4 minute read

Not Your Average Column

Rebuilding a Lesson Program in a Post-COVID Environment

NAMM president and CEO Joe Lamond said it perfectly: “Every NAMM member is experiencing the crisis, but no two members are experiencing it in the same way.”

Lamond’s statement really captures the unique struggles our industry has faced since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Every MI company has had to navigate unique challenges due to the pandemic. Many of the NAMM member companies that run and manage lesson programs have been hit especially hard.

In many cases, depending on which state and city your lessons business is located in, COVID has drastically altered the way your program was allowed to operate during the last year. Intensifying these differences are the unique ways in which lesson programs are structured in different states around the country. Each state’s employment laws, combined with each state’s varied COVID restrictions, resulted in a dynamic range of program stability throughout the past year. Some lesson programs were forced to send their instructors home to teach virtually from home. Some lesson programs were able to continue to operate out of the business location with a virtual/in-person hybrid model. Some programs completely shut down during the lockdown and furloughed their team.

Lesson programs in New York or California faced completely different circumstances than lesson programs in Texas or Alabama. The unique characteristics of the in-person music instruction business, combined with the differences of state restrictions, have made music lessons an exceptionally difficult sector of the MI industry to manage throughout the pandemic. Given these unique circumstances and business disruptions, how can lesson programs stabilize and begin rebuilding in the wake of a global pandemic?

First, I suggest we evaluate our teaching staff. If there are staff members that always seem to go against the grain and aren’t aligned with the company’s vision and core values, this may be a good opportunity for change. Many programs are still battling low enrollment numbers and may be concerned that teacher adjustments could further hurt their student enrollment. While this may be true in the short term, in order to rebuild a strong team for long-term growth, it is imperative that the team is fully unified. We can take this time to evaluate each team member to ensure we have the right people in place to begin rebuilding with confidence.

If you are still struggling with low enrollment numbers, I strongly believe that will not last. People are excited to get back to “normal” and are looking for extracurricular activities. I believe lesson programs everywhere could experience exponential growth after last year’s quarantines. In order to prepare for this growth, we can use this time to find opportunities for improvements in program structure. Now may be a great time to discuss restructuring the program to better fit long-term needs.

Let’s think top to bottom here. We may involve leadership teams, full teams, or get some outside help for this step. This could be a unique opportunity to start fresh with a completely new program structure. Reach out to industry peers and get insight into how they structure their program. Keep in mind, every store has a unique community and specific employment laws, so it’s important we don’t “copy and paste” from another program. However, don’t be afraid to shake things up a bit. Now may be the perfect time to make some major program changes that have been put on the back burner. The key here is to think long term. Define the end zone, and then work backward with clarity and decisiveness to reach the goal. I wouldn’t be surprised if this step leads to a new trajectory for long-term program stability and growth.

Next, take a step back and observe the in-store instruction areas. Could the rooms use updated equipment, furniture or some fresh paint? Does the waiting area need to be adjusted to accommodate for social distancing and parent comfort? Are there any other improvements that could be made to make returning to in-person lessons exciting and memorable? Work to create an exciting experience as students and families begin returning to in-person instruction.

If one thing has been true during the last year, it’s that people desire community, and music is an incredible way to achieve it. Many businesses have had a lot of success over the last year with community involvement. A great example of this comes from Mike and Miriam Risko at Mike Risko Music. Mike and Miriam focused a lot of their attention on socially distanced performances throughout the pandemic. Their traveling band played a number of performances around their community. These performances kept Mike Risko Music as the focal point of music during the lockdowns and the stresses of the COVID disruptions. Although you may not have a traveling band at your disposal to help promote music and your lesson program, look for ways to build your community during these times. What could be done to draw attention to the arts? What could be done to make your lesson program stand out? Now is the time to be seen as a community leader for music and the arts.

Lesson programs have faced many unique challenges since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. As we begin to climb out of the pandemic disruptions and return to running a stable and profitable program, it’s important we stay focused on long-term growth.

I can’t wait to hear of your program’s success. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any unique ideas you’ve had over the past year to improve your business. We’re all in this together! You can email me at tim@spicersmusic.com. I look forward to hearing from you.