Studio Business Basics
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Every day I'm reminded of how difficult the business end of piano teaching can be. The questions which plague 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 isn't true. I am, at least I like to think I am, a thoughtful, kind, well-meaning teacher and I run a profitable business. I'm also flexible when I choose to be. My business is not suffering.
In the hopes helping teachers, I propose these basics:
Have a website. It's like having a business card in the 21st century. If you want to present a professional appearance, 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 how you run your business before you waste your valuable time trying to talk to them. 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 try showing 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 business. 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 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.
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. 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 truly unusual circumstances, I'm firm about what I charge and how and when it should be paid. I find 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.
You may wonder about becoming a Nationally Certified Teacher in MTNA, or joining your local Music Teachers Organization. If you qualify for these organizations they can have benefits. (I belong to them myself.) However, being part of those organizations isn't much help when Mrs. Johnson looks at you with big sad eyes and asks 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 a big difference. For me it's improved my business, 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.
Finally, if you're serious about having a successful business, try improving your actual teaching by joining teachwithdiane.com. It's a place for teachers to observe first-rate teaching of normal kids learning excellent repertoire, and get tips and pointers that will help you at each and every lesson you teach. Hope to see you there!