Studio Business Basics
Every day I am reminded of how difficult the business end of piano teaching is for teachers. The questions which plague the thoughtful, kind, well-meaning teachers make me sad. Underlying it all is the idea that if we're really good people, we need to be accommodating, if not down-right inept business people. This is untrue. I am, at least I like to think I am, a thoughtful, kind, well-meaning teacher and I run a profitable business. I am also flexible when I choose to be, but my business is not suffering from my clarity and business-prowess. In the hopes of a few more teachers asking a few less questions, I propose these basics:
- Have a website. It's like having a business card in the 21st century. You must present a professional appearance and that's the first step. Having a website allows you to put things like your studio policy out for the world to see. People can see what your business entails before you waste your time trying to talk to them only to find out that they don't want to play by your rules. This in and of itself will save you time and money.
- Have a studio policy. Post it on your website. If you are uncomfortable talking about money, you can also post all your tuition information there so that the prospective students can know exactly what their lessons will cost before you speak to them face-to-face. I do not do this, mostly for reasons of privacy, but I know many teachers who find it helpful. You can look at my policy here. Yours will be different, but should be equally clear. Before you post it, you might show it to a parent of a current student to see if it feels right to them. You may find a long-time parent not only supportive, but helpful in pointing might out ways in which your wording is wobbly or unclear. Your policy must include information on payment, cancellation and make-up policies (I suggest a swap list instead) and your expectations of parents and students.
- Use a billing service. The service I use is Music Teachers Helper. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Though it won't solve all your problems, it can make many of them have quick and easy solutions in a matter of hours. First of all, a website is part of the package. You can set up your own professional-looking website in an hour using their tasteful and easy-to-use templates. I used their website for years before I expanded my personal website into the site you are looking at today. If you already have your own website, you can simply link it to theirs and continue using your own. I continue to think their service is a great value even though I only use it three times a year for billing. (I use its email feature regularly to email my students.) I bill my students by the semester, so I don't use many of the features they provide such as automatic invoicing. It's still worth it. Every time I send out those professional-looking invoices I feel so, well, professional. Here's an example:
I like being able to do invoicing like this via email. Adding a personal note to each invoice helps make it both business-like and warm. These details are easy to accomplish with this program.
- Charge more than you think you should. Don't even think about giving discounts. I cannot tell you how ridiculous it is to think that other people's financial problems should be reflected in what you charge for your services. To be clear, there are times when I am more flexible with families than other times. But let me give you an idea what I mean. When one of my young students recently developed a worrisome mass on her brain and missed numerous lessons during the school year for traumatic medical appointments, I broke my own rule of no make-up lessons and let them take as many of those lessons as they could fit in during the summer. That's the kind of flexibility I'm talking about. Other than that kind of thing, I'm really firm about what I charge and how and when it should be paid. I find that I'm much more understanding about my student's exotic trips to Hong Kong and cruises up the Nile when I feel like I'm being well paid for my work.
I see a lot of talk about becoming a Nationally Certified Teacher in MTNA, or joining your local Music Teachers Organization. I encourage you to do that. I belong to those organizations, and applaud much of what they do. However, being part of those organizations won't do much when Mrs. Johnson looks at you with big sad eyes and tells you that she wonders if you ever, ever give discounts.Then it's up to you. Having the back-up of a respectable website and invoicing software may make all the difference. For me it's improved my business, clarified my relationship with my students, and helped me make more money. You can try Music Teachers Helper for 30 days for free, so give it a try and play around with it. That's what I did. If you don't like it, you haven't spent a penny. If you do, you'll be glad that you found a new business partner.
Be brave and give it a try!
Curious what's on my wish list?