Private teaching is one of the core components of a freelance career in music. However, it is very easy for new teachers to get overwhelmed with the process of setting up their teaching business. Fortunately, it is not as hard as it sounds if you have a few basics parts figured out. Remember to think of your private lesson studio as a business.
In order for the information below to be relevant, I have to assume a few things about your new private teaching studio. The first assumption is that you have at least five students. If you have fewer than five, then you can get away with being a little disorganized. The second assumption is that you have not been hired by an organization that takes care of your billing, scheduling, and all other details.
This document is the single most important item that you can have for your private teaching business, because it lays out every detail about the lessons that you teach. Your policy should have a section at the end where parents sign and return to you saying that they understand all of your procedures. The signed form that you receive creates a legally binding contract that helps to protect you from being taken advantage of by parents. If you ever have a dispute over an item, you can always refer to the document that they signed. I recommend updating this document yearly to include any new procedures that you find effective.
Billing and Payments
Make sure to get paid prior to teaching a lesson. Stop and reread that last sentence, because it is HUGE! Never, ever, ever do work for free. Remember to treat your private teaching studio like a business and not a charity.
With all of that said, it is important to create an invoicing system for your business. I use PayPal.com to send all of my invoices to parents, and the site allows parents to pay me instantly without having to worry about their student losing a check (I also will accept checks from my students). If you decide to use an invoicing system like PayPal, make sure to roll the cost of the service on to the customer. I add the PayPal fee to every invoice, and if parents want to pay online, then it’s just a convenience fee.
I personally do not accept cash from my students as payment, because it is untraceable. If there is ever a dispute about whether you have been paid or not, it is literally impossible to prove or disprove if a parent pays in cash.
If you have any issues with being paid on time, an effective tool to implement is a late fee. The moment that I added this item to my policy form parents started paying on time. It doesn’t have to be a huge fee (I use $10), but the sheer presence of the fee will encourage on time payments. Remember, your studio is a business.
This tool becomes increasingly more important the more students that you have. Your focus should be on creating a regular meeting time for each of your students in order to create a routine for the student. Constantly look ahead to see if you have any potential scheduling problems. If you catch them early, then you can either reschedule a student or make the necessary adjustment to the invoices that go out. If you would like an online calendar system, I use Supersaas.com.
In my early years of teaching, I found that once I past about five students in my studio it was impossible to mentally keep track of each student’s progress. It doesn’t matter if you take notes electronically (I use excel) or with paper. What matters is that you take the notes. Set up a note taking system that tracks the payments that you receive, what is done in each lesson, and what assignments the students have.
Make sure to establish a preferred communication method with parents up front. It doesn’t really matter which method you use; it just matters that there is a method. I personally prefer written communication (Emails) for all official items. That way, I can refer to what was said on what date for any disputes. If you start to get a high amount of Email volume, auto-responders are great tools. I have one set up saying that I will get back to parents in 2 to 5 business days, and if they need to get ahold of me quickly, they should call me.
Your goal when organizing your studio should be to create processes so that you can save time and take the “guessing game” out of the picture. If you would like to try a wonderful online service, you can follow our link to MusicTeachersHelper.com and receive 20% off of your first month. This site organizes every aspect of your private teaching studio for low monthly rates.
Photo by Tintin44. Used under Creative Commons License.