We were lucky to catch up with Stephen Carrington recently and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Stephen, thanks for joining us today. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I was able to withstand the initial rounds of layoffs when the Great Recession first started, but after a couple of years my employer at the time ended up going out of business…and so I was left to fend for myself, right as the biggest recession in generations got into full swing. After witnessing the layoffs and the state of the company, I had been trying to secure some sort of alternative employment…but I had been coming up empty-handed in the job search, and so when I ultimately became out of work I had to acknowledge that continuing to just submit job applications and trying to follow the traditional employment route was not resulting in any success. I needed to find a solution that was more appropriate for me, and I kind of needed to hurry with it as well. All my life I’ve loved music, and specifically music education, and so I thought that guitar lessons might be a good possibility for me. I try not to put all of my eggs in one basket, and so I also started polishing my web design skills (which were practically nonexistent at the time) with the hopes of also being able to offer that service as well, in case the guitar lessons didn’t bring in enough. I also began offering audio engineering services (a hobby of mine for many years) to help fill in any gaps when I didn’t have lessons—I got in pretty early with the concept of the “gig economy”—and polished skills in all of those areas for several years as the fledgling businesses started to grow. But my student roster for my lessons program kept growing fastest every year, and so even though I never actually was able to launch a web services company like I had intended, I did end up using those skills and that infrastructure to design and host my lessons website (and I use my engineering skills often to create audio and video content that’s been very helpful to my lessons business). I guess what gets me most excited now about work every day is the fact that I was able to combine so many of my passions into a single thing, and then call it “my job.”
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Stephen Carrington, and I own and operate Stephen’s Guitar Lessons out of Marietta, Georgia. I offer private guitar lessons online and in person, and I also have a merch store with a lot of helpful tools for guitarists (and some t-shirts and stickers, too!) that I’ve created. I’m proud to be one of the longest-running independent guitar instructors in the metro Atlanta area, and I feel confident that few (if any) other music teachers offer such high-quality instruction, plus the “he’s thought of everything” level of support and service, as well as the bonuses/freebies/extras/et cetera that I provide for my students every day.
How’d you build such a strong reputation within your market?
My reputation in my market came pretty much from word of mouth from happy, satisfied students (and their parents, in the case of school-age students). For a while, the only “advertising” that I did besides having a website was having a Craiglist ad; I eventually had profiles on several social media sites and all the lesson-specific sites that I could find, but one of the biggest sources of contacts that I’ve had—and certainly this was true in the beginning—has always been the good reviews and positive experiences that my students have had, and the folks that they’ve told about my lessons program.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
I think the onset of the pandemic really directed a spotlight on many people’s resilience, and I know it certainly highlighted it for me. Prior to the first wave of shutdowns back in March of 2020, I had been giving lessons in person almost exclusively; I really only had one student who occasionally wanted to do a lesson via Skype when it was more convenient due to their work, and I technically offered it as an option for anyone else. But because it wasn’t an ideal service to use for online lessons—and because I hadn’t taken the time to tweak and fine-tune everything as much as possible on my end to provide the best possible experience for the student, since I was only using it as an occasional stop-gap measure—I didn’t encourage it or promote it much. And then after I realized that things were not, in fact, going to go back to normal after a couple of weeks, I knew that I needed to up my game with online lessons—and fast. I quickly took stock of my existing audio gear, and cobbled together the necessary equipment for pro-grade audio reproduction, capturing and transmission. I spent hours researching all of the connection options I could find, and then I spent even more time testing out and experimenting with any of them that seemed promising for use with online lessons. Soon I was able to offer a world-class experience for online students, and even now while I’m again offering in-person lessons for vaccinated students I still have more online students than in-person. I’ve even had students that were taking lessons in person before the pandemic, that switched to online that have decided to continue with online lessons even once I again began offering the same high quality in-person lessons as before—they’ve found that they like the convenience of online, and they know that I’ve gone to great lengths to provide an almost-equivalent experience for all of my students, regardless of whether they are online or in person. So I think that being able to take the service that I had spent almost a decade perfecting, and then make some very substantial changes to how it’s delivered (and with those changes being a bit different from what I normally encounter), shows a good bit of resilience. I kind of surprised myself with how well I was able to take those undesired circumstances and use them to make my business even better, and to better serve my students.
- Website: https://www.stephensguitarlessons.com/
- Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/stephensguitarlessons/
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Stephens-Guitar-Lessons/157591354299056
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephensGtrLsns
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClj2eOZ8O3yXQ-fhfeNmuqw/videos?view=0&sort=dd&shelf_id=0
Kris Hale Jerry Hale Elizabeth Porritt Carrington