Feb 4, 2016
Setting rates and talking money is often a major stress point for independent teachers. Let’s chat about it.
Many of you worked thousands of hours to master your craft, studying with the world’s best teachers. Your hands are as facile as any surgeon’s, yet you finished your training with little knowledge of business basics. Marketing, branding, even sales are critical tools to anyone that works for themselves. Positive changes in your business begin when you do a deep-dive into how you value what you offer.
It’s difficult to pinpoint how much you should charge, and to be confident in asking for a professional wage. How long did you work to perfect your craft? How much did your education cost? How much experience do you have? And… how much did you just pay your plumber to come and fix your sink?
I’m encouraging you to be bold and truly value yourself when you’re setting your rates. I promise you, it will be the best move you can make for your career. You need to appreciate the vast range of factors that come together in the professional package you offer clients. It’s business, and it’s your livelihood.
I’d also strongly encourage you to look outside your professional network of colleagues while researching how to set your rates. I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing more than 200 private instructors over the last years. The vast majority lack basic business acumen, and many great teachers undervalue their contributions.(Sorry, i said it.)
The mission of Teach Well is to educate and inspire great teachers to make a good living making the world a better place. You deserve to make a good living! Asking less weakens your professionalism, your brand, and your ability to be an amazing teacher.
One of my favorite guitarists is an internationally recognized flamenco player. He’s also really good at business, and charges fairly. He once tried to calculate all of the hours he had practiced, the lessons he had paid for, the guitars he had purchased and the benefits he had forfeited to be a full-time musician. He practiced guitar 5–7 hours a day for 15 years and toured the world many times while studying and performing. Sometimes(not often)he has to explain this if a new student enquires about his rate. How could anyone argue that his time isn’t worth a professional living wage?
Of course, you have to factor in your geography and the demographics of your location. If you live in San Francisco, you’ll obviously charge more than if you live in Pocatello, Idaho. This is where a little research can go a long way. What do professionals charge in your town? What’s the going rate of your mechanic, lawyer or plumber? What do other instructors charge in the area? Figure this out before you go setting your rates.
About 10 years ago, my wife and I were expecting our first child. I got super stressed-out about becoming a father, and got super serious about building my studio. I needed more students, more money… or to give up being a musician/teacher and get a day job. A close mentor/student suggested that if I really wanted to get more students, I needed to significantly raise my advertised rate.
“No one’s going to pay that.” “So-and-so is a famous player, and he only charges $.” These negative voices rang in my head as I imagined people scoffing and laughing at me for asking a living wage. I couldn’t do it. I’d try getting way more students by advertising.
Well, traditional marketing failed. I took took his advice, and one day I nearly doubled my rates for new students.(I still didn’t have the courage to raise rates for current students.) I was booked solid within two months, and I’ve maintained a waiting list for new families ever since. Just by raising my rates, I got busy, was able to support my family, appreciated my students , and gave 100% to my lessons. Everyone won out.
Big things happen when you choose to value yourself professionally. Your clients will take you more seriously, and you will be able to provide a better service. New clients will seek you out and your current students will improve. This is a neat economic idea called perceived value, and it’s absolutely true.
Clients and potential clients will consider you more professional and able if you charge a professional wage for your services. Clients want you to thrive and make a decent living for your hard work and experience!
What about students that are awesome, and can’t afford this rate? I’m so glad you asked that question. The answer is very simple. If you charge a professional wage for your services, you can afford to teach people that can’t afford it at a reduced rate…and feel great about it! I never turn away a student because of financial ability.
You are a self-employed, hard working, and highly skilled. You deserve to make a good living! Set your rate to provide you what you need, and don’t feel embarrassed to ask for it. Your clients will be happy, your studio will grow, your community will flourish, and you will continue to make the world more awesome.
By Eric Branner.