You need to do this NOW. Don’t waste any time.
In this post, I’m going to share with you my company’s studio policy and break down the key ingredients to a bulletproof studio policy, so you can focus on TEACHING, not bill collection. You may even have to fire your therapist since you won’t be suffering from anxiety anymore!
You don’t need a studio policy. You need THE RIGHT studio policy. Remember, a studio policy is a contract between you and your students (or their parents). It needs to be a win/win; offering your customer accountability on your part and also protecting your valuable time as well. This is a set of expectations for BOTH parties. You may have to change some habits in order to live up to your end of the deal!
The 10 essential components of a studio policy (TREBLECLEF)
- Rundown of value to your customer (“What you can expect from me”)
- Expectations of student/parent (“How you can help me stay student-focused”)
- Books and Fees
- Liability Waiver
- Exchange of Money
- Leaving the studio
- Electronic communications policy
- Financial Paperwork
BONUS BELOW: Child protection policy
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT This is your menu! Note your service and how much it costs. Don’t forget the duration of each service. No need for detailed descriptions. Keep it neat and simple!
Private Lessons: $35/30 min session $50/45 min session $65/1 hr session.
Lessons are billed monthly by adding up the number of sessions that will occur during the month in question, taking into account any holidays where our location would be closed. e.g., a student who receives four 45-minute lessons will be billed $200.
PRO TIP Revision (8/31/14) Price by the session for one-on-one lessons, but BILL MONTHLY. As you will see in section 6, I charge on the 20th of the month before the month being billed. Used in conjunction with the cancellation policy, this will save you SO many headaches! The number of sessions will change based on holidays and number of calendar days in the month. When it comes to group classes or ensemble, it’s okay to make your tuition a flat rate for the month. We can explain billing in the “Exchange of Money” section.
2. Rundown of Value
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT This statement helps your customer understand what they’ll be receiving in exchange for their money. Use this section to show your customer that they’ll be taken care of BY A PROFESSIONAL and that you take your obligations seriously.
Here’s what you can expect from us…
- We promise to treat its students and families with care and respect.
- We will always give you our best, when it comes to instruction.
- We will always return your call or email in a timely and professional manner.
- We will always treat your children as our own.
- We will always be on time.
- We will always listen when you have a concern, and try our best to solve the problem.
- We will always own up to our mistakes. (On the rare occasion that we are human…)
- We will always be there for any student for any reason.
PRO TIP This is as much for YOU as it is for your customer! Use this section to explain the professional YOU aspire to be. All you have to do is live up to it. It’s like a professional improvement plan that you’re getting paid for!
3. Expectations of student/parent
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT It’s important for your customer to understand that your focus is teaching. This section allows you to politely ask for help accomplishing that mission by pointing out a few little items that will help you run an efficient studio!
Here are a few ways you can help… All we ask is that you return the favor in your own way!
- Be on time to all scheduled lessons, classes, practices, camps, and performances.
- Do your best to schedule appointments, keeping in mind your child’s classes, practices, and performances.
- Let us know if you see a way we can improve our services. We want to be our best! If we see a way to make it happen, it will.
PRO TIP Be careful that this list isn’t longer that the expectations you set for yourself! You don’t want this to look unbalanced! It’s also okay to write in a conversational manner. People don’t want to feel as though they need to hire a lawyer to read a contract for their 14-year-old’s voice teacher!
4. Books and Fees
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT It’s important that you’re very clear and upfront about ALL the costs involved with being a part of your program. No surprises! It’ll irritate your customer and make them reconsider their decision. If you’re afraid these expenses will scare them away, don’t be! You want long-term relationships. If a customer doesn’t sign up because they don’t want to buy a book of arias and a pencil, they’ll probably not be a very committed customer anyway.
