The studio policy is easily the most important document in any music studio.
This document manages expectations, sets boundaries, and helps a private music instructor control their environment. If you are a music teacher without a policy, or maybe you haven’t updated yours in a while, this article is for you.
Why is a Policy Necessary?
The studio policy is necessary because it provides a platform to establish your terms. There are things that people need to agree to if they wish to study with you. Without a policy, you are handling situations on a case by case basis, and you may find yourself consistently being taken advantage of.
There are certainly people out there who will be incompatible with your policy and the way your studio operates. However, you are under no obligation to teach everyone who comes your way. Without a policy, these things are much more difficult to figure out.
The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook
My first encounter with the concept of a policy was in my piano pedagogy class back in college, before I had significant experience teaching. It was all theory at this point. The required text for the class was “The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook” which served as a baseline for understanding the business workings of a piano studio.
This text spells out virtually everything one would need to know when operating as a private music instructor, and I highly recommend getting a copy. In my experience, this book accurately describes the sort of real-life situations you are likely to encounter, and I found it incredibly useful in helping me establish my music business after college.
The policy document is the place to spell out what you, parents, and students should expect during lessons. Try to include any item that would be relevant to your teaching situation.
Here are a few topics to consider for your policy:
- Rates and payment due dates
- Communication and contact information
- Recitals and performance opportunities
- Cancellation and makeup lessons
- Practice expectations
- Parental involvement
Consider things that are important to you in the day to day operation of your business. Ideally, you should put these items in writing and have parents sign them indicating that they agree to the terms. This way, you can reference the policy later if something comes up.
Keeping it Simple
My studio policies have been through countless iterations. I was likely too lenient in the beginning and too strict at other points. I’ve had short policies and ones so long, parents often didn’t bother reading them. I also included rules that I liked in theory, but I wasn’t principled enough to compel people to follow them.
Now, I have settled on something in between the above extremes, where I stick to the important stuff and aim to keep things as simple as possible. My current policy fits on two pages and includes only things that I am completely comfortable explaining and enforcing. Simple, clear language is key.
Cancellations and Makeup Lessons
I wanted to offer a few suggestions on cancellations and makeup lessons, since this has been my biggest point of frustration through the years. These topics are typically related, and you will probably want to list them in the same section of your policy.
Teachers should decide if they are willing to offer credits or reschedules for cancellations on the part of the student. You can make this dependent on the situation or a certain amount of advanced notice (or both).
Be careful about language that is not specific enough. If you come across as too vague or lenient in your policy, you may end up paying for it. The phrase “give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile” comes to mind, especially on this subject.
Keep in mind that people will cancel on you if you let them, especially if you are the only one who bears the cost. This is an extremely important consideration and will make a rather large difference on how much money you make each year.
Rates, Payments, and Due Dates
There are a few different ways that you can think of your lessons and how you charge for them. These include paying by the lesson, monthly payments based on a specific number of lessons, and set monthly payments for an averaged number of lessons. While I don’t necessarily feel that there is a best option overall, there is likely a best one for your situation.
After considering a payment model and including that provision in your policy, you might also want to include your rates and payment due date and decide if you are going to charge late fees. You might not need to bother with the late fees unless you have difficulty getting paid on time.
One thing to note here is that much of your power to enforce the cancellation and makeup portion of your policy requires you to take advance payment. You will have a very difficult time collecting payment for a missed lesson when the person hasn’t paid you yet.
Many professional instructors take monthly payments before the month begins. This is a widely accepted professional standard, and the route I currently use in my lessons.
Another thing to consider is how often your policy will be updated and referenced. It’s a good idea to hand out freshly updated policies each year and go over any changes with your clients, along with new signatures.
If you are using any online communication, you may want to consider hosting private copies of your policies online and using read-only links in your communication with clients. I include these links in the footer of my invoice emails so that parents and students can reference the policy easily throughout the year.
Sticking to Your Policy
A good policy must be enforced to be useful. You will want to encourage parents to reference it when situations arise. You must be as consistent as possible and avoid bending the rules. When determining the specifics of your policy, don’t include things that you can’t enforce.
You will have the easiest time establishing how your studio will be managed right at the beginning of a relationship with a client. There are some things that are difficult to change once you have established your studio practices. These typically include cancellations, payment models, and pricing among other things. You should create your policy in a forward-thinking manner.
If you wish to give yourself the ability to update your pricing from year to year, you should probably have a clause that enables you to do so. “Rates will be periodically adjusted for cost of living and inflation.” Other examples of this are practice and attendance requirements, recitals, and so on.
If you anticipate having to change something, you should make sure students and parents know what could change and give them plenty of advanced notice. That way, you leave yourself an opening if you do need to change something.
Ultimately, your policy will play a significant role in your success as a private instructor, so this is a very important thing to get right. A well-constructed policy reinforces your terms and helps you succeed as a business. Your policy defines the vision of your studio and offers you control.
For more information on these topics, stay tuned for future articles. I also highly recommend picking up the “Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook” if you really want all the details.
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