Episode #38: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started Our Lessons Business (Part 1) - Teacher Zone

Episode #38: 7 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started Our Lessons Business (Part 1)

In this episode of The Teacher Zone with Chris and Tyler, they begin part one of a two-part series on the 7 things that they wish they’d have done from the beginning in their lessons business.

If you are a new business or have been around for years, you’ll enjoy this discussion on the things we’ve learned, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes we did along the way.

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0:00:06.0 Tyler Marolf: Welcome to the teacher zone with Chris and Tyler. You’re in for another great podcast right now, and… Chris, how are you, sir? What’s our topic today?

0:00:15.2 Chris Bates: I’m excellent. So great to be with you today, Mr. Tyler, and I love our topic today. All of us. We all love lists. Right. So Tyler and I came up with the seven things I wish I knew before we started our lesson business, and let’s face it, it might be 40 things, but these are the seven that were like top of mind, one of the first things that… these are things that Tyler and I dealt with in our own lesson business, that’s now going on what? Tyler, 11 years.

0:00:48.9 Tyler Marolf: We start year 12, or are we starting in year 11? I think we started your 12… I can’t remember…

0:00:56.4 Chris Bates: We just had 11th year. Yeah, yeah, and so what’s great is that we’ve also obviously connected with so many of you globally over the years, and so I think these are things that resonate with all of us in the lesson business… Right, but please know that. No, it is not definitive. So if you got other ideas, ping us on the private Facebook group or any way that you wanna reach out to us, you can just feel free to email this to… You can just email hello at teacherzone.com. It goes to both of us. So, alright,Tyler.. Well, let’s get into it. So the seven things I wish I knew before we started our lesson business…

1) I wish I had automated every payment that ever came in in my lesson business the very first day

0:01:35.0 Tyler Marolf: Well, let’s start with number one. I wish I had automated every payment that ever came in in my lesson business the very first day, and I don’t know about you guys, but in the beginning, I don’t know how long it took me to realize that I was constantly… Four to five business days behind on multiple people’s tuitions, and then I was running to the bank with checks or whatever, and this was a while back, and I know a lot of people have come a long way, but the bottom line is, I don’t care if you’re using Venmo.  If you’re having to track them down and get them to do something without being automated, that’s what we’re here to talk about on number one, which is, I wish every payment I ever accepted in my lesson business was automated. What do you think, Chris?

0:02:25.2 Chris Bates: Yeah, for those of you that have younger businesses that still aren’t automated, I think a lot of us do it because I think we’re excited to just be getting paid at all… 

0:02:41.3 Tyler Marolf: Absolutely, 100 Percent. I would walk in and show Melissa our stack of checks because it was becoming a business, and I’m excited, I’m gonna go put it in, and I’m like, Oh my gosh…

0:02:57.8 Chris Bates: ’cause you’re getting gratification from the validation that comes in the payments, so when you’re first starting a business, you’re… Especially in the loss of business, because all of us are so proud of what we teach, and so you’re helping change lives, you’re helping mentor and teach, and you’re so proud of it, and here you are getting paid to do what you love and affect lives, and so the delay in it at first doesn’t feel too scary, especially when it’s just you and a couple of others, but for those of you that are now mature businesses and have myriad of instructors and are really crushing it with hundreds of families is enough… This is that one thing that we all wish we would have changed at the beginning, but if you haven’t changed yet, once you get past, it’s literally a 30-day pain point and then you’ll never have to stress again.  I think now how everything’s automated. Basically, we get most of our tuition, so folks do it differently all over the world. Some do it per lesson, some do the monthly recurring, some do it on the first, like we do, we take all our tuitions on the first, so it allows us to make payroll and all that good stuff.

