Q. What do you recommend is the best way to market your studio?
A. This is a question that we get asked a lot because marketing is so important. The best place to start is by setting a budget. Figure out how much you can afford to dedicate to your marketing. Most business analysts say that about 20 percent of your gross is the target amount, but you have to be comfortable with the amount you set. That budget will determine what you do throughout the year. Once you know how much you have, we recommend that you spread it around to several mediums. We have had great success with newspaper inserts, as simple as a full color piece printed on both sides. Your local newspaper will then insert it into the circulation that you choose. This is most effect for weekly papers—we really do not use the daily newspapers to advertise. Another great idea is a post card mailing to a targeted list. You can get your cards printed and buy a list from a company like Postcard Mania. This message needs to be targeted to the exact age bracket that you are trying to reach. Another part of the pie is for online pay-per-click ads on resources like Facebook, Google, Super Pages and Yellow Pages.com. You can set a budget for as little as $25 a month and then adjust it as you proceed. The key is to try several things and track the results. That way you can see what is working best for you. The one thing we can say for sure is if you run just one ad or send just one mailing you will not have the results you are looking for, which is increased revenue. Marketing success is cumulative.
Q. I am wondering how much I should charge for classes. Is there a set formula that I can use?
A. This is one that you will need to do a little bit of research on. Fees in every state, city or town will vary greatly. Here are steps to take to find out what you should be charging. First of all, find out what other dance schools in your area are charging. Once you have that knowledge, you can figure out why your customers or prospective customers should pay more for yours! Some USPs (Unique Selling Propositions) to consider are: new or upgraded facility, professionally trained faculty, special flooring, free customer events, friendly atmosphere, early childhood specialists and an outstanding competition team. Every year we find out what the other schools in a 20-mile radius are charging. Then we see if what we are charging is enough. We have a built-in price increase every year. This increase can be for classes, registration fees, costume fees, private lesson fees and showcase (recital) tickets. It does not have to be a huge jump, just increase by a certain percentage each and every year. Think about it: What did you pay for 3 years ago that is still the same price? We are sure that your expenses have gone up. Another point to consider is that people will often view the most expensive as the best. You don’t want clients choosing you just because of a low price alone, or else whenever another studio starts charging less than you, you will feel obligated to lower your price—which we don’t ever recommend you do. Instead, always think in terms of adding more value and charging more.
Q. What one key has made the biggest impact on your business growth?
A. The process of getting the right staff and faculty has been the key to helping us not only build our business, but also gives us the freedom to not have to be at our school every single day. We say "the process" because it takes time to find the right people and you will need to adjust the people you have from time to time (for example, if one of your employees becomes a problem) and build systems that will include manuals for all aspects of running your business. Having a group of people working for you who have a passion for your school will create a great environment. They will not only help you within your facility, but also in the community by spreading the word about you and your school. All of our teachers know that they are also helping us promote our school. We give them cards that they can pass out to prospective customers for a free class, with a spot for their name to be handwritten, and if the recipient comes in and signs up for a class we will give that teacher a bonus. Within the studio they are also promoting us by going the extra mile of connecting with the students and trying to build their classes from the current student count. We have created a front desk manual, teacher manual and operational manual so that there is a system to follow. Once you have identified how you want your school to run, these systems will help you to manage your business. The key is that manuals will need to be adjusted from time to time and you will have to have your people learn the additional ways that you want things done. This again will take some time, but it will be well worth it. One last note on your team: If you have one person who is a pain in the neck, for whatever reason, your plan should be to get rid of them as soon as possible. This may be the most important thing you can do for the health of your business and you!
Q. My lease is about to expire and my landlord is looking for a big increase. What do I do?
A. We have just recently gone through the process of renegotiating our lease that expired after 15 years. We have had a great relationship with our landlord, but he wanted considerably more than what we wanted to pay. When we first started out we bought our school from Steve’s former teacher Mikki Williams. The school was located in a racquetball spa. After 7 years they sold the building and we needed to find a new place fast. We negotiated with our current landlord so we knew he was open to working with us. As a matter of fact we negotiated to receive 7 months of free rent (if you are moving or just starting out, most commercial properties will give you free rent but only if you ask for it, so make sure you ask!) and a lease with reasonable increases every 3 years. So when we renegotiated the new lease we wanted to stay at those same increments. Our landlord balked at first, but in the end we came to an amicable agreement. Keep in mind that being willing to sign a long-term lease will give you a lot of leverage. Of course, you have to be comfortable that you are in it for the long haul. With 30 years in business, our landlord knows we are not a fly-by-night operation and that having us as a tenant, even receiving less rent than he could have received from a new unknown business, was the tipping point in our favor. If you have been in your current space for a while, we recommend that you point out to your landlord in any new written proposal that you have been a great tenant.
Q. I am thinking of expanding. Any recommendations on how I should proceed?
A. We recommend that you proceed with caution when you are thinking about expanding. First, make sure that you are utilizing all of your space to the maximum before taking on the additional expense. Next, do some number crunching. If you only have one studio, of course it only makes sense that if you can add more space and have more studios in the one location you will be adding revenue. How much added revenue needs to come in to make ends meet? Here is a formula you can use. Multiply the price you charge per lesson by how many students you need to add for this space to make sense. Now, deduct how much will it cost you in added rent, faculty payments, utilities and for outfitting the new space if necessary. Don’t overlook the additional marketing you will need to do to fill up this new space with new students. To delay some of these expenses while building enrollment, keep in mind that you can also ask for free rent in this new added space, especially if you are expanding in a place that you have been in for a while. As with any new expense you will need to take a certain leap of faith, but you should have a good idea of the numbers needed to make it work before taking the plunge. BUT once you see a good path, Don't Hesitate...Take It!
Q. Where do you find your teachers?
A. There are some great online resources that we have used like dance.net and craigslist. If you live near a big city with a dance company, you could fax their administrative office a flyer about teaching positions at your school for them to post. We have also had success contacting the dance departments of local colleges. Word of mouth is also a great way to find people. We let everyone we know that we are always looking to add to our faculty so that if they know or hear of someone who is looking to teach they can have them get in contact with us. Even during the season we will put a classified ad in our local paper from time to time to see if any teacher or former dancer looking to teach has relocated to our area. We recommend that you look for young teachers who are willing to be trained to do specific classes like pre-school or beginner tap or jazz. The most important thing is that they have a great personality and that they can follow the class content you want to have covered. A new, eager teacher can be a real asset to your business if trained the right way!