Your musical knowledge, teaching ability, and marketing skills all play central roles in allowing you the opportunity to teach music. Without them, there would be no students, and no personal reward in working with them.
However, scheduling is the center of making a teaching business function smoothly. Whether you work with kids or adults, everybody these days has full schedules — work, family, school, sports, and more. Below are six elements to consider when thinking about scheduling lessons and classes in your studio.
Now, for the details!
An “eminder” is an email reminder, the kind that Music Teachers Helper sends out automatically (if you set it up right — see below) when students have lessons scheduled. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are using this word, but since I haven’t personally seen this it before, maybe I’ve coined a nice new word!
With eminders going out the day before each student’s lesson, I am comfortable knowing that students have no excuse for missing a lesson, and can stick with policies about scheduling and payments.
If you haven’t already, be sure to set up eminders for your calendar events. At the upper right of the MTH screen, click on Settings. The fourth tab over is for “Email Notifications”. Here you can check the box for “Remind my students of scheduled events” and check off the boxes for the categories of events that should send out eminders. (When you create a new event on your calendar, there is a link at the right of the Category box to “Edit Categories” if you want to add or change categories.)
2. Open Slots
It is very helpful to create a category called “Available”, with a light and unobtrusive color. You can use this category to create calendar events marking times when you have open lesson slots. This way students can see for themselves when they could schedule a lesson. You should mark the event “For All Students” at the top of the “Add New Event” screen. Then choose “Require students to register to attend this event”. That will allow students to click on the Available slot and register themselves for a lesson. You’ll get an email about it and can confirm or adjust the time with them as needed.
Make sure you consolidate your available time slots to fit within reasonable blocks of time, and at consistent locations if you teach in more than one place. You can expand your time blocks if your studio expands, but think carefully about your own schedule. For example, I don’t teach on Tuesdays not only because it helps me to have that day off, but also so that when Monday holidays come, I can move my Monday students to Tuesdays.
You can also, if you wish, create a fake student, in my case called “Just Visiting” and on the website you can publicize a simple username/password for this fake student. This will allow prospective students to log in and see only the Available slots. They can even register for them. Caution: if you do this, make it clear that they must include their name and contact number so you know who they are, or encourage them to Register in order to get more information.
3. Clear Policies
State publicly on your MTH website what your scheduling policies are: You will need a minimum of time in order to confirm a lesson, probably at least 24 hours unless they phone you.
You need to make clear your cancellation policies as well. There are two parts to this: one is about payment for cancelled lessons; the other is about defining when a lesson is actually cancelled. I will cite my policies by way of example. If people pay in advance or for a month of lessons (I offer a discount rate for this), they reserve their time slots so they are not available to anyone else. They don’t get credit for cancelling a lesson, but (see “flexibility” below) I try to offer a makeup within 30 days, if convenient for all parties. This is in addition to scheduled lessons (or if time, could be added to a scheduled lesson). If people pay full price for a single lesson, I let them cancel a day in advance without charge, but if cancelled the same day (for any reason — I don’t want to have to hear or judge anybody’s excuses!) I charge half price; if cancelled within an hour of the lesson, or if there’s no notice at all, I charge full price. I plan my day around teaching, so if I don’t get notice of cancellation by the end of the previous day (not precisely 24 hours!), it can’t mess up my day, so I charge for this. If a student cancels or postpones often, I schedule them at the beginning or end of my schedule, so I know not to count on them.
The second part of cancellation policy is defining when there actually is a cancellation. I require that either people do it on the MTH calendar (I know I’ll receive the message quickly), by phone or by email. Unless they call and actually speak with me, I only count the cancellation time from when I actually receive their message — so that’s either an MTH cancellation, or a confirming email from me back to them to show that I received their message. I’m firm about this and spell it out in my online MTH policies, because I don’t want people claiming they cancelled in time and that the email or phone message didn’t get throught, etc. I teach sometimes at a school but require cancellations to be emailed or phoned to me personally because if sent to the school, I won’t get the message in time.
You want to have students, and they want to learn. Some flexibility needs to be used, depending on the student, to keep your relationship going. However, given that many people today pack their weekly schedules and feel pressured by schools or coaches to give priority to nonmusical pursuits, you really have to set your schedule and ask students to make their choices and priorities for themselves. It’s very difficult to play phone or email tag as you try to accommodate everybody’s changing schedules. When setting up a class, as opposed to private lessons, the same dynamic occurs. You can spend all your time accommodating people in order to pull together a group for a class (and I’ve done that!) or you can make your best guess based on student preferences, and set a firm schedule, with the understanding that the class won’t run if there aren’t enough students. Some willingness to be flexible with your schedule is much appreciated, however, by students. You just have to be careful about those who take advantage of flexibility to switch things around frequently.
When there are cancellations, it’s possible and helpful to have some flexibility about makeups and payments, especially when reliable students are involved, but it’s a bad idea to allow your flexibility to be based on excuses for absence, even when they involve sickness, accidents, and the like. You just can’t set yourself up as judge, or you’ll encourage students to come up with excuses. It’s good to be aware to some extent of your students’ lives and demands, but keep in mind that their own lives and schedules are pretty much out of your control. That’s why my policies include a charge for situations where people cancel the same day for ANY reason, whether an illness or a picnic!
Without some level of firmness, your policies are meaningless. Students appreciate this. It’s fair. Stating your policies publicly online on your MTH website, linking student to those policies from time to time (especially if you make any changes), and even printing them out and having students initial it to show that you’re all on the same page, are all good moves to help students take your policies seriously. If you make exceptions, try to make clear that they are for educational reasons.
Music Teachers Helper’s online calendar is critical to making your schedule accessible to both yourself and your students. Its transparency creates trust and backs up your policies with accessible information.
To make your scheduling successful, you need to be accessible, whether via email, phone, or via MTH. I recommend bucking the trend and answering every email promptly, even if only with a brief “I’ll get back to you” type of response.
In addition, by using the File Area of MTH or other online materials you may have, you make learning accessible to students even when scheduling doesn’t work out so well. For example, for students who can’t attend a class of mine, they still know they will have access via the File Area of sheet music and recordings for music we worked on in class.
Those are a few key elements to successful scheduling. It’s not a precise science, and is wrapped up in the relationships you build with your students, but by using eminders, online policies, and the online calendar, all key features of Music Teachers Helper, you can make your schedule manageable for yourself and your students as well.