0:04:07.4 Chris Bates: We also, though have a lot of friends around the world that do flat tuitions on the 25th of the… And that’s a really interesting thing because now you can actually, pre-collect for the few declines you have. You can get that money and you’re literally starting the first with next month’s tuitions already in order. Right, so that might be something for even we’ve discussed changing our method to the 25th 

0:04:57.8 Tyler Marolf: and we can’t forget, Chris, the retention aspect of automated payments, so you have a family, Billy decides, Mom, I just… I don’t feel like it. I don’t wanna go today. Well, mom’s payment isn’t already in your bank, so she’s like, You know what, I’m done with your crap. So anyway, bottom line is, now mom has the power, that young man might have just had a rough day and been fine once he got there, and if mom’s money was already collected because of your cancellation policy or whatever, and it was already automated in, they’re gonna finish out the month, and who knows what will happen. They came there to get something amazing to happen, and one simple life circumstances of laziness, reluctance and regret, and it’s over. So anyways, I know that’s out of very dramatic, but really, that’s human nature, sometimes an automation prevents that as well, so everyone is proactive, it’s not reactive, everything is… And guess what, Chris? I know you agree with me, ’cause you bring this up a lot…

0:05:56.2 Chris Bates: People are used to it. Yeah, you have… I’m trying to think if we have any… We do one of those, we support a child overseas kind of things… I know we do checks for that, everything else.

0:06:15.7 Tyler Marolf: Everyone is used to it now, so lesson businesses, whether you’re doing a group yoga classes, karate jujitsu or whatever, automation is key, because people… Human nature is flighty and it takes work and change to give

0:06:32.1 Chris Bates: So listen, if you’re in the lesson business, stop invoicing, the only time that invoicing should be a thing is if you are in the type of Enterprise Services where you’re doing… You’re invoicing 25 grand, if you’re invoicing a massive amount from a large organization, then you need time for their accounting department to cut the check. Right, we get… Invoicing is powerful for that type of model, for those of us that are doing this, like 30 bucks a class or whatever you’re doing, come on, automation is the way it’s easier on your customers and you’re not reminding them every month where they should quit, so that’s number

0:07:19.1 Tyler Marolf: One, guys, I think that was a good kick off, Chris. So number two, What’s number two

2) I wish I knew how hard it was to keep track and reconcile lessons

0:07:24.2 Chris Bates: Two… I wish I knew how hard it was to keep track and reconcile lessons… The dreaded make-ups. 

0:07:37.0 Tyler Marolf: You could think your customers like them because they’re running after you, asking for them all the time, you need to reflect on that thought again, they hate them, all they are is an instance of remembering that something happened… That they didn’t get what they were supposed to get. Those expectations in a lot of businesses, that’s just the way the businesses are designed, and everybody’s supposed to expect that, and you know what? It’s redundant.That’s all. Everyone’s busy. The customer is super busy, if you’re a school that’s the in that’s the challenge of juggling your rosters.  Where are you gonna put them?

0:08:19.5 Chris Bates: It’s a scheduling pretzel, and so a lot of you have actually done different things for this, right, so some of you actually give money back rather than give them a makeup, which… That’s one way to do it. Some of you have a really great group offerings as a way to give them the class or lesson that they paid for, what we often suggest is being a little bit more bold and saying that, Hey, you’re paying for that moment and we’re gonna give you… Instead we’ll give you a digital lesson that you can access after the moment, right, either way, regardless of how you do it, whether you’re accrediting them in a package type situation, or you’re giving them an automated learning solution, you need a system. And by not having a system, we were pulling our hair out, and…

0:09:07.8 Tyler Marolf: So I… Now, if you’re listening and you’ve got a very group-orientated business such as Brazilian jiu-jitsu with four or five different levels, little kids and all that, even you guys do one-on-one or one-on two or one on three private lessons, sometimes I know you do that’s how you can make a little extra bread and butter, and those are your kind of extraordinary students that are like, they’re hungry, they wanna learn this thing more, and they’re getting their butts kicked, and when they’re rolling in you genii or something. Those are the ones too, you guys deal with this as well, people are like, Hey, I’m not feeling too great, and you block the time, you gave them that hour of your time, and then you’re supposed to give them one more hour of your time later because, Hey, it didn’t work for them. And so I don’t believe there’s value in that, in fact, they should be paying me because they missed… I don’t want people to take that too serious, but it is true. Those two hours for the price of one. That’s not fair to your mentor.

0:10:23.6 Chris Bates: Right, and it’s not fair to you… Basically, if you think about how over-scheduled everyone is, like you said initially, no one’s happy about it.

