In business we call it “first impressions.” Psychologists call it “thin slicing.” Regardless of what you call it, career experts say it takes just three seconds for someone to determine whether they like you and want to do business with you.
According to BusinessInsider.com (2015), you have even less time to make a good first impression. Research from Princeton, Loyola Marymount University and the University of Liverpool demonstrates that judgments people make regarding your trustworthiness, intelligence and competence as a business leader are based on first impressions—sometimes in as little as one-tenth of a second.
One-tenth of a second?
If you don’t think this is true, just measure your own reactions next time you walk into someone else’s business for the first time. If a friend recommends a new restaurant but it has a funny smell when I walk in the door, I immediately begin to question my decision to eat there. Once, when I was driving on vacation I stopped to check availability at a hotel, but walked out before I could get the answer—based on my first impression.
The situation doesn’t have to be extreme to leave a bad impression. Have you ever taken your children to another activity outside of dance and found yourself fighting the urge to jump in and help the coach manage the children? Or have you ever wanted to straighten up someone else’s lobby? That’s why the saying, “First impressions make lasting impressions” is true.
Keep reading to learn what first impressions you may be giving your dance families without even realizing it.
Indeed the very first impression we make on a potential or new client sets a powerful tone for the rest of the relationship. Think about all of the different layers of first impressions someone has with your business before the first class:
It might start with a referral from a friend, or overhearing an opinion from another community member at the pool or the PTA. This will be followed up with a Google search for your business or a scroll through your social media. You may not be able to control what people say at the pool or the PTA, but once a prospective client visits you online, you are in control of the first impressions and client experience. Will your potential customer find an easy-to-navigate and up-to-date mobile site, or will they be forced to stretch and scroll for days in order to find basic information? Can they register online, or will they have to leave a voicemail and hope someone gets back to them? What will the first time mom find when she searches for you on social media? She’s mostly likely looking for children’s classes. Is that what she will see, or will she only see accolades for your advanced dancers?
It will take much less time for a prospective client to do all of the things above than it took for me to write the paragraph describing the process. That’s how fast business is moving now. The process a prospective client will got through will either be:
Hear about you, look for you online or call, have a good first impression, inquire for more information, become a student.
Hear about you, look for you online or call, have a negative first impression, look someplace else.
And, it can happen in minutes.
Let’s assume for a moment that you leave a positive first impression with the prospective client and they enroll in classes. You’ve won, right? Not so fast. Now begin the many layers of first impressions you will have on your new client for years to come.
First impressions don’t end after an initial introduction or enrollment of a new student. Not at all! This is where the real work begins. Think of all the “first time experiences” a student will go through with your studio.
First parent’s day.
First picture day.
First buying recital tickets experience.
And, that’s just the first year. The “firsts” keep building the longer they remain clients.
First placement for the next year’s classes.
First audition for a team.
First problem with a class.
First disappointment with a placement.
First conflict with school.
First pair of pointe shoes.
Each of these interactions is an opportunity to make another new first impression. How do you handle problems at your studio as a leader? Do you lead with communication and a we-can-figure-this-out-together attitude? Do have an attitude of grace and service or are you quick to become defensive about policies and complaints?
As the old adage goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I would add, “You never get to stop making first impressions.”
If first impressions matter so much, and for such a long time over the studio-client relationship, why don’t we do more to create more continuous positive first impressions as studio owners? The reasons are simple:
Lack of understanding/awareness
Lack of experience
Lack of time
Lack of resources
You are simply too close to see it
Will you commit with me to make the 2016-17 school year a season of getting serious about the many layers of continuous first impressions we make on the students and families that we serve each week? It will not only help you to influence other’s perception of your business, but it also projects trustworthiness and inspires confidence in your abilities.
Putting continual effort into positive first impressions exudes friendliness, approachability and likeability to your clients and opens doors to opportunities in the community. Put first impressions first on your to-do list this year.
Looking for more inspiration? Sign up for the Misty Minute for weekly ideas to transform your studio and your life.
Check out Misty’s new book, One Small Yes, available on Amazon. This book is a must read for studio owners that are looking for ways to balance the dance of work and life.
