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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.
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!
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!