Attend any type of business event or seminar and you’ll probably hear the word “culture” quite a bit! So what does it mean exactly, and how, exactly, do we build a strong studio culture?
By definition, corporate culture is a collection of values that the organization believes in and follows. They are the values that are exemplified in its people and the work they do each day, and so creating a strong culture means naming those values and breathing life into them. Your business uses them as the lens through which decisions are made, and as a barometer for accountability.
I believe that culture can also be described by the senses. For example, what do people “see” when they walk into your studio? Do they see kindness, inclusivity, excellence … or something else? What do your customers “taste” when they interact with your staff, and how do you develop the “flavor” you want?
In my experience, what is sensed by your culture is created by a ripple effect. It starts with you, the owner, in the middle, and then ripples outward to everyone else. Growing the culture you want takes time, but more importantly, it takes consistency, It can never just be what you say; it has to be what you do. And it has to start with determining what’s important to your mission and naming those values. With the following 5 Steps to Building a Strong Studio Culture, I have confidence that you’ll have the tools you need for doing just that and more!
Here are my 5 Steps to Building a Strong Studio Culture:
Start with yourself and your “why”
Because you are the owner of the business, the culture starts with you. Take a moment to think about why you started (or acquired) the studio in the first place. Was it to nurture young talent? Provide a safe space for learning? Offer a unique perspective in the marketplace? Build confidence and leadership in children? Write down some of the values you hold as a studio owner, that come from your why. Think about what’s important to the vision you have!
Next, involve your staff
Although building a strong culture starts with you, it isn’t a solo act. You want (and need) your employees to feel strongly about the same values so they can serve your dance families with those qualities in mind. Present your why to your team, and discuss with them which of those values are most important. Listen to their feedback and open up the conversation to understand their “why” too. Use this time to settle on the values that will drive your studio forward in the coming months and years.
Demonstrate the culture out loud
Reflect your studio’s values everywhere in your actions: claim them in your marketing pieces, display them on the wall, discuss them on social media. Create a buzz around the ideas and then demonstrate your follow-through. For example, if growing leadership is important to your culture, don’t just talk about it … expand your class assistant program or develop an internship course. Make it a normal part of your studio world!
Use your values in the classroom
Building a strong culture means that your students are exposed to it even from a young age. Incorporate values-driven language and behavior expectations in the classroom, such as agreeing that “we always try our best” because developing a work ethic is an essential value to your studio culture. As younger dancers grow up at your school, this culture will simply become what they already expect of themselves and others.
Think of it as an ongoing development, not a destination
Business culture isn’t something you build and then it’s just there forever. To me, it’s more like a garden that needs cultivating, and it requires some patience. Sometimes the weeds need to be pulled, and sometimes the blooms are magnificent! But it always needs attention so that it can flourish.
The special care you give your culture will positively impact everyone at your studio, from your staff to your students to their parents. I hope you’ll consider using these steps to establish or renew the values your culture depends on! Ask yourself: if not now, when? There’s no time like the present to prioritize this important work.Tell me in the comments what you love best about your studio’s culture, or what shifts you are making to improve it. I believe we can all learn from each other’s experiences and build our studio’s culture to be stronger than ever!
Looking for more great ideas to help you build your studio’s culture? Check out the following articles:
Have you ever gotten to the day of recital and been surprised by something you know you could have prevented, if only you had prepared ahead of time? Yep, me too. I’ve been in those shoes before and boy do they hurt! With time and experience though, I’ve learned better tactics for planning out my dance recital day.
I distinctly remember this one dance recital moment early in my career as a studio owner when we had mounted an ambitious opening number to “Be Our Guest,” complete with seven-year-old tap dancing waiters! The first show went off without a hitch and so I didn’t check to see if all of the classes were in place for the second show. There we were, mid-production, with a faculty member gesturing to the side of the stage to usher in the waiters …. and NO WAITERS! You should’ve seen our faces of shock! We finished the dance, found the waiters, and ran the number again. And you can bet that’s an oversight I never made again.
While surprises will pop up, the best thing you can do to set yourself up for success is to plan your work and then work your plan. The effort you spend upfront will save you from mishaps, when the last thing you need is to put out one more fire (or find a class of missing waiters!).
Keep reading to learn 6 Steps to a Satisfying Dance Recital Day.
Here are my 6 Steps to a Satisfying Recital Day:
1. Find a quiet moment to yourself before the day begins
This should be completely non-recital related: maybe you decide to take an early-morning walk with your spouse, enjoy a cup of coffee on your patio, or read through an inspirational book. It doesn’t need to be more than 15 minutes, but find the time to breathe before the you head off to the races. Because we all know that once you get in your car for the day, it will be go, go, go until your head hits your pillow at the end of the day (and then, likely, your mind will keep going).
2. Arrive early to greet venue staff, employees, volunteers, and vendors
Schedule time before your dancers’ arrival to personally (yet briefly) check in with everyone who is helping to run the show. This is the perfect time to go through any last-minute notes or checkpoints to ensure the best organization. Offer up some encouragement too; it’s not just the dancers who get nervous for recital day! If you want to go the extra mile, bring them a care basket. Nothing warms the heart of a theater tech person like a basket of treats and some caffeine for long show days.
3. Be proactive: anticipate problems
Although you can’t predict everything, you can prepare for some problems. Stash a “recital supplies” bag in the wings or in the dressing room with extra tights, extra tickets, backup music, an emergency kit, a sewing kit, Sharpies … anything you can think of that might come in handy. We even station our Business Manager by the door to backstage with our recital supply kit to make sure that every child is checked over from head-to-toe before they hit the stage. We’ve averted many small crises of missing shoes and costume pieces, costumes on backwards and upside down hair pieces during this pre-show check.