“Amazing! One Small Yes is such a great book on finding your calling in life and how to navigate and work through living out the calling. Must have for all entrepreneurs!!” – Kristen, Absolute Dance
“Loved One Small Yes by Misty Lown. Outstanding book for anyone, especially the small business owner or entrepreneur. An inspirational book which helps the reader face challenges and give them the courage to continue to move forward and face what lies ahead. Loved it!” – Melanie, Tonawanda Dance Arts
“Reading Misty’s book was like opening my inbox and finding a personal email written just for me. She took my thoughts and feelings about being a small business owner, put them down on paper, and then step by step carefully explained what was holding me back from achieving more in life. Now I have no excuses to moving closer to my Yes.” – Nancy, Studio B Dance
The “Expert Advice from Misty Lown” series is brought to you by More Than Just Great Dancing™ and TutuTix.
Looking back, I feel like I have had three different lives as a studio owner:
Studio owner before kids.
Studio owner with young kids.
Studio owner with kids in other activities.
Before I had children, my studio centered on the needs of the classes. Whatever worked best for the classes took first place. If we needed an extra rehearsal and the only time to do it was 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, by golly, we got it done.
Then I had my first of five kids and my focus became survival. Whatever it took to survive, that’s what I did. Classes with coffee? Yes. Email at 2 a.m.? I was up anyway. It was all about just keeping things going.
Then my children became involved in their own activities and I got a new perspective on the studio—that of the parent who wanted to do everything they could to support their child, but didn’t know how. I was the soccer parent who didn’t know about the goalie camp. I was the snowboard mom who didn’t buy the right equipment. And, worse of all, I was the dance team mom who was late to a performance because I didn’t know the arrival protocol.
Once I became an “activity mom,” I vowed to make it easier for our studio parents to understand dance training, progress and policy by offering parent-teacher conferences. These annual one-on-one meetings for dancers in our Graded Technique program (4th grade and up) have become a huge hit.
Want to know more about the wonders parent teacher conference for dancers have had for students, parents and teachers alike?
Keep reading for 5 Ways Parent-Teacher Conferences Changed My Studio.
As a studio owner, you probably feel as if you are constantly bombarded by questions from
parents. The questions can come at you from all directions: email, Facebook, text, the studio
hallway and the grocery store aisle. Having a published time where parents can meet with
teachers face-to-face will eliminate much messaging and worry on the part of parents. Most
parents are truly just eager to do the right thing and help their children as much as they can.
Parent-teacher conferences gives them a structured platform to do it.
Nothing is more mysterious to parents (and even some students) than how progress is made
in dance. “When will I be ready for pointe shoes?” “What do I need to do to get from Ballet 2
to Ballet 3?” “Why didn’t I make company?” What is obvious to you as a lifetime participant in
dance may not be so obvious to a first-time dance parent. Nothing creates more clarity than
Another beautiful side effect of the parent teacher conferences has been appreciation. The
appreciation we have seen grow out of these meetings is a two way street. Families usually
walk away with a greater appreciation for the teacher’s knowledge base and studio policy
and a better understanding of where the student is in his or her development. On the other
hand, the teacher gains a better understanding of the motivations and goals of the family.
We strongly encourage students to attend conferences (in their dance clothes) with their
parents. Having the students in attendance allows teachers to demonstrate key corrections,
such as placement or turn out, right in front of the parent. It’s also a time to discuss any
problem areas that may be cropping up such as attendance or attitude. Parents are much
more likely to help hold students accountable if they know specifically what they need to be
Parent-teacher conferences are a big deal. Families look forward to them for weeks advance
and make their plans around attending. Yes, I pay all of our teachers to attend for hours on
end, but the sense of community and commitment between the family and studio that comes
out of the event is priceless.
Nothing says you value someone like spending uninterrupted time talking to them. Parent-teacher
conferences are one of the best investments I make each year. Give it a try before your dance
season is over.
Misty Lown is the founder, president and energized
You’ve put together your class schedule and written your studio policies, but one of the most important tasks still has to be done: deciding how you will process payments. As using cash and checks has fallen by the wayside, credit cards have become the preferred form of payment. Her are some tips for secure credit card processing for your dance studio!
