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Charge per lesson or per semester? #2860421 06/19/19 10:55 AM
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I am making an attempt to turn what has been an "occasional, on-again/off-again" hobby as a piano teacher into a viable business. A vital piece of making this work for me (and for students, is coming up with rates and a schedule that facilitate learning and that allow me to rely on a steady amount of income.

So, after a bit of reasearch and thinking, I've decided to book people on a "semester" basis; a fixed number of lessons over a period of time, with a cost per semester (that is really just my rate times the number of lessons in the semester). If I can get people thinking about (and paying for) lessons as a semester commitment, I think it will inspire them to follow through a little more, and might make them less likely to cancel for soccer practice, or whatever else is going on in their busy lives. And, if they do have to miss, they've paid for the semester in advance or partial payments on a schedule (with a "no reimbursement for missed lessons" policy), so I'm not having to deal with conversations where parents are trying to sell me on the idea that they missed/canceled the lesson for a good reason so they shouldn't have to pay me for it. Or, I don't have to scramble to find time out of my busy schedule to do a make-up lesson just to get paid.

Anyway, I'm interested in folks' experience with payment on a per-lesson basis vs. for the year/semester. Things that have worked, things that haven't.

Also, I'm curious about policies for cancellations. I'm going with, basically, "if I have to cancel you will be reimbursed, if you have to cancel you will not be reimbursed." Do other people do similar?

And, really, while teaching is not new for me, teaching as a business is, so any other discussion off-topic from this post but vaguely related will likely be educational for me, so have at it! smile

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Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860486 06/19/19 01:21 PM
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From a parent POV, i will appropriate teacher will do a make-up session when i need to cancel a lesson. If a student cancel many classes then you can talk to the parent smile

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860498 06/19/19 01:51 PM
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These questions have been discussed extensively a few times over the ten years that I've been here. To summarize:

- "Semester" was somewhat popular among some teachers, but impractical. Personally as a student I would not have been able to come up with that much money at once when I first took lessons - annual is an enormous and scary sum. The consensus seemed to go with "monthly"

- "per lesson" - students/parents who are employed may not understand the realities. You need to organize your time and have something that is reasonably predictable, as a teacher. You are not an ATM machine that is dormant when not called into use. Understanding that your customers may not understand this, might help.

- makeup for missed lessons -- The general thought that came out is that students pay for a time slot, rather than for the service within that time slot, and if they miss that time slot, then they have missed it. A difference was made between frivolously missed lessons (I was having too much fun at the mall and forgot the time / it was my birthday etc.), and genuine situations. A lot of teachers replaced a lesson if the absence was justified and especially if there was notification reasonably in advance. This also allowed the teacher to put another student in that time slot. Some teachers had designated days for "accepted makeup lessons" and any makeup lesson had to be on those days.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860512 06/19/19 02:40 PM
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Be aware that the "justified absence" rule may generate dishonesty, e.g. people exaggerating illness or whatever or over disclosing in order to support the justification. Personally, I'd rather my piano teacher not be a party to my medical records or to the details of my personal life, but of course YMMV. For your own sanity, you may find it useful to determine a timeline for a cancellation that would qualify for a make up lesson. Perhaps any lesson cancelled a week or more in advance could be made up (rescheduled), anything up to 24 hours could be rescheduled depending on availability, and anything under 24 hours is forfeit.

I pay monthly for 4 lessons. I pay the same amount for months when I know I will miss a lesson. When the month has 5 occurrences of my lesson day, it is either a week off or a make up lesson; other times make ups may be scheduled halfway between the normal lesson schedule. My teacher is beyond generous with scheduling make ups.


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Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860514 06/19/19 02:45 PM
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The nature of this business is you will have people cancel for soccer games, band rehearsals, dentist appointments and such. But you can try to find a day for them where games are less likely to conflict.

I would just resign yourself to doing some makeup lessons that are inconvenient, but perhaps not on a Sunday. Some teachers have a makeup lesson time like Friday morning at 7 am to discourage cancellations.

