Tracking down end of the year payments

The end of the school year is upon us.  If you are like me, you have a few students who don’t pay on time.  They always do pay you eventually, but frequently it occurs one or two weeks into the next month, rather than in the month lessons actually occurred.  My normal motto for this type of situation is to kill them with kindness, and persistence.  Each Friday I send a Bcc email to all my students still owing for the current month, asking kindly if they could please bring a check the following week.  Most of the time I am fine with this strategy and my number of outstanding accounts drops each month until everyone is current.

 

However, at the end of the year if you are not paid by the last day of school, it becomes much harder to track down payments.  You are no longer seeing the student each week, school is out of session, and you are unable to roll the money over in to the next month’s bill.  In this case I try several strategies until I am able to collect the check.

 

First, I use a direct email, rather than my Bcc technique above, explaining school is over and everyone needs to get their accounts current.   I then ask for a response in the message verifying funds will be brought the coming week.  If I do not hear back this way, I try a phone call.  This is a bit more direct, but sometimes works better.  If no one answers the phone I try a text.  If this doesn’t work I speak directly to the student about it, and will even text the student a reminder the day before to bring payment.

 

Your last card to play is band director intervention.  Frequently band directors wield larger influence than the private lesson teacher.  So, you can try telling your student if they cannot bring funds you will be forced to tell band director.  This may scare them into paying you, or you may actually ask if the band director will contact student’s parent/guardian.  If all else fails school band budgets will sometimes compensate you for one month of unpaid lessons on a school by school basis.

Persistence will pay off in this matter.  There have been times where I wasn’t able to collect a check by then end of school and could not get in touch with parent suddenly.  I just kept emailing weekly, daily, until suddenly a check appeared in my mailbox.

Maximizing the efficiency of your teaching schedule

This school year may not quite yet be over, but I am already considering my teaching schedule for the coming school year.  I am extremely obsessed with creating the most efficient schedule possible to both maximize income, and reduce travel.  Here are my top three considerations when coming up with my teaching schedule

  1. Directional planning: I like to go as far south as possible first, and then continually work my way back north to my house through as many stops at schools as necessary.  Obviously, you will need to tailor this to your location.  The idea being if you are leaving early for before school lessons you can get there with minimal traffic, and then end your day as close to your home as possible-to cut down on afternoon rush hour delays.  I avoid doing the following at all costs: Driving south to School A, diving North to school B, then driving back south again to School C.  This creates a longer commute home at the end of the day, wasted time that could be allocated to teaching more lessons during these drives back and forth, and increased consumption of gas
  2. Prioritize with Rate: Not all my schools have the same set rate per lesson. Also, some charge a monthly fee for facility use.  I put the schools with the highest rates on Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday.  School is rarely closed on these days.  The most common day school is closed is Monday.  There is one Monday each month in the school year where the building is closed.  Friday comes in second place with at least one Friday closure or early release every other month.  If my school charges a facility use fee, or has a lower rate I put these students on Mondays and Fridays.  This way if I am going to be losing potential earnings due to school holiday, I minimize my losses
  3. Scheduling of Fridays after school: It is difficult to maximize the number of students when Friday after school Is consumed by marching band performances. To counteract this I either teach at a middle school or a private school, which has no marching band, on Fridays.  It is difficult to maximize your studio potential when Fridays after school hours are being lost to football games.  This strategy has given me the best result for weekly Friday after school teaching.

Paperless Music Teacher

A few years ago I ditched the bag I was bringing to all my lessons, and went paperless.  This has been a revolution for my teaching,, and I thought I would share some of the benefits.  I bought at 32 gig iPad with  cellular data capability  for this occasion.  My school wifi accounts were so restricted it was impossible to use the internet for the purposes of teaching music.  So, some type of mobile device is obviously required for this.  Preferably something with a screen large enough for you or your students to read music from.  The good news is this purchase can be one of your many tax write offs for the year.

Communication increased significantly for me once I went paperless.   I could respond to emails in between lessons during the day, rather than dealing with fifteen to twenty unread messages later that evening.

My amount of paperwork decreased dramatically.  I was able to do all my scholarship paperwork using a type on PDF app.  I was acquired the necessary student signatures via the pen function of this app, and then emailed completed paperwork to the band directors.  This has become a major timesaver at the end of each month.