4. Make plans in advance to protect your time
As the studio owner, you will likely be the first person a parent wants to see if they’re upset about something, however big or small. We all know emotions can run high at performance time! Designate a time on your calendar when you will be ready to answer phone calls or emails, and make sure you have an employee or a volunteer who can run interference and offer redirection for people who want to approach you. Even something as simple as putting an autoresponder on your email and a cheery message on your voicemail box explaining that you are at the theater and will be returning calls and checking email at 9am each day of recital week can be very helpful for keeping parent expectations for communication in line with what you are able to actually give.
5. Give gratitude where it is due
Your recital day satisfaction goes way up the moment you start saying “thank you”. Show your gratitude in whichever ways are most available to you: hand out small gifts to your employees, thank your teachers by name in your welcome speech, offer up compliments when you see great work happening, provide a meal for your employees, and tell your dance parents you appreciate their trust in your studio. Recital day is full of opportunities to be share the love-be generous with your praise!
6. Enjoy the little things
Take note of the special things you notice throughout the day. I once saw the spark of a new friendship, between a younger dancer and an older one, when the older dancer offered comfort to the younger one who was struck with stage fright. It made my whole day to have witnessed that moment they shared, but I never would have paid attention to it if I had run right past them. The exchange even made my closing comments for the show because it was such an example of what we are really doing through dance … not just making great dancers, but making great kids!
Recital time is the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work for us and our students, just in different ways! It’s a highly emotional time on top of the busy-ness, so take steps to help give yourself a sense of control as well as the freedom to enjoy the day. I’d love to hear if following these steps makes a difference in your recital planning, or if you have more steps to share! Comment below or share your thoughts with me on social media @mistylown. Here’s to a joyful and successful recital season!
Are you looking for some more recital tips and ideas? Check out these other articles and resources from Misty:
Dance studio owners know that running a studio is a rewarding and joyous experience; there’s truly no other life like it! From the moment you open your doors, your mission is to make an impact on the world through dance. But even with the greatest of missions, there will still be times when things get tough—times when you question yourself or don’t know where to turn for help.
When those moments happen it can be helpful to talk with your peers, just to have someone who understands really LISTEN to you. But do you know what is even more beneficial? Seeking out a mentor—someone who can not only listen, but also inspire you to be your best, solve problems, raise your perspective, help you develop better leadership strategies, and coach you through big decisions.
Finding the right mentor can sometimes take a bit of work, but the payoff is awesome when you’ve found someone you respect and trust. Having had a few different mentors over the past two decades, I can honestly say that each one brought a unique and timely perspective to my life when I needed it.
Before you search for a mentor, think about what you want to achieve from the relationship. Do you want to work with someone who has knowledge of the dance industry, or would you prefer to have a mentor who comes from a different professional background? Do you want to meet on a consistent schedule, or keep things open-ended? How much time do you hope to spend with your mentor?
The answers to these questions will help prepare you to find a mentor who is the best fit possible. All it takes is a little planning, and a willingness to put yourself out there and meet new people.
Keep reading to learn about my 5 Ways to Find a Mentor:
Here are my 5 Ways to Find a Mentor:
Approach someone who has a business you admire
One of my local grocery stores, Festival Foods, has some of the most excellent customer service and community engagement I’ve ever seen and has been an inspiration for me since I started in business. While I was shopping one day, it occurred to me that I could learn a lot from the way Festival Foods runs its stores.
It didn’t take long before I was able to set up a meeting with its founder, Dave Skogen, who soon became my mentor and friend. Think about your local business neighbors; what business owner could YOU establish a relationship with?
Network in local business groups
Networking to find a mentor in your community can be as simple as joining the right groups, such as your city’s chamber of commerce or local arts council. In those places you’ll find business owners just like you who are looking to connect and develop deeper business relationships.
Try attending the next breakfast meeting or mixer, and begin getting to know who’s who. Remember that you all already have one pretty big quality in common: you want to better the community with your product or service.
Check your mutual connections
While it’s convenient to have a local mentor, long-distance can work too! Check the connections you have through social media, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to see who might be a potential mentor-match for you.
Perhaps you’ll be inspired to reach out to an old boss or a friend-of-a-friend who could become a mentor to you through phone calls, Skype meetings, or email. Ask your family and friends if they know of someone who seems like a good business-match for you. I have an accountability partner from Canada that I exchange emails with on a monthly basis.
Look into a business coaching program
Business coaching programs can steer you on the right path to finding an effective mentor, either through the program’s leader or its other members.
A coaching program that is dance-studio specific (such as my studio affiliation program, More Than Just Great Dancing®, Clint Salter’s Dance Studio Owner Association, Suzanne Blake Gerety’s DanceStudioOwner.com, or Austin Roberson’s Studio Owners Academy) could be a great fit, or it might be worth considering a broader business program (such as Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership’s All-Access).
Once you find a program you like, see if you can talk with a representative about your wants and needs in mentorship, or ask to experience a trial period before investing in a full membership.
Meet a mentor through SCORE
Formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE is a business mentorship program through the U.S. Small Business Administration. SCORE mentors are volunteers who are current or former business owners and executives.
A volunteer can be matched to you by location or industry. Based on your goals and timeline, they can offer you mentorship in person or via email.
