I am a musician. I possess a wonderful, creative, passionately-interested-in-the-world right brain. I love to explore, to learn, to ponder, to express. I love to share ideas, to share emotions, to create beauty.
It is a great kind of brain to have.
Most of the time.
There are those times, however, that the possession of such a brain creates chaos, confusion, and disorder. I am sure that there are many of you fellow musicians who have never had these feelings. I am sure there are many of you who have learned to harness both your right AND your left brains, that your paperwork is all in order, all of your financial dealings with students have been handled in a timely, professional manner, and that you have no questions about how to start over from a muddled, unsure record-keeping state.
This post is not for those of you who fit that category. Instead, please fast forward to the end of this post and leave us your wise counsel and organizational tips in the comment section. We need you. We really really do.
For the rest of us, though, I have this promise: you are not alone. We creative sorts have many gifts. So what if filing isn’t one of them? Let’s use our creativity to find new solutions. I have some advice, some tips, some words of hope for you. I’m sure that together we can make a dent in the financial stresses of the independent music teacher.
For me, the end of this school year signaled a need to take stock of my finances. I needed to know where I stood in regards to payments due and to invoice items unpaid. Music Teacher’s Helper has been an enormous help and resource to me in the past two years, but I found myself with one big issue:
I had stopped inputting all my information. I no longer knew where to start.
I couldn’t figure out what was stopping me, so I tried to get to the root of it. And this is what I discovered.
I have no computer accessible to me while I’m teaching. I’ve been relying on post-it notes to remember who owed me what for which music, which music to buy for which student, and notes for the following lessons for individual students. All of this, of course, I intended to put directly into MTH after each day’s lesson schedule. And yet, when each day’s lessons ended, I was quickly sucked into the needs of my family (why DO they want dinner every night?) And the information to be input? Let’s just say the side of my piano has many many post-it notes from the last few months. I needed a way to stay on top of my daily information, a repository for everything before I could get to the computer.
After I recognized the problem, I brainstormed (yay, right brain!) and thought of some solutions. One was to get a laptop or an iPad to keep near me so that I could put all of this information in the right place right away. Alas, neither purchase was in the budget. The second was to take time at the end of each teaching day to input the necessities. Alas, this seemed impossible with, yes, again, the needs of my family (why DOES homework need to be done every day?) The third (hooray!) has met my needs: a single place to gather all the information I need for when I can get to my computer and MTH, a solution that is low tech, cheap, and adaptable.
I introduce my piano binder:
Is it pretty? Nope. If I wanted to make it Pinterest worthy, I would have figured out some cute paper and labels and color-coordinated tabs. If I had time to do that, I wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place! (You can make a super cute binder, though, and send me pictures so I can dream about making mine fun and fancy.)
Here are the sections of my piano binder:
First I added an attendance log. I pulled this sheet from Color in My Piano. Joy Morin has many wonderful pdfs available for business purposes as well as great teaching ideas.
Since my teaching year starts in June, I am starting in the middle of a sheet. I mark the date of lesson attendance or add an E for an excused absence for which a make-up lesson can be used or an M for a missed lesson that will not be made up. This will help me keep up on which students are eligible for the make-up lessons I offer during group class week.
Next, I have a log for music and supplies I have purchased for students. This sheet is also from Joy Morin.
When I put the information into MTH, I put an “I” next to the row with that music to let me know I’ve invoiced that item.
Third, a payment history. I have another copy of this same sheet to list all of the checks I receive. I keep the checks in the inside cover of the binder and list all of the information (date received, check number, etc.) on this form. When I make a deposit, I draw a line under the checks I deposited and write the date of deposit on the last “Notes” row.
Fourth, a detailed financial record for each family. When I created my binder, I spent hours going through my MTH records to make sure I had correct financial information for each student. I created a form beginning with the first month I reopened my piano studio and made sure that I had already input all of my tuition charges, music charges, fees, and payments for each of my students. It was helpful for me to have a visual of each student’s monthly payment history and I discovered that I had missed a few fees for some of my students. With this new information, I am now able to create accurate and current invoices from within MTH.
I will be adding a list of music and supplies I need to buy for each student so that my post-it covered piano can be returned to its former clean-sided glory, a list of music lent, and a sheet protector for storing receipts. I’m sure that as time progresses, I will tweak certain forms and add others, but I love that I have my simple binder on the shelf right next to my teaching chair and that all of the information I need to stay current can be kept in one place until I have a chance to input the information into Music Teacher’s Helper. Once the information is current in MTH, I send out my invoices and my students can access their information.
This is just one solution for keeping financial records more organized. What works for you? How do you handle lending your music? Storing receipts? Student information? Please share!