When Will Armstrong first arrived in New York City, he had a problem. A big one. The lifelong musician, who was working on an M.M. in Jazz Piano at at New York University while teaching lessons on the side, was having trouble finding and holding onto students. He asked around and found that, when it came to connecting with customers, Will and his friends were hitting the same wall. That’s when Will decided to create WillYouLearn, a music school that provides semester-long, in-home lessons in all major instruments (and ukulele!) to students of all ages in New York City. Today that music school is thriving, with 12 employees and a growing student base—and in the nine months since joining Thumbtack, enrollment has doubled.
Will took some time out from his busy teaching schedule to weigh in on what it takes to run a successful music school on Thumbtack, and what he’s focussing on most as his business grows.
How long have you been teaching piano lessons?
My own music instructors have been among the most influential figures in my life and really inspired me to pass along the joy of this tradition. I started teaching as far back as grade school but got really serious about it while I was in college.
When I came to New York City after college I saw a problem—a lot of my friends were having trouble finding reliable customers and so was I. That’s when I decided to create WillYouLearn, and we’ve been teaching across the city ever since.
The goal of the company has always been twofold. One, I want to people experience the joy and passion that brought me to NYC in the first place: music. Two, to give my friends and really talented musicians a source of steady, reliable income while practicing what they love.
Do you have a specific approach to teaching students how to play music?
We teach students to play music in a way that’s similar to how we first learn language. Students are encouraged to play in their own voices, guided by what they hear.
We have students between four years old and eighty, and no matter their age, we try to help them learn music in the way that’s most natural for them. We never want students to feel like music is something that’s pushed on them. And because they learn this way, they come to really enjoy it. That’s the tradition we’re passing down—the love of the craft.
How has your business grown since you joined Thumbtack?
A good friend suggested I try Thumbtack in August of 2016. I had heard about Thumbtack before, it had come up with other musician friends, but I had never actually signed up until then. Our enrollment numbers have doubled from this time last year and a lot of that is from Thumbtack. Thumbtack helped us find a lot of new students—and new students beget new students. Each new personal relationship from Thumbtack becomes a referral network of its own.
These days we have 12 teachers and they work with around 90 students a week. We run on semesters, and every trial we’ve ever provided a new student from Thumbtack has become a full-semester relationship.
What goes into a truly great quote?
Be intuitive when reading the request that’s sent to you. What is the customer really asking for? I have one template so I can get quotes out fast but I change it every time to make it sincere and match the needs of their request. If I can, I insert something personal. For example, a few weeks ago a woman who was looking for lessons for her son mentioned in the request that her son loved rock climbing. I saw they lived in Brooklyn—I actually go to a rock climbing studio in Brooklyn. I mentioned that studio in my request in order to get a conversation going. It’s an easier way of connecting with the customer than just saying, “I can help you.”
What do you think makes your profile stand out?
Include as much visual proof as you can and when you do include writing make sure it’s clear, articulate, and honest. We also include a link to our professional website. It’s a great way to increase credibility at first glance.
Any tips for getting great reviews on Thumbtack?
Do your job very, very well. Provide quality services, be friendly and personable every time you meet, and people won’t hesitate to write you a good review.
Do you use your phone to send quotes?
I’m constantly on the run so I’m answering quotes all day long. You have to be fast in New York. I am amazed at just how quickly quotes go. If you see someone under the age of 18 looking for piano lessons in Manhattan, you know you have minutes to respond.
How do you handle such booming demand?
We’re handling it very well. I just hired a fantastic new violin teacher. I am very picky about who I bring on. I interviewed over a dozen other teachers before I hired her and her, she’s been great.
What’s the key to finding your ideal customer on Thumbtack?
I am very impressed with the number of the families we have found on Thumbtack that are ready to invest in longtime music education for themselves or their children. Those are the students we’re looking for. Thumbtack has helped us develop wonderful ongoing relationships with a lot of amazing New Yorkers from retirees to film directors, fashion designers to politicians.
We often connect with new people on Thumbtack all the time that end up being neighbors, or friends of friends, or peers of current students. It’s a great local networking tool.
Do you have a favorite Thumbtack story?
I try to meet every student’s family, whether or not they are my pupils. A few weeks ago I sat in on a lesson with Krisztina, one of our violin teachers. It was her first lesson with a very enthusiastic four-year-old boy who has a purple violin.
The lesson was a lot of fun and went on for over an hour. We started to say goodbye and as soon as we did, the student’s eyes teared up and his lips began to quiver — he didn’t want the lesson to be over! So we did one more game on the violin and promised to see him again soon.
When I followed up the next day the boy’s mother told us that he started crying again when she told him we wouldn’t be back for another week. Of course, we don’t want to make our students cry, but it does make me really happy to see how thrilled these students get about music and how much they like their teachers.
[Photos compliments of timothymurray.com]