Lessons from a Piano Teacher
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?
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
- 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