How to graciously enforce studio policy

Amy said: Apr 12, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

I don’t like the business side of my studio. Early on when I started teaching, I handed parents a copy of my studio policies, and didn’t mention it again. However, I was amazed by how many families thought that they were singularly exempt from the clause about paying for lessons that were missed with less than 24 hrs notice. At first, I assumed that they knew the policy, so the policy wouldn’t come up until the next payment was due. This created huge amounts of stress for me at the beginning of some months. Eventually, I started reminding families of this clause in the policy immediately after the lesson was missed. (Something along the lines of: I sure missed Susie at her lesson this week. Just want to remind you that the studio policy does state that you will need to pay for this lesson, because it was missed with less than 24 hrs notice. I look forward to seeing you next week.) This reduced stressful confrontations and I have never had a family complain about me reminding them of the policy…until now.

On Sunday evening after going to bed, I received a text that a family with 2 boys would be missing their lesson the next day. On Monday, I sent my typical email, but the family was hugely offended, not by the policy, but because I felt they needed a reminder of the policy. It got ugly, to include attacks on my personal character and threats to remove the boys from my studio (which would likely mean quitting violin altogether, since there are no other violin teachers—or Suzuki teachers of any instrument—in my area).

So, for the first time ever, I’m seriously considering changing to a policy of charging by the month, rather than by the hour, but I know that even if I do this, I will occasionally need to address the studio policy explicitly with parents. Therefore, my plea for advice is two-fold: 1) how do you graciously enforce your policy when needed, and 2) how to graciously move forward in this particular situation with this particular family.

Thanks for all your thoughts and tips.

Barbara Stafford said: Apr 12, 2013
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
59 posts

Amy, I don’t like the business side either.

For your situation, since it sounds like you teach from your own studio, I would check in with each one of my student’s parents and offer them a choice in how you bill for lessons.

Either, A tuition rate with a pre-set schedule. Or you can offer the “pay per lesson” with strict understanding that missed lessons without contacting 24 hours in advanced means the lesson charge is forfeit.

Offer them this choice every year along with your contract process. Or, if they ever decide they are dissatisfied with their current billing arrangement, offer to be flexible to change it at the upcoming month.

With that particular student, I think just try to minimize their anger, but let them go as fast as you can if they can’t be respectful. We don’t deserve to be abused.

Christine said: Apr 12, 2013
Christine Goodner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Hillsboro, OR
68 posts

I am sure you will get much wonderful advice about studio policies (I am looking forward to hearing what suggestions come up).

I do have a policy that says tuition is due the first lesson of each month and that while I will try to accommodate make up lessons, when possible, tuition will not be reduced for missed lessons. I too was hesitant to do this many years ago when I changed to this policy, but it has stopped the problem you are having almost completely.

There are other issues that come up though where I can relate to what you are talking about.

The biggest change I have been working on in myself is realizing that I have come up with policies for my studio that help it run well, help me cut down on issues that get in the way of teaching, and help families learn what to expect from me as their teacher.

Keeping that in mind helps me feel more comfortable addressing issues when they come up. Most people will respect you and your program if you explain the policy in question to them, even if they do not love that you have the policy.

I think in your situation I would just say that I didn’t mean to offend them, this is just my standard email to families who miss a lesson. If they are still offended and attacking you on a personal level—this may be a good time to part ways and let them leave the studio.

After 15 years of teaching, I don’t feel that I should have to put up with rude behavior on the part of families in my studio because they may not be able to find another teacher or may quit if I don’t. The Suzuki method is about becoming a wonderful person as well as a musician . . . how can I work with a family to do that if they attack me personally or are rude to me as the teacher. Part of the Suzuki triangle is disconnected (at least for me) if that is happening.

I would recommend the change to monthly billing (this summer or next fall would be natural times to start) and be kind but brave in directly addressing policy issues with people. I think most people want to follow the rules and sometimes need reminders or to be addressed directly so they know what you are saying applies directly to them (depending on their personalities). Just a “Can you do me a favor and . . .” or “You may not remember my policy but . . . ” or “Did I tell you how I handle . . . ” are usually well received—even if they feel uncomfortable to deliver.

I hope you work things out with this family or at least feel ok letting them go if need be!

Christine Goodner

Studio Website: Brookside Suzuki Strings

Blog: The Suzuki Triangle

“When Love is Deep, Much can be Accomplished” ~ Suzuki

Susan said: Apr 12, 2013
 Violin, Viola
22 posts

I’ve been teaching over 20 years and through trail and error I have found something
that works for me. I am horrid about asking for money so generally speaking this
makes it easier on me.

I charge by the semester. The total amount is then divided by 3 and each payment is
due the first of the first 3 months of the semester. Included in the invoice I send is
that there are no make-up lessons unless I am the one who must miss or change.
That eliminates the monthly money discussion. I make it clear to new families about
this and it is on my website as well.

