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#2121652 - 07/22/13 08:06 PM Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale?
purepassion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Pasadena, California
Hello everyone,

I last posted on here about a year ago, with questions about how I could tighten my piano teaching policies in a way that would make them liveable for me and fair to my students. I got many responses on that -- thank you all! Here was one of the main threads:

charging full-year tuition - getting into details

Now it's a year later, and I thought I would report back with the results of those changes. It hasn't been pretty.

To summarize, I'm a traveling teacher, and for many years, I had a basic policy for my students:

  • cancellations required 24 hours' notice in order for there to be no charge for the missed lessons
  • students paid once a month, ahead of time. Missed lessons could be credit-forwarded to the following month.

The problem was that students would often ask me on short notice to change their lesson times (because of baseball practice, band practice, etc.), which really caused havoc with my schedule and was very aggravating.

Another problem was that my student enrollment would plunge in the summer, causing drastic fluctuations in my income.

So I tried to address all of these problems in my revised policies. In a nutshell, here are some of the changes I made:

  • Students choose among three plans: 42 lessons over twelve months, 32 lessons over nine months (slightly more), and a per-lesson plan (highest rate). The payments for the first two plans would be divided evenly over either 12 or 9 months.
  • Students are allowed to miss one lesson per quarter for any reason. They can make up this lesson on a date (once per quarter) specified by me. Any additional missed lessons in a quarter count toward their total number of lessons in the plan and are not made up. No refunds or crediting for missed lessons.
  • Students can let me know from month-to-month how many lessons they would like for the month. But they are not permitted to make changes during the month, once they have set up a schedule. (This works mostly pretty well. Most students stick to their time and day, but now and then ask to skip a week due to vacations, school trips, etc.)


So here's what happened. First, the ugly:

About a third of my students dropped. In some cases, this was not a surprise; some students were not interested or diligent in practicing, nor were their parents invested in piano lessons. A couple of clients who dropped did surprise me. (One client said that she didn't like having to commit to a plan, and immediately signed up with another teacher. frown )

Though I did advertise extensively for about 6 weeks in August and September, I did not get a single new student. I did get some inquiries. In a couple of cases, I did not hear back when I told a potential client that I required a contract (or that they could pay a higher price for no contract). In another case, I actually taught one lesson to a new client, and when the client fully read the policies, she decided to drop. It was very discouraging. I only got new students (all in one family) when I got a referral from another client this spring.

(I will add that I also am a composer, and got busy with composing music later in the fall. With fewer students I was able to take advantage of the extra time. But it has been a struggle financially.)

Students on the 42-lesson plan who stopped for several weeks in the summer, simply stopped paying me. I'm in the process of remedying that now. frown But this summer was nearly the same in terms of income fluctuation as previous summers.

Clients still don't seem to understand the idea of full year tuition and 42 weeks of lessons. Even though I spelled it out as clearly as I possibly could in my policies and had my clients sign the contracts and explained it in subsequent emails. People don't seem to like complicated policies even though those policies are actually very fair, to them and to me.

Now, the positives:

The number of requests for changes in lesson times went way down. I think this was mostly due to the new policy. But it also could be because I simply had fewer students. My stress around this issue also went way down.

There seems to be less haggling over changed / cancelled lessons. Now when students change or cancel lessons (which they don't do as much as they used to), I don't brace myself for the financial pain I used to get from credit forwarding.

It has given me a bit more predictability regarding my income during the school year.

My main anxiety now is that I very much need to get new students, and it doesn't look new students will sign on to this policy. I think that's mostly because as new clients, they are not yet invested in piano lessons and are unwilling to commit to them for a year, or even nine months. So I'm not sure what to do. Abandon the three plans and go back to month-to-month? I'm not sure how the rest of the cancellation / change policy would work without the year-long or nine-month plans. I guess I could say that students are still allowed only one cancellation per quarter, with makeup lessons given only a specific date. No refunds or credit forwarding. I just don't want to go back to the old system of having to constantly having to adjust and change my schedule and extend my working hours to accommodate students who capriciously change lesson times.

As for the summer, I guess I just have to accept that I'll need to find other kinds of work in the summer.