I used google documents to upload my weekly teaching schedule, as well as to edit the document with who has and has not paid for their lessons that month.

Google drive also became a valuable asset for me.  I uploaded pdfs of the material I work with my students on to my google drive.  Then, when a student forgets his or her music, its right there on the iPad.  With the cellular data working on my iPad I was always able to call up these files when necessary.

Additionally I was able to play recordings for my students via the iPad from my own music collection or YouTube.  This also works well for play along backing tracks for jazz studies, or playing a drone for tuning.

Lastly, I used this device to record students performing, with their permission.  Students could listen back and determine how they are playing a passage.

With the iPad I was able to eliminate bringing my hard copy schedule, notes on who had/hadn’t paid, solos, etudes, and monthly paperwork.  Additionally my drive home was enhanced by using the Waze app for real time traffic info and better driving routes to avoid rush hour congestion. Now, all I need is my horn, iPad, and a pencil when teaching lessons.

 

Estimating Income for Musicians

Now that tax day has finally come and gone, many private lesson teachers are experiencing a sense of relief. Now that the next tax year has begun, it is important to consider your earnings for the coming year now, in order to avoid a big tax bill in the future.

Estimating income is difficult. This is especially true if your work is variable, and such os the case with private lesson teaching. Luckily, at this juncture in the year you most likely have enough information to get a realistic idea of your earnings for the coming year. Doing this now will save you the headache of substantial taxes owed next April.

If you are teaching summer lessons you most likely know your studio size for this season. Calculate your earnings for the summer based on weeks teaching and set it aside.

Next, determine your studio size for the school year. Will you be taking on more new students, than students graduating lessons or quitting band? Will you be adding any new schools or dropping schools from your schedule? Will there be any changes in the lesson rate? Now you can use this to determine income for your fall teaching. I assume a student will never miss a lesson for this excercise. I would rather overestimate now than underestimate and have to pay later. Combine this with your summer earnings, as well as money you have already made from January first to now,

Once you have arrived at this number it is important to also take into consideration any other income streams you may have, such as gigs or clinics, and include these if possible.

Lastly, take a look at your deductions from previous year. Are any of these no longer applicable for the coming year? This includes educational credits, or the witting off of one time purchases such as computers, tablets, or instruments. If you are losing a few of these big deductions you should be prepared to pay more taxes.

On the flip side if you see any expenses rising, this will increase your deductions. For example, your health insurance cost could be going up, or you may anticipate driving more work based miles.

You can now use your previous tax return as a model, by plugging in your new estimated income and making the same or revised deductions. You can also use this to determine self employment tax. Be sure to consult tax tables of thee has been a drastic change in income either way, as your tax bracket may now be altered. At the end of this exercise you will have an estimate on what you will owe next year, and can send in your quarterly vouchers accordingly.

This is an important procedure, and will keep you from a surprise bill next April.

The Private Lesson Teacher’s Guide to Surviving the Summer

The summer can frequently be a season of less work for the private music teacher. Students are not attending school daily, and traveling to these buildings during their band classes to conduct lessons is no longer an option. This issue, combined with family vacations, sporting events, and other summer activities can make life difficult for the private lesson teacher in the summer months. With a few proactive measures, however, you can survive the summer without going broke.

1) Plan to save-You know that summer comes each year, and will present a predictable financial issue. So, during the school year do your best to put some money aside each month towards your summer living expenses.

2) Sell the importance of summer lessons-You cannot reasonably expect your entire studio to take summer lessons. Personally, I retain about 35% of my studio in the summer. Toward the end of the year I send out a mass message asking who would like summer lessons, and highlighting the importance of reinforcement of what we have learned this year, and the upcoming competition they will be practicing for in the form of all region  bands at the middle and high school level. This works better than just saying:  so, you want summer lessons?

3) Cater to your better students-Your best students are already planning on taking summer lessons. The ones that are serious about music would probably be interested in hour long lessons. This is a win-win for student and teacher. In the summer there is much more flexibility, so you can schedule an hour with less of an issue, you enjoy teaching this student, you can cover more material, the student improves more, and you are paid more. I send a targeted email to my better students proposing an hour.

