Did you know you can solve these 4 common music studio problems with a strong (and strongly enforced) studio policies document: Unprepared students, no shows, students who come sick, and getting paid on time. Here’s How:
Vexation # 1: Unprepared, as usual.
You’re getting ready for Suzy’s lesson, and you just know she’ll show up without her music, instrument, or having practiced all week. You’re beginning to wonder why you even bother…
Vexation #2: No-Shows.
The Joneses are 25 minutes late… again, which means you won’t get paid for today’s lesson. Why don’t they ever let you know when they’re not coming?!?
Vexation #3: The Germ Factory.
A hacking and runny-nosed Johnny says as he sneezes on you, “I’m really sick today, but I can get through my lesson.” This is after you’ve specifically said that you want students to stay home when they are sick!
Vexation #4: I Don’t Work for Free.
The Smiths are almost 2 months behind on their lesson payments. Not only are you worried about making your rent, you’re so mad you might send them packing if they show up without your check again.
It’s enough to turn you into an angry green monster with horns and a pointed tail, isn’t it?
But guess what? You can solve these common music teaching studio problems by having a strong studio policies document that you enforce with equal strength? Let’s take them one by one:
A policy that addresses lesson expectations could go a long way here – especially if you take the time to explain it to Suzy and Suzy’s parents. You can lay out specific consequences: The student must have an instrument to play in the lesson, and a lesson will only proceed when the student has his/her instrument. Lesson time missed for this reason will not be credited or made up.
A student who has a bad week practicing is understandable. A student who has a bad month may not be a good fit for your studio.
But here’s the trick: Unless you stand your ground on timeliness and preparedness (and your policy about it), the best policy in the world isn’t going to help you. You must be ready to let students know that they haven’t met expectations, and let them know the consequences if they continue.
“I have enough other things we can do for 1 lesson without your instrument. The next time it happens, we can’t have a lesson.”
“I need you to take the next week to decide whether you want to continue in lessons with me. You’ll let me know that you want to continue by…..”
“If ….. continues, then I will still like you, and I’ll still think you’re a great person, I just can’t be your teacher.”
Be ready to let a problem student go, but always deliver it with love and a smile on your face. Let them know that you care for them and you’ll still like them however it turns out.
This is probably the simplest one of all to solve. Make your payment policy like this: Charge a flat monthly (or quarterly or whatever) rate, regardless of the number of lessons per month (or quarter, or whatever). Lessons missed for any reason cannot be made up or credited.
Then, when the Joneses don’t show up , you don’t have to be upset because you still got paid. The only catch is that you must stand by your no-makeup/no-credit policy.
The cool thing about a payment structure like this is that it also allows you to have income when you are on vacation. Just multiply your per-lesson rate by the number of lessons in a year, divide by 12, and Voila! You have your monthly rate. You haven’t charged students for your vacation time, but you have distributed your income evenly over the whole year.
Your policy could read something like this: “A significant portion of my income comes from performing, and it is crucial that I keep myself as healthy as possible. If you are ill, please do not come to your lesson. We can do …. Over the phone to ensure that you have enough to keep you busy until next week. Students who come to lessons sick will be sent home immediately.”
When you have it in writing that you will send students home if they come sick, it will go a long way. If you send a sick kid home once, that family will never do it again. Also, you can consider Skype lessons for illness days when the student still wants to attend – there are probably things you can work on over Skype for one or two weeks.
There are 2 ways you can deal with this: Automatic payments of some kind, OR late fees. The nice thing about autopayments is that you don’t have to think about them, and you don’t have to bug anybody – but you pay for this convenience. Be sure to increase your rates accordingly. If you go the Late Fee route, make sure it’s substantial (i.e. painful). A family who has to pay a $25 late fee once will probably never pay late again.
Whatever you decide to do, write it in your policies so that nobody is surprised when the natural consequence happens.
The most beautiful thing about having your policies in writing and knowing that you will stick to them is this:
You will not feel vexed by the vexations. If you’re OK in your heart with letting a student go and you’ve given them the tools to make a decision, you can relax. If you’re still getting paid when a student no-shows, you won’t feel angry.
When you can stay even keeled through situations like these, your students’ and parents’ respect for you and your time will grow. They will see that you are a true professional and a serious businessperson.
If you need help writing your studio policies, consider taking my online class, The Happy Studio, when it launches this spring. One of the modules is about designing your ideal studio structure and drafting policies to make it a reality!