Studio Business: 10 Things to Think About at the End of the Year

The holidays can make this time of year fly by. But busy studio directors know that December isn’t the time to rest on their laurels. “I’m constantly thinking of what’s coming up next,” says Jill Athridge, owner of Stage Door Studios in Sarasota, Florida. “I always say I’m an event planner—running a studio is a series of continuous events.”

We’ve compiled a checklist of things to consider this December, to give your business a year-end boost you might not know it needs. Trying all 10 would be overwhelming, but some of these ideas (or their shortcut versions) may inspire you.

1 Be a gratitude goddess. Athridge shows appreciation for her staff by holding two separate holiday parties at her home, one for her faculty and one for her student assistants. The staff party is catered, and she invites her teachers to include their significant others. Everyone brings a cheap gift to play White Elephant. “It’s a good ice breaker for the significant others you might not know, and everybody fights over the gifts,” she says. Athridge also gives out gift cards and baskets.

For her assistant party, she orders pizza or her husband grills burgers. She asks the students to bring White Elephant gifts and gives them personalized presents, like tree ornaments with the studio’s logo on them or specially printed studio shirts.

The “Too Long; Didn’t Read” Version: Write individualized thank-you notes. Athridge starts writing hers in November. “I don’t want it to be, ‘Thanks so much, Love, Jill,’” she says. “I have a staff of 17, so I try to write one or two a day. It’s more heartfelt, and they don’t sound the same.”

2 Show your website some love. Still have photos from seven years ago scrolling across your homepage? Swap them out for more recent ones. Raised your tuition? Update your pricing page. Embed the video from Nationals you’ve been dying to show off, upload bios for your staff or finally install the plug-in to include your social-media buttons.

TL;DR Keep your social-media platforms humming along through the holidays—with minimal upkeep—by scheduling posts with a social-media management program like Hootsuite or Salesforce Marketing Cloud. Tiered plans offer auto-scheduling on a number of social-media profiles at once.

3 Give your dancers a chance to shine. Don’t make your students wait until June to show off what they’ve learned—institute a winter performance. Athridge partners with the Moscow Ballet to offer her students (and other local dancers) the chance to perform as party children, mice, snowflakes and angels over two shows of the Great Russian Nutcracker. Her studio also participates in a holiday community parade down Sarasota’s Main Street on the first Saturday in December.

TL;DR Don’t have the resources to coordinate a full-length ballet? Consider inviting parents and friends to the studio for an informal showing of what each class has been working on since the start of the school year.

4 Get the 411 on what parents think. Build a short questionnaire—10–15 questions—with an online survey-generating program like SurveyMonkey, asking parents for mid-year feedback on your studio, classes, teachers and schedule. You’ll get a feel for which areas need attention or improvement and have the second half of the studio year to implement changes.

TL;DR Having trouble getting parents to fill out your survey? Offer the chance to win a tuition credit for every family that completes your questionnaire.

5 Tackle renovations or DIY projects. Take advantage of your winter break by deep-cleaning or refinishing your floors or re-taping your marley. Install cubbies, paint your walls or reorganize your prop closet or storage facility.

TL;DR If you have work-study students who need to max out their hours before the end of the year, or if your high schoolers need to accrue service hours before the semester’s end, now’s the time to put them to work.

6 Gear up for January. “In January, I get 100 new students,” says Athridge. “It’s that group of people who wanted to do soccer in the fall, but once that’s done, they think, ‘Let’s do dance again!’” She doesn’t mind the surge of new students, mid-year, because they’ve participated in a similar way before, and they’re willing to pay any extra fees to have a costume shipped faster.

Athridge cultivates this seasonally loyal following of students by visiting nearby elementary schools and sponsoring an ice cream truck during open house week in the fall. “All of the kids get ice cream and see that it’s sponsored by Stage Door Studios,” she says. “I pass out flyers, and my teen helpers wear our shirts.”

TL;DR Gear your December marketing to dance newbies. “I’ll do a promotion where if you sign up for classes as your child’s Christmas gift, you’ll get a free pair of ballet shoes to put under the tree,” says Athridge.

7 Hold performance reviews. Mid-year staff evaluations will help you measure your employees’ progress and track their goals. Have each teacher fill out a form (ahead of time) asking questions like: What’s been working for you so far this year? What hasn’t, and how has your performance been affected? How were your talents recognized? What do you want to improve on? Take notes, discuss any issues that come up in conversation and keep criticism constructive.

TL;DR Arrange meetings easily with a scheduling tool like Doodle (doodle.com, plus a mobile app). You can poll your faculty for dates and times that work for them, share your own availability and even send automated meeting reminders.

8 Get your (paperwork) ducks in a row. The deadline to file and send your employees and contractors W–2 and 1099 forms is January 31, but if you close your studio the last two weeks of December—meaning your faculty receive their final 2016 paychecks before the end of the year—you can get a head start. Meet with your accountant to plan your taxes and what you can write off. You’ll need your balance sheet, profit-and-loss statement and cash flow statement, at the very least.

TL;DR Ditch the shoebox full of receipts (and get on your accountant’s good side) by keeping track of business expenses throughout the year with Expensify. The app scans and categorizes receipts and tracks mileage. Even if you lose a receipt, you can import a credit card transaction into Expensify, and the app will generate an IRS-guaranteed receipt for any purchases under $75.

9 Review your business processes. Do any of your business practices need updating? Automating a recurring process such as registration could save you time come next fall (or in January if you offer mid-year registration). Or maybe it’s time to make the switch to e-mail marketing (as opposed to relying solely on handouts sent home) with the help of an easy-to-use platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact.

TL;DR Install studio-management software and watch your business transform. You’ll be able to review receivables at a glance, collect tuition online, track attendance trends and even organize your recital sequence.

10 Recharge your batteries. Resist the urge to tackle every single item on your to-do wishlist (even this one!) and remember to take time for yourself. Studies show that performance levels increase after breaks—you’ll get more done in a shorter amount of time when you take the opportunity to recharge. Whether it’s a short vacation or a few days’ rest, it will go far to reignite your passion and enthusiasm for running a studio.

TL;DR Give yourself an at-home spa night. Light a few candles, pour some wine, play soothing music and bubble the bath. A DIY manicure and pedicure or face mask are simple ways to pamper yourself without leaving the privacy of your own bathroom. DT

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