Handling The Summer

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Christine Clougherty said: Jul 1, 2015
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
19 posts

Dear Fellow Teachers,

How do you handle the summer in your studios? These last two summers are just not working well. I have given quite a lot of flexibility, but it is hurting my finances too much (mostly because some people simply do not take the lessons or pay).

I have already told my students the regular lesson rate will go up as of August 31st, but now I am wishing I raised it higher. I am on the lower end of the fee scale in my area. Raising the price for the academic year would cushion the summer.

It is really hard to ask folks to make up every lesson in summer that they are out of town; with a studio of 35 or so students, if they are each gone for 2-4 weeks, that translates into 70-140 make ups just for summer….

Thank you for your thoughts, ideas….

Cheryl Terry said: Jul 1, 2015
Cheryl Terry
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Cello, Viola
El Paso, TX
3 posts

I charge the same amount the whole year. In summer I will prorate it if they are out of town more than 2 weeks. (i.e. I charge 120 a month so I will cut it to 60 for the month.) That way I am not totally without the income, just less for that month. and I don’t have to make them up because they have not paid for them. I charge a $1 a minute for lessons with a minimum of 30 minute lesson.
I also charge for the next month at the beginning of the month. (Pay for July at the last lesson of June). Must have a 24 hour cancellation or no make up. Hope this helps.

Eric Davenport said: Jul 1, 2015
Eric Davenport
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
14 posts

Some studios just don’t do summer, I don’t get that. Not only is violin study a perpetual pursuit but summer is so refreshing in its character, (day time lessons, multiple lessons a week, and tans! (not me, I don’t tan, I stroke….)) that I wouldn’t want to give it up!

First, I am trying to live according to a 10 month income, not 12. So the money I make in the summer is gravy. Having said that, I require my students to take at least 6 summer lessons, but they could schedule 8. In reality, they are paying for 8. Summer is the “public” school calendar. it ends up being almost 3 months. I encourage 2 lessons a week (sort of like an institute experience) if they cant find other time. Once I get bigger, I don’t know how this will work. As far as scheduling the lessons, that is so annoying. I’m going to try this online scheduling thing next summer because my way is maddening!

I have only done a few summers this way as I’m still a growing studio, but no one has refused to play by the rules of my “summer session” and then tried to come back in the Fall as if they are a regular member of the studio. I have heard of teachers who say that you are paying for your Fall lesson time (i.e. 9:30 saturday morning) and if you don’t pay for summer lessons and take them, that spot could be given to someone else. In this culture of rushing to and fro, having a consistent lessons time is a draw for parents….

I put so much into the quality of my teaching in lessons and group, and provide so many performance opportunities, I hope that they see this as a year long thing, and take seriously my “summer session.” But ask me again in 10 years! Haha!

I like Cheryls idea. I may move to a full year tuition. Thats not a bad idea… tuition will look like less per month dollars for them, due to my lack of summer group classes, but will be made up for in the summer. Boy, thats an idea. I don’t like switching dollar amounts and this will garuntee the steady income. I might just borrow that idea, Cherly, thanks!

Sera Jane Smolen said: Jul 2, 2015
Sera Jane Smolen
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Ithaca, NY
24 posts

I also aim to live on 10 months of tuition and concertizing. I try to pay bills through september to make the transition into the school year easier on me. It’s not like I don’t need the income in the summer though.
I encourage families to attend institute in the summer
I offer summer lessons on one day of the week so I also can have some time off in the summer, which is healthy for me.
I invite families to sign up for the number of summer lessons that they want.
I collect tuition for the summer at the beginning of the summer. I do not offer make up lessons for any missed summer lessons.
That works well for me.

This year I have been offering cello “boot camps”, with only 4 in a group. We play for 3 hours each day and really get alot done. We have a great time and give a good concert at the end of the week, with popsicles.

