teaching as a business

said: Apr 10, 2006
 122 posts

I’m starting a new thread in response to guayi’s post under ‘more working hour questions.’ A year or two ago the ‘teaching as a business thread’ (or something to that effect) went on for 38 pages, so obviously this is a huge issue! In all the teacher training courses I’ve done NOT A SINGLE trainer has talked about the business aspect of teaching. The only time business was brought up was when I took Jeanne Luedke’s one day teacher workshop and she spoke about teaching as a business-what she said was hard to hear at the time but it has made an impact on me.

At the SAA conference in May apparently there is at least 1 talk on teaching as a business. We teachers tend to be so idealistic that we don’t WANT to deal with money and the business issues of teaching! I think secretly more than a few of us feel guilty taking money from our Suzuki parents. I loved guest’s thread about time management. I’d like to add not be compulsive about checking email througout the day-this is actually a problem of mine!!! The post about email instead of phone calls is excellent.

I realized a year or so ago that while I love the commradarie of teaching with other teachers at a school, I flat out cannot make a living teaching at a music school. I’ve started teaching at home but continue to charge what the school charges and my income has gone up by $2,000 per month. I cannot believe how much the school was making off of me!!!! I do spend about $300-$500 a month on rent and other expenses that comes out of my income increase, but even these are tax deductible. I do a co-op with two other teachers for groups and events and our weekly meetings are stimulating and provide the teacher interaction I need. Plus, I team teach the group classes with another teacher.

Some of the things I’ve learned about making a living as a teacher are:

  1. Charge a competitive rate based on the going rate in town, your education, your Suzuki training, your experience, if you have a waiting list, and if you have a reputation for being a good teacher. Don’t undercharge but at the same time don’t overcharge-you’ll have a tough time recruiting students if your rate is above everyone else’s. Up your rate every year by the cost of living index.

  2. Have a long school year with NO makeup weeks. I will not make up student absences and certainly won’t schedule weeks throughout the year as makeup weeks for their absences which become weeks I cannot make money. Some of my friends who do have makeup weeks have 4 weeks a year where they cannot teach for pay because they are making up student absences! Add summer, spring, and holiday breaks onto this and all of a sudden there’s a good 3-4 months a year with no income. I have a 34 week school year and a 8 week summer for a total of 42 weeks a year of income. I do give out lesson swaps but it entirely in the hands of the parent to swap with someone else. I have them email me to let me know they swapped. I used to have a 36 week school year but I realized I wanted a 2 week spring break and the week of Thanksgiving off. I need the extra vacation time for my sanity and the time to make up lessons if I’m sick.

  3. Teach out of your home if you can for private lessons. It’s a tax deduction. Or, find a cheap, suitable place to teach and deduct the rent from your taxes.

  4. Teach group classes. This is first of all a priority for the students education!! Group is so important to student’s playing and motivation. Secondary though, you will make more per hour teaching group than private lessons.

  5. Deduct anything and everything from your taxes. Health insurance is deductible, so make sure you’re deducting that if you’re self-employed. Deduct mileage, phone lines, supplies, computers, studio space from your home or the rent, internet, etc. See an accountant if you’re unsure what you can deduct.

  6. Start an IRA and max out your allowed contribution ($4,000 per year for a single person) every year.

  7. Make sure you can make a living in a city you live in or choose to move. Yes, you can charge more living in New York than in small town Iowa, but cost of living ratios aren’t always equal. My friend who lives in the San Francisco area makes the same as me (I live in a city of about 500,000) and she’ll never be able to afford more than her little apartment while I’m planning on buying a house.

  8. Don’t give anything away for free but don’t nickle and dime the parents. Charge for music you give the kids, shoulder sponges, etc. Obviously there are some supplies you have to buy (rubber bands, finger tapes, stickers, pens and pencils, etc) to teach. I have a friend who routinely gives out shoulder sponges (at $2.50-$3 per sponge) without having the parent pay. It adds up. Ask parents if they have recycled paper to bring into your studio for siblings to color on, old books and puzzles for kids to do while their sibling has a lesson, and other old quiet toys. No need to go buy this stuff when many parents have things they want to get rid of that their kids have outgrown!

Looking at teaching from a business person’s perspective was really, really, really tough for me to do. I consider myself a loving educator, NOT a savvy business woman. But, I’m not married, this is my only job, playing in an orchestra wouldn’t make me happy (besides the fact many orchestras are going bankrupt) and there’s no way I can sit in a cubicle for 8 hours a day, so I’m determined to make this work!