Why you Should Accept Credit Cards
Accepting credit cards helps ensure your studio generates as much revenue as possible. One way it does this is by making it convenient for parents to pay tuition and other fees. Paying with a credit card takes just seconds and, depending on your system, can take place almost anywhere, whether online or from a mobile phone. Parents are already using credit cards for their children’s other activities and expenses, and by accepting credit cards you make sure parents can pay the way they prefer and don’t see your studio as that one difficult business they have to deal with.
As more and more dance studios accept credit cards, it’s important that your business remains competitive. Jon Koerber, software expert for dance studios and gymnastics classes, cited that online credit card transactions increased from $2.8 billion to $4.8 billion between 2006 and 2012, and they are only set to grow even more. Credit card processing is no longer weighed down to a clunky machine – they’ve been released online and in mobile applications. As Koerber wrote in a blog post for Capterra:
“You’ll also be losing business to your competitors if you not are doing business around the clock … And all the more so if [parents] can go ahead and sign up for classes from their living room after dinner. If your competitors have online registration and payment processing but you don’t, guess which dance studio will get the new customer after hours.”
Beyond providing convenience for your clients, accepting credit cards also makes everything easier for you. All the payment information will be stored in one place, which makes it simple to view or print revenue reports and quickly access the payment history of certain customers. All the complicated tasks involved with handling and depositing funds is left to the credit card service, which leaves you more time to run your studio.
What You Need to Get Started
You first need to identify which credit card providers you want to accept. Most business accept Visa and MasterCard, while some choose to also accept American Express. Then, you need to select a merchant account service. DanceExec explained a merchant account as “a kind of bank account designed to enable your business to accept payments by debit cards or credit cards. Your merchant account establishes an agreement between you the merchant and the merchant account bank on how to settle money you receive in the form of payment card transactions.”
Make sure the merchant account service you select enables you to accept credit card payments in multiple ways – ideally in-studio, online, over the phone and via smartphones. This way, parents can have a variety of payment methods available to them and can choose the one that’s most convenient for them, wherever they are.
Once you have chosen a merchant account and bank and have been verified, you can begin accepting credit card payments. While you can track and manage credit card payments on a separate system, most major dance studio management software companies enable credit card transactions in their overall system. This is a great option because the credit card transaction program is already fully integrated into the rest of your studio’s systems, which saves you time and headaches!
If you’re accepting credit card payments, you’re dealing with sensitive financial and personal information. So, you need to make sure you’re following the highest measures for security and privacy. Make sure the merchant account service you select has a strong record of PCI, or the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, compliance.
Another security consideration is where the credit card payment information is stored. The information should not be kept on your computer or on servers owned by credit card transaction software that you use – instead, the data should be stored securely on an independent server.
Costs to Be Aware Of
Accepting credit card payments comes with several fees. One is gateway fees, which are the fees that merchant accounts charge each month for verifying that the credit card used in each transaction is in good standing. Other merchant account fees include a monthly fixed management fee and PCI compliance fee.
Additionally, there are small fees placed on every individual credit card transaction. These include an interchange fee, which depends on the type of credit card used, discount fees and per-transaction fees. The specific fee amounts vary from provider to provider, so make sure you compare these figures when choosing a merchant account to get the best value for your money.
Though setting up secure credit card processing requires some initial research, the benefits for your dance studio make it well worth the time.
When I started my business, I started dance studio registration in June of each year and closed it in early November because that was when we measured students and ordered recital costumes. After that time we were technically closed to new students until summer brochures came out in March of the following year—a registration flow that left me unable to accept new students for three months out of the year.
Considering that my regular season was only nine months long, and that we were only open for classes five hours out of any given weekday, losing three months of enrollment opportunity was not a sustainable plan. So I made one of the best decisions of my business career and extended my enrollment period until Jan. 31. Last year alone, we enrolled an additional 80+ students in the months of November, December and January; 46 of whom were registered in the month of January alone.
If you are interested in expanding YOUR enrollment season, keep reading for 4 Final Push for Dance Studio Registration Tips:
Prepare your Teachers
A longer enrollment season allows you to serve more students each year. Which is wonderful for you and the students! However, mid-season enrollment can pose a real challenge for teachers if not managed well. If you are planning to expand your registration season, let your teachers know early and work with them to develop strategies for integrating latecomers into the classroom. The focus should be on getting new students up to speed quickly with as little disruption to the regular class as possible. You may even consider offering a complimentary private lesson for new students during this time to give them some movement vocabulary and context of how class will run before their first day. Parents appreciate this extra touch point as well.
