Time for a Tune-Up

Target these small improvements for big impact.

Taking the time to address a few small fixes will help your studio stand out.

Jenny Samuelson-Jangula set up a website for her Bismarck, North Dakota, dance studio eight years ago, and it pretty much ticked along on autopilot—until her students at Let’s Dance Studio started teasing her for still featuring photos of past dancers who were by now married. Oversights like this are common: Dance studio owners typically are spread thin by managing the artistic component of studio ownership. They may be too busy to notice that their business has outgrown the back-of-the-envelope systems that worked fine at launch.

Just like your car, your business needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. Neglecting business basics—whether it’s the physical space of the studio, day-to-day business operations, marketing materials or vendor contracts—could mean you’re missing out on recent innovations and more efficient or cost-effective ways to run your business. It’s time to attack that “sometime, when there’s time” to-do list. Here are three places to start.

Feng Shui, Studio-Style

The look and feel of your studio affects your reputation—and your bottom line. Your waiting room and lobby are the first exposure clients have to your business—and for parents, this is often the main experience they have of how you treat them. Step outside your studio and walk in as if you’re a first-time visitor. Are you giving the impression you want? “A tidy and inviting waiting room relays the message that I care about the people who have to occupy that space,” says Debbie Apalucci, co-owner of Touch of Class Dance Studio, in Broomall, Pennsylvania.

Low-cost improvements can make a surprising difference. Try: adding a cleverly themed bulletin board; framing new wall art; replacing shabby chairs and tables; giving the walls a fresh coat of paint or a new color scheme; and periodically rearranging the furniture within the space. And don’t forget about the carpeting. Apalucci has gone through three sets of rugs, and Samuelson-Jangula eventually put down laminate tile, after four carpet replacements. “With kids, you’re always going to have spills,” she says, “even with a weekly cleaning company visit.”

Beyond the front door, inspect your space and make a punch list of any neglected repairs or housekeeping. Though some jobs might require professionals, you may be able to check easier items off the list by inviting volunteers (with pizza as a thank-you) or allowing a group of work/study students to earn free classes in exchange for pitching in.

Taking the extra step: To reduce upkeep, Apalucci added easily cleaned laminate to her walls, eliminating repainting expenses. Samuelson-Jangula, who is now in her third space, notes how important it is to think about traffic flow. “You want your customers to have a clean break to the dressing room, with a defined area to mingle,” she says. Keep in mind other logistics, such as where to put your reception desk—people will want to stop and talk, as Apalucci discovered, so it may need its own nook so as not to interrupt traffic flow.

Take the Pill Out of Bills

If you’re not auto-billing tuition yet, you’re missing out on big advantages. It has become almost the norm for dance studios now. Owners find their payment delinquency rate plummets—Apalucci says 10 percent of her clients didn’t pay on time before she went to online payment. You don’t have to manage the risk of handling large amounts of cash in your studio at payment time each month. Auto-billing can be run via in-house software like BillQuick ($180/year), cloud-based programs (accessible on any device, wherever there is an internet connection) like Jackrabbit Dance ($45 to $195/month) or hired-out tuition-billing companies.

Touch of Class has a contract with a tuition-billing company that charges a monthly service fee as well as a percentage, plus a per-transaction fee (15 to 25 cents) for credit-card payments, totaling nearly $22,000 a year. A big number, but Apalucci sees it as a good investment: “I couldn’t possibly hire someone on a comparable annual salary to do all that collection and banking for me!”

Taking the extra step: Review all the business software and outside vendors you use to run your business. Accounting software upgrades may give you a better handle on your cash flow; studio management software offers a leg up on class registration, scheduling and space rental. Vendor contracts, whether for air-conditioning maintenance, phone and internet service, insurance and cleaning service typically roll over from year to year. Take time to review each and do some comparison shopping to make sure you’re getting just the services you need for the right price.

Polishing the Studio’s Image

As Samuelson-Jangula learned, it’s important to keep your promotional materials up-to-date. Look at your business cards, brochures, flyers, recital books, logo, website and social-media pages. Are they fresh and appealing, sending the relevant messages? Is the information current? Apalucci and her team have revamped the Touch of Class website at least three times since the studio opened; the most recent overhaul added more photo galleries and video links.

To cut back on costs while still keeping materials fresh, Samuelson-Jangula stopped reprinting her entire studio brochure and instead added an insert that she can update and reprint with new rates, class schedules and dates. “It’s so easy to call the printing company and just replace the text of the insert,” she says. “This way, we don’t have to keep throwing away perfectly good brochures.”

Taking the extra step: Tap into new technologies to make marketing easier. User-friendly content-management systems like WordPress.com, which Apalucci and her co-owners use, let you update web pages at any time—although the setup of a WordPress website can be challenging. If you’re struggling to stay current with posts to several social-media sites, streamline your updates with a social-media dashboard like HootSuite (free or upwards of $10/month, depending on your plan). HootSuite allows you to manage and schedule posts for Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Flickr and other social profiles. It also reports basic analytics to help you measure your social-media efforts.

Such improved efficiency is the reward for every studio fine-tuning—so hunker down and start checking off that long-neglected list. DT

Photos from top: ©iStockphoto.com; courtesy of Debbie Apalucci

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