See StudioAutopilot online registration in action on their website at www.coloradospringsmusicschool.com.
I ran my school off of Google Calendars and Sheets, Square and Zoom for a good 4 years. As a small school it worked fairly well, but every registration, withdrawal or adjustment had a 30 item checklist attached to it to make sure we got all the information where it needed to go, which was tedious and constantly compromised our information accuracy. I also still had teachers who struggled to access their Google Calendars. The more students we got, the more time it took to get through our checklists each day. The paper alone was overwhelming. I was also starting to get a lot of complaints about how even the quality of zoom lessons was going downhill.
When I showed my admin staff what Studio Auto Pilot could do, she was absolutely elated by the possibilities. In my exhaustion, I finally committed. Not only did it completely streamline our calendars, databases, email announcements and information accuracy; the video lesson quality and ease of use is incredibly beyond what even our paid zoom rooms had to offer. Our credit card fees are ALSO now much cheaper than what we were paying with Square. PLUS, students are able to communicate with their teachers directly without swapping personal information. The parents are VERY happy with this. It keeps them informed and gives them the ability to ask questions throughout the week. As another bonus, it keeps them in their portal where they can cancel a lesson themselves and schedule makeup lessons themselves.
Most of all, as Studio Auto Pilot promised, we have some people signing up for lessons straight from our website without even calling us!!
I did have to change a few ways that I do things, but no staff or families complained or got confused like I thought they would. If any one did get worried about moving to Actual Billing or filling out their registration again, I would just remind them that they now get private make-ups and can communicate with their teacher...that sold them. There have also been many adjustments made to Studio Auto Pilot that still gives the admin power in special or stubborn circumstances.
This was the transition we had been needing!! As an owner, I have cut my long hours in half. I don't have to deal with billing as much, I don't have to help my admin with these long checklists anymore and I don't have to constantly go back through the systems we had and make sure everything was accurate. I can now focus more on budgeting, future plans, training staff, and of course marketing!
It's so nice to have signed up for Studio Auto Pilot at a time where the system has already been growing and functioning well for a few years, but it's still new enough that the developer's full attention is on it. He is very attentive with any questions or concerns that may arise and he handles each situation with the utmost professionalism and speed.
We are SO thankful for Studio Auto Pilot!
Colorado Springs Music School
See StudioAutopilot online registration in action on their website at www.metermusicschool.com.
We changed over to SAP in the fall of 2021. For several years we 'made it work' with a scheduling and billing software that was not built for music schools. The biggest challenge we were facing was a slow and cumbersome process for onboarding new students. When students and families have made the decision to seek out music lessons, we find that they are eager to get started right away. A typical registration would normally take a couple of days of back and forth via email to discuss schedules. We would then have to wait for a student to set up their account in our system. Getting on the phone with a client could speed up the process a bit, but most would want to work everything out over email. As a parent myself, I like being able to sign my kids up for activities at 10pm at night after a busy day. My wish for our music school was that people could register with us from home at any time of day - have a look at our openings, read about our teachers, find a spot that works well for them, and confirm their weekly spot. Now over 90% of our registrations are online. Our team has more time and space to focus on other tasks, and plenty of time to have conversations with potential students who still want to chat with us before picking their spot.
Our previous software required us to set up tuition billing with a flat monthly amount in order to have students on a regular weekly schedule. This resulted in questions from clients throughout the year - "We had fewer lessons this month. Why is the payment the same?" And it was especially problematic around the holidays when we would close for 2+ weeks and clients would pay the same tuition for a much shorter month. Now our students can see their scheduled payments for the year when they sign up, and we are not fielding any questions about why the monthly payment matches their lesson schedule.
Many of our students now attend 100% online lessons with their video room in SAP, and others like to pivot to online occasionally if they can't travel to the studio. Teachers and students are also trading practice notes in the system, so that teachers don't have requests from students coming into their personal email accounts.
After years of being bogged down at our front desk working to accommodate rescheduling requests, our students can now cancel three times each year and go into their account to book their own makeups. Our schedule is more efficient now too, because students can self-book make-up lessons into the cancelled lesson time of another student, without the front desk being involved. This gives our students the flexibility they want for occasional travel or illness, and lets them manage these schedule changes on their own.
