10 Tips for Self-Starter Entrepreneurs

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Readers, today’s post was written by my talented wife, Mrs. Superhero. In the past, I have written about her drive and business acumen. In this post, she will share 10 tips that she has learned as a self-made business owner.

Mr. and Mrs. FinanceSuperhero
Mr. and Mrs. FinanceSuperhero

Hi everyone, Mrs. Superhero here!  I am much more right-brained than Mr. Superhero, so if you are looking for a fancy graph or an extensive vocabulary please move along to another article.

FinanceSuperhero Editorial note: If you LOVE graphs like I do, check out the fun graph in this article

I have always been self-employed, part time, outside of my day job teaching at an elementary school as a general music and chorus teacher. I began teaching piano, flute, and voice when I was 16 years old. I began studying piano at the age of five, so by the time I was sixteen I had the skill set to start teaching others.

Today, I operate a music studio in our home and teach 28 students. I meet people all the time who ask me many questions about my business, such as

  • How did you start your business?
  • How do you advertise?
  • How did you end up with 28 students?
  • How do you set and raise your rates?

In this article, I am going to lay out answers to these common questions and more; though the answers will relate specifically to my experience and field, the general principles behind the answers are applicable for virtually any self-starter entrepreneur.

Here are the 10 biggest lessons I have learned along the way as a self-made entrepreneur.

10 TIPS FOR SELF-STARTER ENTREPRENEURS

1. It’s not all about the money, but it is important to be compensated.

I have invested a lot of money, time, and dedication into the music teaching industry, and I do deserve to be compensated for my expertise.  While I am confident in my ability to help develop musicians,  some people I have met don’t feel worthy of charging for services.

Honestly, I would never expect a plumber to come to my house and fix a problem with our sink and not pay them based upon their unique skills and training. Your trade is no exception.

Entrepreneurial application: Be confident in your abilities and demand fair compensation.

2. Establish your rate based on market research.

Living in Illinois, I am always shocked by the “going rate” for music lessons and how they differ depending on the city you live in. In college, I recall working for a family who wanted to pay me $70 dollars an hour for piano lessons. Coming from a mid-size town in Michigan, I was shocked. Because I was young and new at this whole “entrepreneur thing,” I tried to say the rate was too much, but the father insisted, “No, this is fair.”

I could never afford a beach front property on Lake Michigan or live anywhere near the areas where I used to travel to teach lessons, so when we moved three years ago I called all of the local piano shops to gather their prices for lessons. I discovered that some charged $20.00 and some charged $27.00. I decided to take the middle ground, and I charge $23.00 a lesson currently.

Entrepreneurial application: Establish a fair market rate for your services.

3. Teach from your home. 

When I used to travel to lessons, I spent way too much time pulling up to a student’s home only to find out that they were not home, they “forgot,” or my personal favorite: they had a “play date.” Now that I teach from home, if someone doesn’t show up for lessons it is not as big of an inconvenience, and I didn’t waste a bunch of gas and time in the car. Also, I am able to teach more kids per day by not wasting time traveling.

This works well if you have an area of your house that you can dedicate to music lessons. Additionally, I am able to claim a home office deduction, miscellaneous utility expenses, and my mobile phone. The best part? I can slip into yoga pants and a hoodie immediately after lessons.

Entrepreneurial application: Take advantage of your ability to work from home, and consult with your CPA regarding tax advantages.

4. When you are first starting off, you can’t be very picky.

When I was still teaching lessons as a high school student, I had to put up with cancellations and lame excuses. I could not afford to have stricter policies because I only had five students at that point. If I had made three of those people upset and they quit, then I would only have two students (and a damaged business reputation). And those five students helped pay for my gas and other expenses I had at the time, so I needed the money!

General application: Exercise care and caution to protect your business reputation, especially in the beginning.

5. Expect payment on a monthly-basis at the beginning of the month. 

This expectation helps me to avoid many awkward conversations, and I only have to discuss money with clients once per month.

I must say that this expectation helps people be intentional. If they know they are not going to commit to piano lessons and make them a priority, they won’t be as likely to study with someone like me who has established a payment schedule.

Entrepreneurial application: Communicate your compensation requirements to clients in advance and in writing, and demand at least a portion of your compensation in advance.

6. Have a contract.

I am a professional. Unfortunately, some people do not understand or respect that fact. Beyond education, I have invested in my studio. My flute was a very costly instrument, and I have invested over $2,000 in my piano, even though I was fortunate enough to have inherited my Steinway piano.

My instruments and education came at a cost. While some students had a nice car in college, I had my flute and an older car.  Many people do not realize the expense of instruments, lessons, accompanist fees, and everything else required  just to be a music major and to study to become a music teacher. It’s not cheap, people! It really isn’t.

So having a contract sets a tone and sends a message:  I LOVE your child, but I cannot afford to teach for free. It is important that not only am I professional, but also the families of the children I teach. My contract helps me avoid many awkward conversations, helps people understand that they can’t cancel for no reason, and that they do have to pay me if they “forget” or miss a lesson when it’s not an emergency.

