Summer Shape-up

Just after your studio’s end-of-the-year recital, do you plan to do nothing but relax until next season? Well, think again! Now’s the time to really plan for the fall. Use the summer months to get organized, brainstorm new ideas and improve on last year’s methods—it’s your chance to gear up for a great next season. Read on for tips on how to get cracking.

Develop a school calendar.
Ask any dance teacher, and she’ll tell you: Preparing for the busy fall season is a monumental task. A detailed calendar is essential to help everybody stay organized and successful in the coming year, advises MaryAnna Gooch, owner of Dance Connection Too in Gilbert, Arizona. “In July, we hand our students and their families a detailed calendar for the entire next year, so they know which holidays we have off, which competitions we’re going to and the recital dates. This way they know and can plan vacations accordingly,” she says.

Set staffing schedules.
Another smart way to get ahead is to hold a staff meeting to set schedules and lay the ground rules for the upcoming season. Jeff Pitzer, co-owner of Miracle Dance Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio, knows that his 16 staff members all have other full-time jobs, so he likes to work out the dates early on. “We meet and I read everyone the agenda for the year. I let them know the important dates, like when they need to have all costumes selected by, what date their holiday-show music needs to be in by, etc., so that everyone is aware.”
Pitzer advises making schedules online. He uses Google Calendars and Google Docs—spreadsheets of things like recital plans, rehearsal schedules that only his teachers can access and update on their own, from home. “We all have e-mail accounts and can all share the same files,” he says. “It makes updating and keeping track of things much easier.”
Conducting a staff meeting is also a nice way to bond as a group and make everyone feel more like a team. So consider making yours special by holding it as a picnic in the last days of summer or providing fun refreshments. Using this time to give a good old-fashioned pep talk or motivating discussion will really boost your spirits—and your staff’s—before the long months ahead.

Clean house and make repairs.
The summer is an essential time to give the studio a good, deep cleaning. Use the days when the studio is quiet to look around your facility and see what needs repairing or better organization. “Every summer, we strip the wood floors and refinish them, and we also fix whatever’s broken and bring in painters for touch-ups,” says Pitzer. He does a lot of the work himself, but fathers of students also help out. Next year, post a notice at recital time asking for help around your studio. Chances are, some dads will be willing to lend a hand.

Revise your existing budget plan.
Jim Muehlhausen, a small business expert and the author of The 51 Fatal Business Errors and How to Avoid Them, says it’s imperative for studio directors to take the summer to really look at their bottom line and make necessary changes to staffing and budgets. “Think carefully before staffing too heavily this fall. It is much easier to hire an extra instructor or assistant if you truly can’t handle the workload, versus the pain of having to let a trusted staff member go halfway through the season.” He also suggests you consider putting more students in each class. “Yes, your quality of service will suffer,” he says, “but consumers are very price-sensitive these days.”

Look for new ways to promote your business.
Gail Vartanian, director of the ContempraDance Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania, says that during the summer, she posts advertisement flyers all over her community and has one of her internet-savvy dancers search for places on the web to advertise for free.
Vartanian also uses the off months to bring in guest artists and offer special dance intensives not available during the rest of the year. She instructs her staff members to use extra enthusiasm and energy, so that kids are excited to come back in the fall. “New kids always ask for info about our regular classes, so I make sure that I have plenty of brochures on hand.” Holding multiple open houses where people can register for classes, tour the studio and get fitted for shoes and tights, is another way to bring in new faces, recommends Pitzer.
Muehlhausen also reminds studio owners to not only advertise to new clients, but to past students as well. “Personally call every ex-customer of the last three years. Do not ask them why they left. Create a ‘welcome back’ deal and try to convert them into a customer once again,” he recommends.

But remember the most important thing when planning for the new year: Make sure you reach out for help. Vartanian hires an office manager during the summer to help her get—and stay—organized all year long. “That’s my number one piece of advice,” she says. “Get an incredibly committed person or group of people to help you. Running a studio is a tough, time-consuming job. You really can’t do it alone.” DT

Debbie Strong is a freelance writer in New York City.

(c)iStockphoto.com/Mitch Aunger

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