Charging Sufficient Tuition
Alyssa S., Illinois
Editorial note: a teacher was concerned about setting tuition rates so as to do better than merely covering expenses. It generated the following discussion.
I am a new Simply Music teacher, but before I taught simply music I was in a very similar situation to where you currently are now. My husband (a business man), saw how frustrated I had become with my private practice, and he began to take over the logistics side of my business. As a result of him taking over, this is what we found:
1. If students did not pay for a block of lessons, they were less likely to show up. This was disrespectful of my time, because I had set that time aside especially for them. The irony here, was that I felt guilty about accepting money for a missed lesson, BUT the STUDENT did not feel guilty about skipping the lesson. So what did we do about this? We changed the lesson format and required that students pay in a block format (that is, for a full ten week block of lessons, or for three payments of ______ within that ten week period). When we introduced block payments, we found that – almost without fail – students were suddenly able to show up for lessons…. The reason for this? They did not want to waste their OWN money.
Block payments also alleviate problems that arise out of missed payments for unattended lessons. This is because if the student has pre-paid, you will already have received the money for the missed lesson.
2. If students did not pay by a due date, they understood that their time-slot would be made forfeit for someone else who was willing to pay.
3. I also felt that relationship was more important than money. My husband, however, pointed out to me that in order for me to run a successful business and to grow the student-teacher relationship, I needed to create some clear and concise guidelines/boundaries. Out of this thought, we made registration forms with various rules that the students needed to adhere to… Such as payment options, lesson length, practice times, etc. Students HAD to agree to everything on the form, otherwise they were not accepted for lessons. For example, there were only two make-up lessons available in a ten week period, on a particular day, and only for emergency purposes. Missed lessons without explanation 24 hours prior to a lesson meant NO make-up lesson, and that the missed lesson was no longer available. I have stuck to this pretty well, and the results are surprisingly positive! You may have a few students who choose to leave, but then you may gain a few students who are willing to adhere to your guidelines. Also, if you are clear on the guidelines, it means less stress for you and less stress for the student, as both sides understand what their obligations are to one another.
3. Have you tried advertising via Craigslist, or a personal website? I find that I receive a LOT of calls from Craigslist. When I first started teaching in the USA three years ago, I found that my business was slow growing because I was relying on word of mouth and was not advertising. As soon as we put up a website and advertised through craigslist, I tripled the size of my business within one month.
I hope that any of the above helps…. It is hard going when it feels like everything is unpredictable. But I can honestly tell you now that because of the changes my husband made to my business (I know that Neil Moore also holds to similar ideas), my business is rapidly growing and the retention rate of students is much higher.
Louise H., Michigan
I can feel your pain through your letter. I understand how you feel, I have felt that way myself. Let me just give you a few questions to think about.
1. Do you know the going rate of piano lessons in your area? You should place your prices near to the highest priced teachers. I charge more than the local teachers, but a little less than the college professors. Don’t ever apologize or justify your tuition. Ever. It is what it is. Believe that you are worth it.
2. Are you teaching in groups? You will make more of an hourly profit than you would with private lessons and you could charge a little less and still feel like you are making money.
3. Is it worth it to keep all your students making a little money, than just having a few and making more money? In other words, just keep the ones that can pay more and let the rest go.
4. When people call about your program do they ask for price first? If they do, turn the question into a question and ask them who the lessons are for, and then tell them your program is unique and they will learn more in a year from you than from other teachers. Price should be the last thing you give. Sell them on the program first.
I felt in your letter that you are putting your students and their needs above your own. Because you are doing this you are devalueing your service and then feeling resentful because you are working hard and making nothing. In every community there are people that can afford to pay for lessons. There must be doctors, lawyers or teachers in your area. Find their children, or them, to teach.
It sounds like you are accepting payment weekly. I know you think people can’t afford monthly payments. But people will find a way to pay for what they want. Just look at the things they have–cell phones, internet, TVs, computers. What I did this year, was figured out my whole calendar from September to June, added up the weeks and multiplied it by my weekly lesson fee, divided it by 10 (months) and came up with a monthly fee that was actually less than what had been charging monthly before. The parents were thrilled to pay less (and I even gave myself a raise and they didn’t even feel it). The reason this works is because some months have 2 weeks and some have 3 and some have 4. Spreading it out over 10 months made it more affordable.
Develop a firm policy about your payments, your schedule, your expectations and make sure every parent and child reads and signs it. You can always blame your policy if someone doesn’t comply. Students who pay weekly do not have the same commitment as those who pay monthly, simply because the monthly payment requires the student to attend the rest of the month to get their monies’ worth. If people want to pay weekly, just say “I’m sorry, but my policy states . . . ”
You have to be willing to lose students to make a change. It will be hard at first, but in the long run you will be much happier. I live in Michigan, which is probably one of the most depressed states. I’m in a small community but I have 35 students. It can be done.