In the past I have offered “Music as Play” programs for small groups allowing us to focus on Creative Ability Development. It is possible to do this with mixed groups of violin, viola cello, piano and flute. I will be happy to help any of you to include Creative Ability Development in your program. A week of improvisation games can be so refreshing during the summer.

When we learn to truly hear the music of children,
we learn to hear the music of the future.
—Michael Deeson Barrow

Mengwei said: Jul 3, 2015
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
119 posts

Someone on this forum said in another thread that we independent teachers are responsible for ensuring that our business practices and personal budgeting allow us to stay in business, so that we aren’t having to close our doors because we allowed too many student absences without pay or didn’t plan for slower months.

My students are on flat fee monthly tuition. My model is that there are extra lessons built in throughout the year, plus group classes and performances, and the monthly tuition should be continuing into the summer even if they are traveling. However, there are always some who see the lessons they will miss and forget that those are supposed to be balanced out by the extra lessons from earlier.

Economically speaking, a continuous and stable student represents consistency of schedule and predictability of income, so I give back that worth in the form of lower cost per lesson/group/event (although they see only the flat fee and not the exact breakdown). I allow single lessons during the summer at a higher rate, plus the fall registration fee (otherwise waived for continuous students), and they might need to choose another lesson time (especially if that particular time is in high demand because I can’t be reserving it while they are gone).

Laura Burgess said: Jul 4, 2015
Laura Burgess
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
32 posts

Thans for sharing this, Mengwei. I would love to see how you calculated your flat fee. I would also like to hear what others do. Right now, I teach at a school three sdays and am building towards two days independent. This year, both are slow, perhaps due to a tough winter extending the school year until this or last week. I may have seen the same forum that you mentioned. I am not currently in a position to save for retirement or slow times, but I want to learn what other folks do. Also, if anyone has any words of wisdom about embracing the business side of this job. I am interested as long as learning or music is involved but business not so much.

Amy said: Jul 6, 2015
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
50 posts

Dear Laura,
I’m with you that I love music and teaching, but I could do without the administrative muck that goes alongside of doing what I love. However, I am passionate enough about that music and teaching, that the administrative muck is all worth it.

Having said all that, I am also in the process of completely revamping my studio policy. For me, this particular revamp is not so much about changing the policy, but changing how I communicate it with parents. I’m hoping that communicating more effectively will alleviate some of the issues I’ve been having.

As teachers, I truly believe that we are responsible for modeling what we want to instill in our students. Since as private music teachers we can count on some times of the year having lower teaching loads, we are responsible for having a plan to deal with that, and for budgeting in such a way that we can make the plan work. One way that I have built a certain amount of stability into my budget is by getting a part-time job just for the mornings. When I was first looking for this part-time job in the early stages of building a studio in a new town, I was assuming that I would keep it just until I had enough students to get by financially without the additional income. However, I discovered that I loved the community of the job so much, that I kept it up, even when I had enough students that I didn’t feel that I absolutely needed it. I still do this part-time in the mornings, and I still love the community, I still appreciate a sense of financial stability through the slower teaching times, and I like that I can afford to set aside a little for retirement/fun stuff/whatever.

If summer poses such a huge financial stress on you, maybe it would be worth considering finding an additional source of income.

Danielle Gomez Kravitz said: Jul 7, 2015
Danielle Gomez Kravitz
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
59 posts

Your lesson time slots are not an unopened can of beans. In other words, they cannot be returned and then reissued. Once the time is gone, it’s gone forever.

You must structure your business model around the type of product that you sell. This means that if your rate of charge for the service that you offer is not high enough to make your ends meet you are not charging enough. Period.

Your logic for setting a rate should be as follows:

-I need to be making $30,000 to live comfortably (I just made that round number up for the sake of this example)

-Realistically I can keep a studio size of 35

-I will take $30,000 and divide that by 25 in order to allow myself a buffer zone for when I lose students. This means that I must charge each student that I have $100 a month.

