Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rules of Engagement

Say you do something well -- sing, play piano, clean houses, babysit, rebuild old cars. You like what you do, and you want to help others do it as well. Or, someone asks to give lessons or take on a job for them. What fun, right?

Well, not always. The sad fact of life is that not everyone values your time and talent as much as you do, and very few people value it more. It may seem proud or too complicated to set ground rules for providing your services, especially if you're just helping out a friend. Anyone who has ever known the friction of a quasi-business relationship gone wrong, however, can appreciate how laying down a few basic rules right at the start can ward off much later stress.

I've taught violin lessons on a fairly informal basis for the past three years. As I try to wriggle free of my last student, here are my reflections on what rules I set at the beginning, what rules I implemented during that time, and what rules I wish I'd made. This set of notes refers largely to a service provided in your own home (as, in my case, music lessons), but I think that most of the points are adaptable to other circumstances.
  • If you don't charge a fee at the start, think about what kinds of situations might cause you to start charging, and note those up front.
  • If you want to be paid for your work, don't be coy about it -- set a clear rate for your services. Indicate what circumstances would cause you to raise your rate -- overtime, lateness, an increase in your own proficiency.
  • Keep records noting when you are paid and what period the payment covers.
  • Others will treat your time as valuable if you do. Have a clear start and finish time, with an acceptable window for lateness.
  • Be circumspect about moving or rescheduling a lesson -- every now and then is fine, but if you're too accomodating with your schedule in the beginning, it will come back to haunt you later.
  • It should be common courtesy on the part of your student to notify you if he has to cancel the lesson. If you insist on nothing else, insist on this.
  • Machievelli says it best: it is better to be feared than loved. It's far easier to be strict at first and then lighten up later than to be accomodating and flexible at first and try to impose discipline after your reputation as a softie has been set. (This has been my particular downfall.)
  • Stipulate at the beginning what events might cause you to terminate the service. For instance: consistent lateness, repeated absences, a student's neglect of practice, inappropriate behavior.
If anyone else has any good advice, feel free to share it.


Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

GREAT tips. Where were these five years ago when I was getting myself into frustrating consulting projects?

I think the only things I would add are:

- Get it in writing, even informally like via casual emails. That way it rules out any "he said/she said" type situations.

- (This is my big one:) Keep any tendencies to be eager to please in check when first discussing the deal. I tend to envision the best case scenario when committing to projects and want to help people so much that I make commitments that end up really wearing me out.

...And, delayed TEACH VIOLIN? Is there anything you don't do? I expect to find out next that you also occasionally spend time painting portraits of dignitaries and creating Faberge eggs.

mrsdarwin said...

Actually, most of these are things I wish I knew when, which is why I'm trying to get out of teaching now.

Is there anything you don't do?
Well, I don't sling crack rock or have a killer jump shot.