I, like most studio teachers I know, am in this job because enjoy teaching children beautiful music. When I’m not in the music studio teaching, I love planning lessons, reading teaching books and blogs, and hunting for resources for my students. But several years ago, as my teaching studio grew, I found myself spending less time on improving my teaching and increasingly more time on emailing parents. Particularly when recital or re-enrollment time came around, I grew frustrated with how much time I spent keeping my studio families in the loop with important information. That’s when I heard about MailChimp.
Mailchimp: the best email wrangler.
I LOVE Mailchimp! Mailchimp is an email marketing platform that allows you to bulk email a bunch of people and save those emails in a list. Unlike the similar but fancier product, Constant Contact, Mailchimp is free forever as long as you have fewer than 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails per month. I think the most I have ever had on my list is 40 email addresses, so I am well within that limit! I have found it very user-friendly and easy to get started with. I’d estimate that in weeks when I have to send an email to my studio families, Mailchimp saves me at least 30 minutes per email. That might not sound like much, but if you consider how many emails you send over the course of the semester, it really adds up.
How Mailchimp Works:
When you register with Mailchimp, you can either create a new email list of your studio parents or, if you are Excel savvy, you can import them from a spreadsheet. Since I tend to see some turnover at the beginning of each semester, I do an update of my list before the first day of the new semester. If I get new students (or if parents want me to add or update an email), I can always go in and change things, but I do like to double-check that all my families are on the list right at the beginning. When creating a list, you need to have a “reply to” field where people can -you guessed it- reply to any email that you send.
I never have to type a bunch individual email addresses into an email “To:” line again! Instead, I created a list of my studio families and then I draft the email right within Mailchimp and it sends it to all of my studio families automatically. My absolute favorite thing about using Mailchimp, is, that each parent response generates a new email. This might seem like a little thing, but I used to get these behemoth email threads when I sent a group email in Gmail. Now it is much easier to track down and respond to individual questions without having to sift through the thread. Such a time and sanity saver!
I love being able to schedule emails. This comes in super handy for recital reminders. Or if I know the school will be closed for a holiday such as Labor Day, I will schedule that email for the week before so my families get a little extra reminder the day before, and I don’t have to tend to emails on the holiday weekend. Barbecue saved!
Keeping In Touch with Busy Parents
In my private studio, there are a few who struggle to stay on top of all their kid’s activities and who don’t respond to (or even check!) my emails. With my older students, I may not see their parents every week, so when I send an important notice about an upcoming recital or a deadline to pay their bill, I want to make sure they are getting that information. If I send an email about the recital, Mailchimp allows me to easily see who has not opened that email. If I know a parent hasn’t checked their email, I can follow up with a phone call or a note. Mailchimp also has an option to automatically resend an email to people who haven’t opened it after a certain date.
Here is an example of one of my recent “Campaigns”. Mailchimp has many nice-looking drag-and-drop email templates, or you can stick with a simpler format. I enjoy making my emails look nice, and it impresses upon studio families a sense of professionalism and organization (very important in this age where some parents think of music lessons as insubstantial “fluff”!). Also, since the information in the email is spread out over different areas, it is much easier to highlight important info without resorting to ALL CAPS YELLING. In my regular studio emails, I use the sidebar to list the whole semester schedule with recital dates, so a parent can see at a glance what is coming up. With the prevalence of social media in our lives, people are used to interacting with data in a visual way, so pictures and good design help to get the message across.
In addition to using my email list to stay in touch about important dates and deadlines, I use my email newsletter to share student kudos and encourage my studio families to attend concerts in our area. Many parents eager to encourage their children will ask me to share with them concerts that are family-friendly, and my email newsletter is a great place to do so. If I have students who have recently been accepted into honors orchestras, All-Suburban, or have done especially well on a studio practice challenge, I will highlight those achievements in an email. This is very exciting and affirming for my students who have worked hard.
I’ve had no real technical problems with Mailchimp, and I’ve been using it regularly for four years now. Do keep in mind, if you use a @gmail.com email address as your “reply to” address, there is now a known issue with Gmail filtering these emails as SPAM. I just went ahead and purchased a $5/month email domain name (so it’s now firstname.lastname@example.org), at Mailchimp’s suggestion. This fixed the potential problem and I figure it’s worth the price of a Venti Latte once a month to avoid all the email headaches I used to deal with. You will also want to ask your new studio families who use Gmail to check their “promotions” tab to ensure they aren’t losing your emails amidst a slew of Target coupons.
That’s the nuts-and-bolts of how I keep on top of communication with my studio families. How do you keep in touch?