The Perils of Starting a Guitar Education Business
The initial stage of starting any new business is a moment of total optimism. I can remember it quite clearly coming to me when I knew I needed to start The School of Feedback Guitar. Before my car died in 2005, I was driving around Johnsonville TX, thinking about my future, my direction, and mostly, my life. I hit this spot where I realized it was now or never. I had that moment where everything became clear, where my intuition said, "It's time, dude. You need to teach." If only the work was that easy!
I embarked on a journey to find an office. I found a soundproofed studio in south Austin, painted it the colors I liked, and made it possible for teaching. I bought an excellent music stand, two guitar stands, and I found chairs (very uncomfortable) from craigslist. I didn't have a car by that point, but I was able to convince a friend to help me move all of my guitar stuff to that place. I got really good at biking for five miles to and from the office, rain or shine, and I never missed a chance to teach, even if it meant that a student decided to no-call-no-show.
Starting simple with advertising on Craigslist, I was able to secure some income. It was a journey. I still had yet to quit my job (slinging coffee at a second rate coffeeshop) and I still had bills to pay. This part of the journey was absolute hell. I sweated and sweated until I got a somewhat stable roster of students, and then I finally quit my job. It took about a year to do.
Slowly, I was able to raise my prices to a decent level, a level that afforded me the luxury of not quite being in poverty. My dad helped me out with business and tax advice, but I was pretty much on my own. I made improvements to the way I taught, the presence I had online, the reputation I built, and finally, I managed to systemize so many of the most annoying tasks. My booking system got better, my websites became stronger, and students began to flow in easily.
There were still bumps in the road. I had to switch offices twice from that first office. Each time was an upgrade, thankfully. Moving, as it ever was and still will be, was a bitch, but it was worth it. Finally, I had a full roster of students eight (very long) years later. I built something completely on my own, with a little luck, advice from good people, and a lot of sweat. It was hard.
I write this out because I am again in another transition. I've switched to doing completely Skype guitar lessons, I have begun the process of making courses of the knowledge I have and selling them online, I created a YouTube channel to share simple ideas that could help to transform people's lives, and most importantly, I've made major strides towards being a full-time composer. It hasn't been easy to start any of this, nor is it much fun to be up at 1 AM writing this when I worry about the future of me being a musician, but I am reminded of how hard it was to start The School of Feedback Guitar. When it comes down to it, I'd have to say that becoming a self-employed guitar teacher was very much like flirting with poverty. But was it worth it?
It's worth it to feel free, to be free of anyone telling me what I needed to do. It's worth it to be on one's own and doing something that is completely in line with passion. It's worth it to feel like I was giving back the insane amount of knowledge I was able to procure over the years as a teacher. It's worth it to have a grasp on the human dynamics that we are all witness to, but it was so well-worth my time to learn to have a part in it without any sort of embarrassment about how open my heart really is.
The price for going your own way is high. The path of doing your own thing can sometimes be fraught with so many difficulties that are sometimes so debilitating that we don't know what to do. But in the end, I couldn't possibly have it any other way. I hope you feel the same way about the things you want to do in your life.