In general, I would say this whole change has been pretty rough and fairly disappointing.

I welcome your thoughts. And thanks for reading all this!
_________________________
piano teacher, composer for film and games

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#2121656 - 07/22/13 08:34 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
ezpiano.org Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1002
Loc: Irvine, CA
All these can be solved if you do not travel to student's home. Parents and student treat travel teachers different than studio teachers. If I am you, first thing in my to-do list is to find a location.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!!
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http://ezpiano.org
Piano lessons in Irvine, CA
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#2121661 - 07/22/13 08:46 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
dynamobt Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/07/13
Posts: 646
Loc: NH
My teacher offers a 6 week trial period which can be purchased on its own. If the student continues, the cost of the 6 week period goes toward the cost of the full 16 week semester. I see that this year, enrollment in the spring semester will be automatic unless otherwise specified. So, in essense we are signing up for the full academic year.

Summers are scheduled separately but lessons are still bought in advance as a package.

As a student, I like this policy. I never liked havng to pay at the lesson. And lessons not paid for in advance are too easy to cancel or change.


Edited by dynamobt (07/22/13 08:47 PM)
_________________________
1918 Mason & Hamlin BB





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#2121664 - 07/22/13 08:58 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: ezpiano.org]
purepassion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Pasadena, California
ezpiano:

Yes, traveling teachers have it harder than non-traveling ones. But this still would be a persistent problem even if I weren't a traveling teacher.
_________________________
piano teacher, composer for film and games

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#2121667 - 07/22/13 09:04 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
ezpiano.org Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/10/11
Posts: 1002
Loc: Irvine, CA
Originally Posted By: purepassion
My main anxiety now is that I very much need to get new students, and it doesn't look new students will sign on to this policy. I think that's mostly because as new clients, they are not yet invested in piano lessons and are unwilling to commit to them for a year, or even nine months. So I'm not sure what to do.


I personally think that your new policy is fabulous. You are having hard time to sell your new policy because you are a traveling teacher. In my humble opinion, if you become a studio teacher, your new policy would be easier to sell.

Piano students, we need your feedback on this.
_________________________
http://ezpiano.org
Piano lessons in Irvine, CA
Watch the introduction video on YouTube
@ http://bit.ly/Ready123

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#2121669 - 07/22/13 09:07 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
MaggieGirl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/18/11
Posts: 471
It's scary for a lot of folks to commit to a long length of time in some areas. Layoffs happen so quickly right now(esp in aerospace/technology). The most I ever commit to are 8 week sessions (piano for us is month to month).


Edited by MaggieGirl (07/22/13 09:08 PM)

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#2121672 - 07/22/13 09:13 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5422
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: purepassion
Yes, traveling teachers have it harder than non-traveling ones. But this still would be a persistent problem even if I weren't a traveling teacher.

Your biggest problem is dealing with the GLUT of teachers where you live. And you have quite a few well-established teachers who have been teaching for 30+ years. It's almost impossible to enter the teaching market where you live unless you're willing to lower your fees and undercut everybody else.

You are in the perfect location, but you just have to deal with colleagues. Lots of them.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2121673 - 07/22/13 09:15 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: ezpiano.org]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5422
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org
I personally think that your new policy is fabulous. You are having hard time to sell your new policy because you are a traveling teacher. In my humble opinion, if you become a studio teacher, your new policy would be easier to sell.

I disagree. Such policy will tank in an area saturated with teachers who charge on a monthly basis. Traveling or non-traveling has nothing to do with it.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2121677 - 07/22/13 09:24 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
dynamobt Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/07/13
Posts: 646
Loc: NH
I personally would love if my teacher came to my house. So, I don't know that traveling vs not traveling is the issue. I don't know your market. But if you are competing with a lot of teachers in your area and teachers willing to offer a lenient policy, I think that's your problem right there.
_________________________
1918 Mason & Hamlin BB





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#2121685 - 07/22/13 09:57 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: AZNpiano]
purepassion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Pasadena, California
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Originally Posted By: purepassion
Yes, traveling teachers have it harder than non-traveling ones. But this still would be a persistent problem even if I weren't a traveling teacher.