I do offer make-up lessons because life happens and you can’t schedule the flu or an emergency. But I ask that families don’t take advantage of that and not purposefully schedule dentist appointments during their piano lessons, etc.

Entrepreneurial application: Establish business relationships and client expectations in writing. If necessary, have an attorney review contracts.

7. Don’t be so business-minded that you forget WHY you do this.

Today, I wasn’t feeling awesome. It was supposed to be my day off, but one of my students was freaking out about a performance she has tomorrow. I didn’t have to teach her today. She missed her actual lesson this week, but I CARE about all of my kids. I go the extra mile for them.

So I put on my teacher glasses and taught her for an hour and ten minutes – longer than a typical lesson and at no extra charge. I texted her mom and said that  I wanted her daughter to feel confident so we were going to extend the lesson.

In my experience, some people are too business-minded by not offering make-up lessons and not being flexible. I ask people to be fair to me, and I am fair to them. If people do not comply with the contract and it consistently happens, I politely explain that there are plenty of high schoolers that charge half as much as I do and refer them to one of those teachers.

Entrepreneurial application: Be kind and respectful to your clients.

8. Have recitals.

Parents LOVE recitals. They keep parents happy, and kids practice more – which makes my job a lot easier!

Music was meant to be shared. Allow students to have these moments on stage. It is a TON of work for me (FinanceSuperhero Editorial note: And for me, too!), to be honest, and  it can be quite stressful, but I find that these experiences are such special moments for my students. My last recital had over 150 guests. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I had plenty of parents offer to help serve cake and punch. I asked kids to pass out flyers, which is a great life skill for them to learn!

Entrepreneurial application:  Maintain an active social presence in your community. This is a great way to gain face time with others and network!

Mrs. Superhero performing for her students at a 2015 studio recital.
Mrs. Superhero performing for her students at a 2015 studio recital.

9. Don’t speak poorly about other teachers in the community.

Surprisingly, I have had teachers who did this, and it always made me feel uncomfortable. I also had a teacher that was very rude to me in general. It was so nice to have teachers in college that genuinely cared about me, and I learned a lot about how to appropriately and professionally interact with others.

But the teacher who was rude taught me a lot about what not to do. It was part of my journey.  Music teachers need to stick together and support each other. This is another way to be professional and an important value to me.  I wouldn’t want my students talking bad about other students, and it’s important to model that by being positive about other teachers.

Entrepreneurial application: If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say it at all.

10. It’s all about the kids.

If a decision you make is not good for the students in the studio, then you should not implement it. If you are not kid-focused your business will not succeed because people will know right away that you are not here to make a difference in the life of their child.  They will see that you are just out to make money.

I happen to be compensated for developing musicians and performers who are confident at what they do, and I help teach them everything I know. Flute and piano are my primary two instruments, while voice is a secondary instrument. For this reason, I let one of my students go and passed them along to my college voice professor. I knew that I had taught her what I knew,  and because she wanted to be a voice major, I passed her along to someone who could better prepare her.

I am honest. If I am not the best teacher for that child, I will move them along. Again, it’s not about me, it’s about the kids. If you do not believe in that sentence it will show, and you will not have many referrals from customers because you haven’t made that all-important connection.

My studio families are more than clients; they become friends of the family. We exchange Christmas cards, and I go watch their sporting events when invited. Not every kid will be a music major, but I think every kid deserves the chance to learn an instrument, and I will do everything in my power to help them achieve their goals.

Entrepreneurial application: Develop and maintain healthy business relationships. If this is your highest priority, clients will refer more business to you.

Editorial note: Special thanks to my wonderful wife for sharing her entrepreneurial spirit in this piece!


Are you currently engaging in one or more side hustles? What skills could you tap into to launch new side hustles?

What other tips do you have for self-starter entrepreneurs? Share them in the comments section below!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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37 thoughts on “10 Tips for Self-Starter Entrepreneurs

  1. This is just incredible! What a wonderful gift to share with folks who want to start a home-based business of any type. There is information here that is useful to everyone – and for a variety of reasons. It is clear that you have a large number of students because of all of your efforts. As a former teacher/administrator – #9 is incredibly important (and again, goes for everyone) – I was taught by a wise mentor that if you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, just don’t say it at all. Nothing good comes from “bashing” others – and it is much more likely to come back and “bite” you. Another incredibly hard working teacher!

  2. These are great tips. Not bad-mouthing others is so helpful in all realms of life. I had a mentor who told me about bad behavior a former boss of mine had committed 20 years ago. She is still suffering the consequences from choices she made in the 90s and she does not even realize it. Being polite gets you so far.

    People who come to my LLC really want me to give them my services for free. I smile and refuse to negotiate. However, I keep hearing that my clients say really wonderful things about me and recommend me to others. I’m pleasantly doing something right.

    1. Good for you for sticking to your guns, ZJ. If you know the value of your work and treat people well, you’ll never give anyone a reason to say anything bad about you.

  3. Thanks for putting this together, I didn’t even think about the tax benefits of using your house for a side business.

    I am surprised by how many customers you have! That is impressive!

