Bold About Change

The start of a new year always has us reviewing the year that has just been, and thinking about changes that might positively impact the one coming. Whether that be in our personal lives or in our work. Running your own business heightens this need to self-reflect enormously, as you are are essentially in control of how the year pans out!

I had decided to make changes in my business long before the start of this year but wasn't able to implement the changes until the end of the Autumn/Fall term/semester. What changes did I make and why?

The Backstory

KeyNotes Music is a group piano programme which provides lessons to children in the UK, and curriculum materials to teachers internationally. I began creating and teaching the programme in April 2016 and quickly realised, as my class sizes grew and demand increased, that there was a real gap in the market for piano learning in a group setting and for those children that are younger than the traditional start age.

So I decided to look for a teacher who could also deliver my lessons in a new area, as well as opening another location for me to teach. By September 2017, we had opened our Cobham location (which I taught) and a location in Balham (which I employed another teacher to teach). This went so well that we opened four more locations across London and Surrey in January 2018, with four more employed teachers.

The Challenges

From a business perspective, all four locations were making a profit. From a teaching and learning perspective, students and teachers were enjoying the lessons and sign-ups were constant. However by the end of the Summer term 2018, I decided that the locations were not thriving in the same way that my own were, with regards to that wonderful music-learning vibe that can be achieved. I had to carry out some serious analysis about why the locations I taught were different to those that taught by others, in terms of retention and growth. These were my thoughts:

  • Community building is so important in the context of music learning. I was the point of contact for the parents of my students but also for the parents of all the students that I didn't teach. They didn't know who I was, had never met me and felt no sense of loyalty towards me (which was evident when parents chose to ignore notice periods!).They had no contact with the teacher outside of the lesson time, so the sense of community was far more difficult to build. With the locations I teach in, on the other hand, I frequently bump into my kids in the local supermarket and live in the same community as them.

  • Cancellations! In all my time teaching KeyNotes Music I haven't cancelled once (even teaching the day after an ear operation once!!); if you are heavily invested in your teaching both in terms of income also not wishing to let your families down, you will do whatever you can not to cancel. However a teacher being employed on an hourly rate doesn't have quite the same investment, and teacher cancellations were probably the most stressful part of 2018 for me!

  • Accountability. Due to the fact that the other teachers were teaching at the same time as me, miles away, I was never able to go and see them in action; if I'm being honest with myself I had no idea what was going on in their lessons. I think I was very lucky that I happened to employ teachers that were doing a great job! But you shouldn't rely on luck in business!

  • Admin became my main day job. At one stage we had over 220 students enrolled and dealing with admin issues was taking up all of my time! I wasn't able to search for new locations or new teachers.


So I decided to take some action. It was around the time that I had all these thoughts that I also had two teachers in other parts of the UK opening up their own KeyNotes Music classes, managing every aspect of running a location themselves. They had the local knowledge to easily find a location and to recruit students. They have built their intake and are continuing to grow. Therefore it became clear to me that this model was how I should move KeyNotes Music forward.

With change sometimes comes some disappointment though and, having asked the teachers of the established locations about taking over the running of their classes, one teacher didn't feel able to (and I totally agreed with him as he was also a full time school teacher!). We therefore had to close our Balham and Ealing locations with the promise to let families know if and when nearby classes would be set up within the new model. That was the hard part of this decision - parents expressed theirs and their children's disappointment at having to stop their classes; but I had to be bold and do what was best for the bigger picture, right?

Putting teachers in control

Now, with a New Year and a new direction, I absolutely know the changes I am making are best for KeyNotes, best for teachers and best for families. Teachers are able to set up and run their own KeyNotes Music businesses - with an online training course as an initiation - and then ongoing support, materials and website listings for a monthly subscription fee.

From my teaching, I am now earning as much as I did as a full-time school teacher but working only on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays. Meaning I have the freedom and flexibility to bring up my own young family (or more like be a taxi driver for tennis, cello, swimming etc!), and I am passionate about passing this opportunity on to other teachers.

We have already begun our first course and I for one am so excited with the direction we are moving in! Plus I am ever the optimist and see the last year as simply giving us the knowledge and know-how, in many different contexts, to help teachers to set up their locations in their local areas.

Have you made any bold changes for the start of 2019?

If you would like to take part in a course to learn about how to launch and run your own KeyNotes business, please do take a look at our Courses calendar and add yourself to the waiting list (UK and US courses currently available). If you would like to learn more without any commitment, do join our Facebook group where you will find videos and content about group piano generally and KeyNotes Music specifically.

Happy New Year to you all; let's make 2019 one for bold changes and bright futures, both for us as teachers and for our piano students!

Melanie x

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