Having a mentor by your side through the highs and lows of business ownership is truly invaluable! While there’s no exact formula for finding the right mentor, these 5 ways will give you some excellent traction to get started. Remember that you are developing new business relationships through this process: take the time to introduce yourself to prospective mentors, ask a few engaging questions, and follow up with a thank you message.
In the comments below, tell us how you plan to proceed with finding a mentor—or share with us how you connected with your current mentor. I also invite you to connect with me @mistylown on social media to continue the conversation about how having a mentor makes a difference in your life. I can’t wait to hear more about your mentorship experience!
Looking for more insights for dance studio owners? Check out these other articles and resources:
Should I step back from teaching to focus on studio business?
There are only 2 questions you need to answer to make this decision.
I meet a lot of studio owners in my travels, and there seems to be one thing that unites us—we all have a similar backstory. Somewhere along the way in life we fell in love with dance. We became dedicated to creating a career out of dance; we were passionate about the power of dance to change lives; and we were resourceful at using our skills and connections to make a difference in the lives of others.
I believe that studio owners are unique in this way, and this passion for sharing our love of dance is what drives us to succeed. But as we grow in our studio careers, we realize that the job of running a studio is about so much more than dance. We discover that we need to learn how to lead people, manage accounting, develop programming, understand new marketing trends and more. As your studio grows, the business needs can begin to rival the artistic side for your time and attention.
When this happens, you might feel like you’ve come to a crossroads. I know I did! This is where you have to start making decisions about the best place to direct your focus in this new season of life.
Should you step back from teaching to focus on studio business? Continue reading to see the only two questions you need to answer to make this decision.
There are only two questions you need to answer when deciding if you should step back from teaching:
Where is my zone of genius at the studio?
Your zone of genius is the place you want to be! This is where your talent and your passion intersect, and it may very well be in the classroom. If you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to teach—and you are a skilled teacher—then this is a strength area you can’t ignore or suppress.
If this is you, I would encourage you to stick with teaching because you flourish there! Your zone of genius might be in other areas too, so take note of those now before moving on to Question 2.
I am not shy to admit that although I am an excellent teacher, choreography was never my real zone of genius. I can do it, but I really have to work at it and have others on my team who are more naturally gifted in this area. Me? I prefer to “choreograph” the business side of things; creating new programs and marketing efforts to promote our work in the community.
When I was scheduled to teach several classes a week, the preparation time alone would cause me angst because it felt like it was taking time away from the areas of my business I was much better at handling (not to mention time away from my growing family).
With that realization, I made the decision to step back from teaching (to only one class per week) and focus on my leadership skills. Eventually, I stepped out of teaching altogether to focus on my family and running the business.
Who can I equip (or hire) to work in the areas that are NOT in my zone of genius?
If your zone of genius is in teaching, then it’s essential that you are surrounded by a team of people who are talented in the other areas of your business. For example, you may need an office manager who can take on more customer service and administrative responsibilities, or you may need a bookkeeper to make sure your accounting stays clean and up to date each month.
If your zone of genius (like mine) is in an area other than the creation of dances and preparation of lessons, then it’s probably time to step out of the classroom or to consider a reduced teaching schedule. Talk with your staff members to see who is interested in accepting more opportunities to teach, or begin the hiring process to bring new teachers on board.
If you are currently the primary teacher at your studio, consider stepping out of the classroom gradually—over a year or two—to make the transition smoother for your students and their parents. My transition out of the classroom was a five-year process that took me from teaching 27 classes per week to four, and then eventually to none.
I should pause and note here that even though I no longer teach weekly classes, I am still responsible for the quality of our classrooms and the artistic choices that end up on our stages. No matter which side of the business you decide to focus on, you still have responsibility for oversight of the other side of the business—even if you are not in the daily details of that aspect.
As a business owner, you will always have different hats to wear at your studio. But because of your personal history and passion for the art of dance, it can be a challenge to know whether “teacher” should still be one of them.
If you’ve ever thought about whether or not you should still be in the classroom, reflect back on your answers to the two questions here. Harmony can be found with both “the business side” and “the teaching side” of your studio; they are both vital to your studio’s success, and you will naturally have more strengths on one side than the other. I encourage you to play to those strengths and stand in your zone of genius as much as possible!
Connect with me @mistylown on social media or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to talk about where your zone of genius is, or to share your own experience of staying in or stepping out of the classroom. I wish you success as you determine which direction to dance in next!
Looking for more dance studio owner insights? Check out these other articles and resources:
Over the years, I have bought a couple of businesses and I recently even looked into buying a national franchise and negotiated for close to a month before I decided not to buy. But it wasn’t until last year, when I decided to offer my dance studio for sale, that I realized how many questions get fired at you when you’re in the selling seat.
Even though I had been a buyer and had asked a bunch of questions, when the tables were reversed I was sometimes rather taken aback by what was asked!
In a nutshell, I started a preschool dance school and built it to a couple of locations, had a solid, loyal student base and after nearly 2 years decided I needed to sell it for a range of reasons, primarily because I had competing opportunities and limited time. Luckily, I had approached my dance studio from the outset in a very organized and systemized fashion.
Questions Potential Buyers Asked Me
Are the venues locked in place and secured for the next 6-12 months?
What are the rentals, and where’s the paperwork outlining the agreement that the set days and times are secured for this dance studio?
Have you told your teachers that you’re selling?
If yes, how did they react? If not, why and when will you?
Have your teachers asked you if they can buy the studio?
Why don’t they want to buy it?
My note on this: I decided to tell my teachers as soon as I’d made the decision to sell and I offered them the business. They weren’t in a position to buy it, so, after they were made aware but declined, I looked further afield.