0:10:34.3 Tyler Marolf: So if you are gonna do it, make it easy.

0:10:38.1 Chris Bates: Have systems in place. We’ve built a system where we actually have it where customers can literally just handle their own make-ups and reschedule them into open times that you dictate, make it simple, keep track of it, have systems for it. So however you do it, just know that we understand that’s a large pain point for a lot of you, and if we were all gonna start over, we would either not do it, which we’re not seeing you have to… There’s other ways to add value. More B, have an automated system for it, so it’s not this pretzel-ing or that you have to face, did tell her, you know the Tasmanian Devil, This will date me, but the cartoon… Don’t remember that.

0:11:16.6 Tyler Marolf: No, that’s not good to… No, come on, that Tasman sounds like this. Now, Noah’s make-ups, by the way, guys, reconciling the word reconcile in this topic, keep track and reconcile make-up lessons. Let’s back up, let’s not talk about the philosophy of make-ups for a second, just having a way to know what your parents are thinking if you are not tracking it in a very easy and simple way, even if you are gonna give them back… You’re not gonna sleep at night if it’s gonna feel like you’re zippers down or something’s undone, and if it’s sticky notes or a chalk board or whatever that you’re trying to keep these… All these like, Okay, we have a teacher at our lesson business that’s leaving for three weeks to build something for this film job in Germany, like it’s insane opportunity. He’s our busiest teacher. It’s like you guys out there having 50 students, 50 students times three weeks, that all of a sudden we need something that doesn’t make us cry and go to the pillow because that’s just that one teacher leaving is an instance that that’s gonna make us… Our business admin, either not like her job and leave or something, If enough stuff piles up, you guys, your operations team, not just you, because if you read our “Chaos to Culture”, you shouldn’t be doing that stuff anyways, but let’s say your person is…We’ve seen it before, people don’t wanna disappoint you, but your system suck and they leave.

0:13:07.2 Chris Bates: So that’s great to segue into the next one, but to finish this off, I love that example that you just gave, so what we’re going to do as an example with that particular instructor as we bank the lessons in our system, and then the students just log into the apps and can reschedule and to our dictated open times, it super simple. Just bottom line is, if we were gonna all revisit this, we would simplify it and we would have a system, so I make sure to make sure you do that with it.

0:13:36.9 Tyler Marolf: Chris, thank you for bringing that down a notch, ’cause I got excited there for a second and let me

3) I wish I had known how critical keeping and tracking attendance really was back then

0:13:49.0 Tyler Marolf: Number three, What super retailer number three, we might have to make this episode a two-parter, which is not a big deal, we’ve got a little bit of time left, so if we do cut off before the final three things we can always make the next episode part two, but I’m having fun with this one, number three, I wish I had known how critical keeping and tracking attendance really was back then.

0:14:32.2 Chris Bates: Yeah, you know, it’s funny, a lot of folks that we talk to around the world, I would say nowadays, it’s gotten more common, didn’t used to be… I’d say nowadays, with all of those that we talk to you day in India, probably about… I think it’s about half probably taller that are really good about that, and I can tell you guys that it’s one of the most irresponsible things you can possibly do as a lesson business owner, if you’re teaching something and you’re not verifying whether or not you’ve got butts in the seat or eyeballs on the lesson or however you wanna define it, if you’re not somehow dictating whether or not that class was taught… You’re responsible. 

0:15:21.2 Tyler Marolf: You’re a technician and owner that this is going to apply to you eventually, do you wanna grow… Well, at some point, you may be the one, well, hey, that doesn’t apply to me, I’m teaching the class, I know what it’s happening. In five years, you might not be teaching the class, you might be over yoga at that point, I know it’s a lifetime thing, but maybe you wanna just take a class or go to a different studio and have your people… This is the big picture. So for you to Mersey right now, this is the perfect time to build a system around it, because it is just you, it’s test time, you could do it.

0:16:02.9 Chris Bates: And a lot of you are… You don’t wanna bother the teacher, so let me just explain how easy it is to actually track attendance.  There’s systems like ours where the students can actually just check themselves in when they arrive, and then the teachers can simply look and say, Okay, there’s only… some names here, Johnston didn’t check in or you hear. So you can to take a role on that and also have the students help with checking themselves and in the apps. Also, we’ve found, Tyler, tell them what we found with regard to teachers cancellation versus their students cancellation. 