Your biggest problem is dealing with the GLUT of teachers where you live. And you have quite a few well-established teachers who have been teaching for 30+ years. It's almost impossible to enter the teaching market where you live unless you're willing to lower your fees and undercut everybody else.

You are in the perfect location, but you just have to deal with colleagues. Lots of them.


Well, I've been teaching in this area since 2000, and have never had trouble finding new students until last year, when I put this stricter policy in place. Most years, I had around 30 students. This last year (2012-2013) I had about 22.
_________________________
piano teacher, composer for film and games

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#2121689 - 07/22/13 10:06 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: ezpiano.org]
Whizbang Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/27/12
Posts: 739
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org
Piano students, we need your feedback on this.


I'm not sure you'll get the right feedback from students here. The piano forums are frequented more by adult players than parents of possibly uncommitted students, and it's the latter that I gather is the bread and butter of most teachers.

FWIW, I pay my teacher three months at a time. He and I are very flexible about makeups, and neither of us cancels casually. (He'll get a gig or an appointment; I have unpredictable travel or sometimes transportation issues.)

But

1) I'm already committed to the piano
2) We're both pretty chill and work with each other. If, say, I forget to bring my checkbook at the right week, I'll be sure to bring it next week--or, if he's got a pressing issue, will specifically drop by during the week to write a check
3) I specifically sought him out as a teacher and can't imagine stopping study with him

The contracts and studio policies seem to be specifically because there are parents who don't respect the teacher of their children and will take advantage. Adult learners? I'd hope that, well, they're more adult.


Edited by Whizbang (07/22/13 10:34 PM)
_________________________
Whizbang
amateur ragtime pianist

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#2121737 - 07/23/13 12:28 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
Peter K. Mose Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/06/12
Posts: 1317
Loc: Toronto, Ontario
If you used to have about 30 students, many of them flakes, and now you about 22, more of whom are committed, I'm not sure you should be disappointed, or view this as a decline. You are running your business more professionally. You also have to expect that piano student enrollment numbers fluctuate from year to year regardless of one's policy. Twenty-two committed students in a private piano studio is excellent! Perhaps after another season or two, you will begin to attract more of these more committed students.

I'm curious, do you have any students who choose option #3, paying your highest hourly rate by the individual lesson?

Also, are your rates competitive with other Pasadena-area piano teachers? Are you teaching a bit more for teaching in the home, or a bit less for this? It is certainly a value-added service.

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#2121742 - 07/23/13 12:56 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
piano2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/26/11
Posts: 79
As a parent, I would feel anxious reading your policy. My suggestion is to simplify it - fewer choices are better:
1. Take out the payment per lesson option (I only use that for my one senior citizen student - she's 84 and practices and sometimes her medical appointments happen during lesson time.)

2. Take out the two options for lesson number per year. Follow the school calendar in your district.
Summer lessons can be counted as separate.

3. Take out the policy allowing them to cancel lessons without paying you, as well as the policy allowing students to miss one lesson per term.
If you really feel you need to do make up lessons, can you have the students come to your home studio instead?

4. Take out the part where students get to decide how many lessons they'd like each month (be more lenient with adults). Children's activities happen every week - they don't get to pick and choose which days to have hockey, dance or swimming. Someone tells them when it is and their parents take them.
You need to apply this to your piano teaching. In the time has been set up, assume that is for the whole year, not just for the month. Easier said than done, but the families will respect you more if you don't give them so many choices.

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#2121802 - 07/23/13 06:16 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
Candywoman Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/14/03
Posts: 833
Your policy seems too complicated for a student signing on. It's even complicated for me to read.

Your main problems are that clients don't like committing to a year in advance, don't like signing contracts, and want flexible scheduling. And you don't like doing makeup lessons much.

Clients starting piano lessons need a gradual education in how to treat you. This education takes about one year. You are trying to establish a commitment from them before they are ready to understand it. They don't even know if they want to buy a piano, whether their child will like piano, or whether you will succeed with their child.