I waited a few days to see if the teachers changed their minds. Then, I approached other dance schools and dance teachers to see if they might like to buy the business.
How many students are there?
What is the life cycle of a student?
What profit is made per class per student less costs?
What is the gross and net profit per year per student?
What is the detailed P/L (profit and loss statement)?
Is this studio profitable? Is this studio in the red?
What’s the largest cost/s?
What are the fixed costs and variable costs?
Does this business have any outstanding debts/liabilities?
About Parents and Students
Do they know you’re selling?
Have you told them?
How have they responded?
If you haven’t told them when are you planning to?
About Other Dance Schools
What other dance schools are offering similar classes?
What price are they charging per term for similar classes?
Money seems to be the focus
Interestingly, I noticed that most of the questions related to money – profit, turnover, price per student, profit per student and all the financials. People also wanted to know about the staff and whether they would stay on. The teachers in my business were a critical piece of the puzzle since I myself wasn’t teaching in the studio; in some studios this might not be so important.
What I found amazing was that no one was really that interested in the brand, the goodwill, the dance programs I’d created or the social media following. The main value they saw in the business was in the monetary side of things, student numbers and staff retention.
What the selling experience taught me was that unless your business systems are tight and your financials are solid it will be very hard to sell a business based on reputation, name or quality programs alone. That being said, those aspects are really important to the success of the studio and therefore the profitability, so they are still important.
I have attributed this to the fact that a lot of dance teachers who acquire other dance schools will make the assumption, rightly or wrongly, that they already have their own programs, reputation, and branding. Therefore, they don’t need to worry about yours as they will just bring the acquisition under their already existing umbrella.
At the end of the day, selling a dance studio is the same as selling any business and a buyer, like a property buyer, wants to know that what they are buying has value and profit.
Ensuring that your business systems, financials and all fees are paid is going to be key when and if you need to sell your dance studio.
Emma Franklin Bell is an entrepreneur, author and mentor. In 2014, she sold 2 small businesses in the children’s entertainment space. She has written and published a book, and mentors dance teachers on the strategic direction of their business. She is based in Australia.
The influx of chilly winter weather can also bring along particularly tricky illnesses like the seasonal flu. To promote health and safety in a dance studio, it’s important to proactive in keeping the space clean and germ-free.
Think Ahead and Change Studio Habits
When the season changes, it’s hard for everyone to adapt at the same pace. As a studio owner, the best you can do is to broadcast best practices and habits for your dancers: how to eat, how to dress, and how to deal with sickness (more on that later).
Immune systems often face a challenge when it comes to changing weather, so it’s important to remind dancers to eat well and get plenty of sleep. Don’t wait until you’re already sick to be eating chicken soup and other nutritious meals!
You probably explained your studio’s sickness policies at the beginning of the season, but now is a good time to reiterate them to your students and instructors. Explain to everyone that if they feel too ill to perform, you’d prefer they stay at home and rest.
Sometimes, dedicated dancers will want to push through their sniffles, but it’s in their best interest to take time to recover. Simply ask that anyone who misses class give you adequate notice via your preferred method of communication and that you’ll make exceptions to your studio’s attendance policies in the case of illness.
By staying home and getting better, they accelerate their recovery AND keep germs out of the studio.
Dance Studio Life noted that it’s generally a good idea to encourage students and teachers to take a full week to recover from the flu, while they will usually be able to return in a few days if it is just a cold.
Be Diligent About Disinfecting
The second important step in combating seasonal sickness is to keep your studio as clean as possible. Seattle Yoga News explained that you should amp up your disinfecting procedures to 110 percent if you have sick students. This means wiping down equipment with disinfectant after every use.
It might be easiest to take a few minutes at the end of each class to have students wipe down whatever barre or mats they used.
Have your office staff help disinfect high traffic areas and objects, like door handles, bathrooms and the front desk. You can also have bottles of hand sanitizer in strategic places around your studio to encourage parents and students to keep their hands germ free.
Follow Your Own Rules
Finally, keep in mind that you’re just as susceptible to sickness as your students are! It’s equally important that you follow the studio rules should you fall ill.
Even if you have a to-do list a mile long, you won’t be helping anyone if you come into class sick. Take time off to recover and delegate as many tasks as you can. Your instructors and support staff will be more than willing to help out if you extend the same courtesy when they’re feeling under the weather.
Last year, we decided to adopt a “Studio Mascot” for our studio and competitive team. Since we were attending Nationals in New Orleans, we selected a fun-looking alligator, named her Louise, and dressed her in dance-like attire (yes, we actually went shopping for a stuffed alligator).
We introduced Louise to the studio with the following poem:
I am proud to say “Hi there,
my name is Louise.”
I am a pretty little dancer
from Stage Door, if you please.
I hail from a southern city.
You may know it as New Orleans,
A city with lots of culture
Known for its Mardi Gras scenes.
You may be thinking
You’ve seen me before in a bog
But you’re thinking of my brother
from Princess and the Frog
I was so busy dancing
While my brother played his trumpet
They wanted me in the movie,
But I had to dump it!
I love ballet, tap and jazz,
theatre, acro, and hip-hop!
I love every style of dance,
And I doubt I’ll ever stop!
I am thrilled to be a part
Of the family at Stage Door
I will be your mascot, your friend
and so much more!
I will travel to competitions
with the Stage Door Elite
I will cheer real loud,
and stamp my feet!
At the end of the season
In July of twenty thirteen,
My journey will continue at Nationals
down in New Orleans.
