Money Hygiene

My friend told me this story. Her daughter’s guitar teacher just sent her – on February 14 – his invoice for October and November lessons. My friend had followed up back in November – mentioning she knew she owed him money, and nudging him to send an invoice over – but a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, and she’d forgotten, and JUST NOW he got around to asking for the money that he had already earned by teaching weekly lessons for months. 

This is really a lose-lose situation, right? He hadn’t BEEN paid for months due to not invoicing, and my friend was not expecting a large surprise bill in February.  She is happy to pay the man for his services but this wasn’t the best way to do it, for either of them. 

And clearly we can all see the error here – but I suspect we’ve also all been, metaphorically, this guitar teacher. The money part of what we do as musicians feels really uncomfortable, and an admin task like invoicing is not that fun, and we get busy, and resistance takes over. And once the money part is late, it gets more and more uncomfortable to ask for it, right? Even – especially – if it’s our fault it’s late.

We’d rather not mention it, we’d rather pretend that we are doing the thing for the pleasure of it. After all, the DOING part IS a pleasure! We don’t want people to think that we are in this “for the money.” Somehow that seems to cheapen the nobility of our work.

I have definitely been that person, that awkward money asker. It shows up for me when I awkwardly fumble around at the end of a discovery call, it shows up when I say, Oh, I’ll send you an invoice instead of HERE is the link to pay, make sure you take care of that before our call. 

It definitely shows up in my live events, like my summer Oboe Reed Boot Camp. I have a little merch table with tools that my participants might need and accessories that they might want. I have a price list, I have a card reader.  This is my actual business! But at that event I’m also the teacher and leader, roaming around the room and helping them with their reed issues. It feels incredibly awkward for me to change roles and become the shopkeeper who is taking their credit card and naming the total including sales tax. So I avoid it, and I say things like, “just grab what you need and we can settle up at the end” – and this is fine, and it works out, but it’s not very professional.

But here’s the thing! I’ve also been on the other side of this. I’ve been the person who is loving an experience, who is eyeing a piece of art, who is eager to PAY for a service and happy to pay a small business owner. We all know that experiences have value, that if you want things you need to pay for things, that people work for money and that if they are giving you their attention as a teacher or a coach you have to pay for that privilege. I’m happy to pay for things that bring me joy or help to improve my situation or help me grow and learn. I’m happy to pay for experiences for my child. I’m happy to pay for a great meal in a restaurant. 

I can be frugal. I did some arguing with the guy who installed our water heater recently, and stayed in the conversation until I was persuaded that the price was the right price. 

But I didn’t expect the water heater and installation to happen for free. People work for money, things cost money, no one WANTS to spend the day in my basement messing around with my pipes, and I WANTED actual hot water on demand in my home. 

Think about this from your perspective as a consumer. I assume that you paid for your last haircut or dentist visit or grocery trip, and that it would have been WEIRD if the cashier shuffled around awkwardly and tried to not charge you. Or added a discount for no reason. 

Think about your students, or your customers, or your clients. Where are you shying away from the money part? Are you letting them pay late? Have you not raised your teaching prices in two years? Or five? Are you loaning them materials that they really should be buying? 

From their perspective, what should a normal and expected transaction look like? People might pay in advance, through a link on your website. People might pay in person at the first lesson of the month. People might respond to an invoice sent (promptly) after service. People might pay half in advance for your wedding quartet’s performance and the remainder at the venue. Any version of this is fine, if it’s explained clearly and works for you and for your client. Just because you are a serious clarinet artist doesn’t mean you aren’t also running a business – the business of you – and businesses get paid or they aren’t businesses. 

Remember, people expect to pay for service and for work. It would be weird to be weird about it.

Allow me to challenge you to do SOMETHING this week with your money situation. If you have outstanding invoices, follow up on them. Consider what your prices SHOULD look like as you move into the next semester or season.  If you are meeting with a potential new student, try quoting them a higher rate.  And explain exactly how payment works.

You might be surprised at how easy it is to have good money hygiene!

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