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Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Piano Teacher

© 1998, by Lisa M. Roberts

My children's piano teacher strikes me as an exceptionally warm human being. Her dark brown eyes immediately radiate peace, joy and compassion, and she is quick to smile with a sincerity that is rare.

Last week, however, my kids and I were in her hot seat. We were squirming around her kitchen table, apologizing and making promises to do better. Her beef?

"Inconsistency!" she declared. "Sometimes you two come here and shine. Other times, like today, you come and can barely play a single note!" She turned to my 11-year old daughter. "Now if you didn't study algebra, would you pass your math test?" Then to my 8-year old son. "If you didn't play catch with your brother after school, would you be a useful player on the ball field?" To both: "You must practice every day if you want to play piano!"

Sometimes I feel inconsistency is my middle name, so my posture fell along with my kids that afternoon. It was, after all, my responsibility as a parent paying for weekly piano lessons to make sure the kids were practicing every day. And now I worried, with such a scolding, that they would protest ever having to show up there again.

Ye of little faith. What didn't occur to me at the time is that we were dealing with one sharp entrepreneur! Carolina Sanchez*, a home-based business owner after my own heart, knew what she was doing. She was expressing her expections of her clients -- building a business relationship based on honest communication -- in a language that made sense to them. In their previous weekly half-hour lessons, she had *paid attention* to them -- learned what made each tick, what each felt passionate about. My daughter loved math; my son loved baseball. In the awkwardness of the moment when she expressed her disappointment, they still felt understood by her. And, sure enough, no sooner had the front door slammed behind them when they came home then they immediately sat down on the piano bench to go over their individual lessons.

Building loyalty with a clientele is tricky but imperative business for most entrepreneurs. While the teacher/student relationship is certainly not the norm for the vast majority of business owners, a lesson for all can still be learned from the above example. Listening to your clients -- learning who they are, what they're about, where they want to go -- is the first critical gesture you can make at initial visitation with a new client. And with every interaction after that, listening becomes the foundation upon which you build a solid relationship. If a client feels truly understood by you, they are likely to remain loyal beyond expectation.

Another effective tool Ms. Sanchez uses to build client loyalty is creating client-to-client camaraderie. In addition to encouraging small talk between clients in between one lesson to the next, this Friday she's throwing her first annual Halloween Party for all her students. She challenges each to "Bring the weirdest gourd you can find!" on the invitation -- a mission that my kids have spent the last two weeks embracing. Creating a social gathering of your clientele is a remarkable way to cement evolving business relationships. It's fun, creative and memorable. Plus it makes each guest -- each client -- feel special.

One final note on the sharp entrepreneurial instincts of my favorite local
work-at-home pro. My family met Carolina Sanchez when she first moved into town, shortly after we did, about two years ago. She was the Music Director of our church, and during one crowded mass we enjoyed listening to her play up close on the balcony. How did we know she also taught piano lessons? By the handwritten scrap paper she taped onto a far wall, with the words "Piano Lessons" boldly marked. Not only did she use her community connections to spread the word about the availability of her home business, but her work -- the music she played -- was on display at the very site of her advertising! It's like posting a sign on a well-manicured lawn that says "Harry's Lawn Services," or dropping a business card in each child's goody bag that says, "Jenny's Party Planning." It's advertising that strikes when the iron is hot.

Ms. Sanchez is an example of an entrepreneur who doesn't use the "hard sell" approach typically attributed to successful business owners. She is resourceful without being aggressive, honest without being disrespectful, fun-loving without being irresponsible. By using her personality to connect with her clients, and her skills to help them reach their goals, she encourages them to come back week after week, year after year. She works with who she is to create a thriving part-time home business...and so can you!

*Her name is changed here for privacy purposes.

Lisa Roberts is the mother of four, owner of The Entrepreneurial Parent, LLC and the author of How to Raise A Family & A Career Under One Roof: A Parent's Guide to Home Business (Bookhaven Press, 1997). Copies of her book are available for purchase at EP and through Amazon.

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