Thursday, June 30, 2011

Begin As You Would Go On

Those words (Begin as you would go on) are golden.  My dear friend and mentor, Wendy, told me a story of herself.

She was a young bride to an older husband.  She carefully made a tuna-noodle casserole for their First Dinner at home. 

Imagine her chagrin when her husband came home, and raised his eyebrows at the casserole, then suggested they go out for dinner.She had a choice.  Pitch a fit in a housewifey sort of way, or realize that a husband who'd rather go out for dinner than have her cook is not necessarily a bad thing.

She chose to dump the casserole in the trash and go out.  They went out to dinner nearly every night from then on.  They were comfortable, not broke.  They didn't have kids, and they each had careers.  So, dinners out it was, and leftovers for lunch.  Not really a bad system.

The point is, sometimes if you can see the prevailing current that exists, you can go with it and make it work for you.  Try to see the big picture, the long haul. 

When you are starting fresh in a new town (or just getting starting in the town you've been in), try to see as far ahead as you can.

How this translates into practical matters:
Set up a schedule for teaching.  Yes, I know.  You don't have any students, so your schedule is wide open.  Well, close that sucker back up.  Your teaching schedule needs to have form and boundaries.  For you, this will mean time that you set aside to be thinking and working.  For students/parents, this means that you don't sound like a loser with nothing going on.  Imagine from their perspective, talking about scheduling lessons.
 "When do you have openings for lessons?"
Non-structured answer goes like this:
"Oh, anytime.  I'm wide open. When's good for you?"
Structured is like this:
"I have openings on Tuesday night, between 5 and 6:30, and Wednesday after 7.  I could probably shuffle things around on other days, if necessary, but let's start there. Which sounds best?"

Who sounds like the professional who is in-demand and awesome and who sounds like somebody who's never taught lessons and is in it as a hobby?

Yeah.  So you get it.

Also, one of the tougher issues.

Payment.  How much to charge.
Things to know.
*You've GOTTA know the territory.  (Just like in "The Music Man.")  You have to know the prevailing rates.  Ask around.  Lie, and pose as a parent interested in lessons for a kid.  Ask about the education and experience level when you are asking about the rates.  Ask about attendance, make-ups, and any extras that come with lessons (access to recitals, classes, newsletters, memberships, etc.).

Me, personally? 
Well, I think back to Gerald Carey, my college flute professor.  When he asked how much I charged my 8 students, I told him.  He grimaced and said, "Double the fee."  I said," But I'd lose half my students!"  He replied, "So?"
I thought about that.  Half the work, same money. Hm.
Realistically, I only need (now) about 15-17 hours of lessons each week to fill my studio.  I usually hover between 14 and 16.  How many people is that?  Around 22?  Twenty-two families who can pay my rates. 
So I typically find the most expensive teacher in the area and add about 30%.  Crazy? Not really.  There are plenty of families who will shop by price, and not by cheapest price.  They equate expensive with good.  Who am I to question that logic?  I am absolutely qualified and experienced.  I know in my heart that I'm the best flute teacher they're ever likely to come across (unless they go see one of my mentors), and I can charge a lot with a completely clean conscience. 
Yes, I get some phone calls that go nowhere, because they can't pay my rates.  That's fine.  If I don't lose some that way, I'm not charging enough. 
Remember: would you rather teach 40 30-minute lessons a week at $11 each or 16 30-minute lessons at $30 each? Do the math. It's way easier to teach a lesson for $30 than it is for $11, let me tell you!

Don't charge by the lesson.  WHAT?  Yes. Really.  Charge by the semester.  If you want, divide it up into monthly payments, but they are paying TUITION.  You are not some spinster lady teaching piano surrounded by 17 cats in your living room.  You are a professional, offering a full-service studio.  You have a plan for missed lessons, you do recitals and newsletters, you are constantly doing research and educating yourself, and you aren't a babysitter paid by the hour.
For example:
If you think you can safely average $50/hour (if the prevailing fee is around $40ish), figure it out.  Between the end of August and first week of September (how I run my studio), you can count on about 35 lessons.  Remember, there's Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, and a variety of other holidays to contend with, plus snow days.  Let's say 34 lessons, then.  Let's do 30 minute lessons
25 X 34 = $850.  If you have them pay tuition in Sept., Oct. Nov. Dec. Jan. Feb. March, April, May, that's 9 months.  IF you do the math, that's $94.50 a month. 
Some months they will get 3 lessons (like December), sometimes 5 (March usually), and the last week of August and first of June are included.  That's not too bad!
Advantages:  You get paid even when the little darlings choose not to show up.  You know exactly how much you will be taking in for any given month.  Parents know exactly how much to write the checks for, so fewer phone calls/emails.  Also, it's much easier for any parent to remember to pay tuition when it's always the first week of the month (especially if you mail them a bill), and it's always the same.
Disadvantages: Some parents simply don't get the concept of an AVERAGE tuition payment and have kittens when they get to December and realize that "they're paying over $90 for only THREE LESSONS! INSANE!" and you have to explain, again, that it's an average.  And that in March, when they get 5 lessons, you won't charge extra.  Sigh.  (Hello, junior high math?)

Even if you only have ONE student, do the tuition system.  It's far easier to just start out that way than try to transition people after they are used to paying lesson-per-lesson or a different amount each month.  I've done both, and trust me.  It's easier to just start that way.

More later

No comments: