The Dangers of Too Much DIY

Is it time to let go so your business can grow?

If you want a job done well, do it yourself. You’d be hard-pressed to find a studio owner who doesn’t voice this opinion—or even adopt it as a mantra. But you’d be just as hard-pressed to find one who isn’t chronically overworked. While it may make sense to bootstrap your business in the beginning—doing your own costume management, competition choreography, booster club organization—eventually all this DIY can hold your business back.

Former Knoxville, Tennessee, studio owner Melanie Baker Niblick found her business growing nicely but still struggled to do her own books. She realized it was time to hire an accountant and instead focus on the aspects of business development that she thrived at, like marketing, public relations and choreography. “It was the best thing I ever did,” she says. “I’d been using my gas on hardcore number-crunching, which I wasn’t good at, and things weren’t getting choreographed.”

Here are just three examples of jobs you’d be smart to outsource because of the extensive and specific knowledge they require: floor installation, specialty genre dance instruction and accounting. But for any task you take on as a studio owner, carefully consider whether your energy would be most profitably spent doing that or something else.

Self-Installation, or Self-Mutilation?

Maybe you’ve done some internet research and think you’ve amassed the know-how to install a brand-new studio floor. Think again: Randy Swartz of Stagestep Flooring Solutions can rattle off enough dance floor pitfalls to make your head spin. Have you accounted for a vapor barrier over concrete slab? Do you know to use deck screws, versus wall screws or nails? Are you aware that you’ll need a hot-wire cutter to cut foam? A studio flooring company’s installation fee (Stagestep charges $3 per square foot) may give studio owners pause, but the potentially disastrous results when you do it yourself can end up costing even more. “I’ve seen floors put in upside down!” says Swartz. “I’ve seen people try to layer a shower curtain liner within the dance floor, to keep water out.”

Swartz cautions against blindly trusting installation tips you find on the web and even the work of professionals who are unfamiliar with dance floor setup. At the very least, “you need to get your materials correct, and you have to understand why you need them,” he explains. “And you’ll need a handyman.”

Even if you go the DIY route, hiring a consultant can get you off on the right foot: Swartz is careful to ask studio owners if they’re leasing the space (which calls for a long-term semi-permanent dance floor that you can install and later remove); what else the space is used for (Is wood or marley a more attractive common space?); and if sound will be a factor (which could require a specialized top floor surface). Such professional queries allow studio owners to invest in a dance floor that is perfectly suited to their unique needs.

Those Who Can’t Teach, Hire Someone Else

Admitting to yourself that you aren’t the most qualified instructor to teach your students a specialized technique can be difficult and humbling, but the benefits your students will reap in return are far-reaching. Meanwhile, your business’ reputation for high-caliber dance training will grow, now that you’ve hired teachers who bring new skills to complement your strengths and fill in the gaps in your own expertise.

When Hannah Power’s Thompson High School dance team members begged her to teach them how to do fouetté turns in second position—a skill she’d never quite mastered herself—she swallowed her pride. She asked another dance team colleague to teach a couple of master classes to go over turn mechanics and signed her team up for nearby workshops with the University of North Dakota’s dance team. Her team members, she is happy to report, are fouetté machines.

If you need to hire an instructor for the long term, Young Dancers in Repertory executive director Craig Gabrian advises choosing someone who not only excels in that particular technique but also can relate to students and add to your business’ brain trust. He seeks teachers who can offer professional dance savvy for his advanced students: “We’re in New York City, and I think there’s a different level of artistry that comes with that,” he says. “Our advanced students need guidance as to what happens when you start working at the professional level.”

Gabrian has brought in other teachers for ballet, hip hop, jazz and theater dance, including a dancer with the Connecticut Ballet who teaches advanced ballet. By seeking top-drawer teachers with professional pedigrees and pedagogy skills, Gabrian has strengthened his business even as he delegates.

Bookkeeping: For the Birds—or Maybe Just Your Accountant

With the array of accounting software out there for studio owners, doing your own bookkeeping is certainly within reach. But you might be surprised to learn how much valuable business intelligence you’re missing out on by not hiring an accountant to go over your books, even if it’s only once a quarter.

Certified public accountant Sean Dever has more than 50 dance studio clients at his Massachusetts-based firm, to whom he offers specific advice in pricing and discounting as needed—often alerting studio owners to financial issues they’re unaware of. “I did an evaluation for a dance school and showed the owner that she was offering 12 different discounts,” he says. “Eight of those already put her in the negative. She was literally paying to put other people’s kids through dance.”

An accountant can help you determine issues such as how much of your gross revenue should be going toward payroll expenses (so you can figure out how much to pay your teachers) and rent (so you can determine if your current facility is the right fit). It’s not cheap—Dever generally charges $100 an hour for consultation, although his bookkeeping services are just $40 an hour—but the recommendations you’ll receive on how to handle tricky items like marketing expenses, costume markups and setting up scholarships will save you money in the long run.

But the biggest benefit of having someone else in charge of your books may be the one that brings you the least monetary gain: You’ll no longer have to deal with sob-story parents who’ll try to get you to OK their payment delinquency. Niblick exchanged bookkeeping services for free tuition for one parent’s kids, and she has no regrets: “Because my bookkeeper knew how great my emotional attachments were to those families, and how much it would affect me, she wouldn’t even tell me who was causing financial problems,” she says.

Niblick admits that when she did her own books, she spent too much time and energy focusing on who owed her money. Once she’d handed the task over, her quality of life went through the roof: “After all,” she says, “you can’t put a price on peace of mind.” DT

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