I’ll show you my stomping grounds
and we’ll have fun
Riding in swamp buggies
in the hot summer sun.
After the summer,
I might choose to stay
at the studio in Raleigh
to laugh, dance, sing, and play.
So let’s start this adventure
And become great friends
We’ll work hard, practice,
and be a team to the end!
Louise had such popularity that smaller mascots began popping up at competitions:
Our studio families and students LOVE Louise! The students enjoy seeing her at events, and they are always eager to sit beside her, hold her, and take pictures with her.
Louise even had a starring role in our Spring Recital:
So, how can you create dance studio mascots for your team/studio?
Select something that ties into the theme/mission/culture/events of your studio
Tailor the mascot’s presence to reflect your brand
Promote the dance studio mascots to your studio and students
Be imaginative! Creativity is what brings a mascot to life.
The mascot brought a great level of camaraderie to our team and studio last year, and we are excited to begin Louise’s adventures this year. Select your mascot, and join in on the fun! It will add a little magic to your season. 🙂
I often hear the debate of what age is acceptable for a child to begin performing. I firmly believe that the earlier young dancers can start performing, the more comfortable, self-confident, and present they will become as performers and artists.
At my studio, I am completely comfortable putting a 3-year old student onstage for the annual performance (taking show times and performance length into consideration, of course). I first performed at 3-years old, and I remember absolutely loving the experience. When I am feeling nostalgic, I will find the VHS (and the VHS player) and watch the playback (anyone remember toast shiny tights?).
Younger students are so capable and uninhibited, and I think too many instructors (and, perhaps, even some parents) underestimate their power to learn. If you instill disciplined habits and work ethics in students at a young age, they will really excel in their training dance training.
Obviously, there are proper teaching methods and philosophies for younger students that are developmentally in-line with their physical and psychological maturation. These students should be nurtured, loved, and taught in a way that will allow them to develop a proper passion for the art.
And, performing at a younger age can mean many different things. Obviously, the expectation is not that a young, 3-year old will perform double pirouettes, extensions, and aerials. Rather, the accomplishment lies in the completion of the task.
Some of a young student’s accomplishments may be: standing on stage and not crying, forming the circle in the routine, knowing where to stand, remembering to smile, finishing a routine, or feeling proud of themselves for accomplishing a goal.
With each opportunity, the child will feel more comfortable and progressive in his/her capabilities and performance. The growth is truly rewarding for everyone involved in the process.
Getting Older Students to Start Performing
As a counter observation, for students that begin performing in their pre-teen/adolescence, it is more difficult to instill performance qualities since they lack the extent of early exposure to the stage and performing. As students age, they become concerned about others’ opinions of their projection, which usually translates to being more nervous, apprehensive, and tense when asked to perform and project onstage.
Of course, students’ projections can be fostered and improved, regardless of age, but, for students that are truly interested in performing, the younger a student can start acquiring the culture of the performance environment, the better. Then, the act of performing becomes second nature.
Certainly, younger students’ performance capabilities are dependent upon maturity, personal readiness, and level of interest. This philosophy is not a blanket standard; rather, it is something to consider for students that are young and ready for the performance experience. Do not write off opportunities simply because of a child’s age; rather, see how you can further ignite their passion and interest in dance.
You have the power to offer students opportunities to grow and blossom, regardless of age, and that is a tremendous gift and reward of being a dance educator. Let’s use it!
(This is a recital picture in the dance scrapbook I created in high school. This pic is from my second recital; I was 4 years old.)
(This pic is of one of my students. He has been performing on stage since he was 2 years old. Now 6, he absolutely loves the performance experience. We are fortunate to have many students at our studio that feel the same way. Words cannot begin describe the pride we feel towards our young, tenacious, passionate performers!)
I truly believe dance is for everyone, and can move everyone in some capacity- as an observer, as a mover, or as a dancer. As dance educators, we have the opportunity to build programming that is accessible to everyone. Once students are a part of our programming, we have an obligation to serve them to the best of our ability.
When a studio culture transforms into statements of regularity such as “those kids aren’t good”, “he/she will never be an overall winner”, or “so-so refuses to dance with so-so”, it becomes a danger zone. It compromises our mission as educators to create a positive infrastructure that focuses on building the art of DANCE through technique, style, acceptance, and diversity.
As educators, we must take the lead. Our leadership is required to promote the accessibility of dance for everyone.
Our art is not elitist- it does not require Olympic level ability for success and impact. Rather, it requires time, patience, love, and nurturing.
Then, you create a dancer (in whatever capacity that may be), and you also build a relationship that will far outlast a student’s tenure at the dance studio. That’s impact.
Now that you’re about to get started opening a dance studio, you have to begin planning your initial marketing strategies to let the public know that you now exist. How will you get the word out? How will people know that you are a credible institute of dance? Before mentioning any detailed strategies, the most important thing to realize is that the more time you have for planning and marketing your opening timeline, the more successful your efforts will prove.
SECTION 1: Opening Strategies
Here are some strategies that worked well for The Dance Exec’s Studio during its opening:
“Coming Soon” Sign
Placing a “Coming Soon…” banner over the doors at the soon-to-be studio site (which stresses importance of location, visibility, and neighboring businesses)
Set Up Tables Around Town
Set up tables at nearby locations to promote your coming location. When The Dance Exec’s Studio was opening, tables were set-up at a fun park (putt-putt, go-karts, arcade games, etc), nearby preschools, local swim clubs, nearby churches and local country clubs on a regular basis. The studio set up at any and every community festival and event possible. These events are frequently free, and you can create an extensive prospective client database by gathering emails and phone numbers with a raffle or give away (e.g. enter for a chance to win a free month of classes, just give us your email!).
