Can You Raise Your Piano Lesson Price Too High?
I had an experience about four months ago that made me so upset I couldn’t write about it for months. I knew I was too angry at that time to communicate anything good. But I learned a serious lesson in pricing that definitely affects piano teachers and I think I’m finally calm enough to write about it now.
As you know, I have curly hair. What you might not know is that most hair stylists have no idea how to cut curly hair. It is a beast unto itself and none of my haircuts are ever the same. Every time I go into my hair stylist, we have to talk about what to do. My hair might look the same to everyone every month. But, my haircuts are always different. Sometimes we “piece it out.” Other times we “round it off.” Sometimes we cut the underneath side shorter. Sometimes we piece out the middle layer of hair if it’s getting too thick.
In short, curly hair is pretty high maintenance. So when you find a hair stylist that can cut your curly hair, you stick with her for life. I found one 20 years ago, love her, and have been happy with her for 20 years.
But then the salon raised prices too high.
On December 27th, the salon where my hairstylist works sent out an email announcing that each stylist would be raising prices because “the cost of everyday living has gone up.” [Now, that should be our first lesson…never send out an announcement that you are raising rates 2 days after Christmas! It does not endear yourself to anyone.]
In addition, they also announced that they would no longer be cutting children’s hair AND that they were implementing a cancellation policy.
Now all of us can understand a cancellation policy, so that didn’t affect me at all. And I certainly understood a cost-of-living increase. So at first, my initial frustration was because they threw in my lap the difficult task of finding someone else to cut all three of my children’s hair. The vibe from the email was that they didn’t like kids and that kids didn’t go with their “culture.”
But what was really upsetting happened at the next haircut. My stylist and I had a great conversation about increasing rates while I was getting my haircut and I felt like I was right there with her since I’ve worked with a lot of piano teachers about increasing rates. But then, I went up to the counter to pay.
What was her rate?
Gulp. “What did you say my haircut cost?” Did I hear that wrong?
Nope. I kid you not. It was 40% more than my previous cut. Obviously, that is not a cost of living increase as the email had led me to believe. Had my stylist been seriously undercharging where a big increase would have made sense? No, not at all. What was originally a fairly upscale haircut price suddenly felt astronomically expensive.
My curly-headed sisters, who also had their hair cut by her, were also outraged. One of them refused to go back. The other ranted about it for a very, very long time.
Here’s what happened to me as the consumer:
It’s taken me a while to articulate what happened to me after that change, but here it is:
- I was frustrated for months.
- When I went to pay, I tipped less. [I’m embarrassed to admit that, but I’m being honest here. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay an additional 20% of this price.]
- It bothered me every time I walked in the salon.
- If I had known of any other people that could cut curly hair, I would have been very motivated to try them out, though I’m an extremely loyal person.
- I did keep going, but every time I got my haircut, I questioned whether I was getting my money’s worth.
What happened to her as the provider?
In short, she lost a lot of clients. I used to have to book my appointments 3 months in advance because she was booked solid, but that seemed to change after she raised her rates so high. I found that there were open appointment times the next week and that was never the case before.
But here’s what you might be missing:
I definitely want piano teachers to charge what they are worth and make cost of living increases. However, making these changes can you make you wonder, “Can you raise your piano lesson price too high?”
You might think this article is telling you that you shouldn’t raise your rates too high, but that’s not necessarily the case. While this was a very difficult thing for me as the consumer, my stylist actually wanted to whittle down her client list, work less, and still make a decent amount of money. The fact is, even though she lost a lot of clients, she was paradoxically achieving her goal!
Even though it was difficult for her clients, severed some relationships, and strained others, she actually achieved what she thought she needed for herself, her family and those closest to her.
I can admire that, even though the change was costly in more ways than just financial.
So here are the lessons for piano teachers:
There’s nothing like being on the receiving end of a price change to help you gain perspective. Consequently, I learned a lot of lessons about increasing rates as a piano teacher and here are just a few of them:
- It is possible to raise your piano lesson price too high become out of the market for most people in your community.
However, you may want this so that you can have fewer students, work less, or a variety of reasons. It’s not a bad thing to be at the top of your local market. You just have to know your goals and think about the effects of what you do on those goals.
- Be careful that you don’t mischaracterize your email announcements about price increases.
If it’s a cost-of-living increase, then make sure the amount makes sense. If it’s a “I haven’t been charging enough” increase, then make that clear. Don’t call a 40% increase a cost-of-living increase.
- Know what the tuition range is for lessons in your area.
Then you’ll know if you are already at the top end of the market before you raise your rates significantly without any changes in your service. Note that you can’t do with as an MTNA chapter because of the FTC order.
- Don’t make an announcement about policy changes that affect people’s pocketbook close to Christmas.
That’s just not a good time for most families. You could send out a policy change well before the end of the year (like the beginning of December, or maybe January), but for best results, the week after Christmas should just be off limits. Let your families relax and enjoy the season without worrying about their budgets.
- If you get the sense that your prices are at the mid to top end of your market, do a risk evaluation before you make a big price increase.
If you have a waiting list, a big price increase is a lot less risky. If you don’t have a waiting list, then acknowledge that you may lose students and ask if you’ll be okay with that. Do you need more time in your schedule but can manage with less money? Then, significantly increasing your tuition might be a good strategy.
- If you do raise your rates significantly, make sure that you find humble ways to remind your families about what you offer or find ways to make lessons more valuable. A great way to do that is with a newsletter like this that goes out a few weeks before you raise rates.
- Lastly, if you are a beginning teacher, the worst thing you can do is to undercharge when you start out.
Don’t fall into the trap of doing this as you are setting yourself up for a very difficult change when you have to increase your prices to fair market value.
Yearly, small cost-of-living increases are safest
I think one of the other mistakes this salon made was that they didn’t increase their prices consistently. If they had raised them slowly (whether that’s every year or every other year), to actually be commensurate with cost-of-living increases, then the reaction would not have been so costly. Every time you make a big increase, you run the risk of losing families. Sometimes those big changes are necessary, especially if you are undercharging, but small changes are safest for student retention.
In the end, you have the power to charge whatever people will pay. And it’s important to charge what you are worth and what is proportionate to the level of service that you offer.
So can your piano lesson price get too high?
Yes, but do not undervalue yourself. But if you sense that you are at the top end of the market, just be aware of where you are and communicate about your changes wisely and with empathy for your customers. In addition, top-of-market teachers need to make sure that you regularly and humbly remind families about how their child is doing and what you are doing to help the child (through emails, texts, newsletters, etc.). Remember that families are always re-evaluating the cost of a recurring service, so consistently affirming the value of piano lessons with you to current families is always a good idea.
Lastly, be sure to do a thoughtful evaluation before you raise your piano lesson price too high. Then, continue that careful evaluation before you make a tuition or policy change of any kind to make sure the change fits the goals you have for your studio and your life.
Have you had any experiences like this? Please share in the comments so all teachers can benefit!