Sue K., Australia
I think you are in a position where life is showing you something you need to deal with.
I get the feeling you place no value on money, your time, experience or maybe even yourself. This shows up in the $12 an hour you are charging.
If I was looking for a piano teacher and rang you, got a great spiel on how amazing Simply Music is…..and then you told me it was only $6 a lesson. I don’t think I would believe a word you had told me.
And if I didn’t want to come that week, that wouldn’t matter because this teacher who says she teaches the best piano program on the planet doesn’t value herself enough to expect me to honour my commitment of turning up at the same time each week or pay for her time while she was there waiting for me, and preparing her lesson for me.
There are always people who will say it is too much, I can’t afford it, etc, etc. You know the ones. You are better to have one student who pays $30 for half an hour than to have 5 paying $6. And if your students are reluctant to pay, become reluctant to teach them.
What we believe about ourselves has an uncanny ability to show up in our students.
Ring around to other teachers in your area – traditional and other instruments – and make sure you ring the best places too. See what they are charging and base your fee on this. You will get other students. Maybe not as many, maybe more.
But you have to value yourself and what you are doing. This is very hard when we first start. But pretend for long enough and it becomes very natural to you.
There are people out there who will pay the extra Your challenge now is to find them.
Good luck, and remember you and the program you teach are worth so much more than $12 an hour.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I think there are several layers to your frustrations. I would like to address them one at a time. This will be very long and frank.
1. Your tuition rate
Your rate is way, waaaay too low, and you are communicating that this method isn’t worth very much. Your business will fail if you base your rates on what people say they can afford. I remember a conversation with Neil several years ago along these lines. I was concerned about the same thing. The conversation went something like:
Neil: “Do you think you’d like to own and drive a Jaguar?” (or Porsche, or other expensive car).
Neil: “Do you drive one?”
Neil: “Why not?”
Laurie: “Because I can’t afford it.”
Neil: “Exactly. Not everyone can afford everything they want. It’s a fact of life.”
I am not quoting Neil, just conveying the gist of the conversation. It’s not up to you as a business owner to accommodate everyone else’s finances. Tuition should be based on the value of what you’re providing – unapologetically. Some won’t be able to afford it. There are plenty who can. Lots and lots of teachers can attest to that, no matter what area they live in. Just for comparison, we charge $90/month at our studio, and we are also in the Midwest. We have 100 students and continue to grow. Occasionally a prospect will not sign up because they think it’s too expensive. We say simply, “I hope that it will work out for you in the future. It’s worth every penny.”
I know Neil had a training session on setting fees. I highly recommend you listen to that. I believe it is now in the online audio files.
1. Your payment expectations
You said – “I’ve been raised to work for my money and when I didn’t work, but still have to ask for payment, I find it hard to do.”
You’re killing yourself with this mindset, and you are sending the wrong message to your students.. They are not paying you an hourly rate for your time. You have set aside the same time every week for that student. You don’t schedule anything else during that time slot because you promised it to them. They pay you for that time slot in your life.
Also – Is the time you spend with them in the lesson the ONLY time you ever put into teaching them? What about all your training, your preparation time, your experience? Our students pay us for more than just minutes in our studios.
You are in effect communicating to your students, “If you don’t feel like coming, no problem, you don’t have to pay me. Just come on the weeks you want.” Which is also saying you have no expectations regarding commitment or progress with their lessons. Students should know that they are expected to come every week prepared for their lessons and to pay in full every month.
Case in point: We recently lost a new student because the parents did not pay for their 2nd month on time and objected highly to our $10 late fee. She thought it was unreasonable and even rude. She had a whole list of reasons. I replied to her with a thanks for her honesty, reminded her of our written policy and statement she received which offered another reminder of the late fee. Then I offered to waive the late fee this one time (since she was new) and said she needed to know that we stand by our policy and would continue to enforce it. She quit, which was totally fine. I am truly not interested in customers who want to tell me how to run my business. That may sound harsh, but with a large studio, it’s not worth the hassle, and my partner Sherrine and I didn’t want to leave her feeling from the get-go that she would always get whatever she wants.
Now, at the same time you say that you are frustrated about not making a profit, you also say “to me relationships with people are far more important than money and I feel that this system that SM uses causes relationships to cease.” First, how do you reconcile those two statements? Second, no system of anything can ‘cause’ anything in a relationship between people. Only people can do that, and then only to the extent that each person in the relationship allows it. You are not a helpless bystander that all of this stuff is ‘happening’ to. You create it all yourself. Third, I enjoy immensely both the relationships I have within my business, which are based on honesty, AND the money my business brings in, which has given my family much freedom in our lives. They absolutely do not have to be mutually exclusive.
