Updated: Oct 20, 2020
Voice teachers are nice.
Entirely too nice, really. By necessity, we have intimate relationships with our clients. We're also artists, and we nurture artists. We're unlicensed therapists, and are knit into our students' support networks. All this leads to a slippery slope.
The slippery slope shows up for different people in different ways, but the challenges we often share fall under the category of putting others' perceived needs before our own. THAT issue shows up most critically under the subject of money. The rates we charge, the time we have to teach, and the impact those two things have on our financial well being.
Knowing what a softy you are, this post is intended to give you some ideas about how to raise your rates in little ways. Some are time suggestions, some are money suggestions, and some are policy suggestions. All are meant to give your a few more bucks and a little more breathing room.
This post is NOT meant to be a business overhaul! There are coaches, classes, and groups for a long-term strategy implementation to create a solid studio business! These are ideas to help your mind loosen up a little, and to help you begin to move in a direction that is fair to you!
Stop comparing yourself to other teachers in your area.
First of all, there's no such thing as "your area" anymore. We all teach online. If you're planning on going back to in-person teaching, use this time to set yourself apart from other teachers.
Second, you're not "other teachers." You're you. You have a unique set of skills, interests, and specialties. When you say, "That's what voice teachers charge," you're limiting yourself financially, and lumping yourself in with people who have nothing to do with you.
Establish healthy boundaries
Healthy boundaries help define a relationship. They help people know what to expect and how to treat you. They keep the people in the relationship free from guilt and resentment. They do not make you "mean." They make you fair.
What does that look like? How about these:
The session is over when it's over.
You have certain hours during which you answer texts or Marco Polo messages.
Clients pay ahead, or you have their card on file.
Your cancellation policy is strict, and not personal.
Your sliding scale or scholarship policy is pre-determined and you stick to it.
You get to say, "I wish I could, but I can't".
Don't give your time or talent away for free. Ever.
Being "nice" by giving your professional talent away for free will get you two things: disrespect and more of the same. People almost never value things they get for free. If you find yourself in a position where you feel you should give your professional time away for free, or someone is asking for you time for free, hit the "pause" button. Step away, figure out what will feel fair to you, and get back to them.
Watch your language
In most of the world, primary education is free. Maybe that's why the word "student" has a very different connotation than "client." (Not sure, just guessing.) People come to you for specialized professional services. So start thinking of them as clients rather than students. And while you're at it, try thinking of sessions rather than lessons.
It might not make any difference to you. But it might. Having sessions for your clients feels different than having lessons with your students. If you know you need to start changing your attitude about your work, language is a good place to start.
Time & Money
Heads up on the price increase
Announce three-or-more months in advance that your rates will be going up. Include in the announcement that you will do your best to accomodate people for whom this creates a hardship, and that you hope they will reach out to you to discuss how they can continue to make private voice sessions possible.
If you're afraid to raise your rates, consider making your sessions shorter. If you've been charging $50/hr, start charging $50 per 45 minute lesson.
Let's do the math. Four 1-hour sessions = $200 for four hours and no time to answer your son's text or pee. Four 45-minute lessons = $200 for three hours, or maybe 3.25 hours if you take 15 minutes after the first two sessions to answer your son's text and pee. You can use that other hour, or 45 minutes, to get some of your administration done.
I'm going to encourage you to take advantage of this normalization of online lessons. Figure out who you most love to work with, specialize for that person, be an expert, and charge like an expert.
One of my clients specializes in coaching high school seniors for college auditions. One client specializes in actors who think they can't sing. One colleague specializes in people with stage fright, another in transgender voices, and another specializes in pre-teen voices. There is room for everyone in the Specialty Sandbox!
As a specialist, you're up on what is important in this field, and to this client. You get more done in less time, and you can charge more money. People expect to pay more for experts!
Consider tiered offers
In the world of buying people's time, some things cost more than others. You can create different "products" that meet the needs of different types of clients.
Things that cost more:
Flexibility in scheduling. If a person wants the right to cancel 24 hours ahead and not be charged, they can expect to pay more than the person who is willing to commit to a certain time each week with a 72 hour rescheduling policy.
