Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Brooke Schrager and I am the founder and studio manager of Lessons By Brooke & Company. We provide customized, in-home, private music lessons to students of all interests, ages, and ability levels.
I went to school for Music Education, thinking I would teach music and/or choir in a public school setting. I was lucky enough to land what I thought was my dream public school job in 2014. After teaching for 2 years, I realized I was not happy in this position, and decided to pursue the aspects of my career that brought me the most joy - 1:1 time with young piano and voice students that truly wanted to learn and grow as musicians. In December of 2015, I started offering private lessons to friends and family.
In January 2016, I had 10 students taking lessons with me on a weekly, recurring basis. By March of 2016, I had an additional 20 students on a waiting list and I was able to give notice at my public school job.
By June of 2016, I was teaching 30+ students each week and had more inquiries coming in that I could not take on due to time constraints. In September of 2016, I hired my first independent contractor and we continued to grow from there.
Today, in May of 2021, we have 17 instructors and teach over 200 students each week across the suburbs and city of Chicago. Our monthly revenue currently sits around $20,000/month - beyond anything I could have ever anticipated when I began in 2015.
We have also been able to expand our offerings to include lessons in arranging, bass, brass, composition, guitar, piano, sound engineering, viola, violin, and voice. I could not be more proud of and grateful for my team and our community of incredible students and families.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have always been very musical and played piano, oboe, and sang throughout my childhood. I fell in love with music education as a freshman in high school and was very inspired to follow this as a career path due to my incredible choir director and voice teacher. I completed my Bachelors in K-12 Music Education with an emphasis on Vocal Performance from Elmhurst College in 2014 and taught private piano and voice lessons throughout my college career.
Although I always thought I wanted to teach in a public school setting, after being in the classroom for a little over a year, I knew it was not the right fit for me. I was making about $30,000/year and although I had great benefits and a pension, I knew that I could continue to be successful elsewhere. When I first began offering private lessons and was quickly able to gain 10 students with a waitlist of 20 more, I knew I was onto something. Clearly, there was and still is a need for in-home private lessons in our area.
Good intentions, honesty, and communication will take you further than anything.
Since I was already very familiar with the ins and outs of music education in the private lesson setting as both a student and instructor, building out Lessons By Brooke & Company’s offerings came naturally to me. I started with a very basic website, policies, and procedures, PDF invoices, and the cheapest version of Quickbooks I could use to track everything. I did my best to post on my personal social media accounts, as well as went live on an old live video app called Periscope.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I spent a good chunk of time in the summer of 2015 building out my website and starting our social media account. At that time, I really thought it was just going to be “Lessons By Brooke” - meaning just me as the teacher, teaching 20-30 private students. As I mentioned previously, I simply started sharing about my offerings and I was lucky enough to book some of my first students based only on word of mouth within my community. I was fortunate to not need any sort of business loan.
There are very few overhead costs associated with my business, since we do not have a location or any major expenses aside from website hosting, insurance, Quickbooks, and other misc. office expenses.
Our business is not for everyone, and that is okay. We are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that is why there are so many amazing options out there for customers to choose from.
Once I had a few students, I just continued to spread the word and asked them to do the same. I passed out business cards and hung a few flyers at local coffee shops and libraries, but truthfully, the majority of our business then and to this day continues to come from word-of-mouth referrals.
The biggest lesson I learned from launching this business is to just go for it. The saying “go ugly early” applied so many times in 2015/2016. The website was good, but not perfect - I launched it and promoted it anyway. I had started with the vision of me being the sole teacher, but in September of 2016, I realized that we needed to expand. I had no clue how to formally become a business entity, hire independent contractors, or work in this capacity at all - but I continued to push forward, launch, and promote anyway. Another huge thing that I kept reminding myself throughout this process (and still today!) is that everything is figureoutable. Thank you, Marie Forleo for that quote!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The nature of our business is rooted in building long-term, lasting, very personal relationships with our students and their families. As I’ve mentioned before, word of mouth is king in our industry, and I am so grateful to all of the parents and students that have continued to refer us to their friends and family members. Music is such a wonderful connector in communities, and because of that, we have a continuous flow of new students of all interests, ages, and ability levels. Our belief that music is for everyone really widens our reach.
