fee structuring and time spent in administration

Lisa said: Dec 8, 2013
Lisa Liske-Doorandish
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
8 posts

Hello!

Does anyone with a private studio have sage advice about fee structuring for the year? I have had two 15-week semesters for a long time, with summer lessons expected, but offering a 5-week summer session for which people could choose how many lessons.

With the last several years feeling random and scary regarding the summer lesson sign-up (last-minute sign-ups making the summer income work out but feel scary), I decided to work on a year-round tuition, since I expect year-round lessons. I expect the student families to sign up by the semester, and for summer lessons, but have now made 3 out of the 5 summer weeks mandatory. Billing will be easier this way, theoretically, and I will know ahead of time what my income will be year-round, one year at a time. If someone needs to stop lessons at the end of a semester or summer session I could pro-rate.

But some students come only every other week from a great distance. Some come to my home, and some to a site where we must pay a facilities fee, which I pass on. Those who come a great distance on non-Group days don’t attend Group. One family says they’ll be away all summer. Pretty soon I feel absolutely overwhelmed with the time I must spend figuring the tuition and facilities/accompaniment fees. I have some barter students. I do not charge a separate administrative fee. I always feel, rightly or wrongly, that I should try to save everyone money. But at this point, I am spending way too much time each semester trying to figure out what everyone owes. The feeling of division in the studio between those who have the means to afford what I offer and those who can’t haunts me.

Ideas for doing the studio billing and budget, and for dealing with the stratification in our communities between those who can readily afford Suzuki lessons and those who really can’t? At times I have found myself offering nearly a full day per week of teaching to those who are bartering or otherwise not paying money for lessons.

I would be most grateful for thoughts on all this. I need time to practice and be an artist, too, not just dealing with studio issues. Can this be achieved only by teaching the wealthy? The thought makes me cringe.

  • Lisa Liske-Doorandish
    Community Cello Works
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Linda said: Dec 9, 2013
 1 posts

I have a registration form to become part of the year round instrumental music program and an ongoing monthly subscription fee that includes weekly scheduled lessons and performance opportunities. The students bring their check to their first lesson of each month.

Mrs. Linda R. Mason
Instrumental Music Teacher
Epworth Christian School

Rhonda said: Dec 9, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Edmonton, AB
12 posts

Having year-round lessons is not the usual here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
What the teachers in my organization do, is charge a certain rate for 10 months (September-June). Summer lessons are optional and I charge per lesson for these.
I haven’t ever been asked to teach in exchange for goods or services—my first instinct is to stay away from this situation. Why shouldn’t you receive payment for your work?

Renee Shaw said: Dec 9, 2013
Renee Shaw
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
19 posts

It sounds like I have a similar payment schedule to Linda. It works well for my schedule and allows for adjustments on a monthly basis; I don’t have to keep track of it all for a whole semester!

Concerning Rhonda’s comment, I’m actually currently considering offering one of my students a discount in their rate so that they can afford lessons/other musical training. I know that things are tight for this particular family, but I am having issues determining an appropriate job for my student to be able to complete to justify this discount. My voice instructor offered an arrangement to do housework in exchange for a discounted voice lesson, and while in high school I babysat for my violin instructor after my lesson every week for two or three hours, in exchange for which she only charged me for a 30 minute lesson although I had a 45 minute lesson. I think it is something that can be reasonable in some circumstances, but should not be the norm. Otherwise you do run into the issue of not being paid for your work.

Anne Bowman said: Dec 10, 2013
Anne BowmanTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Plano, TX
8 posts

Some of my best student families were those wjth whom I chose to work out a barter plan in order to keep them in study through hard times. Barter included a one time legal fee, installation of guttering, marble window sills, vertical blinds, yard work, building a greenhouse and patio improvements, and for many years, housework. It was mutually helpful. Just depends if it works for you to change your cash flow. I could not spare the cash when I had 5 children under my roof or in college. It’s good now that I have an empty nest, a house to maintain, and no live-in fixer-upper person.

Lori Bolt said: Dec 10, 2013
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

I also had a situation in which I wanted the student to continue lessons rather than quit due to financial hardship. It was a short-term situation of a few months (discussed with the parent at the beginning), and I received a lovely dinner every week on the student’s lesson day. Years previous to that, another family wanted to start another sibling in lessons and offered house cleaning in exchange. That also worked well since the mom was a commercial cleaner and knew her cleaning!

