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The Private Teaching Business Model

Over my years of teaching I've come across a wide variety of interpretations about the private teaching business model.  I feel that this is a natural result of the type of society we live in.  Many services these days are either "subscriptions" or "appointments."  For example, a gym membership is a subscription.  You pay a monthly fee to use the facility at any time during their hours of operation.  A doctor's visit or a haircut is an "appointment."  You call ahead to set up a time, you show up and then pay after the services have concluded.

With most services falling into one of these two categories, most people try to rationalize music lessons as one or the other.  However, music lessons are neither subscriptions or appointments.  They are actually a combination of both if the business entity is going to be successful.

The reasons why this hybrid business model occurs are:

1)  The service itself is centered around personal attention (appointment model)

2)  In order for the service to be effective, longevity must be assumed (subscription model)

When a private teacher is taking on a student, he or she is not looking at the potential client as a hair dresser would.  A hair dresser's service is finite.  You may like your particular hair dresser and wish to return but the quality of a hair dresser's service is not affected whether you return or not.  A single appointment is a complete experience.  Music lessons are an ongoing experience that require years of work to yield results.

Since the service requires so much time, most music teachers have their students pay monthly or quarterly as a subscription service would.  They must assume that the appointments will continue.  But the fact that the student is paying for appointments is what makes subscription payments confusing.  Unlike a gym where people are free to walk in an out at any time, a teacher must schedule appointments.

It is important to understand this if you are interested in music lessons and are trying to figure out if you have the time in your schedule.  Due to this hybrid business model, most established private studio teachers do not have the same flexibility of schedule that one might expect from other appointment services due to the reoccurring nature of lessons.  Therefore, it is not uncommon to have to wait potentially several months before being able to schedule that first lesson.

Additionally, most music teachers are not able to refund or offer make ups for missed lessons.  Like an appointment, the item being sold is time.  A lesson time slot cannot be returned and resold.  Once it is gone, it is gone.  A hair dresser can have "walk-in" new clients.  A music teacher does not do walk -ins and must account for this when collecting payment.  So, in this sense, music lessons are more like a subscription service.  You do not pay less to Netflix just because you watched fewer movies one month.

The aim of this post is to help educate people interested in music lessons on why music teachers have the business policies that they do.  Like any good business owner, a teacher should always strive to provide a high quality of service.  But, in order to do this, a private teacher must be able to make a living off of providing this service, which means certain business policies must be in place.


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