9 Lies That Are Holding Your Studio Back and the System That Will Set It Free

Chapter 9

Lie 8
I need to offer family discounts, trial lessons for every student and every other week lessons to get new students

Most studios don’t do trial lessons before students register. Some studios however, do a trial lesson for every new student. It’s their mandatory process. In my experience that adds an unnecessary extra step and it can end up costing you potential students in busy times like September. If a student is trying out a spot and may have a 50-80% chance of actually taking the time, you have just taken that inventory away from a different family who would have easily booked online with no questions asked, no trial needed.

A main source of new online registrations is existing families registering another child. They do it online no questions asked.

Your existing families who are registering another child online do not need or want a trial. They just want that spot that is at the exact same time as their other child and is available to book into now. They trust your studio and are sure any teacher you have will be fine. They may even see an open spot right after their other child with their same teacher they already know and just want to grab it. Just let people buy.

You don’t need to be hung up on trials for everyone if that is your current way of operating.

Big expensive private schools do not let you put your child in for the first week of September just to make sure. The nail salon does not say “we will paint your thumb first, then tell us if you want the other nails done”. You don’t go to a vacation house for 4 hours then decide if you want to stay the whole week. You book it.

The pandemic made trials obsolete in many industries.

Costco stopped doing food trials. You could not try on clothing in many stores. Fitness classes stopped doing drop in trials.

Tesla has sold over a million cars to customers who did not have a test drive first. Even before covid hit, I helped a friend of mine buy a $700,000 waterfront condo down the street from me, without him actually seeing it in person first. He found an ideal place online. He was in Atlanta, almost 3000 miles away from where his restaurants are. I walked through the condo with the realtor and him on FaceTime. He asked me if I liked the view and if it smelled ok. He wired the money later that week and the deal was done. He showed up a month later. Him and his wife love the place and thankfully it has gone up in value since then too.

We have several studios on StudioAutoPilot who used to do trials before registering a student. Now they don’t do trials first and their numbers are higher. They took the leap of faith, just put up their online registration schedule and bios and watched the registrations roll in with no trial. To them it’s like a miracle.

If you do need to do an occasional trial with StudioAutoPilot you can do that manually. This year at our studio we have done just one. It was a more advanced student who wanted to work on a very specific thing before committing. Ok that makes sense, but it was an exception.

Thankfully most studios do not do family discounts for extra students in private lessons. But some do and insist they need to. We have never done private lesson family discounts as it makes no financial or marketing sense. It just decreases your profit and adds complication. We know a family will register additional kids whether they get a deal or not. The dentist charges the same whether a family has 2 or 3 kids. Charging less for private music lesson does not increase sales. If it did, you could theoretically double your sales by reducing your prices by 50%. Conversely increasing prices does not decrease sales. All of us studio owners have raised lesson prices before and have also increased our student count. The largest studios running on StudioAutoPilot actually have medium to high prices for private lessons, not low prices compared to their area or the industry averages.

When switching over existing families to StudioAutoPilot you can do an invite with a custom price discount if you really think you need to, but for new students I urge you not to do it. Just discontinue it for new students. Blame it on climate change. If you don’t make more money, you cannot afford to move somewhere warmer when you retire to change your climate personally. It is giving money away. You don’t pay your teachers less for families with multiple students and you cannot make it up with volume. I used to do a session on the risks of discounting in my seminars. I called it Fatal Subtraction.

Some studios who used to offer a family discount before StudioAutoPilot trusted us and eliminated the discount on their new registrations. A funny thing happened. They made more money.

Please don’t give the farm away on family discounts, it is not necessary.

Most studios, thankfully do not do every other week lessons. The studios that do offer them only have about 5 students coming every other week. Usually, it’s that adult student who needs to go out of town for their work schedule. Or a legacy guilt registration the owner did years ago when they were smaller. But those 5 students cause a major amount of schedule trouble and manual maintenance for what is the equivalent of getting 2.5 new students. Giving students every other week lessons is like trying to sell someone half a hard-shell taco.

Sure, let me make you a full taco first Sir. I’ll get a knife to cut it for you…. CRUNCH, crap! Want a spoon with that? Is a half taco salad ok?

Remember your time is your inventory, don’t spoil it. Every other week lessons tie up your inventory and give all the upside to the student. Make-up lessons get weird too because most studios just say “just come next week as well”. Bad idea.

We don’t automate every other week registrations with StudioAutoPilot because they are a bad business idea. My advice is to tell the students on every other week lesson plans currently that your new system cannot support them. Let us be your excuse.

If half of them quit and the other half come every week, like they should, you will be making the exact same amount of money with less customers and a lot less hassle.

Studios who tried to manually juggle those every other week students have told me later they are kicking themselves for not having the guts to say no and end them when they switched to StudioAutoPilot. They still feel obligated to wait until those students quit. Here’s some coaching advice. Call them up or even email them if you are a real chicken, and say our new system cannot do every other week lessons now, before you even run on our system. I’ll bet you over half will still stay and the ones who leave are probably a pain to manage anyway. Maybe they are super nice pain. Those are the worst pains, and they make you so guilty. (YouTube - When Harry Met Sally – the high maintenance scene.)

We have a finite inventory of times. You must be strategic to sell the most of it. Airlines are very strategic about making sure they fill every seat they can, that is why a lot of our functions are patterned after their booking systems. The most commonly used planes by airlines are the 737 and 777. Those planes have between 126-388 seats to sell. The majority of music studios have between 120-400 slots they can sell. We are strikingly familiar in our booking logistics.

