This article was originally published in the California Music Teacher Journal.
Make More Time!
Do you sometimes feel like you’re chasing your tail in your studio?
Students keep arriving, the inbox keeps filling, bills keep appearing, new events pop up and you’re left just trying to stay afloat in a sea of activity and information.
What if I said that there were a few technology tweaks could can make to your studio business administration that will have a big impact on your sense of organization and time?
How would you like a few extra hours with the family? Perhaps stop teaching on the weekends? Or maybe just find a little more time for reading and self development?
If so, I’ve got a few tweaks today that are relatively simple to implement and will have an impact on your time.
Before we get started, please keep in mind a few considerations that I know some teachers will see as roadblocks:
- Setup time and effort: Whenever you introduce new technology in your studio (either for teaching or business), there will be a small learning curve. All new applications take some time to get used to. Don’t worry about this. The time you invest in the setup of a new tool will pay for itself later. It’s like hiring staff. When you first hire someone and have to train them, you could always do the work faster yourself. However, it’s the longer-term payoff that’s crucial.
- Cost: Many teachers are reticent about investing their income in technology, and that’s why I’ve chosen a number of free tools in this article. However, you need to remember that when you’re an independent studio owner, you’re running a business. All businesses have expenses and if you want to run a thriving studio, you’ll have expenses. In fact the more you thrive, the more expenses you’ll likely have.
- Cost v Benefit: The way to work out whether a new studio investment is valuable is a quick cost-benefit analysis. Stay with me – this is easy! For example, if software X will cost you $20 per month and saves you 2 hours of time (and you charge $50 per hour – ie. $100 cost in your time), then this investment makes sense. Why? Because you’ve saved $100 of your time for a cost of $20, a saving you $80 per month. Look at the cost over the long term, especially if the tool or investment has a large upfront or annual charge.
OK. So if you’re still reading, I’m hoping you’ve got an open mind and are ready to make technology your friend and time-saviour (pun intended)!
Tip 1: Forget All Your Passwords
PROBLEM: Having to remember lots of passwords and usernames.
POSSIBLE OUTCOME: You get hacked and lose everything or you forget your password and have to go thru that fun process of clicking “forgot password”!
How do you remember all your passwords? Do you have a notebook, spreadsheet or notes app full of all of them? Or worse: do you tend to use the same password for multiple sites?
There are three main problems with most people’s’ approach to passwords:
- Passwords should be hard to guess. Here’s a good one: 5JLClXtn#44W19PVpwn$
- Passwords shouldn’t be written down where people can find them
Passwords should be different for every login
So if most of us have at least 10, possibly 20 or 30 usernames, logins, PINs and passwords to remember, so how can you possibly remember them all?
Well, the simple answer is: you don’t.
Forget trying to remember them all and let technology create, remember and enter your passwords for you.
I use a free service called lastpass.com to create, save and enter all these passwords for me automatically when I land on any login page. It can even press the “submit” button so the first page you see is your logged-in area!
Every password I use is different and they are all created by Lastpass so they’re impossible to guess (see the example above which I used Lastpass to create for you!).
All I have to remember is one Master Password to unlock my Vault and I only need to use that when I log in for the first time on a new computer. Otherwise Lastpass works it magic, saving you time and keeping you secure everyday.
Tip 2: Block YouTube Ads
PROBLEM: Having to wait while YouTube plays ads in a lesson
POSSIBLE OUTCOME: Wasted lesson time
SOLUTION: Adblock for YouTube Chrome Extension
If you’re like me, you probably use YouTube a lot in your teaching – in fact, you can follow my channel here!
It’s such a great resource for performances, masterclasses, pop music and teacher training.
But aren’t those ads annoying!
If you’re using a laptop or desktop, did you know that you can install an adblocker and never see any ads on YouTube (and other sites, for that matter), again?
Well it’s dead easy and I’d love for you to try this out today.
Firstly, you need to be accessing the internet using Chrome on a Laptop or Desktop computer (this won’t work on mobiles and tablets). Chrome is the most popular browser in the world and is a free download.
Just search for “Chrome Download”. I highly recommend Chrome over Internet Explorer and even Safari.
Once you have Chrome, head back to Google and search for: Adblock for YouTube and click the first link which will start with chrome.google.com.
It will popup a window like this. Click Add to Chrome (I’ve already added it):
Join the the preeminent professional development, learning and networking community for instrumental music teachers.
Easy as that – you’ll never see another ad as long as that extension is loaded. You can see when a video has been “cleaned” by Adblock just under the video on the right:
Tip 3: Forget Manual Backups
PROBLEM: Forgetting to backup your files every week
POSSIBLE OUTCOME: You lose all your data: photos, music, business files – everything!
SOLUTION: Dropbox or GoogleDrive
The reason most people avoid backing-up their files is because it’s a pain: You have to find an external hard disk or flash drive, you need to load it up, create a new folder, wait for files to copy, delete the old backup files, etc. Then you run out of space and it all comes grinding to a halt.
