In this video I will talk you through my best business tips for private music teachers. I cover all of the topics that cause us headaches – from setting boundaries to billing and scheduling and more.
It’s important to remember that as a private music teacher, you are actually a small business owner. You need to put your business owner hat on and make your music teacher gig work for you! Check out these great business tips from a pro with over two decades of experience teaching piano and voice.
Protect Your Sanity as a Private Music Teacher
As voice teachers, we are often business owners, which can wreak havoc on our minds and sanity. I have been running a private studio for many years and can offer some advice on how to keep your sanity while providing a great environment for your studio.
Number one is boundaries. Having appropriate boundaries in your studio is crucial to keeping a peaceful teaching environment and avoiding many of the pitfalls of private teaching.
Consider placing boundaries around your time. When do your lessons start and end? How many emails and phone calls should you be expected to make? Do you have a late policy?
Emails and phone calls with students and/or parents
Some students and parents expect a lot of interaction via emails and phone calls, which can really take up a lot of time. I set firm boundaries around my time, letting parents know that I will send occasional reports and updates, and I send a variety of emails to parents keeping them informed of recitals and progress. If something comes up, I make myself available to parents to answer their questions, but when it takes up too much time, I let parents know that we can schedule a time to meet in person, for which they can pay my regular rate. (This often comes up during college auditions.)
Once or twice I have had interactions with parents who have spoken to me in an angry and abusive way, and I have made clear that that type of interaction is not appropriate and I discontinue lessons.
In addition to being a voice teacher, I am also a professional pianist and offer college audition and professional development training, as well as being a music arranger and copyist. Over the years I have learned not to give this information away to students, as it creates a lot of additional work for me and creates an environment where my skills are not valued. Don’t give your time away!
Instead, I record accompaniment parts during a student’s lesson, or will do a song or two here and there for free for a longtime student. If I need to prepare music for someone, I do so during the lesson or I quote them a fee to do the work. If people want professional development or college preparation support, we schedule that as paid time.
Going to student performances – how much time should you spend doing this? Should you pay for your own tickets or be comped?
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Scheduling and Billing
Another great business tip for private music teachers is to make sure you’re charging enough for lessons! So many teachers undercharge for their work and they end up working too much and making too little. Value your experience and your work and demand a fee that makes sense for your financially. Ask around in your area to see what the going rate for teachers is, and adjust your rate depending on your experience level, training and skills. As a voice teacher who has solid piano skills, a Master’s degree and extensive training and performance experience, I charge on the higher side, but my skills are 100% worth it.
Are you going to charge by semester, by month or by lesson?
You need a solid studio policy that includes a late policy (that you won’t lengthen the lesson if someone shows up late), an absence policy (24 hours? 48 hours? No shows) that protects your time and scheduling, and an illness policy. Having a solid studio policy will save you time, money and headaches. The clearer you are, the fewer lesson issues you will have.
Avoid common scheduling pitfalls by not teaching on holidays like Halloween night or Memorial Day weekend. Also, have a list of the days and weeks that you will be available each semester and over the summer holidays. I recently switched to semestered billing for my weekly students, which has dramatically increased my revenue and has reduced the amount of emails I send by about 80%. For my occasional students I use an online scheduling app (I use Acuity), so that my students can see what slots I have available and schedule themselves on the app. When they need to cancel, they do so on the app, which again saves me hours and hours of time emailing back and forth.
Give Yourself A Break
Make sure when you’re putting your schedule together, that you schedule time to eat, rest and do admin work. Everyone needs to eat lunch and dinner and everyone needs to have time to take a short walk and rest. Make sure you include in your weekly schedule when you’ll take care of administrative tasks or you may find yourself starting at the computer after hours.
Consider your day, your week, your month and your year and make sure that you are giving yourself appropriate breaks in the short and long term. No one can teach 7 days a week without getting burned out, and if you don’t leave room in your week then you’ll have difficulty making time for doctor’s appointments, voice lessons and general self care. Everyone needs a vacation, so give yourself a variety of opportunities to take time off to enjoy your family, travel and live life. Your students will thank you!
As a private music teacher, it’s very easy to get stuck in the daily grind of teaching and forget that we are teaching something that we love! Make sure you make time to improve your skills, learn new information and develop a network of professional organizations and colleagues, who will enrich your knowledge and work.
Go out to hear music
I find that the best way for me to stay content with teaching is to make sure that I am frequently taking in live performances. Since I live in NYC, there are hundreds of choices every week. It always helps me stay inspired and motivated.
Take courses and go to conferences
In order to be the best private music teacher I can be, I try to take a few courses or seminars every year, as a way to keep my knowledge current and my skills sharp. Over the years, I have studied vocal pedagogy, choral conducting, circle singing and songwriting, all of which I have brought back to share with my students.
Build your tribe
There are a plethora of organizations you can join, which provide professional development, resources and a community of teachers to bond with. The National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) is a great organization that has chapters at the local and national level. The American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) is a great organization for choral directors. There are also numerous groups on social media that you can join to chat with other like minded professionals. Sometimes Facebook can be more than just a time waster!
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