Other stuff you will need:
On top of tuition, families may be responsible for additional expenses associated with our services. Typical foreseeable expenses would be, and these are estimates:
- Uniforms/Performing Apparel: $125
- Sheet Music: $50/year
- Competition Fees: $100/year
- Special event tickets: $15-20/person
- Performance Tour: about $1500 (when offered – optional, but recommended!)
- Sheet Music: $20 total (purchased on own)
- Notebook and pencil: $5
- Books/Sheet Music: $15-20 per book
- Instructors may also lend copies of their own music
- Recital Fee: $35
- Tickets for productions: $15/person (2 comps given per family)
- Lunch: pack your own
PRO TIP Don’t cut corners here. Figure that those signing up for your services have no knowledge of your industry. If you run a choir, don’t expect that a parent will assume they need to buy a folder and a uniform!
5. Liability Waiver
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. My recommendations are based on my personal experience. If you want to be prepared in this department, I suggest consulting with a lawyer. We live in a litigious society. If someone gets hurt on your property or engaging in your class, you may have to deal with the consequences.
EXAMPLE (My company also has a more comprehensive liability statement with an “I agree” button on our online registration system)
Damage to our stuff or property:
If a member of your family damages our property or equipment, out of respect for what we are trying to do, please offer to make it right. We are friends here!
There is very little risk involved with music and theater; however we know that people have accidents and bad things can happen. Please understand that we work hard to plan all of our events so that everyone is as safe as possible. In the event something bad happens, We will be there to provide support to the best of our ability.
PRO TIP It’s important that you’re willing to be helpful in the event of an incident. Keeping a good relationship with your customers is important. It’s hard to sue people you like! Am I right? 🙂
6. Exchange of Money
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT This one is the most difficult to write and set up. It also causes the the most anxiety amongst teachers For that reason it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT section of your policy! You have some homework to do here!
SOME ITEMS TO CONSIDER
- In order for this system to work best, tuition must be pre-paid! You’ll see what I mean below!
- What form of payment will you accept? (Cash, Check, Cards, Paypal, etc)
- Will you use a studio management software to do the collection for you? It will make this process SO much easier! (requires a merchant account to accept cards, which requires a Tax ID or EIN number, so you would need to be a recognized business by the government’s standards)
- When do you need the money? (Set a date that puts you in the clear so you can pay your overhead.)
- What is the penalty for non-payment?
- How will your customers gain a receipt for your services?
- THE BIGGEST QUESTION—CAN YOU STICK TO IT?
- Credit Card (Visa, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express) via automatic payment plan
- Some Fine Print regarding payment:
- Payments made by credit card are drafted on the 20th of each month, in the month prior to the one being billed. Example, May’s tuition is debited on April 20th.
- Payments received after the 1st of the new month will be considered late, and are subject to a $35.00 late fee to be added to the current invoice. We will send you a reminder if your payment did not go through, or if your card expires, etc.
- After the 10th of the month, issues with late payments may affect your child’s membership.
All tuition/charges statements are always available via our “Studio Director” web portal service. All families have the ability to create a username and password to view financial statements, enroll in classes, make payments, etc. To do this, please visit our website and click “Login/Register” in the navigation bar. The direct link is: [instert website]
PRO TIP My company DOES NOT take cash or check. Everything is by credit/debit card. This was a no-brainer! I click one button on the 20th of each month, and the entire studio is charged at once!
PROTIP 2 Use a studio management software. They’re cheap and they do MOST of this work for you.
Music Teachers Helper is one I would recommend for the solo operation. Get 15% off your first month when you sign up though the banner below!
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT This one makes me crazy! I’ve seen so many people get disrespected because they don’t have this policy in place (or not the right policy). I have no tolerance for abuse in this category! You may have to “fire your students” for not respecting this one. I have experience in this area, and believe me, it’s worth it sometimes!
EXAMPLE (I’ve tossed and turned over this one for five years, but I finally got it right!)
Cancellations By Management or Instructors
- If we cancel for any reason, we will make it up. If we can’t, it will be credited back to you!
