There’s something inexplicably empowering about being in business for yourself. You set your hours, your success is dependent solely on yourself, and there’s no boss to growl at you if you decide to take a mental health day. On the flip side, you have to stay accountable.
When I was in college, part of my piano pedagogy training involved seminars on how to run your own business. We covered the topic of taxes, insurance, contracts, schedules, and interviews. While useful, they were also all too brief. And, in the long run, nothing but actual practice teaches you what works best for you.
For instance, every seminar I ever attended advocated having your student sign a contract. The contract generally stipulates a length of time (semester, school year, number of months) that the student will have lessons during. The lesson length, price, and policies are all included. It protects the teacher from students just disappearing part way through the year. It gives you something to reference when they try to argue your policies.
I don’t use a contract.
My reasoning is simple, we are all military families stationed overseas. When B and I moved here, it was on short notice orders – we had less than 6 weeks from getting notified to having to be in country. That’s just the military life. I can’t hold students to a length of time that they themselves don’t know if they can fulfill. I give them my policies when they sign up, but there is nothing for them to sign. Nothing to keep them from leaving me…well, besides the lack of English speaking teachers in the area…
Another part of the flexibility that I offer my students, is that I don’t charge them for missed lessons. A lot of teachers hold to the policy that you pay for a time slot each week. I hold that you pay for the lessons that I teach. If you miss, then you don’t pay, but you also don’t get a make up lesson. So far this has worked really well for me.
The downside to the personal aspect of the services I charge, is that my clients often forget that this is a business for me. When we first moved here, I didn’t have a piano so I traveled to my students homes. I warned them all that should I buy a piano while here, that this would change. Lo and behold, I bought a piano this last summer after numerous problems with the studio where I was renting hours.
Most of my students are making the transition with grace. I offered an out to a few students who I know cannot travel – they pay an increased fee and had to move to times that were easier for me to travel to them. But I’m only traveling to 4 families. Two moved to the morning hours when no one else could take, the other two live close enough to me that it isn’t a big deal to me, but is to them due to their current circumstances.
A few of my students are taking this as a personal affront and have been very difficult in regards to scheduling. One family ignored my email requesting the times they wanted for three weeks, and then became upset when I didn’t have the time they wanted. They’re forgetting that this is my business. And I have to run it that way.
Again, it’s hard. I develop close relationships with my clients. It is hard to have to tell them that I can no longer teach them. But sometimes I have to.
When I traveled to my students, I lost at least 1 lesson slot for every lesson that I taught. Not only was that lost money in terms of time, but then I had to spend gas as well. It also reduced the number of students that I could teach.
It’s business. It can be crazy fun and fulfilling; but it can also be tough. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
By the way, if you have popped over here to check out my Croatia pics yet, you should. They’re really awesome.