1. How you communicate the Simply Music method
How do you perceive and feel about the Simply Music method, honestly? Whatever that is, is what you communicate to your students and prospective students whether you realize it or not. Your rates communicate a very low ‘perceived value’. People I talk to know that I believe this is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s very powerful to share something that you really truly believe in. If you are wishy-washy about the method or your own policies, people sense that and don’t trust it as much.
I think underlying everything is your feeling of helplessness. You are feeling helpless because you don’t recognize that you are in control of it all. The best investment you could make right now would be to sign up for the next Teaching from the Future class, which helps you realize that you can achieve whatever you want in life and how you can start down that path. It could really change your life.
Carrie L., Michigan
Sounds like a frustrating time. You might want to do an analysis of your location and consider moving to a new one if that’s possible.
You can look at the census information online for your city and see what the income level/specs etc are on the area you live.
There’s a good marketting conversation on there too if you need help marketing. : )
Kerry V., Australia
You most certainly are carrying a lot of pain around this. However, it also carries into your everyday life. Everything everyone has shared with you on the ECL I agree with completely so will not repeat that.
Another thing to remember is that all businesses need at least 3 years to run before you can see the true picture of where you are going.
We should not be charging students on a rate of X amount for lesson time. The amount YOU charge needs to reflect the extra expenses and time you spend in purchasing the TTM’s as well as your time in studying, preparing, setting up.
Read carefully what everyone has written to you, take it on board as to what will work for you best but first, look at what Sue had to say about how you see your own self worth. Once YOU take control of YOUR own business YOU will start to see YOUR self worth and what you can then manifest from it. Remember too, having a set up the way you have at present allows all your families to take over the territory and not you.
Think about it when you go to a shop to do business. It seems as though you have choices but underlying is ……. you have to go to them, when you make a purchase there are conditions on that, when you go to buy it you are led to a particular area, you can’t go anywhere, you are run by their policies and directions. The same with our business. Run it as yours.
Be of self worth,
Be YOUR boss, not others be your boss,
Be in action,
Yvonne O., Australia
I completely agree with the replies so far. I have found that sometimes the ones you least expect to be able to find the money always do- it depends more on how they value music education for their kids than their income.
Also- to my knowledge Simply Music does not ‘require’ you to bill monthly. This was a suggested way (from many discussions on the ecl in the past) for teachers to achieve an all year round income which also covers breaks for leave.
It is up to you to decide your preferred method of invoicing. I teach and invoice (payment in advance) per school term.I receive no income during school hols- but this is my choice. Sometimes I schedule an extra lesson for adults during school breaks.
Like many other teachers I offer a make-up lesson during the school hols at my choice of date and time. It is understood by my students/parents that I am not required to do this, but rather choose to, to help them. If they are unable to attend or choose not to, bad luck.
I have found that some (not all) adults, especially those who are retired/semi retired and like to take frequent holidays have a problem with paying for lessons when they are away, despite the policy clearly outlined in the enrolment form. So I tactfully remind them of this and point out that it’s great for them to be going away on a trip, but unreasonable for me to be paying for it. ie. Why should I lose income so they can have a holiday?! I cannot fill their lesson time for 2 or 3 weeks here and there.
So… my suggestion to you is to increase your fees (dramatically) effective immediately for all new students.
Give notice in writing to all current students of this increase – effective to them at the start of the next payment term. Insist on payment in advance.
Never discuss fees until you have thoroughly discussed the SM programme and know exactly where the potential student is coming from.
Most importantly- have faith in the Simply Music program and your ability to deliver it. Fake your confidence to start with if you have to- you’ll find that it works and you’ll feel better and better about your teaching ( as will your students) as you realize you can do this.
Beth S., Tennessee
Yes, in the scheme of life, relationships are truly more valuable than money. However, in running a business, one’s profit is the bottom line. Relationships take a back seat in that environment. If you truly do want to focus solely on relationships, as you seem to indicate, and not business, which is frustrating you, then a volunteer position would be a better thing; i.e. volunteering to bring music to impoverished people who cannot afford it. That would be a worthy calling, it would benefit a lot of people, your role would be clear and defined, and you would not feel resentful about a depleted checking account. You would be free of the trouble of dealing with a business, which does most certainly mean charging a price that covers your expenses and absolutely requiring your customers to adhere to your business standard. You see, when I’m low on cash, AT&T doesn’t feel sorry for me when I can’t pay my cell phone bill. It’s either, pay or you don’t get service, regardless of whether I used up all my minutes or not. Or when the price of groceries goes up, as it continues to do, no one feels sorry that I need them desperately every day. The only thing that matters is that each company covers their expenses, otherwise, what’s the point? Nobody works for nothing, even the people that say they can’t pay you. Simply Music also must cover their expenses just like you must cover yours. That’s all that matters in business and there’s just no other way around it in our current world. If there truly truly is no market in your area for a business that pays what you must charge to make a living, well, then your particular business won’t work where you are and you will have to try something else. (But I really think that somehow it will).