Specialty expertise. If you've made yourself an expert on "young voices" and "music theater repertoire," for instance, say it loud and proud! You're a specialist! You can charge more than the I-teach-everyone voice teachers!
Additional, out-of-session support (texts, marco polo). If someone wants additional time beyond their private session, you can add that to a tier that costs more.
Intake evaluations. Do you spend more time with a first-time client? Do they fill out forms? Do you promise something good will come from that first meeting? Most professionals who provide ongoing services (chiropractors, therapists, etc.) charge an extra fee for the first visit.
Packages that include extras (music books, recital fees, audition videos, etc.)
Leave room for your heart
Of course you're sensitive to people's money challenges. But treating everyone as if they have money challenges leaves you as the person with money challenges!
Here's an idea for transitioning to a higher rate if you don't want to make your sessions shorter. (Feel free to riff on this.)
Announce your higher rate, and include an invitation for your clients to reach out to you if this rate creates a hardship.
Set aside a certain percentage or number of clients whom you will consider "mentees" or "sliding scale" or "scholarship students." Know ahead of what your rate will be for these clients.
Create a policy (that's in paper, that they see, sign, and agree to) that's separate from your normal policy and that applies to just these clients. Depending on what you name these clients, you can have different, higher expectations of them, or you can simply reiterate your normal policies. For instance, if you state on your website that you accept 3 "mentorship clients" or "scholarship students" at a reduced rate each year, you can describe how that person is special. It's not that they have money problems. It's that they're special. Nobody feels badly.
Install a scheduling app
At first glance, it seems that a scheduling app will cost you money. You have to pay a subscription, and more of your clients may end up paying via credit card, which costs you processing fees.
BUT WHEN YOU SEE how much time you save with those apps, you won't give a rip. You're currently used to spending the time you do going back and forth with scheduling and rescheduling private sessions. It's when you're not spending all that time that you realize how much time you've spent on it. I assure you that if you have a studio of 20+ clients you will save yourself at least an hour a week! Probably more.
Another great thing about a scheduling app is that IT becomes the middle man. For instance:
If you take four days off to go to a conference, you'll simply make those days "closed" on the app, and your clients will be unable to schedule those days.
If you create an "intake session" that costs more - because you spend more time, because you've attached an admin fee, or both - then there it is. You don't have to explain it. If they want to meet with you, that's how it's done.
If you book people in packages of time or number of private sessions, you can do that easily. If those packages require, for instance, the purchase of a particular music book for their studies, you simply add that to the price of the package. No more chasing down each client for that $13.50 they owe you.
Biz & Tech
I can hear you rolling your eyes from here!
I'm not going to suggest that you become a social media junkie. But I am going to suggest that you use it for your business. Pick one platform; one that makes sense for your kind of client. Then learn about that platform - they all have cultural assumptions and platform idiosyncrasies - and use it regularly.
Sorry, but that's how things get done these days. It's how we celebrate our current clients, stay in touch with possibly-returning clients, and get to know potential-future clients. It allows us to create and maintain relationships. Since our particular business is all about relationships, that's a very powerful thing.
Using social media for these relationships will decrease your turnover and attract new clients. And don't forget, the new clients don't know how you've been doing things in the past. Your new policies certainly won't ruffle their feathers!
Additionally, if you decide to become an expert/specialist (per my previous suggestion) social media will allow you to hobnob with other professionals - voice teachers, voice therapists, speech coaches, etc. - which is a great way to get referrals! If you're a member of an association, I assure you they have a social media page you can get to know!
Update your website
Having a professional looking website that is clearly aimed at your target client, as well as keeping it up-to-date, is a great way to communicate a professional image. That professional image is one that helps potential clients assume you'll be charging a professional fee.
Kindly Mrs. Piano Lady, who comes to people's houses to teach piano and singing for $15 an hour, is lovely and wonderful. However, she does not have a website. The client that is looking for you is not looking for her.
Let your potential client know, before they ever contact you, just what kind of a pro you are. You won't have to justify your new, higher fees. Your new client will expect to pay professional fees because YOU are obviously a professional!