Want to run your own teaching studio for singers? Maybe it’s your passion to teach, a way to supplement your income, or maybe you’ve come to a time in your life where you don’t want to gig as much. What ever the reason here are some considerations and tips to get started from London-based vocal coach, Gemma Milburn.
Since opening my own vocal coaching studio three years ago I have had many highs and lows. Some months I’ve struggled to cover the rent, and others have far exceeded my expectations. It hasn’t been easy, but it has certainly been rewarding. Here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.
Location, location, location
Before you can welcome your first student through the door, you need a suitable teaching space. If working from home is out of the question (and for many people, myself included, it is) then the challenge is to find an appropriate location.
This may sound simple, but vocal coaching is a noisy business, rendering most standard office or commercial lets off-limit. Don’t be put off by suitable spaces in a less-than-glamorous location. I teach from a warehouse on an industrial estate, but it is set up specifically for music and I have access 24/7.
Most students won’t mind an unassuming location as long as you’re offering a good service and your studio is comfortable and easily accessible. Look for a space that is close to public transport links and has parking. Bonus points if there’s a waiting area!
Got the goods?
Running a studio isn’t cheap. As well as rental costs, you’ll need to buy and maintain a range of equipment (for a comprehensive equipment list see Setting up your teaching studio, iSing Issue 2).
Thankfully, you don’t need a fully kitted out studio to begin. I began by borrowing a piano from a friend and pinching a chair from the waiting area. Gradually, I purchased equipment as and when I could. Initially, my teaching room was sparse, but this forced me to focus on the standard of my lessons and develop good working relationship with my students. The lack of equipment in the early days made me re-think my teaching style and be less reliant on technology. These days, I have a range of equipment enabling me to offer a wider variety of services (which is reflected in my prices), but I’m grateful for the experience of starting with the bare minimum. It shaped the way I run my business.
The power of networking
I moved to a new town and set up my own studio at the same time which, on reflection, was a bold move. To gain a feel for my new community, I researched existing vocal coaching services and gave free lessons at a local music festival, making some invaluable contacts and securing some great referrals.
I attended business networking meetings. Initially, I was reluctant to do this, but it turned out to be great fun and extremely useful. Don’t limit your networking to music and performance professions: through networking, I’ve met an excellent, local graphic design company who helped create my company logo, and a financial advisor who helped me with insurance and a pension plan.
Running my own vocal coaching studio is an absolute joy, but it is difficult to juggle daily business demands with being a calm and focused teacher. I’ve found that having clear systems in place saves me time, keeps me sane and helps my professional image.
Having a website with a linked Google Adwords account allows me to be visible online and attract a consistent stream of enquiries. I recommend paying a specialist to handle the Google Ads process as it can be complicated.
You’ve got mail
Email templates are another extremely valuable resource. I have several on file that I send out to new students with information about my studio policy, directions to the studio, parking arrangements, payment information and advice about how to prepare for a lesson. These templates save me time and help curb the nerves of new students.
Stick to the schedule
It sounds obvious, but keeping track of who and when you are teaching is at the core of your business. You need a clear method of organising your schedule as it’s easy to make mistakes when you are juggling several tasks at once. In the early days, when money was tight, I used the calendar on my iPad but, as time went on, I needed something more comprehensive. There are many online packages that keep track of your schedule, finances and student contact details, and there are options that allow students to book online. I have experimented with online bookings but like to have more control over my diary so currently handle them myself.
To ensure the smooth running of your business you must have a cancellation policy. You must be upfront with your students about this. It’s my policy that if a client cancels with less than 24 hours’ notice they are liable to pay for the lesson, regardless of their reason for cancelling. It took time for me to feel comfortable asserting this, but most people will respect your need to make a living if you are clear about your policy. On the rare occasion a student refuses to pay for a late cancellation, I ask them to settle their balance before booking any future lessons.