Feb 20, 2017
by Steve Treseler. After teaching lessons full time for ten years, I started to burn out. Although I had several awesome students, I was frustrated working with those who were apathetic, unprepared, or had a poor attitude. Over time, I became more complacent and distracted as a teacher, which wasn’t a good situation for anyone. The key to reinvigorating my studio wasn’t more willpower or grit — it was introducing a ‘Red Velvet Rope Policy’.
Public school teachers need to serve every student who shows up. As freelance teachers, we have the opportunity to be selective about who we work with. In the business development guide Book Yourself Solid, author Michael Port outlines a system for screening clients called “The Red Velvet Rope Policy”. Port tells us: “when you work with clients you love, you’ll truly enjoy the work you’re doing; you’ll love every minute of it. And when you love every minute of the work you do, you’ll do your best work, which is essential to book yourself solid.”
He suggests we identify who our ideal clients are, and hand pick only these students to join our studios. It might seem crazy to turn away business, but when we identify and choose to work with students who inspire us, we do better work, attract more of our ideal students, and find more joy and fulfillment in teaching.
What are the characteristics of students who inspire you to do your best work?
Here’s a rundown of my ideal students. They:
Your list may look completely different.
Port defines “dud” clients as “those you dread interacting with, who drain the life out of you, bore you to tears, and frustrate you.”
What are the characteristics of your dud clients that shouldn’t make it past your velvet rope?
Here are the attributes of my dud students. They:
In Book Yourself Solid, Michael Port’s first action item is to identify the “dud” students in your studio, and dump them — that is, professionally and tactfully refer them to another teacher.
Dumping the duds sounds harsh, but hanging on to these students hurts your entire studio.
Sometimes a different teaching style is a better fit. On more than one occasion, a student I struggled to connect with thrived with another teacher. Port also notes that by dumping our duds, we have more energy to devote to the students who are neither ideal clients nor duds, but somewhere in the middle. By bringing more enthusiasm to our work, some of these mid-range clients transform into ideal students.
To set up your red velvet rope policy, you need a process for screening and selecting new students. Some possibilities are:
If you are just starting out as a teacher, you can implement a screening process from day one — but you may need a more relaxed grip on the velvet rope. As you gain experience and build a reputation for excellent work over time, you can be even more selective about the students you take on.
I read Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid when I was rebuilding my private studio after graduate school. I was resistant to “dumping the duds,” because I needed the income. But I took the plunge while also working to over-deliver for my ideal students. In the process, I raised my rates and started attracting more of the students I love teaching.
Steve Treseler is a Seattle-based saxophonist, teacher, 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 stevetres.com