Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Starting Out 4. How Safe Do Your Students Feel?

Giselda (not her real name) is a teacher writing to me from Europe. She’s a mum with a family and loves the work, but still needs a second job to make ends meet. In our Alexander community, her story is repeated more than a hundred times.

She is an intelligent, compassionate woman with a deep wish to contribute to the world - and finds her self struggling to make her Alexander Technique practise work. In a private message on FaceBook (please feel free to do the same) she wrote to me after yesterday’s 5 step plan with her feedback about her students…

I'm thinking about who is my target market and from what I can figure out so far it seems to be women in their 30s up, they all want to look better, feel better, they come because of pain from niggling to chronic. No kids or grown so they have time, middle class.

Ladies and gentleman - this is a cross culture, cross border candidate for your lessons. We have the same two distinct groups of woman coming to us in Tokyo. They dress well, have excess income (or husbands in a good job) and are inclined towards experimentation and exploration as a behaviour characteristic. However, they have distinct boundaries for this exploration. So what do these woman secretly want?

First, when they come to your studio, they want to feel safe. That want to feel cared for, pampered even. That is primary - if you don’t satisfy them on that level, no amount of selling will convince them to return. No way. So ask your self this question: Is your lesson environment coded for safety?

Let me tell you how I learnt this lesson at BodyChance. My first studio was in a suburb called Mejiro. It is on the Yamanote line - a transit line that runs a ring around Tokyo, in much the same way as the Circle line in London, or how Manhattan Island defines New Yorkers (BTW - thinking of you guys as Sandy pushes through). The Yamanote Line is one of Tokyo's busiest and most important lines, but guess which is the least busiest station of all 29 stops? Right - the one we were on!

“Your studio is in Mejiro? Oh.”
Strike one - an unfamiliar location.

Once you got out at Mejiro station, you'd have to walk about 12 minutes to get to our studio. The longer the walk from the station, the more anxiety students start to develop. This adventure is becoming too much of an adventure in the mind of a person already venturing beyond their safety zone.

“Have I come too far? Did I miss a turn…”
Strike two - going into the dark forest.

Finally, our studio was not on the main street. Once you got there, you had to turn down this alleyway to find the entrance, then enter this rather rickety old lift to the 9th floor, where on arriving you are confronted with a lino floor, two steel doors, and no sign to indicate you have safely arrived.

“Excuse me, is this Alexander Technique Associates…?”
(The name itself was a put off, but that’s another blog.)
Strike three - an earthquake dangerous building with a spooky entrance.

Hopeless. I could never get the business I was trying to create to take off. Duh. So we moved, and within a year I had over 80 people as members in our public learning system. We are now close to Meguro, one of the top three destinations on the Yamanote line. We are on the main street. When you go into the building, there is a security guard behind a window to help out. It is a much safer experience.

So what experience do people have when they go to you?

Remember, the 5% of devotees will go anywhere, as far as you ask them to, but they are too few to build a flourishing business. It is the other 15% of your niche that are willing, but picky, who create career success. But if they don't feel safe, they won’t come - end of story.

How do you deal with this? Well, many ways. If you are going to have a studio in your home, rent a place that is in a busy location, has a separate, ground floor entrance that doesn’t look like someone’s home, and make it as close as you can to any other professional environment appropriate to the place you live in. Match their expectations.

If this is out of the question, then think of approaching a Centre of some kind that is already set up that way, and find a way to be a member of their practise. As you grow in reputation, and develop a following, you can migrate to your own studio in time.

These are a few systemic ideas of business building, not just marketing and selling. What I have learnt is that you need to get every bit of the model in place to make it work, so this is a preview of things still to come…

Giselda’s problem in Europe, and yours too, may have nothing to do with your selling skills.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Starting Out 3. Sharpening The Ax

Abraham Lincoln once famously remarked: "If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours sharpening the axe". Alexander Technique teachers - including me - would be well advised to do the same.

