Last month I did something new, exciting, and a little scary (at least for me) in my piano studio. I switched to automatic payments! This may not sound like a big deal, but for years I have accepted checks (yes, CHECKS!) as the only form of payment. I know… Welcome to the 21st Century, Mr. Free IMT!
I have been working towards switching to automatic payments for a long time. And now that I finally made the switch I couldn’t be happier. I’d like to share with you why I believe in automatic payments for music lessons, what was holding me back for years, and what finally helped me make the change.
Side note: If you don’t already charge monthly this may be a hard switch for you (not to mention you have a lot to learn about becoming a Free IMT!) But if you are interested in both saving time and offering a better experience for your students, I can’t think of a better thing to do.
(The service I use is called Skeddle and it’s the best service out there. Next week, I’ll write a review of Skeddle and what makes it stand out. If you’d like to read that review, sign up for my newsletter and I’ll email you when it’s posted.)
Benefits of automatic payments
There are many compelling reasons to switch to automatic payments!
First off, you save time. You may not realize it, but you spend hours each month creating and sending invoices (even if you use automatic invoicing, you have to enter in new client information every time a new student starts), collecting cash/checks, recording payments, and taking the money to the bank (not to mention sending reminder texts/emails to parents or clients who forget).
Second, you create a better relationship with clients. When I reach out to parents, I want to tell them about how well their child is doing or something new they accomplished, not nag them about a late payment or remind them that they have to write a big check before the next lesson.
Third, you make it easier for parents. If you have a great studio and offer a lot of value, your parents will be happy to pay you. I am privileged to work with some amazing students and parents, but I still receive the occasional late payment. Parents in my studio are happy to pay for what they receive but they still forget sometimes. Offering automatic payments makes it easier for them to pay. After all, that’s what I want with any sort of bill I pay.
Fourth, you look more professional. A teacher who only accepts automatic payments will be taken more seriously by most clients.
And above all, collecting payments is a distraction from your teaching. I’ve had so many times a parent walks in right as I’m about to start a lesson and asks, “how much do I owe you?” Arg!!! I don’t want to be thinking about this (or even grabbing checks from the student) when I’m about to teach a lesson or already in the middle of one.
Time is taken away from the student, the learning atmosphere is interrupted, and the teacher is distracted.
So what was I afraid of?
And why did it take me so long to switch? It’s not that I was scared some third party service would steal all my personal financial information or swoop in and take the payments from my students. But I did have some big reservations about switching to automatic payments.
My biggest concern was the fees that most services charge for automatic payments! Most services that offer automatic payments charge a whopping 2.9% plus $0.30. Ugh! Honestly, if I hadn’t found a cheaper service I still wouldn’t have switched over. (I’ll explain some of the numbers below in “Warning: watch out for high fees!”.)
Another thing that stopped me from switching was many services currently available are incredibly time consuming. I would have spent hours entering in client information. Plus, because students quitting and new students signing up is a common occurrence (even in my studio, where I have very high retention rates), I would have spent tons of time managing my student profiles.
Lastly, I just really didn’t like any of the services I saw. Most platforms I found looked clunky and not at all visually appealing. And some services just tried to be the one-stop-shop for everything, when a simple excel spreadsheet would have been faster and simpler.
Why pay for a service that looks bad and doesn’t even save me time?
Making the switch
While I mostly accepted checks before last month, I tried a number of different things to make things easier for me and my students. I sent out monthly invoices (which is a must!), I tried online payments via Venmo and Dwolla, and I even encourage parents to sign up for bank bill pay.
While those things helped, I really felt that the situation was less than ideal. Occasionally I would forget to signup a new student, and having my fingers in so many pies was just exhausting.
Finally, I decided to make the leap to automatic payments. One, because I was fed up with another couple of late payments; and two, because I happened upon a service (called Skeddle) that offers significantly lower fees than the regulars (see “Warning: watch out for high fees!” below for more info)
I will be writing a review of Skeddle and tell more of my experience using it next week. (If you’d like to be notified when I post the article, click here.)
Here’s part of the email that I sent to my studio in September:
Subject: New Payment Options For Piano Lessons
Starting next month, I am changing the method for accepting tuition. Right now, I mostly get paid by check at the lesson, but I will no longer be doing so next month.
In the last few months I’ve realized a few things:
- My teaching is negatively affected by only accepting checks… Lessons are often interrupted or at least distracted by me collecting checks from parents and students. (I’d rather think about teaching during the lesson than how much I am owed.)
- I spend a lot of time sending invoices, collecting checks, adding up checks, recording the payment amounts, collecting late payments, charging late fees (although this is rare), etc.
- I’d much rather spend that time planning for my students and honing my skills to become a better teacher.
- I hate paying with checks myself, so I shouldn’t expect you all to do so.
- It’s a hassle for parents to have to remember to send a check every month.
Not only are the things above not helping me to be a better teacher for your children, but it can even be a pain for you parents. So, starting next month I decided to no longer accept checks at the lesson and I will only be accepting forms of automatic payment.
(… then I go on to describe the forms of automatic payments I would be accepting, Skeddle and online bill pay …)
I expected many parents would reach out to complain, that there would be a strike against the system I hoped to adopt, perhaps that I may even lose a few students. But you know what happened?
Sure, I did get a lot of questions about how to make the change. But I didn’t get a single negative comment about what I was doing. And I certainly did a get a number of people saying, “Wow! This will be so much easier now!”
Automatic payments are a great thing and the beginning of this month was wonderful! Honestly, I’m embarrassed I haven’t applied automatic payments sooner as I think it’s an incredible way to free up time and devote your energy to your most important task—teaching.
Warning: watch out for high fees!
To end this article, I’d like to run some numbers of the fees that services charge.
The typical services that offers automatic payments charge a whopping 2.9% (plus $0.30 per transaction)!
It may not sound bad at first, or you may be ecstatic about how much time you’ll save. However, let’s take a closer look…
Let’s say you are an IMT (Independent Music Teacher, in case you’re new around here!) that earns $5,000 per month. Maybe you charge $100 per month per student and have 50 students. A few are siblings so you have 40 different paying clients (or parents) that you work with.
With the typical fee you would pay $145 ($5,000 x 2.9%) plus $12 for the 40 different transactions (40 x $0.30). All together you are paying $157 for a service that saves you 5-7 hours per month (or less)!
At 5 hours, you earn $31.40 per hour for the work you would do without such a service. Sure, it’s not as much as you make teaching, but it may not be a bad “part-time job” income. (I used to excuse the time I spent on payments as a kind of “side job” to earn a little extra money.)
Now consider a lower fee option; I’ll use Skeddle, because that’s what I have experience with. Skeddle charges only 1% (plus $0.30 per transaction)!
Using the same situation as above, you pay $50 ($5,000 x 1%) plus $12. That’s $62 as opposed to $157!!! That saves you almost $100 each month.
At 5 hours of work saved, you earn only $12.40 per hour. You are now much better off updating your website, investing in yourself, or getting one more student to make up the difference, rather than considering it a $12 part-time job. (And don’t forget all the other benefits that come from collecting payments automatically.)
Thanks for reading! Click to here to be notified when I post my full review of Skeddle next week!