Some places that may not work well for setting up a table (local schools), may be willing to put out flyers or business cards advertising your services. Our philosophy is that it never hurts to ask.
Free Demo Classes
Be prepared to give lots of free demo classes! You must be so confident in your service that everyone wants to buy-in. Visit as many places as possible and show them what you have to offer. Very few places will refuse an offer for a free demo class. If you do not ask to offer a sample class, it is unlikely they will ask you. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there.
SECTION 2: Logistical Preparation
Any time you are in the public, you must be prepared. Before beginning your marketing, follow-up information should be ready.
Prior to beginning your marketing / grand opening announcement efforts, make sure the following are fully functional and ready to go:
Class offerings/schedule information to give to people
Flyers & Information Sheets
Studio T-Shirts with Logo (not required, but encouraged)
It is incredibly important to remember that if people are contacting you, you need to be ready to respond. Be prepared to answer the phone and respond to emails in a prompt, efficient manner. Show your prospective clients that your level of customer service is exceptional from their initial interaction with you.
SECTION 3: Grand Opening Event
We also recommend planning a large Grand Opening event, which can be the centralized theme of your early marketing efforts.
At your Grand Opening event, this is your first time officially introducing yourself as a business entity to your community and prospective clients. The studio should be as close to completion as possible and should be clean and in neat order. Show people how organized you are from the very first day.
The Grand Opening event should include any of the following options:
Complimentary Sample Classes for a variety of ages, featuring a variety of your instructors
Facility Tours (we recommend having a tour script that highlights the studio and its best features so that everyone visiting the studio receives the same, standardized information)
Face Painting/ Balloon Animals/ Craft Stations / etc.
Separate Registration area, so interested clients can be efficiently and sufficiently addressed
Separate Shoe Fitting/Merchandise Purchasing area
At the end of The Dance Exec’s Studio’s Grand Opening, we had over 100 students registered. This number will vary significantly based on where you are opening and your marketing efforts. When the studio began, it began from scratch. There was no taking of half of a student base of a nearby studio, or any of the “ick factor” stories you often hear associated with the opening of a new studio.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If students choose The Dance Exec’s Studio, it is because we are building a reputation and are providing the best possible experience for each and every one of our clientele. As a Studio Owner, you have a huge responsibility—in the world of dance studios, there is not a quality control department or corporate headquarters where we can send dissatisfied clients; rather, dance studio owners are all-encompassing title holders.
Be ready for every scenario possible. One of The Dance Exec’s Studio’s greatest mentors and advisers gave us this initial advice,
“You are now a business owner first, and an artist second.”
Take that advice, and enjoy the ride that is opening a dance studio!
Highly successful people choose to develop good habits and routines. They work consistently, with discipline, and do not allow excuses to overshadow their goals. It is rumored that a habit forms in 20-21 days; however, this Forbes’ article (a great read!) debunks the myth and elaborates on the formulating steps required to make an activity a way of life.
Examples of habits for our students may be:
Working Towards a Technical Goal
A Conditioning Plan
Time Management & Organization
Examples of habits for Instructors/Studio Owners may be:
Healthier Lifestyle Habits
Business/Work- Oriented Goals
Improved Time Management
Whatever you are working towards, commit to achieving the level of success that will positively impact your quality of life. It will make a difference!
Thanks to the new TutuTix POP app, dance studios can now accept credit card payments AT their recitals. POP makes it easier for dance families to make purchases at events, and can help generate extra income for studios. If you haven’t been able to accept credit cards in the past, or you’d like a simpler, low-cost way to accept credit cards and collect sales proceeds, take a look at these 5 ways you can now offer more to your dance families.
Dance studios who use TutuTix offer tickets to dance recitals online, letting family and friends of dancers purchase tickets ahead of time, without having to wait in line on ticket day. But, sometimes those family members and friends aren’t able to get tickets early, and instead need to purchase them on the evening of the event.
Now they don’t need to show up with cash in order to see their favorite dancers perform. The TutuTix POP app will simply scan their credit card, and you can give them a beautiful TutuTix ticket with their seat number for the evening.
Many studios offer packages prior to the recital that include flowers for dancers following the performance. But, depending on the studio, flowers might instead be offered for sale at the venue at the performance itself.
Just like tickets, dance studios can now receive credit card payments for flowers, making it that much easier for dancers to be celebrated after the finale.
Branded Dance Studio Merchandise
When we say merchandise we’re thinking:
And whatever other merchandise your studio has to show off some dancing spirit! A dance recital is the perfect time to set up a merchandise table, since family and friends will be excited about the event. Attendees are likely to see merchandise on the day of the event and buy items as gifts for their dancer.
Plus, you want your dancers wearing some studio swag around over the summer! Branded clothing items and other merchandise are a great way to get some word-of-mouth marketing for your studio going around in the local community.
Souvenirs (like DVDs)
Besides merchandise, souvenirs act more like memories of the event, and might include items like DVDs, photo packages, or souvenir playbills.
With TutuTix, you can offer packages for items like these before the recital itself that include bundled items, including a ticket to the event.
However, you can also take orders for DVDs or sell printed programs at the event, and can now accept credit cards for these higher-ticket items! Souvenirs can be a special way to remember a big performance, and by accepting credit cards you offer one more way for family to go home and receive a DVD of the evening’s dances.
