When a person starts out a business as a piano technician, getting work can be a bit of a challenge. It would be nice if as a new technician the skills were learned and one day we all of a sudden had a full schedule of work year round. Unfortunately this isn't realistic in most cases. Unless we purchase or inherit the business of a piano technician who is either retiring or relocating, most people need to work hard to acquire the business needed in order to have enough to support themselves as a piano technician.
In most cases because it takes time to build up enough clients to have a sufficient income to depend on, one needs to work into it somewhat gradually by having another career to get them by until a large enough list of clients has been established. There are many methods and ways to accomplish this, but it does take some proactive work. The ways that you advertise will somewhat depend on your skill level. You'll want to make sure that the quality of your work will match with the places that you are trying to market to. For example, someone that is just starting out that has tuned less than 100 pianos in most cases wouldn't want to try to get a contract working on the concert grand piano at a concert hall where they will have concert pianists performing at. I realize this is an extreme example, but it is an illustration to show how you'll want to take this into consideration. When first starting out you'll want to focus not only on getting new customers, but also spend time increasing the quality of your work in regards to tuning, learning some of the repair tasks that will need to be done such as replacing strings and repairing broken parts and dealing with sticking keys which are a common problem. You'll also want to become familiar with at least being able to do some of the more basic regulation procedures.
When the time comes that you are ready to start really focusing on actively building your customer base there are several ways that this can be approached. You'll want to implement several different tasks in order to build your customer base. The first thing you'll want to do is think about where pianos are that need to be serviced in your service area. This usually includes:
- Private Homes
- Nursing Homes
- Concert Venues
- Hotels and Restaurants
You'll then want to think about the different ways to make it known that you offer these services to these different possible sources of new customers. One thing that I found to be beneficial is to have lettering and a logo of my business put on my vehicles. Both mine and my wife's vans have my business name, logo, phone number and website address along with the fact that I do Piano Tuning and Service. I have made the money multiple times over for the cost that I spent on this advertising. You'll also want to remember that as you build your business it can somewhat be a domino effect. Once you start getting customers and you prove that you can do good work for a reasonable price, those customers will most likely pass your name along to others.
Another thing that I did that was successful was to send out letters to all of the churches in my service area. The letter introduced myself as a piano technician, stating the services that I could provide as well as my fee for tuning. In my early days a s a technician I offered a discount to schools and churches knowing that these were valuable clients to have as often they would have more than one piano and the fact that they usually tune more regularly than the average home customer. I could also count on more referral work through these accounts as well.
Schools are another good source of regular tuning. These are sometimes a little more difficult to get into as they usually have a regular technician who they've been using for a long time. But it could be that if your price is lower than the technician that they've been using, then you may be able to get your foot in the door. In Wisconsin, the state school music association has an annual solo and ensemble event where one school will host several area schools where they give an opportunity for students to perform a solo or ensemble for a judge and receive comments and rating for their performance. Most of the time the host school will need 6 to 12 pianos for the event and they will all need to be tuned. What I did when I was starting out was to find out which schools in my area were hosting these contests and send an email to the event coordinator to offer to tune their pianos for a reduced rate for the event. Even though I tuned for a reduced rate, it got my foot in the door and many of the schools continued to use me as their regular technician after that. Often times school districts will contract a technician by accepting bids. In some school districts there is one person in charge of scheduling the piano service work for all of the schools in the district. If you can contact that person and see if they are willing to accept a bid from you to do the work, this is a good way to get in the door.
Another good source is to contact the piano teachers in your area. In many areas there will be a local music teachers association. If you find the website for your local organization, you should be able to get a list of all of the member teachers in the area. Often times you can get their phone numbers and possibly email addresses in order to make a contact. Piano teachers are a very good source of referrals. If you think about most of the pianos that are in homes, the majority of them probably have someone that is taking lessons. Most people will probably ask their piano teacher who to use to tune their piano. Teachers are also good advocates to encourage people to get their pianos tuned as well. What I offered starting out was a referral discount to piano teachers which was a good incentive for the teacher to recommend me as a piano technician. The way that I did it was to offer a 20% discount to the teacher for each new referral. Which means for each referral the teacher sent to me they would get an additional 20% off their own tuning, or in other words it would only take 5 referrals for them to get their piano tuned for free. I certainly didn't mind tuning one piano for free in exchange for getting 5 new customers. Most of the new customers ended up tuning at least somewhat regularly and as I mentioned before, it becomes a domino effect. The more customers you have, the more word-of-mouth referrals you'll get. This is ultimately the best way to get work as you don't really have to do anything to get word-of-mouth referrals. Another place that the referral discount has worked well for me is in churches. I have had a couple of churches who put a blurb in their bulletin when the time for tuning was getting close letting their parishioners know that if they needed their piano tuned to call me and if it was a new customer the church could get the 20% off for each referral. I had one church who would get their piano tuned for free every 6 months using this method and I got 5 new customers every 6 months because of it. It was definitely a win-win for both myself and the church.
I have also advertised on Craigslist. I know that some technicians find this to be controversial, but I really don't see it as any different than advertising in the newspaper or yellow pages, except for the fact that advertising on Craigslist is free. I have to admit that the work that I've gotten through my Craigslist advertising haven't been the best quality pianos, but the way I look at it is tuning a low quality spinet piano pays the same as tuning a concert grand piano and when you're in need of paying work, you'll welcome the work no matter how good the piano is.
Another thing you could consider doing is to offer a class on caring for your piano. This is a class that teaches a piano owner how to best care for their piano. I would discuss things such as the importance of regular maintenance such as tuning, regulation, repair as needed as well as the importance of trying to control the humidity level for the piano either through regulating the humidity level in the room the piano is in or having a humidity control system installed in the piano. As part of the class I give some basic details about how a piano works which aids in helping the piano owners understand the need for the regular maintenance. I had the opportunity to give the class to our local music teachers group which was well received. During the class I let the teachers know that I could offer the class to the students of any of the individual teachers. Piano teachers know that if the students will practice more as well as be more productive in their practice if they have a piano that is in tune and functions better.
Of course having professional looking business cards is an important way to gain new business. You'll want to make sure that you have these available at all times. I always make sure that when I get done tuning a piano that my customer has one or more of my business cards so that they can have an easy way to keep my contact information when they need something. I usually leave a card in the piano bench for easy access to my information. I also offer to give the customer a few extra cards in case they know anyone else who may be looking for a technician. Many times they are glad to pass my name along when the opportunity comes up.
You'll also want to keep good records of your customers as to when you tuned their piano last so you can follow-up when it is time to tune their piano again. In many cases people won't remember when it is time to tune their piano, but are glad to get a reminder call when the time comes around. This is also a good way to keep your schedule more full. I have found that most people will let 2 or 3 years go by before they think, "I think it's been awhile since my piano was tuned last". If they get a reminder call after a year, they are likely to schedule when they get the reminder call. Obviously you'll have a lot more work if most of your customers have their piano tuned once a year as opposed to every two or three years when they finally think about it.
Having enough work as a piano technician does take some effort, but with some proactive efforts a new technician should be able to build their clientele. Below is a video where I discuss many of these concepts.