I am giving some help at the moment to a teacher in Europe - together we are trying to sharpen the ax. He is a dedicated, enthusiastic and together guy, but he went straight to chopping the tree before sharpening the ax. Like most teachers he decided: “Get a website up.” So he did. It looked beautiful, explained Alexander Technique with some elegant quotes from Alexander himself, but the most critical question was left unanswered: who would be looking at this site?

That’s a passive question. The better question is: who do I want to be looking at my site? A website is nothing more than one-sided conversation with a real person. It is a first contact. I remember years ago, when I was still Editor and Publisher of DIRECTION, being scolded by my high-end designer. We were discussing the layout of the latest issue, when a flyer fell to the floor from my folder. Before I could retrieve it, she quickly picked it up, briefly glanced at it, then declared in horror: “WHAT IS THIS!!!” It was a flyer I had produced to sell DIRECTION which was, well - let’s just say, less than wonderful.

“This is the first experience they have of you - what do you think this is saying to them!? Is this communicating what you want to have communicated?” she demanded to know. I sheepishly agreed that, well - it didn’t represent DIRECTION that well. And it was a big lesson.

The lesson is this: be the person that your prospect wants you to be. The integrity of this position is that you, too, want to be that person for them. This the sharpening of the ax, and it sets up your entire career. At BodyChance I encourage my students to start asking these questions from day one. They are a little bewildered at first, not really grasping my point. I don’t care. I keep asking because BodyChance is dedicated to turning out teachers who impact the world through building successful careers as teachers of the Alexander Technique.

Back to my protégé in Europe: he didn’t really know who his website was talking to. On the other side of his website was “the internet” but that isn’t a person. Who is the real person? And again, more to the point, who is the real person you want? As I searched through his website, I found his story. It was magnificent! A real hero’s journey. “That’s your top page!” I told him, and much to his credit he changed it that day.

Now at least, a visitor gets a sense of him. Isn’t that a better start? People don’t relate to an abstract thing called “Alexander Technique”, people relate to people. In that sense, I can agree if you are going to hide your self, then I guess having FM smiling at you from a black and white photo is better than no person at all. But they are not having lessons with FM, they are having lessons with you. So put your self there - not on another page “About the Teacher”

And again (and again, and again) WHO do you want to be having lessons with you? A website is a one-sided conversation, and how do you know what to say if you don’t know who is there? This ability for long distance, one-sided communication is a skill set all on it’s own. Each teacher needs to develop it - in Alexander’s time it was less than necessary. Today it is essential.

This is how you start your sharpening of the ax:

First, you decide your strengths, your interests - this gives you focus for…
Second, you analyze people who would resonate with your message and then
Third, you make sure they are a fit for your ability to build a successful practise, then
Forth, you start asking questions TO THEM: what do they seek? how can you help? So
Fifth, you begin crafting your one-sided conversation, which is your website. Then
Sixth - well, that’s enough for today.

Most Alexander Technique teachers have not got this done yet. Get it done. Sharpen your ax. Be ready for your website visitor.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Starting Out 2. Can They?

I love actors, I was one my self. I don’t know why (I have theories) but actors (for me) make the very best pupils I have ever had. Their nervous systems are like, alive! They are curious, willing to try anything and totally enthusiastic about every thing they learn. So it was no surprise to my staff when I announced in a meeting that I wanted to set up a special day-time course for actors.

It was a disaster. First, the price was too high. “We can’t afford that.” OK, so we reduced it, but then requested: we want you to stay longer, so it works for us too. “Sure, we can do that.” It started with a lot of promise, but then “Oh I am sorry, I have to stop now. Something’s come up.” The group fizzled - it was like trying to fill a bottle with a hole in the bottom of it.

Actors are wonderful pupils, but lousy for building a business. They have no money, they are not stable, and they are always changing their ideas, plans and purpose (other than being an actor of course). Burrowing the lawyers’ term - they are your pro bono clients. Your hobby clients. Your “gift” clients. You can not build a business with them alone.

