In recent days, I have been hearing a few colleagues talk about how they are not comfortable with charging what they were historically charging for lessons (pre-covid-19). I totally understand the internal conflict -- students aren’t getting all of what they had before. So much of what we have worked hard to perfect in person now has to go through the filter of the webcam. Some things are lost in translation, other things (often, the difficulties) are magnified… and it feels weird, or even wrong, to charge for what we can’t provide. Right?
Respectfully, I disagree. Here’s why.
Your expertise has not diminished
Think about all the things you’ve had to shift into in order to move your students into this new space of online teaching. We have all had to learn/do/change... a lot.
For me, I have become a Zoom Jedi Master. I’ve also mastered the annotate and airplay function
on ForScore, so now I can show students directly in the music what I’m talking about.
Oh yeah, feeling pretty proud of that. (I also wish I could say at this point, “I know kung-fu,” but sadly that’s not in my current list of features. Maybe in a future upgrade.)
Some of our learning and changing has certainly served the purpose of preserving a similar level of connection with our students. But a lot of these changes are helping to improve their lives in a season of uncertainty and upheaval. Consider this: you may actually be helping your families even more than you were before. Your value, i.e. what you bring to your clients, therefore is even higher.
You’re not selling what you think you’re selling
A lot of this goes right to the question of how you think about what you’re actually selling… are you selling a particular format of lessons (the traditional in-person setup, either one-on-one or in a group), or are you selling your expertise in your instrument or musical subject?
What are you really selling when you sell music lessons?
If you are selling a format of learning, you may indeed be limited to how you can adapt to an online platform. You’re limited to how you can make the available tools work to produce your desired format for your students and families. Can technology make lessons happen in person like they did before? Simply put, no. Can we control the quality of sound from end-to-end (i.e. teacher to student)? No. It’s understandable, in this case, if you feel you cannot charge what you were previously charging, because what you’re selling is now undeliverable.
On the other hand, what if, instead, you are selling your expertise? Then, you have the freedom to adapt your offerings (i.e. how you deliver your expertise) in a way that uses the tools you have available at any moment. You may want to sit down and look at what you do, what you want to ultimately accomplish, and how you want to do it, moving forward. It may require some creativity, but the good news is that you’re in charge.
Your clients aren’t buying what you think they’re buying
What you value isn’t necessarily what keeps students coming back for more. Don't confuse what YOU personally value in music teaching with what YOUR CLIENTS value. Don’t get me wrong -- your standard is absolutely important, because it determines the quality and content of work you produce.
But don't confuse that with what your clients think they are paying for -- what delights them and keeps them coming back. Some of the things you consider essential to your work may not even be on their radar. Likewise, some of the things they value most in their time with you may not be what you expect.
For example: Your student will probably not be coming to you because you teach a particular embouchure or bow hold. They are coming because they enjoy music and want to learn to play well so they can enjoy it more deeply. That’s their value. They depend on you, the expert, to advise them on details like embouchures or bow holds, which you know and care about alot.
Another example: I may be really excited by perfectly executing an “intro-to-bow-hold” lesson with my new 4-year old student. What is she excited about? She is excited about making rainbows with her fingers and singing songs about unicorns. That’s what keeps her coming back. And her parents... the ones with the open pocketbook? They are happy she’s happy, and learning from someone who clearly knows what they are doing. That’s what they value most. They’ll be back. Forever. Eventually, if I can keep that nice balance for the long run, that little girl will become quite a good violinist and love playing her whole life. That’s my goal.
Understanding what your clients value will help you to keep them coming back. It will help you to demonstrate your value to your parents, and keep your rates strong, because they are paying for the privilege of working with you. It will help you to strengthen your trust relationship with them, so that when issues come up, there’s room for grace. It will help you to get through the inevitable learning troughs that every student experiences from time to time. Finally, it will help you to expertly adapt your offerings as needs and opportunities arise.
It’s up to you, the expert, to determine the best ways to share your expertise.
Read that again.
It’s up to you. You’re the expert.
You get to decide how you want to share your expertise -- now and in the future.
… And you know what? Your people likely already see you as the expert. You may not realize it, but they do. In this season especially, people are looking for help from experts who know exactly what they need and can give it to them. You can be that person for your clients.
I hope that’s freeing.
Yee haw, we’re entering the wild west of music industry innovation here.
And you get to lead the way.
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