In my first few years of teaching, I was plagued with an array of spreadsheets, paper records, and repeated trips to the bank.
I also spent far too much time on email and other forms of communication--usually just repeating myself again and again!
As Angela and I have adopted more efficient technology systems one at time, there has been a liberating trend in our day-to-day work. So much of the tedious stuff is running in the background now. Instead, we have more time to do the things we love!
Here are five ways new technology and automation can help you move from “task-oriented” work to passion-filled activities:
Studio Management Software
Electronic Payment Methods
Automated Bill Pay
1. Virtual Assistants and Smart Home Technology (Alexa and Google)
Virtual assistants are quickly gaining popularity as artificial intelligence and integrated technology become more and more accessible. Alexa and Google Home are two such assistants that can complete tasks via voice command.
This past summer I decided to purchase an Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa). I have to admit that the device was doing little more than collect dust for the first few months in my home, so I decided to learn more about its capabilities and try it out in my music studio instead. I have also read quite a bit about Google Home and several of my family members use that instead and really love it!
Both Alexa and Google Home have the capability to add events to your google or apple calendar, call contacts hands free, play music, answer general knowledge questions or define terms (although Alexa still struggles with Italian music terms a bit), and even purchase items (although you may want to turn off this feature when using it in a public space). Oh...and, one other cool feature is that you can control lights and other devices using wifi plugs such as those sold by Wemo.
I now have all of my lights, office equipment, stereo system, and other electronics setup to power on and off via voice command. All I have to say when I enter the studio in the morning is “POWER ON” and everything magically snaps to life.
Keep in mind that privacy may be an issue for some students during lessons. Fortunately, you can always mute Alexa or pull the plug completely if that’s a concern.
You may also wish to disable “drop-in,” which works like an intercom system between contacts. You won’t want any friends or family interrupting during lessons.
Whether I’m adding a new appointment to the calendar or calling up a recording for a student during a lesson, my digital assistant is proving to be a really valuable tool in my music studio.
2. Studio Management Software
Studio management software is possibly the single most important piece of technology that I currently use. In the old days, I tracked everything manually through either hand written records or spreadsheets.
With sixty students enrolled at the time, this was nothing short of a crazy-making situation. I needed some help!
After trying several different studio management systems, I finally settled on MyMusicStaff, which is only $12.95/mo for one teacher, unlimited students, and unlimited storage.
When I say it does everything except wash the dishes, I’m being pretty honest. The capabilities are robust and include:
Attendance and make-up lesson tracking
A studio calendar that also syncs with my google and apple calendar
Auto Invoicing that is integrated with PayPal so that students can pay online.
Lending library tracking
Free studio website
Enrollment form that puts student information directly into your student database (no more data entry!)
Email and text reminders (automate reminders so students won’t forget lessons and events)
A portal that students and parents can login to in order to see important lesson and payment information
Ability to save email templates so you no longer have to type the same thing over and over again
And...really...so much more…
MyMusicStaff can be automated in so many ways. With this system in place, I spend no more than ten minutes a day on the book-keeping aspects of my business.
3. Electronic Payment Methods
If you are tired of collecting checks and cash and would like a quicker way to handle music tuition payments so you can get back to teaching, look no further than electronic payments. A business of any size can now collect payments via credit card, online payments, auto debit, or NFC (near field communication) payments without expensive equipment or complicated steps.
Other than a small transaction fee of 2-3% per transaction, these options are completely free. I work this transaction fee into the cost of tuition so that it does not affect my bottom line.
Here are the applications I use to accept these four kinds of payments:
Auto Debit:Automatically charges credit cards each month. This is feature provided by MyMusicStaff.
NFC No-Contact Payments:Accept apple or google pay through Square Chip Reader
4. Automated Bill Pay and Banking
Now that you know how to collect payments efficiently, it's also a good idea to take this one step further and make sure you are paying your own bills with ease.
For my commercial space rent check, I set up bill pay with my bank so that each month a check is automatically mailed to my landlord.
Almost all utilities now offer the ability to enroll in auto pay. This has cut down on a lot of time and mental energy taking care of all of this paperwork each month. And, without all of that outgoing mail, I haven’t had to buy stamps in months!
5. Quickbooks Self Employed
Similar to my studio records, my tax records were a collection of spreadsheets (one for mileage, expenses, and payments) and basically a file folder full of receipts and paper documents.
When it finally came time to actually submit my tax documents to my accountant, it would take hours to comb through everything and make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
Quickbooks Self-Employed is perfect for small businesses that don’t want to purchase the full software for desktop but need some assistance organizing receipts, tracking mileage, and categorizing expenses.
The subscription service is $10/mo but you usually can get a discount for a new subscription. For me, it was totally worth my time.
Some of the handy features include:
Auto mileage tracking: When you start driving, the Quickbooks app uses your smartphone’s GPS to automatically begins tracking your mileage. Later you can categorize the trips as personal or business travel.
Connect to Bank Accounts: QB automatically pulls all transactions from your bank accounts so all you have to do is categorize them. You’ll never miss an expense again.
Save Receipts: You can take pictures of your receipts using your smartphone’s camera and the details of the receipt will automatically be detected and matched to the bank transaction.
You can also email receipts to firstname.lastname@example.org these will automatically be matched to your account. This is great for saving receipts from online orders.
Notes for Your Technology Tune-up
It's worth mentioning that all of the above technology can be used on your smartphone or tablet. You don’t need an expensive computer with a lot of power. Chances are, you already have the devices needed to implement any of these strategies.
We want to assure you that we did not adopt all of these technologies overnight. It took us several years of gradually researching and switching over to new platforms. Small changes can make a huge difference over time.
Hopefully this overview will help you use these time-saving tricks a little bit sooner than we did. Enjoy carving out your own studio efficiency hacks!