You will always have a few difficult conversations about makeup lessons. But you can present your clients with a sheet explaining your makeup policy. Some piano teachers get clients to sign a contract. Also give a time limit for makeup lessons to occur such as three weeks. Otherwise Christmas Break comes and they want a makeup lesson. Also, get them to commit to the makeup lesson time well in advance, as soon as they cancel preferably.

You need to be interested in teaching parents about respecting your time. You are a teacher and that's part of teaching. Teaching also includes lessons on manners. I ask students to say hi upon entering, and to thank me for getting them a book. The only thing I haven't been able to get them to do is say thank you in a written card when they end lessons after many years.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860519 06/19/19 02:58 PM
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Welcome to the forum, BluMunk.

I charge by the month -- same amount each month, regardless of the number of scheduled or attended lessons. It's a good system for several reasons.

Tuition paid only once (annual) or twice (by the semester) a year is, as keystring pointed out, prohibitively expensive for some (many?). Especially when families may have recently gone to the expense to acquire a piano. Or if they don't have a piano yet, they may be tempted to buy a cheap, awful instrument if they have to come up with a large sum of money just to get started paying for their lessons.

On the other hand, setting up a weekly pay-per-lesson rate, while it's a low sum of money, can also be a problem (from a business perspective). The unspoken message with a weekly-pay system is that families are paying for the lesson itself, and nothing more. Your behind-the-scenes planning? Not included. Your administrative costs? Not included. Time and money spent on your continuing education? Not included. Etc.

You'll have a better chance of commanding respect if you make it clear that your business involves much more than your face-to-face time with students. You're working for them even when they're not there. You deserve to be paid for all you do on their behalf, not just when they come to lessons.

Here's my cancellation policy, taken from my printed Studio Policy:

Canceling a Lesson

- please call at least 24 hours in advance (*see exceptions below)
- *call as soon as feasible in cases of sudden illness, unsafe weather conditions, or emergency

Rescheduling a Lesson

Lessons you cancel may be rescheduled, at my discretion, but aren't guaranteed.

If I need to cancel a lesson (which happens rarely), you'll be offered a make-up lesson at a mutually agreeable time, or, if that's not possible, you'll receive a tuition credit.


The "at my discretion" part works well for me, because I can decide on a case-by-case basis whether I will reschedule or not. I'm happy to do this for my loyal families, and most are just that. The few others, who are trying to take advantage, I have an out without having to explain why they're not getting a reschedule.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860555 06/19/19 04:26 PM
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Just as another example, my teacher charges per lesson but with a commitment to the series of lessons for the academic year. I pay monthly for the lesson dates that fall in that month (whether I get to all of them or not). He sets a limit on makeups of two per year for those taking weekly lessons--that's with cancellation in advance, of course.


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Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860598 06/19/19 06:54 PM
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Where I live (Australia), everyone I’ve spoken to charges per school term (4x terms a year). That’s 10 weeks, followed by a 2 week holiday break (but summer is a 6 week holiday). It’s the same for all extra-curricula activities (sport, math tutoring etc.) I never thought about refunds if quitting mid-way through so I don’t know their policies on that.

Some teachers who are in high demand unapologetically say they don’t do makeup lessons no matter what the excuse. Parents and adult students are made to feel they should be grateful to even have them as a teacher- especially ones using the teacher as the best chance for securing a scholarship or award- so they don’t complain. Others say they might do a makeup lesson if they have the time but it’s not guaranteed.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860619 06/19/19 07:43 PM
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Some teachers don’t do makeup lessons, but your reasoning is incorrect. It is not to make the students and parents feel grateful to have them as a teacher, but because their studio is so full that scheduling make-up lessons would be nearly impossible. You need to also understand that if a student is a no-show and doesn’t pay, there is no other billable work that can be done during that period. Lawyers bill for work without a client being present, teachers cannot. The teacher has planned that time slot as part of their income and there is little way to make up that loss. It is a different profession with a different payment structure.

