A new year is starting, so it is a good time to reflect on your music studio and business practices. Here are 10 suggestions to professionally manage your studio with less stress and more satisfaction.
1. Have a great policy sheet. Every music studio needs a policy sheet to avoid misunderstandings. If you don’t have one, start working on one now. If you already have one, take a look at it from a “new parent” perspective. Don’t try to avoid every potential problem in your policy. Keep it friendly and positive so it will not come across as harsh or punitive. One page is long enough. Remember, your policy reflects you and your studio.
2. Divide your teaching year into semesters, with an ending date for the year. For example, your registration sheet can show first semester from September x to January x and second semester from February x to June x. If you teach year round, make a schedule to show when your semesters begin and end so there is closure and a fresh start. Having semesters also gives parents an opportunity to pay a semester rate.
3. Plan your fall lesson schedule early. Start planning for the fall semester in the spring. Have a well-publicized deadline for the deposit for fall lessons, such as April 30. Be sure to state your policy for refunding the deposit, such as a month notice, in the event something happens.
4. Do not ask parents to choose new lessons times each fall semester. Let parents know that their time slot is theirs for the next year. If they want a new day or time, they can tell you when they give you the deposit in the spring. This is a great help for parents because they can schedule their children’s activities around piano lessons. If there is a conflict that comes up before school starts, you can make minor adjustments.
5. Set up the days and and hours when your studio is open. No one is on the job 24 hours a day. If you are a teacher who makes up missed lessons, state in your policy when your studio is open to accommodate them. Some teachers will make up a lesson any day or time and find themselves never having a free day. This is not fair to you or your family.
6. Consider ending the policy of rescheduling lessons that students miss. Instead, implement a policy with a swap list. Other alternatives are lessons on Google Video Chat or Skype, or one makeup week at the end of the semester or year. However, do not change the rules in the middle of the game. Send a letter to parents explaining changes with plenty of advance notice. As long as parents know your policy before they sign up and choose to take lessons with you fully aware of your policy, you have made your best effort to minimize future conflicts.
7. Do not violate copyright laws. It is against the law to photocopy piano music to avoid purchasing copies. Some teachers illegally and unknowingly photocopy music, thinking if they own it they can do whatever they wish with it. These are the same teachers who would never cheat on their taxes or shoplift from a store. But when you copy music for your students in place of buying the music without permission, it is the same as shoplifting.
8. Be true to yourself, and honest with others. Know what you can do and not do. If you don’t want to teach a certain way or a certain age, that’s fine! In fact, private teachers need to know their philosophy and objectives. Gently suggest to parents to look further if they are not a good fit for your studio.
9. Find a balance between the old and the new. It’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon of every new idea that you read about. This is especially true of teachers who love new ideas. Educational trends come and go, and then come back again. There are teachers who think every new idea is the best idea and dismiss anything else. Then there are the teachers who have not changed since they started teaching. Be open to new ideas, new music, and new methods. Will they realistically fit in with your teaching style? However, don’t dismiss legacy music and teaching ideas with real value.
10. Keep professional records. This includes records for income tax and student assignments. Record your mileage, starting January 1. Retain and store all your receipts in a designated place. Write down everything you give a student. Keep a record of what your students have covered in their books and music you have assigned. Then you will avoid the embarrassing scenario of your high school student telling you in a puzzled voice, “But I played Für Elise in the recital last year. Don’t you remember?”