While there are some software applications out there to handle automatic backups, I recommend you do this this automatically, every time you save a file by moving all your files to a Dropbox or Google Drive folder on your computer.
It’s actually really simple.
Just sign-up for a free Dropbox account at dropbox.com and download its software to your computer (PC or Mac). When you’ve downloaded the software, you’ll see a new folder appear on your computer:
I then recommend that you drag your entire “My Documents” folder into the Dropbox folder and start saving all your files in the Dropbox folder.
Because the great thing about Dropbox is that anything in that folder will automatically get backed up to “the cloud” (ie. servers at dropbox) and to any other devices you have that you load dropbox onto.
That means that if your computer dies or gets stolen, you’ll still have access to all your files. All you’d need to do is download Dropbox to a new computer, login with your username and password (stored on Lastpass, of course) and all your files will magically start appearing.
Because of this syncing ability, Dropbox is also a great way of sharing files between your own devices and with students and parents.
For example, if I download the Dropbox app on my phone and sign in with the same Dropbox account I set up on my computer, all the same files will appear on my phone.
And if I’d like to share any of the files in my Dropbox folder with someone else, I can just right click and select “Share” or just “Copy link to Dropbox File” and paste the link into an email.
Google Drive lets you do much the same, so if you’re already a fan of Google’s products (and who isn’t), then feel free to give Google a go.
Tip 4: Automatic Billing
PROBLEM: Manual billing, receiving checks and slow banking processes
POSSIBLE OUTCOME: LOTS of wasted time, missed payments and lost income
SOLUTION: Studio Management Software (I recommend MyMusicStaff)
If you still accept cash or checks for lessons, may I suggest you might be wasting a lot of your time and potentially frustrating your parents by only accepting these manual billing methods?
Moving away from checks and manual income processing is a huge timesaver for any business, and it’s much easier to set up than you might think.
I changed to automatic monthly billing this year and it has saved me HOURS of time which would otherwise have been wasted collecting payments, reconciling bank accounts, manually entering income into spreadsheets, etc.
Regardless of your billing timeframe (semester, term, month, lesson block), automating your billing with technology and automatically debiting parents’ credit cards on a regular basis is remarkably easy. While it will cost you a small percentage of your income, the time and hassle it saves will easily pay-off.
- MyMusicStaff or other music studio billing software. This allows you to connect to payment gateways like stripe or paypal that accept credit cards without you having to worry about the security. The advantage of software like this is that you also get the benefit of scheduling, reminders, resource libraries and lots of other tools for music teachers.
- Square or other generic payment service. These payment providers charge a small fee for billing but aren’t music specific. If you don’t need the extra services offered by a music studio platform, then these might be suitable.
I personally like the former because I also store all my student information, calendar, scheduling, etc in ne place that way. MyMusicStaff also allows me to send new parents to an online registration page, removing yet another paper-based administration bottleneck!
Find out more about my approach to automatic monthly billing by visiting: dev.topmusic.co/monthly.
Tip 5: Share Videos Easily
PROBLEM: Sharing videos with students and parents is a pain
POSSIBLE OUTCOME: Parents miss videos of their children in lessons and you waste lots of time in the uploading process.
SOLUTION: Capture App by YouTube
Have you noticed that everything online is now about video? Just about every item in a Facebook newsfeed is video and I personally both watch and create videos both for my blog and for my students every week.
As more and more teachers are using video recording in their lessons (great idea by the way!), the need for an easy way to take, upload and share a video QUICKLY has become paramount.
If you’re just recording a practice tip or reminder for a student in a lesson, then the simplest way to do this is to use the student’s phone (or their parent’s phone if they are present).
The only downside to this is that no-one else can access this video. If the video might be useful for other students, it would be best to upload and share it, saving you time in the long run.
For this purpose, I recommend teachers use the Capture app by YouTube. To download this app, head to the App Store on your device and search for “Capture by YouTube”.
Once loaded, with about 5 clicks, you can have your video uploaded to Youtube (private, unlisted or public). At the end of the upload process, you will be given a link to the video which you can share with parents or students by message or email (eg. direct to parents or students).
That way, you can start creating a bank of lessons, examples and tutorials that you can share with other students who would benefit from the same help.
All you need, apart from the app, is a Youtube account. This takes just minutes to set up and is 100% free.
Conclusion and Free Download
I hope you’ve found these five tips helpful.
If you’d like some more help, enter your details below to download my free handout: 5 Quick Tips to Boost Your Teaching Productivity.
Stick it to your wall in your studio or office as a reminder of how to save time and become the most productive piano teacher you can be.
If you’re feel overwhelmed by so many ideas, just pick one idea that you can implement this week. Test it out and see how you go.
Try and form a new habit around using the new tool. This may take a few weeks, so be patient.