When my teacher had a full studio, there were strict rules. Now that she is semi-retired with a small number of students, she is able to be more flexible about lesson times and rearranging her schedule: both due to the student’s need and sometimes hers.

Last edited by dogperson; 06/19/19 07:46 PM.
Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860625 06/19/19 08:04 PM
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No to per lesson (except summer). I feel that it contributes more to a transactional mindset of teacher as hourly labor instead of an educational partnership. Also, my schedule is tight* and I can't have people cancel and expect not to pay and it's too late to schedule someone else (i.e. the product is expired). *When I was first starting out, I did monthly, was fairly lax about rescheduling, and would occasionally give people half month credit.

No to monthly either (except long-time students and longer than half hour students). We have ensemble class and performances, and I deem the entire semester fee necessary and expected to support overall costs. If I were to go back to monthly across the board, I might collect the 5-month semester total over 4 months.

No to "make-up lessons" if the time you want is occupied by someone or something else but yes with sufficient notice and there is an open spot or someone can switch. One school I taught at had designated make-up weeks that were always used because it never happened that every single student was present for the entire regular schedule. A larger school needs a consistent policy across multiple teachers, but as a sole proprietor, I would find it silly to penalize the rare 100% attendance students by making them skip. Then there were cases such as the music school having spring break, followed by the student's day school spring break, then the student who was actually available those two weeks getting sick. It's a month before you meet again, meaning stuff has been forgotten or bad habits have developed or something.

Thus, I go by semesters (half semester payments), specifying a range for the expected number of classes. The range is to cover both my and student cancellation needs regardless of the reason. I set an example of cancelling sparingly and communicating early, and flexibility is offered on my terms in a way that's fair and sustainable.

(If it's a "common" holiday, and I intend to teach, is it your cancellation because you're going somewhere or mine because I should preemptively cancel when many students are gone? If it's snow/weather, should I bear the entire burden? If I'm attending a seminar that will increase my skill or value as a teacher, how can it be said that it's a better or worse reason than your attending (for example) great-grandma's 100th birthday? What if your last minute cancellation allows me to attend to personal needs that I was going to skip or delay because I had prioritized my commitment to your lesson - should it be counted as my cancellation because I wanted to cancel and didn't, or yours because you said it?)

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860628 06/19/19 08:11 PM
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Originally Posted by BluMunk

. I'm going with, basically, "if I have to cancel you will be reimbursed, if you have to cancel you will not be reimbursed." Do other people do similar?



People do this - but I don't see how it's fair. I'm allowed to cancel, but students are not? What is the rationale, and how do you tell a well-organized dedicated parent that they have to pay when they take their weekend vacation but I get a free pass when I take mine?

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860634 06/19/19 08:41 PM
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@dogperson- I was only referring to some teachers. One with a ‘no makeup lessons’ policy had one weekly time slot available this term if I wanted to sign up with her; therefore, she was available for a makeup lesson for anyone of her current students. But she simply refuses, even though the student who left overseas mid-term was still paying for a time slot they couldn’t possibly attend.

My upcoming teacher is so booked out I can’t even meet him until the holidays. If he can’t do a makeup lesson I understand. But if an alternative time slot is available that week I think he’d offer it because he doesn’t seem to have the arrogance about him that I sensed in the above teacher I mentioned.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: Mariner] #2860650 06/19/19 10:04 PM
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Mariner - if that teacher desires and has a full studio, then presumably her students are satisfied enough with the value to tolerate the policy. Regarding the moved-overseas student, perhaps she turned others away at the beginning of term when that student committed. She did not know you would be coming along but had the expectation that the original student would be around. Personally, I might have arranged to partially release the moving-away student, so that neither of us shouldered the entire burden.

If I'm not mistaken, I think in many(?) jurisdictions, there is something against landlords collecting double rent, i.e., from both the tenant who moves out early and the new tenant.

Originally Posted by Mariner
had one weekly time slot available this term if I wanted to sign up with her; therefore, she was available for a makeup lesson for anyone of her current students.