Depending on the venue in which your studio performs, you may or may not be able to sell concessions during the performance. For those venues that do allow concessions, being able to accept credit cards can be a great solution if there isn’t an ATM nearby.
Some of the most common buyers of concessions are dance parents who may have arrived a little earlier in the evening to drop off their dancer on time, but haven’t had a chance to get dinner! If your venue allows concessions, they can be a big lifesaver for your dance parents.
Writing a dance studio business plan is a BIG project. But an important one! This plan will lay out your studio’s hopes and dreams, as well as the step-by-step process for getting from Point A to Point B. A few questions to ask yourself as you get started:
Where are you now?
Where do you want to be in three years? In five?
Who will help you get there?
The point of a dance studio business plan is to clearly lay out the aspects of a new company: strengths, challenges, and all of the minor details that will make the business a success. This document is an opportunity for entrepreneurs and hopeful business owners to put all of their ideas on paper, so that colleagues and other advisors can review the plan and offer any advice or criticism before the business is launched.
As an example, TutuTix has created a sample dance studio business plan for our imaginary dance studio, TIPS (the TutuTix Imaginary Performance Studios).
Feel free to use our guide’s ideas in your own plan, and please send us feedback about ideas we might not have that work particularly well in your studio! You can download the example dance studio business plan for free by completing the form below:
The layout of a business plan follows a logical progression of topics that a company needs to have defined prior to opening for business.
That order of topics should look something like this:
A concise description of your company, that acts as an overview of your goals and values. Keep it short but sweet! Why did you choose to build this kind of company?
Here, you can flesh out your overview and touch on how your business will function. Talk a little about your customer base, marketing goals, and strengths of your company. Why are you the best? Is it because you have the best staff, the most experience, the best rates?
Who are you competing against? How strong is that competition, and why do you think your studio can handle it? How will your business grow in this community over time?
There are lots of talented teachers and dancers who would be great studio owners. But in their current city or location, they would have a really hard time getting into the market and signing up students. That might be because of competition, lack of student interest in the area, or other reasons. How will your studio stand up to these tests?
Products and Services
Which dance classes will you offer? Will you rent out your space? Will you sell any retail items?
This section lists out your business functions: what do you offer, and how much will you charge? All of the items listed here will add up to be your studio’s income.
Marketing Publishing Strategy
How will people find out about your business, and how will you recruit additional students after your first season? What does your brand mean to you, and what do you want it to mean to others?
Operational Plan, Legal, and Startup Expenses
You can’t start a business from scratch: you’ll need funds and some professional consulting to get your company off the ground. How will you pay for your startup costs? Do you have that money already, or will you need to raise money with partners? Is a loan from the bank your best option?
By the time you get to writing this portion, hopefully you’ve talked to colleagues who might be opening the studio with you, or you’ve found a legal and/or financial professional who can advise you on the best way to move forward. Taking on debt to open a business is always risky, so you want to find funds the right way and have a plan to pay that debt back.
Most importantly: don’t be afraid to adapt! After the completion of the business plan, go back through and make adjustments based on information you’ve learned along the way! Ideas can and should evolve when they’re laid out on paper, so be sure to look for guidance from other teachers and business owners when putting together your plan.
Once you find your ideal location, the next step is setting up the space and determining the best, most cost effective and functional way to fill the space. When you find your space, you will have a tangible element to begin constructing your dream and your studio. As mentioned before, the layout of your dance studio floor plans is critical to maximizing your business capabilities. Your design should be smart, sleek, and efficient.
Free Space vs Common Space
At The Dance Exec’s Studio as much space as possible was dedicated to actual dancing space. Out of 4,200 square feet, about 1,050 square feet is dedicated to common spaces like a lobby, office, hallway, bathroom and storage space. When designing your overall space keep in mind that about three-fourths of your space should be dedicated to income producing (danceable) space.
An important question to consider is: how much free space does a dancer need? If there is a 1,000 square foot room, how many teenage dancers can fit into that room comfortably?
Lobby space should be minimal. The lobby does not need to be a large space for parents to loiter, as that encourages gossip and detracts from studio space. The Dance Exec’s Studio’s lobby is about 240 square feet and can accommodate 24 seated parents plus their children in laps during the transition times in between classes.
Sometimes, there are upward of 35 adults and their small children bustling through the lobby. Though it is uncomfortable with that many people in the space, the way the dance studio floor plans were designed encourages people to be expeditious and transient. You are running a dance education business, not a hang out spot for parents or idle students.
Necessary spaces like office space, bathrooms, and hallways should be practical (often, minimum size is dictated by building codes), but should be kept as small as possible.
Dressing room areas should be large enough to accommodate a few changing students but should not be so large as to encourage students to loiter. A student in the changing room should be there solely with the purpose of preparing for their next class (or storing a few items while they attend class).
Storage room should not be neglected in planning your space. Storage should be large enough to keep all items for studio operations organized and out of sight. Though very important, storage space too should not be huge and should be organized in a structured manner.
In creating your dance studio floor plans and finalizing a layout, maintaining dance space as the priority is key. Homework areas and places to eat and hangout should be avoided. Schedules should be planned in a way that students at the studio are there to take class. If the time arises for activities such as a snack or homework, the lobby space should be sufficient to serve as a temporary spot for such tasks.
It’s important to think about all the different pieces of equipment and dance gear that will make up your dance studio space, because each feature has an important role. Whether it’s the height of the ceiling, deciding which of the dance floor types is most suitable, what kind of mirrors you’ll need, what kind of barre you’ll want, have a picture in mind of what you want your ideal school to look like (and have a budget ready to work with). And, make sure to have fun in your decorating; allow your personality and passion to shine!