Minimize the Roadblocks to Mid-Season Enrollment
Regular registration happens in June of each year at my studio and requires payment of the first and last month’s tuition along with a $25 registration fee. Dancewear is purchased in August and costume fees take place in November, which allows families to break up the cost of getting started in dance. A mid-season enrollment, however, typically has to cover all of the registration, dancewear and recital costume fees at one time in order to get started. Make it easier for families to get going with classes by breaking up those fees if possible. Even spacing registration and costume fees two weeks apart, or waiving the registration fee, will go a long way towards breaking down the barriers to mid-season enrollment, especially if families are feeling the stress of holiday spending.
The Late Costume Issue
We do the bulk of our costume ordering over Thanksgiving Break and a “catch up order” at the end of January to cover latecomers. To that end, it’s really important for parents of last minute enrollments to know that their recital costume will NOT be arriving at the same time as rest of the class. I recommend having parents sign a special statement on their registration form acknowledging that enrollments made after Dec. 1 will not receive their recital costume with the class order. It’s also a good idea to call parents of latecomers before the regular shipment comes in to give them the ability to opt of class that day if they feel their dancer will have a hard time seeing everyone else get a costume when theirs hasn’t arrived yet.
Take Advantage of New Year Mojo
The New Year is a very motivational time for adults. Between looking at getting back into shape and making resolutions, they are also looking for new activities for their children. Take advantage of this natural pattern by ramping up your second semester offerings. Consider offering new sections of class or advertising specials on specific classes (ones with lower enrollment). This is also the perfect time to promote an 8-week Adult Dance Sampler or a second semester day care class. With a little effort and organization the last months of your enrollment season may be your best of the year! Go get it!
Many studio owners have experienced the following situation: Your school is doing great. Enrollment is through the roof, and just when you think it’s smooth sailing for the next few seasons, you see the sign. A new studio is opening up right down the street, and even worse, they’re offering the same classes! All of a sudden your prospective students have another viable option to choose from, so how do you ensure that your school continues to thrive? In the world of running a dance studio, studios need to stay vigilant if they want to succeed in a sometimes crowded field. Here are four steps that will help you keep your school’s doors open, regardless of how saturated your market becomes.
1. Stay Focused on Your Studio
Your first instinct when you find out there’s a competitor opening nearby is to shift your attention to learning everything you can about the new business. After all, it’s upsetting when someone thinks they can one-up your studio! However, you shouldn’t obsess about this new establishment. Instead you should start obsessing about your own.
“There are always going to be people who think they can do it better than you, and maybe some people actually will do it better than you,” Kathy Blake, owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios, explained on DanceStudioOwner.com. “But what this is all about is you have to be your own voice; you have to find your own culture.”
Blake explained that studio owners need to stay focused if they want to get ahead of the competition. If you’ve been slacking on marketing or facility upkeep, use this as the kick in the pants you need. Crunch some numbers – what’s the return on investment for your different marketing strategies? What’s your customer acquisition cost? Focus on the nitty gritty aspects of running a dance studio, and you’ll be equipped to compete in a saturated market.
2. Find Your Sweet Spot
If your new neighbor is offering the same classes as you, it’s essential to figure out what makes your studio unique. Maybe, like Blake mentioned, it’s your school’s culture and atmosphere. Or perhaps you have more experienced teachers. Sit down and think hard about what your niche is and why it makes your school a great place for dancers to learn.
Coming up short? If you’re floundering to find your differentiating factor, you may want to consider revisiting your business plan. Your previous success may have been based on your lack of competition, but now that there’s a new sheriff in town, you need to reevaluate your business model and figure out what you can do to make your studio competitive.
3. Differentiate Your Marketing
Once you’ve figured out exactly what it is that makes your studio unique, take that aspect and run with it. You’ll need to thoroughly differentiate your marketing from your competitors to ensure that potential students know exactly why your school is the place to dance. Revamp your website and social media sites. Update your fliers with a new emphasis on your sweet spot. Design new ads and do research into effective marketing tactics you may be neglecting. Your goal should be to reach students in new ways and convince them that your school is the best option in town.