Lynn F., North Carolina
Good advice has already been sent your way but may I just add some comments based on my experience.
When I began teaching SM (over 9 years ago), I had been teaching traditional piano for over 30 years. I, too, had your concerns about monthly vs. weekly charges, charging for missed lessons and, especially with setting my fees for private/group lessons. I live in a rural NC town, that was and is now economically challenged by the loss of furniture manufacturing to foreign markets. Throw into the mix my concern that I was totally switching over my entire student body to this new method whose company was in its infancy and its name, viability and, yes, value, was totally unknown on the east coast (and many parts in between at that time! My program was one of the first on the east coast and the ONLY one in NC!) Not of lesser value in my eyes was the fact that for all this time, I had enjoyed a positive reputation and was putting that, as well as the reputation of my husband, who was/is an elected official on the proverbial line.
When I became licensed and began to think about setting up my program/marketing, Neil talked to me about how the possibility of increasing my fees because SM was so much more valuable to my families, they were getting more bang for their bucks, etc. It is incredulous to me to think that I can charge more than $8.00/lesson (which is what I was charging for my traditional), Indeed, he convinces me that I should consider a charge almost double that, and I am supposed to believe that families in MY town will actually line up to pay it for this new, improved, albeit unknown method of learning to play piano? I was a hard sell.
However, I had trusted Neil thus far, had already taken a huge leap of faith and decided to totally transform my program, was amazed at what I had already seen, so why not go the distance and take his advice on this matter. What transpired was nothing short of amazing!
From my traditional piano base of 26 students (who had been paying $8.00/lesson when and if they came) who had all committed to switching to SM, their word of mouth advertising and one newspaper article in our local paper, came 65 Simply Music students who were willing to pay double+ AND pay monthly – IN ADVANCE. If I had not experienced it, I would have had a difficult time believing it. For the first time in my piano teaching “career”, I had a SALARY!
I have since raised my rates a little and might go up again this year, but suffice it to say, SM provided me the greatest opportunity to make a good salary, doing what I love to do, for the first time in my life. So, my advice to you is this: Believe in the program first and foremost and don’t apologize EVER for what you charge. Take the advice of other SM teachers who have told you to seek out the “going” rates for music lessons, gymnastics, dance, etc. and charge accordingly. DO NOT apologize for charging a monthly fee (and for asking for it in advance – that was new to me as well). I believe that you are actually doing your students a favor by setting up a fee schedule in this way as parents will be more likely to make the extra effort to get their children to lessons if they know it will cost them if they miss. Set your policies, stand by them, but in doing so, allow yourself the freedom to make a few exceptions based on extenuating circumstances. Don’t think that you are erroding personal relationships with your families by becoming more businesslike; you are merely placing a value on your expertise and the product you deliver. You, your time and your “product” will be more respected, I promise!
You may need to come up with some creative ways to market and grow your program and that is a topic all to itself. It has been my experience that word of mouth has been sufficient so I may not be your best resource. (Initially, I did offer my families a discount or free lessons for referrals.) Now, there are so many ways to spread the word, so just go for it. Have you explored the homeschool community? Many times, they, as well as church groups, community clubs, etc. are looking for program presenters. Take some of your students and spread the word. Do you have a Parks and Recreation Dept. in your town? Perhaps they are looking for some new class offerings this fall/winter. You could offer a “workshop”, i.e. “Introduction to SM” at reduced rates, no strings attached, with the understanding that the students would be funneled to your program should they decide to continue. You may be able to approach a business (hospital, bank, etc.) with this same idea, offering SM during lunch, etc. for employees. Are you interested in working with special needs students or retirees? Can you find group meetings or advertise where these folks might see your info….library, restaurants, shopping centers, etc. And, of course, utilize the internet…Facebook, Twitter, etc.
But, my BEST advice, is DO NOT GIVE UP! Keep reaching out to the teacher body as you need support but do the leg work, set your policies and know that you are offering your present and prospective students a truly remarkable piano method. It may not happen overnight but you will see results from your hard work, from the business side and the educational side and you will be rewarded all around! This I do know!
Elaine F., South Carolina
I don’t know first hand about central Ill. But I am in a small town in South Carolina and I charge the equivalent of $25 a lesson– soon to go up.
I suggest you do a survey of what other piano teachers charge and see if you are way below. I bet you are. Just pretend you are a Mom looking for a teacher and call everyone in the phone book and on line. This helped me get a feel for the market when I started. It helped me feel confident back when I was not at all confident about fees.
I agree with Laurie, your best bet for turning this around is the TFF program.
