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?
A student is sick and worries about having to pay for the day’s lesson if they miss it. Would you recommend the student stay home and pay, stay home and not pay, or come in sick?
A student calls the day before a lesson and wants to cancel because he doesn’t feel he’s practiced enough and feels unprepared. What do you say to that? (I feel that if they’re always unprepared, then maybe this isn’t for them; but if they’re occasionally unprepared, then a lesson is just what they need to get on track–there’s more to a lesson than just reviewing an assignment.)
Some teachers prefer not to handle student money directly, and work through institutions such as community music schools. But even then, the teacher may be required to chart when lessons are taken, and must therefore decide whether to charge for a missed or cancelled lesson.
Are you more flexible with students who come to lessons at low-demand hours–for example 10:30am or 1:30pm, than with those who are scheduled at peak hours–after school or after work? (If a student is first or last, or gives me a break in a packed day, their cancellation just gives me some time I can make use of, and I’m more inclined to bend the rules. If I have people clamoring for a time, say at 6pm, and someone is being unreliable at that time, it’s much easier to be strict with the policies for them.)
Some teachers offer a flat-rate plan per semester, and hold students responsible for scheduling makeups if they can’t come to a lesson. Some allow payments by the month for this; some take credit card numbers so as to charge the students if payments are late. (This can easily risk losing the good will of some students, however.)
Music Teacher’s Helper allows invoices to be emailed and paid for via PayPal. Have you used this feature?
Do you charge students for lessons on the day of the first lesson they owe for, or do you have them pay in advance of their lessons (e.g., pay for next month’s lessons on the last lesson of the previous month)? (I find it hard to require them to pay in advance, but do require a month or 4 lessons be paid at a time. No IOUs! There’s an ATM a few doors away if needed.)
Do you offer a discount if students pay more lessons in advance?
What happens if the teacher is late to a lesson? What if you arrive 10 minutes late, and the student says he was there on time but left after waiting 5 minutes?
Is it most effective to have a clear policy with no deviations, so everyone knows where they stand? Or is it better to show some flexibility–does this build longer-term relationships? What about teachers who guilt-trip students by emphasizing that they are entitled to a regular income? (My daughter had a music teacher who so insisted that she was deserving of a regular income that I–a music teacher myself–felt like saying, “But you chose to be a music teacher. Surely you knew what you were getting into?”)
I look forward to hearing some of your views on these issues. Thanks to Anna Lisa for her comments on using the ClickForLessons website to help students find her studio. See her comments at the end of the Finding Students for You article.