As far as retaining customers go, I think communication is key. We are constantly keeping in touch, sharing resources, and reaching out on both personal and professional levels. I send out a monthly newsletter to all of our current students and post the key information to our blog. This style of communication works so well because everyone can easily be in the know about schedules, performances, new hires, group classes, etc.
I am proud to say that our growth has continued to climb steadily, despite a global pandemic in 2020-2021. What started as just me and my 20-30 students has grown to 16 instructors and over 200 students. We began just offering piano and voice lessons, and today we offer private lessons in arranging, bass, brass, composition, guitar, piano, sound engineering, viola, violin, and voice, as well as monthly group music programs in a variety of topics from holiday celebrations to songwriting and more!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I am so proud to say that the future of Lessons By Brooke & Company is bright. In 2016, we grossed $5600 and in the first quarter of 2021 alone we’ve hit almost $65,000. Despite the pandemic, we’ve been able to bring music into the lives of so many, and opening up virtual lessons this last year or so has really unlocked a huge opportunity for our growth and expansion to be limitless. We continuously celebrate huge wins and successes for our instructors and students alike, and our community is truly thriving.
Recently, we’ve even tapped into adding dance lessons to our offerings! (no pun intended, as James is a tap dance instructor, haha!)
Remember that your business is so much more than the services you offer. You are building relationships and communities within your team, vendors, and clients daily.
The plan for right now is to transition smoothly back to in-person learning for those that are comfortable while keeping many students and instructors virtual for safety and location purposes. I’m so proud of my team and our students and families for sticking with us through what I hope will be the most difficult time we have to face together. I’m excited to see what the future holds and I truly believe that the sky's the limit.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have read this question over and over again, and I cannot pinpoint just one thing. I’ve learned everything helpful and advantageous through starting my business as a music education major with hardly any business expertise, haha! I think the biggest, most important thing being that good intention, honesty and communication will take you further than anything.
Doing the right thing for your business and your people may not always have one clear path, but as long as you continue to be honest with yourself, your workers, and your customers, everything will turn out okay.
The second most helpful thing I have learned is that our business is not for everyone, and that is okay. We are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that is why there are so many amazing options out there for customers to choose from.
Lastly, there is room for everyone. Meaning that there will always be hundreds, if not thousands, of other similar businesses out there, but each of us has something to bring to the table. Instead of acting in competition with those in our field, I’ve learned that we truly work better together. The best networking I’ve been lucky enough to participate in is always with other music business owners.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We keep things very simple here at Lesson By Brooke & Company. Quickbooks is our accounting software and we utilize it for invoicing and billing. We communicate via email (Gmail) and use the Google Suite (drive, docs, sheets, calendar) to track and share important information.
Our website is built and hosted with GoDaddy and we try to keep it simple with social media, utilizing Facebook, Instagram, Google My Business, and YouTube.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have to mention that both of my parents are entrepreneurs, and I have a ton of helpful business people in my family and friend group that I have turned to time and time again throughout the last 5+ years.
The E-Myth has been the most influential business book I have read recently. As a one-woman show, it helped me evaluate the things that I need to outsource and ways that I can show my instructor team that I value them so that we can continue working together in harmony for a very long time.
The Build a Badass Business podcast really set me up for success from the beginning. Although Diane Sanfilippo works in the holistic health space, I really admire and relate to her approach to her business, and her podcast, books, and social media accounts helped me through one of the darkest times in my life.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Remember that your business is so much more than the services you offer. You are building relationships and communities within your team, vendors, and clients daily. Genuine kindness and communication go a very long way!
Do not be afraid to ask for help. Outsource, crowdsource and lean on the expertise of others around you. You are not the only talented person you know, I can promise you that!
Everything is figureoutable. If you make a mistake (which you will), you can and will fix it. If you launch something before it is ready and there are bugs or glitches (which will happen), apologize, learn from your errors, and move forward. Do not dwell on the small bumps in the road along the way. Learn from them and enjoy the process, even when it is hard!
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for wonderful private music instructors to join our team! If you’re interested in applying, visit our website here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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