Studio Management

Billing, scheduling, collections, fee raising, and other related topics.

What do you do for the summer? If you’re employed in a school system, how much summer vacation time do you take? If you teach privately, do many of your students continue through the summer, or do many of them cut down or take the summer off entirely?

From the post about Payment and Cancellation Policies (which has some new comments from teachers, by the way), it’s clear that some teachers set up annual tuition rates that include at least a portion of the summer for lessons. There is, however, always that pressure not to push students who want to take some summer time off. No one is at their best if they are always pushing and never taking a break.

As much as we’d like to regularize our income, we are also working with students as instructors and mentors, and can’t reduce this relationship entirely to financial transactions. We offer more than a commodity and expect students to respect us more than they respect a store or a salesman.

A number of my students continue through the summer, but maybe a third of them take a break or cut back. It’s a financial hit, but other events such as teaching at music camps or extra gigs tend to pick up the slack for me. What about you? I’m sure I’m not alone in being curious about the summer experiences of other teachers.

We all know that if someone wants to make progress in their playing, they need to [···]

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Back in March, I wrote a post about how we handle student payments and policies about attendance (Collecting the Benjamins). Because of the interesting responses from teachers, I thought it would be good to review two aspects of this subject again–payment policies and cancellation policies, and to summarize teacher responses. We would all appreciate it if you would be willing to “add a comment” at the end of this post, reflecting on your own thoughts and experiences. This is one topic we all deal with and are happy to learn more about from other experienced teachers. Below are summaries of responses from teachers writing about the earlier post, as well as ideas from my own experience.

(By the way, thanks to Valerie for her recent comment about the Music Ace free demo; see her comment at the end of the post about Online Music Games.)

1. Payment policies.

Betty: Teaches a year-round schedule and students either pay annually, semi-annually, quarterly, or if monthly, she divides the annual rate into 10 parts and they pay this amount monthly for 10 consecutive months. Students can leave with 30 days notice.

Jan: Charges a flat monthly rate based on the number of lessons in a school year divided by the number of months. It’s basically a tuition payment rather than directly relating the payments to the number of lessons in a given month.

Tina: Students pay for the lessons in each month at the first lesson of each month. She has Music Teachers Helper send invoices the first of each month, which works for most students; some need reminders.

Toby: His students pay monthly tuition.

Joe: Requires signed agreement and payment in advance.

Mine: I teach in two places currently. One place has people sign up for a semester (though some people manage to sign up for less); they pay the office and the office pays me based on lessons taught. Students can withdraw before the 5th lesson; otherwise they are committed for the semester. In the other location, students pay me directly, either 4 lessons at a time, or they pay at the first lesson of the month for the whole month. Student commitment is monthly; unfortunately, someone could drop lessons at the beginning of any month.

2. Cancellation policies.

Betty: With 24 hours notice, she’ll keep the payment but reschedule the lesson. There are 40 lessons in a year, and if they miss some or can’t reschedule, they lose those lessons.Jan: No refunds or rescheduling for missed lessons. She explains that  [···]

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Below are several situations I’m sure you’ve had to face–about ways to collect lesson payments, including for missed or cancelled lessons–I look forward to your ideas and hope you find these thoughts of interest.

Six or 7 years ago, someone introduced me to the expression, “it’s all about the Benjamins.” I suppose it wasn’t obvious to me because I almost never have an occasion to notice whose face is on the hundred-dollar bill, but yes, it’s Ben(jamin) Franklin.

Business people are sometimes stereotyped as cold-cash-minded, but really, any way you make a living is a business. As in any business, music teachers have to attract and keep students (“customers”), collect money, and pay the bills.

Of course, most musicians don’t go into music thinking “it’s all about the Benjamins.” In fact, popular wisdom says that there’s only one way for a musician to end up with a million dollars: start with 2 million!

But we have to learn about collecting money consistently and with respect, and setting up policies that are reasonable but make for good relations. How would you handle some of these situations?

A student called me today to say her son is sick. Policies say she should pay for his lesson because she gave less than a day’s notice. It did create a hole in my schedule but this parent is ostentatious about her poverty and yet considers lessons important enough to pay for them. Would you charge her for the lesson?

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