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Surviving COVID-19 ...and maybe thriving

Here is the content of a recent email to our YourVirtuoso customers covering my recommendations for dealing with your current business challenges based on my experiences helping your fellow music studio owners with YourVirtuoso questions, and being on the management team that transformed the studio my wife founded 30 years ago into an online music school - all in a matter of days. Please comment and keep the discussion going so we can all continue to learn from each other...

Payment Processing:

  • You may think cash flow is your #1 problem, but don't be tempted to collect payments for classes you are not 100% sure you will be able to deliver. Disputes, refunds and credit card chargebacks are expensive and time consuming. Try to avoid them especially now, when your cash and time are at a premium.
  • If you use a monthly payment schedule, your April payments are coming up to be auto processed very soon. You can turn auto pay off completely in one simple step under the MyInfo/ Preferences menu. That will give you time to think about the best approach. If you decide to make changes to upcoming payments, remember that they are already set up in the accounts of enrolled families, so you will need to make those changes in each family account before turning auto pay back on.
  • If you have a new session or semester staring soon, consider revising your pricing plan to defer deposits and tuition payments until classes start. By that time it will be clear that things are proceeding as planned, and you will not end up managing a whole slew of refunds and credits.

Online Classes

  • For private lessons your teachers can teach from home, and the technology that seems to work best is FaceTime for iOS and WhatsApp for iOS or Android etc. but it needs to be installed by your customer first. Have the teachers able to do both and let the family pick.
  • For classes, we have adopted Zoom (http://zoom.us) as have many of you. It is a solid platform and avoids some of the privacy and copyright questions that come up with Facebook Live for example.
  • The free version is good, but in my opinion the small monthly fee for a basic subscription is a good investment and we should support these folks who seem to be saving the world from isolation right now!
  • Zoom eats battery capacity, so plug that iPhone/iPad or laptop in. You don't want that embarrassing moment when your class is in full swing.
  • Online seems to take a different set of skills to in-person teaching. Some teachers adapt better than others. Do some trial runs and training - on the fly if needed.
  • Think about a second person helping run the online class. Ideally in the same room if your social distancing regime allows, but logged in to the same meeting can work. They can welcome families in chat, and answer questions and can provide the teacher with a note or message with the children's names in case they don't notice who is online (especially if you allow big classes online)
  • Do a sound check to get the placement of your music source and broadcast device right. You can have zoom share a music source directly, but we have found it best to just place a nice quality speaker nearby and adjust volume to match the teacher's voice volume.
  • Allow some time at the start and/or end of class for families to chat with you (un-muted) but run the class with all muted. Be aware that they can unmute themselves, so your assistant can be given the muting responsibility if you wish.
  • Let families know they will be muted, but that your assistant can answer chat questions. Tell them about speaker mode and gallery mode to see you, or their class mates as they wish.
  • Record only for your internal use. Recording for your families to view later is fraught with issues:
    • COPPA child privacy is a rightfully tough law. If your recording includes any moment where a family unmutes and is visible on recording you could be in trouble
    • Your class is normally interactive. A recording may not present you in the right way, and could be shared with families who are not enrolled.
    • You will very quickly use up the basic 1GB of online storage Zoom provides (a class will probably be 200MB to 300MB and then you will be paying a much higher subscription fee.

Privacy and protecting your enrollments

  • To begin with, you may just want to trust your customers not to share the class access codes etc. with their friends. Given that it does not cost you more for a 20 person Zoom than for a 10 person Zoom, it has no immediate financial impact and could even get you new families down the road.
  • Eventually, however, you will need to have a little more control so that those new prospects actually sign up. Here are some options using YourVirtuoso:
    • Send a mailing to enrolled families with their meeting id and password if you use them.
    • Send a class email from the roster page with access details as above
    • Create a custom page (manage my pages option in website editor) but do not opt to link it to your navigation. That way it is not easily found except by the families you send the link to. You can put access information and/or links to content intended for your family on this page.
  • NEW Feature available 3/30/20: You can add a special html check at the top of a custom page to allow only enrolled families to view it. First set up your page using "manage my pages" and then the website editor. Then, in the website editor click on "add content" pick Text and click just above the breadcrumb block at the top to place a new text block there. Click done addig at the bottom and then click the new text block to edit it. In the editor go to html mode (the <> tool), delete waht is there and paste in this code: 
    <container shouldDisplay="$(inStaging)">
    <p style="color: red; font-weight: bolder;">This text area contains code to restrict access to enrolled families. This note is invisible on the published site</p>
    <section name=permitTypes> <directive ssl permit="askUser:enrolled" redirect=/myaccount/Login.html></section>
    Ok that change and save draft, Publish as usual. On your public site you will be able to see that page (you did copy the link right?) as will any enrolled family. But if you logout of YourVirtuoso, you will not, and will be prompted to login.

The BIG financial question: Can my Business Survive?

  • I say YES! Even if you have fixed overhead such as rent to pay.
  • One approach (one size does not fit all, of course) that has worked so far is to move existing customers to the online classes and maintain the same pricing and payment plan. You will get some withdrawals of course, but you can probably live with that as long as it is within reason. But you need to be proactive about stemming that tide. Here are a few ideas I have seen to do that:
    • Add more value:
      • Unlimited classes. Families join any class while they are stuck at home on lockdown
      • Extra fun online activities, shared on Facebook perhaps by your teachers.
      • Promise special events and celebrations after Covid-19 is behind us
      • Extra makeups after Covid
    • The empathy appeal. This has to be done carefully, but families should know that if they stick with you, you will be able to continue offering them the classes they want. Remind them your teachers depend on you, and thus on them for their livelihood.
    • Paying it Forward - If a family does not want online classes, maybe they would like to stay enrolled and let a family who are in financial difficulty use their spot?
  • Take out a loan? In the current economic situation, that is difficult to do from so many perspectives. However...
  • The CARE Act to the rescue? Yesterday the government made $2.2T available to help the country survive - and that includes you - probably...
    • Your teachers can get unemployment benefits now, even if they are independent contractors, but before you let them go, consider the forgivable loans you may be eligible for IF you keep them on payroll
    • I will update you as I go through the process of evaluating and applying for one of the new "forgivable" Small Business Administration loans. At first blush, it could save your business and your teachers:
      • Up to 2.5 times your average monthly payroll amount as a loan
      • For small business (<500 emp) and also applicable for Sole Proprietors (though FYI, if you have employees you should really incorporate)
      • Most of the loan can be forgivable, meaning it becomes a grant that you do not pay back. This applies to the funds you use for payroll, rent and utilities for the first 8 weeks after approval.
    • Sounds too good to be true? Maybe, so I intend to update this blog including my experience applying for one of these loans.

Remember to stay positive. This will all pass in a few weeks or months and you CAN make it work and end up with new service offerings for your customers. 

Now, be good to yourself and take a break


P.S. If you are not familiar with YourVirtuoso studio management services a click here will do it

Topics: Payments, Studio Management

Gerry Cobley

Written by Gerry Cobley

Music School Management Guru!