0:16:40.9 Tyler Marolf: Inside TeacherZone.com, there is a reporting, a whole bunch of fun reports to drill down with, but when you go into the retention report or the attendance report and search it by either a whole roster or… Let’s figure out what’s going on. Why is this parent upset that this gal is not performing in the same amount of productions as her friend who started at the same time, why is it so… Okay, cool, you know what?

Let’s find out, we pull it up, it says exactly in teachers own how many lessons she’s missed, but here’s what Chris is talking about, so in that case, you can say, Hey, she’s only made 47% of her lessons, maybe we can help you guys find a better private lesson time, so that she can get more out of our program, so that’s a great tool. That’s an obvious tool. It will even tell you when she’s under 70% attendance and give you a red flag, like it does all these wonderful things, but here’s the thing we’ve noticed, a teacher that has a lot of teacher cancels, their student almost has a mirror amount of student cancels because they’re actually behaving like each other because that student is looking up to them, so this isn’t just a student retention report, this is a teacher’s behavior report as well in regards to how often…

0:18:02.8 Tyler Marolf: Cause guys, bottom line, all you are remembering is that so and so missed… remember so and so is worked for you for two years, well, wouldn’t it be great to look at the whole two years or one year, you will see exactly. It doesn’t lie, the metrics are there, and that tool, it’s not a micro-managing tool, it’s… My business needs to be healthy tool… That’s all it is, it’s a coaching tool to edit up and go in and hit Chris on the head withthat… That’s not what you do, that’s not what this is for. We still want people to enjoy teaching their arts and all that, this is so that the big mission can still be clear and life-changing, that’s what this is about

0:18:46.4 Chris Bates: When your instructors to your point Tyler, care…what we found is as soon as we brought it to their attention… So we saw with our own instructors, we only had about three of the 13 instructors that were basically training their students this way, now we have seen this same thing repeat itself literally across the globe, and every learning business, it’s crazy how much the student and teacher cancellation numbers match, like Tyler said, your instructors are actually mentoring your students on how to behave, and so their actions actually embed in the student’s own behavior. Yeah, once we brought it to the attention of our personal instructors, they changed…

0:19:28.6 Tyler Marolf: Well, we brought it out, it was a memo in base camp, I think, or something like that, where we just kind of very all encompassing, Hey, this is what we found. Isn’t that weird? And we didn’t name any names, and then we didn’t even check for another quarter, so I can say safely within 90 days, we did the report again and it was gone, it was like… We were like at 85% plus.

0:19:55.2 Chris Bates: A couple of other really cool benefits of tracking attendance, number one, I can go pull up, for instance, my own kids, ’cause we’ve been tracking attendance at our organization for some years, I can actually pull up one of my oldest is getting ready to graduate, and Tyler and I… It’s gonna be so fun Tyler to pull that report and see how many lessons and hours he’s had at our program as a parent, to be able to give that summary of like, Wow, that’s a lot of learning, that’s a lot of moments. That is so cool. And so what’s so neat about having that data… As you could do things with the data.

The other thing is our daily view, a lot of our customers will actually watch attendance throughout the day as it’s coming in for classes and things, and it really lets them know, number one, for security purpose as well, who’s in the building, and then lastly, we have sort of our no-show Amber Alert, if you will, that you can turn on and the… Tell about that one, we’ll move to item number four. So when you have an organization where you have souls coming in, and some of them are young people, not everybody that’s listening right now has young people, some are all adults.

0:21:13.8 Tyler Marolf: So this more applies for that, if in fact there is a no show and that young person didn’t show up at all or an adult, ’cause you don’t take attendance the same way, but the point being is we have a job, especially when there’s young people in the room, if we’re not on paper mandate reporters looking out for these people. Like our organization’s, an accredited supplemental learning school for what we do. So there’s things that go along. Every teacher automatically becomes and is trained that if they see something, they may have to report something, well, a lot of lesson businesses don’t even wanna go there or think about that, they’ll send an email out and the lesson coordinator will say, Hey, we missed you today, and that’s about it. And then who knows what really happened? Well, that’s not great for retention, people are disappearing on you, that’s not good. So what we’ve done at teacherszone, if you hit no show, it is an Amber alert, it fires off right away and texts and emails the parents and the administrators instantly as soon as the teacher hits no show.

