When Should I Start Charging for my Piano Tunings?

How to make money tuning pianos

This question is thanks to Breanne who asked,

“With the 20 hour basic course, is that sufficient to start tuning locally? Or is the 3 different tuning classes for a total of 60 hours required for a certificate? [In other words, when is one] able to commence being an independent contractor and seek their own clients?
Thanks for your help,
Breanne”

Of course, an excellent question for anyone thinking of making some money tuning pianos.

First, the 20 hour course you refer to is the basic course I offer. I used to say “it is basically everything I learned in my first two years of learning to tune pianos”, but recently I have changed my focus. Now I am teaching all the best stuff I learned in my first two years, ignoring the stuff that I later had to unlearn, and replacing it with advanced techniques that I feel beginners are capable of learning. My philosophy is, if you want to learn how to tune a piano, you might as well learn the best way first, even if it may be a little more challenging, rather than learn a quick method that produces mediocre results, and then have to unlearn it, in order to learn a better technique in order to get better tunings.

Having said that, you will receive a certificate after each course you take from me. You can put it on your wall, share it with others, whatever you like. However, in piano tuning, the real credentials you have, are your tunings. A dealer or residential customer may give you a chance based on some evidence of training (although most of your referrals will be word of mouth) but it will be up to you, not the certificate, to get you a chance to tune the piano a second time.

Now, let’s talk about the main question, when to start making money.

First, we have to identify two schools of thought here. The answer lies somewhere between “never” and “tomorrow”.

The “Never School”, (I’m being facetious here), believes that one should never go out into the real world and begin charging for their services until they have an exceptional and impressive level of skill. At first glance, these naysayers may seem to be protecting their turf, but in reality, they have a point. If one begins to tune at a low level of ability, they may spread their name as a mediocre tuner and all high level pianists, concert halls, etc, will get that impression and think twice about calling you up for a tuning service. The downside of this approach is that one must spend tens of thousands of dollars and years in training before they get a chance to work in the field.

The “Tomorrow School”, (again facetious), says “go out as soon as possible and learn on the job. This way, you can begin making money sooner to fund your training.” Of course, the danger is that your reputation will be ruined, and you will have to work hard to undo that image.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere between “never” and “tomorrow”. But with a little thought, one can present themselves in an accurate light so they do not over represent themselves, ruining their reputation, but instead, provide exceptional service and leave customers passing on your name to others, no matter what skill level you are at..

There are three things to think about when deciding if it’s time for you to start charging:

Your Skill.
You need to have a clear idea of how good a tuner you are if you are going to represent yourself as being able to do a specific job to the level required. One truth that holds true is that “You are never as good as you think you are.” I think back on the level of tunings I used to do and my assessment of my own skill level, and I am almost embarrassed. Perhaps I will feel the same way in twenty years about my own assessment of my skill level today. Hopefully that divide between self-impression and self-actual skill level gets smaller as we grow.

Your Customer’s Expectations.
Of course, knowing what your customer expects will help you decide, coupled with your knowledge of your own skill, whether or not you are able to do the job. Here, knowing your customer is of extreme importance. This means Communication. When a new customer calls me, I am just as much interviewing them, as they are interviewing me. It is always possible that I may suggest they call someone else if I feel I cannot meet or exceed their expectations.

Your Price
While some technicians and experts suggest you should not charge a low fee, ever, because you will have a hard time keeping customers as you raise your prices, and people will make assumptions about your ability, it is only ethical to charge a fee that represents your current skill level. Your clientele will change as you get better and you begin to charge more. That’s ok. And in this way, you can get the on the job training that will help you get better.

Putting It All Together

In an ideal world, you would have a certain skill level and that skill level would be represented by your price. Customers would know what level you are at, by your price, and would hire you to do the job at that level, which you would be capable of doing because your skill level would match the price you are charging. You would perform the job at that level and the customer would be happy and would recommend you to their friends.

Your Price matches Your Skill
Your Customer’s Expectations are determined by Your Price
Your Customer’s Expectations are met by Your Skill

Another way to write this is:

Price = Skill
Customer’s Expectations = Price
Customer’s Expectations = Skill

In reality, of course, assumptions are made that are more or less accurate. In order to have a better chance of performing work that meets your customer’s satisfaction, one should err on the side of caution.

For example, it would be prudent to choose a price that allows you to exceed your customer’s expectation of your skill

Expressed as inequalities:

Price < Skill
I.e. you underrepresent your skills by charging a lower price. This sets up a chance for you to over-deliver.

Customer’s Expectations = Price
The customer still makes an assumption about your skill based on the price you charge.

But, because Price < Skill:

Customer’s Expectations < Skill
And you are able to over-deliver.

The chart below shows the relationship between these three elements.

When should I start charging for my piano tunings

For any skill level, there is a range of prices that provides the opportunity for you to over deliver. One tricky part is making sure the customer realizes that your price represents your skill level, and not that they are somehow getting a great deal and as such, expect more than the price would suggest.

Notice however, that the lower your skill level, the greater the chance of over representing yourself. That is a real danger.

However, if you wait until your skill level is high, this results in a much lower chance of over representing yourself because you will exceed your customer’s expectations most of the time.

So, armed with these new perspectives, I hope you feel more confident to not only be able to decide if you are ready to begin charging for your tunings, but also, how to go about it, if you decide to do it.

Good luck and I hope whatever you decide, your reputation continues to grow and you build a strong and profitable customer base.

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