Professionalism Pays Off for a Violin Instructor

by Katherine Gustafson on December 23, 2013
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After years of running her Suzuki violin studio in a forgiving manner, such as not insisting on payment for missed lessons, Emily Greene (pictured) decided to get tough.

Greene drafted a contract for students and their parents to sign at the beginning of the school year and required full payment for each semester up front. Students who miss lessons, even for legitimate reasons, are not rescheduled or offered their money back. Those who wish to discontinue classes at her Florence, Mass., studio are required to provide 30 days’ notice.

At the same time, Greene also got organized: She set up a business email account and a private website that’s accessible only to students, who can log on to read her updates about events and other information.

“I am very up-front with my potential students about the way my studio runs,” she says. “I want families to know exactly what they’re signing up for if they choose to take lessons with me.”

Greene decided to make the changes after reading an economist’s take on makeup lessons and learning that two other well-respected music teachers had instituted studio contracts. She says she realized her time is very valuable — and her approach to her students should reflect that.

“I have spent many years honing my craft of teaching, and I believe that I have a good service to offer,” she says. “I want my business to be as professional as the work I do. I believe that I earn the respect of my families through my work, and it’s clear by my business practices that I take what I do very seriously. I think that comes across to my families who feel as if they’re part of a whole system of professionalism and organization.”

A Steady Stream of Income

Despite her initial fears that students and parents would find her new method intimidating or unfair, she has found that the more rigid and organized she is, the more clients seem to like and respect her as a teacher.

“It is very unusual for students to decide to go elsewhere once they’ve heard about my policies,” she says. “If anything, I believe my clear expectations make it evident that I am professional.”

Her moves have also helped her generate a more reliable stream of income.  Students missing lessons caused her pay to fluctuate unpredictably, which was a major drawback of her previous system. Now she has the stable income of a sustainable career, she says.

Buoyed by her success, Greene led a movement toward more professionalized practices among local music teachers.

“Word started to get around that there were changes afoot,” she says. “At least four local teachers used my paperwork as a model and created their own contracts and policies. I believe that the more of us who follow these guidelines and make strict policies, the more professional our group will be as a whole.”

Greene recommends that all types of small-business owners get serious about their offerings and work methods.

“When you take your business seriously, so will your clients,” she says. “The most important thing about a business is to have a great product or service. Once you feel confident about that, you should take pride in your work and be as professional as possible.”

Katherine Gustafson is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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