1 year ago my retention rate was so low I about quit. This year I have had 100% retention. I’m not totally sure what led to this– but the TFF program helped. I know you say you are paying more than you are making- but if you can ANY way swing this– (including borrowing ) I recommend it. IT will assist you in making positive changes in your entire life– not just SM. It’s because of this wide scope that I continue to be able to grow in my professional development– as well as in my life.
Sandy L., Oklahoma
just want to add something to this conversation, although so many good things have already been said!
Alyssa, like you I am concerned about relationships. Because of my ideas about “nice” people, I was timid about policies when I first became a SM teacher.
The trouble I ended up with was students not following my directions because I did not enforce my own policies. I had some idea that they would not like me as a teacher if I was not “nice.” I ended up dreading certain students’ coming to lessons because it would be another exercise in futility.
This may sound different than your problem, and in a way it is. But the place where I found myself was very similar to the place where you are–frustrated–and this due to my own mind games about how “nice” people behave. Needless to say, I reached the point where I was finally ready to become requirement-based instead of request-based. I did not in any way lose their friendship (even the one student who quit! — still friends), but I will tell you I did gain their respect.
In your case, it sounds like you feel it would not be “nice” to ask these people to pay you a reasonable amount in a business-like fashion and that if you did request/require that, you would hurt your relationships with them. I must tell you that you will probably do more damage to your relationships by undervaluing yourself and your program than you would by charging what you and SM are worth.
When you undercharge and fail to enforce sound business policies, students and families who should be respectful of you and treat you with the care and concern with which you treat them will undervalue not just Simply Music, but…you. They will literally treat you like the doormat you put yourself out to be.
I do not say that to be harsh; I say it from personal experience, and not just with Simply Music. When you do not present yourself as someone of value, no one will treat you as such. Presenting yourself as someone of value, however, does not require you to abandon your nice personality. You can do this in all love and charity for your fellow human beings.
Relationships are lopsided when one person is being treated poorly and taken advantage of, which is definitely what is happening to you when people do not respect your time enough to show up for lessons and pay you for your time. If you are human, you are prone to developing resentment over your poor treatment, which will further erode your relationships.
Allowing yourself to be treated this way is also harmful to the people who are being disrespectful. They are learning that it is okay to do whatever they think they “need” to do during their lesson time and then not pay the person who prepared for the lesson and sat there waiting when they did not show up. They are learning that disrespecting someone who will just lie down and take it is okay, or at least something they can get away with, although we all know that it is not okay to disrespect anyone, whether they call us on it or not.
I understand sympathy for someone who truly cannot afford SM lessons, and I think you can leave yourself some leaway to deal with the truly needy as opposed to those who simply do not have SM piano lessons as high on their priority list as other things they do and other things they purchase. But I would highly encourage you to see the value of not just the tremendous program you are offering, but the value of you–Alyssa.
You have so much to offer, and your relationships will improve so much when you lovingly explain (and even apologize if necessary–I did!) that you have been doing your students a disservice by not requiring payment in advance and by subsidizing their lessons for them, rather than allowing them to realize the full value of what you offer. You could certainly ease them into the process gradually, first by requiring payment in advance, and then advising them well in advance of the time when you will raise your rates to at least match if not exceed your costs.
When I became requirement-based, I made it clear to my students and families that I truly love them all and would be sad to see any of them go if they could not meet my requirements at this time, but that we would part friends and that SM would always be there for them when they were ready to return to it. I have a rather small student body by choice; only one student left when I became requirement-based, but even that one left with no animositiy, and we are indeed still friends. He simply did not want to practice the amount that I required (15-20 minutes/day, 5-6x/week) and openly acknowledged that.
I really think that you can maintain and improve your relationships by being honest with yourself and your entire student body about your needs and theirs.
Ethel S., Arizona
I hope you have had a chance to read all the replies to your questions. The ECL is one of the things I love about Simply Music. Sometimes I get an answer to a question that I didn’t even know I had!
I too am a new SM teacher (March 2010). While I have had the advantage of teaching with my daughter (she became a SM teacher August 2008), it has taken time for us to develop studio polices, figure out the correct pricing for our area, find effective methods of marketing, and become proficient and professional in our selling of the SM method. I think that you have not given yourself enough time to grow your business. Unless you have a background in business, it may take awhile to develop your studio.
We also live in a small town where the unemployment is high. You have to be prepared to have a few slim years in the beginning. It is more important to grow a quality student base than to have a quantity of students. Think of your music lessons just like a school or college. You pay a set fee for so many credit hours. Whether you attend the classes (or not) is up to you.
If you are not starting back until Oct. you have time to develop new policies. Get them in writing. We pass out a policy sheet to each family every fall. They must sign and return it. We give them a copy and keep the original on file. That way if there is any question, you can just refer back to the policies that they signed and agreed to. You can do a google search for piano studio policies and get some ideas, I (or any of the SM teachers) would be happy to share with you the policies that we have developed.