Any other ideas for making your teaching become a living? We all know this is hard, so let’s brainstorm to make out futures better!

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

Mariam said: Apr 10, 2006
Mariam GregorianViolin
Ashburn, VA
34 posts

Thank you, Junebug. Really excellent suggestions!

One suggestion I have is to ask families to sign a form stating that they have read and agree to all studio policies. I am very clear in my policy that there are no makeup lessons given, yet in the past three months, four different families have asked for makeups! One family in particular was really trying to bully me into giving a makeup lesson. Apparantly they didn’t really read the policy sheet! I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I am trying to “pull a fast one”, so starting in the summer, I will require all of my families to to sign a form acknowledging that they agree to all policies…especially the no makeup policy!

Gloria said: Apr 10, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
70 posts

Junebug, thank you, thank you for your reaction. If I had had reactions like yours to my questions when I first started teaching, and not this “we don’t talk about money- we love the kids!” look I got all the time for years… Oh well, it is up to me, but to find “accomplices” is really very hard. I am learning, maybe too slowly, but to change the way you feel about something as close to our image of ourselves is though. I am always afraid of those parents who want to tell me what I am allowed to do and what is not ok. To be really supportive one day and assertive the next…I can’t wait to read more responses!

Melissa said: Apr 10, 2006
 Piano, Flute
151 posts

Thank you so much junebug for your wonderful post!!
These are all such great tips and if everyone of us teachers do what you stated we might all be better off making a living and doing what we love and are so good at doing.
Sick days… this is the big one that I am grappling with. What do you think?
In my policy (this is the first year I have done this) I have given myself two sick days per year in case I should fall ill and cannot teach. I state that I will do my best to make up the lesson, but there is no refund or credit, this is limited to two days per year. I also state that one of these days can be used for professional developement, if a workshop/seminar that would benefit me is scheduled on a teaching day. Neither has happened to me yet. But it is nice to know that in case I do get sick or a workshop/seminar is scheduled, I don’t have to worry about losing money or being forced to make up the lesson.

Connie Sunday said: Apr 11, 2006
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

This is a great thread. Can someone point me to the previous thread which was 38 pages long? This is the only forum that I’ve seen this subject discussed at length.

I have some information about this in the Violin FAQ at:
http://www.geocities.com/conniesunday/FAQ.html#17 which includes some links to books about developing a studio. Steve Stockmal’s book is particularly useful, though he is not a Suzuki or even a strings or piano teacher. But it’s very good, I think.

I’ve worked for years on my studio policy, after having gone through near poverty in some locations. I’m still learning. People, however “nice”, do have their own agendas and look to their own best interests, which is understandable. You do have to run your studio like a business, if for no other reason than to provide long term studies for the students that you love.

I do give a lot of stuff away—pencils, stickers, CD’s. And I provide violins, violas, shoulder rests and rosin at near cost. My fees are smack in the middle of what most teachers in my area charge. So I’m on the cheap end of the spectrum. I give 100% trade-up in size on the instruments, too. I will probably raise my fees if we move into a bigger studio which will accommodate two grand pianos and a larger space for the chamber orchestra.

A lot of people don’t know this, but both Yahoo!local and MagicYellow Online yellow pages will list your business for free:

Yahoo Local:

Magic Yellow Pages:

Also see: Free Teacher Directory Listing, associated with “Violinists on the Web”:



Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

said: Apr 11, 2006
 122 posts

The long thread about business is old enough to be gone. I’m not sure if old threads are deleted or with all the changes to the forum it got deleted.

I think we all choose how we want and need to run our studios. People like me with no spouse and plenty of student loan debt have to be savvy in order to have this wonderful job as my profession, especially for the reason mshikibu said-I do want to provide long term studies to my students! How horrible it would be to have to take an unwanted office job just to survive. A teacher with a working spouse may not have to do what I do, though there’s always the awful possibility of their spouse dying, getting fired, or disabled and not able to work, and the teacher would have to change the way they run their studio.

Another aspect is to be careful about paying a lot of money for advertising. I read somewhere that people have to see an ad three times (or maybe it was more) before they’d recognize the name. Ad costs can run up! Instead network with other teachers who have full studios, and hang plenty of flyers and posters around town. One well-known teacher with a full studio managed to fill my studio in two years when I first moved to town by reccomending students to me. Now I don’t need to advertise-my Suzuki parents spread the word and this teacher still is sending students me way.

“When love is deep, much can be accomplished.”
-Shinichi Suzuki

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