Thursday, May 14, 2009

Minute for Marketing #5: Don't Be Afraid to Self-Promote

Minute for Marketing is a weekly series about advertising the independent piano studio. Click here for all Minute for Marketing posts.

When I studied music in college, nobody taught me about self-promotion or entrepreneurship. This didn't concern me much because I didn't realize how badly I would need those skills later on. When I started up my first two studios, I lived in small towns, and in both I was lucky enough to play piano or organ for a large church. Even though I was a shy fish, I was a big fish in a small pond. Recruiting students was as simple as mentioning to a few people that I’d like to have some students. I filled my openings in no time.

My third location was another story. It was a suburb of a good-sized city. I had decided not to take an organist position since I had a baby, a husband working changing shifts, and no family in town to help babysit. Nobody knew me. I was a small, shy fish in a big pond. Even so, I thought that if I told my neighbors that I was accepting students, ran an ad in the newspaper, and put out a few flyers, the students would just roll in as they had before. I did those things, and over the next two months, one child signed up. If I wanted to teach, I was going to have to be a little more serious about advertising. But, as I considered what sorts of techniques I might use, I found that I was very reluctant to actually do them.

I hesitated to chat up a new friend about my business because I was afraid they’d think I was only being friendly so they'd sign their kids up for piano. Instead of taking deliberate action to promote buzz about my studio, I waited for random opportunities, and even then, I was often too shy to take advantage of the moment. I was embarrassed to put a decal on my car or a yard sign at a street intersection. I had something extremely valuable to offer - a lifetime of making music, but I was afraid that advertising would make others think I was arrogant or pushy. My fear of marketing was essentially a fear of personal rejection. Sometimes the best advice is simply, “Get over yourself.” If you’ve got something of value, share it, and stop worrying about what people might think. As with anything else, your first attempts might be awkward. But, practice makes better.

Advertising, especially verbal advertising, is a lot like performing. Long before the performance, you need to devise a strategy for accomplishing what you want to do and then carry out that strategy with patience over a long stretch of time, even when you aren't seeing immediate results. Advertising efforts, like practicing, can sometimes seem futile even when they are slowly, gradually, making an impact. When the curtain goes up, you need to give a performance that is confident, competent, sincere, and engaging. When the chance comes to talk up your business, you need to be ready to do it in a sincere, confident, engaging way.

The thing I finally learned is that you really can promote your business and still be an authentic person - not manipulative, deceptive, insincere, arrogant, or any of those other things you’re afraid of being perceived as. Almost every time I speak up about my studio or hand off a business card, the other person has a story to tell about childhood lessons, a family member who played the piano, or some other such thing. People are actually interested to hear that I teach piano. I'm not shy about mentioning it any more because I've found that I enjoy the conversation that always ensues! I also find that it's easier to promote my studio when I remember how much I believe in my product - it's not about me, it's about the value of music making.

Are you shy like I am? Do you find it hard to talk up your studio? How did you get over it?

Good reads:

Are You Afraid of Marketing, Or Do Sales Just Turn You Off?

Conquering marketing fears I and Conquering marketing fears II

Minute for Marketing by Laura Lowe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Photo by theparadigmshifter


Rebecca said...

YES! In the beginning, I had no problem telling childless people that I'm a music teacher, but as soon as I would tell somebody with a child, I felt like I was being an obnoxious self promoter.

I just made myself get over it by realizing that people I meet really truly are interested in what I do. Bankers, school teachers, office supply salespeople, marketers, and more all talk openly about their jobs. Why can't I?

Once I just "got over myself," I also found a greater respect for my career and business.

Laura said...


"Bankers, school teachers, office supply salespeople, marketers, and more all talk openly about their jobs. Why can't I?"

YES! This was a big motivator for me, too. I think that as I have begun to think more and more of my piano teaching as a business, and not only as a creative outlet for myself, it's been easier to imitate what other business people do. And I know exactly what you mean about how easy it is to talk to childless people! LOL