Finding the Right Balance
Auburn Scallon is a freelance writer in Manhattan and teaches at Dare to Dream Dance Studio in Long Island, NY.
One of the most difficult tasks a studio owner faces has nothing to do with choreography, technique or even the classroom—it’s keeping up with administrative demands. Balancing artistic pursuits with office chores such as bookkeeping and website maintenance can often prove more challenging than a dancer’s first stint on pointe shoes. With many schools operating with limited budgets and small staffs, it takes a keen sense of time management to ensure that neither the business nor the integrity of the craft gets neglected. Here are some expert tips on how to manage your time and keep everything running smoothly.
Bring in Professionals
When it comes to office work, you have three options: hiring outside help, asking for volunteers or doing it yourself. What combination you choose depends on the size of your studio, budget constraints and personal preference, but it’s a good idea to follow certain rules of thumb.
Jobs that require a highly specialized skill—such as accounting, legal services, payroll, web design and sometimes even office management—are generally best left in the hands of professionals. If the cost seems daunting, consider that many services have higher start-up fees that decrease over time. “We recently hired a web designer to overhaul our website, give us a new logo, help with branding, etc.,” says Maygan Wurzer, founder and director of All That Dance in Seattle, Washington. “It’s a big expense, but hopefully one with big dividends. I’m happy to spend large amounts of money on this because I think it will be a good investment for the long-term.”
Keep in mind, too, that you’ll be hiring most outside professionals on an as-needed basis. “I have only needed a lawyer occasionally for problems with landlords and costume companies, plus to draw up a contract for my teachers,” says Kathy Lahey, director of Kathy’s Studio of Dance, also in Seattle. Studio owners may choose to handle regular money management themselves, but bring in an accountant to file tax returns.
Barter and Ask for Volunteers
If paying for outside help isn’t feasible, keep in mind that parents with experience in areas such as accounting are often willing to barter services for lessons. Your dancers may even be an untapped resource. “I found students who were willing to trade tasks for free lessons,” says Sarah Riddle, manager and instructor of Viscount Dance Studios in Portland, Oregon. “The same is true of our new web designer!”
There are a number of jobs that almost any parent or student can undertake, and employing their help on a volunteer basis is often a great way to allow them to feel a sense of involvement in the studio. For example, extra hands can be especially helpful for costume distribution and on performance days. “Our parent volunteers hang and tag all the costumes and make accessories for our dancers,” says Wurzer. “Our dads even volunteer to emcee the shows!”
Parents can also relieve you of a huge burden by getting involved in fundraising activities. “We have a committee of parents that takes care of our company fundraising events, like performance outings, car washes, raffles, etc.,” explains Ricardo Pena, artistic director of the Performance Edge 2 School of Dance in Florida. “We, as a group, may come up with an idea, and then a parent will get everything together that is involved.” (Just be sure to oversee any fundraising project to make sure your studio is being represented in an appropriate light.)
Although giving up control can be difficult, you’ll be happier in the long run. “It has been hard for me to delegate, but I’m getting better over the years,” admits Wurzer. “The truth is, these people are much more thorough in their jobs and have more time to ensure these endeavors go well.”
Do It Yourself
Of course, there are certain jobs that some business owners insist on handling themselves, and rightly so. “A good accountant once told me to never get so big that you don’t know where your money is,” notes Lahey. “Although someone else does the numbers, I sign the checks. I am the only one who pays the bills.”
Communicating with staff members should always remain a top priority. “I always evaluate instructors myself—sitting down with them and reviewing the class they taught, what went well and what they should work on,” Wurzer says. “It takes a long time to do this with more than 16 employees, but they tell me that it is extremely helpful and insightful to see in writing what happened minute-by-minute in their classroom.” Lahey asks staff members to complete written reports at the end of each day so that she remains aware of what happens at the studio. “If a parent has a concern, I want her to know that I know what is going on in my studio,” she says.
Addressing parent concerns is another no-brainer. From a business standpoint, parents are the customers making decisions and paying tuition, so it’s important to handle their needs personally. Set aside time to talk to them when you can give your full attention and, because studio hours run contrary to a traditional work day, ask for the best time to return calls to avoid playing phone tag.
Be Smart with Your Time
It’s highly unlikely that you got into this business for the love of administrative tasks, so it’s important to do what works best for you to accomplish them. If balancing the checkbook someplace other than in your office makes the chore more palatable, by all means do so. In addition, create a schedule and stick to it as closely as possible. Take a cue from Wurzer and designate certain days as “office days” and others as “teaching days.” On teaching days, she says, “Walk into the studio and head straight to the dance floor. Don’t stop in the office because someone (a staff member or parent) will likely grab you, and then the time starts to disappear.”
Recognize when you can avoid interruptions and concentrate on the task at hand. “I do a lot of the administrative work late at night,” says Holly Costa, director of Hazel Boone Studios in Canton, Massachusetts. “After teaching all day, I enjoy the quiet once my family is asleep.” It’s equally important to give yourself a day off every once in a while. Being well rested allows you to focus and be more productive, thereby saving you time in the long run.
Take simple steps to integrate inspiration into your daily life. Bring music with you wherever you go, so you can work on choreography outside the studio. Rejuvenate by taking a class or workshop. And of course, experiencing culture, whether dance, theater, art or movies, can inspire you when you least expect it. By learning to share responsibilities—and always remembering to carve out time to nurture your own creativity—you enhance the overall well being of your business.
TOP 10 TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS
- Create a comfortable environment where you can concentrate free from distractions
- Draw up a schedule for administrative tasks and do your best to stick to it.
- Schedule time to address parent concerns, either over the phone or in person. Don’t feel pressured to answer on the spot.
- Hire a professional for tasks that are beyond the range of your expertise.
- Look for opportunities to trade tuition credit for professional help.
- Ask for parent volunteers to help with performances and fundraising activities.
- Stay involved with delegated duties through meetings and open communication.
- Give yourself a day off to avoid burnout.
- Make time to cultivate inspiration and creativity.
- Enjoy doing something you love! Not everyone can say that about their chosen career.