Today’s blog post topic comes to you as a result of a question submitted by a reader. The question I received was essentially: How do you go about acquiring music books for piano students and managing the reimbursement/expense?
While there is no single “best” way to do business, there are certainly a number of good options to consider in order to find a procedure that works best for you and your clients. In this blog post, we’ll explore a handful of possible procedures and discuss their potential downsides and upsides.
4 Main Options for Acquiring Music Books and Managing the Expense
As I see it, here are the main options for self-employed music teachers:
- You can ask students/parents to purchase their own sheet music.
- You can purchase sheet music on behalf of your students and then collect reimbursement afterwards.
- You can purchase sheet music on behalf of your students and cover the expense yourself via a special books/material/registration fee.
- You can purchase sheet music on behalf of your students and cover the expense as part of the tuition fee charged for piano lessons.
Let’s discuss each option in more depth.
Option #1: Asking students/parents to purchase their own sheet music.
Asking students to purchase their own sheet music is a fairly straightforward method. You simply provide students with the title — or even a direct link — for the item that should be purchased, and then let them take responsibility from there. This means that you don’t have to worry about requesting or keeping track of reimbursements.
A possible advantage to this approach is the fact that you are giving students a reason to step foot in your local music store (if you have one near you). It’s great for students to visit the store to browse and see what’s available!
A possible downside lies in the fact that you are dependent on the parent being prompt about making the purchase and purchasing the correct item. If a parent doesn’t order a book in time, you and the student may have to wait a week or two until the copy arrives. To help prevent unwanted delays in student progress, it may be important to give the parent a few weeks notice ahead of time.
Option #2: Purchasing sheet music on behalf of your students and collecting reimbursement afterwards.
For some teachers, it may feel easier to acquire the music books and then collect reimbursement afterwards. Perhaps you might prefer being able to handle book orders yourself and take advantage of teacher discounts (for example, from PrimaMusic.com, SheetMusicPlus.com, or your local music store). Parents might appreciate the convenience factor of this approach.
With this option, it’s important to have a system in place to ensure you receive reimbursements for the book purchases you make on behalf of students. You’ll need some kind of record keeping method to track how much students owe and when the balance has been paid. Students/parents should be provided with an invoice noting the amount due to cover the cost of new books.
In case payment is not received in a timely fashion, I recommend having a plan in place to send additional invoices and charge a late fee after a certain period of tardiness. Hopefully, you won’t often need to resort to these measures, but it’s wise to have a procedure already in place so that you don’t have to make these decisions while in the midst of a problem situation.
Option #3: Purchasing sheet music on behalf of your students and covering the expense yourself via a books/material/registration fee.
Another option worth considering is covering the cost of books via a special fee (separate from piano lesson tuition payments). Call it what you like — for example, a books/materials fee or a registration fee — regardless, this method may make life easier in certain regards. For one, it eliminates the need to communicate with parents regarding balances due (yay!). However, recordkeeping is still necessary to track how much you tend to spend per student; after all, you’ll want to know if your fee is enough to cover the average cost of books.
With this method, it’s also important to track your book purchases as you would with any business expense. If you are providing music books to your students as part of your services offered, they are most likely considered to be a business expense that can be written off on your tax return. (Be sure to check with your tax professional on this.)
Some teachers consider the materials fee a “deposit,” which parents may need to add to once the balance is depleted. Others simply charge the fee once per year (with no refunds) to cover whatever book expenses may arise.
I think this is a great approach to use if you like the idea of not having to bother parents/students about the cost of books. Just collect the fee at the beginning of each school year or semester, and then just make sure you’ve got your record keeping method in place!
Option #4: Purchasing sheet music on behalf of your students and covering the expense as part of the tuition fee charged for lessons.
A fourth option to consider — especially if you are a minimalist when it comes to this sort of thing — is to cover the cost of books as part of your usual tuition charges for lessons. This means setting a slightly higher rate than you would otherwise and being sure to communicate this particular value of your services to students when they join your studio. Parents/students will quickly get used to the fact that it’s as easy as you handing them their new books. As a teacher, it’s nice not to have to collect a separate special fee from your students each year since it’s already factored in. Simple and convenient!
This option works particularly well if you charge a flat monthly tuition rate, which is what most music teachers should be doing, in my humble opinion. Charging the same amount every single month makes bookkeeping a dream and also simplifies budgeting for your students/parents. It naturally encourages consistence lesson attendance, too.
(Option #3 discussed above also works great with the flat monthly tuition, by the way — especially if you tend to take a month off during the summer. The book/materials/registration fee can be collected during your month off to help provide your business with consistent income year round!)
Option #4 is what I currently use with my students, and I have no intentions of going back to any other approach. I love keeping things simple for everyone. It’s easy to write off all sheet music purchases as a business expense. I used to sometimes feel bad when a student needed an expensive book. Now, I always feel free to choose whichever books I honestly feel are best for each student — no matter how expensive or inexpensive that book might happen to be. I keep oft-used books in stock on my shelves so they are easy to grab when needed. And I also I have quite a selection of sheet music I’ve received complimentary at conferences, been given from retiring teachers, or thrifted from local shops or garage sales (hooray for recycling!).
A potential downside to this option is that is means it requires raising your tuition rate, which could possibly have a couple of results. It might make you look more expensive, at first glance, in comparison to other lessons in your area. The other possible result is that it might cause you to shy away from raising rates even when it might be entirely appropriate and in fact wise to do so. As long as you can avoid falling into these psychological pitfalls, I think including the cost of books within your normal tuition rates is a great way to go for any music teacher.
There you have it: FOUR solid options for how to go about acquiring books for students and manage the expense. Although I’ve weighed in with my personal opinion regarding which method I like best (#4), there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all piano teachers. It’s truly a matter of what works best for you and your students. All four options are valid, and it’s great to be able to consider multiple ways of doing things — especially if you are looking for a way to solve a problem or streamline things in your particular music studio.
Your turn: Let’s discuss! What is your current procedure for acquiring books for students, and why? What other methods have you tried in the past? I’d love to hear from you! Leave your response in the comments below.
PS: Would you like to learn more about streamlining your business operations and running a profitable business? Please consider checking out my online course, Excellence in Piano Teaching! We discuss business topics and much more. The next session begins in January. Learn more and join the email list HERE.
PSS: Would you like to submit your own reader question? I invite you to submit yours here!