Summertime is notoriously slow for dance studio owners, but bills don't take a holiday. For Jennifer Ness, director of Dance Elite Studio in Seattle, a premium recital package sold at the end of the school year provides a revenue boost to compensate for the leaner summer months ahead.
How it works
Recognizing parents felt nickeled and dimed by recital fees and end-of-studio-year costs, Ness decided to package items to offer a better rate, and she sweetened the deal by throwing in free performance tickets. For an all-inclusive $200 fee, families receive four tickets, a DVD of the show, a recital T-shirt and a one-line good-luck message in the program. Ness makes a $30–$40 profit on each package, which covers teacher costs for the summer. To stir up interest, she invites students to come up with the recital's theme; the winner has their picture taken. That photo becomes the featured image on the program and a silhouetted illustration for the T-shirt.
To pay for summer expenses the recital packages don't cover, Ness offers a sampler camp. Held three times during the summer, the two-week camp teaches students a different style of dance every day (ballet, jazz, tap and so on). The camp's variety "captures the little ones' attention and loyalty," says Ness. Attendees get to try new genres in a less intimidating environment, and come fall, many add a new class to their dance schedule. To find her price point, she did a market analysis of other studios and set her fee accordingly. "I know how much parents can pay and how many kids I need in a class to make it work," she says.
Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.
Running a studio can be a major juggling act. It's no surprise, then, that a few things slip through the cracks—costing you money or students. Watch out for two common but often unnoticed mistakes, and you'll find yourself with more time, clients and revenue on your hands.
1. Using online registration as a crutch
If you offer registration via your studio website, make sure you aren't losing clients by neglecting in-person registration. One day Kathy Morrow, director of Dance Du Coeur in Sugar Land,Texas, overheard a front-desk staffer directing a new client to the studio's website to register, rather than offering to do it over the phone. "I thought, You had a fish on the hook—why didn't you walk them through it?" she says. "When you register, there are a lot of boxes to check off. Some people want to pay with a check, some to link to a credit card. We can make it easier by answering any questions directly."
2. Not delegating
Have you heard yourself say, once too often, "If I want it done right, I have to do it myself"? Overextending yourself because of perfectionism or a misguided need to control can be counterproductive. By creating choreography, teaching, bookkeeping, cleaning, making phone calls and typesetting, and doing payroll, mailings and ordering, you could be leaving no time for the very things that will create your best business. Misty Lown decided to delegate all the teaching at her Onalaska, Wisconsin–based studio, Misty's Dance Unlimited. "Giving up teaching was super-hard," she says, "but it's the best decision I ever made. Whenever I was teaching, it meant I never saw the other five classrooms that were operating during that time. Now I can rotate my time checking on classrooms and interacting with students."
Keeping up with the constant changes in social media may seem impossible. So what's a busy studio owner to do? Try implementing these four rules to protect students and teachers from the worst of social media while still allowing for all the good things it has to offer.
1. "Our policy says that no staff member should be contacting any student under age 18 via social media," says Michelle Dawson of The Academy of Dance by Lori in Pittsburgh. "We ask them to direct their students to the studio's Facebook page that everyone can 'like.'"
2. Sue Sampson-Dalena of Dance Studio of Fresno in California, asks her competition team dancers to sign a code of ethics at the start of their season. "It says they will not post anything inappropriate, demeaning or provocative online, especially if they're wearing Dance Studio of Fresno swag," she says. "I've only had to call in a dancer once to ask if she was prepared for me to show her parents what she'd posted. It became a teaching moment about how the outside world, including future employers, will see her."
3. A no-tolerance policy for bullying is absolutely essential. David Ahmad of Port Perry Dance Academy in Ontario, Canada, recalls an incident of improper social media use: "That child lost her solo and membership in a group routine for one year," he says. He's had no incidents since.
4. Students or staff posting video of studio choreography is another big no-no. "We make it clear that's material owned by the studio," Ahmad says. Dawson sets a privacy-keeping example by leaving students' last names off any posts by the studio.