4. Take Care of Your Existing Students
In the midst of all this marketing mayhem, it’s easy to overlook the needs of your current clientele. However, Marketing Donut explained that if you want to stay ahead of the competition, you’d do well to cater to your patrons like never before. Improve your customer service, orchestrate an amazing recital or poll your dancers to see what changes they’d like made. Paying ample attention to your existing students will ensure that they re-enroll for next season and that you’re not losing business to your competitors.
As wonderful as all your dance students are, there’s always a chance that one or two parents will try to skip out on their bills. It’s certainly an unfortunate and awkward situation to handle, but it’s often an inevitable part of being a small business owner. While every situation is unique, and there may be instances in which you are able to meet privately with a parent and work out payment arrangements, there will be times that parents simply aren’t paying their fees. When you’ve sent multiple invoices, made phone calls, sent emails, etc. and received nothing back, you have two main options: accept that you probably won’t see that money or enlist the help of a collection agency.
There are probably a lot of considerations you’ll want to take into account before hiring a collection agency, but the bottom line is whether the service will be worth it for your particular situation. If you are a dance studio owner, here’s how you can figure out if you need to go to collection and a few tips to make the process a smooth one.
Are Collection Agencies Worth It?
Perhaps the most important factor to take into account when deciding how to handle past-due bills is whether going to collection will be worth it financially. If you have a customer who owes $50, chances are that the process of sending the account to collection and having service fees deducted won’t be worth it for the minimal amount of money you’ll get in return. However, bigger bills can sometimes make or break your studio, and if you get the sense the parents aren’t going to pay, it might be time to call in the professionals. After all, it’s better to get a portion of the total bill after the agency’s commission than to get nothing at all.
Many small business owners think that if they’re persistent, they can collect the money themselves. This is sometimes the case, but it will likely sap your time and resources to be calling, emailing and mailing the customers in question. You should also realize that the longer an invoice is past due, the less likely you are to see your money. A survey from the Commercial Collection Agency Association found that after three months, the probability of you collecting the money drops by 30 percent. At six months past due, there’s only a 50 percent chance that you’ll be able to collect.
Will Using a Collection Agency Hurt Your Reputation?
Sometimes small business owners are hesitant to work with collection agencies because it will hurt the company’s reputation. It’s no secret that customers generally dislike collection agencies, and there’s always the chance that the disgruntled parent will tell your other customers what transpired.
It’s a real possibility and you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to take the risk. However, one studio owner put the issue into perspective on a forum about collection agencies.
“If people don’t like collection agencies, then they need to pay their bills or at the least work out an arrangement to pay off the debt,” explained the owner on Dance.net. “A dance studio is a business and needs to be thought of as a business and run like a business.”
As always, payment policies should be clearly stated in registration materials and student contracts. Since payment issues could potentially affect a student who is still taking classes, carefully think through whether students with delinquent accounts can still attend, and make sure those policies are also communicated. If you run into problems down the road, these policies will give you a solid foundation for dealing with delinquent payments, and will help protect your studio’s reputation.
How Can You Streamline the Process?
The first time you use a collection agency, you may be a little lost in the process. However, you can make the ordeal easier by picking the right agency to work with and knowing what to expect.
When choosing a company to handle your collections, ask if they’ve worked with dance studios before and get references if possible. Call the other studios and see what their experiences were like before you sign up with an agency. The Fox Small Business Center recommended you check that the company is authorized to collect money from debtors in other states in case your past-due customers have recently moved. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with a few different agencies to find the one that’s the best fit for your needs.
Once you’ve chosen a company to work with, you can sit back and let them handle the awkward encounters. However, be aware that your past-due customers may very well call you to try and work things out. In these situations, you should simply explain that the matter is in the hands of the collection agency now and all communication and payment should go through them. Remember: You’re completely within your rights as a business owner to do what it takes to get the money you’re owed!
It’s always a good idea to build a relationship with the agency, especially if you think you’ll need to use them again. Be available to answer their questions and try to set up a meeting so you can talk about best collection practices face-to-face.
“When you hire a collection agency, you’re hiring a business partner,” Martin Sher, co-owner of AmSher Receivables Management, explained to Fox. “Smart clients meet with their agencies, discuss any issues that arise, provide them with any information they need and give them feedback.”
