A version of this post originally appeared on the Music Teacher Info, written by Martyn Croston.
Starting any business takes a lot of perseverance and patience.
Some people compare it to bringing up a child or having a relationship – more often than not it’s a total rollercoaster!
But if you strongly believe and enjoy what you’re doing, it can be the most rewarding job in the world. Music teaching, like any profession, requires the right approach and strategy in order to succeed.
Here are eight factors you need to bear in mind when setting up a successful music teaching business.
1) Make sure you create a business plan
Before you plunge into the deep end and spend all your life savings on creating a top-notch music studio, you need to bear in mind several factors which can have an enormous impact on your business.
How much competition is there in your town?
Do people have money for music lessons in your location?
Is there enough demand for lessons on your instrument?
Questions, questions, questions…
But very important ones.
While I believe you can make a success of almost any music teaching business providing you have the right marketing strategy, you should create a business plan to cover all the important issues.
2) Set up your studio correctly
Make sure you have a neat and tidy workplace for every student who comes through your front door. It creates the right impression and ensures you appear more professional and serious about your teaching.
Ideally, you should teach in a quiet room, where other household members won’t interrupt or distract your lesson. This will make it easier for you and your student to focus.
3) Make sure you have the right equipment
This also creates the right impression with your students.
Ensure you have a good computer, or tablet, with fast internet access so you can stream videos on YouTube. You’ll also need a good sound system for playing music, some music stands, and equipment specific to your instrument. Decide if you’d like your students to buy sheet music, or whether you’ll do it and invoice them for the bill.
4) Create your payment terms
Don’t be a soft touch!
This is my golden rule with getting paid. If you start being too flexible with payment terms, you’ll make things more difficult in the long run. I suggest asking your students to pay in blocks of 5,10 or 20 lessons in advance, rather than on a lesson by lesson basis. You could even offer a small discount to encourage your students to pay for a group of lessons. Make it clear that prices are subject to review on an annual basis.
5) Create a cancellation policy
A well-constructed cancellation policy can save a lot of problems down the line if a student becomes unreliable and you start missing out on income.
Write a policy and give it to your student during or before your first lesson. If a student has paid for a block of lessons in advance it’ll make things easier as you won’t have to chase them for payment for missed lessons. Here’s an example….
“Lessons are billed in blocks of 10 and the fee is due in advance (by cheque or money transfer). If you are absent, you will still be charged unless you give me 48 hours notice. This is to give me time to rearrange my timetable and give notice to other students. If you provide sufficient notice, I will make up the lesson at a different time. If I am unable to teach a lesson for any reason, I will make up the lesson (if not I will issue a refund)”
This policy shows there is some compromise between you and the student. You are showing you’ll make up lessons if you are absent and they should give you sufficient notice if they are away. Failure to make this clear in the beginning can make people take advantage of you and this will hurt your income.
I know some music teachers who are very relaxed about their payment terms, but I also know others who almost never does refunds.
Just choose a policy which you are comfortable with, but make sure you are protected for any cancelled lessons at short notice.
6) Promote your business
So everything is in place. Your studio looks great, you have a well-written payment and cancellation policy, and you have all the equipment you need.
Time to find those students!
This is the hardest part and often where many music teachers struggle. It takes a big effort to get the ball rolling and find those first few pupils, as you need to get your name out there so people know about you and your business.
So do you sit next to the phone and wait for it to ring?
You need a solid marketing plan, one which you can work on each day. Consistency and persistence are the key elements here, as it can take the time to establish yourself as the go-to guy for music lessons.
7) Avoid teaching in a student’s home (if possible)
I learnt this the hard way.
Years ago, I taught a few piano students each week while I was studying at university. I would finish my lectures and then drive across town to teach in their homes. And full of enthusiasm to start earning some money, I accepted every student who approached me for piano lessons.
On the positive side, my students were enthusiastic, reliable and eager to improve their piano skills.
However, I spent so much time driving to their homes and being stuck in traffic, that suddenly my rate per hour didn’t seem quite as good.
Not to mention the lost money due to petrol and wear and tear on the car. Ok, so I was still a student, living at home with mum and dad. And it wasn’t as though I had a wife and two kids to support. But this experience taught me a valuable lesson.
Time is money.
If you spend 2 hours in total to teach a 1-hour lesson, it means you could teach 2 lessons in the same time if you did it in your own studio. It’s something you should think about very carefully as the amount of income you could be missing out on soon mounts up.
Of course, sometimes it can’t be avoided.
If you’re teaching a child, some parents want you to teach in their home so their son/daughter feels more comfortable. That’s understandable, but I would certainly increase your lesson fee if you have to teach in a student’s home, to offset the cost of gas and travel time.
8) Book lessons back to back
Another tip to show your professionalism is to always book lessons back to back, even if you only have a few students. Showing your students you are busy and in demand creates the impression you are a well respected and sought after teacher. This can help increase the chances you’ll gain referrals from your existing pupils.
Martyn Croston helps private music teachers build successful businesses. He shares more advice on his website http://www.musicteacherinfo.com.