Once you have set your rate of charge, all your studio policies must help keep that income in place. That means a make up lesson cannot be exchanged for cash. Once they are paid for, that’s it. How flexible you wish to be in offering additional time for make ups is a matter of personal preference. But make ups should NEVER cut into your yearly income.

Brecklyn Smith Ferrin said: Jul 7, 2015
Brecklyn Smith Ferrin
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Kaysville, UT
28 posts

I do what Cheryl does. I have a monthly fee that does not change regardless of the number of weeks in the month, holidays, or if they are out of town. I do makeups (at my convenience) for illness, but not for any other reason.

My students know that if they have a conflict, they can switch times with another student that week or they forfeit that lesson.

This is your business. If they cancel, you can’t turn around and sell that time to someone else.

Christine Clougherty said: Jul 9, 2015
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
19 posts

Thank you to all of you for your comments, suggestions, and for sharing how you handle the summer. I also spoke with several local teachers and music schools about their summer policy. Very few are able to charge the monthly tuition the whole year—most of them let the students take their vacations in summer; but if no lessons are taken, they tend to 1) charge the student to re-enroll 2) not guarantee their spot.

I have done online scheduling the last 3 summers. The students pay in advance for 6 lessons, and they are responsible for the online scheduling; no make-ups needed. The online calendar gives a printable schedule and an email reminder. However, the time it takes to set up the schedule is significant; I have to monitor it constantly in case someone signs up last minute (the system does not warn me about that), and I am not always comfortable with students being able to see my schedule, and can try to lobby for a make-up if they forgot to show up and can see I have open spots. I will go back to a “manual” schedule next summer.

The real problem, though, is the folks who just don’t want to take summer lessons at all, and don’t pay. I can set aside some money to cover the fewer lessons I require in summer, but not enough to cover if several families don’t come. There are plenty of teachers in my area, so these few families can just shop around every year. I know I give WAY more value than that, and there are only 1-2 families like that in the studio.

I tried, like Amy, to take on another part-time job. I really liked the job, but it was too hard on my family and me, and I couldn’t give 100% to both the job and my teaching.

So, 1) I will be raising my fees—I will be setting aside the “extra” money to cushion next summer.
2) I will make the summer scheduling easier—less time on my part
3) I will make it even more clear in my policies, given out in August, what the summer policy is.

Thank you all, again, for your responses.

Folks around here, as much money as they have, calculate every month, and fuss about each and every lesson. They would rather pay more per lesson than pay for any “missed” lessons.

Debbie said: Aug 6, 2015
Debbie BarretteGuitar
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
3 posts

I charge the same amount the whole year. I ask students to pay for the month on the first lesson of each month. If they are out of town I ask them to send a check in the mail.
I build in free lessons throughout the year—if their lesson day occurs five times in a month they don’t have to pay extra. This happens every third month so by the end of the year they’ve accumulated a month’s worth of free lessons. I tell them if they never cancel then the lessons are, indeed, free. Otherwise, these freebies are there to help cover any cancellations on their part, such as vacations.
I do makeups for illnesses and family emergencies, but that’s it. Otherwise, the lesson is forfeit. I remind them that this is consistent with trends in the industry. For example, if you sign up for sports, dance, yoga, marital arts, etc., they usually ask for registration fees and deduct monthly fees directly from your bank account, regardless of whether you skip a class or not. When I explain this to people they are always very understanding and totally agree that I’m such a good business person. Haha! If only they knew I’ve had to learn the hard way. I think I’m a pretty good teacher but learning to be a good business person is an ongoing process.
In any case, they like things to be clear and really appreciate the effort I make to be fair. They understand that my business is time slots that are reserved just for them and if they don’t show up, I lose money. They value what I have to offer so they don’t have a problem with supporting my business as a teacher.
The other option is they choose not to pay for a month for whatever reason they have to miss lessons. But this means they lose their time slot. Most students don’t take this chance because with nearly 40 weekly students I usually have a waitlist.

Debbie

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