Most piano teachers don’t become teachers because they love invoicing, scheduling and writing policies.
We teach because we love music, love working with kids, and because we love being able to share our knowledge. The reality for most though is that running your own studio is the only viable way to be a piano teacher.
Is it any wonder that piano teachers can end up stressing about business? All we wanted to do was to share music with the world, but to do that we have to be an entrepreneur as well. It’s a package deal and it can get pretty overwhelming.
The trouble is, when we let the financial and organisational side of our studios get us stressed out, it only makes things worse. If we’re worried or stressed out by our business it can lead to frustrated students and dissatisfied parents. They don’t want to deal with our stress any more than we do.
We need to appear calm and under control so that we’re treated like professionals.
Here’s my three keys to a stress free piano teaching business.
You need to take ownership of how your studio runs. I couldn’t count how many posts I’ve read on Facebook where a teacher is wondering why they’re being pushed around by a piano parent.
Most of the time, the parent in question has gotten away with a lot in the past. They’ve been allowed to make-up or reschedule lessons, pay late, dictate what their child is studying…and it’s led to them feeling like the parents are running the show.
I made this mistake many times when I first started teaching.
A parent would ask me something, and I would answer in an indirect or unsure way; so the parent would end up calling the shots.
This was true for business issues as well as pedagogical ones. I just didn’t sound confident enough to really sell it. It led to me stressing about business all the time, because I’d let my business out of my control.
These days most questions are preempted by me, and parents never contradict me. Good communication goes a long way to getting rid of stress for you and your piano parents. As long as you explain clearly and directly how this benefits their child, they’ll be on board.
Just say it like you mean it.
Decide the policies and structure you want in your studio, and the way you want to teach. Then don’t budge unless there really is an exceptional reason to do so.
When you take ownership over how your business runs you’ll stop stressing about business – and your business will run more smoothly.
This is the same advice I give to piano students about their practice time, but it holds true for us as well. Too many teachers end up working crazy hours trying to make enough to live on – leaving no time for family, friends, or other interests and projects.
Teaching hours are extremely draining. I really don’t know anyone who can teach 40 hours a week and not have themselves, or their teaching, suffer for it.
I know if I don’t have at least a 10 minute break every 2 hours the last student of the day gets less from me than the first did.
Of course this ratio will be different for everyone, just make sure you’re being honest about what works for you – and when you find it stick to it.
When you’re teaching one-on-one it really is all on you. If you don’t have enough energy you’re not going to be the best teacher you can.
Obviously now you’re thinking:
“Hang on, I can’t just work less, I’ve got to pay my bills!”
Absolutely, but the more things you do to make yourself a better teacher, the more likely you are to be able to command a higher rate. The more engaged you are in each and every lesson, the more likely you are to retain students too.
Do some calculations and see if you can drop some students and raise your fees.
If you’re sure you’ve maxed out what you can charge in your area, and you need more income from your teaching, you might want to think about groups.
During your summer teaching break, set aside at least a few hours for big picture planning.
Don’t just tell yourself you’ll “try” to get this time, block it off in your schedule. This is a non-negotiable, essential part of your year.
It will stop you stressing about business in the long run, so put it in the diary.
If you don’t take any break from teaching in the summer (really?!) set aside some time on a weekend or even a morning before your teaching day starts.
Now that you have this time make sure you use it wisely. Keep a list during the teaching year of things you want to fix about the way your business is run. These should be things that you don’t have the time to change in between teaching hours, but things that would make the biggest impact to your sanity.
Some things you might use this time for are:
If you’re starting to panic because you feel like you need to do everything on that list and more – STOP.
Take a breath.
Now just do one thing.
Trust me, pick one thing at a time. Choose whichever item from your list would be the biggest stress saver during the year and solve it. If you have time, do one more. If you don’t not to worry, you’ll get it done in your next “big picture planning session”.
I used one of these sessions about 2 years ago to change the way I handle lesson planning. I created a folder assigned to each student with organising tabs inside, and these folders are organised by their lesson day in my office.
It’s a simple method but I needed to devote that time to setting it up. I still use the same system today, and it has saved me so much mess, clutter, and confusion.
Whenever I feel my brain being clogged up by some aspect of my business that I can’t fix mid-year, it goes on the “big picture” list. I’ll come back to it when I have dedicated time to change it.
If you use this planning time carefully, it will pay you back big time during the teaching year. The time you save by planning ahead could translate to more family picnics, more coffee with friends, more naps…whatever you wish you could do more.
Plus – the more time you free up to relax and unwind, the better teacher and business owner you’ll be.
Want support with all this planning? Looking for a place to ask questions without fear of judgement? Becoming a member of Tim’s Inner Circle not only gives you all the resources you’ll need to get organised and reimagine your teaching, you can also ask the community anything you need help with.
Have you thought about setting aside some time to solve it once and for all?
Do you fall into the trap of scheduling back-to-back students just so you can teach as much as possible? Does it leave you completely burnt out?
Leave a comment below with your top stress-causer or top stress-saver.
Nicola Cantan is a piano teacher, author, blogger and creator of imaginative and engaging teaching resources. Nicola's Vibrant Music Teaching Library is helping teachers all over the world to include more games and off-bench activities in their lessons, so that their students giggle their way through music theory and make faster progress. She also runs a popular blog, Colourful Keys, where she shares creative ideas and teaching strategies.