When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.
Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.
As a studio owner, how do you manage to juggle everything?
Don't forget to take care of your own mental and physical health. Photo via Unsplash
Get help—your time is valuable. Have junior-high kids help out at shows or with younger dancers. Ask relatives and friends, or barter if you can't afford it yet.
Get organized! Declutter and get rid of stuff, because less clutter means less cleanup. Have a place for everything, and create great systems. Make playlists for your music according to what you need, so you aren't wasting time searching for stretching or across-the-floor music. Keep a control list for every project or event—registration, holiday shows, pictures, costumes, spring recitals, competitions—and arrange them by date to help create a year at-a-glance. Move up deadlines so you can coast into each event.
Make sure to consider your own health, too. You are not good to anyone if you don't take care of yourself. If you don't do some maintenance on your car, it will eventually quit running—we all need a tune up to rejuvenate. You need to be a billboard for health; you are in a healthy profession.
How do you create a schedule for the year?
Plan ahead as much as possible. Photo via Unsplash
Plan out the entire year at once. Try to use the same dates each year; It's easy for the venues to know that you will be back at the same time year after year. Create a yearly calendar for your studio so parents can plan ahead, and be a fanatic about updating your website. Make it a place where parents and dancers know they can get the most current schedules so you get asked fewer questions.
After an event is finished, recap is my favorite word! Go over what worked and what didn't, while it's fresh in your mind. Take great notes and make changes now so you don't run into the same problem at your next event. File and stage reusable items needed for the next event or show, and put away what is not needed so it's ready for next year.
How do you deal with tricky parents?
Address issues on the phone or in person as soon as they arise. Photo via Unsplash
So many people don't get it, and see their clients almost as the enemy. Be approachable—no one will come to you if they feel like you won't listen to them. Hold a parent meeting to talk about your expectations and invite them to share theirs. Knowing where everyone stands is key.
But also, stand up for yourself! Deal with any issues you hear right away, and do not let them fester. Eliminate "but" from your responses, and avoid being defensive.
How do I become a better teacher?
Try filming your classes to help improve your teaching style. Photo via Unsplash
Continually learn; be a sponge. Attend conventions, read books, watch videos and talk with fellow coaches or studio owners. Get out there and observe other instructors; you can learn so much from watching them teach. You may pick up a new idea, or even learn what kind of teacher you don't want to be. Film your classes so you can view yourself through the eyes of your students. When teaching, catch your students doing something right instead of focusing on what they are doing wrong. Spread the love—kids may forget what you said to them but they will never forget how you made them feel. Building morale is the single most important ingredient to the success of your studio.
Any advice for managing employees?
Give employees regular feedback. Photo via Unsplash
Ask yourself, have you prepared them for success? They are the ones talking with your customers—do they have the correct information to communicate? Hold meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page, and give evaluations. Employees need to know how they are doing, both good and bad.
How do I develop a vision for my studio?
Having a uniform can create a powerful brand for your studio. Photo via Unsplash
Think about your core values and your mission statement. If you don't have one, make one! Watch other successful people and businesses and list the things they are doing that set them apart. (It doesn't just have to be a dance studio that you model after!) Your studio is a brand—create standards for that brand. Hold your dancers to these standards to create the look you want for your studio.
How do I set my studio apart from the competition?
Having a good reputation in your community is essential. Photo via Unsplash
Consider your image around town. Are your actions such that you would be proud to see them in your students? Are you teaching them to be responsible, respectful and kind? Your reputation is so important, because you are the product you are trying to sell. Pick your battles and don't burn bridges in the process. Your fellow studio owners do not have to be enemies, but if they are choosing that path, do not follow. Have an open-door policy for those that choose to leave your studio. Tell them they are welcome back if they decide leaving was not what they wanted.
Any final words of advice?
Remember why you're a studio owner: To nurture the next generation. Photo via Unsplash
One of the greatest treasures of our business is that, unlike other companies, we get to start over every year. Work hard to do it bigger, better and more fun than the year before. Let that be the fuel that fires you.
The other treasure is that we are working with our country's greatest natural resource: our children. It's an opportunity to give kids a chance to belong to something, and a chance to impact their lives. It lets us put our finger on the scales of justice to tip them, just a bit, in favor of those who have been unfavored. Most importantly, it allows us to nurture hopes and dreams.