This article about making a piano studio policy change was originally written in April 2018, and updated in May 2020.
So you need to make a change in your piano teaching business?
Lives and priorities evolve. We find out about new and better ways to do things, and we rethink situations.
But there’s a good way to go about making a change in your piano studio and a not-so-great way.
Whether you want to move to a no make-up policy, integrate group classes or change to buddy lessons, there’s a simple process you can follow to make sure it runs smoothly and minimise the pushback from your piano parents.
My Process For Change
Step 0: Plan It Out
The first step to making any piano studio policy change is to really know exactly how it’s going to work. You can’t go into this with a half-baked idea.
Have you ever heard the phrase “minimum viable product”? It’s the concept of taking something to the market to test it out…and I don’t think that could apply LESS to what we do.
If you’re going to bring something new to your piano parents – be that a lesson format, policy change or new workshop idea – you need to feel confident about it. Without that confidence, you’re going to crumble at the first objection.
The best way I know to find that confidence is to have a thorough plan. If you’re an over-planner by nature, then please skip ahead because this is only going to make you neurotic.
- How this will work, ideally
- What obstacles might get in the way and how you’ll deal with them
- What questions parents are likely to ask
- What questions students are likely to ask
- How this will work for new students
- How this will work for returning students…will it be different? Will you make any special exceptions?
I recommend you write this stuff down. Make an outline of your plan and it will be easier to stick to later.
Then pick a start date (normally the start of a new year or term,) and let’s start our lead-up.
Pssst…need help planning exactly how your change will work? Check out the posts on my Studio Business page for inspiration.
Step 1: Hype It Up!
This first step should ideally start about 3 months away. The bigger the change, the longer lead time you should allow.
If your change is relevant to students (e.g. group lessons, change in format, extra lab time) then hype it to them first.
This shouldn’t be some big speech or announcement. You don’t need a poster. You’re simply going to start mentioning it to get them excited.
“Wasn’t it cool when you played that awesome duet with Katie at last year’s recital? I’m hoping to try a new type of lessons next year so that we can do that more often!”
“I wish we could play that game today but we actually need 4 players for that one. We’ll get loads more opportunities to do that when we start having group workshops next term!”
Get the idea? It’s all about little hints and previews. Wet their appetites for what’s coming up.
If your change is purely policy- or payment-related, then you can do this similarly with your piano parents.
Step 2: Focus On THEM
You’ve given some sneak peeks….is it time to make the formal announcement? Not quite.
We need to ramp up the enthusiasm a bit further with some more information, but nothing to sign and none of the nitty gritty details.
My favourite way to do this is in the newsletter, which I always bring out before the annual registration forms (where I put any changes into action).
I do this in a section called “What’s coming up next year?” where I make announcements about new fun things I’ll be implementing in my studio and why they’re exciting for my piano parents and students.
When you’re writing something like this, always come back to this question:
What’s in it for me?
Always imagine your reader asking this.
Have you written anything from your point of view? It’s very easy to fall into this trap because…well, you’re you.
You probably do have reasons you want to make this change to make your own life easier or more fulfilling, but that doesn’t matter right now.
What matters is why this is better for THEM. Don’t forget that.
Step 3: Be Clear
Ok, now we’re going to spill the beans.
If you’re making this change in your piano teaching business around registration time for the new year or new semester, I recommend sending out this info along with your forms about 1–2 weeks after your newsletter. That way the parents are primed and ready to find out how this will work and sign on the dotted line.
Now is not the time for overly formal or academic language, hype or walls of text.
Please keep your writing clean, clear and simple. Write short sentences. Be direct. Explain clearly.
This stuff really matters. Pay attention as you’re reading your own emails (especially if you get a lot of them.) Which ones do you read? Which ones do you just skim?
Once you have a draft of your email written, ask yourself this damning question:
Would your heart sink a little if you got this in your inbox?
If so, start chopping. Put in bulleted lists, shorten your sentences and take away any musician or educator jargon that has accidentally slipped in.
You’re much more likely to be successful with your change if people understand and retain the information.
Step 4: Stick To It
Now comes the trickiest part for most of us: Don’t budge.
(I know, I know. You can do this!)
You made a great plan, you know this was the right move to make, so don’t let anyone sway you.
Yes, it’s going to be a little uncomfortable. Yes, some people might quit. But probably far fewer than you think.
If you present the plan well, your piano parents are prepared in advance and they know why it’s valuable or important, it’s very unlikely there will be a mass exodus. I promise.
Just keep fielding those questions and reiterating why this is great and how it’s going to work.
Which bring me to….
Step 5: Be Patient
People don’t really like change. The already knew how the old system worked and it seemed just fine to them.
Plus, they’ve got a million and one things in their week, not just your piano studio.
So you need to be patient and answer in the same way again and again if necessary. You may need to block out more time for your communications for a couple of weeks.