Using a collection agency probably won’t be an enjoyable experience, but at the end of the day, you’ll come out a stronger, more efficient business owner.
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.
Just when you think that studio life couldn’t be going any more perfectly, mama drama rears its ugly head. All parents want the best for their children, but overly competitive parents sometimes take it too far and create rivalry and conflict in your studio. As the owner, it’s in your best interest to nip any parent disagreements in the bud as quickly as possible. Even though the problem may have nothing to do with you, an unhappy parent might remove their child from your program. If you hear that two parents aren’t getting along, use these conflict resolution strategies to resolve the problem and reestablish a harmonious atmosphere.
Invite all the involved parties to a private meeting, away from other parents and students. Give each parent the opportunity to air his or her grievances without being interrupted. Listen carefully to what is being said. Scholastic suggested asking open-ended questions and for specific examples of the problem. Helping parents to get the frustration off their chest will allow you to have a calm, reasonable discussion. You’ll also want to see if there are some underlying issues. The fight might appear to be about carpool scheduling, but the real problem might be hurtful gossip. Try to read between the lines and get to the root of the problem.
Top of the list for conflict resolution strategies: approach the conflict with the mindset that it can be solved. After you listen to what the parents have to say, take both sides into account and suggest a possible compromise. Be careful not to “take sides” in the argument. Acknowledging that each parent has a justified point will make sure the parties know they’re being taken seriously. Explain that you value each parent as a customer and want to take their needs into consideration as much as possible.
Shift the Focus Back to the Dancers
Whether the disagreement is about scheduling, class placement or student achievement, the best way to resolve a conflict is to remind parents why they’re at your studio in the first place: their kids! The Australian Sports Commission explained that parents don’t realize their conflicts take attention away from supporting their children. Each student is there to learn to dance and have fun, and listening to bickering in the waiting room can hurt that experience. Ask parents that they settle their disagreement for the sake of the dancers so that everyone can learn in a positive, supportive environment.
When you open your first dance studio, you’re going to face many of the same sources of small business stress as other business owners. It doesn’t matter if it’s a restaurant, retail store or service provider, every company will face one or more of these problems at some point. However, the good news is that there are usually ways to effectively manage your small business stress so you can get back to perfecting pirouettes and picking recital tunes.
1. Huge Workloads
As a small business owner, you’re not only an instructor, but a marketer, accountant, human resources rep and much more. If you’re lucky, you have a spouse or friend who is willing to help out when you’re in a pinch, but there will definitely be times when you’re swamped with all the things you have to do. Unfortunately, your budget might not allow you to hire office help, so you’ll need to get creative. The first step toward solving this problem is to perfect your time management skills. When you have a dozen things to accomplish, it’s critical to have a set schedule. Set aside three hours each week for marketing, three for accounting, one for answering emails or whatever time you need. If you’re still pressed for time, consider falling back on the barter system. You may not have the funds to hire someone, but you have a service you can offer. Trade dance lessons for a marketing campaign or work with a local high school to offer student office training.
2. Tough Clientele
The first rule of business is that the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong. You’ll likely encounter a few hardcore dance moms who are impossible to please. On top of your existing small business stress, tough clients can be a breaking point. To solve this problem, establish firm rules and policies for your studio. You should have these set from the day you open, but feel free to adjust the rules as you go. If you find that parents are dropping their children off late, next season implement a policy dealing with tardiness. If you’re steadfast with your rules, parents will eventually learn not to question your authority in these areas and you’ll have fewer problems overall.
3. Fierce Competition
The Bank of America Small Business Community explained that creating a unique brand is crucial for a small business to stay afloat. To succeed, your dance studio needs to offer something better than your competitors. It can be more one-on-one time, flexible class times, unique genres or even lower prices. Setting your business apart from competition in some way will help you to retain customers and build a stronger brand name.
4. Expedited Growth
You probably want to expand your business, but doing so too soon or too quickly can be detrimental to your studio. A blog post from The New York Times explained that borrowing too much money or expanding into unprofitable markets can backfire and lead to financial ruin. To combat these temptations, establish a detailed business plan, including a timeline for growth. Regularly reevaluate whether you’ve been meeting goals or if you should wait before taking the next step. Get an opinion from a financially savvy friend before making any big expansion plans.
