Student retention is something not enough guitar teachers pay attention to. It’s easy to get so focused on getting new students to come in through the FRONT DOOR (through marketing and advertising) that you forget to make it harder for them to leave through the BACK DOOR. If you don’t focus on BOTH the front door and the back door, you tend to have a high turnover rate…which translates into too much unnecessary HASSLE and WORK for you, UNHAPPY students who don’t stick around and, ultimately, an UNSUCCESSFUL teaching business.
Student retention is the secret to keeping the “back door” closed (or at least a little more difficult for your students to open). In this article, I’ll tell you about 5 important things you should absolutely be doing to increase your student retention, starting with the first time you meet with them:
5 Things You MUST Do After You Get a New Student
1) Assess Their Current Skill Level & History With the Guitar
This one might seem obvious, but don’t assume that you automatically know what a brand new student needs to be taught. Take some time in that first lesson to run through all the basic stuff and identify any gaps in their musical development. Every student will have some gaps and some weak areas…these are things you can target in future lessons so that the student can develop a solid musical foundation and get better results.
Also, make sure you ask them about their history with the guitar…what other teacher’s they’ve worked with in the past…how long they’ve been at it…what they like the best about playing guitar…what frustrates them the most. Take some good notes while they talk about this stuff. These are all clues to help you understand how to teach that student in the most effective way, but what you’re REALLY doing is setting the right tone FROM THE VERY BEGINNING and letting them know that you ACTUALLY CARE about them. You’re communicating that the lessons will be about THEM…and not about YOU. That goes a long way towards removing any feelings of intimidation and makes the student feel more comfortable with you…which ultimately helps your retention rate.
2) Help Them Set Musical Goals
Once you know a little bit about where a student has BEEN, you need to help them figure out where they want to GO with the guitar. This is where some guitar teachers DOOM their students to failure! The first big mistake a lot of teachers make is to not set any goals AT ALL…they just “wing” the lessons from week to week and teach whatever strikes their fancy. The second big mistake is the exact opposite: to set goals FOR a student…to dictate what they will learn. Either one of those extremes will damage your student retention.
If you want to keep your students around, you need to give them what they want. I’m not saying that the customer is ALWAYS right…I’m just saying that they need to FEEL like they’re always right, because they’re paying the bills. As a teacher, you’re the most effective when you can take what your students NEED to learn, and deliver it in the context of what they WANT to learn. The problem is, many of them can’t really VERBALIZE exactly what they want (“I just want to get better on the guitar”). You need to do a little detective work here, and help them come up with a set of musical goals that works FOR THEM. Yes, YOU are the expert…yes, YOU have the knowledge and they don’t…but unless you deliver that knowledge and expertise in a way that GIVES THEM WHAT THEY WANT, your students will tend to get discouraged and quit.
3) Take Some Goals and Make Them Milestones
Once you’ve worked WITH the student to identify some musical goals, take some of them and make “milestones” out of some of them. These are the things your student can look forward to achieving, and can look back at to get a feeling of accomplishment. Kind of like earning different colored “belts” in a karate school, your students need to feel like they’re making progress…like they’re actually moving down the path to becoming a better guitar player. They need to see RESULTS. They need to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.
The easiest way to do this is to pick 2 or 3 of their biggest goals, write the word “milestone” next to them, and write down a reasonable deadline for each of them…then, do everything you can to help them meet that deadline. The benefit of doing this is that you’re students will always know what they’re working towards, and you can gear the lessons around helping them to get there. They stay more excited, more dedicated and more focused. They tend to practice more and work harder. Why? Because they’re working toward something THEY want, and you’re COACHING them so that they can get there. Students don’t just want to be TAUGHT…they need someone to BELIEVE in them and MOTIVATE them to greatness. They need a COACH. Be that coach, and they’ll stick with you through thick and thin.
4) Identify Some Rewards
Don’t stop with identifying some milestones for your students…take it one step further and identify some REWARDS they can achieve when the REACH those milestones. Rewards can be an amazing motivational tool. Try to write down a list of rewards that your new student would want and appreciate…they can be anything from small pieces of music gear, to branded merchandise, to even a “title” or a certificate. The rewards don’t have to be extravagant; just make them appropriate for the amount of work it takes to earn them.
The point is to CELEBRATE the successes of your students. As humans, we work harder and perform better when our hard work is ACKNOWLEDGED. That’s why student recitals can be so effective…you can hold a public event a few times a year at a club or coffee shop, and then give your students a chance to SHINE. You can reward them publicly, in front of their family and friends, for all the hard work they put in to reach their goals and milestones. It’s a great way to help close the back door and keep your students with you longer. Recitals can be a great way to promote your teaching business and get more people in through the FRONT door, too.
5) Send Them a “Thank You” Card
This might seem like a small, insignificant thing…but you want to make sure you express your GRATITUDE to your students. Always remember that your business exists to SERVE THEM and they can easily choose to leave and take lessons from anyone they want. It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to teach the students who come to you! They’re entrusting their musical development to you, so make sure you don’t take them for granted.
Something as simple as a small thank you card sent through the mail can do wonders for your student retention. It expresses your gratitude for choosing you as a guitar teacher, and it communicates the fact that you really do appreciate their business. Sometimes a small personal gesture like that can make a student feel like they made the right decision, and the more positive feelings you can reinforce at the beginning of your teaching relationship with someone, the longer they’re likely to stay with you.
There are lots of other things you can do to increase your student retention, but these 5 are some of the basic things that no one should overlook. If you focus on providing what your students are really paying you for, you can help them get the best possible results on the guitar…which will translate into a MUCH more successful teaching business for you!