The solution is to charge more so that you're not worried if somebody drops right before summer. I've tried for many years to limit the vagaries of piano teaching and it's impossible. As a pianist, you want perfection in all things. Your ability to organize people will never match the perfection you expect in other areas of your life.

The modern family wants flexibility in the scheduling. A very few piano teachers who have a high profile will be able to do away with makeup lessons. But most will have to contend with them. You will always be treated as more flexible than the soccer coach or the dance teacher. Besides, you should be able to fit most makeups in if you have 22 students.

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#2121820 - 07/23/13 08:19 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: ezpiano.org]
keystring Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 11581
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org

Piano students, we need your feedback on this.


Feedback coming as a piano student, as a parent formerly of a student (now adult), and as someone running a professional service business so having to deal with clients.

Like Pianowoman said, the policy really sounds complicated. It intimidates and confuses customers. If you have a system, then you have to understand the ins and outs of your system, but what you present to your customers must be a lot simpler. You should go through your policies and find this "simple".

On the student or parent side, there has to be a way out even if you are committing to several years. Like for example, signing up for four-month trimesters and maybe a discount if committing for the entire year, and a way of giving notice (3 weeks notice prior to the end of the month) so that the teacher has a chance to find a replacement student. If you know that you can leave, then you are more likely to sign on and stay. If you feel you'll be trapped, you won't sign on as readily.

Candywoman: thumb

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#2121826 - 07/23/13 08:30 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
childofparadise2002 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/13/04
Posts: 540
As a parent, therefore, the person who pays the tuition, I think a policy is good only if it fits with the teacher and the client population. Say the teacher is a really popular teacher with a long waiting list, and the families treat piano study as their priority, I think a one-year commitment is probably quite acceptable even with the fear of economic woes. If the teacher is less established and, therefore, can't attract the most serious students in the area, then this policy won't have much buy-in.

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#2121849 - 07/23/13 09:47 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
Chris H. Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2846
Loc: UK.
I also think it would be best to simplify things. There are too many options and having different prices for different amounts of lessons will be confusing and off putting.

Decide how many lessons to teach over the year and get all your regular students on the same plan. One policy for everyone, that's it. You can have a rate for one off lessons which should be set slightly higher than the tuition rate. I do this because some people come for coaching or accompanying or even for extra lessons as and when the need arises. But pay as you go is not an option for students wanting to sign up for regular lessons.

Summer is always a problem. I no longer teach in the summer because it's too much hassle. Instead I put away some of my income each month from September through to July so when August comes I have enough to live on. You just need to budget for it.
_________________________
Pianist and piano teacher.

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#2121875 - 07/23/13 11:12 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
dumdumdiddle Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 1263
Loc: California
I also agree with others who suggest to simplify your policy and not offer so many choices. Just offer a flat monthly tuition rate (no matter how many lessons in the month; 4, 5, or 3... if you take off for major holidays). Don't make parents commit for the year; they should understand that they will get the benefit of more lessons in a month AFTER the pesky holiday months of Nov and Dec.

It puzzles me that you're struggling so, given the fact that you travel to the home. In my town of 120+ piano teachers I know of only 3 who travel. They charge a lot more and seem to have full schedules. Parents are willing to pay for the convenience of not having to leave the house.
_________________________
Music School Owner
Early Childhood Music Teacher/Group Piano Teacher/Private Piano Teacher
Member of MTAC and Guild

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#2121878 - 07/23/13 11:20 AM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
MaggieGirl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/18/11
Posts: 471
Yes, ours is like this: Just offer a flat monthly tuition rate (no matter how many lessons in the month; 4, 5, or 3... if you take off for major holidays).

If you drop before the holidays, you have to pay a new registration fee in January AND no guarantees your time is still open.

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#2121901 - 07/23/13 12:21 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
kck Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/04/10
Posts: 265
Ok - I like our music school's policy. A FULL year committment is a huge commitment. The school year is divided into 2 semesters. We get 16 lessons over 20 weeks each semester. Our music school does not do make ups, but it's on teachers to let you know ahead of time what weeks they will be off. As an established student, both my teachers HAVE done make ups for us if they know we have a good excuse and they can fit us in easily (we homeschool, so my kids usually can be there earlier in the day). We also have the option of trying to swap with another family (I've never done that, but some have). We have a scheduled TIME (i.e. Thursday 2pm) every week. You get a small tuition break if you pay for the entire semester in ADVANCE.