Walls & Ceilings
When outfitting your space, it is helpful to install insulation in the walls to assist in reducing noise transfer between studio rooms. It is not always required to install insulation in interior spaces, but this can be an inexpensive way to keep your space quieter (lobbies, bathrooms, if you have multiple rooms)
A high ceiling can make a space feel larger, and, conversely, a low ceiling can make a room feel smaller. The Dance Exec’s Studio has 12-foot ceilings in the studio rooms, making the area feel open and spacious. In comparison, some studios with lower ceilings and similar sized rooms do not feel nearly as large.
Some spaces will not be able to accommodate high ceilings, but you certainly want them to be as high as possible. Ceiling materials can also affect noise transfer, so be sure to take that into consideration in your planning and product selection.
The single most important feature in a dance studio is quite possibly the dance room floor. Which of the dance floor types you select will largely be dictated by budget, but a nice sprung floor system can easily be constructed for around seven to nine dollars per square foot.
There are also several flooring companies that install dance floors, though their prices are considerably higher. Sprung floors can greatly reduce risk of injury, and increase the overall health and well being of the instructors and dancers at your studio. For the health and longevity of your students and instructors, this is absolutely not a corner you can afford to cut.
There are several choices when it comes to dance floor types. What you choose will be dictated by your use of the dance room (ballet only, tap only, multipurpose floor, etc.).
The size of your studio’s mirrors can also make a big difference in how large a space appears. The Dance Exec’s Studio has mirrors that are 8 feet high, which makes the space appear much larger than studios that opt to use 4 or 6-foot mirrors.
For walls with mirrors, it is important to have an open wall with minimal obstructions (electrical outlets, light switches, etc). The cost of working around switches and outlets can significantly increase the cost of mirror installation.
There are several companies that sell wall and floor mounted barres. Wall mounted or floor mounted barres can be expensive, but are a great permanent installation for your space. The Dance Exec’s Studio chose to use portable barres. This allows barres to be pulled into the middle of the floor, and they can be oriented so they face the mirrors as well.
Portable barres are an optimal, flexible option for studio space. They can be built with PVC piping or metal piping (iron or galvanized is a great option). Your choice for barres will likely depend on your budget and how you would like to utilize your space.
Your sound system selections should be professional, functioning, and appropriate for your studio space.
Sound systems should play CDs, iPods, iPads, laptops, etc. Make sure your equipment is up-to-date with the current technology.
Closed-Circuit Monitoring System & Options
Observation windows are likely the biggest deterrent from creating a focused learning environment for dance studio students. Younger students are easily distracted and will likely want to wave or blow kisses to their parents through the observation window.
The parents reciprocate communication, thinking it is cute without realizing that it is drawing every single students’ attention away from the reason they are there: to receive a dance education. As the students age, they become self-conscious about being observed, which can be equally distracting.
In order to remedy this problem, The Dance Exec’s Studio installed a closed circuit monitoring system. In the lobby, there are 4 flat screen, wall-mounted, television monitors. Three of them display our three dance rooms, and parents have the ability to watch their students’ entire classes without creating a distraction.
On studio tours, this is pointed out as a huge selling point to increase focus in the classroom, while allowing parents to watch the entire class without crowding around an observation window. It is a win-win for students, instructors and parents! The other TV monitor is used to show DVDs of previous recitals, pictures of dancers put on DVD, or other items that can be further selling points to prospective parents.
***This is a project that you can accomplish independently. Several home security systems are built to provide closed circuit monitoring (you can even include digital recording options). These systems are fairly inexpensive and relatively simple to install. Security companies are also able to install a similar system, but are more expensive to hire.
Studio Security Options
You may choose to have a security system installed that has monitoring that is paid through a monthly fee. If you are considering a closed circuit monitoring system, these can connect into one system that will provide your space with a heightened level of security to ease your mind and serve as a part of your parent observation system.
One thing that many studio owners do not consider is: “Who has a key to your studio?” Inevitably, someone will wind up with a key, and you will wish they did not have one. Even if they return the key, how do you know they did not have a copy made? Do you want to change the locks every time this happens?
The Dance Exec’s Studio has a keypad with a code that owners/employees have to type in that unlocks the door. This was a relatively expensive installation fee upfront, but the functionality has made it worth the investment. We never have to worry about having the locks changed for fear of someone having a key (or incur such an expense). Changing the code to the front door is about a 2- minute process.
The front desk person is always present to allow parents to enter (by pressing a button that “buzzes” them in). A doorbell was also installed for clients to ring in the event the front desk person has stepped away. This may seem like overkill, but many daycares and preschools are implementing this level of security, so in many cases, parents in this area are familiar with the concept. Hopefully, you have chosen a safe location, but this truly prevents people from entering your studio without someone in the building knowing that they are there.
This can be used as a selling point to parents as it also helps ensure that children are not running outside without a parent, and parents also know that you work hard to keep potentially unsafe people out of the studio. At one point in The Dance Exec’s career (at another facility), someone came into the office (where staff members kept their purses during classes) and stole all of the purses. A locked front door would have easily prevented this incident.
Please note that these systems run on electricity, so having a key backup is necessary in the case of a power outage or if the keypad entry system fails for some reason.
Select your décor, paint colors, and thematic concept to fit your niche market within the dance industry. If you are a training facility for children, make sure your look and set-up is reflective of your mission. If you are a classical ballet conservatory, make sure your look reflects that, too.