4) Get in touch with beginners-Many times parents like for their student to get lessons before school starts so their child does not feel overwhelmed or fall behind during the beginning of band classes. This is another way to grow the summer studio. Hopefully, these beginners turn into your regular students, but even if some are just interested I a few start up lessons, this will help you survive the summer

5) School sponsored band camps- The schools you teach at may host summer band camps, and often look to hire private teachers as staff.

6) Marching camp staff-During marching band camps directors are often looking for extra part time staff to help with marching and learning music. Private lesson teachers are usually ideal candidates for this.

7) Start your own summer camp-Many musicians have had great success starting their own instrument specific camp or series of camps. The biggest hurdle is finding a location, but once this is established you can set the duration, length of sessions, cost, and material covered. This is a good time to introduce chamber music or instrument specific choirs to your students. It can be a lot of work to organize, but will help you survive the summer and possibly grow your studio going forward if you offer it school or district wide.

Retaining your students

The school year is winding down, and students must make a crucial decision. They must decide if they will continue in band, or quit band – and as a result, private lessons. Often times the private lesson teacher is the last person to know if a student is quitting band. This is frequently because the student may be uneasy to bring this up in conversation to you, the private teacher, directly. Also, band directors frequently know who is quitting but assume the student has already communicated this to their private teavher. Taking steps now can ensure you have a more accurate picture of who you will be teaching going forward.

Communication is key when it comes to retaining your students. Common reasons to loose students are preference for sports over band, general disinterest in band, desire to take numerous advanced placement courses over band, moving, and obviously graduation.

I send an email to my entire studio at this point of the year, it reads:

Hello,
I have very much enjoyed teaching your student this year. Going forward if you would like to continue lessons no further action is needed. I will keep your student on my studio roster. If your student is no longer continuing band please let me know.

I know this may seem like you are inviting your students to quit. You are not. Most likely your students have decided this well before you send this email. It is far better to know who you will be losing now and plan accordingly, rather than schedule a time for next year only to find out they have quit band.

When doing this exercise there are always surprises. You are clearly aware your senior students won’t be returning, but some students respond they are quitting that you either feel are talented, or that you enjoy working with a lot.

Once you find this out, there is usually enough time left in the school year to switch their class schedules if you can persuade them to stay in band. Try talking to them in their lesson about the cause for their quitting. If it is a scheduling issue regarding sports or academia many times a solution can be reached. Often times students will just quit band and choose the other activity because they assume there is no solution. Frequently this can be resolved with good communication amongst the parties (students, parents, band directors, and other teacher/coach) and enough lead time to enact a resolution. When bringing this up with your students, do it in a causal way. If they interpret the conversation as aggressive, you may not achieve the desired result.

Once you have a final count of which students will be back, and who will be leaving I make a list of every student by school, and then band class if applicable. From here you can see where you have a lot of students, and where you can expand. You can also see what classes you have more time slots to teach and then can begin looking for new students to fill these slots. It is by far easier to communicate to new students about next year during the school year versus the summer because people check their email much more frequently during school.

I also try to use this time year to get information on who my new beginning students will be. Again, the band directors will be easier to get in touch with now rather than July. Usually, beginner parents are very enthusiastic about band in general, especially lessons. I like to send a mass email out to all incoming sixth grade saxophonists before school is over to see who wants lessons. This way you have a handle on both incoming and outgoing students.

Once you have acquired this information all that is left is to schedule your students. With the headache that is student scheduling you can rest easy knowing your previous work will ensure all your students scheduled are indeed still enrolled in band.

Maximizing Musician Tax Deductions

Because of the self-employment tax faced by many musicians, it is critical to deduct as large of a portion of your income as possible. This way you are paying taxes only on the portion of your income that cannot be written off. If you are new to self-employed taxation, please see my earlier post on the basics.

My primary piece of advice on beginning this process is to get a good certified public accountant. Your degrees are in music, not tax law. Your CPA can help ensure all your forms are filled correctly and you are paying the correct amount in taxes. A tax return signed by a CPA looks better to tax officers than one filled out by an individual trying to take numerous deductions.

