We’re living through unprecedented events.
Our generation has never faced anything like this before.
As I write this piece, Coronavirus (COVID-19) is sweeping across the world.
Over 160,000 people have now been infected, and the number is climbing daily. (It's 20,000 more than when I first started writing this...)
The disruption its causing is colossal, and on every level of life as we know it.
Borders are closing, once busy streets are growing quieter, world financial markets are in upheaval and major cultural and sporting events have been cancelled.
What this means is that the way we go about daily life must change.
We need to adapt, and fast.
It’s not really a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’ our schools, universities and workplaces will begin to shut down.
(I'm certain my work place will close in a matter of days).
Almost overnight, the student base that you rely upon to keep your small studio running will evaporate.
Small studio owners, teachers and tutors are already starting to feeling the financial and emotional strain as people begin to feel uneasy about leaving the house.
The lesson cancellations flood in.
Enquiries from new students decrease.
Bills start to pile up as your cash flow dries up.
Will it last weeks or months?
No one can really say.
But what IS certain is if we can’t be nimble and adaptive as small business owners and entrepreneurs, we may be unable to endure this testing time.
Don’t mistake my intention here. This is no time for panic or gloom.
In fact, I see this as an opportunity.
The greatest human flourishing is often born out of times of hardship.
So it’s time for all of us within this community of educators, musical and otherwise, to lift one another up.
My challenge to you is this - to be brave, and to innovate.
Use this time as a period of learning and testing and tweaking.
Perhaps if this had happened before the advent of the internet, we’d be facing this through a very different lens.
But thankfully there’s a lot we can do to retain much of ‘life as we know it’ and continue to do the things that keep our inner worlds happy and healthy.
So here’s my solution for you, transition your studio or your learning to an online platform.
By having this capability, you’ll build resilience into your studio and even experience growth when the bricks and mortar counterparts experience a lull.
In fact, since Coronavirus first hit the news in January, I’ve had 18 new student enquiries and 8 new students begin lessons using my online model.
The system I've built is essentially shock-proof for this kind of event.
Online lessons are not everyone’s first preference, either for teaching and learning, and that's fine.
But if it’s a choice between a modified version of your hobby or NONE for an undisclosed time, its a pretty darn good option.
For students, it means you can keep up your playing momentum. You won't lose the benefits of the time and effort you've already invested in your learning.
For teachers, it will lessen the financial strain in a time when meeting face to face isn't possible.
For all of us, our minds stay engaged and we remain (safely) socially connected. Even through periods of forced leave from work or isolation from our usual social circles.
So if transitioning online is a strategy that you feel is needed to carry on but the thought of setting it up is kind of overwhelming, I can help.
Here's my everyday online studio toolkit that will help you thrive and even grow through these challenging times.
(I'm not affiliated with these products).
Zoom is my fave. With the free version (which I use) you can host individual or group lessons (up to 40 mins long) in an online meeting room. If you want to host longer group sessions or manage a team of tutors you'll have to upgrade to a paid plan.
To schedule a meeting is easy, you just select a day and time and the email addresses of those you wish to attend. Each of you will receive an invitation to join with a meeting URL, which you can sync into your online calendar. When it's time for your lesson, click the link and you'll be connected.
Some cool features include screen sharing, a virtual whiteboard, lesson recording, and file sharing using Google Drive or Dropbox while online.
(There is the added bonus it integrates directly with the calendar tool I recommend below too)
Skype allows you to generate a unique link for an online call without the need for an account. Simply send this URL to your lesson participant and you can connect. Otherwise, if you have an account you can login, search for your participants Skype name, and add them as a contact.
There doesn't seem to be a scheduling feature, so without any reminders you would both have to agree to the lesson time separately and remember to connect! You can record your call to review later, blur out your background for a sharper focus on you and share your screen and files. Another great free option.
This is a great screen capture and video editing tool, that's great for sending detailed feedback to students. If live lessons don't work, but students want to keep getting feedback from video clips they send you, now you can record your response. The screen recorder is free (to record up to 15 mins) and can record you via webcam, whatever is displayed on your screen or both as well as your narration.
The video editor is free for 30 days, and allows you to zoom in and out, add text, animations, blurs and highlights, as well as fast and slow mo. With the video editor starting at $1.65/mo its cheap as chips and an incredible tool that will multiply your productivity.
Organisation and File Sharing
This is the tool that is absolutely central for me. Calendly is an online scheduling tool, that will give you a streamlined and automated system. If you're a solo-preneur and only offer one type of lesson (30 minute flute lessons), you may only need the free version. I use the Pro Plan which is $12/mo.
The reason I upgraded was that I offer multiple lesson types (different lesson durations will count as multiple lesson types), I wanted the SMS reminder feature, Zoom integration as well as the ability to directly take payment using Paypal.
If you have a studio where you manage multiple tutors or you want the group lesson capability, you'll need to upgrade to a paid version as well.
For tutors, you simply create your lesson types, enter your availability and it will populate a calendar that prospective students can view. Connect your personal online calendar, and they'll sync, meaning you'll never double book.
Add questions for participants to answer before they schedule a lesson, add a cancellation policy, and customise your branding. You can even take payment as lessons are booked.
For students you can click on your tutors calendar link and view the available lesson times.
Once you book, you'll receive a confirmation email with the details of your lesson, as well as links to reschedule or cancel. You'll receive reminders, so you'll never miss a lesson.
Zapier links multiple apps together, and automates and streamlines your workflows so there's less manual labour for you . It works on triggers and actions. Connect them and you get a 'zap'.