Hilary C., Australia
I thoroughly endorse Elaine. It seems to me that part (at least ) of your problem is how you define yourself – i remember finding it difficult to see myslf as a business woman when i started my first business nearly 20 years ago with all the rights and responsibilities that entails, including not selling myself short. You can run a business and still have friends. It’s worth remembering that sometimes so-called friends are found wanting when/as we grow into who we are.
Also you are new to SM and therefore still reliant on other people’s experience to ‘sell’ the programme – FIS and ongoing conversations become way easier when you can speak honestly from your own life. That will come – in the mean time immerse yourself using the training DVDs and becoming really good at teaching (word of mouth advertising is the best).
And yes, early on in my SM teaching i worked fulltime at another job as well as i wasn’t making enough from SM – be patient (we live in a world where everything is instant) and be the best you can be..
And read – ‘The Three Laws of Performance’ (Zafron and Logan) and do TFF (‘it’s really worth saving up for).
Kerry H., Australia
I support the comments in previous posts from other teachers, but would also like to add a few other points to consider. I am going to be quite direct with my comments, so I hope these will be heard in the spirit that they are given – in the spirit of contribution.
Firstly, I would like to acknowledge Alyssa for her courage in sharing so openly about how she is feeling. This shows an enormous commitment to resolving these challenges, which is a very important first step. I’m sure there are others who have at times shared her frustrations who have not had the courage to reach out for help. I would also like to acknowledge her as being someone who obviously values relationships more than money. I am sure we can all think of instances where valuing money above everyone and everything else has created many problems.
However, I believe the fear of placing money as more important than relationships, can strangely enough result in us not giving priority to the relationships and people that we value most. This idea may seem a little incongruous at first, but please stay with me here. When we set our fees based on the fear of damaging the relationships we have with our students or of losing them altogether, we are in fact NOT valuing the students, the program, our families, our commitments and responsibilities, or ourselves. Many other teachers have written about not valuing the method or ourselves, so I want to focus on the other areas.
As independent licensed teachers, we are not just piano teachers, we are running businesses. It took me some time to get used to that idea. I remember years ago complaining to a business advisor that I hated doing the business side of my business and he said to me ‘Oh that’s simple then, just go and get a job working for someone else.’ As I really value working for myself, setting my own fees, working the hours I choose, deciding how many students I will teach, being free to choose whether to teach from home or in commercial premises, and so on, it made me realize what was important to me and that I didn’t want to give up that freedom. I made a decision to be in a state of ‘learning to like’ the aspects of my business that are not my favourite.
Along with the freedom of working on our own terms, comes responsibility. Whether it’s doing the financial book-keeping or the record-keeping or asking for money, this is part and parcel of having a piano-teaching business. And, if we have a family or any other kind of financial commitment – including the commitment we have to ourselves and our own well-being – we have a responsibility to honour those commitments. If we are not making enough to allow us to cover our expenses, then we have a responsibility and I believe an ethical duty to increase our income. There are two main ways of achieving this inside the framework of being a Simply Music teacher: putting up our fees; or increasing our student numbers (or both).
Consider this, if we are too afraid to increase our fees because of the impact on the relationships with our students – in other words what they will think of us, we are effectively saying that the relationship with our students is more important than the one with our family. If our business is losing money, not only are we not supporting our family financially, but we are actually putting a drain on the resources. I know this is not a conscious decision, but our choices in life really do reflect what we have prioritized or made important. By not increasing the fees, we are not really being responsible. Yet if our own finances are taken care of, we will be happier and our family will be happier. I would suggest that this will allow us to be more ‘present’ in our teaching and therefore contribute more fully to our students. More than that, if it doesn’t work for us financially, we won’t be able to continue doing what we’re doing.
Of course there is always a risk that when we increase our fees, we may lose some students. However, in Alyssa’s case, if she were to lose someone who is paying $6 per lesson and replace it with only one student who pays $15 or even $20, she would double or more than triple her income. But it is possible that some of her students may decide to continue. Some of this will depend on her ability to manage this increase including being able to effectively communicate with them about her decision to increase the fees. At a practical level, one option would be to increase prices for any new students immediately, but to stagger the price-increase for existing students. Give them notice of an upcoming price increase, with the dates and amounts of an initial and subsequent price rise, so they can plan for it. It could be over a 2-6 month time-frame.
In my own experience and from my experience of working with many other teachers over the years, I have seen that what tends to influence or even shape the responses of our students in any area, are our own beliefs or attitudes about it. If we have issues about asking for money, this will be reflected in our students – they will have issues about giving us the money. Often these beliefs are unconscious, but they can limit our results and our effectiveness in talking to prospective students about enrolling in lessons, or to students about fees, policies, or any of the practise requirements necessary for students’ success. I believe to get a different result, it would take a shift in attitude.