Meter Music School
See StudioAutopilot online registration in action on their website at allegromusicparker.com.
We started Studio Auto Pilot about 2 months ago and absolutely love it. I loved the concept right from the very beginning. The idea that parents and students can manage their own schedule is awesome. People can do this with so many other things, why not music lessons?
A great idea is one thing, but Sam has created an app/website that totally follows through on the concept. It’s very intuitive and easy to use. We were using My Music Staff previously, which is an OK program. It does a lot of stuff, but that was the problem. It did way to much! There were about 5-6 ways you could mess up a registration. Misspelling of names, incorrect emails, and if you didn’t check the correct boxes for the invoices, we wouldn’t get paid. This mistake take time to fix and cost us money. When people sign up with Studio Auto Pilot, all these mistakes went away!
Most people have auto-fill on their computers and phones and can register in 1-2 minutes. No mistakes, no typos, and the credit card gets pre-authorized at the same time! What used to take my staff 5-10 minutes now takes no time at all and the mistakes have completely gone away. I couldn’t be happier!!
One more thing about MMS. It’s a powerful program and does a lot. But, all that complexity also leads to multi-step processes. So many tasks had like 5-6 steps. Click on this, then this, then select this tab, then filter like this…. Even the simplest task would often require a bunch of clicks. My hard drive was full of training videos for the staff to make sure they they did everything perfectly. This isn’t necessary with Studio auto Pilot. Sure, my staff still has some questions sometimes but everything is pretty easy and makes sense. If anything, the simplicity of the program confused them. “It can’t be that easy, I must not have done it right…” But it really is that easy!!
What about new registrations? Again, it couldn’t be easier. In the old days my staff and prospective parents had endless back and forth emails to find a time that would work. The average student required 3+ emails to convert, if they actually converted. I have no idea how many students we lost because after a week of back and forth they eventually just moved on. With Studio Auto Pilot, parents and students can see what’s available at a glance. Or they can filter by day or instrument to find the best lesson time for their schedule. Parents love this! They hate all the back and forth emails too!
We were using a flat monthly tuition fee so I was a little nervous about switching to “pay by the lesson” format. We transitioned 125 students and not one quit because of this change. If fact, most people like it better because it’s easy and straight forward.
In a normal music school, there are dozens of ways that a poorly trained staff can lose a potential student. Missing their phone call, not replying quickly enough, not having their one requested time available, etc. Studio Auto Pilot totally bypasses all these roadblocks.
So, it took about 6 weeks to transitioned all of our 125 students to Studio Auto Pilot. But we added 35 students during those 6 weeks! Some of our best growth ever, mostly because my staff didn’t create ay roadblocks and the signup process is fast and easy! From January 2021 to January 2022, we went from 30 to 125 students. Then we went to 160 over just 6 weeks while transitions to SAP. We are now at our highest levels ever! Thank you, Sam!!
See StudioAutopilot online registration in action on their website at www.marionmusicacademy.com
We have been searching for new software for many, many years. We wanted something with easy online booking for individual music lessons, accurate billing, accurate tracking of teaching hours, a convenient way to manage make-up lesson scheduling, a clean way to assign subs to the schedule, individual teacher access to their schedules, and ability for parents and teachers to communicate. Having a link to a video room for each individual student is a great feature also. No more managing hundreds of Zoom links and comparing the scheduled tuition with the lesson schedule!
StudioAutoPilot is a dream come true, and if you knew me, you would know that I seldom give out glowing compliments! Sam has been in the studio business for a long time (so don't mind his occasional sarcastic comments - I usually find them humorous), I have learned much from his coaching over the years, and he knows what we need from a software program to successfully manage our studio.
This software has taken so many challenges of running the studio out of the equation and has simplified many aspects of running the studio. We had ZERO pushback from families in switching to the new system and no parent even blinked an eye at the uneven billing structure that SAP uses. Teachers like being able to send messages to parents and answering parents' questions.
