Making Hard Choices

Owning a business can be exhilarating & rewarding.  But at times, the reality can be overwhelming & frustrating when we are unsure of the right choice to make or whether to continue to follow through on the choices we have already made.

I’ve made some great decisions over the years. And, I’ve made mistakes.  Through it all, my husband has been a great sounding board & support system.  In fact, him & my mom were the ones who encouraged me to get back into teaching piano!

As I read through teaching forums & groups I am encouraged at how much support we provide for each other.  With a few clicks on a keyboard or taps on a screen, we can access advice & feedback from other teachers & professionals.  I remember when I first began teaching & this type support system tended to be limited to ones physical area.  Now, we can reach anyone anywhere in the world.

When Advice Just Isn’t Helping

However, I have noticed a worrisome trend.  At least once a week, someone asks for advice starting with “My [significant person in their life] thinks that I should … but, I really don’t know if that is the right choice.  What should I do?”

The important people in our life are here for a reason.  We trust them.  They know us.  They have our back.  But, should they always be involved in our business decisions?

In the interests of full disclosure, I did have my husband read this blog post before publishing since I am using him as an example in some sections.  This is an honest look at how we approach discussions regarding my studio business.

making-hard-choices

Own Your Studio Decisions

As I mentioned, my husband is an amazing soundboard.  He is incredibly smart, knows me well, sees things in a different way than I do, & will be honest in giving me his true opinion.  That being said, he has never studied piano, has no teacher/music education, nor has run a business whether for someone else or himself.  In contrast, I have studied music for decades, have continued my pedagogy training well beyond my degree, & have run a business (both for someone else & now for myself).  Just like I would never dream of telling him how to handle his career or work decisions, he respects that while at times I may need to talk things through with him the ultimate decision comes down to me.  Though when we have both felt strongly that our approach is the best, those sounding board sessions have ended with me saying, “MY business.  MY decision.”

YOU are the expert in your studio.  YOU are the one that knows best what will work with your philosophy, goals, & clientele.

For better or worse, any decision in our studio comes down to the owner.  Yes, as owners we get the fallout if something doesn’t work.  But, more often we get the glory & respect when things DO go well.

Asking for advice or talking something through with someone is fantastic (& something I do often), but ultimately YOU need to decide what works for you.  We all approach things from our own experiences & viewpoint.  It doesn’t make advice from others outside our profession bad … it just means that we need to determine which parts (if any) fit our situation.

The best business decisions I have made have been an amalgamation of advice from others.  I am incredibly thankful to all those people who have given me advice over the years (even if I didn’t follow through on the actual advice) because it opened my eyes to a different way of approaching a problem.  The end solution was all the better for it.  But, it has required having a clear vision of what I wanted to accomplish, knowing the parameters for the solution & not letting someone else call the shots.

Be Willing to Change From Something That Isn’t Working

If something is working well, stick with it!  The harder part is letting go of the things (or situations) that no longer work for us.

One year, I implemented an online component to my studio.  I was really excited.  I talked it up.  The students got passwords.  We were going to be engaged in music discussions in between lessons.  It was going to be a-maz-ing!  But, it wasn’t.  It actually was quite bad.  The day that I was able to upload content onto it was Friday (no way to schedule the info to appear on a specific day).  Understandably, my students did not want to spend their weekend being online doing piano homework.  Being online, yes.  Just not homework.  Parents had to be involved a lot more than we had originally thought.  I was putting in double the planning time for something that was providing no value.  After 5 months of tweaks, I conceded defeat.  It was a great idea, but the execution just wasn’t right for my studio.  In the newsletter, I let my clients know that we would be dropping the online component since it had not served the needs of students.  I thanked parents for their willingness to try something new & continued support.  Then, I let them know that I would continue to look for ways to get their child(ren) the best programming possible.

Any time we add something new to our studios there is an element of uncertainty.  Will it work?  Will it get the hoped for results?  Sometimes it will go spectacularly well.  And, sometimes it won’t.  When it doesn’t, just let it go.  Clients will love that each year you endeavor to make their family’s experience better than the year before.  But, they will also respect if you can admit when something isn’t working.

Stick To Your Guns When You Know You Are Right

As teachers we want to help others.  This is a wonderful thing, but it sure can get us into trouble when we have clients that attempt to take advantage of our need to serve.

I would recommend that your contract or registration packet includes policy information on:

  • Registration
  • Tuition & other fees
  • Materials
  • Lesson & practice expectations
  • Missed lessons (both last minute & letting you know ahead of time)
  • Performance opportunities
  • Termination of contract (how they can end lessons AND how you can cancel their contract)
  • How you may add amendments during the year.

Just because someone asks for an exception does not mean you need to say yes.  Their first priority is making their family’s life easier, not making your business life easier.  However, the majority of people will respect when you redirect them back to your contract.

Following through on a robust studio policy makes it easier to deal with those less than ideal clients, as well as ensures that we are staying true to our personal philosophy, ethics, & goals.  It also gives great legal weight if you need to fire a client & have documented how they are in breach of contract.

And, Remember That There Is No Perfect Approach

Ask a question & chances are you will get many different answers.  Ask people from different professions & those answers will diverge wildly.

My engineer husband has a completely different approach to problems that I do.  In his industry, there is a completely different way of dealing with clients & solving problems.  What works in his industry sometimes really would be catastrophic in my business.

We all have uncertainty at times in how to approach certain studio or teaching choices.  The trick is determining whether the advice we are getting truly works for the solution we are aiming for.

I hope that as you implement the 2017 resolutions you have set, you are able to make the choices that lead you down path you are envisioning.

Have a great weekend!

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