If we ‘buy’ into the idea that students wouldn’t be able to afford the lessons if the fees were higher, then we are under-estimating their ability to be resourceful or capable of finding or generating the money for something that is really important to them. There are fees being charged by other Simply Music teachers that are at least 3 to 5 times more than the $6-12 per lesson mentioned in Alyssa’s email. Earlier this year, I increased my fees for the first time in several years. I was already charging students way more than what Alyssa is charging and I increased my fees by about 20%. Not one family had an issue with the increase – including those who had previously told me about their current financial challenges! And I did ask them to let me know if this was going to create any problems for them. Now I know times are tough for many people in this economic climate, but it can be surprising how people seem to find money for something if they really want to. I have seen many times where people say they cannot afford something, yet they seem to find money for other things that I wouldn’t consider as important. If a student decides not to proceed with lessons based on a price-rise, we have a couple of options. One would be to ask them to consider what is the maximum amount they could afford to pay. I have done this before with students that are very committed and conscientious and have agreed to teach them at a discounted rate for a set period of time. Then I have told them that we would review the situation at that time. However, these were exceptions and not the norm. The other option is to accept their resignation and let them go with our blessings. I believe we have to develop the muscle of letting them go without fear and desperation. I know this can be difficult – especially when we really need the money. But there are students and families out there who have the money to pay for piano lessons and are willing to do so, even at the higher rates I have been discussing.
Other teacher’s have already suggested doing the Teaching From the Future (TFF) Program which has been made available by Simply Music. The program is designed to support Simply Music teachers in producing a breakthrough in their communication, their effectiveness and their freedom to expand in both their personal and professional commitments and I would highly recommend it. Many teachers have dramatically increased their student numbers as a result of their participation in the program. (If you are interested in exploring this, contact Mary Kaye Ferreter in the Sacramento Head Office to find out more about it.)
I believe it is important to ask ourselves better kinds of questions about our challenges in our business, in our teaching or in our relationships. For example, ‘How can I make this work?’, ‘What do I need to do or learn to become more effective in communicating with people about the program?’, ‘What do I need to do to increase my income?’, ‘How can I become more confident about asking for money?’, ‘What new ideas could I try to generate more students?’, ‘What conversations do I need to have with my students, to have them get the value and importance of this program in their lives?’, ‘In what ways do I need to grow as a person to overcome the challenges I am now facing?’.
In anything new we take on – such as becoming a Simply Music teacher – there is a steep learning curve in the beginning. As you gain experience, you will gain more confidence and expertise in all of these areas. Be patient with yourself. I know many teachers who when they started out, allowed students to pay only for the lessons they received. But over time, they discovered that students took advantage of it and abused the privilege. Those teachers have now implemented policies that protect and honour their time. Being a business-owner means developing a different mentality than being an employee. Effectively we are charging for the time we allow for the students, not for the time we actually teach. When we reserve a time-slot for someone, we cannot start another student in that time-slot just for one week or few a weeks if they are going to be away. I strongly believe that as a business, we cannot make a profit if we sacrifice income because students don’t or can’t attend.
Alyssa also wrote:
I feel that this system that SM uses causes realtionships to cease.
I think it’s important to understand that anything suggested by Simply Music with regards to the running of your business, is just a suggestion that has been seen to work for teachers. Ultimately, any business must work for the business owner and the business owner’s family. If it doesn’t, there’s no point. While I understand the frustration experienced when things aren’t working the way we want them to, Simply Music never suggests anything that ’causes’ relationships to cease. Quite the contrary! I have had the privilege of working closely with Neil Moore and Simply Music for a very long time, and I know that everything is based on what works and on a commitment to contribute to and enhance relationships. Often I am challenged by who I need to ‘become’ to grow into the best teacher and best business owner I can be. Not only has Simply Music and Neil Moore given me the opportunity to teach a method which contributes so much to so many, it has helped me to grow and achieve more than I ever thought possible. If the approach you are using isn’t working – try something else. Don’t quit! Teaching this program will bring you far more than you could ever dream it would! Be bold and courageous and above all, be patient with yourself. Be willing to grow and make changes. These are only temporary valleys – just like the ones we talk to students about in the Relationship Conversation. The only way you will not succeed is if you give up trying.
Joy V., Texas
I have been sitting quietly watching the conversations. Just want to add one note.
Alyssa, you may be in the most opportune moment of your career as a Simply Music teacher. If what you say is true, that you are only receiving enough tuition to pay the education fees, then here is my suggestion: Fire Neil for three months and start over. . .
Let go of your students and stop paying the education fees. Remake yourself with careful consideration of all the encouragement you have been receiving on the ECL and open up a new studio.
