Studio Owners

Studio Business: Why You Need an Office Manager

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Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?


That's where an office manager comes in. Your initial reaction might be that you can't afford a studio manager, or that you don't know how to go about hiring one. Or maybe that you don't have enough tasks to justify hiring one. Whatever your concern, you aren't alone. But consider the way these common excuses may be holding you back from greater success.

I don't need an office manager.

Are you sure? Suzanne Blake Gerety, co-owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire, thinks of her office manager as "the frontline of handling complaints. She receives parent concerns first—she's a buffer to help you not get emotionally drained," says Gerety. "She listens to parents and digests what they tell her and then can present the situation to you, as necessary: 'We have a concern here.'" Her office manager is also in charge of collecting payment, a task Gerety highly recommends you delegate. "You need a buffer between you and taking money," she says. "You'll still oversee everything, of course, but she's the one who processes late payments."

Abby Odom, owner of Gracefully Yours Dance Academy in Collinsville, Illinois, likes having an additional person who knows everything about how her studio runs. "When it's just you as the owner," she says, "you're the only one who knows that every month Sally's mom pays on the 11th when it's due on the 10th, and every month you remind her, and every month she complains about the late fee." Odom says the support she receives from her office manager is invaluable. "When you find the right person," she says, "they cheer you on." Even more importantly, the right person can make your business run more smoothly. "Your manager might say, 'I think this system isn't working so well—can we do it like this next year?'" says Odom. For example, she didn't have a good way to track payment for solo choreography. Her office manager found a way to organize this and remind parents to pay for the extra cost within their studio management software system.

I can't afford one.

First, figure out how much your time is worth, says Gerety. What's your hourly rate? Once you've defined that for yourself, she says, you should be outsourcing or delegating any of your tasks that you could train someone else to do, freeing yourself up to do what you're best at—and focus on bringing in more revenue. "Even if a studio owner thinks, 'I can't afford this now,'" says Gerety, "they should ask themselves, 'What would I assign an office manager to do, if I had unlimited resources?'"

Once you have a clear idea of how much your own time is worth, you might be more inclined to rejigger your finances to make an office manager a reality. "Maybe it's: 'I'm not going to take as much home in my paycheck, and I'll allocate that amount to an office manager,'" says Gerety. "What does the freedom of not having to do that task you hate let you do instead?" Or consider how you might generate new revenue: "When was the last time you raised your prices?" she asks. "Do you have a proper registration fee? Create a budget to pay for it."

You don't need to start your office manager at an outrageously high hourly rate, either. "I don't pay someone a million dollars an hour," says Odom. She suggests starting with a college student and offering minimum wage for a 30- or 60-day trial. "After that time period, we'll talk about if they're happy and discuss a small raise," she says.

I don't have enough for someone to do.

You might be surprised. Gerety recommends making a list of every task you're currently doing on your own: not just the obvious ones, like sending and answering e-mails, creating e-mail marketing campaigns and collecting delinquent tuition payments, but stuff like cleaning up the lobby, vacuuming the floors and printing attendance sheets. Once you've made your list, review which of these tasks actually bring in revenue. "Which of these can you train someone else to do?" asks Gerety. Once you delegate those tasks, you'll have more time to focus on activities that generate revenue.

She understands many studio owners' concern over losing control. "The 'I'll just do it myself' feeling is strong," she says. "But there's going to be a place where you max out. So why not put some teamwork behind it instead?"

I don't know how to hire someone for this position.

Start by identifying what your strongest skills are as a studio owner—and which are your weakest or least favorite. You want to hire someone who will excel at those tasks. "Find somebody who is whatever you're not," says Odom. "I hate talking on the phone to dance parents, and I am not an organized person. So I got someone who checked our voicemail every day, called parents about absences—she did all parent communication, unless it was something severe or big. And I could ask her, 'Can you walk into that closet and make it look nice?'"

Your dream office manager might be right under your nose—start by searching within your own team. "Look at people you trust. Within your staff, who has a gift and talent for this? Start training them," says Gerety. "If you already have teachers on your team who want to pick up extra hours, someone might have an aptitude for organization, or be interested in doing a few extra tasks. Train them into it."

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