This post about how to enforce your piano studio policies was written by Ruth McAdoo. Ruth has a BA in Theology/Vocal performance from Appalachian Bible College, and has been teaching creative piano, violin, voice, and ukulele students near St. Louis for the last 4 years. When she’s not teaching, you can find Ruth listening to film scores, mixing up a fresh batch of waffles or rollerblading into the sunset with her husband Micah.
Policies are the secret tools which can help save your mental and emotional energy while providing consistent, quality service for your families. But sometimes enforcing our policies can make us feel…well, icky and squirmy.
When there’s pushback about our policies, we question our previous decisions and then give in a little…and give in a little more… until the policies mean nothing.
Before you know it, our business has lost quality of service, is less profitable, and we’re getting burnt out.
So, how can we enforce our piano studio policies with confidence?
Believe Your Policies are Best
To enforce policies with genuine confidence (and not just the fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of confidence) you must believe the policy is the best practice for your business right now.
You can’t communicate your policies with confidence if you don’t have confidence in your policies. You are your business, and you are the only one who is going to champion what works best for you.
Best for You
Your policies are what work best for your business.
Is this practice sustainable and profitable for you? Because if it’s not, your business is not going to be a long-term, profitable endeavour.
And – this is important – your policies are the best practice for your business. Not the studio next door, and not the cool start-up you saw online. YOUR business.
And – this is also important – this is the best practice for right now. Different seasons of life (and the life of your business) will look different, and that’s normal. Your policies simply state how you’re going to do things right now.
Best for Them
But your policies aren’t only serving your best interests – they’re also best for your students and families. The only way to provide a consistently high-quality service to each student is to ensure consistency of treatment of all of your students.
Aren’t your students coming to you because they value what you have to offer? There’s no way to offer that value equally if some parents are constantly asking for more.
When a parent asks for special treatment, you need to be able to answer this question honestly: Would this be consistent with what I offer all my other families, or would it drain extra resources (time, energy or finances) which could reduce the quality of my service overall?
Best for Nobody
Maybe you’re realising right now that your policies just aren’t working. Not for you, not for your business and not for your studio families.
If that’s the case, then revisit and revise the policies.
Craft them into policies you truly believe will save your own sanity and will help you serve your families with fairness.
If you don’t believe your policies are the best practice for your business, you’ll be easily talked out of them – and then they’re not really policies at all, are they?
Say it Simply
You’ve got a great policy which will work for you and for your students. Now it’s up to you to communicate it clearly, and to do that by being simple and straightforward.
Simple is Understandable
I can’t tell you how many times in crafting my own studio policies that I’ve managed to confuse my families (particularly the policy regarding makeup lessons – anyone else been there?).
At first, I thought it was parents trying to get more than they paid for – trying to take advantage of my business.
But after a while, I realised they genuinely were confused.
I had too many pages of policies, too many conditions, too many exceptions. The families weren’t pushing back; they just wanted to know what to do.
We can serve our families and save our sanity best when we boil it down. Take out the unnecessary exception clauses. Remove the technical jargon.
Make the wording understandable, and it will be much easier to enforce your piano studio policies.
Simple is Repeatable
Once you have a policy which can be stated and understood simply, go ahead. Be a broken record.
Put it on your policy sheet.
Say it at the new student interview.
Put it in an email after they join your studio.
And then, when they ask about payment procedures 4 months in because they forgot, say it again.
I run a moderately-sized, 1-teacher studio of 35 students, and I can only think of 3 of those 35 who don’t have at least 2 other extracurricular activities. And one of those is an adult!
Today’s families are filling their schedules to the brim, and the simple fact is that leaves a lot of room for confusion. Every tutor, coach, teacher, [fill in the blank here] has a different set of policies, and often it’s simply that parents forget ours.
So, when they ask to reschedule a lesson for the third time that quarter, I’ll say it simply:
“I can’t reschedule your lesson time, but I will record a short video lesson to keep Sally on track with her progress.”
There’s an entire section about Policies and Payments on Nicola’s Studio Business hub page. Check it out!
How to Handle Pushback
I truly believe that if you have the good policies in place for your business and if you communicate them simply and clearly to your families, you will preemptively address 90% of your policy issues.
What about the 10%? You probably have at least one student, parent, or family in mind right now who always pushes back just a little (or a lot) about your policies.
You may have communicated your expectations clearly, but the simple fact is they don’t like your expectations and would prefer if you operated on theirs. And what’s worst, they’re happy to nag you until you give in.
It’s your business, and nobody’s gonna stand up for the way you run it except for you. Assume they’re going to get on board with the way you do things.
Here are a few of my favourite communication mindsets when talking with parents.
Embrace the Power of “We”
There’s a subtle but strong power in using corporate language to enforce your piano studio policies.
There are many other people who your business affects – your other students, your family, yourself and your future self.
Try thinking and speaking in we/us/our language, thinking about how the exception would affect others:
- “WE don’t accept payments past September 1.” Accepting payments past due is unprofitable for your business.
- “WE are unable to shift lesson times within the fall semester.” Once the studio roster is set, it’s unfair for the other studio members to rearrange for one person’s tennis schedule.
- “WE do not have any weekend availability.” You would never ask an employee to come in to teach on their day off, so you won’t ask that of yourself, either.
This isn’t a cop-out.
You are your business, and you need to form that sense of brand and identity – meaning that how you handle things is bigger than your whims at that moment. It is the we of your past self and your present self agreeing together that this is how we do things.
For teachers out there who are part of a multi-teacher studio with built-in policies: Embrace that! The community is there to support you, so lean into it.
“It’s Not Personal, It’s Business”
(That’s a quote from my favourite rom-com, ‘You’ve Got Mail.’ It’s warm and human and nostalgic, especially if you’re a small business owner frustrated with a mass-produced world.)
When you get pushback on your policies, don’t take it personally.
If there’s one thing private teachers are guilty of, it’s taking everything personally.
- Did my student not like a song I picked for them?
- Are they quitting because they don’t like me?
- Does that parent think that policy is unreasonable?
It’s most likely not about you.
Maybe someone quits because they don’t fit with your teaching style, or someone pushes back on your policies because they don’t like them.
You’re a business – so what?
You go to your grocery store and not the one down the street because of what kind of business it is and how it’s run. Your families will make the same kind of decisions about you, and you shouldn’t take it personally.
And so, in that vein, don’t make it personal.
If a parent asks for a makeup lesson and you don’t give those, don’t treat them like they’ve insulted you. Tell them your policy again and move on.
If a payment is late, don’t think they don’t care about your personal well-being. They’re juggling bills and forgot, so send them a reminder and move on.
If a student is late, don’t try to guilt-trip the student. Have a great (short) lesson with them, speak to the parent about your attendance policy and move on.
It’s not personal, it’s business.
We can avoid a tonne of conflict over policies by simply being professional about it and avoiding taking things personally.
Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
What about when someone’s “forgotten” to pay for the third month in a row and needs to be reminded again? When they constantly ask for special treatment, and are especially rude when you won’t give in?
It might be time to write your goodbye.
“These are the policies that we will continue to run the studio by. If the way we operate business is not working for your family, it may be time to look for a different fit.”
Have in mind when you write up your policies how much pushback you’ll take.
How many warnings/reminders will you give before sending the above email, and what can you do preemptively to keep families on board so you don’t reach that point?
Is there a particular policy you have trouble enforcing?
What are the piano studio policies you get the biggest pushback on, and how will you enforce them with confident kindness next time it comes up? Let us know your weak point in the comments below. 🙂