I would only ever extend a barter arrangement to a family that had been with me for a while, and it would be a rare situation. Another possibility is to offer a “scholarship” instead of a discount (no barter). I also ask for monthly payments as Linda does. It’s easy bookkeeping :)

Lori Bolt

Janie said: Dec 10, 2013
 Violin, Recorder, Viola
Glenwood Springs, CO
16 posts

You have received some wonderful suggestions here. All can work out for you if you are willing. I have had barter students over the years. Some worked and some did not. Just make sure you are bartering for something that adds value to your life. I have had “scholarship” students too. These are the very dedicated students whose families really cannot afford lessons. Most often, there have been several children in the family, all taking lessons. The think I like best about what you said was that it makes you cringe at the thought of teaching only the wealthy. Thanks for your contribution to the community of humankind!

Violinmaestra

Heather Reichgott said: Dec 11, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
95 posts

When I was in high school I wanted to study with a teacher we could not afford. My parents worked out a large discount and I was to work for my teacher a few hours a week. Sometimes I did household tasks and I helped paint the house, but most of what she had me do was transcribe lecture notes and notes from university from paper onto the computer. It has taken me a long time to realize that she probably chose these tasks as a way to provide me further education. From having my head in music history and theory notes several hours a week, I learned a lot more than many teenage piano students do on those topics, and it was very helpful later on. I’m very grateful.

Swan said: Dec 11, 2013
Swan Kiezebrink
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
5 posts

Hello Lisa!
I agree with what has been said before, that offering help to students in exchange for work is best done after a family is established with you and you know their commitment. I had a few situations as a young teacher that made me draw this conclusion, so now when I have families who have proven their dedication in need, I am happy to work something out with them.

Regarding administration, I too do as several teachers above have mentioned. I charge for the full year, September through mid-June, including a recital fee and (for my voice students) an accompanying and practice CD fee. I invoice them for the year in August 2 weeks before lessons begin and allow them the option of paying in full; of paying in 3 (2 post-dated cheques) and monthly (9 post-dated cheques) payable by September 30th. All fees are due in the September billing.

Over the summer, I open up 3 weeks where I am home and available and it is pay-as-you-come and they can book as much time as they would like. For those that don’t opt for the summer lessons, I run a Summer Practise Challenge where they fill in my “fancy” chart with stickers or whatever for 25x over the summer and I have rewards for each one that completes all 25x. And then I always remind parents that if practice is maintained, lessons will go much smoother in September! Then I don’t stress about anything and take what comes through the door in September.

Lastly, Music Teachers Helper is a great online tool for administration, and has the option of having a PayPal account and your families being charged monthly from there. I have a website with them and really appreciate the automation of this- just put www in front of the name and you’ll be there. Worth the time and money, in my opinion.
All the best!

Barb said: Dec 14, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

I also use Music Teacher’s Helper for billing, scheduling, my website, etc. which really is helpful (link in signature). You can set each student’s rate once and set it to automatically generate charges if you wish, by lesson or by month etc. But I charge by the term and enter my rate manually as that works best for me—same rate for all based on length of lesson. With all your different situations, I can understand your frustration.

For summer term, July and August, I have had a very loose policy where I make days available on my calendar and they sign up online for as many or few as they wish, and I have also set up for those who wish to continue through summer a five or six lesson schedule and have them pay in advance. I don’t depend on my summer income, but if you do, I can see how scary that could be. Maybe what you need to do is set up your yearly income needed and divide that into the 10 months or whatever your students usually attend… i.e., raise your rates. Maybe then you could offer a discounted summer rate. My husband is a public school teacher and we’ve more or less lived on the 10 month income for the duration of his career.

I have started adding a registration fee as well, a few dollars for my time setting up the calendar etc., and the cost of materials needed—which is different for returning students… so that is where fees differ.

Hope this is helpful!

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

Kirsten said: Jan 27, 2014
 Violin
103 posts

Hi Barb,

I tried out Music Teacher’s Helper as you mentioned and so far I love it. Just want to thank you so much for your recommendation and encourage other teachers to check this out too. I thought the free trial was great and the service a bargain. Your thoughtful recommendation will save me lots of time and fuss.

Lisa: Did you try this too and did it help?