Discounts on tuition attract new clients and encourage existing clients to register for more classes. But while discounting has its benefits, if not thoughtfully administered, it can be a money loser. Here are three ways to structure your discounts to bring in the volume you want while keeping your business in the black.
1. Keep it simple.
To make it easier to see how much your discount is costing you, establish it as a percentage, rather than just subtracting a few dollars from monthly tuition. As a rule your discount percentage should always be considerably less than your profit margin. "The average dance studio makes a 10 percent profit," says CPA Sean Dever, whose business manages payroll for dance, gymnastics and swim schools. "Say you give a 10 percent discount for paying full tuition up front. You've already lost all your profit on that student."
2. Time it right.
Model your discount on the travel industry. For instance, travel discount programs offer bigger discounts closer to departure dates. So as the start of classes approaches, you might consider a deeper-than-usual discount to fill an empty spot—as long as it's not a prime-time class. "Once a session is locked down, and you know which classes have empty spots, send a notice to your e-mail list advising them of a 'special' discount," says Dever.
3. Save Groupon for special occasions.
Deal-of-the-day websites like Groupon don't make sense for a business that is based on building long-term relationships. "It's disruptive because you get dabblers," says Dever. "Parents typically try it to get a child in an activity, then switch to something else when the session is over." Instead, use Groupon for special events and one-off occasions, such as birthday parties or a trio of dance lessons for an upcoming wedding.
If you want to become a go-to dance studio in your local area, the best way to grow your business may still be via good old-fashioned word of mouth—and these days, that happens not only through direct person-to-person interaction, but also over social media. To raise your profile, focus your energy toward what you, specifically, have to offer your clients.
Outreach activities will teach young dancers the importance of doing good for others—while also introducing your studio to prospective customers. Students could visit nursing homes to perform for residents. You could create a lecture-demonstration program that tours elementary schools. Every year, Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Thornton, Colorado, performs at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Walk for a Cure. "We have a company member with juvenile diabetes, and we do that to support him," says Jennifer Jarnot, the school's owner.
If you've been around long enough to have alumni who perform professionally, highlight them. Artistic Fusion Dance Academy has an alumni page on its site, with photos and bios of former students. Seeing that you've helped other dancers make it in the biz can entice up-and-comers who hope to achieve those same dreams.
A Strong Vision
Having a distinct viewpoint can help you stand out in a crowded dance-training market. Know what kind of business you want to run and what kind of student you're trying to reach. Is your goal to produce well-rounded performers, or to be the best in one genre? Do you cater to recreational dancers, serious competitors or both? "Figure out the culture of your studio, and stick to it," Jarnot says. If people know what you stand for, they can feel confident recommending your services.
When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.
Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.
Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. The list goes on—and you have to decide not only what type of presence you'll have on each platform, but also whether you and your faculty will network with students and family members. How can you set boundaries for yourself and your faculty on social media?
The easiest option may be to prohibit these interactions entirely. At the Harid Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida, staff and faculty may not "friend" or otherwise connect with current students or those under the age of 18 on social media, explains Gordon Wright, Harid's executive vice president and director.
At the Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada, the handbook states that social media should be handled "in a professional manner." Owner Jami Artiga encourages students and faculty to share photos and tag the studio, but prefers not to "friend" kids from her personal account. "Of course, my son dances at the studio, and we have teachers with kids who go here, so sometimes the line gets blurry," she says.
Robin Dawn Ryan of the Robin Dawn Academy in Cape Coral, FL, also has a few students on her Facebook friend list, "but I don't put a lot about my personal life on the site," she says. She uses the platform more to keep track of what dancers and their parents are posting about the studio. "If they put up something they shouldn't," she says, whether that's a bullying post or an unflattering image, "I'll ask them to take it down."
Ryan tends to keep her social-media shout-outs generic: "So proud of this year's graduates!" and "Our dancers looked beautiful at prom!" That way, she can show support without spending hours online or worrying about missing any one student's achievement.