Some studios do new student discount promotions. The majority of studios do not do promotions of “register now and get this deal” and I do not recommend them. At our studio we have never done new student deals. Well, once actually years ago, we did do a Groupon copycat company deal to actually prove to my coaching clients that it is a terrible idea. I was right, it sucked. The students we got were cheap and non-committal. Ah, good old Groupon. Disruptive web technology that enabled small service businesses everywhere to work for free and attract terrible customers virally.

We don’t currently automate new student discounts with promo codes. Some studios bug us and say “put a promo code on the check out page- it’s easy!” Sure, putting the words PROMO CODE and a box on the checkout page is easy but it can complicate and delay the sales process for studios. Have you ever been shopping on a site and in the check out you see PROMO CODE? What do you do, maybe google XYZ business promo code? You are pretty savvy, so you probably do. Sometimes you get lucky and find a code and save money. You would not however think of calling or emailing the big company and asking for a promo code.

However, if a local parent in the checkout screen sees PROMO CODE it is very likely they will call or email you for a code and wait to get one before registering. It that happens over a September holiday weekend, that delay could make them lose that one time that works for them if it is scooped by someone else. Ironically if the price was just the price for everyone, they would have booked the spot instantly. Discounts complicate online conversions.

If there is a better price customers want it. You would ask too. If it is an existing family, they may feel like there are owed a discount. If they have been paying full price for 5 years, you can’t blame them. The “for new customers only” line is annoying and causes serious bad will. If you have PROMO CODE on your site all the time, you must be prepared that pretty much every student will ask for a deal or get a deal whether you want them to have one or not. Big companies build the promo code into their cost. Small service businesses can lose thousands of dollars or “tee” off current customers if they try to police who gets the discount.

BUT we can just do one per family! Easy, right? Just give one per account or email address.

In online transactions yes, the account is controlled by the email address. The problem is a lot of people have multiple email addresses. If the promotion or discount is big enough, it makes sense for a family to use a different email address to register online when adding their second child or even adding a second lesson for the same child. Or in some cases it may make sense to stop lessons, re-register the same child next month with a different parent’s email address and then use a promo code too. People can game the system. The rules of online selling are different. We don’t do promo codes at our own studio, and our studio makes a lot more money than other studios who do give discounts. I firmly believe parents don’t register because they get a discount, they register and they get a discount if you offer it.

Could an adult student use 3 email addresses and register for 3 separate months in a row using a promo code for each time, then stop lessons? They could if they were really motivated. Would you be happy about it? Big companies expect and absorb this abuse into their cost. A small company can have major headaches from just a few bad interactions with current customers. I’ve seen it. It can get out of control if local Facebook groups and current parents figure out the system and use something that was supposed to be a benefit as a weapon. (My opinion - what social media basically is, weaponized conversation)

We currently don’t automate discounts on checkout. In the future we may have some options which will add some intelligence to the promo code current family conundrum but it is still a risk you need to be willing to accept if you think it is worth the reward of new students. When we allow studios to test promotions it will be based on protecting your finite inventory and making you as much money as possible. That what I built this system to do for my studio and for your studio too.

To do promotions now, you can manage them manually. If parents register and tell you they have a code, you can give a credit or refund on their current or upcoming month. Your admin staff will be way less busy and can handle this because they are not entering all new registrations manually. Based on the amount of money you can lose, and bad will you can create from automatically discounting the wrong people (or right people, in their mind) it is better to manage it more under the radar by a live person monitoring who gets a discount. Your admins will have time.

One more thing about lesson fees. When you are going to raise your lesson fees, please just raise them for every student at the same time. If a family started 2 months ago, still raise them to the new current rate. Please do this.

If you tried out a new hair salon last month and they raised their prices this month, they would not say: we will keep the old rate for you because you “just started” with us. Restaurants don’t care how many years you have been eating there. When the car dealer raises the shop rate, it goes up for everyone. Physiotherapist and Chiropractors raise fees for everyone across the board. It’s complicated and ridiculous not to.

Guilty studio owners cause themselves so many unnecessary complications from trying to bend over backwards and by being afraid of their customers. They overreact to a few incidents and put in overkill policies to keep everyone happy.

I used to teach a session in my seminars called Incident vs Pattern. If something is a pattern in a studio, like it happens 20% of the time, then a policy to fix it makes sense. If an issue happens just a couple of times or just once, it is an incident. Do not make a policy to fix it. I see way too many studios do this. One parent mentions or complains about something so now the studio has a new policy to protect against some random incident that is unlikely to ever repeat. It gets worse when you have a meeting with your team about it. More about that in Lie Number 9.

A couple of parents mention that the fees have gone up and the studio owner freaks out. Yeah, it’s called life. Bought gas lately? Do not tiptoe around as the fairness fairy and decree that you need to be taking lessons for at least x months before we raise your fee. For our last private lesson fee increase we raised our price by $6 per hour. One adult violin student sent an email and complained. Fine. I was expecting more people to mention it. No one else said a word and our numbers are higher than they were at the lower price. She would have probably quit by now anyway. If we had overreacted to that one incident, we would be limiting our business. Don’t get misled by incidents.

Fee raising fear and grandfathering fees questions causes us at StudioAutoPilot support problems too. When some terrified studio owner is trying to tiptoe around and grandfather fees for certain people that started here but not this one that started then. They use us as the crisis line. Enough! Charge your fee to everyone and be proud of it. Do a good job to make it worth that new fee. Pay your teachers decently with the money you get from that new fee. Just do it.

Wow, I really do sound like a meanie.