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Five income-affecting policy tweaks

As you review and send out your new studio policy for the coming year, it might be wise to re-examine a few important aspects of that policy. These five income-affecting policy tweaks have the potential to generate more income or more cash in hand, thus enabling you to concentrate on the most important part of your business: creative and effective teaching.

1. Tuition-based payments

The most important tweak you can make to your policy to generate more income is to stop charging tuition "by the week." Charging by the week encourages parents to think that they are only paying for a weekly appointment with you, while we know that piano lessons encompass much more than the weekly appointment, including recitals, repertoire selection, lesson preparation, teacher training, and more.1 Charging by the week also allows parents to pay less when they miss a lesson. This results in a lower and more unpredictable income for you.

However, if you present your services as tuition for a "yearly package" or a "semester package," then it is easier for families to understand that they are still receiving benefits even when they are not at their lessons. Collecting tuition ensures that you have consistent income and will keep parents from deducting for lessons that they choose not to attend. Exact steps on how to transition to tuition payments can be found in the March/April 2015 issue of Clavier Companion or in "No More Teaching 'By the Week'— Piano Tuition Made Easy" on ComposeCreate.com.2

2. No make up lessons

Giving make up lessons can significantly decrease your income, as this practice causes you to set aside more time for teaching while still collecting the same amount of money. When a student misses a lesson, you are still in "teacher mode," so it is not feasible to really accomplish a substantial task during that Five income-affecting policy tweaks by Wendy Stevens A vacated lesson time. In addition, if you give that student a make up lesson, you are also committing an additional time segment to teaching and thus will not be able to get anything else done during that time. The result is that you schedule yourself to be busy and committed to teaching twice the amount of time for the same amount of money. This is just one of the many drawbacks to giving make up lessons.3

Of course, a no make up policy does not mean that there are no other options for parents other than to miss a lesson. Swap lessons, recorded lessons, and once-a-semester group lessons can be options for parents to use if they desire. See the May/June 2015 issue of Clavier Companion for more ideas on how to eliminate make up lessons.

3. Built-in cost-of-living increase

Everyone deserves a cost-of-living increase, though not everyone receives one. As the CEO of your business, you alone have the power to give yourself one. A simple statement in your policy about this will help parents expect an appropriate cost-of-living increase every year.

"Families should expect a yearly increase in tuition appropriate to cost of living increases and services offered."

Of course you are always free to not increase tuition, but having this in your policy will help parents plan appropriately. This verbiage also reminds parents that you are operating a business that is also subject to economic pressures just like they are. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics inflation calculator can help you determine a costof- living increase.4

In addition, if you are offering more services, have completed teaching certifications, or are a better teacher, you should feel free to give yourself a "raise" in addition to a cost-of-living increase.

4. Registration fees

There are multiple reasons that teachers collect registration fees, many of which affect income and expendable cash. Here are some of the most compelling reasons to implement a registration fee.

- A yearly registration fee can provide extra money at the beginning of the teaching year to purchase needed supplies, music, and equipment.

- A non-refundable, yearly registration fee, which can be due early summer, will help parents commit to fall lessons. A non-refundable registration fee can also help offset the lost income if a family decides not to take lessons in the fall. The registration fee may enable you to relax and prevent scrambling for income and for students during the busiest time of the teaching year.

- A registration fee can help offset the costs of incentives, recitals, or other extras that you may provide for your students.

- A registration fee can provide income during your "off" month, if you charge a yearly tuition divided into eleven equal months.

- Registration fees can also cover the cost of books if you purchase these for your students.

The amount that teachers charge for registration fees varies greatly. If you are merely looking for a commitment from families and a little extra income for the beginning of the year, then anywhere from $25-$50 per student might be reasonable. If you have families with multiple students, you may want to help their financial strain by including this caveat:

"The registration fee for each student is $xx, not to exceed $xx per family."

However, if you are using the registration fee to offset book costs or cover your off month, then a higher registration fee would be necessary.

5. Thorough dismissal policy 

If you do not have a clear statement about how tuition will be handled for dismissals or termination, an unexpected income gap can occur if a family quits midyear. In addition, it is important to state reasons that you might need to dismiss a student so that you do not feel stuck teaching a student who is not a good fit for your studio.

Here is an example from a policy that uses a yearly tuition divided into equal monthly payments:

"If for any reason you must stop lessons, one month's notice is required. At that time, I will pro-rate the tuition for your final month to reflect the number of lessons that you have received based on the last lesson date. You will be required to pay this balance. Regrettably, I will have to dismiss a student if any of these circumstances occur:

- Failure to pay tuition on time

- Persistent absences

- Uncooperative attitude

- Failure to follow practice as instructed

- Lack of progress due to insufficient practice or unfulfilled requirements"

Means to an end

As always, it's important to remember that a healthy income and a thorough policy is a means to an end, not the end itself. Teaching music in a way that connects with each student is our most important goal, and our policies serve that goal by reducing stress, implementing procedures, and providing income so that we can focus on teaching and creating expectations that allow lessons to run smoothly for both us and our families.

If you have a business question, please send it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'd love to answer your question in a future column!

1 Download the free "Where Does My Tuition Go?" brochure to give to parents: http://composecreate.com/ brochure/

2 http://composecreate.com/no-more-charging-lessons-bythe- week/

3 For a tongue-in-cheek, comical view of this, read "5 Reasons You SHOULD Give Make-Up Lessons" http:// composecreate.com/top-5-reasons-you-should-givemakeup- lessons/

4 http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

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      Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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