As a small business owner, you’re probably going to be a little more flexible about payments than a big business would be. Sometimes it’s necessary to give parents extra time to get their ducks in a row, and that’s understandable. However, it can hurt your studio if you have too many past-due accounts and let them hang in limbo. Here’s a few tips for dance studios on how to handle parents who are behind on payments without losing their business.
Have Policies in Writing
One of the best tips for dance studios to prevent past-due payments from becoming a problem is to clearly detail your policies. Dance Studio Profit recommended having your studio policies printed on invoices and available on your website. This way parents won’t have the excuse that they didn’t know your rules. It’s also good to keep your policies relatively straightforward. Detail what will happen after 30 days, 60 days and so on. Set penalties for standard time periods so people aren’t caught off guard.
Be Open to Compromise
Chances are that you’ve built strong relationships with many of the parents at you studio, and that can make bill collections difficult and even awkward at times. However, at the end of the day, you are running a business, and collecting payments is a necessary part of the job. If you notice that a parent is struggling with payments, take time to sit down and discuss the problem. When you talk about the problem in private, you may be able to come to a compromise, like some sort of payment plan. This way you’ll avoid awkward confrontations down the line and keep your customers happy.
Give Fair Warnings
While you’ll want to establish a final cut-off date for past-due accounts, don’t let it sneak up on parents. There might very well be individuals who intend to pay, but keep forgetting. It’s best to give gentle reminders, either in person or in writing, that a payment deadline is coming up. Let parents know ahead of time if they’re going to accrue extra fines or if their child won’t be allowed to participate in class. It’s a small action that can go a long way toward getting past-due parents to settle their balances and keep your customers happy with your business.
Whether you’re expanding your dance studio business in a bigger location or simply unable to renew your lease, moving your business is a complex process. There are so many things to consider – budget, location, accessibility – that your head may be spinning. If you find yourself in a tizzy as your moving date draws closer, use these four tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
1. Give Yourself Ample Time
The more leeway you allow yourself during the relocation process, the fewer problems you’ll run into. You may think that one or two months is more than enough time to get everything in line, but that’s usually not the case. In a teleseminar with DanceStudioOwner.com, Dale Willerton, founder of The Lease Coach, explained that you should allow six months to negotiate a lease and get all your ducks in order for the move. When in doubt, start earlier than you need to. A little extra time never hurt anyone!
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
You’re probably not a seasoned pro when it comes to real estate, but that shouldn’t stop you from negotiating the terms of your lease. The Small Business Association recommended that small companies aim for a one- or two-year lease in a new location. Be fair and confident when discussing your rent and don’t forget to bring up the issue of rent increases. Willerton noted that, unfortunately, many landlords don’t take dance studios as seriously as they would a doctor’s office, so make it clear that your money is just as green as any other business.
3. Talk about Tenant Allowance
Many studio owners regard tenant allowances as a mythical concept – discussed often, but never seen. If you’re dealing with a property that has a high vacancy, don’t be afraid to bring up the subject. You’re probably going to need to replace floors and install mirrors in your new space, and tenant concessions will be your wallet’s best friend. Establish yourself as a valuable tenant and you’ll be surprised at what allowances you’ll receive.
4. Communicate with Your Customers
Finally, keep open lines of communication with your dancers and parents throughout the process. Your move should be beneficial to your customers as well as your dance studio business, otherwise you risk losing students. Let the parents know when and where you’re planning to move and be sure to explain the benefits of the new location.
Do you find yourself staying long after closing to file paperwork and answer emails? Does your “downtime” at home consist of scheduling social media posts? If the administrative workload at your studio is running you ragged, it might be time to consider hiring a dance studio manager or office manager. Many studios are hiring additional staff to help out with the day-to-day responsibilities that generally fall to the owner. Here are four considerations you should make if you’re thinking about a hiring full- or part-time dance studio manager.
1. Consider Automating or Outsourcing
The first thing you should do when you’re feeling overwhelmed with administrative tasks is to make a list of all the things you’re behind on. Dance Advantage explained that once you have a list in front of you, it will be much easier to determine if you need a new employee or if you could simply invest in some automation software. If your troubles are related to accounting and bookkeeping, you might need to invest in new accounting software. You could also consider outsourcing to an accounting firm. If you spend too much time wiping down the mirrors in your classrooms, you can hire a cleaning service to come in once a week. Once you have an idea about the distribution of your workload, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision about hiring a dance studio manager.