Kirsten

Kirsten

Lisa said: Jan 28, 2014
Lisa Liske-Doorandish
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
8 posts

I have tried Music Teacher’s Helper for their trial period, and found that a lot of what they offer I already had in place with my own website and other methods. $30 a month feels steep, when these things can be had for free if you get your systems in place.

Billing remains the most time-consuming part for me, but I’ve worked out a few things to cut down on the time. Also, using Scheduling Genius, the online free scheduling site, helps with that aspect.

Thanks for all the ideas.

  • Lisa Liske-Doorandish
    Community Cello Works
    /Users/lisa/Desktop/ music/cello logos/Row of cellos-1.jpg
Laura said: Jan 28, 2014
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Stanton, MN
25 posts

I use Wave accounting. It is a free online accounting program. It works very well for me. For a small fee, you can accept credit card payments.

Barb said: Jan 30, 2014
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

You’re welcome, Kirsten!

I actually signed up with Music Teacher’s Helper for the free website, but then did the trial of the subscription and decided that for my studio under 20 students $14 was well worth it. Great that they have the free trial so that if it doesn’t suit you there’s no loss.

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

Lisa said: Mar 18, 2014
Lisa Toner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Seattle, WA
4 posts

Thanks for the Schedule Genius recommendation. I definitely need to check that out. Scheduling is really difficult with a full studio and busy families! I'm thinking of adding a $10 annual registration fee and charging a slightly higher rate for summer lessons due to the large amount of time it takes to schedule them.

Christine Clougherty said: Mar 19, 2014
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
19 posts

For summer lessons, I use Volunteer Spot, and there are other similar programs out there. I ask the students to sign up for 6 lessons during June, July, and August, and they pay on June 1st for those 6 lessons. Then they are free to go on the website and sign up for their 6 lessons. Some families sign up for more, and they pay me for those in August. Some don't schedule all 6 lessons, so they pay me for what they have scheduled (this is usually just a couple of families who are traveling for many weeks). There are always one or two families who don't sign-up at all, but I just don't see any way around that. However, the fact that the families are in charge of their scheduling saves me priceless time. (And I make it VERY clear that since they receive a confirmation email immediately after signing up, and a reminder email 2 days before, that I do not give make-ups for "no shows").

Lisa said: Mar 20, 2014
Lisa Liske-Doorandish
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
8 posts

Can anyone tell me if you have an elegant way to use SignUp Genius? I have had to do the laborious entering of endless 15-minute slots for make-up days since lesson lengths vary, and apparently parents have to re-sign in to enter something in each 15-minute segment; and I then receive endless e-mails noting that each 15-minute spot has been taken.

Am I missing something?

Thanks for your insight; I have struggled to find a simple way that seems to suit music lessons, to no avail.

  • Lisa
  • Lisa Liske-Doorandish
    Community Cello Works
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Gregory Guay said: Apr 22, 2014
Gregory Guay
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Mount Pleasant, SC
10 posts

I have spent two years trying to refine my system. This is what I am proposing this year—what do you think?

August/September $260 (Includes registration fee)
(Lessons begin August, all are billed the same regardless of when they begin private lessons, even if school doesn't start until mid-August.)

Oct/Nov/Dec $390

Jan/Feb/Mar $390

April/May/June $390

July 1-4—Lessons Optional $30/lesson (Sub-teacher for July 2014)

This should save nit-picking about wether one has 2, 3, 4 lessons in August.

I recently had a parent tell me she is leaving for 6 weeks mid-May and only wants to pay me for half of May and not June. I have not been very clear on my policy up front when students sign up—I need to improve on that—she seemed to understand though and offered me $300 for the April/May/June quarter and I think I will be happy with that but from now on I will be very clear about my annual studio tuition. It has taken me two years or so to figure out the above system, not it's time to implement confidently.
Is this in line with many of you?

Emily Morgan said: Apr 23, 2014
Emily Morgan
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Wilmington, NC
14 posts

I have been trying to figure out how not to loose students (and income) over the summer. I know that a lot of people travel during the summer, so I am offering parents the option of a lesson every two weeks over June and July, to allow for a more flexible schedule. (They will have to pay in advance.)

Gregory, I like your idea of charging for three months at a time, but most people in my area seem to prefer paying month to month, and I like getting paid by month, so that works best for me.

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