Michelle Maves has been teaching piano and voice lessons since she was in college. She’s moved a couple of times since then, launched an acting career and got married. But one thing hasn’t changed — she’s still a teacher. Today, Michelle and her husband run their own small school in New York City, teaching music and test prep to students of all ages.
We caught up with Michelle to hear more about her Top Pro business, her eight 8+ years using Thumbtack, and how Instant Match has made finding new customers that much easier.
How long have you been teaching music?
I started teaching while I was in college in Chicago. I was a performing arts major and there was a school nearby where I taught voice and piano. I moved to Los Angeles with my husband who was in film school and continued teaching lessons on the side. When we moved to New York my business expanded really fast. When I couldn’t take on more students I turned to my husband (who moonlighted as a test prep tutor) and said: “Why don’t we start a real business?”
Teaching is both of our full-time jobs now. We backed off of other jobs as we got more and more customers, and hired two other instructors to help with overflow. Things grew really organically from there.
How has your business changed since you started teaching?
We create really strong lessons that are individual to each student — and we can really only do that now, because we have so many wonderful teachers to pull from. We have as many as fifteen teachers on staff when the school year is in swing.
Hiring has been a lesson for us. We have to make sure that our teachers are great musicians and can connect with the students. They have to be professional, reliable, engaging and good at what they do. We hire instructors for both tutoring and music, and even though they are very different disciplines, what we’re looking for is very much the same.
When did you first find Thumbtack?
I found Thumbtack while searching for gigs online — that was years and years ago. My husband and I set up Thumbtack profiles when we moved to New York in 2009 to find new customers. Nothing we were using to advertise online was panning out and we had to totally rebuild our client base. Starting Thumbtack, it was like something clicked. As soon as we got our first few reviews, business started flowing in.
Any tips for other pros on getting hired?
Personalize your profile. We include photos from lessons and recitals to show that we’re a fun service — lots of happy, smiling faces. I think people are willing to give a new business a chance if they feel like they can connect with you. They need to see why are you different. You need to answer the question: Why should you be the one to work with me or my child?
Get reviews, even if they aren’t verified (reviews from customers who aren’t on Thumbtack — you can get up to ten). And don’t just ask people to say nice things — get a review that’s a real story. The reviews people can connect to are the ones that tell a detailed story about what it’s like to work with you.
Do you have any advice for following up with customers?
If someone reaches out to you, get back to them right away. Even when the client has agreed to hire you, when you think a sure thing. If you don’t get back fast you can assume they’re looking for another option. We train all of our instructors to be super responsive as well.
Any tips for pros getting started on Instant Match?
These days, your profile is the main way to get in front of customers. Take time making a good one. Include a headshot and make sure you look professional and happy. Especially in my industry — where you’re working with kids — people want to see who you are.
Also, now that I connect with a customer for the first time when they reach out to me, I really focus on following up. They might not read all of the details in the quote that was sent, and you want to add a personalized touch.
How do you think about setting your prices on Thumbtack?
Our prices are pretty consistent. They’ve gone up a lot since I started teaching because I have more experience and we’re in New York where the market for our service is hot. We aim for mid-range requests and it’s pretty consistent pricing for our type of music lessons. We have a set rate and a travel radius.
Would you suggest Instant Match to other professionals on Thumbtack?
Piano and SAT/ACT tutoring are competitive categories. There were lots of times where I missed quotes because I was teaching or in my car, or at a movie living my life. Now I know that my quotes are getting in every time and that they’re going out to the jobs I control for.
Do you have a favorite Thumbtack story?
Recitals are one of my favorite parts of the business. I love my students so much and it’s such a treat to see them all together and witness the progress they’ve made over the course of a year. We have students now who have been with us since 2010 — that’s a long time! We see kids go from playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to pop music that they hear on the radio. It’s exciting to see my students become real performers.