During the summer, our teachers do teach for 10/11 weeks. We are required to take 8 lessons (although, under special circumstances our teacher might allow you 6-7 if you're doing something unique over the summer). However you want to take those lessons is fine by our teachers. You can do 2 lessons one week and take a couple weeks off. They have a calendar with open blocks when they are teaching and you can chose a lesson time. So sometimes day times work better in the summer and sometimes evenings. Sometimes we don't get our first choice this method, but we have the flexibility to do day camps some weeks or travel and still get our paid for lessons in.

ETA - we do not have a traveling teacher.


Edited by kck (07/23/13 12:23 PM)
_________________________
Amateur musician, piano and violin parent

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#2121968 - 07/23/13 03:32 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
Sweet06 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/22/13
Posts: 405
IMO, the year contract has got to go. Do a 6 month contract if you want to do a contract.
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"Doesn't practicing on the piano suck?!?!"
"The joy is in the practicing. It's like relationships. Yeah, orgasms are awesome, but you can't make love to someone who you have no relationship with!"

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#2121998 - 07/23/13 04:50 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: ezpiano.org]
Morodiene Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11440
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: ezpiano.org
All these can be solved if you do not travel to student's home. Parents and student treat travel teachers different than studio teachers. If I am you, first thing in my to-do list is to find a location.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!!



+1. I really think this is at the hear of things. When they have "skin" in the game (i.e., they have to provide transportation to and from lessons) then they respect the teacher more. Otherwise you are seen as other services that do house calls. Not anything against them, but the skill sets for a good teacher are far different from a good pool guy.
_________________________
private piano/voice teacher - full time
MTNA member
www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2122287 - 07/24/13 12:07 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
HelenaHandbasket Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 04/27/13
Posts: 5
Sorry to hear that these changes have been rough for you.

I'm an adult student, but have hired music teachers for my children in the past. In my opinion, your policies are too complicated. If I read them on your website, I probably wouldn't contact you for more information or an interview. In our family's budget, a yearly contract is too extreme for any extracurricular activity that will be paid for with discretionary funds. I value music education, and prioritize to be able to afford it, but it's still an extra that will need to take a back seat to other unforseen expenses when necessary, so I wouldn't even consider putting myself in a yearly or even a semester contract.

Ironically, I've always been more committed to lessons (for myself and children) with teachers who have more flexible policies. Too many rules and restrictions turn me into a rebel!

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#2122314 - 07/24/13 12:51 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5422
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: purepassion
Well, I've been teaching in this area since 2000, and have never had trouble finding new students until last year, when I put this stricter policy in place. Most years, I had around 30 students. This last year (2012-2013) I had about 22.

You're not the only teacher who's having fewer students. Some really good teachers in my area are suffering from declining enrollment. One can only guess why.

You might also consider working for one of the more reputable music schools in your area. The pay is definitely lower, but you will have a steadier stream of students. A quick cost-and-benefit analysis might give you an idea what to do.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2122334 - 07/24/13 01:16 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
dumdumdiddle Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 1263
Loc: California
A yearly contract that commits parents to actually paying for lessons for the year is different from getting parents to think in terms of 'piano for the year'.

When parents inquire about lessons with me I tell them that tuition is based on a yearly fee, divided into 4 equal payments. I follow the school calendar and teach based on a school year (summer lessons are figured differently). My studio policy actually says that parents are enrolling their child for the piano program for the year. I require a 30-day notice to withdraw from lessons, so if they decide at the end of one month that they aren't returning to piano the next month, they are still responsible for 1-month's tuition.

I don't know any piano teachers who REQUIRE a financial commitment for a year...
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Music School Owner
Early Childhood Music Teacher/Group Piano Teacher/Private Piano Teacher
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#2122386 - 07/24/13 03:33 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
purepassion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Pasadena, California
Thanks, everyone! I really appreciate all the thought you've given this.

