I mean you might even end up firing off an ugly email or something, and you know. I mean it’s just not a good situation. And all of that could be totally avoided if you just manage your schedule, but it really is a challenge for some people, especially if you’re not used to booking appointments and things like that.
So, how you manage your schedule honestly has a huge impact on your student retention and on your student referrals. If you screw up your scheduling too many times, your students and their parents are going to get frustrated big time and, you know, they may look elsewhere for guitar lessons. If you don’t get your appointments right, you know, your students are going to be less likely to refer their friends to you. They’re going to say things like: “Yeah, he’s a good guitar teacher, but you know, he doesn’t know how to use a calendar. He doesn’t know what a calendar is for,” or something like that. So, it’s basically a direct reflection of your level of professionalism.
You’re a business owner, right? So, you have to run your business the right way if you want to be successful, and managing your schedule is just one part of that. So, let me give you some tips here on how to deal with this challenge.
The best way to manage your schedule is to use some automated software to do it for you. Honestly, the best way to do it probably is to hire a receptionist or a secretary, but when you’re just starting out, you don’t want to do that. So, the next best thing is to use an automated software tool to do it for you. It’s just like having your own receptionist without all the employment hassles. So, a good scheduling tool is going to do a few things for you. It will show you available time slots to your students on a webpage that they can visit 24/7. So, you go in there and you block out all the times that you don’t want to teach, and then they can go to the website and see what your availability is.
Another thing it’ll do for you is it’ll let your students choose the time that’s best for them. That saves you a lot of back and forth, a lot of emails, a lot of phone calls, and all that kind of thing. That tool will also notify you of the new appointment. So, your students go there, they see your availability, they pick a slot that works for them, and then, once they book it, you’ll get an email saying this appointment was scheduled for that time. So, it tells you, and then it should also send an email to remind them about the appointment that they made maybe like the day before so that they don’t forget.
And it should do all of this without you having to be involved at all. That’s the cool thing about it. It’s automatic. You set your availability, you send your students to the link, and they go there. They can change their lessons around as often as they want. They can reschedule it themselves without even having to call you, just by canceling their appointment and rescheduling it to a different time that’s available on your site. So, it saves you a lot of hassle. It really makes you look more professional, especially to the parents of your younger students. So, it’ll save you a bunch of headache as well, so I highly recommend that you find a good scheduling tool and that you learn how to use it. It’s not that complicated and it’ll save you tons of trouble.
My favorite way to manage this is using Music Teacher’s Helper. So, if you go to MusicTeachersHelper.com, I actually have a coupon code for you. It’s 3B007F. And if you use that coupon code when you sign up, you can save 20 percent off your first month of the service. But among other things, you know, it helps you track your accounting for your business and all this other stuff, communication with your students and all that. But the coolest part is that it has a built-in scheduling tool that does all of the things that I just talked about. So, check out Music Teacher’s Helper if you’re looking for a solution for this.
So, we have affordable technology available that will cover this for you, so there’s no excuse for missing appointments or getting your scheduling all messed up. You can also save a lot of time, you can save a lot of hassle, you can save yourself a lot of emails and phone calls and over-communication if you set up a system like this and use it. It won’t do anything for you if you don’t use it, so that’s important. You’ve got to actually take action and use it. So, that’s number four. Challenge number four: managing your schedule.
Challenge #5 – Dealing With Difficult Students
Okay, now let’s look at challenge number five. This one is dealing with difficult students. If you have never taught guitar lessons before, you are going to find quickly that not all students are equal, and some of them are going to be a pleasure and a joy to teach, other ones are going to challenge you, and then still other ones are going to try your patience until you’re about to go mad. There are always going to be one or two students that crop up. Thankfully, it’s not the majority of them. A very small percentage, but they’re going to drive you nuts.
There’s going to be situations you’re going to have to deal with that might make you a little uncomfortable. And this last challenge can be one of the hardest ones of all because it involves the most unpredictable part of your teaching business, and that’s people. People. You can’t predict what people are going to do all the time. You can’t control people. You can’t do things like that in your business. You have to be able to deal with that stuff as it arises. So, if you set everything else up right, you are still going to have to deal with people, and occasionally you’re going to have to deal with difficult people, because being a guitar teacher is a people business.
If you’re not a people person, you don’t like talking with people and dealing with people, a lot of different people, a lot of different kinds of people, then being a guitar teacher might not be the best thing for you, but if you love people and you’re a people kind of person, then it’s probably going to be perfect for you. But you’ve got to realize that you meet face-to-face with all kinds of people every week. People of various ages. People of various skill levels on the guitar. People with a wide variety of temperaments, attitudes, worldviews, values, and opinions. A lot of those are going to be a lot different than yours.
So, being able to connect with those kinds of people and relate to all of these different people might take some getting used to at first. It can be a challenge when you’re first starting out as a teacher. Sometimes you’re going to hit one of them on a bad day, right, or even worse, you’re going to start working with someone who turns out to be a bad student, where, every time they come, it’s a bad day. So, what do you do with someone that’s constantly causing problems for you? You know, how do you handle a student who’s not really engaged in the learning process? They show up and they pay you, but they don’t really try. They don’t practice. How do you handle someone who keeps arguing with you maybe or fighting what you’re trying to teach them and they think they know better than you do? You know, I see people like that once in a while too.
