With the beginning of April, it’s time to consider how your studio will handle summer.  If you own your own business, chances are you have tried several approaches over the years.  Generally, teachers lament the loss of income and unsteadiness that summer can bring.  It doesn’t need to be that way.  Even when I ran a studio in a land locked state where the performing arts were not as valued as other places in the Unites States, by carefully planning my approach to my studio year, I have developed a year around calendar that works well for many teachers almost everywhere.  It does require that I bill quarterly, not monthly.  My tuition (and it is TUITION, not how many lessons in the month or school year). is based on a TOTAL number of lessons in the calendar year.  Actually, my calendar “new year” begins July 1st!  New students generally begin at that time.  My schedule allows for 5 summer lessons during the 9 weeks I am open.  I close 3 weeks per summer, plus students take their own breaks.  Students are welcome to “double up” on weeks they are in town if their summer schedule involves heavy traveling and sleepover camps.  Perhaps you just don’t feel like you can bill quarterly.  Then, a 12 month equal payment plan may be for you.  It’s not to late to begin your “new year” during the summer and offer the appropriate number of lessons that will work for your business.

I often hear people ask, “don’t teachers and students need a break?”  Of course they do.  As it is, most of my students get or take 5-6 weeks off between their vacations and mine.  How much time is necessary for a break?  In my early teaching years, I tracked those students not coming for the summer.  This is what I found:

  • Students returning after going “cold” for 3 months or more often had difficulty remembering a lot of reading skills, technical skills, etc.  Estimated recovery time was nearly Thanksgiving.  I discovered it takes as much time back in as out to even get back to where they were in June.
  • Overwhelmingly, those students taking off the summer completely are the most likely to call you in September and decide that spot you dutifully held all summer for them is now open.  In the meantime, you likely turned another student away because that spot was held for them.
  • Even with a registration fee or “deposit” parents can and do walk away from money they deposited (hopefully you made it non-refundable).

My decision was that it’s just not worth the upheaval to my studio to try constantly re-entering these students.  My exception is those students traveling back to their home country every other or three years.  This is important to them.  If they are good students and are truly going to be gone more than one month and will not return until just before school ends, I do pro-rate the quarterly fee for them.  A good-will gesture on my part.  However, they do pay on July 1st for the quarterly fee that carries me to the October 1st payment.  This way, should they change their minds, quarterly fees are non-refundable.  I can hopefully fill that spot during the most open season of the year.

If you haven’t considered restructuring your payment schedule to fold an appropriate summer lesson commitment, now is the time to do so.  You may get a little push back from parents initially, but remember your reasoning to them is that not only do they lose skills for 2.5 months, it takes that long to also re-gain what they’ve lost.  That’s 5 months gone every year.  It’s their initial investment that is often wasted money for them.

It may take time (a few years) to establish this in your studio, but the effort is worth it.  I now no longer worry about fall dropouts.  My roster is much more stable and the overall commitment in my studio is stronger because I have structured my year in this way.  With each new student you interview, this will be a standard part of your policy that you point out from the very beginning.