It looks like the one year commitment commitment (42 lessons over 52 weeks) is gonna go. I will add that I never asked the students to pay for one year at once; the tuition was divided evenly over 12 months, always paid at the beginning of the month.

I guess I'll go back to month-to-month and not ask my students to commit to any time period. The rate will remain the same as it did for 42 lessons. Three issues arise: 1) how to bill tuition 2) how to handle students wanting to change their lesson times and 3) how to handle missed lessons.

Billing tuition: Some of you have suggested that I have a flat monthly rate, regardless of how many lessons are given (from 3 to 5). I have to say, this leaves me uneasy. I worry that I might feel like I'm getting the raw end of this deal (giving lots of lessons each month, and perhaps earning less than I normally would), or that the student might feel resentful having to pay a full amount even though they've taken only three lessons, or maybe even two. However, if I go to a system in which students pay for the exact number of lessons they get, my income can fluctuate greatly and students tend to haggle over the number of lessons they want. I believe they have a tendency to take fewer lessons so as to suit their needs. Ugh, what to do.

Changing lesson times: My current policy allows students to notify me at the beginning of the month if they want to change a lesson time or day or even skip a week. But they're committed to that schedule for the month and cannot change the time during the course of the month. (They're also committed to 42 lessons over 12 months or 32 lessons over nine months.) Honestly, this has worked pretty well. Most students stick with their day/time for the semester, if not the year, because they have so many things going on that they couldn't change the time if they wanted to. But this policy allows them some flexibility and gives me enough time (ahead of time) to make changes in my schedule and find efficient driving times.

Missed lessons: a critical issue! Currently, my policy is that students are allowed one cancellation per quarter, for any reason and with less that 24 hours' notice. They are entitled to a makeup for that missed lesson which is given on a specific day each quarter, designated by me. In practice, what mostly happened over this last year is that I didn't get very many cancellations and when I did, it was easier to just not count that missed lesson toward the 42 lessons of the student (most students were on this plan). Essentially it delayed the completion of their 42 lessons by one week. The nice thing about this was that I wasn't losing money when a student missed a lesson (monthly payments were always the same) and neither the student nor I was stressing over whether that lesson would be made up. We both knew they were committed to 42 lessons and that's what they would get. Now it is true that in the last part of their 12-month period, I was having to tack on an extra week or two of teaching for students who missed some lessons during the year. But I don't mind that very much.

What I'm thinking of doing now is to keep that same policy: one cancellation per quarter for any reason, with one makeup on a designated day, once per quarter. I may have the makeup lessons at my home (I live in an apartment, so giving regular lessons out of there is not possible).

I'll address the specifics of what some of you wrote in a separate post.

Thanks again for all your help!
_________________________
piano teacher, composer for film and games

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#2122407 - 07/24/13 04:06 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
purepassion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Pasadena, California
Here are my specific responses to some of your posts:

Peter K. Mose: thanks for your thoughts; I found them heartening. I had only one student choose option 3 -- an adult student. He sent me his signed contract but never started lessons. But he's been an on-and-off student for several years, so I don't know if that was because of the high rate. But I don't think option 3 is going to get many takers (the rate is about 20% higher than the lowest rate). On the other hand, I'm not really willing to take on students who go lesson-by-lesson unless I'm getting about 20% more than my regular rate. To answer your other question: I think my rates are very competitive, perhaps even a little underpriced. Compared to the going rate for lessons in which the students come to the teacher, I charge less than 10% more for traveling to the student.

piano2: It looks like I'll be going back to a month-to-month plan for everyone; no twelve-month or nine-month plans. I'm not looking foward to this; it means a struggle in the summer, and I won't be getting a higher payment from people who take only for nine months during the school year (four students opted for that plan this year). Please note that my current policy does not allow for students to cancel lessons without paying me. There are currently no refunds and no credit-fowarding. Anyway, thanks for your thoughts.