5. Accounting Issues
Finally, a business can fail if the owner isn’t cognizant of finances, even if everything else is functioning smoothly. The New York Times noted that many small business owners expect that a third-party accounting firm will give financial advice, but in reality, most of these firms handle taxes and nothing else. As a studio owner, you’ll need to wear the chief financial officer-hat. This means you’ll need to ensure the business has a cash cushion, is operating efficiently and is charging enough.
Be proactive in this area and head off problems by staying organized and aware of your studio’s finances. You should have allotted time each week when you focus solely on financial issues. Even if you’ve hired an employee to handle bookkeeping for you, make sure you always remain aware of your studio’s financial status, maintain access to all financial records, and ensure that there are checks and balances for anyone handling your studio’s finances. At the end of the day, you the studio owner must make the hard financial decisions required to ensure the success of your business.
As a dance studio owner, the responsibility of marketing classes and events probably falls on you. It’s a big task and much more complicated than some people realize, especially if you want to do a great job. To make the most of the time you spend on marketing, you should use any and all resources available, especially when you can find free marketing tools to lower your budgeting needs. These five free marketing tools can be extremely helpful to your marketing strategy, and the best part is that they’re free!
If you want to get feedback from your students and parents, you can go the traditional route of handing out questionnaires. However, then you have to print them out, distribute them, hound people to fill them out, and manually record the results. It’s a time-consuming process to say the least.
Enter SurveyMonkey. This free tool lets you create questionnaires and surveys online that can be easily shared with your customers. You can include multiple choice, open-ended and optional questions, and respondents can be anonymous if you choose. Once you’ve gotten responses, the program generates graphics to help you easily understand the results.
Blog Topic Generator
If you have a blog set up for your studio, you should try to post content regularly. Some days it will be easy to come up with topics, but other times you might be stumped. On those tough days, BufferApp recommended using Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator to get yourself writing. All you do with this tool is enter two or three words that pertain to your topic. For example, you might enter “dance” and “techniques.” The program will then provide you with five potential story ideas, such as “10 Quick Tips About Dance.” Use these titles for inspiration, and you’ll be writing in no time. It’s a convenient way to brainstorm new content ideas when you’re in a rut.
Of the available free marketing tools online, MailChimp is a must-have for any studio owner who wants to start a newsletter. This program stores all your contacts, helps you build custom emails and provides detailed analytics on each campaign you send. There are pre-made templates available that are great for beginners. It’s short work to send out a professional newsletter to your parents and students. Once you get more comfortable with the software, you can build your own personalized template from scratch. You can also integrate your MailChimp account with your Twitter and Facebook profiles so people can easily sign up for the newsletter and read the latest updates.
If you can’t find time every day to update social media, HootSuite will be your best friend. It allows you to create Facebook posts and Twitter updates ahead of time and schedule them to go live at a later date. You can easily curate a week’s worth of content on Sunday and not worry about posting anything during the week! HootSuite also brings all your social profiles together on your dashboard. This allows you to reply to commenters from one place, instead of bouncing back and forth between social media sites.
Finally, make Pixlr your go-to site for photo editing. There’s really no need to purchase expensive editing programs when you have this tool in your belt. There are different versions of the software to choose from: Editor, the most comprehensive program; Express, which provides the most basic tools; or O-Matic, which allows you to add fun effects and borders. These different programs will prove invaluable when you need to crop, rotate or remove blemishes from pictures. It will ensure that all the photos you include on your website, in newsletters and in marketing materials are high quality.
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.
It’s an unpleasant fact, but you can’t run a dance studio and not deal with mama drama. Parents are paying you to teach their children, and they’re entitled to voice their opinions, whether justified or not. How an owner deals with the complaints and concerns that arise can make or break a studio. Use these practical tips for dealing with a difficult parent and ensure your studio is a positive learning environment for both parents and kids.
Implement a Communication System
The last thing you want is an angry parent confronting you in front of your instructors and students, so it’s important to establish a complaint system and stick to it. According to Dance Advantage, a good method of communication is to have parent/student concern forms readily available in the studio. This gives you a chance to review the problem, decide on a plan of action and set up an appropriate meeting time with all parties involved.