  4. A really nice post and great entrepreneurial lessons! There’s great synergy between your day job and your side gig which is fantastic. Another benefit that you failed to mention, is that SOMETIMES piano instructors are paid in cash and don’t declare it on their taxes. I’m not suggesting you do this.

    We have had the same piano teacher for our kids for over 10 years now and she always insists on cash! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jon. Mrs. Superhero is mostly paid by check, which actually makes things easier for me (the business bookkeeper) and our CPA. I’m afraid Uncle Sam would be paying us a visit if we weren’t 100% transparent about the studio income.

  5. Mrs Superhero, this is an excellent article! Whilst many of the points are specific to music tuition, I think that all of it is applicable towards my field (fine art) and to anyone else in the arts. I’ll be sharing it with other creatives 🙂

  6. That’s awesome you teach music. 28 students is a lot! I have two regular adult students that I teach about every other week. Teaching kids sounds like a much bigger commitment than teaching adults. Congrats on your successes and hosting recitals!

    1. From Mrs. Superhero: My husband mentioned that you teach when I saw your comment. Teaching kids is tough sometimes, but the fun times make up for the headaches in the long run.

  7. Great pointers Mrs FS! I also live in IL- small world!

    As a graduate student, I used to tutor on the side. When I got too many students to handle, I started to raise rates to cull the number of students. Eventually I was charging $50/hr for only 5 students but was making way more money that I did at the start.

    1. Living in Illinois the thing to do for PF bloggers. You’re number 4 or 5 that I’ve come across so far by my count, Preston.

      Raising your rates is a smart thing to do as demand increases. Once Mrs. Superhero started developing a waiting list, we knew that it was time to raise her rates.

  8. #7 has to be my favorite. It shows your passion for helping others learn a skill you have mastered. Just because you have a business doesn’t mean you can’t go the extra mile for someone who needs help, as you said. Great list of tips Mrs. FS!

    1. From Mrs. Superhero: Thanks for the kind words! I’ve tried to build my business reputation upon the manner in which I care for the kids I teach. A little extra effort goes a long way!

  9. Having a contract and not talking about money that often are absolutely key. For some reason people get really awkward when talking about payment or money. If you can keep that part minimal or better yet get some sort of automated payment system set up where you don’t have to ask them for a check or cash, that’s the best way.

    1. Travis, I really long for some kind of automated system when it comes time to record payments in the books at the beginning of every month. Mrs. Superhero passes of a huge stack of checks (not that I’m complaining, haha) and then I record the transactions in a log before heading to the bank. I used to use mobile deposit but realized it was taking a long time.

      A few students’ parents pay via PayPal, which is pretty nice.

  10. Not only do I love all of your advice, but now I love your wife’s too! Great guest post! So inspiring to see people doing what they love AND making money! Win/win!!!

  11. I love everything about this piece. Especially that your wife was compensated with a Diet Coke and lunch date. 🙂 I worked at a music studio in college. It reminds me so much of the studio Director I worked with – she had a huge heart and took great care of her students. I helped to manage the business end of it and contracts were really important! Brings back some great memories.

    1. That sounds like a great gig for a college student, Kelsey. Initially, we feared that a contract might upset some of the families within the studio, but it has been really helpful in clarifying expectations.

  12. I have a question, I have alot of piano music I don’t know the value but I would like to sell it. Do you know anyone or would you be interested in buying it. It was my moms and she passed, and I have so much stuff I don’t have room for it. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for your question, Deb. I would recommend contacting a local piano teacher to reach out about selling the music. You could also explore putting it on Ebay or Amazon. Finally, contacting a local university school of music might provide a few leads. Good luck!

  13. Thank you for the post. It the owner of the Mismi Piano Studio and co-author of the Brain-Based Piano Method I am always trying to learn more about all aspects related to my enterprises. I would like to give a few tips:
    1. Create an online contract. I use Inkdit. It saves time and it never gets lost. Both client and you keep s copy.
    2. Use an app to request money. I use venmo. It is free and works great. It allows me to charge the first they of the month.
    3. Use a method that it is an All-in-one fun, effective, mindful and creative. Today’s kids, teachers and parents need a method that understands their needs. I invite you to give it a try to my method. Learn mote at http://www.brainbasedpianomethod.com

  14. Question on #7. Does Mr. Superhero manage the finance side of your business, and do you see value in that, so that you can solely focus on the operations side of things?

    1. Mr. Superhero here, good question, Marc. I manage most of the business end of the studio these days. I maintain all records as far as income and expenses are concerned, and I coordinate with our CPA at tax time. Mrs. Superhero essentially teaches and corresponds with students’ parents via e-mail. It has taken some time for us to develop a system that works, but it’s pretty smooth right now.

  15. Ms superhero wears the pants! just kidding bud great advice. I bet writing off a room for your business is nice during tax season too. Or is it two rooms because you blog full time as well? Either way kudos!

    1. Haha, you’re right, she sorta does wear the pants in many situations. Last year, we only claimed one room. I have to chat with our CPA about our best strategy for 2016.

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