How's business? Are you slowing down, holding your own, or growing? The first step in facing tight economic times is not to panic. Many bankers, real estate experts and business forecasters are saying that our greatest problem is fear. The more fearful you are, the worse the future looks. Instead, ask the question: How will I manage and grow my studio during the next 12–24 months?
Mike Collins is president of The Perfect Workday Company and a certified Guerrilla Marketing Coach.
As a studio owner, the most important question to ask right now is: “What do dollars have to do with dance?”
In the midst of today’s economic turmoil, it’s critical to take the time and effort to prove the value of your business to customers. “If you look broadly across our society, in tough economic times the arts are the first things to go,” says Bryan Steele, co-founder of the Academy of Performing Arts in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
Tori Melby, owner of Dancer’s Workshop in Sanford, North Carolina, agrees: “Dance can easily be seen as a luxury for many individuals and families.” To combat this mentality, Steele recommends forging strong relationships with students and their families. “Parents take care of their children first,” she says. “By staying in touch and making sure that dance is important in their lives, you create a stronger link to dance and your studio.”
Whether through word of mouth or more nontraditional methods, marketing the benefits of your business should remain a top priority, especially during slow times. Such initiatives don’t have to be costly. For instance, Amanda Armetta-Gring, owner of Armetta Grand Jete Studio of Dance in Macungie, Pennsylvania, plans to implement creative postcards, brochures and flyers to grab the attention of new and returning students. Read on as we take a look at some inexpensive and easy-to-implement techniques to evaluate your business and position yourself in the best light.
Advertising. Before you initiate new strategies, measure the success of your past methods. One easy way is to simply ask new or prospective students, “How did you find out about us?”
Brochures. A crucial yet often overlooked step is the placement of these marketing tools. Don’t just lay them down in a location for people to pick up or walk past. Take an active approach: Hand them out everywhere you go—the bank, the grocery store, the doctor’s office.
Calendars. With little time and money to spend, it becomes even more important to create a good marketing plan. Having a timeline will help you determine when to implement your advertising and promotions and make your efforts more focused.
Discounts. Used too frequently, they can cheapen your service, but used judiciously—five lessons for the price of four during summer months, for example—discounts can help maintain cash flow.
E-mail. Keep your studio front-and-center in customers’ minds with this easy form of communication. Demonstrate your commitment to dance education by sending weekly tips, exercises and quizzes to students.
Family. Stay connected with parents by conducting periodic chats about their child’s progress, as well as sharing exciting studio news. This is key to maintaining enrollment.
Greetings. Make it a studio policy for staff to provide a warm welcome to each and every person who walks through your door. These interactions will help forge a personal connection.
Help. Remember, you don’t have to experience tough times alone. Create a small “mastermind group” (four or five members from different professions) that meets regularly to discuss cross-pollination ideas.
Imagination. A little can go a long way during lean times. Look outside the dance world to find inspiration and ideas that can be adapted for your business. Nonprofit organizations, for instance, notoriously contend with tight budgets.
Join. Expanding your network of colleagues will help you connect better with your target market. Seek out organizations and conferences where you can get new ideas and insights about the dance community.
Kill the devil’s advocate. The phrase “let me play the devil’s advocate” is a thought inhibitor, meaning it stops an idea before it has time to bloom. To grow your marketing, create an environment in which you and staff members have the freedom to generate as many new ideas as possible.
Listen. Wondering how to sell customers on the benefits of your business? Listen closely to your students. The words they use to describe what dance does for their bodies, minds and hearts are exactly the terms you should use in marketing materials.
Mischief marketing. Do something wild to grab the attention of prospective students. For example, check out www.cartoonlink.com and try using cartoons as marketing tools.
Newsletters. Online or via mail, newsletters can be effective tools for staying in touch with dancers. Include success stories, a “what’s happening” column and monthly class schedules.
Open up. Tell everyone you meet about your business. Develop an “elevator speech” or 15-second spiel that sums up the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of your studio.
Positive attitude. Remaining optimistic won’t necessarily replace dollars in the bank, but a negative attitude is guaranteed to be contagious and may negatively affect enrollment.
Questions. Asking the right ones is key to great marketing in good and bad times. Statements may inform, but questions engage. Remember Bugs Bunny’s “What’s Up, Doc?” Ask that question of students and families to connect.
Referrals. This simple but powerful marketing technique can make or break your business. Ask dancers to tell their friends about you, and give them a reason or reward for helping you find new students.
Signage. The next time you walk or drive past your studio, take notice of your signage. Is it visible? Can you change words or add a more compelling message? Will placing balloons or flying a flag nearby attract more attention?
Teach. As instructors, you’re well aware of dance’s positive influence on test scores and overall academic success. Spread the word and educate nondance families and adults about the far-reaching benefits of this artform.
Understand. To impart the value of your business to others, you must first understand why people enroll. Again, ask questions and use this information to remind parents why they joined your family of dance.
Voicemail. Call your own phone number and be critical. Ask yourself, “Would I visit this studio after listening to this message?” Better yet, ask your most outspoken friend to call the number and give her opinion.
Websites. By now you’ve most likely spent a great deal of time and money on your website, but do customers know about it? Print your URL on every brochure, business card and receipt.
X marks the spot. When people visit your studio, what do they see? Do they enter an inviting source of inspiration or a stale space in need of an upgrade? A little paint cures a lot of ills.
Yes. Don’t underestimate the powerful effects of this word. Saying “yes” to customer requests, within reason of course, will demonstrate your willingness to please and further prove how easy you are to work with.
Zzzs. As always, it’s important to get enough sleep. Adequate rest helps you maintain energy levels and will positively impact your teaching and ability to handle stress. DT