As a music teacher, you are running a business. Your business is your service and your product is the successful result of your teaching and your students.
How you price your services is a personal decision, but can be one filled with doubts and conflict. When I first started, I was not very confident in my abilities as a teacher and thus didn't feel I could charge more than a modest fee. I looked around my neighborhood and saw the average price of what other teachers were charging and then I discounted that by about ten to twenty percent. This worked fairly well for a few years.
Pricing is a very difficult decision in many businesses. There are entire college courses on pricing and many very smart MBA types discussing the psychology of pricing and how to do it. In the world of smartphones, you'll notice Apple charges high prices and doesn't offer any low-end units and yet still has plenty of demand. Meanwhile, Samsung is fighting for business in the bottom of the market where profit margins are much slimmer. So even though they may sell more units, they make far less in total revenue. The same could be applied to a music teaching studio. If Studio A is charging $20 per lesson and Studio B is charging $40 per lesson, even though Studio A has more students, Studio B will be able to make the same amount of money much faster.
If you run the numbers in the calculator above, you will see that the lifetime value of your students can be quite high. Making a small change in your price per lesson can greatly affect your annual income and your lifestyle!
Recently, I was speaking with a mentor of mine, and he totally changed my view. He said that more or less, you charge what you want to earn. Your clients have been attracted to you for your abilities as a teacher and the difference in price (almost) doesn't matter. You could easily raise your prices by 10-20%.
But, I was nervous. So I sent out a customer survey using Survey Monkey. I wanted to know four things:
It was an anonymous survey, so as long as they didn't want to reveal anything personal, they didn't have to. The results were a little surprising. Most of my clients chose me based on these criteria, in order of importance:
Location was far and above the most important factor. The second and third criteria were evenly tied. this is redundant) This is something to keep in mind for those of you who live on the outskirts of a town. You may want to rent a space next to the school!
Another surprising thing I learned from the survey was that even though I felt like I was already charging at the very high end of the range of acceptable lesson fees, most of the survey respondents said it was "about the same."
The survey was so informative and I'm now convinced to use it on a regular basis. It allows me to gauge my client’s needs and desires and also let them give voice to any complaints anonymously, which may be too awkward or uncomfortable in person.
Over the last eight years, I've raised my prices considerably. What's interesting is that I no longer have the "time-wasters" and the "tire-kickers" coming to me. I have also moved to a semester-based billing and because of that, I have less cash-flow issues with last minute cancellations affecting the collection of payment. My clients pay in advance. The quality of commitment in my students is also higher as the prices have gone up. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not advocating for only serving the wealthiest students. You can always offer scholarships to committed students who could use the financial assistance.
I'm blessed to have a lifestyle I love. I get to be a stay-at-home parent with a successful music studio that has wonderful students and families. It leaves me time to spend with my family and my creative projects. It also makes me energized, grateful and happy to show up for my students each and every day!
There will always be a percentage of customers who are just a pain in the you-know-what.
Here is a question I think you as a private music teacher need to answer at least once per year:
When you have those answers, make steps to remove that 20% from your roster. It will change your life.