Here's an example - when someone books a lesson through Calendly (trigger), I can automatically add them to an email list (action), and begin sending them a sequence of emails.
There are literally tens of thousands of zaps you could create. Each one saves you time, and allows you to do more playing and less admin.
A free account allows you to set up 5 one-step zaps. For $20/mo you can set up 20 multi-step zaps with premium apps. Once you start using it you'll wonder how you managed without it.
Google Drive/ Dropbox
Either of these cloud systems are a great online repository for digital resources to share between teacher and student. Once you've created your free account, create a folder for each student and share that link privately with them.
Only have printed sheet music? Sharing it for your online lessons is easy. Download this free app, and take a clear and sharp image that's converted perfectly into a pdf. To make it even easier, sync your account to upload to your shared Google Drive or Dropbox folder.
Digital Sheet Music
Perhaps shifting to online lessons has made you realise just how much print you really have. Build a custom digital library of sheet music that you can easily organise, share, safely store, access quickly, transcribe and more. I've reviewed several platforms and give Virtual Sheet Music (affiliate) my recommendation based on ease of use and value for money at $37.75/yr.
My full review of four different platforms is here.
Feel like you're out of your depth with technology. It's easier than you think to get started at either low or no cost. Here's what I use...
The cameras in most smartphones these days are such good quality, you rarely would need to invest in anything above and beyond. (If you have the latest iPhone, lucky you. I use my Huawei smartphone however I’m thinking about upgrading to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 for anything that's prerecorded).
A USB webcam usually provides a clearer image than the inbuilt one in your computer. It’s a nice to have, but not essential. I use a Logitech c920 HD webcam.
Good audio quality is equally important as video quality. For my online lessons I honestly just use the inbuilt mic in the computer (as do most students) and it seems to be working absolutely fine. But if you’re finding it lacking or want to record videos that are more premium quality, the RØDE VideoMicro Microphone is an excellent compact on-camera microphone that’s literally plug and play.
To demonstrate subtle playing concepts clearly, light is essential. Depending on the time of day you record, a bright naturally lit room is the best choice! If that’s not possible a USB LED light Phottix M180 Pocket LED Light
Helpful but not essential if using your phone to record, and a better option than your phone leaning up against a wobbly stack of books. (I don’t actually use one - I made a little plastic holder that my phone sits in using leftover bits of stationary).
Now to look good when promoting yourself online...
Canva helps you create professional looking images for use on social media or your website. It has heaps of incredible drag and drop templates, all with the exact dimensions you need to look perfect on Facebook etc. I use the free version.
Sometimes its hard for people to feel the value of online products, when they can't physically see or touch it. Screenshots can definitely help people understand the experience you offer, but sometimes a more professional look is nice. Smart Mock Up helps you place any image onto a product or device. There are limited free placements you can use or you can upgrade to a paid subscription to access a wide range. (The free version is fine for me.)
Social Media Scheduling
I have to admit that social media isn't my strong suit. So to make it easier I normally chunk out some time, and schedule a few weeks worth of images, videos and content ahead of time.
A free Hootsuiteaccount will allow you to schedule on up to 30 posts on 3 platforms
So I’ve given you some practical/ tech tools for change. But bringing people along with that change can sometimes be the most challenging aspect.
Moving to an online model, even if it’s just temporary, isn’t just about the technical ‘how to's’.
It’s about people.
And I know that you’ve intentionally developed a great student-teacher relationship that’s taken years.
And THAT’S the most important part of this whole journey.
You know that Pat’s been working so hard on his embouchure for the last few weeks and he’s FINALLY made that break through.
You know that Celeste has a dream of being accepted into music school, and you want to keep that dream alive for her.
Offering your lessons online isn’t the same as online shopping.
It’s not a transaction.
Even though you won’t physically be in the same room together, it can still be interactive.
It can still be relational.
It can still be productive.
It can still be enjoyable.
Finally, you likely have a range of people in your studio - kids and their parents, Millennials, Gen X and the Boomers. Now the younger generations - they’re digital natives - and making the switch to learning online won’t be such an ask.
But for the older groups, this world won’t be so familiar, and so you’ll have to take them on a journey.
Here’s some tips for you to communicate effectively and get great up-take with your new online model.
Finally some words for you 'the change maker' to encourage you as you enter this new phase.
Look at what other leaders are doing in their organisations and be inspired. For a fantastic article on pioneering change, good friend and Pastor Benjamin Windle has written this insightful piece about reinventing the online church model.
- Accept that not everything will work perfectly, but nothing is a failure. Everything is learning and progress.
- Don’t wait for something to be perfect before you act. Something is often better than nothing. Nothing you see on The Flute Coach is the first version.
- People appreciate good, strong leadership. Back yourself, and show confidence. It’s infectious... I'd love to hear your stories of pioneering change through this time. Comment below and help others within our community.
- For even more help to create an online studio we can chat further. Feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com
Thank you so much for outlining all of this information. I have just made the decision that I can’t wait for the coronavirus to be over. I have to act now to keep my current students and this is actually an opportunity for me to expand my studio. I look forward to following your blogs and information. Thanks Sue
Sue, you’re most welcome. I’m so glad this information resonated. This challenge has taken us all by complete surprise, so I’m madly putting together as many resources as I can to be helpful! Please let me know if there’s anything in particular I can help with! Stay in touch (and stay well), Christie
Great article, Christie! I’m reading this as a young business owner – I liked your tips and mindset of growth during these times. I too transitioned to online lessons during lockdown and they worked super well on Zoom and Skype! One of my students is still actually having lessons on Skype because it works well for both of us. Thank you again.