From MBA to DMA: 8 Things I Learned in Business School About Clarinet Teaching
Life, however, has a way of surprising us and before I knew it, I found myself right back in the middle of a career in music education and performance – but this time, I was armed with an arsenal of principles from one of the country’s most illustrious business schools. It has been incredible for me to see what’s possible when one views their private studio as a business venture. Whereas many of my business school colleagues went on to found tech startups or invest in novel ideas, I decided to use the knowledge I accumulated in my MBA to write a business plan for a private clarinet studio. I wanted to bring my musical life into focus through the lens of my MBA.
The resultant venture is Oak City Clarinet, my personal clarinet studio, which I own and operate much like the corporations and businesses I studied in graduate school. Here are some of the things I learned in my MBA that I use in my everyday teaching, and I hope you will find these useful as well.
1. The Importance of Networking
2. Building a Social Media/Online Presence
In addition, you should also create a business email address as well as your own business website. Be sure that these sites stay up-to-date, and that they have information on how to contact you and any relevant information. For example, on my website, I have a page that lists my prices and how to contact me. My business email is connected to this part of my website, so I do not run the risk of potential job opportunities ending up in my spam folder. If you aren’t able to keep a certain social media platform updated, it is better to just get rid of it. You want your students, potential students, and professional network to stay updated on all the great work you’re doing, so be sure you broadcast your own materials and the success of your students.
3. Keep Track of Everything
This can all seem very daunting at first, so I recommend a few things. First, if keeping accurate records by spreadsheet like Excel or Google Drive is not your forte, utilize software specifically designed for this. I personally use Intuit Quickbooks Self-Employed. It allows me to track my mileage, expenditures, and revenue. In addition, it can produce charts that are important from a business perspective, such as cash flow charts and profit-loss statements. You can also create invoices directly on the app, so everything stays in one place. This is useful because you can create tax documents or even file directly through the application. I also recommend keeping every receipt that is related to your business: gas, food, equipment, etc. Write it all down, as you never know what items could be tax-deductible!
4. Know Your Worth & Explore Pricing Strategies
You should also be aware of different pricing strategies you can take advantage of to bring in more business. Businesses often offer discounts like “buy one get one free” or “10% off if you purchase three months,” etc. Your private studio is no different! For example, I offered many different pricing bundles such as a “new student package.” In this I would offer 5 lessons for the price of 4 for your first month of studying with me. Essentially, I was saying that I’ll give you a free lesson just for signing on to take lessons with me. I would also offer a discount if the students paid their lesson fees a month in advance. Most of my students chose to pay this way. As lessons became a monthly cost for the students or student’s parents, I started getting paid more regularly and finances became much easier to manage. I also invoice my students or their parents. Whenever you send an invoice, you want to be sure that whatever you are charging is stated clearly on the invoice, as well as any discounts you are giving. This keeps both you and the person paying honest! You can come up with many different pricing strategies that could work in your area. Do not be afraid to try new things!
More importantly, it is essential that parents understand your attendance and payment policy and agree to it. Should you find yourself in a situation where a student doesn’t show up for a lesson or gives you less than 24 hours’ notice that they will not be attending a lesson, you need to have a clear plan of action in place. I recommend that a student give no less than 24 hours’ notice if they intend to miss a lesson. I also recommend that, except in the case of emergency, you don’t refund the money for lessons canceled after the 24 hour notice period has expired. They’re paying for your time, after all, and time is money.
6. Make Time For Family and Friends (and Yourself!)
One important thing we can do is maintain our own practice and performance life. We love the clarinet, after all – that’s why we teach it! I have continued to perform throughout my life, and have continuously sought higher training to improve my abilities. Now in my mid-30s, I have returned to graduate school to pursue my terminal music degrees. I also perform in a clarinet quartet, freelance with local orchestras, and collaborate with composers on new music. Staying engaged in the parts of music that energize me keeps me motivated to teach and can serve to inspire my students.
I also recommend that you have some non-musical hobbies. For example, I am an avid runner and enjoy the chance to take care of my body and mind separate from the instrument. Some people may begin a meditation or yoga practice, or take up woodworking or crafting. My husband and I love to cook, and we enjoy trying new recipes and trying new foods. You do not serve your students or yourself by ignoring the ones you love!
7. Be Ethical
For example, do not tell students they should buy a brand-new professional clarinet if they are not ready for one. If you have business interests in other areas, do not offer items to your student that will help you financially but will offer nothing of value to the student. This also includes showing respect for students by maintaining professionalism at all times, respecting their boundaries, and never breaching the trust they and their parents have placed in you. Teaching is a supreme honor, and our students look up to us regardless of their age. We must never violate this sacred trust.
And lastly, just because something is not illegal does not mean it is necessarily ethical. Always be honest, pursue integrity, and do everything you can to help others succeed!
8. Do Not Be Afraid to Try New Things