Cue the ominous music. We’re about to chat about make-up piano lessons. This discussion seems to be the number one concern among piano teachers. Mention “make-up lesson” and watch a chipper piano teacher turn savage. And rightly so – like most people, we enjoy having the ability to feed our families! Students who don’t pay or who expect make-up piano lessons or refunds for missed lessons can make a real dent in a piano teacher’s income. So hold onto your hats…we’re about to delve into make-up lesson discussion.
Out With The Cozy Country Cottage Hobby:
The issue with make-up lessons is actually two-fold. The first issue is something that both Trevor and I are passionate about; changing the perception of teaching piano lessons from being viewed as a “cozy country cottage hobby” (CCCH from now on for reasons of brevity) to a “skilled professional career” (SPC). This… unfortunately… is a tough row to hoe. How many of you have heard one of the following:
“You are so lucky. You can set your own hours and work whenever you want!”
“It must be nice to do what you love every day!”
“I wish I could work from home. Things would be so much more relaxed.”
Annoying, right? If they only knew how much effort it takes to be a successful piano teacher than those 3 statements would become obsolete. However, unless you are consistently presenting yourself as having a “SPC” people will always assume that you are enjoying the life of a person with a “CCCH” and they will treat you as though you are merely pursuing a casual pastime. With this perception, to them missed lessons may seem like they are giving you a handy break in your day where you can putter around your home… and why not do make-up lessons? You’re there in your home anyway…what’s 30 minutes? Resist the urge to grit your teeth.
If this is a hobby for you (and if you yourself enjoy a relaxed and flexible approach to lessons) then the following will not apply. If teaching piano is most definitely not your hobby of choice, but is your source of income… make adjustments to change this perception and do yourself (and the rest of piano-teaching-kind) a favour.
Be Consistent, Be Clear, Be Kind
Once you have begun to break free from the “CCCH”” stigma and truly embrace having a “SPC”, you will easily be able to make these changes.
1. All students in your piano studio need the same rules. No more drop-in lessons, no more pay as you go. You can phrase this nicely (and even drop in some self-promotion) by saying “I am fortunate this year to have a very full schedule. In order for me to be able to accommodate all of my piano lessons, your timeslot has been reserved for you for the year. Payment is due in the following manner: (fill in your payment plan here). Outline how and when to pay and what happens when they do not.
2. Everything must be in writing. You have expectations, but parents may not clue-in until they see it in black and white. Begin your relationship with clients with all expectations and piano policies clearly outlined. If you haven’t told them in advance, you can’t begrudge them for what they do or do not do.
3. Bend, but don’t break. This is most important. Don’t be a doormat, but don’t be heartless. Think like a true business person before refusing to be flexible. Weigh the potential gains and losses. My rule of thumb is if it costs less than $30 to make a client happy I will do it (although not repeatedly with the same person). Word of mouth is much more valuable to me than $30. Offering make-up lessons at your discretion will go a long way.
Make-up lessons and refunds do not need to be a part of your vocabulary. If you are presenting yourself as a professional, have clearly outlined expectations, and are viewed as being both reasonable and fair your clients will respond…. and you’ll preserve your sanity.