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How to Set Up and Build Your Own Private Teaching Practice

MU seminar highlights from Music Education Expo, focusing on making a business plan for your private teaching practice.

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Up to two thirds of MU members are working as music teachers at any one time. Some have devoted their lives to music education, some teach as one part of a portfolio career. Some have always been self-employed, and some are new to the challenges facing freelance music teachers. At this year’s Music Education Expo, we held a seminar for all music educators looking at how to set up and build your own private teaching practice, hosted by the MU’s own David Barnard. Here are some of the highlights…

Ask yourself the question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s important to know this from the outset. “Music lessons are important,” says David, “and your love and enthusiasm have to show through”. Knowing why you want to teach music will help you work out your own personal mission statement. Once you’ve articulated your vision, you can get on to step 2 – making a business plan. 

Make a business plan. You know your vision, now it’s time to know your customers. Start with research – David suggests looking at where local schools are, where parents meet, who else is teaching in the area, what they teach, and what services are available in the local community. Find out as much as you can about your area. Knowing the opportunities open to you and the challenges you might face will help you write a plan.

Know your product. What are you selling? ‘Music lessons’ is the obvious answer. But think about where you are, where your music lessons will be, how much they will cost, who you will be teaching and who will be making the decisions about lessons. You need to understand what you are doing and for whom. This tells you what message you need to communicate, and how. 

Know your numbers. You need to have an understanding of some numbers, starting with cashflow. The basic things you need to know are your operational costs and what you want to pay yourself. Knowing when the money comes in enabled you to plan for those periods you are likely to have less money, for example in the summer when students may be on holiday. A little planning can give you financial control. 

Get an accountant (or learn how to do it yourself). You will need to know how to prepare invoices and basic bookkeeping, as well as how to fill in your tax return and any tax deductibles. An accountant can do all of that for you but, if you would like to have a go yourself, take a look at our Tax Savings Guide, upcoming events, and free online courses from FEU Training which cover many of the basics. 

Use contracts. Use contracts with everybody, and make it part of your practice. It’s important that your terms and conditions are clear, so that you, your student and any parents involved know what the expectations are. Set out how lessons can be booked, your fee structure, how to pay, cancellation procedures and so on. Being open and transparent now can save you and your students from problems in the future. 

Check yourself. Have targets in your business plan. How many pupils do you need to keep going? How many do you need by the end of the year? How many in five years? What kind of salary do you want to be earning? It’s important to monitor your progress against your plan, so that if it’s not working, you can change it. 

Market yourself, starting with your website. It’s easier than ever market yourself. Start with content, and think about what service you want to provide. Buy a domain name, and build a website using a template. You can do that all yourself, but if you want online payments or have backing tracks for students to download and play along to, then you may want to consider hiring a pro.

Google yourself, and make sure you check the Google Image results. You never know what photo you’ve been tagged. Think about what you want to create and how your social media can perform a service for your students. All your accounts will need regular content so as not to look abandoned.

Talk to people. Ask local retailers if they can put up a poster or if they would be willing to set up a referral system. Ask students and their families for endorsements that you can use online and in any printed materials. Consider offering taster lessons (get in touch for more advice on how to make these fair for you and your students), and taking part in events such as Learn to Play Day. There’s more to marketing than online, and word of mouth can have a massive impact.

Make your teaching space work. Also think about your waiting room, especially if you teach in your own house. Make sure visitors have access to appropriate facilities, and that you inform students / parents about details like what parking is available and how long for. Be sure to check in with neighbours so they know what is going on and when noisy periods may be. And if you are working from, be sure to check with your local authority as you may need to register your home as a place of business. 

Think about your curriculum. Especially your students’ personalised learning programmes and where you can add value. You could bring students together for occasional group lessons or concerts with appropriate parts for each player. Consider putting together a masterclass. Perhaps you could host a short course in the holidays, for example in composing for video games. You can then bring that back into the classroom and build on it in your regular lessons.

Get insurance. Public Liability Insurance (PLI) is essential, and MU members get £10 million PLI – members can log in for a pdf of their certificate. You will also need instrument / equipment insurance, and MU members get up to £2000 worth at no extra cost. You should also consider professional indemnity insurance, which protects your professional judgement and reputation (for example, if you recommend an instrument or workshop and things go wrong­). If you employ someone, you may also need employer’s liability insurance. It’s important to know what you need, and what you’ve already got with MU membership or other policies you may have. 

Register for DBS checks. Get a DBS check – join the PVG Scheme if you live in Scotland, get an Access NI check in Northern Ireland – and register for the DBS update service. There is a small fee, but it will save you time and put parents’ minds at ease.  

Manage your time. With so much going on, it is easy to forget to build in time to plan, reflect, breathe… and then do some admin. Things like invoicing, lesson planning, and managing social media accounts all need attention and in between all of that, you need to be taking time out for yourself too. Planning your time is one way to stay on top of it all. 

Personal development matters. Keep your skills as sharp as you possibly can, as they are fundamental to the quality of your product. Visit events such as the Music Education Expo and network. Get to know people, share experiences and ideas, and look at what else is going on locally. Make sure you stay up to date with copyright law. And you must make sure you have appropriate child protection, and health and safety training.

Get in touch. We can advise on all of the above, and have plenty of resources available to help you set up your teaching practice - from teaching resources to contracts, insurance, networking, training and access to DBS checks. Get in touch with our specialist officials for expert advice

Haven’t joined yet? Find out how the MU can help you and your career as a music teacher.​


Published: 03/03/2016

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