A Challenge For You

WEEKLY TEACHING TIP –  August 11, 2014
by MaryAnnKehler

In the northern hemisphere, a new school year is approaching and, in the southern hemisphere, September 1 is the first day of spring. It’s a time of new beginnings and perhaps a time to reevaluate whether the business model you have developed for your studio is serving you well.

Rocio Guitard wrote a few weeks ago about avoiding the autopilot mode in teaching. That made me think about how easy it is to allow the business side of teaching to go on autopilot, as well.

I am throwing out a challenge — take an hour or a day or whatever you need to analyze whether the way you do business is creating a studio that meets your own needs for professional development, financial security, and personal happiness.

If your current business model requires that you work nights and/or weekends, is that really working for you on a personal level? If not, is there a way you could change it? Are you consistently missing lunch and exercise breaks because something comes up that is more important? Do you find that lessons frequently cut into personal time because the same students wait until the last minute to schedule audition coachings and you feel obligated to make that work to balance your cash flow or to avoid losing them as students? If there is a break in your schedule, do you just keep teaching because the time is open and that student seems to need more help, which means that you just gave up a break to work for free? Do you think that your experience and expertise make you worth more than your current lesson fees? Do you struggle with cash flow because students forget a check or cancel a lesson late and say they’ll “bring a check next time”?

It’s easy to avoid changing anything about the way we do business because of fear that students will leave. That’s a legitimate fear because it affects our business bottom line. There are also ways to circumvent that issue.

If you feel that a fee increase is appropriate, consider keeping your current students at their same rate and increasing the fee only for new students. This has been my studio policy for the past eight years and it’s worked well. When you study with me, the rate at which you begin will always be your rate, as long as you take regularly-scheduled lessons. When my fees increase, I send an email to all current students to let them know that an increase is occurring, but that it doesn’t affect them because their fee will always be the same. Since most students are with me 2-5 years, eventually the “old” rate filters out and most students are on the new rate. I do work with students who have been on my roster for a decade and they are still paying the same fee as they did 10 years ago. That’s fine with me. They all refer new students regularly without any marketing effort on my part.

Recently, I made a decision to require a credit card number for every new student. I cannot believe the difference that has made in my studio in just three months. We realized that my studio manager had been spending as much as 10 hours per week to track who owed what and to remind them to bring a check or call us with a credit card! The new policy is that students are welcome to pay with check or cash or an alternate card, and that the card on file will be charged only if they don’t bring payment, cancel late, or miss the lesson. Problem solved. Only one new student has refused to provide her card number and she relented gracefully when I took a few seconds to explain the amount of time it took to track unpaid lessons.

In the high school crowd, there always seems to be a audition crisis underway and it felt as though I was constantly working until 9 or 10 p.m. to accommodate that. One day, after canceling personal plans yet again, I decided to stop. I suddenly remembered the words of a dance director who explained to me why her entire studio schedule changed every two years.

She insisted on being home the same evenings as her young daughters and said that she had experienced an “Ah-ha” moment when she realized that she was regularly skipping evenings at home to accommodate the disorganization of her students: “The people for whom I was trashing my personal life were certainly appreciative in the moment when I agreed to skip a family dinner to help them. Did they remember it in the long term? No. But, my family did.”

Interestingly, it has taken only once of me being unavailable with every student who was a consistent “late scheduler.” (I did suggest a song from their current rep that could work for that audition, so they wouldn’t be left high and dry.) If they want to study regularly with me, students know that they will be building an audition book over the course of their lessons and they are on the lookout for audition calls in advance, so we have time to schedule extra sessions if needed.

Of course, if there is a legitimate last-minute need, I’ll do whatever it takes.

My hope for you is a studio business that meets your goals, both professionally and personally. Then, you’ll have the perfect job!!!!!

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