Complaints and criticisms, while inevitable, offer opportunities to make your operation more solid and grow your studio.
As a studio owner, you know that parents are valuable partners when it comes to educating their children. But even the best partners don’t always see eye to eye. What parents believe is right for their kids is not always what’s best for your studio. So how can you make these differences a constructive part of your business?
By having policies in place, thoughtfully listening for what’s behind parents’ concerns and communicating clearly and regularly with them. “We’re also in the business of training adults,” says Phyllis Balagna, owner of Steppin’ Out, in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Communication and establishing a positive customer relationship are essential. Parents must know what your policies are, and you must set boundaries.”
Here, we break down three common parent problems—from the parent’s perspective—and offer straightforward solutions. As a studio owner, you’ll always encounter problems. Instead of considering them obstacles, think of them as feedback: opportunities to gain new insight and improve and refine your business.
#ParentProb: “Why isn’t my kid ____?”
Disappointments happen. Not everyone receives a solo, makes the competitive team, gets the OK to start pointe or earns the coveted front-and-center spot for recital dances. And often, parents feel the disappointment more keenly than students do. While you can show understanding for a parent advocating for their child, you can also educate them about what will serve their child as a dancer. An important part of dance training is helping students deal with disappointment in a mature and constructive way.
#SOS (Studio Owner Solution)
Form a relationship with parents from the beginning, to establish trust. “I have one-on-one parent meetings at the start of each year,” says Balagna. “I make myself available to parents, sans kids, to discuss customer needs and expectations.”
Discuss student expectations. Amy Blake, who has run Amy Blake’s Academy of Dance in Friendswood, Texas, for nearly 20 years, requires each member of the studio’s competitive and performance company to write an essay about why they are in the company. “I learn their wishes separate from their parents’,” she says.
Establish your policies in writing—and have parents and students sign a form stating they’ve read and understand where your studio stands on the authority and decision-making of the faculty. Then post your policy in the studio, publish it on your website and send out friendly reminders at key times, such as just before casting.
Set up a form online and on paper at the studio for parents to request a private meeting. This will allow you to review any concerns in question, create a plan of action and arrange a time to talk. Channeling concerns into a structured discussion helps parents feel their kids are being taken care of.
Always have the discussion face to face; e-mails can be easily misunderstood. Go over the child’s strengths, and stress that comparison isn’t wise or fair. Often people just need to be heard, and once your position is explained and reasons outlined, they will accept it as best for their child, too.
Stay positive. A teacher’s attitude can diffuse many situations. “When a child has a breakthrough moment, I tell the parent personally,” says Balagna. “If parents know I’m excited and pleased, 99 percent of the time, they’re happy.”
#ParentProb: “What are all these fees for?”
Most parents worry about balancing their family budget. And, particularly if they’re new to dance, they see fees—recital fees, registration fees, competition and convention fees, costume fees, choreography fees, master class fees—as a mounting set of bills. But you know you need to balance your studio’s budget, too—and your business has many expenses parents may not be aware of.
Be clear. Explain each fee and what it covers. Remind parents that a lot goes on behind the scenes, like developing concepts, selecting and editing music and choosing costumes, and that fees cover these real costs of running a business. Emphasize the value of your business—the best teachers, classiest recital venue, most stunning costumes, top customer service—to reassure parents that these fees are money well-spent.
Communicate regularly. “A parent meeting once a year solves most of the issues regarding money,” says Balagna. “I also give parents whose kids are enrolled in competitions 10 months notice on those fees.”
#ParentProb: “What’s the big deal if my kid misses class?”
Schedules get busy and parents may not understand how absenteeism affects the whole class, especially if it’s preparing a performance. When a class doesn’t perform well, the kids are let down—and so is your business. Most studios have stricter absentee policies for competition team students than for recreational students, but in both cases, parents need to understand what these policies are, and that they’re taken seriously. You can reserve the right to make allowances in special circumstances, of course, but it is important to communicate that ultimately, to succeed, kids need to feel responsibility and ownership.
Set a limit on the number of absences. At Jane Carter’s studio, Dance Academy USA, teachers take roll for the competition team, and missing students are put on probation. They get an e-mail notification stating that if absences continue, the student will be dropped from the team. If a student is absent the week before a competition, she is staged out. “We tell them to consider trying next year when they can be more fully committed,” says Carter. “You’re only good to that team if your body is there.”
Institute accountability. Blake’s Code of Conduct, which every student must sign line by line, stipulates that students must notify the studio by e-mail of any absences; this e-mail is printed out and given to the teachers. If a student is gone three weeks in a row, the office notifies parents. “If a student anticipates a few absences, we place them on the end of the routine,” says Blake, “so if they don’t come or they quit, we can exit them and it doesn’t affect the entire recital.”
Treat your students (and their parents) like pros. Demonstrate clearly how important commitment and training are—and that you offer students a professional experience in return—and see them respond like pros. DT
Charlotte Barnard is a New York City writer who frequently covers retail and design.
Let It Go (Positively)
Sometimes your relationship with a parent may reach the point of no return. Maybe her child has missed several competition team rehearsals without explanation, or she’s being very vocal around other parents about her plans to take her child to another studio. Meet with this parent and address your differences in a positive, constructive manner. Thank her for the time she and her child have devoted to your studio, acknowledge that their needs have changed and let the parent know you understand it’s time for a change. You’ll be letting them go with your reputation and dignity intact.