Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Setting Up As A Private Instructor

Steve Treseler shares his insights for anyone who’s interested in going into private teaching

May 4, 2017

Throughout my freelance teaching career, I’ve stumbled upon some best (and worst) practices for my studio. Here’s the advice I wish I had received when first starting out.

1. You’re Ready

I know many new teachers are insecure about not feeling ‘ready’ or qualified, especially when they compare themselves to established teachers.

If you have some expertise, are enthusiastic about serving others, and are committed to growing as a teacher, then you’re ready! We all have to take the leap and learn as we go.

2. Focus on Referrals

Imagine a student who you would be delighted to work with. How would this student find an instructor? They might start with Google or Craigslist, but chances are they will ask a friend or teacher for a recommendation. One of the most important business assets you can build is trust with people who can potentially refer students to you.

I stumbled across this strategy by accident. I teach saxophone lessons, so I receive most referrals from band directors. One of my first teaching jobs was teaching at a Summer music day camp. The faculty included several local band directors who saw me show up every day and build rapport with the students. Because I built trust and good working relationships with these teachers, they have referred me students for over a decade.

One or two enthusiastic referrers can fill your studio.

3. Strong Relationships with Students (and Families) are Essential

On-boarding is the process of building relationships with new clients by addressing their questions and communicating the scope of your services. I mostly teach kids, so setting up an informal meeting with prospective students and their families has been a huge boost to my studio.

We get to know each other personally, and I can communicate all of my studio policies in person. Since setting up these meetings, I have had very little friction over scheduling and billing, and families are more loyal over the long term. An in-person meeting can also help you screen prospective students.

4. Have Clear and Well-Communicated Policies

I’m a laid back and flexible person, so when I started my studio I didn’t have clear lesson policies, which turned into a big headache. Make sure you and your students are on the same page about scheduling, billing, cancellations and make-up lessons before the first lesson.

5. Build a Website

Once someone is referred to you, they may search for you on the web. Your site doesn’t have to be elaborate — a simple homepage with a photo and bio can make a great impression with prospective students. (Beautiful DIY websites are easy to build with templates on Squarespace, even if you don’t have experience with web design or coding.)

Also, consider sharing recordings of music and include a teaching page with info about your studio and teaching philosophy. This will help you attract and connect with more of your ideal students before you speak in person.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful — if you’ve got any advice to share with our community of private teachers, please leave a comment.

Steve Treseler is a Seattle-based saxophonist, teaching artist, and author. He is on faculty at Seattle Pacific University and teaches creative music workshops across the U.S.

Download a free digital copy of his book Creativity Triggers for Musicians at

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