Who can you build a business with? That’s the question you will ask if you are serious about building a successful career. Too many teachers I know start with their hobby clients, and never graduate to running a real business. That’s fine if teaching is just your hobby, but I hear from many teachers: “I need more work.” and they end up having to take a second job, because the reality of life is you need more money.

Well - which is better? Doing a job your don’t want to do, or graduating to clients outside your hobby box? So this is the litmus test of those new clients - can they afford lessons? Can they get to them? Are they used to having lessons?

Going back to actors: of course there are actors who can afford lessons. Lots of them. But finding them, enrolling them and keeping them requires huge skill that won’t be acquired by any other means than getting serious about understanding the basics of building a business.

Jean-Louis Rodrigue “…is an internationally recognized acting coach and teacher of the Alexander Technique, and a pioneer in its application to theater and film.” Jean-Louis’s a charming man, and HE is the one who is mobile, not the actors. He has had to shape a business that matches their needs, and he has done it brilliantly. Do you think he was an overnight success? That it all happened easily for him?

And it is true for you too. I tell my trainees that they need to start building their careers now. At BodyChance we aim to guide our students to graduate with a bevy of fans already banging at their door to get lessons. We have a long way to go, but building this culture is something every trainer of teachers needs to include in their job description.

It is in your own interests to do so. BodyChance is gaining in popularity in Japan because people notice that many of our graduates go on to teach as a full-time profession. That motivates them to jump in. It’s one of the reasons we have a 100 people in teacher education, and my guess is that will increase to 150 within a year or two.

So back to you. Back to your client. Ask the question - can they?

-       Pay for your lessons?
-       Keep coming to your lessons?
-       Get to your lessons?

Answer those questions with a unequivocal yes, and you are ready to move one…

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Starting Out 1. Who’s Problem Do You Understand?

Just starting out?

That was me after I got married. Although I had already been teaching for years, I didn’t get serious about my Alexander Technique business until I had two kids and realized I either got things to work or, well - I didn’t have a lot of options. That’s why I got it to work. So, are you desperate enough? Passionate enough? Or both? Are you ready to do what you need to do to make it work?

So how do you start an Alexander Technique business?

Pay attention, because over the next few weeks I am going to write  how you can get an AT business off the ground. Today I am going to clarify the greatest challenge you face if you are serious about this.

Vertical & Horizontal Markets
These days, people are almost assaulted with new information. Your voice is tiny compared to the companies and groups with economic muscle in the market place. How can you possibly compete with them? Well, the good answer is that there is a reason people are assaulted these days - it’s because everyone now has cheap access to global communication. You compete by knowing who you are talking to before you start to put your marketing together.

How many Alexander Technique teachers actually do that?

Understand that while the tools are plentiful, the marketing problem you have is to actually be heard. Which begs the question - heard by who? Most Alexander Technique teachers make the mistake of trying to appeal widely. It’s a natural mistake because our work is able to appeal widely. You think - if I cast my net as wide as possible, I will catch more people. The problem with this approach is that unless you have pockets as deep as MacDonald’s, you’re going to be forever drowned out by everyone else. You will continuously be struggling to catch anyone’s attention.

In marketing speak it’s about knowing the difference between a horizontal market and a vertical market. A horizontal market is selling a car - it appeals to a broad population. A vertical market is teaching a person how their parrot can speak a foreign language - that’s a very limited group, but actually there is a market for that! Using the internet and other tools at hand, imagine how easy it would be to find those people? Suddenly you have a specific, clear task, not some vague “I hope” wish.

If you have no money, no clue how to market, no idea how to start - that’s your first step: pick a specific kind of person who’s problem you understand very well. A person that you can offer a specific solution to through your Alexander Technique work.

Do that, and you are ready for the next lesson.