0:22:21.6 Chris Bates: So if Johnny got a new car and a new girlfriend and went to the beach instead of his guitar lesson, everyone knows right away. And you are covered. And so as a child, if you think about it, what if something bad is about to happen.

0:22:35.4 Tyler Marolf: You’ve now instantly almost automatically alerted everybody and you’re good, and if you wanna make sure it went out, go into the communication log and teachers home everything that ever gets sent out via email or SMS ever, is in the communication log and you can go see, Nope, nope, I went there. Yep, this practice is assigned… Yep, and there’s the no show alert. It’s all there. So from a legal perspective, I am not an attorney, I

0:23:03.7 Chris Bates: From a legal perspective. You are not negligent. And that to me is very important to run a tight ship, that people can have huge trust points with what’s happening, building a great culture is all about optics, and I’ll tell you so many of our family, especially on Saturdays when we have large group classes, I can’t tell you how many parents… Because it’s each roll marks and I know show… ’cause they didn’t let us know. And I can’t tell you how many parents immediately reach back look like, oh, and they immediately reach back, and so it’s sort of a culture building tool as well, and let them know you care and you’re just like… And I think we customized our to be like, Hey, is everything okay?

0:23:48.2 Tyler Marolf: Are you alright? So like, No, don’t know, everything’s fine. It’s really funny when people are using it as a tool to find their virtual students, so our software allows kids to hit a little green camera and appear in the teacher’s meeting room with a touch of a button, and they don’t have to get a mom’s email find link or anything. So this pandemic stuff has caused families to be at home and they’ll go do things, a lot of families took liberties and like, Well, school’s done. It’s noon. Where do you want? Let’s go… You know, they go to go to the park… Well, that’s when these lessons were starting to be missed… Oh, we totally forgot. It was today. Well, the teacher is like two minutes in, they were just hitting no show instead of the chat, and it was sending that your child no show text alert. We would in a couple of minutes, guess what? No, reschedulingt. It was their fault. They don’t have to try to have the, you know what to ask you for a re-schedule even though it was their fault, like Come on, this is those friction points we’re trying to get rid of for you guys.

0:24:54.8 Tyler Marolf: So that’s just another way to look at it as well, Chris. Yeah.

0:24:58.0 Chris Bates: The bottom line on this item is tracking attendance is paramount, if you’re not, then don’t let it go pass this podcast episode, start tomorrow. So, Tyler, I think I agree with you. I think the next four are media enough that we should go ahead and say To be continued to the next episode… Hold on.

0:25:20.7 Tyler Marolf: We need to vote on

0:25:21.3 Chris Bates: You know, my concern is the next one is gonna be pretty meaty.  Interesting to a lot of folks, so I think… We save that for the next episode. We’ll start with it. Well, now I can’t say, I don’t think that because you just said that, and

0:25:56.9 Tyler Marolf: Then it was not really like, there’s conflict. Well, ahead. And tune in to the next episode. And we’ll just start there. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t even tell you, you’ll have to find out, maybe we’re gonna skip something completely irrelevant like Minecraft or someone… For those of you that already done with the white paper, you already know what we’re talking about, but if you’re getting this podcast for some weird reason in your inbox from a friend or whatever, please go to teacher one dot com, chaos and get our free e-book and it’s the five stages of growth, how you grow through them, from chaos to culture, so go grab that if you don’t know what’s going on and you’ll get in tune with us really quick, so Chris, I guess we will… So let’s go for next week and we’ll see what cartoon characters arrive and all sorts of stuff, and we will finish our seven things I wish I knew before we started our lesson business, so everybody out there and teachers own land. Thank you for tuning in, Chris, thanks for being here. And we will see you in the next episode.

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7 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Started Our Lessons Business

Our pain can be your gain! Here are 7 things we wish we could go back and do differently in running our business.