Interview with
Drew Buzzell

Drew Buzzell | Owner
Lessons By Drew


Q: Why did you start your business?

A: I started my teaching business because I was homeless. I had invested some money in a different business that ultimately didn't go the way I wanted it to and I had several other financial blows come at the same time (lost my roommate, got fired, etc).

I had played guitar for years, but never considered teaching until it was my only way to put food in my mouth and pay my friends who were letting me crash on their couches a small pittance. As the months went by, I got better at teaching, discovered I loved it, and decided to pursue it full-time.

Q: What are some key factors or decisions that contributed to the success of your business?

A: There was a lot of competition so I did a lot of research into what other people charged, what their marketing and online presence was like, and looked for holes in the market.

Ultimately, the biggest factor was thinking back to what I disliked most about the guitar lessons I had taken in the past. Frequently I had teachers who would tell me I was wasting their time if I didn't practice 3+ hours a day. I was studying music in school, but I was also working and studying for other classes, so sometimes it wasn't possible. I resented the implication that I didn't care just because I got busy sometimes. I figured there were probably tons of people who were interested in guitar, but didn't want someone guilt-tripping them every time life got in the way. This led to my initial marketing scheme which was to market laid-back guitar lessons with a teacher who didn't care if you practiced. I developed very efficient exercises and techniques for helping people master the basics, even if they only put in 10-15 minutes a day and I structured the lesson time so that they would have a chance to practice and learn every week, even if they weren't able to put in any time on their own. I made sure their expectations were set correctly (that it would take longer to get where they wanted to if they couldn't practice), but I promised them gradual progress and a stress-free environment.

My plan was to market to highly paid professionals who didn't mind paying a premium for great customer service and a teacher that would put their enjoyment of the instrument over any arbitrary goals. Eventually when I could afford to, I moved to the financial district of downtown Los Angeles where the majority of my clients came from. These days I charge more than most other teachers in town and I am one of the highest rated teachers as well.

Q: What are some challenging aspects of your business?

A: The very thing that makes my business succeed is also the thing that makes it difficult.

Helping people progress when they don't have time to practice during the week is incredibly difficult. I am constantly experimenting with new teaching methods and ways of deconstructing the movements to help people learn more in short periods of time. On the other side of that is keeping them motivated. They know what to expect from our first lesson, and they know that progress is a function of time, but people still get discouraged when they perceive themselves as having worked at something for a while, but they haven't accomplished what they want to yet (even if they have put in relatively few hours). So I have to find and emphasize the little wins.

It's difficult, but it can pay off. I had a student who literally never touched the guitar outside of our lessons. He was a workaholic and traveled all the time, but he came to our lessons almost every week and I put him through the paces. It took him much longer than a student who could practice 30-60 minutes a day to learn the song he wanted to learn, but he eventually got it and that success was a huge moment for both of us.

Q: Do you feel you made any serious mistakes as you were starting or growing your business? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

A: Honestly, I probably would have charged more, sooner. I was creating a premium service, but I was scared to bill myself, a new teacher, in the leagues of the more experienced people in town, even though I felt that I was better than some of them.

Raising my prices added tremendously to the perceived value of the lessons and brought me more reliable, higher quality students (in terms of commitment and consistency).

Q: What other advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?

A: I constantly have friends tell me they would like to control their schedule and make the hourly rate that I do, but they just aren't willing to put in the work up front.

If you have something that you want to create for people, or a service or product you want to share, there's no reason you can't do it. The expertise you don't have, you will seek out. You just have to be willing to get through those initial scary steps where you aren't sure of what you're doing.

About Lessons By Drew

"I had played guitar for years, but never considered teaching until it was my only way to put food in my mouth and pay my friends who were letting me crash on their couches a small pittance."—Drew Buzzell