Giving yourself a raise

Weekly Teaching Tip – July 13, 2015
by Aimee Geddes

There are a lot of singers out there who go into teaching thinking “Wow, my teacher does well and makes good money teaching voice. I think I could do that on the side while I am going to school and do all right.”
At least, that is how I looked at things as an 18 year old college student needing to make money and loving to sing and learn about the voice. At some point I hoped to be doing as well as the top teachers in the field, and I admired them, but I didn’t really have an action plan of how to get there until a few years ago when I realized just how much I loved teaching and what a blessing it was to my family’s income.

Here are a few things that have made a huge difference not only in my income, but in my own sanity:
1. Lesson reminders. I am still surprised when I take my kids for lessons somewhere and there is no confirmation of any kind. They expect the first registration to count as a reminder. I found that once I started sending a reminder every week to every student, I didn’t have students flaking out on my nearly as often. And, since my studio policy is stated clearly in every lesson reminder email, it has eliminated A LOT of awkward conversations about money/billing. They know what is expected and I feel like I have done my part to remind them so they know they are obligated to do their part and show up. It does take some time, and I know many teachers use different programs to complete this task. However, the important thing to remember is that you need to do it. Your students will take you a lot more seriously if you do and they will pay you before other teachers if they know you expect it.

2. Flat monthly fee. I switched to this a few years ago and it really helped to increase my revenue. I know everyone has a different way of doing things, but this seemed to work well for my demographic and area. I have two tiers for students to fall into: Part Time and Full Time. Full time students are considered those that come 4 times per month. They receive a little bit better rate for being a consistent student. They are billed for 4 lessons every month, whether or not they show up. This is stated in the bottom of every reminder email so they don’t “forget” how it works or how much they owe. Part Time students are those that come every other week. They are either assigned the 1st and 3rd weeks or the 2nd and 4th. They know that they cannot just “come next week” if their scheduled lesson didn’t work out because someone else is in that spot on their off week. They are billed for 2 lessons per month, at the “single lesson rate” which is a few dollars higher than the monthly rate. They are billed for 2 lessons, whether or not they show up to both of them. Again, having this stated in the reminder email keeps things very clear.

3. Enforce your late fees. I know we all hate to have to be mean and charge late fees. Honestly, my late fee isn’t very high, but you really only have to charge it a few times to get people to pay on time.

4. Are you charging enough? We do a very specialized thing as voice teachers and if you are really good at what you do, your clients will be willing to pay you more for it. It is ok to lose a few non-serious students. Autumn is a good time to raise rates, so if you are thinking of doing it, now will be a good time to let your students know. It is a good idea to look at what other IVTOM teachers are charging as well as other voice/instrument teachers in your area. Compare your skill set to those other teachers. What will it take to put you on par with the best of the best? Even if you don’t feel you have the top skills yet, you are probably better than you think. Set a goal of what you would like to be charging in 5 years, 10 years, etc. Then evaluate how far away you are from that now. How many times do you want to increase your rates between now and then? How much additional education do you need to make you worth that? Take the necessary classes and put in the training hours to get there. Make sure to come to the conferences and area trainings. Then raise your rates in correlation with your increased abilities.

You can do amazing things as a teacher both for your students and your family or yourself with careful planning and work. Make what you love to do your career, not just a side job to pick up a little extra cash. Go forth, do good! Make a difference!

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  1. Question for Aimee about point #2 “Flat Monthly Fee”: How does she handle months with 5 lessons on a client’s given day?

  2. Answer from Aimee: To handle months with 5 weeks: Usually a 5 week month has a 3 week month following. For example, this October has 5 Thursdays. November will only have 3 Thursdays due to Thanksgiving her in the U.S. I make it clear to my students ahead of time that tuition will be the same, for both months. However, since there will be only 3 weeks in December, due to Christmas, I can either choose to prorate for the 3 weeks, or look ahead to January to see if there are 5 weeks. Since there are not, for this time, I will most likely pro-rate December. However, I charge the higher rate for only having 3 lessons in a month. The discount only comes on the 4th lesson.
    I know some teachers use a 5th week as a make up week, but I have found that I basically just end up working for free that week and my family time is too important to me, so that is why I went to the flat fee system. If there is not a 3 week month next to a 5 week month, I simply schedule the 5th week off for me to take vacation and don’t have lessons that week. Since I constantly remind my students of how it works through email and lesson reminders, I really don’t have many questions about it from them. They all follow suit pretty well. Even though it is more work for me up front and I have to be very on top of things, I have found that it actually makes my life/studio run a lot more smoothly and I have a more consistent income, not to mention more sanity).
    I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions. I would love to know what works for you in your studio. Good luck and happy teaching!

  3. Thanks so much Aimee and Dean–very helpful!!

    Aimee, to answer your question, what is sort of working for me is to offer a substantial “monthly discount” any time students book four or more lessons in the same timeslot, for a given month, and pay by first lesson. With the monthly discount, there is no rescheduling and no cancelling allowed, but the monthly discount adds up to a free lesson every 7 or 8 lessons, so I explain to clients that they should view the discount as more of a “cancellation insurance.” If they need to skip a lesson once every two months, the discount has covered it. If they don’t cancel, the discount adds up to about five or six free lessons a year. When I’m busy, I limit drop-ins to a 3 week window and explain that priority is given to clients booking monthly. When I’m slow, I sometimes let monthly clients reschedule, if they need to, provided they do it themselves via my online scheduler, so it doesn’t create more admin for me.

    This gives clients freedom to take two weeks vacation, or whatever, but they understand they’ll have to pay the full rate for months when they’re not there at least four weeks. If I book vacations, or during major holidays, I give good regular monthly clients the discount, anyway, which they always appreciate.

    Very similar system. Not totally simple, but encourages regular attendance, paying in advance, and discourages flaking. Also gives me freedom to take vacation when I want.

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