Golden Rules; A guide to building your business, implementing and sticking to your plan.

Most people dream of having a job where they can choose their working hours, have flexibility, a job that can work around their family and can be done in different locations. How lucky are we piano teachers to have those great perks to our job? Along with those perks come the drawbacks of the administrative side of running a small business. There are a diverse range of skills we need to run a successful small business…….but don’t freak out we’re here to help! A well run business has certain basic features, things to establish as the ‘Golden Rules’:

Golden Rules

  • Have a Plan.
  • Develop your Pricing Structure.
  • Create Policy and Documentation.
  • Develop a Communication Plan.

The Plan

Firstly, make yourself a coffee and grab a pen and paper (or your laptop, iPad, whatever you use to take notes!) Start by asking yourself some questions:

1. What is my goal?

This is the place that you put in the essence of your motivation. What are your core values? Be honest.

  • What do you wish to achieve?
  • An income, what kind of income?
  • Your own working hours?
  • To build a community?
  • To be an educator?

2. What do I want to offer?

  • Consider the number of hours you wish to work. Create your business to suit your needs.

3. What is your service?

The style of teaching you wish to pursue? Will you teach individual lessons? Will you teach group lessons? How long is each lesson? How often will you expect students to come? (Breakout box) Real life ideas for dealing with Adult Students: Last year I started offering adult students a flexible “4-or-6-lesson bundle”. They can use the lesson coupons any time in an 8 week period at a mutually convenient time. When teaching adults I also custom fit the lesson to meet their needs and abilities. During lessons I keep the tone pretty light. I do not demand a performance or tell them that I require practice. I do tell them that the time they are able to dedicate to the piano directly affects the return on their investment, however. If they are simply seeking fun with their music I aim to facilitate that.

4. To whom?

Would you like to teach early learners, school aged children, adults or a mix?

5. Where?

Location is an important factor. You can have an initial plan and a bigger dream to work towards. Perhaps you will teach in a school, a home studio or travel to students’ homes. What works best for you and would be useful to your market?

6. How will I deliver this?

What do you need to do to make this happen?

Decisions you make for the rest of your business should be guided by the answers to these questions. These are questions that we don’t usually ask ourselves, particularly if we have been teaching for a while. It is vital to actually consider what we want to create in order to head in that direction. There are some excellent online resources to help you. If you would like the structure that uses your answers from above, download a copy from


Pricing Structure

When considering how much to charge, a somewhat vexed issue, factor in all of the costs of providing lessons, not just your time. The nature of your studio will impact the costs you incur, consider; insurance, WorkCover, rent, electricity, professional development, travel costs, resources, tax and administrative costs. Your studio is a BUSINESS and as such needs to run at a profit. To inform your decision there are several studio handbooks on the market; The Independent Piano Teacher’s Studio Handbook is excellent and it always pays to find out the industry standard rate in your area, contact your local Music Teachers Association in Australia for further advice. Demand for your services will also factor into the amount you can charge. If you have a full studio and a waiting list, could you increase your rates? Factoring in all of these things, you can determine the price you will charge and the actual profit you will receive from each lesson. Be realistic but don’t sell yourself short!

If your goal in The Plan is to have an income stream of $xx a term, divide that number by the profit per lesson, divided again by the number of teaching weeks in the term and you have the number of lessons you need to teach each week. Alternatively if your priority is the number of hours you want to work a week you can calculate the number of students you would be teaching and the resulting income.

There may be a discrepancy between where your studio is currently and your goals. This plan helps clarify what needs to change and areas to focus your attention. Do you want to earn more than you currently do? How could this deficit be addressed? Could you increase your rates to accommodate the shift without increasing your hours of work, or increase your number of students? Do you want to work less hours? How many students would you need to shed?

Once you have determined your price point, stick to it and set an annual review date.

Policy and Documentation

These are the details that will communicate your plan in a practical sense to clients such as students and parents. My studio is quite large and as such we have quite a big Studio Policy document, covering a range of topics about how the studio is run. If you run a small studio, it is likely you only need to have written documentation for matters that need to be communicated to clients.

Terms of agreement examples:

Ensure you address your guidelines about enrolment, fees and payment, missed lessons and withdrawing from lessons. These are often sticky issues to deal with, so clarifying everything up-front avoids any unnecessary expectations. In my studio, having the Studio Policy as a part of the Enrolment Form has been a very successful step in keeping everyone on the same page.

The Independent Piano Teacher’s Handbook- by Beth Gigante Klingenstein Page 7-12 has a handy guide for writing a policy statements.

Once you have determined your studio policy, stick to it. It has been created from your business plan and reflects what you are offering. This doesn’t have to be fancy. Set a date for review and update your policy accordingly.

Communication Plan

Part of the communication plan has already been determined in the policy documentation. How you decide to provide this information to your clients is at the core of your communications plan. Are you going to use traditional means and post out a ‘New Student Pack’ of information and an enrolment form? Using a postal address has benefits but is also quite slow and there are other options available.

Here is Diane Hidy’s Studio Policy:

How do your clients communicate? Are they social media users? Do they call, text, email? Which forms of these do you feel comfortable using? I have chosen to have a mobile phone number, rather than landline for my studio and this is only a recent development. Several years ago there was more resistance to a business not having a landline. Now, we receive more information from parents and even new enquiry by text message!

In addition to this, do you need a studio email address? A studio website? Websites are becoming more like a modern business card. A place generation X and Y parents are searching for information about their local services. There are some simple and cost effective ways of creating a studio web presence. Even utilising social media works for some teachers.

In regards to social media, there are several avenues and ways this can work. You could create a private studio page on Facebook or Google+ to interact with student families and keep them up to date with goings on in the studio. This can be a closed group and is great if you share more photos and videos of students.

Alternatively Facebook can be used to make a public page to interact with not only your current studio families but also potential clients. This year we have been receiving enrolment enquiries through our studio page for the first time. To take a look at an example of an open studio page head over to

Communications plans can be as simple or complex as you want to make them. In our studio we have an overall plan, this outlines who we communicate to (our teachers, parents, students, schools, potential clients and our local music community), the methods we employ to do so, the ways we use each format. Then we have a plan for written communication (newsletter and emails), social media plans and advertising. These are planned months in advance. Each is flexible, but the heart of them is pre-scheduled to save time.

Here are a few things to consider for a basic Communications Plan:

  • Message: What are you wanting to say?
  • Channel: How are you going to say it?
  • Frequency: How often are you going to communicate?
  • Delivery
  • Review: was it successful? Would another method or message have been better?

Core to the Communications Plan is the message you are trying to get across. If you want to communicate your enrolment policy would email work? Perhaps an enrolment form and written policy mailed or emailed? Channels of communication will evolve over time and as technology changes so too will the way people try to contact you. Each of these Golden Rules are worth considering in order to make your business work for you. Clarity about your direction and having a plan to get to your goals will make the day-to-day running of a studio easier and free up more time to do the things you love!

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