Success in private practice
Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, outlines ways to make your teaching practice a thriving one. As a private music teacher it has always been important to develop the skills necessary to create a successful teaching practice. Now, however, the private teaching market is becoming increasingly competitive as more music professionals move into portfolio careers and as a whole range of music providers in the UK face cuts in funding. In this climate, it is vital to remain one step ahead of the competition. First of all, don’t be afraid by the term ‘business’. At the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) we provide regular professional development sessions on business skills in music, and here I’ve outlined the essentials. As with any business, promotion is key. Decide who you want to teach and then find the best places and ways to reach those potential pupils. Always go through a parent or teacher rather than targeting children directly. Then, make sure you promote yourself in a professional manner - be it on leaflets, posters or online. Use high quality images and if you set up a Facebook page or group, don’t use it to chat to friends. Exploit online opportunities by setting up a website via a free hosting site, such as www.flavours.me, and don’t forget to highlight qualifications, awards, and any professional development you have undertaken. Utilise social networking sites to build mini practice profiles and draw people to your website. A good place to find help on this is www.mashable.com. Also, look at what other music teachers have done and then make sure your profile is better! Finally on promotion, explore other online tools such as directories of teachers and free listings where you can post details of your lessons. Directories often do all the work for you. Our own ISM directory at www.ism.org is used by thousands of potential music pupils and their parents to search for local teachers. Once you have some pupils, make sure you take things forward in a business-like manner. Before starting any classes, you will need a written contract with your client – the parent/guardian or student. This should include your agreed fee, the number of classes to be taught, the dates and length of sessions, where the classes will be held, and termination provisions, so that you are entitled to fees if a pupil stops lessons without giving you proper notice. Keeping proper records is fundamental to running your practice. In the UK the profit or loss made on self-employed earnings must be disclosed to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). These records need to be kept for six years to ensure that you can answer any questions HMRC might have about your tax return. More information about this can be found at www.hmrc.gov.uk. You may also need to pay National Insurance contributions. A useful source of National Insurance and tax information for the self-employed can be found at www.businesslink.gov.uk. As a private teacher you need to ensure that you protect your practice against accident and misfortune. You will need public liability insurance to cover situations where you cause injury to another person, or damage their property, in the course of your work. Similarly you should obtain employers’ liability insurance if you employ anyone. Joining an organisation such as the ISM means you will get these insurances as part of your membership, making them considerably cheaper. A final but important part of protecting your business is ensuring you have access to legal support. Lastly, keeping up-to-date with developments in music technology will help you maintain that competitive edge and keep your students coming back. There are many online help pages and resources available for music teachers. Additionally, the ISM website is a good place to find information on what’s going on in the music sector. All this should help to point you in the right direction and ensure that you have an efficient and successful teaching practice.
ISM members benefit from guidance on creating contracts (with access to free templates), help with chasing fees, a tax helpline, discounted insurance, one-to-one advice and representation from in-house legal professionals, and much more. Find out more at www.ism.org.
This article was originally featured in the May 2011 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.