The semester is determined by how many weeks I want to teach, when the vacation
weeks are. In the invoice is show how many weeks times the per lesson charge plus
the registration fee which is charged at the beginning of each semester and is
included in the first payment.

Now do I change lessons for some families? Certainly, I have one family who lives
quite a distance away, is hugely committed and will do what they can. But because
of the job the dad has and a variety of other things going on in their lives, I do
make exceptions when I can. Some times I can’t and they understand that as well.

The only thing I need to do is send a tuition reminder email and at the next lesson
the payments are made. I have tried charging by the lesson and by the month,
but this is the thing that works for me.

Susan

Susan Rasmussen
Suzuki Strings of Las Vegas
561-374-4706
www.suzukistringsoflasvegas.com

Barb said: Apr 12, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Like Susan, I charge by semester. Whether by the month or semester, I thought it would be much easier to not give a refund for a missed lesson than to ask for payment after the fact. By semester means fewer trips to the bank or chasing down late payments (I don’t use the online payment option on my Music Teacher’s Helper account) . It also keeps people committed for a full term, usually. I use Music Teacher’s Helper to make automatic invoices and lesson reminders, and provide an online calendar for my students. I may this year do what I’ve seen others describe for summer: Have those taking summer lessons commit to something like six lessons, leaving a little more leeway for scheduling (a week off for me plus a week off for them? and/or let them book their own lesson times/dates from open spots on my calendar?).

Maybe if you are wanting to switch over the idea of offering the option to current students is good, but for new students, I don’t think you have to give an option.

I like Christine’s advice for explaining that it wasn’t your intention to offend, etc.. Maybe try reading your email and see if an unintentional tone might be possible—if there’s a way you can change it. Thank them if they’ve helped you to see a change is needed. In any event, continue to be professional and friendly, even if you find you have to part ways. A face-to face meeting is likely to be more civil than texts or emails. Maybe with a little time they will have calmed down. Will you have a chance to talk to the parent without the boys present at their next lesson? Maybe they have other things going on and your email happened to be the straw…

If you do part ways, even if the boys do not continue on the violin, hopefully you have been a positive influence in the time you’ve had them. Remember that learning the instrument might be a secondary benefit from your lessons.

As for moving forward with enforcing the policy.. I think I’ve only had one student who asked if they could have a make-up lesson after missing a lesson and I just said I was sorry, but restated my policy that 24 hours notice is required for a make-up lesson. It was on the phone, so she could hear my tone, though…. That is a point, though… maybe an idea would be to make a phone call routine rather than answer in text or email?

I have also had a few students quit mid-term, and my policy is clear that there are no refunds. In each case I have let them know they have credit with me (not stated in policy which says only two make-up lessons per term)—I was just extending a friendly courtesy) and I did have one come back to use her credit (and book additional lessons) so far.

Best wishes in resolving this situation graciously!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Amy said: Apr 13, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

I really appreciate all your thoughts about how to approach this particular family and families in general. I know that tact is not one of my strengths, but even in retrospect I am in shock of their response. For the moment, the situation is at least smoothed over, though I think I need to invite the mom to tea to work on strengthening our very fragile relationship.

Thank you for your thoughts, and I look forward to hearing more.

Barb said: Apr 13, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Tea, great idea! One of the Parents as Partners videos is specifically on nurturing the parent/teacher relationship (”Between Adults”).

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Mengwei said: Apr 13, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

Another possible way to handle (if there is a next time) would be to not mention the policy in the email but focus on you missed them, hope they’re okay, etc. Then give the parents a chance to bring it up first—either in their reply or when you next see them. Of course, if they don’t, you will have to be comfortable with initiating in-person.

I charge by month in advance and let parents know they are reserving the lesson time each week (vs. the prevailing of mindset of paying per actual lesson hours). I originally had my “no make-up policy” written in a roundabout way but after several requests, grit my teeth and wrote it out directly (should probably do the same with refunds, late payments, etc.!). I decided to offer make-ups if another student plans to be out (vacation, etc.)—then you can arrange to come during the other student’s time.

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 22, 2013
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

It sounds like you are giving lessons and charging afterwards. As others have suggested, I also add my suggestion—make your tuition pre-paid for all new students. Perhaps choose a suitable time period (6 months or so?) to let current students know that you are going to be making a tuition policy change for them, and after that time they will need to switch to the new tuition payment schedule.

Caitlin said: Apr 29, 2013
Caitlin HunsuckViolin
Merced, CA
41 posts

I have found a happy solution for my studio pricing schedule that gives parents payment “freedom” and keeps me sane. I have my monthly amount (which is what I would like to charge), a quarterly amount (with a slight discount off the monthly amount) and then a weekly amount… which is $5 more a week than the monthly amount. I put this all in a table with my 15 minute rate, half hour, 45min and hour rate. I state clearly that to receive the quarterly or monthly rate that tuition must be paid in FULL by the first lesson of the quarter/month. And also that I don’t do make-up lessons.