We used to do free trial lessons, so I was a bit nervous about switching over to online registration without the trials, but I also knew we were losing a lot of money from offering the free trials and also paying teachers for their time. Now I love checking the registrations and seeing new ones rolling in. We had 11 new students register online in our first full month of offering online registration with already full schedules, some even registering for early and late times that we don't always offer when they call.
The uneven billing did take a little thought to adjust to, but once we made the adjustments, it is much cleaner for students changing times and for their understanding of the billing. We changed our payroll to 2 times per month so the tuition we collected is paid to teachers in the same month, keeping all of the current month's tuition and expenses in the same month. I also am confident that parents are paying tuition accurately and teachers' hours are accurate, which is something I wasn't always confident of with the old software and used to spend many, many hours checking every month.
If you are tired of cobbling different software and systems together to run your business, you will enjoy the ease of using StudioAutoPilot. You can always go back to the cobbling if you don't like SAP, which is what I told my staff, but you never know if you don't try!
Marion Music Academy
See StudioAutopilot online registration in action on their website at www.jointheband.com.
We recently passed the six-month mark since we transitioned from Mindbody to StudioAutopilot for our studio’s scheduling software, and both our front desk staff and teachers are extremely pleased with the transition.
On the admin side, the ease of moving our families from Mindbody to SAP went as smoothly as Sam promised. Since the system is so intuitive and the site’s pages are so uncluttered and clean, parents (and students) were able to easily and quickly figure out how to navigate their way in SAP, and they were soon communicating directly with teachers, accessing their lesson notes/videos, using the live video rooms (remember this was during COVID - lots of online lessons), and best of all, they were self-canceling lessons (and scheduling makeups!!) all with minimal input from the front desk.
For the teachers, getting them transitioned was even easier. We provided zero training, and held zero meetings. What we did do, was simply distribute a link to a short web page provided by Sam which included log in instructions and a brief overview about SAP’s features. After reviewing the simple instructions, they were off and running.
The ability to manage their schedules, communicate directly with students, upload video lessons, and easily teach live lessons - all within one system has been a huge win for them.
Prior to SAP, noting subs in our system would be such a headache for the front desk. Now, it’s just a matter of using a dropdown menu (once assigned, subs are granted access to the absent teacher’s video room). No scrambling around to ensure students have correct Zoom links.
Hands-down the biggest overall game changer for our studio has been SAP's self-registration feature. Seeing the “you have a new registration” (for a student who has not called the front desk!) is still a huge deal for us. And the best part? The billing has already been handled. Registration fee applied and auto-pay put in place. No more tedious manual billing for each new student, and no more worrying about auto-pay contracts being dropped.
The self-cancelling of lessons and self-scheduling of makeups have been another game changer for us. The amount of time this saves the front desk is beyond measure. No more long, drawn-out conversations with parents explaining why they need to reschedule, no more scanning teachers’ schedules for potential makeup times; we are done with rescheduling hassles!!
Another huge timesaver, is SAP's billing system. With Mindbody, we had to manually adjust each month to reflect the correct number of lesson days (for each day, and every increment, 30min, 45min, etc). Now, we do nothing. Zilch. The billing just runs. When parents call with billing questions, we ask them to log into SAP where they can view past and upcoming tuition charges.
StudioAutoPilot has exceeded our expectations, and I would highly recommend it to any studio looking for scheduling software which will free up their admin time. It truly does help make our studio run on autopilot.
Our teachers and staff are happy using SAP, and our clients find it easy to use. As studio owners, we couldn’t ask for more.
Lynn & John Mizenko
Join the Band
See StudioAutopilot online registration in action on their website at www.ftsmusic.org
We started using StudioAutoPilot for our music school in late August of 2021. We had been hearing Sam talk about it for ages, so we were eager to get started even though it was only in Beta mode and didn’t have all of the full features yet. We had a tight deadline of just about one week to get all of our teachers and families into the new system (not the recommended set up time!), so it was extra stressful in the beginning but well worth it.
We have been seriously thrilled with the system. It has single-handedly reshaped our entire business and freed us up from so many of the mundane processes that we always hated but just accepted as part of the business. We had been using JackRabbit since we opened the school 10 years ago, but it was always cumbersome to use since it wasn’t originally designed for music schools (JackRabbit is better suited for dance studios and similar businesses). There were tons of features and reports that we never used and overall, it was confusing to navigate and a major headache to train new admins to use it.
