The Rules of Big Business
Top line revenue. Profits. Paychecks. It’s not what we think of when we think about music lessons, but it’s undoubtedly the first thing on the mind of those big national brands. Definitely not smiles and warm fuzzies. The rules of big business are simple. Drive revenue and collect massive profits. Minimize expenses. Hire when things are good. Fire when things go south. Make money. And lots of it. Period.
So music lessons are big business? It doesn’t seem right, it almost seems counterintuitive considering we don’t always perceive music teachers as high earners. But why can’t they be? If music lessons are so expensive, who is making the money? Go teach music for a franchise or a music store and you’re an afterthought; an expendable pawn in the factory. At least you’ll get paid like it. Oh and please, buy a guitar while you’re at it.
The music industry itself is in shambles because of it’s fractured and fragmented status. Copyrights and licensing dominate the conversation and decisions are generally governed by dollar signs. There is a top 1% in the music world. Believe it or not, most musicians struggle to earn living wages, but doesn’t society value their contribution well above many others? Sort of.
Music is important
According to the most recent Gallup Survey published in the NAMM global report, over 85% of the population agree that music is a very important part of their life. OVER 85%! The same poll describes in detail the overwhelming agreement in society about music’s significance in our culture, childhood development, school and workplace success, and overall emotional well-being. You would think with something that important, the teachers would be incredibly well off. Golf doesn’t rank even nearly as close in any of these categories (shocker), yet it’s participants are willing to pay hand over fist for it. So where is the disconnect?
The answer is surprisingly simple. Big business sells repeatable services and charges a lot of money. It then finds a way to deliver the services at the lowest cost of delivery in order to maximize profits. Seems logical enough but often times the service is standardized, repetitive, or subscription based with little nuance in repeat performance. Here is the rub: music lessons are nothing like that and never will be. Here’s why.
Music is a like language. It’s nonverbal communication. Some argue that nonverbal communication is the next step in evolution. Mind. Blown. As we grow and evolve, we learn how to communicate our feelings differently. That essentially defines maturity. Needs, interests, tastes, and preferences all grow and evolve. The last time you learned the basics of communication and a new language one-on-one was when you were an infant in your mother’s arms. Think about that when you’re hiring your next music teacher.
Your music teacher is your guide to the galaxy
Which brings us to the business of music lessons. Big business overlooks the significance of the actual teacher in the child’s development, as if it’s merely a factory of information transference. But it’s not a factory and shouldn’t be. Music lessons depend heavily on repeat customers or “return engagement”. Quality control goes far beyond being able to play the intro to Stairway To Heaven. No two lessons will ever be alike so how can you be sure your service delivery is up to snuff? Your music teacher is your guide to the galaxy. Our interest and inspiration, our belief in ourselves and our motivation to continue are largely governed by the ones who open those doors for us. They’re our teachers, our leaders, our senseis, our cheerleaders. The good ones know when to push and when to pull back, when to introduce new things and when to let us enjoy what we know.
So shouldn’t they get the credit? The short answer – YES. What if the health and success of the business is defined by the happiness of the kids, the success of the students, and the smiles on their faces? What if gross profits were secondary? Big business treats music students like a volatile group of customers, intent on squeezing out as much profits as possible because you never know when they’ll stop. Seems rather callous and shortsighted.
Are we inspired by Jerry Mcguire?
Can you build a company that invests more in their people – their teachers – who represent their largest salesforce and brand representatives, with the expectation that better people will translate into a better brand, a better product, better education, better music, and many more smiles? Yes, you can. And we DID!
Enter Forbes Music Company. In our own survey conducted in August 2015, we found that an overwhelming majority – roughly 65% – insist that their child’s happiness is the single greatest factor in a parent’s decision-making on music lessons. The most important factor when considering a teacher – their personality. So why not invest most heavily in these triggers? Doesn’t that seem more logical? That’s what we did, and the results are incredible.
Forbes Music Company decided their single greatest asset was not a store, an up-sell, a CRM, or even brand and community goodwill. We’re great because of our people. Our teachers are the reason our students come back. The same teachers whose salaries are often overlooked by our competitors. Our teachers are the reason our students sign up for more lessons and participate in recitals. They’re the reason our students take their guitars with them on family road trips, perform sing-alongs at dinnertime, and rock the school musical.
Want to know how we changed the model? We pay the people who deserve it. Forbes Music charges credit cards like everyone else. But we decided our teachers are not just a necessary evil on an expense sheet. They’re the most important piece we could invest in. We are not governed by investors or outside stakeholders. No one is over our shoulder screaming about the bottom line or sending the wrong teacher for the sake of an extra lesson. We do it right.
Forbes Music teachers, our education consultants, make nearly 70% of the revenue generated. Let that sink in a moment. We thought, gosh, what if we pay them more? Backwards thinking maybe, but genius. Turns out, we ended up getting better talent. With better talent, a better education, more referrals, more students, more lessons, more revenue, and in the end: more smiles.