- By default, we are closed on most “bank holidays”, such as Christmas, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, etc. (unless otherwise stated by the online class calendar). We will typically have classes/lessons on Monday holidays like MLK Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, etc.
- Cancellation of classes/lessons due to unsafe weather will be up to the discretion of the location/instructor.
- We will typically follow the local school district’s decision on school closure and cancellation of after school activities. School delays will not affect our activity, as no events occur before or during school hours.
- Performing Ensembles or Classes will be made up. We will decide the best time for a make-up session. Typically we call an extra rehearsal or class before a major event, and do not charge for it, so this kind of thing evens itself out by the end of the season.
- Make-up notification will be sent via email.
Cancellations By Student/Parent
- Teachers are not required to make up a lesson missed by the student for any reason.
PRO TIP Your time is valuable. This policy should train your students to respect your time in exchange for amazing service!
8. Leaving the studio
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT Relationships will end at some point. Give your customers an “out”. Trust them to not hurt you and they probably won’t. Membership based services (like Gyms) used to lock you in! In 2014, ain’t nobody got time for that! Let them go if they want to go!
Cancellation of Membership:
We’re sorry to see you go! Give word to your instructor. Prepaid tuition is non-refundable.
PRO TIP Consider a policy where you don’t refund pre-paid tuition. ALL tuition should be pre-paid. This protects you and gives you time to fill the open slot in your schedule
9. Electronic Communications Policy
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT You want to be clear that you are a teacher of the 21st century. This policy is really up to you and your level of comfort!
THINGS TO ADDRESS
- How will you communicate important items, like snow-day closings, with your studio? (email, text blast, etc)
- How will you communicate with individuals and on what medium? (email, phone, text, etc)
- Use of social media to communicate with students/families (policy on”friending” of students on sites like Facebook/Instagram)
- Communication to groups via a group SMS app such as GroupMe. (I use this one with great success to communicate quickly and easily with Impulse Handbell Ensemble)
PRO TIP Social Media is tricky. It can be incredibly valuable for mass communication. You and your customers need to be comfortable with its use. Your policy in this department may change from student to student, depending on age, level of rapport with the family, etc. Remember: Social media doesn’t create bad behavior, it catches it!
10. Financial Paperwork
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT If you’re using automatic debit with your customers, some merchant services may require you to have an “Authorization for Direct Payment” on file, or if they don’t, you may feel better having something in writing.
PRO TIP Consider using a studio management software like The Studio Director to eliminate this paperwork. I just hate wasting paper (and filing it)!
BONUS: Child Protection Policy
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT I shouldn’t have to explain this to you! This could be a post of its own, and maybe one day it will. But seriously, this is to keep YOU safe.
In order to create a safe learning environment for all children, we are committed to putting these measures in place:
During a private music lesson with a student under the age of 18 years, the instructor is required to teach in a room with a window, an open door, or a large room or open area which can be accessed from a main hallway.
Our staff members are required to periodically (and without notice) check in on any private music lesson, being taught to a person under the age of 18, when they are not in the process of teaching or are in between lessons. This may be done by looking into the window, or checking an open door, being sure not to disturb the lesson and sacrifice the quality of instruction.
Parents are always welcome to stay in a waiting area within earshot of a private lesson. If they find it necessary, a parent is welcome to check the window or open door at any time without disturbing the lesson.
In situations where a group class (two or more students) is being taught, there will always be at least one adult in charge. Typically, there will be at least two adults due to the nature of the classes that we teach.
PRO TIP Don’t allow parents IN the lesson, but allow them to be “within earshot” . This policy provides protection and doesn’t put you on the spot, make you anxious, or hinder the child’s education. Please don’t install security cameras! You’ll never be satisfied with your hair when you review the tape…
Draw it up and have your students/parents sign it when they begin with you! If you use a software system, add this as an “I agree” step in your registration process. This is a NEW year! Get it started right!
What am I missing? Please comment below!