Enrollment, Schedules and Billing
Prior to using StudioAutopilot, all inquiries were handled over the phone and all new registrations had to be done in person. The last few years, we had experimented with Google Forms to compile as much of their information in advance as we could, but we still needed their billing information and signature on our registration forms. We’d have to go back and forth on finding a good time, fielding questions about the different teachers and programs we had, explaining billing and make-ups, etc. We’d read them our lengthy policies in person, and it’s amazing that they didn’t throw a fit and run away from the sheer torture of it all! It was a ton of paper to print, fill out, and securely store (as it had their credit card details). Then we would input the information into JackRabbit, which was another arduous task and left tons of room for error. I can’t tell you how many students had their names spelled wrong in our system (super embarrassing when they’ve been with you for years), or had the wrong birthday, or even worse, had the tuition field left blank, so they weren’t charged when we billed them each month!
Billing in general was a nightmare. Even though JackRabbit touted the ability to easily process bulk payments each month, there were so many exceptions that we had to manually update before processing and look through everything very carefully to make sure it was accurate. With processing happening on the 1st of the month, that meant taking the time to process tuition even if it was the weekend or we were away on vacation. We also billed with even payments (calculating total tuition for the school year and then taking the average to get their monthly tuition amount), which sounds easier but in reality, it’s not. Parents always had questions, especially during the months when there were only 2 or 3 lessons because of holidays, but they were still billed for the same amount (usually around 4 lessons).
And forget it when a student quit! We mostly let it go, but there were times when that meant we were out money, since they could have taken more lessons than they had paid for thus far, depending on how the calendar shook out. When Covid hit, it was a nightmare to figure it all out. Like other studios, when we closed and switched to virtual lessons mid-month, we lost a lot of students who didn’t want to take virtually, so we had to calculate refunds and if we owed them additional money, or if they owed us additional money. Many of them owed us, and that was an uncomfortable ask in the middle of a new pandemic when everyone was freaking out.
We had to supplement with Google Drive for the bulk of our everyday communications. We used Google Forms for pre-registration and student recital RSVPs. (Both re-enrollment and recital RSVPs will be done via the new system soon!) We used Google Sheets to store teacher’s schedules, so we could have an at a glance view and update student or teacher absences & make-ups months in advance when needed. Each teacher had their own Sheet, with tabs at the bottom for each month. It was labor intensive to copy/paste new students onto the schedule for every week and on each monthly tab. Mistakes often ensued as a result. We used to update student absences on the Sheet and then in JackRabbit so it could track how many make-ups were still available.
Now it’s easy: students go online, view teachers’ photos, bios & available times, and register themselves online. All of the information is in our system correctly and without any tedious paperwork. They rarely need to call and ask us questions, because all of the info is there. It’s just like all of the other online shopping they do, and they’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing the best teacher and time for them. They input all of their information themselves, review a more concise policy, and then they’re automatically added to a teacher’s schedule, which is also easy to view on the admin side.
They can see an overview of their payments made and the rest of their pending payments for the entire school year, which changes month to month based on the number of lessons that they’re scheduled for. We have had literally zero complaints from families with switching to this type of uneven billing. It’s much more straightforward for them to understand, and it means that we’re not scraping by on the months when we have to pay teachers for more lessons than what a student was billed for (for those months when a student had 5 lessons, but their monthly average tuition was about 4 lessons). We don’t even have to lift a finger to process tuition on the 1st of each month—it just magically happens! Seriously, like magic.
Cancellations & Make-ups
Students also cancel and schedule their own make-ups, which are then updated on the teacher’s schedule accordingly, so we don’t have to update it in multiple places or track it ourselves anymore. The majority of our phone calls and emails from current students were about canceling a lesson and scheduling a make-up, which was always annoying and took time away from tending to inquiries and other more urgent business. It was easy to be too lenient and make exceptions to our policies when they were sweetly asking us in person or on the phone for an extra make-up lesson. Now that our families have settled in to using the new system, they don’t need to contact us and we’re not tempted to break our own make-up policies. That keeps the teachers happy too.
