Registration is in full swing in my studio & that means I am deep into scheduling. While I love many aspects of travel teaching, I will admit to feeling a wee bit jealous of my in-studio colleagues when it comes to scheduling.
Before taking on new students, I always interview the families to ensure they will be a good fit. But, the interview isn’t enough. Each year, I need to turn away families because the scheduling just doesn’t work out. Perhaps they live further away from my home, the time to drive from another student’s home is too long, or I just don’t have enough interest from families in a particular community to make the drive profitable.
In Canada, we have lots of space. However with more provinces including carbon taxes, it is no longer just a matter of determining how long it will take to drive to each student’s home (regardless of what the weather throws at me during the year). The cost of maintaining a vehicle (including snow tires) & increased fuel costs need to be taken into account for each family.
I live in a city where it takes me at least 40 minutes to drive from one end of the city to the other using highways in perfect road conditions (ie. no snow, driving at non-peak times, no accidents). Then, I get to add that driving time coming back. Very rarely has it been a sound business decision to take on students so far from my home. Over the years of travel teaching, I have learnt the best ways to schedule students so that I make the best use of my teaching time.
There are many ways to look at travel teaching, but this is the simplest formula for determining if a new family will get to interview with me or whether I will recommend another teacher to them.
The time to drive to & from the client home
MUST be less than 50%
the total lesson time.
For example if there is a family interested in lessons that lives 20 minutes from me & they have 2 potential students for me to teach with lab time programming (60 minute concurrent lessons).
Formula: 40 minutes travel time < 60 minutes of lesson
Not bad, but I just ‘spent’ nearly 67% of my teaching time to travel to their home.
But what if I am able to get 3 families in that same or neighbouring community? Let’s use the following travel & lesson times:
- Family A:
- 20 min. from my home to theirs
- 2 students in lab time programming (60 min. total)
- Family B:
- 5 min. from family A
- 1 student with 45 min. private lesson (45 min. total)
- Family C:
- 10 min. from family B
- 2 students in lab time programming (60 min. total)
- Travel time home:
- 10 min. since family C is on my way home.
Formula: 45 min. total travel time < 165 min. total teaching time
Now, not only have I increased the tuition that comes in each month/semester, but I have only ‘spent’ 27% of my total teaching time in travel.
Scheduling for travel teaching is vastly different from in-studio.
There are only so many hours per day & week that we can teach. Every minute spent driving to student homes is potential income lost.
This makes it an incredibly important consideration when deciding to work with a client.
The secret menu item in my studio
After moving the majority of students to 45-minute private lessons or lab time programming (1 hour concurrent lessons), I saw a huge increase in the foundation skills my students needed to play their songs successfully.
So for this upcoming year, I made an important change in my program offerings. No more 30 minute private lessons. Not only is it better for my students from a pedagogical viewpoint, but it also decreases that ratio of travel time to teaching time.
However much like Starbucks has their “secret menu”, I have one as well. There are times when 30 minutes makes sense for a student & I couldn’t in good conscious insist on 45 or 60 min. programming.
- A preschooler who may be unable to focus for the full lesson, even with switches in activities.
- A student with severe ADHD or other learning difficulties that would make the longer lessons counterproductive for learning, at least at the early levels when repertoire is short.
- A parent taking beginner lessons for the sole reason of supporting their child(ren) in their lessons.
In each of these cases, I ask the client not to advertise the reduced lesson time & explain why they are getting a “secret menu item”.
The other important part of this secret menu item is the tuition. For 30 minute lessons, clients will be paying 78% of the cost of a 45 minute lesson. And, that will probably increase to 80% the year after. Because I will be reducing the amount of time I can teach (remember the travel time will stay the same regardless of lesson length), the client will be paying a premium for me to come to their home.
The Cheat Sheet
As a travel teacher, having a 45-min. minimum lesson length is hugely helpful in ensuring that the “travel” part of travel teaching doesn’t take over your teaching hours. But, what other things can you do to make sure you enjoy driving to your student’s homes each week?
Click below to download my “Travel Teacher’s Guide to Scheduling Students” which will give you my tips & tricks to make the most out of your teaching schedule over the summer or fall!
Scheduling Without Headaches
While I have learnt that scheduling will always be a jigsaw puzzle for travel teachers, there are ways to ensure that your final schedule doesn’t become a headache for the rest of the year.
There are always areas of the jigsaw that are tougher to put together than others.
For myself it is scheduling conflicts with student’s dance classes & hockey practices/games. Both are notorious in my city for giving out schedules late & changing them last minute (at times even as late as the class or practice before the change is in effect). While we can’t control what other businesses do, we can control how we handle it. I know that my schedule will need tweaks when those emails or calls come, so I have a list of when all my clients are available & when they are not available for lessons. This has reduced the stress of those scheduling tweaks since I am able to shuffle students without too much hassle for the other families or myself.
If you are a travel teacher, what are the areas you find the most difficult in creating your schedule?
I would love to help you solve those areas that are causing your scheduling headaches so you can go into this summer knowing you are set up for success!
Have a great weekend!
Thank you for sharing this article. I shared the same challenges with you. I am a travelling teacher and I don’t drive. I take buses, trains and sometimes I need to take a cab. I would like to multiply my students at the locations where I have students. Some days I have only one student in the area but I did sound it out to some parents and friends. I personally I would prefer through the word of mouth or referral instead of advertising in the papers, local forum…I tried but poor response. I don’t plan to create a website because I do not have space to teach. Any advice for recruiting new students? Thank you in advance.
Hi, Su! Wow! That must be challenging using public transit to get to students! But, I assume it must be pretty common in your area to take transit? Kudos to you for working with that challenge & making it work for you!
For recruiting new students, I agree there is nothing like word of mouth or referrals. Advertising can be tricky, especially if you do not have an online location for people to go to.
Firstly, I would definitely recommend a studio website, even though you don’t have a dedicated teaching space. (I don’t have a dedicated teaching space either.) You have a dedicated business & therefore should have the online means for people to find you. It also makes it easier for your clients to refer you to others since those potential clients can easily search your studio online. And, if you choose to advertise online it gives those viewers a chance to see what you do before they contact you.
From a marketing perspective, traveling to your students’ homes will help you stand out from all the other studios & teachers that require their students to come to them. It has been one of the biggest selling features of my traveling studio, with the music lab as another big draw. Using WordPress.com is a great place to start creating a website & is very user friendly with plenty of tutorials to help you through the process.
Secondly, I would think about the age group you are aiming for & seeing if you can leave flyers in locations that they would go to often. For preschoolers or kindergarten students, preschools are a great place to leave information. Getting to know the music teachers at various schools is another way of getting referrals since they get asked by parents of students at the schools. I’ve left flyers on mailboxes … great walk on a beautiful day, but very low response rate so it is probably not one I would recommend. If you are part of a local teachers organization, see how they let parents/students know about the different teachers … Is it easy for them to find your information?
Lastly, I would highly recommend reading Amy Chaplin’s Wild West of Marketing over at her site, Piano Panty. She has so many creative ideas on how to market her studio & even has the data to back it up! This is the link to her handout, but I highly recommend that you read her other articles on the topic as well. They are fantastic! https://pianopantry.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/The-Wild-West-of-Marketing_Handout5.pdf