2. Weigh the Costs and Benefits
An office manager will definitely help to reduce your workload, but you’re going to have to write another paycheck each week. Dance Studio Life noted that most studio managers expect to receive between $10 and $20 per hour, depending on the size of the office and the responsibilities involved. Try to weigh the time and stress you’ll save against the cost of another salary. If the cost is within your budget, a studio manager might be the way to go. However, if the money would put a strain on your finances, you should probably look into other solutions.
3. Look for Candidates with Experience
When you’re reviewing candidates for the position, keep that list of responsibilities you made handy. It’s in your best interests to choose a manager whose experience lines up with your needs. If you’re behind on filing and paperwork, a candidate who has worked in an office setting would be ideal. Individuals with customer service experience will do a good job answering phones and emails. If you need help with more hands-on tasks like ordering costumes and creating rehearsal schedule, you might want to look for a candidate who’s familiar with the basics of dance. Hiring a manager with the right experience will be beyond helpful in the long run and ensures that he or she will be an asset to your business.
4. Create a Training Plan
Don’t overlook the fact that anyone you hire will need to be trained before they can be a seamless part of your studio. Unfortunately, no one will be able to walk in and immediately know what to do. Even if the candidate has worked in a studio before, no two business are the same, and there will be tasks he or she needs to be walked through. Take time to create a training plan before your new hire starts. The more specific your plan is, the quicker your manager will get the hang of things. You both will benefit from written policies, procedures and schedules. Dance Advantage also recommended explaining what the manager doesn’t need to do. If you want to be the point of contact for parent complaints or to be the only one posting to social media, explain that to your staff member. Sometimes he or she might try to be helpful and take on tasks that you’d prefer to do yourself.
Including a noncompete agreement in your employee contracts seems like the logical choice to protect your studio. However, if you scroll through popular dance forums, when it comes to the non-compete agreements for dance studios, owners and industry professionals say these legal documents aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. There are certain problems that come along with noncompete agreements, some of which undermine their effectiveness. If you’re thinking about implementing a noncompete with your instructors, use these tips to guide the process.
Do: Thorough Research
Before you jump on the Internet and start digging for a noncompete template, you’ll want to do a little background research. Find your state’s guidelines for noncompete documents – there might be certain phrases or clauses you have to include for it to be upheld. You should also look into any local court cases about similar circumstances to see the results. Dance Teacher magazine explained that noncompete agreements are notoriously hard to uphold in court, as ruling against a teacher would compromise his or her ability to make a living. Use this research to guide your construction of the document and develop a backup plan to protect your studio.
Don’t: Put All Your Eggs in a Noncompete Basket
While a formal document might give you peace of mind, there are other ways to protect your business from competition. Don’t underestimate the benefits of having loyal students and teachers. Dance Studio Life noted that when you rotate teachers every season or every year, you can prevent them from building up a base of dancers to take to a new studio. Students that have the same teachers for years in a row are more likely to develop loyalty to them. Try to interact with dancers and their parents so they feel connected to your school. Another good tactic is to simply be a good boss. If your instructors value your expertise and enjoy working at your company, they’ll be less inclined to start a rival studio. Inspiring loyalty in your students and teachers is a supplement, or even an alternative, to a noncompete contract.
Do: Seek Professional Help
As with any legal document, it’s best to have a lawyer look it over. If you can afford to have a lawyer draw up the document, it’s definitely a good option. You can probably find a template on the Internet to structure your noncompete around, but unless you’ve been to law school, there’s a good possibility you’ll miss something. Sometimes just a few wrong words can make the document invalid. If you take the time to seek professional advice when you’re drafting the agreement, you may save yourself time, money and headaches in the long run.
Don’t: Rule Out Other Options
There are a couple other legal routes you can pursue to deter the teacher turned competitors. Dance Teacher magazine explained that nonsolicitation clauses are much more likely to be upheld in court, even if the noncompete contract isn’t. These legal clauses keep your former employees from soliciting your students and staff to join their new studio. Nonsolicitation agreements are more likely to be enforced because they’re viewed as an effort to protect your business’ goodwill. Another option is to create a nondisclosure agreement, which prevents former staff from disclosing your proprietary information, like client lists or business history. This type of legal document can be helpful, but keep in mind that instructors can legally use information they remember and public resources to open their studio.
As your studio expands and you sign on more students, you’ll have an increasing number of parents to communicate with. Even when everything is great and students are happy, it’s easy to get bogged down by the number of texts, emails and calls you receive each day. If you value your sanity, use these six guidelines to learn how to communicate with parents of students effectively.