When we implemented StudioAutoPilot, we made a big change and decided to not pay our teachers when students cancel and to only pay them when the lesson is made-up, as it’s easier for the system to automatically track their pay this way. We were nervous about this, as it was always a big selling point for new teachers that we pay for every cancellation. However, when we explained that there was still a limit to make-up lessons (3 per school year) and that they would be paid automatically for any cancellation beyond 3 lessons, they were fine with it. We also pay them for no-shows and cancellations with less than 24 hours notice, so they feel that’s fair. With advance notice cancellations, they’re able to have make-up lessons in those spots and get those done in the middle of their teaching day.
With no-show students or last minute cancellations, teachers send a short 5-10 min video lesson in the messaging portal. This has cut down on the amount of complaints about not being able to make these lessons up. The teachers don’t mind because they’re being paid for this time anyhow, and this way they can send the student an assignment so they can keep progressing at home. We don’t mention this in our official student policy; we like to think of this as a great example of “under promise, over deliver” that keeps our families happy!
Since teachers can communicate directly with the students/parents now through the messaging system, they can remind and encourage students to schedule outstanding make-ups if they’re anxious to get paid for those lessons. (Previously we didn’t allow any outside communication between teachers and families, in case they might poach students or schedule lessons that the front desk didn’t know about and might then double-book them). Students can also send the teacher a message and let them know if they need to switch to a virtual lesson anytime if they’re sick or traffic is bad, etc.
Students and families have been enjoying communicating directly with the teacher and being able to message them with questions. Honestly, I think most of the teachers much prefer to have that level of control too, being able to reach out to a student to check in, send links to sheet music or videos, and to send any notes of praise or encouragement. The rapport that this builds should help tremendously with student satisfaction, loyalty and retention.
The embedded video platform is so simple and easy to use. We’ve received lots of compliments from both students and teachers on how amazing it is to have a link right in their account to join their online lesson, and the excellent quality of the video streaming. We had tons of confusion previously using Zoom, with students logging on and the teacher being in a different Zoom meeting, or the student logging into Skype but the teacher was expecting them on Zoom, etc. Fielding those panicked phone calls while trapped at home with our two young kids during the pandemic was not pleasant to say the least.
Also, no more snow days! We can easily pivot to virtual lessons when it’s a snow day or for any other reason without going back and forth on how to access a Zoom link, etc. It’s easy for substitute teachers to access the student’s video room too, so we don’t have to worry about any confusion there.
For teacher pay, teachers previously tracked their hours on invoices. We had a template in Microsoft Word that we would edit for each teacher with their name and dates, with two weeks per page. It was painful to edit and print all of these each year! We’d leave them in a folder in a mailbox in the staff lounge, and they’d write their hours each day after teaching. I’d have to go to the studio to collect them, cross reference their hours on their Google Sheets schedules (because musicians aren’t always the best at math), and then update an Excel Spreadsheet with their hours, which would calculate their pay for me. (Setting up that spreadsheet was also an unpleasant task at the start of each school year). Then I would cut each check by hand, deliver them to the studio, and sort the checks into the appropriate teacher’s slot in the mail organizer. We also paid the teachers biweekly, so I had twice the amount of fun each month!
With StudioAutopilot, the system automatically calculates their pay. I simply click a button, and it exports a report in Excel that shows all of the lessons taught, total number of hours, and total amount of pay. We’ve switched to paying the teachers monthly with no complaints. This is a huge relief and timesaver! I’m looking forward to when the direct deposit feature will be available with the system soon, but in the meantime I’ve been paying the teachers using an online payment system that is much easier than writing checks.
With the system being so automated, we were able to hire a young, inexperienced admin for less pay than our previous admins. She has excelled since hiring her 6 months ago and adapted easily to the new software since it’s so straightforward. We don’t need someone with tons of specialized music or sales knowledge anymore because the nature of job has changed now. Cutting down on the amount of training and saving on admin costs has been huge for us while we recover from the pandemic.
Tracy & Dan Carlucci
Fairfield School of Music