Candywoman: I agree that new clients need a gradual education in how to treat the piano teacher. You're right on the money.
I'd love to charge more to cushion myself for the summer drop-off, but I don't feel I can do that right now. I raised my rates last year, and clients don't like yearly rate hikes.
Regarding makeups: I'm not saying I won't do them at all; I just don't want to have to do them constantly. There were periods in the past where I was getting several changes per week, causing complete havoc with my driving schedule. That's why I'm willing to give them one make up per quarter.

Chris H.: I wish I could just budget for the summer, but that's simply not possible. I'd have to drastically raise my rates or double or triple the number of students -- difficult to do when you're traveling. If I'm not teaching in the summer, I'm going to have to do something else.

kck: You say a full year commitment is a huge commitment, but it does sound like you are committed to a year's worth of lessons, with even lessons during the summer being required. Or perhaps you go semester-by-semester?

dumdumdiddle: Your distinction between paying for lessons for the year and thinking of "piano for the year" is exactly right. I've never required my students to pay for a whole years' worth of lessons (though two of them did voluntarily). But I have required them to commit to a certain number of lessons per year, and perhaps that was what made many people nervous. I also have a 30-day notice requirement for stopping lessons.
_________________________
piano teacher, composer for film and games

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#2122425 - 07/24/13 04:35 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
dumdumdiddle Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/16/06
Posts: 1263
Loc: California
Billing:
Do you like your income fluctuating each month? Do you like the horrible bookkeeping of having to keep track of different amounts for each month? If so, then do charge by the lesson, payable in advance for the month. HOWEVER, you are not short-changing parents by charging the same tuition each month, regardless if there are 3, 4, or 5 lessons in the month. I have charged tuition this way for over a dozen years and it's worked fine. I will occasionally have a parent who asks in December why tuition is the same when we only have 2 lessons that month, but I just reiterate what's spelled out for them in the studio policy, which explains in detail how tuition is charged.

Changing Lesson Times:
You must a lot of extra slots in your schedule to accommodate kids changing their lesson times. That wouldn't work for me. Parents understand when they enroll that their time slot is for the year. If situations arise where they need to make a switch I try to work with a student but I don't guarantee it. Also, something to think about: if you throw it out there to parents that they CAN switch lesson times and that you'll accommodate their requests, you are setting yourself up for a LOT of changes; parents will definitely take you up on it. It's better to have a stricter policy from the beginning and allow yourself to the freedom to adjust your policy based upon a particular student's needs.

Missed Lessons:
My policy is 'no makeups'. However, if you feel you can't do that, then do what several teachers do: offer perhaps 4x a year or so 'group musicianship' classes (perhaps on a Saturday) where students learn theory, perform for each other, etc... Kids who have missed a lesson will get this as their makeup lesson. It's simple and you've covered yourself by offering a makeup lesson of sorts.

Also, don't forget to schedule for yourself some weeks off from your teaching schedule: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter break.....

_________________________
Music School Owner
Early Childhood Music Teacher/Group Piano Teacher/Private Piano Teacher
Member of MTAC and Guild

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#2122481 - 07/24/13 07:19 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: purepassion]
Opus_Maximus Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/27/04
Posts: 1480
I think it's just too long, and too complicated. People have a fear of long and complicated things. Why not just make it very simple:

- Charge a flat rate at the beginning of each month, for an average of 4.5 weeks per month
- A minimum of 5 lessons during summer months (we have to accept that people will just take less during the summer, and the best we can do is instill a minimum lesson policy, whichI think most people will agree with)
- Don't allow students to change times during the month, but have an email swap list with other parents (maybe you already do this).. so if they want to switch times with Jack for 3 weeks in may, then they can.



Edited by Opus_Maximus (07/24/13 07:20 PM)

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#2122496 - 07/24/13 08:01 PM Re: Piano policy revamp - a cautionary tale? [Re: Opus_Maximus]
purepassion Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/26/09
Posts: 26
Loc: Pasadena, California
Originally Posted By: Opus_Maximus

- Don't allow students to change times during the month, but have an email swap list with other parents (maybe you already do this).. so if they want to switch times with Jack for 3 weeks in may, then they can.



Swapping is probably not going to work if I'm a traveling teacher. I can't teach one student in city X then go to city Y then go back to city X on the same day.
_________________________
piano teacher, composer for film and games

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