1. Outline Acceptable Means of Communication
From day one, you should establish preferred methods of communication with parents, taking into account their own needs and preferences. Outline what types of conversations should be handled through each outlet. If you want questions about class sent to your email but absence notifications to the office phone, note it on the studio schedule or another document that parents will keep handy. If you provide your cellphone number to parents, explain that it’s only for emergency situations. Otherwise you’ll run the risk of getting a text or call every time a parent has a question or concern. Set up similar expectations for your announcements. Let parents know that canceled classes will be relayed via email (or whatever outlet you choose), and that you’ll only call their cellphone in an urgent situation.
2. Build Trusting Relationships
Strong relationships lead to better communication. Does this mean you have to be a confidant for each and every parent? No, but you should make a point to show you’re trustworthy and encourage parents to be vocal about any problems. The first few interactions with new students and their parents are crucial in this step. Scholastic magazine recommended that you handle any issues in a discreet manner and assure parents that your teachers will do the same. Get back to parents as soon as you can, as this will show you value their willingness to communicate. Once you’ve developed trusting relationships with your customers, you’ll be in a better place to address issues and concerns.
3. Talk Early and Often
Another lesson you can learn from school teachers is that you should communicate early and often, and encourage parents to do the same. Stay on top of any problems that arise in your studio and follow through until they’re solved. Bring the issue to the attention of students, parents and teachers as soon as possible. Once you’ve devised a plan of action, follow up until you’re confident the problem has been resolved. TeachHub explained that being honest and open with parents from the start will decrease the chances that your concerns will prompt backlash from the involved parties.
4. Create Concern Forms
If you find that dancers or parents are approaching you at inconvenient times, like between classes or when you’re trying to scoot out the door, you could benefit from concern forms. Create a sheet that allows parents to write what their question or concern is about, whether it’s urgent and how they prefer to be contacted. Make the forms easily accessible, possibly in the waiting room or at the front desk, and have a designated box to collect them in. This process will ensure that you aren’t being caught off guard with problems and have enough time to think each issue through.
5. Follow the 24-Hour Rule
Sometimes issues will be complex and overwhelming, and the worst thing you can do in these situations is make a snap decision. Instead, Dance Advantage suggested that you follow the 24-hour rule. Take a day or two to think over the problem, remove your emotions from the equation and collect your thoughts. The extra time will allow you to see the big picture and find a solution that works for everyone. However, be sure to communicate to parents that you need time to think about the issue and will get back to them in a day or so, otherwise they may think you’re brushing them off.
If you have a vision for your dance studio but are lacking the funds to see it realized, you might be looking at grants for dance programs. There are plenty of funding opportunities available for dance studios if you know where to look, but they’re not easy to lock down. If you’re serious about making your dream into a reality, brace yourself for months of preparation and piles of paperwork and get ready to compose some killer rhetoric.
Finding the Right Grant
The first thing you’ll need to consider when you’re applying for grants for dance programs is what makes your studio stand out. Right off the bat, know that nonprofit organizations generally have more funding opportunities. However, there are some grants available to profitable organizations, assuming they are special or exemplary. If your studio works with underprivileged youth, contributes to the community or provides artistic development for children who would otherwise go without, you’re a prime candidate for funding.
When you start searching for a grant or funding program, there are a few places you can look. Large domestic organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts generally have a few funding opportunities at any given time. The NEA give grants to organizations who run special projects that make a difference in their community or field.
You can also look on the websites of national dance organizations, such as Dance USA. They will often compile lists of funding opportunities specifically for studios. Finally, check out any regional dance and arts groups, whether you’re a member or not. Websites like the New England Foundation for the Arts have a variety of funding programs for different performing artists and organizations.
The Application Process
Applying for a grant is pretty similar to the college application process: lots of forms, lots of writing and lots of painting yourself in the best light possible. Every application will be a little different, but there are a couple aspects that will be pretty uniform.
First of all, there will be strict deadlines, especially for national grants. Many times there will be staggered due dates for various parts of the application, so get a calendar and write them down! If you miss one, you’re done. It’s likely that you’ll be required to fill out some sort of federal reporting form, like an SF-424 (Application for Federal Domestic Assistance) to ensure that you really do need the money.
Finally, once you’ve finished the initial paperwork and essays, you’ll need to provide samples of your work, biographies of important individuals and statements from your customers and community members. This will probably be one of the most time-consuming aspects of your application and doing a good job is crucial to attaining funding.