This might be your solution to switching over to the new payment plan. No one ever goes for the weekly rate, unless they only want one or two lessons (happens once in a blue moon). So I have a mix of quarterly and monthly payees. It works well. I just have to keep track of who is on which schedule. But ever since I started this method I haven’t had any problems with students under paying. I also emphasize that their tuition doesn’t just cover their lessons but also group lessons, paperwork, training, etc. You might want to keep all that in mind as you update your studio policies. The end of May would be a perfect time!

Cathy Hargrave said: Apr 30, 2013
Cathy HargraveTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Rowlett, TX
50 posts

I have a similar idea from Caitlin but in the opposite direction. I teach 40 lessons a year and begin in mid-August. I charge a tuition rate for the year and I offer annual, semi-annual, quarterly, and monthly payments. People sign an agreement to commit for the entire 40 lessons with no refund, credit, or make-up lessons if they cancel. Instead of discounting my salary, I add to the amount if they pay semi-annually, quarterly or monthly because in essence, I am financing their tuition payment. If they pay semi-annually, I add 5%; quarterly = 7.5%; monthly= 10%.This is clearly explained in my tuition policy Over 50% of my students pay annually and almost everyone else pays monthly. I got the idea from a private school many of my students attended at the time. It has been a good system for me. Everyone’s registrations are due by Aug. 1st with payment plus a registration fee w/ their signed agreement. All this evolved from a series of problems I encountered years ago. I had several students whose moms were lawyers and judges who assured me this was legal and would hold up in court if it came to that. It hasn’t and now I am paid regularly throughout the year.

Gyula said: Apr 30, 2013
 5 posts

I’ve been thinking of using PayPal for tuition payments, maybe.

If parents then want to pay with a credit card, or apply to PayPal for financing (PayPal offers up to a year to make payments over $100, I think—I’d have to look into it more—but the person getting paid gets their money upfront).

This way their credit company can deal with getting the money: I still get paid upfront and they can space it out over time if they need to…

Has anyone else used PayPal to collect tuition payments?

Phyllis Calderon said: Apr 30, 2013
Phyllis CalderonViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Piano
Chicago, IL
22 posts

Hi Gyula,

I use Music Teacher’s Helper (MTH) which allows me to email invoices to my parents. From the invoice, the parents can pay online via Paypal. They don’t need to have a Paypal account to pay this way. They have the option of paying the full amount or scheduling subscription (automatic or recurring) payments. I have found that this is convenient for parents who would rather pay with credit card and it is helpful on the business side because it tracks and records the payment automatically into my MTH account.

I bill monthly and simply send an invoice about a week prior to the new month. My families are great at paying and I’ve never had problems with MTH or Paypal.

I hope this is helpful for you.
Please check out MTH at http://www.musicteachershelper.com/promo/B753E5. You can set up a free trial to see if this is right for you.

Phyllis Calderon
Director, String Instructor
A Touch of Classical Plus, Inc.—Calderon Music Studio
www.atouchofclassicalplus.musicteachershelper.com

Barb said: Apr 30, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I love MTH! I haven’t used the paypal option yet. There is a small charge … per transaction? But I surveyed my parents last year and the only one who thought they would like to use paypal are no longer with the studio. Good to hear it works well, Phyllis.

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Phyllis Calderon said: May 1, 2013
Phyllis CalderonViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Piano
Chicago, IL
22 posts

Hi Barb,

Yes, I love MTH, too! I forgot to mention that I do charge a small registration fee per family that offsets the small fee Paypal imposes for processing payments and I do have some parents pay me via check or cash.

Phyllis Calderon
Director, String Instructor
A Touch of Classical Plus, Inc.—Calderon Music Studio
www.atouchofclassicalplus.musicteachershelper.com

Lori Bolt said: May 1, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Yes, PayPal does have a processing fee which is deducted from your parents’ payments….so definitely charge more to compensate. I don’t use it for piano tuition, but I know from Ebay sales, etc.

Would anyone who charges an annual registration fee be willing to say what you charge? And what do you feel it covers?

Lori Bolt

Barb said: May 1, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I haven’t charged a registration fee, yet… but we have a child arts tax credit in Canada now… The cost of lessons and registration fees are part of that, but not the cost of books/supplies. However, even if the registration fee includes books/supplies, uniforms, it can be claimed…. to the best of my understanding. So I am thinking a registration fee may be implemented in my studio, which will include at least some books. (We don’t have books available locally, so I usually buy them for my students to save on shipping fees.)

I have previously considered that my time setting up records, meeting with parents, costs associated with recitals etc. is covered by tuition, as I don’t charge an hourly rate. I’d also like to know what others consider the registration fee to cover.

Re the processing fee from paypal… Does it not also cost us to drive to the bank and deposit checks?

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

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