As it turns out, I have one 30-min spot in the middle of a day's schedule that I keep open for personal reasons. I typically don't put make-up/rescheduled lessons there, but if a student were to want it as a regular reserved spot, I would actually consider it. Also, even if I did use it for make-up, a 45-min or 1-hour student wouldn't fit. This could very well be construed as "refusing" make-up; I'm just saying we don't necessarily know the teacher's full situation.

Regarding my "fair and sustainable" comment - unsustainable is if I let the clients dictate the rules. In a full studio, rarely a week passes by without someone not making it to their regular time (whether they gave advance notice or not). To offer super flexible unlimited make-up lessons, the original time has to be held, plus the make-up time, for the payment of one. Unsustainable is if I'm chronically paid half price (unless the original price was pretty high to begin with) and/or giving refunds left and right. Fair is stating the terms of my flexibility up front and then handling requests in a consistent manner across students.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860686 06/20/19 01:00 AM
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Any time I’ve read the terms regarding makeup lessons, they read that it’s at the teacher’s discretion. So a lesson is not something I’d expect, only hope for. When a teacher has dozens of students a week and is without support staff I can imagine it would get annoying to deal with this issue all the time.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: Opus_Maximus] #2860791 06/20/19 08:25 AM
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Great conversation everybody, thanks for participating! It's clear that there are a lot of different ways that work for people, depending on maybe "what's usual" in your area, your specific needs, and the perceived needs of your students.

Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
Originally Posted by BluMunk

. I'm going with, basically, "if I have to cancel you will be reimbursed, if you have to cancel you will not be reimbursed." Do other people do similar?



People do this - but I don't see how it's fair. I'm allowed to cancel, but students are not? What is the rationale, and how do you tell a well-organized dedicated parent that they have to pay when they take their weekend vacation but I get a free pass when I take mine?



I don't quite understand, or maybe I wasn't totally clear.

It's not about being "allowed to cancel." or me getting a "free pass". Quite the opposite. It's that if I have to cancel an agreed-upon lesson, the student does not have to pay. This is 100% a benefit for them and not in any way a free pass for me. Conversely, if they cancel an agreed-upon lesson, they still have to pay. They can take all the vacations they want, but if it turns out that, "hey, we decided to not do lessons next week because of 'X' ", I still get paid. This is because part of what a student is paying for is the time on my schedule.

A poor analogy would be if I was selling an on-demand manufactured product. Letting people cancel their order free of penalty after I've procured the resources to make the thing is a really quick way to go out of business.

And, another piece of this is that it's my general policy (though we'll see if it works, as I said, this is all new to me) to charge for the whole semester even if we come up with a schedule in advance that only uses, say 10 out of 12 lessons because of planned vacations or whatever. This is again because those two weeks scattered mid-semester are generally not times that I can monetize. If a student wants to do lessons on, say, Tuesdays at 4PM this fall, but can't do three of them because of other conflicts, those slots are just going to sit empty for me. Add that up across a studio and, depending on how many students you have, it adds up to $500-$1000 or more of lost revenue over a fall.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860814 06/20/19 09:30 AM
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Munk, I think you are very much on the right track toward a policy. When you start thinking by the semester, you start restricting your teaching to committed students or committed families. That's good when it comes to studio planning and your actual teaching.

You might consider, however, that you are also weeding out teen and adult recreational pianists who might just like to give you a try. They might grow into loyal students willing to commit by the semester, but later on. So you might also offer a trial term of fewer lessons, maybe four to six. (But maybe not for kids.)

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860815 06/20/19 09:37 AM
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Monk, when you talk about reimbursement for teacher-cancelled lessons, I think you need to change that to say that such lessons will be *made up* by you at some mutually agreeable time. Not reimbursed. You don't want to actually hand anyone back any prepaid tuition - maybe this goes without saying.

Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: Peter K. Mose] #2860829 06/20/19 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Peter K. Mose
Monk, when you talk about reimbursement for teacher-cancelled lessons, I think you need to change that to say that such lessons will be *made up* by you at some mutually agreeable time. Not reimbursed. You don't want to actually hand anyone back any prepaid tuition - maybe this goes without saying.


Agree. This is in my policy.

The thing about student cancellations is that they can be unpredictable, and this is compounded when you have a large studio of school-aged children. So it makes sense to manage this carefully, otherwise you will go crazy. But as a teacher I generally know about my own possible schedule conflicts weeks or months in advance. For example, if a choir that I work with has a dress rehearsal or concert on a night that I'm usually teaching, I'll generally have lots of time to sort out a solution that works for my students. Even for rare cancellations due to illness or emergency, I been able to arrange alternate lesson times that work for everyone. I can see refunding tuition if I was unable to work for a long period of time or something, but not for routine cancellations.


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Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2860931 06/20/19 02:16 PM
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One of my best friends charges by the semester system, and I have spoken to a few other teachers who also charge by the semester. They tend to have smaller studios of VERY dedicated parents. The students, however, are not always as dedicated. In fact, some of those students will drain my energy and turn me into a very angry martinet.

The truth is: Fewer families are willing to commit to the semester system, especially when the majority of teachers in the immediate area charge by the month, or even by the lesson. And it is very hard to find such dedicated parents. I used to have a lot of them, but now the great majority of my clients are the wealthy, "let's do piano for fun" type. They probably won't mind if I ever switch to the semester system, but that doesn't really solve any problems, either.


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Re: Charge per lesson or per semester? [Re: BluMunk] #2864089 06/29/19 11:11 PM
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Originally Posted by BluMunk
Great conversation everybody, thanks for participating! It's clear that there are a lot of different ways that work for people, depending on maybe "what's usual" in your area, your specific needs, and the perceived needs of your students.

Originally Posted by Opus_Maximus
Originally Posted by BluMunk

. I'm going with, basically, "if I have to cancel you will be reimbursed, if you have to cancel you will not be reimbursed." Do other people do similar?



People do this - but I don't see how it's fair. I'm allowed to cancel, but students are not? What is the rationale, and how do you tell a well-organized dedicated parent that they have to pay when they take their weekend vacation but I get a free pass when I take mine?



I don't quite understand, or maybe I wasn't totally clear.

It's not about being "allowed to cancel." or me getting a "free pass". Quite the opposite. It's that if I have to cancel an agreed-upon lesson, the student does not have to pay. This is 100% a benefit for them and not in any way a free pass for me. Conversely, if they cancel an agreed-upon lesson, they still have to pay. They can take all the vacations they want, but if it turns out that, "hey, we decided to not do lessons next week because of 'X' ", I still get paid. This is because part of what a student is paying for is the time on my schedule.

A poor analogy would be if I was selling an on-demand manufactured product. Letting people cancel their order free of penalty after I've procured the resources to make the thing is a really quick way to go out of business.

And, another piece of this is that it's my general policy (though we'll see if it works, as I said, this is all new to me) to charge for the whole semester even if we come up with a schedule in advance that only uses, say 10 out of 12 lessons because of planned vacations or whatever. This is again because those two weeks scattered mid-semester are generally not times that I can monetize. If a student wants to do lessons on, say, Tuesdays at 4PM this fall, but can't do three of them because of other conflicts, those slots are just going to sit empty for me. Add that up across a studio and, depending on how many students you have, it adds up to $500-$1000 or more of lost revenue over a fall.




But don't you feel one of the things they are paying for is a stable slot in THEIR schedule? Many of my students have busy lives with parents working until late at night, soccer, nanny schedules, tutoring, long commutes to my studio, and sibling acitiviites, and some of the more serious ones even plan their lives around piano schedules - and if I simply say "Hey, can't do it this Monday, we can reschedule for Friday??", I'm also putting a burden on their schedule, messing up the other activities they have that day. I hardly ever do this to my students - but all it takes is once or twice for it to become a double standard.

Last edited by Opus_Maximus; 06/29/19 11:13 PM.
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