A studio with a poorly written dance studio liability waiver is setting itself up for problems. Recreation Management explained that the most common reason that liability waivers don’t hold up in court is that they’re unclear or ambiguous. Even if you aren’t going to write your dance studio liability waiver, it’s crucial to understand the basic guidelines to ensure your waiver covers all the legal bases.
A properly written liability waiver, also called a “release of liability” form, protects your dance studio from being held financially responsible from any run-of-the-mill injuries that occur. In a nutshell, it states that your students (and their parents) understand there are certain inherent risks that come along with dancing, and that you and your teachers are not responsible for any injuries that come from the studio’s typical activities. Sounds easy, right? It would be if it were that simple!
Limitation of Liability Waivers
Unfortunately, there are a number of limitations to a liability waiver. Rocket Lawyer explained that even if students sign a release of liability, your business can still be held accountable if you are shown to be negligent. This can occur in a number of situations, including if your facilities are unsafe or if students were not being properly supervised.
Another limitation involves the language used in the release form. As mentioned above, the waiver must be legally sound to hold up in court. Recreation Management noted that different states require specific language to be used in a release form. For example, in New York, liability waivers must include the word “negligence.” If that specific term is not included, an otherwise sound contract will fail. You’ll need to be familiar with your state’s specific laws to write a legitimate waiver.
Properly Formatting a Waiver
After you’ve conducted research about your state’s liability laws, you can begin to draft a release of liability form or adapt an existing waiver. Recreation Management suggested that your form be a document of its own, not included in the application. This isn’t necessary, but courts are known to prefer stand-alone contracts.
If your studio teaches students under the age of 18, you’ll want to draft a parental waiver. You need parents to sign a liability release, not students. If you’re using a waiver template, make sure to accurately describe the risks of dancing in detail. According to Rocket Lawyer, the more specific you are, the better. This will ensure participants know exactly what dangers are involved, and you’re less likely to be held liable when the documented events do occur. Athletic Business recommended you use bold, italics or underlining to emphasize key exculpatory phrases.
When you have a complete waiver drafted, read through the text and ask yourself if parents will understand what’s being said. The majority of the form should be written in common language – in other words, it shouldn’t take a lawyer to decode! Athletic Business also suggested that you keep the form under three pages. The longer the waiver, the less likely it is that parents will read through the whole document.
Administering a Release Form
You’ll want to have your final dance studio liability waiver looked over by a lawyer. Spending the money to get legal advice when you open your studio will be worth the investment if an accident ever occurs. When handing out waivers, be sure that parents have time to read and digest the form. Make yourself available to answer any questions they may have. Finally, establish a secure system of storing your waivers. A liability release won’t hold up in court if you can’t find it!
If your studio has a dedicated following of students and is receiving positive feedback, it may be time to consider raising your dance class fees. It can be a daunting task because many business owners fear they will lose customers in the process, but bumping fees may be necessary to solidify your business and/or grow your studio. Use these suggestions on how and when to raise your dance class fees while minimizing complaints from parents.
When to raise your prices
There are two main situations where you should raise your prices: when your margins are too small or when your services are worth more. According to Small Business Notes, you can calculate how much you should be charging based on your fixed and variable expenses. If your fees are below your ideal cost-based price, you’ll probably have trouble paying your expenses.
The other situation involves value-based pricing and is a little bit trickier. Value-based pricing is generated from the customer’s perspective. If you consistently have parents say that your classes are “such a great deal,” then your prices might not reflect the value of your services. If your clients are willing to pay more, it’s time to increase your fees.
Apart from these two situations, you should always make sure that your class fees are keeping pace with inflation—your expenses almost certainly will, and you don’t want to be on the hook for the difference.
How to minimize dissatisfaction
Once you make the decision to increase your class prices, you’ll want to do a little bit of canvassing. Ask your customers what they think about an increase. If the change is slight enough, some parents may not mind. However, if you’re met with dissatisfaction, there are a few ways you can make the transition smoother.
Inc. recommended that you add new services when you raise prices. You can offer new genres, class bundles or more private lessons to increase the value of a customer’s dollar. Also explain what you hope to do with the increased revenue. If you’re planning to invest in new equipment or renovate the facilities, parents will see what their children have to gain.
Another possibility is to create different price points. You can keep basic classes the same price, but offer new premium classes. These might include longer studio sessions, more one-on-one time and designated lockers. If you can create a service of greater value without increasing your expenses, you’ll be able to get more customers on board and boost your revenue.
Remember that businesses often need to raise prices as they grow. Weight the risks and benefits, and if the time is right to raise your dance class fees, make a plan and move forward.