 

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Your role as a musician is to communicate all the items you would like to deduct to your CPA. Propose as many as you can, and your CPA will tell you what will fly and what will not. Keep in mind he or she is not a musician and is most likely unaware of the numerous expenses you have.

So, what can the musician deduct? Things you have purchased in the last year to do your job can be deducted. Some of the common ones are:

Standard deduction- Everyone gets this! It was $6,200 in 2014. This is a nice start to lowering your taxable income.

Self-employment tax- Using the  Schedule SE form you can determine your grand total of self-employment tax and then use the formula to determine the large portion of self-employment tax that can be deducted, about half.

Health insurance-If you are over 26 and self-employed, there is a good chance you are buying your own health insurance. The grand total of your monthly premium payments can be written off.

Retirement- Regardless of your age, it is important to set up a retirement account. If you open a traditional IRA, you can deduct these contributions, up to the maximum allowed, for the year.

Educational credits-If you are still in school, either enrolled undergraduate or a graduate degree program, you can write off the tuition paid. Your university can provide you with the needed form.

Student loan interest-Speaking of school, you may have completed your degree but are still paying loans. You may be eligible to deduct all the interest you have paid for the year on this loan, which can add up, especially in the beginning of your repayment period. Note, you cannot do this if you are married and file separate tax returns.

Insurance- this can be insurance on your instruments, your car you drive to work, liability insurance, or renters/home insurance if you have a home office.

Depreciation- You can depreciate the value of your instruments needed for your job over time. You can choose to either write off the entire value if you buy it in the current tax year, or depreciate it partially over a period of years. Either way, you must get an appraisal to verify the declared value.

Repairs-any repairs or maintenance on your instruments can be deducted.

Legal and professional services-you can use this column to deduct anything you paid for you tax return preparation for the previous year.

Car-If you use your car for your job, the government offers a standard rate for each mile driven for work. For 2015 it will be 57.5 cents per mile. If you drive a lot this really adds up. You must keep track of exact miles driven. Additionally, tolls and car maintenance can be written off too.

Supplies- You can use line 22 of your Schedule C to account for all necessary musician supplies. This includes sheet music, mouthpieces, ligatures, reeds, necks, strings, bows, instrument/music stands, and any other gadgets like iPads, computers, recorders etc. This category has a lot of potential so look back through your purchases to make sure you are not missing anything.

Travel-if you traveled for a conference, audition, or performance you were playing you can write this off, along with the cost of food for these trips.

“Other expenses” -Line 48 of your Schedule C allows for any other expenses that are not covered earlier in the tax return. This is a key area for musicians, because we frequently have unique expenses. Some to consider here are:
Facility use fees paid to lesson teaching locations
Fees to collaborative artists such as piano accompanists
Any lessons you take from others as professional development
Domain names for personal websites
Postage
PayPal fees if you use this for your students to pay you
Conference registration fees

Home office-People are sometimes scared to take this deduction, but if you have a room in your house or apartment dedicated to your profession you should go for it. This cannot be your living room with a computer in the corner, but rather a single room, with a door, used for work only. Not sleeping, eating, or partying. For this deduction you must know the square footage of the room and house and you can deduct a portion of your rent/mortgage. Also, add up all your utility bills and a portion of this can also be deducted with the home office.

All these things add up and help reduce your income to a more manageable, level for taxation. You must keep receipts for these items in case the value needs to be verified for up to 5 years after the return. I use a filing cabinet to keep receipts during the year. Then on Jan 1 I total everything up in a document and send it to my CPA. Good luck and happy deducting.

*Disclaimer-Please seek professional assistance in filing your taxes. Musicstudioteacher.com  takes no legal responsibility for results from this post.

Summoning the creative flow

Everyone knows that feeling when the creative juices are flowing.  Whether its the extra motivation to complete invoicing, a sudden extra burst of enthusiasm teaching, or an interpretative discovery in performance, this often seems to come out of no where . Over at the renowned I Care If You Listen Blog Astrid Baumgardener has pinpointed the process of discovery what gets your creativity working at optimum efficiency.  I suggest everyone check out this post,  and the super hip I Care if You Listen blog as a whole

 

http://www.icareifyoulisten.com/2014/05/living-in-flow/