You may also want to establish a no-gossip rule under your studio’s roof. Encourage your instructors to be aware of any grievances that might be expressed in waiting rooms. Some parents may voice their concerns to peers instead of you, so have instructors refer any gossipers in your direction. With this practice, you’ll be aware of any concerns about your studio, both large and small.
Establish Partnerships with Parents
Even though they can give you headaches and gray hair, remember that parents are not the enemy. They generally know their child better than you do and have potential to contribute to your studio’s success.
“For many, many years, I perceived the mothers as pitted against my own desires and intentions, and that didn’t work very well,” Kathy Blake, owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios, told the Dance Studio Owners website. “I have since learned the mothers and fathers are my greatest allies.”
Dealing with a difficult parent can become an opportunity for cooperation in the studio (just make sure it stays out of the classroom). You can always use an extra pair of eyes when it comes to music and costume choices, teacher effectiveness and facility conditions. Don’t view feedback as attack, but rather a chance to make your studio the best it can be. Blake explained that your studio should have good customer service practices, and this will often mean admitting that “the customer is always right.” You probably won’t be able to solve every problem, but acknowledge the legitimacy of each concern and explain to the parent what you can do about it.
On the flip side of the coin, don’t get too friendly with parents. You’re running a business and don’t want to be perceived as playing favorites. Blake warned that while it’s easy to see the best in people, some parents befriend you (or your instructors) to get special treatment for their child.
Recognize Preventable Problems
The best approach to dealing with a difficult parent is to make sure he or she doesn’t have anything to complain about. Be clear with every parent from the day they sign up that they will not be involved in the studio’s decision-making process. Having rules set in stone will ensure that all dancers have an even playing field. Dance Deck recommended that if you find that certain events like casting bring out the worst in parents, send out friendly reminders of your studio’s policies. Politely but firmly explain that you and your teachers work together to assign roles fairly and that there will be no changes once they’ve been announced.
When you set a policy like this, Dance Studio Owner recommended that you put out a general questionnaire to gauge parent reactions. There will likely be a few skeptics, but chances are that the majority of parents will appreciate your fairness and regard for their opinions.
As the owner of a dance studio, it’s in your best interest to keep your students and staff happy. Happy students mean continued business, and happy instructors mean inspired routines. However, it can be tough to keep everyone content, especially with all your other responsibilities. Here are three easy dance studio tips that will keep your students and teachers in good spirits and eliminate problems before they happen.
1. Keep “Mama Drama” in Check
You’re bound to run into a few troublesome parents when you run a dance studio. They’ll want their child in the front of all performances. They’ll want to oversee all your events. They’re more than happy to tell instructors how to do their job. They’ll be eager to share their own dance studio tips with you, even if they’ve never been in charge of a studio.
It’s important to find ways to handle drama mamas, as they can lead to unhappy teachers and dancers. First thing’s first – don’t leave it to the teachers to handle unruly parents. As owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure your studio is a positive learning environment.
If you’ve never had a troublesome parent before, Bree Hafen, a professional dancer and experienced teacher, recommended on her blog that you start by sitting down with the parent to talk about the problem. Explain that the teachers are doing the best they can to include everyone. Also point out that you’re trying to teach the dancers to be independent, so constant hovering is undermining the cause.
2. Cultivate Inspiration
If you’ve ever had a mundane office job, you know how tedious it can be to do the same thing every day. The Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing explained that to keep students happy, you need to keep them inspired. You can do this by mixing up the music, warm-up routines and genres.
It can also be beneficial to organize field trips to live performances and foster interaction outside of the studio. Talk to your teachers about switching up classes and allow them to pursue activities they think will engage the students.
3. Foster Open Lines of Communication
The best way to nip problems in the bud is to talk about them. Whether one of your dancers is falling behind or your teacher needs to adjust her schedule, a sit-down conversation is the best way to resolve the issue. Emphasize to everyone that your studio is a place where all ideas are welcome.
Make an appearance in each class, and try to learn as many names as possible. The more familiar people are with you, the more likely they’ll trust you with their problems. An open-door policy is an established way to encourage communication among your teachers and students, and can go a long way to keeping everyone happy.
What about you? What are some of the dance studio tips you’ve used to create a happy, positive atmosphere at your studio? Leave us a comment below!