I remember one of the teachers at the Nashville Meet-up sharing with us her anger and frustration at realizing that, upon her first year anniversary of teaching the Simply Music program, she had not been able to retain a single student that had started with her. But she is very successful now, and very outspoken on the ECL, I might add
Sometimes a fresh slate is what is called for. You wipe clean those early times of not doing it quite the way you would like, you start fresh with new blood, and continue on.
As Henry Blackaby would say, you are in a crisis of belief. . .
Vee S., Florida
I agree. Sometimes wiping the slate clean and starting over is what is needed. And you can start again.
When you start again just remember how valuable you are to the students you teach and that you are worth what you charge. When I see how my students are growing in their playing
I am proud of my ability to teach this wonderful program. If someone says to me that what I charge is not worth it then so be it.
I move on the next person who values what I teach.
Claire C., Pennsylvania
Hi Alyssa, in my opinion a private lesson should be at least twice the cost of a group lesson. $15 for a 25-30 min private lesson is too low. I would check around to see what other qualified teachers in your area charge. In the Philadelphia PA suburbs where I live, the cost of a private piano lesson is at least $25 to $35 per half hour and sometimes more.
If you run a group of 3 at $12 per student for 35 min you would be bringing in at least $36 for that time frame. Then perhaps your private rate should be around $30 per 25 min lesson. If you charge a higher fee for private, it would make your group rate more attractive and perhaps you would do more groups. The money making potential is greater.
Gordon Harvey, AU
This thread has been around for a while, and may be pretty much exhausted, so I just wanted to say a few words before it’s too late.
When Alyssa’s question first went out I wondered if it would unleash a torrent of responses in agreement. Instead, it has spawned a mass of wise, thoughtful, and passionate responses that go to show the generosity and depth of commitment of many of our wonderful teachers.
I don’t want in any way to criticise Alyssa’s concerns – they are genuine, and as Kerry says in the post below, she’s been courageous in sharing them. I hope she stays courageous by genuinely addressing the questions Kerry suggests we ask ourselves. That way, whatever decisions she makes will be based on genuine choice and will thus be more empowering for her. She will be creating a future for herself, rather than simply fixing an apparent problem.
This is an example of the experience of being a Simply Music teacher going way beyond just learning to teach.
Thanks to Alyssa for the question, and to everyone who responded.
Robin T., Tennessee
I too have been sitting back and watching this discussion and I applaud you, Alyssa, for being so honest and seeking assistance. Sometimes, that is the hardest part. A couple of things I want to point out here…
2. The first YEAR of Simply Music is ALWAYS the most EXPENSIVE. Because you are just starting, you have to purchase all of the licenses and the fees associated with that. Additionally, you are purchasing learning tools (such as the CD’s and DVD’s to assist you in teaching those programs). These are all ONE TIME FEES! Once you receive the license to teach LEVEL 1, you have it. Then, you pay for LEVEL 2 and you have it for good. So, AS WITH ANY BUSINESS, your first year will most likely be a year of growth and show very little actual revenue. As you continue into the other years and start attracting more students, those licensing fees and other expenses will not exist anymore (because you have already paid them) and you will begin to see a profit.
3. I do feel as everyone has expressed that you do not value yourself or your time or the program as much as you should. However, if this is something that you really are struggling with, consider other ways of payment that your students could assist you! I have parents who really want their children involved in my lessons but they can’t afford them. So, one of them cleans my house for me once a month. One of them assists me with my newsletters and billing and I charge them 1/2 price. And, finally, I just had a new student begin who is a homeschooler. She was referred to me from one of my parents (which they will get a free month of lessons as a result, and the parent actually told me to give it back to them because she didn’t feel they could afford it). I spoke with the mother and she was very interested. As my other parent had made that comment that they might struggle with paying, I informed her that I was VERY interested in getting more “involved” and “marketing” to the home school community. I educated her on my referral program and told her that if she would assist me with ideas and marketing, I would teach her at a discounted rate. She said she would discuss all with her husband and let me know. I didn’t hear from her for a couple of weeks until she emailed me and told me that she had applied for and received a $500 GRANT for her daughter to take lessons. She wanted to know how much that would get her (materials included) and then said that from there she would assist me with marketing so that she could pay to continue the program with REFERRALS. She said they didn’t have the money, but the grant would allow her to build up her referrals enough so that she could hopefully just continue lessons based on referrals only. I WAS SHOCKED! WHAT AN AMAZING TESTAMENT, I thought, not only to this program, but that she would go so far as to apply for a GRANT so that she could give her child this opportunity! So, if you feel guilty about it, work with people. What do your parents do? Can you get free hair cuts, free lawn care, free housecleaning, babysitting? Think outside the box and you can find a way to make it work. And, that may make you feel better about your “rates”.
Original discussion started September 5, 2010