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 just through direct person-to-person interaction, but also over social media. Focusing your energy toward what you, specifically, have to offer clients can raise your profile. To start you down the right path, DT spoke to three studio owners about what works for them.
A Family Atmosphere
Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, Minnesota, is proud to be all about family. The studio was founded by Shirley Larkin in 1950 and is currently directed by daughters Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz. Granddaughter Mackenzie Symanietz is also on faculty. "In fact, many of our teachers were once students here," says Larkin-Wagner, "and a lot of our current students have parents who danced with us. We call it the Larkin Legacy."
Of course, you don't need a literal dance dynasty to foster a family-friendly environment. For a start, Larkin-Wagner recommends making sure your teachers share a unified philosophy. In Larkin-Wagner's case, that means striking the right balance of strictness and fun. "Also, every student is equally important: beginner to advanced, adult recreational or serious competitor," Larkin-Wagner says. "We give the same energy to every class."
Another way to enhance your school's familial atmosphere is to get nondancing family members involved in studio activities. Relatives could build sets, create costumes, emcee special events, chaperone trips or even appear onstage. Or you might offer mentorship opportunities, where teachers or older dancers take younger students under their wing. In a nutshell: Make your school feel like a second home, and people may be more likely to invite their friends.
Is it your mission to bring the art you love into your community? Outreach activities will teach young dancers the importance of doing good for others—while also introducing your studio to prospective customers. Research your area's needs. Students could visit nursing homes to perform for residents. You could create a lecture-demonstration program that tours elementary schools. Artistic Fusion Dance Academy in Thornton, Colorado, often does performances for charity. "Every year we perform at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Walk for a Cure," says Jennifer Jarnot, the school's owner. "We have a company member with juvenile diabetes, and we do that to support him." Contribute to a cause that resonates with you, and you'll earn a reputation as a local business that cares.
Is your production of The Nutcracker a must-see each holiday season? Are you known for bringing home trophy after trophy on the competition circuit? In the dance world, a powerful performance can speak louder than any advertisement. That's why Hazel Maglasang, owner of En Pointe Dance Studio in Tracy, California, made putting on a spectacular recital a priority—even in her first year of business. "People say to start small," she says, "but getting students onstage is so important. I wanted to create a big production that made my dancers feel like a big deal." En Pointe's first spring recital, held last June (when the school had been open six months), drew an audience of about 300. The high caliber of the production helped to boost enrollment—from 113 at the time of the recital to 218 at the end of the studio's inaugural year. Letting your dancers shine, whether in a theater setting or at a competition, can give you a leg up over other studios.
If you've been around long enough to have alumni performing professionally, highlight them. For instance, Taylor Sieve, a runner-up on "So You Think You Can Dance," and Eva Igo, runner-up on NBC's "World of Dance," are both spotlighted on Larkin Dance Studio's website home page. 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.
As a studio owner, you don't have to please just your pupils. You also have to satisfy their parents—most likely the ones paying the tuition that keeps your doors open. Think about how you might be able to accommodate busy schedules, ease financial burdens or add a level of convenience. For example, Maglasang partners with an alterations company before recitals, so parents don't have to hire a tailor or sew costumes on their own. Larkin Dance Studio also offers a full-time sewing staff that does on-site alterations and makes a lot of their costumes in-house. Artistic Fusion Dance Academy partnered with a local orthodontist, who provided dancers with garment bags and other necessities, and has had a local chiropractor come to the studio to offer discounted appointments. Going above and beyond to make parents' lives easier can push you to the top of the recommendation list.
You can grab prospective customers' attention with an active and engaging social-media presence. Don't just post text—share pictures and videos (with permission from those shown, or their guardians, of course). Social media's free features offer a good place to start in terms of getting the word out, but you may want to consider paying, as well. "Not only are social-media ads less costly than print, you can customize who you're marketing to by age, location and interests," explains Maglasang, who does all of her studio's advertising on Facebook and Instagram.
If managing multiple social accounts sounds like a big job, don't hesitate to delegate. Artistic Fusion Dance Academy recently hired a social-media specialist. (Be sure to delegate judiciously, though, keeping in mind that this person will be representing your brand.) "We've seen a lot of growth in our recreational programs as a result of focusing more on Facebook ads," Jarnot says. Want to track various ads' effectiveness? Include coupons and see how many get redeemed, or include a line that says "Mention this ad when you call us." A little trial and error will help you figure out what social practices work for your school and your local area.
A Strong Vision
Above all else, you need to 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? You don't have to be everything to everyone; in fact, having a distinct viewpoint can help you stand out in a crowded dance training market.
"Figure out the culture of your studio, and stick to it," Jarnot says. "Let your approach shine through in the way you teach each class, what you share on social media and how, as the owner, you interact with the public." If people know what you stand for, they can feel confident recommending your services.