Summer is here and that means vacations! For everyone else. Summer is often the most dreaded time of year for music teachers. Why? Well our students leave! That’s a lot of lost income, and unfortunately most teachers just let it happen. There are ways to handle this problem, or at least minimize the damages. So let’s go through some options every teacher should consider.
1. Bill By Semester
Do you charge for lessons by the month, or even worse, by the week? Try experimenting with charging for an entire semester up front. In this way they would owe for the summer semester or they would lose their spot come the fall. Often students that have been with you for a long time don’t want to lose you. Let them know you don’t want to lose them as students either, but that you can only guarantee that they can continue with you in the fall if they continue with lessons through the summer.
Although there are people that go on vacation literally all summer, it’s rare. Most of the time there are vacations here and there and they could easily have quite a few lessons. But they just don’t want to deal with it, so they quit for the entire summer, often never to come back. Billing by semester can alleviate this problem, by encouraging them to continue through their vacations.
2. Bill for the Year
Similarly to billing for the semester is billing for the year. Calculate how many lessons you plan on teaching in the year excluding holidays and maybe a couple of weeks for the summer and make a regular monthly bill. So as an example if you think 40 lessons a year is reasonable and you charge $50/lesson, you would multiply $50 by 40 lessons and get your students yearly income of $2000. Then divide it by 12, which would be about $166/month. Then require that when they sign up they either pay the $2000 outright, or they pay $166/month, every month. That way in the summer they may be taking fewer lessons, but you receive the same income.
It’s very important to make sure you are very clear about this type of billing, because it can be confusing. Show them that you are billing for a year’s worth of lessons, and they are just paying for those lessons in installments. Show them a calendar with all of the days you plan on teaching. Make sure this is clear up front, so when you or they miss a couple lessons in a month and they owe the same amount as always there is no confusion.
3. Summer Music Camp
Kids don’t just play all summer. Often their parents want to get them in extra programs because they have so much free time. This is where summer music camp can come into play. Plan a week where you have group classes, music appreciation, theory, and recitals. It can be extremely fun for students and can actually be an extra income stream for you! Plan on a few hours a day for about a week. Invite all of your students and try to join with other teacher’s students to minimize your load.
Camp can be so fun and rewarding, and you can charge quite a bit to make it worth it to you. Beyond the income you receive from the camp itself though, you’ll realize that it gets students to want to continue their lessons even after the camp is finished. Your retention rate will go through the roof. It can be a challenge to plan and organize, but the results will definitely make up for your work. If you own a commercial studio, or work at one, that is likely your best bet for venue. Be creative. There are plenty of places you can hold camps like these including local churches. Roll in your costs of venue into the price for the camp.
4. Get New Students
One way to make sure your income doesn’t drop during the summer months is to recruit more students. Although you may see a dip in your current students from June through August, maybe you didn’t realize that those months are also the months that most NEW students sign up. That’s right. A lot of parents want to sign their kids up for lessons over the summer. Even if your studio is full when late May or June hit, start advertising. You know some students will likely drop off for the summer, so if late May you can sign up two or three new ones you can keep the income you would have lost.
5. Free Group Classes
I know as teachers that get paid for our time the notion of “free” is not that appealing. But if you can offer a free group class, you’ll be surprised at how high your signups will be. These group classes are extremely attractive for the summer because parents want to get their kids into more activities. Once the group class is over, you can sell them on private lessons.
Recently we signed my three-year-old daughter up for ice skating classes through our city. It was free. She had four group classes and she loved it! After the last class the teacher handed out a $10/off coupon for signing up with private lessons, and she approached us directly saying she would like our daughter to continue with private lessons. This was absolutely never our plan. But now all the sudden our daughter is in weekly ice skating lessons. If they would have advertised to us before, we never would have signed up. But because they got us in the door and taking a few free classes, here we are for who knows how long paying for ice skating. As music teachers we should try applying this same marketing principal as often as possible!.
6. Start a New “Program”
Make the summer lessons sound different than lessons during the school year. Perhaps you could work more on sight reading and ear training than you normally do. Give this program a name like “Summer Sight Reading” and tell the parents what the outcome will be at the end of your 8 week course. Make up an awesome flyer and the cost of the lessons. It could just be the same cost of a normal 8 lessons, or you could discount it. These may be very similar to your normal lessons with just a little more focus on one particular topic. Framing the lessons in this way though can make the child and parent feel like it’s special and they need to stick around to get your special course.
Make a certificate for when they “graduate”. Make different levels for students that did it last year.
7. Encourage More Practice Throughout the Year
This could easily be an entire blog post, or even book by itself. But your most serious students will stay with you through the summer. Why? Because they are actually looking to learn and play well. The question then becomes how do you get your students to be serious? Well they need to practice more. How do you get students to practice more? For one thing try to encourage them to take lessons more often. Students that take lessons more than once a week are likely your most serious students. Try to encourage this. Even if they are not practicing, that extra lesson where you can practice with them can be invaluable.
Ok this one is not actually a way to keep your students. But if all else fails and you still lose students and income, you should have a budget. Well, you should always have a budget, but this is a good incentive to actually make one. I know what you’re thinking “I can’t budget, my income is all over the place.” or “I’ve tried budgeting before and it doesn’t work.” Honestly, you probably weren’t doing it right.
Let’s avoid the excel spreadsheet this time. Use some specific budgeting software. My favorite is YNAB. It’s not my place here to explain exactly how you should be budgeting, but YNAB makes it easy. I would suggest reading everything on their site about how to budget just in general, and you’ll get a better idea as to what you’re doing.
When you budget, even if you don’t bill by the year, you can budget that way. You get paid more during the school year, so you allocate some of that money for months where you get paid less. It works. I promise. Try it out!
Summer doesn’t have to ruin you. You just have to be proactive about it. Commit now to being different this summer and making some changes that will not only help your pocket book, but also your students. Because we all know the benefits of music lessons, and it would be a shame for your students to miss out on those benefits over the summer.