Well, here are some of the most common people problems that a lot of teachers run into and a few tips on how to handle them.
So, the first people problem that you might see is payment. People not paying you on time, or heaven forbid, not paying you at all. You can deal with this by setting up your lesson policies effectively so that you’re not in the collection business. So, if you collect a month’s worth of tuition in advance – you know, they pay you before you deliver the lessons – you can eliminate a lot of the payment hassles that you deal with.
The next kind of problem with people is time management problems. People not showing up on time, being late for your lessons, or just blowing you off and not showing up at all. I mean you can’t completely avoid that, again, because you can’t control people. But again, setting up good lesson policies will help with this because if they pay you in advance and they don’t show up and they don’t call you ahead of time to reschedule or whatever, you still get paid. So, that makes it a little bit better. Yeah, they wasted your time, but at least you got paid for it.
You know, there’s this quote that I hear a lot of people saying. “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” So that’s why you set your policies up this way, so that if someone doesn’t plan well and they don’t manage their time, at least it’s not costing you money and it’s not an emergency on your part, where you have to drop everything you’re doing and reschedule for them and stuff. So, that’s how you deal with late shows and no shows.
The next kind of people problem that you might run into is things related to your work ethic. You know, and that’s whenever your students are not practicing, they’re not doing the assignments that you give them, and they’re basically not investing themselves in their music education at all. Well, the best way to handle this one is to try to motivate that student, to use your motivational skills, the part of the thing that makes you a teacher, and you want to try to help them see a bigger vision of the guitar player that they can become if they make this investment.
You know, so you kind of paint a picture of what their future could look like if they really work hard on the instrument and what kinds of things they could accomplish. A lot of times, they just need help understanding the real value of practicing and they need someone to impart a vision to them of why it’s important. And once they understand that, a lot of times that internal motivation kicks in and they start to love practicing. That’s basically what happens to almost every guitar player that gets serious about it. They start learning so much and they discover the joy that comes from having a good practice routine and the progress that you make. You know, it’s like these brain chemicals get released whenever you do it. Dopamine and all these things get released in your brain whenever you really learn something cool on the guitar, and you want to keep having that good feeling and it makes you want to keep practicing.
So, with continual encouragement, with accountability in your lessons, where you’re asking them if they got their practice times in and you ask them every week, and then some motivation to kind of help them – if you do those things, sometimes your laziest student will do a 180 and they’ll turn around and they could become the best student that you teach. So, this is really a motivation problem, and as a teacher, that’s an area that you can really help with. So, that’s how you deal with issues related to work ethic.
And then the last kind of people problem you might run into is just basic incompatibility, and that’s students that just aren’t a good fit for you in the first place. So, again, like I said, not every student is going to be someone that you want to teach. Maybe their learning style doesn’t match up with your teaching style, for example. Maybe they’re a visual learning and you’re more of an auditory teacher, where you like to explain things, but they need to see something. You know, diagrams and charts, and things like that. So, maybe it’s just not a good fit. Maybe what they want to learn is something that you don’t have the experience to teach them, which is something that might happen more often than not.
Maybe they want to learn jazz, but you’re a rock player. Well, you can take them so far. You can teach them some fundamentals, but whenever you run out of your jazz bank account and you don’t have anything else to teach them, then they’re not going to be a good fit for you anymore, or maybe they have special needs. You know, they have ADHD or autism, or something like that. That’s a whole different ballgame. That’s a different niche, a different style of teaching, and that may be an excellent choice for you, but if you don’t have the skills and the desire to work with those kinds of people, maybe they’re just not a good fit for you.
So, incompatibility. You can’t really fit a square peg into a round hole. You know, you can try to break the corners off and stuff, but it’s not going to be a good experience. Sometimes referring someone to another teacher is really the best thing for both you and for them. So, those are just some of the people problems that you could run into when you start teaching guitar lessons for the first time, and all the way through really. Honestly, you’re going to constantly come into contact with people like this from time to time, but those are some ways that you can deal with those things and overcome that challenge, which is challenge number five.
So, I’m going to wrap up the podcast here, but I just want to say that as a beginner, I’ve really been trying to be in-tune to what beginning guitar teachers need and I’ve been talking about this probably for six months, but I am working on a brand new course that teaches you how to start off, where you don’t have any experience teaching guitar lessons at all, and it’s going to help you to build your teaching business and get everything in place to the point where you have your first five or ten students. And at that point, you’re ready to grow to the next level.
But for most beginners, the hardest part is just getting over that hump and getting your first five or ten students in. So, what I’m going to do is I’m working on this course right now. I’m putting it together and I’m hoping to be able to release around the December time frame, but there is a course coming that will teach you step-by-step how to start a teaching business up from scratch. So, be looking for that, and those are the five common challenges for new guitar teachers.
Now, I have a bonus for your guys. For STG All-Access members only, I have two bonus challenges for you. So, these are going to be related to money and to your mindset. So, you definitely want to check those out. If you want to hear more, then become an STG All-Access member to get full access to this episode, and then you’ll be able to hear those two bonus challenges.
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