April 2, 2013

Teaching? Stay Organized!

It didn't dawn on me until I really got into teaching privately that I'm a small business owner. It was a classification I had heard tossed around (mostly by politicians) and not something I had thought about too hard. Then I had to do my taxes. And I lost $100 in unpaid books. And I lost track of rescheduling students. And I couldn't keep track of who had lessons on what days. The list goes on and on of various things I either couldn't keep track of, or was losing money on.

As far as the business part of teaching is concerned, the biggest help is to stay organized. I mean REALLY organized. Think of any situation in which you might have to keep track of something. Then multiply that "something-to-keep-track-of" by 40. And those 40 bits of related information will trickle in over the course of 2 to 5 weeks. And at any given time you've got three or four different genres of "keeping-track-of" information.

The things that I needed help keeping track of were:
  • Who has paid, and which term have they paid for?
  • Who missed a lesson? Was this an excused lesson that gets to be made up? What was/will be the date and time of the missed lesson?
  • What date will that lesson be made up on and at what time?
  • Who purchased a book from me? Did that person pay for it yet? Cash or check?
  • Which recital would everyone like to be on?
  • What pieces will the student play on the recital?
That's a portion of it but you get the idea. And that doesn't even start to talk about scheduling of lessons at the beginning of the year. Oh god, the scheduling. You know how it can be hard to plan a lunch with your friends? Imagine coordinating 40 or more schedules. 

And there's TAXES. Actually, taxes feels sort of easy in relation to all of this stuff. I'll talk about taxes some other time.

So how do I keep from going crazy? Spreadsheets. Delicious spreadsheets. For every problem listed above, there is a special sheet (some sheets solve multiple problems) that have boxes for me to fill in, check off, and refer to when asked questions by inquisitive parents.

Here's an example, with a link to the downloadable file if you have need for such a form. On this form I can write in a student name, what book I sold them and when (or if) they've paid for it. Seems lame? Well it's not! If you, like me, have lost a lot of money and then had no idea if you could write it off on your taxes at the end of the year because, well, you lost the money back in February and have no clue if you got paid back because half was in cash and half was in checks...then something like this is pretty exciting.

I keep a folder full of sheets like that (both in real life and on the computer) and they make life so much better. I'll try to find a way to host them on this blog at some point. Oh, and a tip for anyone who wants to use a sheet like that one, don't throw it away once it's no longer in use. You need it for taxes. That's a free Pro-Tip right there.

The other way I stay organized, and I realize this will sound like a promotional right now but here goes, is Google. Google's calendar, email, drive, blog. I can easily look up open slots to put a rescheduled lesson into, or send emails from my phone (which runs Android) and access my beloved spreadsheets from anywhere. It will also link up the phone numbers of your parents with their email addresses, which you can organize into one contact folder. And if you have a smart phone, it's all there for you to call people even if you don't have their number written down anywhere. Yes Google, the company that can do no evil, has made running a piano studio so much easier. 

So if you're an aspiring studio teacher, or running some other small business, get organized. It will save you big hassles, and probably save you money. And possibly save you from being audited.

*To give credit where it's due, I basically stole the above spreadsheet (or at least the inspiration, I made it myself) from Martha Baker-Jordan's book Practical Piano Pedagogy which is a great book for new piano studio teachers.

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