It will all be worth it in the long run.
The Process in Action
It’s one thing to think about the process of making a change theoretically; it’s an entirely different matter to make it happen. Let’s take a few of the changes that I like to champion, and see how this process would apply.
Getting Rid Of Make-Up Lessons
Anyone who still offers make-up lessons knows how draining they can be. But can you really change your makeup lesson policy without making current piano parents feel cheated?
Yes, you can!
Once you’ve planned out every detail about how your “no make-up lessons” policy will work, simply apply the 5-step process for a piano studio policy change.
- Hype it up: When parents cancel at the last minute and your schedule makes a make-up lesson difficult to schedule, give a little teaser of what’s coming next year: “Next year you won’t have to hassle over changing your schedule around because I’ll be offering video lessons and online lessons as alternatives when you can’t make it in person.”
- Focus on them: Getting rid of make-up lessons isn’t just good for you; it’s good for piano families too. Their schedule is surely as busy as yours, and it’s not easy for them to bring Johnny to a make-up piano lesson on Tuesday when his little sister Mary has soccer practice that day. Focus on the ways this piano studio policy change will be better for them in your newsletter, and it will be easier to win them over.
- Be clear: In your policies, keep it simple. Explain exactly how the policy will work in clear, normal-people language using short sentences. Don’t elaborate and don’t try to explain all the reasons why you’re making the change.
- Stick to it: Here’s where the rubber meets the road: You can’t cave. Don’t even think of saying “OK, just this once, but it’s your last make-up lesson.” That gives the impression that the new policy isn’t a benefit to them, but something you have to apologise for or excuse.
- Be patient: Your piano parents will forget, or they will have missed the emails. You will get asked again (and again, and again) to schedule a make-up lesson. Simply explain the policy change using the same language, as many times as needed, without appearing annoyed or frustrated. It will get easier!
Changing Your Fee Structure
Perhaps you haven’t raised your rates in ten years, and you want to start raising them every year. Maybe you want to stop charging by the lesson, or even switch to an all-inclusive fee structure.
Changing your fees can be a sticky wicket if you’re not careful.
If you follow the process to make a piano studio policy change, you’ll minimise the possibility of creating resentment or losing students.
But what would that look like?
- Hype it up: Fees impact the parents, so focus your hype on the parents. If they need to buy a new book, it’s the opportunity to say: “In future, all the materials will be included in your tuition, so you won’t have to go hunting for books.”
- Focus on them: Here’s where you give a broader preview, perhaps in a newsletter. Remember to keep it focused on the benefits for them, such as specific improvements you’ll be making in your studio with the increased tuition rates.
- Be clear: In your updated policies, outline exactly how the fee structure will work, and what they will get for their money. Be clear, be direct, and don’t go overboard with explanations.
- Stick to it: Don’t budge! You might even lose one or two students, but you know this is the right move to make for your studio. It will be worth it in the long run. (And, remember, even if you lose a couple of students, you might still be making the same income with fewer hours!)
- Be patient: People don’t like change, so be prepared to answer questions using the same language from your earlier newsletter or policy. Try to remain calm, and remember step 4, stick to it. If you’re nervous about confrontations about tuition, practice your response in the mirror or with a friend ahead of time.
Migrating To Buddy Lessons
In my studio today, most of my students are in what I call “buddy lessons.” This means each student has some time one-on-one with me, and then overlapping time with the next student.
It wasn’t always like this in my studio, though. In order to migrate successfully from offering only private lessons to having the majority of my students enrolled in buddy lessons, I knew I had to be really deliberate about how to make the switch.
Here are some things to consider if you are thinking of bringing in buddy lessons:
- Hype it up: Buddy lessons are especially exciting for students, so get your students revved-up! You may be the coolest teacher ever, but students would almost always rather play games with other kids than with the teacher. 😉
- Focus on them: There are countless ways that students and parents will benefit from buddy lessons, so focus on those in your newsletter or studio-wide email. More lab time? Check. ✔ Duets and paired improv? Check. ✔ Wider variety of game options? Check. ✔
- Be clear: Buddy lessons can sound complicated if you go into detailed scheduling and lesson plan layouts, but in reality they are quite simple. Explain the piano studio policy change from the parents’ perspective using short sentences and clear language.
- Stick to it: In the case of buddy lessons, Step 0 (Plan it Out) is especially important. Is the new lesson format mandatory, or strongly recommended? Will your policy be different for adult students vs kids? How will the scheduling process work? Whatever your plan from Step 0, now’s the time to stick to it.
- Be patient: You can expect plenty of questions to arise when implementing a buddy lesson format, especially when it comes to scheduling. Brainstorm ahead of time what those questions might be, and arm yourself with clear answers so you’re not caught off guard.
Are you making a change in your piano teaching business?
Tell me what you’re changing and why in the comments below or over in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers group on Facebook.