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Your Answering Machine

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Excerpt from Philip Johnston's PracticeSpot Guide to Promoting Your Teaching Studio

First things first. If you donít have an answering machine of some sort, run, donít walk, and go get one. Nothing will kill an enquiry faster than a phone that rings with no answer. Unless you can guarantee to be home 24/7 to answer phone calls, you need to have something that will do it on your behalfóotherwise callers will simply move on to the next number in the Yellow Pages.

Simply having the machine is only part of the story though. When prospective students hear your recorded message, they will establish first impressions about both you and your studio. If that impression is not good, theyíre likely to just hang up, and your relationship with the student is terminated even before you meet.

It can take months of bad lessons to lose an existing student. But you can achieve the same unhappy outcome with a prospective student in less than ten seconds if your phone message is weak.

Weíll look in a moment at some dos and doníts for your voicemail message, but in the meantime, hereís a simple test:

If you spent less than an hour designing and then recording your answering machine message, you werenít taking the task seriously enough.

The receptionist test

Ask yourself this. If you were hiring someone to answer your studioís phone, what expectations would you have of their telephone manner? Remember, this person will be talking to potential students long before you get a chance to weave your magic at an interview, so they need to be friendly, polite, confident, clear, articulate and welcoming. Otherwise thereís not going to be an interview in the first place.

Not only that, you should think carefully about what they say when they answer the phone. How would you react if you overheard your receptionist answer the phone like this?:

"Hello. I donít really have time to listen to you at the moment. Tell me some way of getting in touch with you, and Iíll get back to you when I donít have better things to do."

With that statement ringing in your ears, now think about your existing outgoing message. Does it sound like the following? (A lot of music teacherís do!):

"Hello, this is Sandy. Iím not able to take your call right now. Leave your name and number after the beep."

Look at this message for a moment from the callerís point of view. There are plenty of problems, and they start with the first sentence:

"Hello, this is Sandy."

You may well be Sandy, but if your studio is called "Happy Flutes Music School", then callers are going to be confused by a greeting that doesnít refer to that. With nothing else in the message that identifies you as providing music lessons, there will be some doubt as to whether or not itís actually the right number. At that point, a lot of people will simply hang up.

Even those who proceed regardless will be struck by the fact that the message sounds alarmingly like a residence phone message (rather than a business one), creating an impression of an amateur home based operation.

Even if your studio is home basedóand most music teachers do work from homeóif your phone number is also the studio phone number, then the message has to be for the studio too.

So instead of:

"Hello, this is Sandy."

Add on

"Hello, this Sandy, and the number for Happy Flutes Music Studio."

A lot of music teachers donít refer to their studio at all in their message, because the telephone line also doubles as a personal line and such a message feels inappropriate for family and friends who might call. You canít afford to be coy like thisóteaching is your business, and your voicemail message needs to clearly confirm that. If a dual-function message like that still feels uncomfortable for you, then consider taking out a second phone line, dedicated to your studio.

What comes after "hello"...

The next part of the message is more difficult. Like all outgoing voicemail messages, you have to admit to not being available, and ask the caller to leave their details. But you can do so in such a way that makes not being available a virtue, rather than a nuisance, while also subtly telling them a thing or two about your studio.So instead of

"Iím not able to take your call right now. Leave your name and number after the beep."


"Iím probably in the studio teaching at the moment. Iíd love to chat with you thoughóleave your name and number, and Iíll get back to you as soon as I can"

This leaves the caller with several important impressions:

1) That you are often busy teaching in the studio. So your studio must be a busy one. So you must be doing a good job.2) That lessons at your studio are not interrupted by phone calls. Students get your undivided attention, while voicemail handles the distractions.3) That youíre friendly and outgoing. "Iíd love to chat with you though" is much more welcoming than the more neutral "Leave your name and number".4) Just in case they missed the name of your studio in the initial greeting, further reference to the studio in the second half of the message confirms that they have reached the right number5) The fact that you have taken the trouble to refer twice to your studio in the message means that teaching is obviously no mere hobby for you. You are prepared to proudly state it at the gateway to your home.

Delivering the message with flair

Getting the text of the message right is not enoughómost of the impression will be created by how you actually deliver it. You donít need to sound like a World Championship Wrestling announcer, but if your message is delivered in a flat monotone, then callers will picture flat, monotonous music lessons. It has to sparkle, it has to feel friendly and short it has to sound like someone who should be working with kids.Nobody likes listening to themselves on tape, but you have to preview the message before you let it represent your studio. If there is anything you are not happy with, then record it again. And again. And again. Experiment with different inflexions, with different speed of delivery. Try punching different words. It can take quite a while before you declare "That one! Thatís it"óbut once youíve produced a version youíre happy with, it will represent you for a long time.

This might sound like overkill. Itís not. Everything in your Lobby matters, and if your extra care results in just one extra student, your efforts will all have been worthwhile.

Donít memorize this piece

Before you push the "record outgoing message" on your machine, take a moment and write out exactly what it is that youíre going to say. That way you can concentrate on delivery, rather than stumbling over trying to remember the words.

Making the message friendly

If you want your message to sound friendly as well as engaging, you should actually smile as youíre delivering it. Truly. Forget that youíre talking to a machine, and pretend youíre addressing a cute six-year old instead. Your tone will soften, and your message will sound warmer and more inviting.

Itís not just smoke and mirrors. Part of your job is that you do have to talk to cute six-year-olds anyway, and parents who listen to your message need to be able to imagine you relating to their child. Make it easy for them with a message that will speak volumes about your manner.

Found this advice helpful?
It's just a tiny excerpt from the PracticeSpot Guide to Promoting your Teaching Studio, a massive 240 page guide dedicated to ensuring your studio is the one parents call first.

From Philip Johnston, founder of PracticeSpot, and author of The Practice Revolution.

For teachers who want to fill their schedules, have a healthy waiting list, and enjoy the benefits that a thriving studio brings.

Free shipping to all destinations, and only $19.99 when bundled with a subscription to a webvertisement.

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