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Ask Rhee Gold | January 2010

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AskRheeAdvice for dance teachers

Dear Rhee,
I am interested in selling my studio and am willing to stay on as a teacher. (My older girls would likely leave rather than stay for the new teacher; this way we could transition them over a few seasons to the new program while the younger girls build their loyalty to the new regime.) Do you have any suggestions for how to sell or find a buyer without broadcasting to my competitors (or clients) that I’m looking to sell? I have no staff or teachers. I have almost two years before my next lease renewal and figure the process will probably take a year.

Also, I’m struggling with the feeling that closing equals failure, which is why I keep going. I can’t get past that association, even though moving on is the right thing. I am in my 18th season. —Stuck in Maryland

Dear Stuck,
Please don’t allow yourself to feel like a failure. I have built and sold businesses myself, and in my experience, the decision to sell or close a business is usually prompted by an inner voice that is saying there is more to accomplish in life. It might sound like a cliché to say, “Once one door closes, another opens,” but for me that is exactly what has happened each time. Once you get over the fear that the next door won’t open and feel comfortable enough to dance your way through it when it does, I’ll bet you’ll have no regrets. Chances are you’ll realize that your new place in life is just what you needed.

One route you could go in selling your school is to find a business broker who might be able to help find a buyer. Usually a broker will ask potential buyers to sign a confidentiality agreement before revealing any information about the business. Once they sign the agreement, it is illegal for them to share the information with anyone (usually for a designated period of time). The catch to using business brokers is that they require a percentage of the sale price, just like a real estate agent. In a quick Internet search of “business brokers,” I found businessbroker.net, which will give you a concept of the procedure. (Note: I am not endorsing this site.) There are many options out there and you probably want to find a broker who is based in your state.

You could bypass the broker idea and come up with a list of potential buyers on your own. Look for successful schools in the area whose owners might be interested in expanding their operations. Also, former students who are teaching somewhere else or have the desire to teach might be interested in purchasing your business. Also consider parents of former or current students. They might be interested in investing in your business and might want you to continue teaching until they better understand the business process.

Another possibility is to take an ad in the newspaper or on a site like Craiglist.com, where you can solicit inquiries without including details about the actual location or the business. (But do mention which state the school is located in.) Once potential buyers contact you, require them to sign a confidentiality agreement before you reveal the school’s location or financial details.

I wish you all the best. —Rhee


Hi Rhee,
Some parents of our competitive students are complaining because we are using a big sheet of material for a piece of choreography and we have billed them for it. The material is being used by all the dancers and not being worn. Who should keep the material? One parent said she wants one-eighth of it when the dance is done. Others say that the studio should cover the cost. What do you think? Thank you! —Macey

Hello Macey,
My thought is that the school should purchase the material and keep it for future use. It is hard to charge the students for a single item because they cannot each take it home with them. Consider it a prop that you will be able to use again, either in the same way or in some other fashion down the road.
—Rhee 


Hello Rhee,
My studio has students from many surrounding communities. We love it that our students can balance school, dance, and other activities in their schools and community, and we encourage them to do so.

A new issue I am dealing with is donations. I average three or four requests a week for support, donations, or the purchase of ads for the students’ other activities, including Scouts, Nutcracker performances, and church, sport, and drama groups. Now multiply that by the number of communities our students come from. Where, when, and how do we limit it?
           
I am not talking about a $25 advertisement in a program book. I am dealing with people requesting $400 banners, $250 advertisements, donations of scholarships, and birthday party giveaways. I know it is a sign of the economic times and that fund-raising is a way that some of these programs can stay running, but it is hurting my business. I don’t want to exclude anyone or appear to support one particular group or town, so how do we tame this? —Paulette

Hello Paulette,
I have experience with this situation. My thought is to come up with one charity or group that your school supports—something that benefits children is the best way to go. Explain to those who seek donations that you support a charity and that is the only group you donate to.

Bear in mind that the more donations you make that include an ad for your school (with your contact info), the more calls you will receive from groups seeking donations. Organizations contact people and companies that have a proven record of making contributions. Every once in a while I do give in and make a donation, but I always ask that the gift be anonymous so that I do not receive donation requests from others. I wish you all the best. —Rhee


Hello Rhee,
The economy has done a great job on my dance studio here in Texas—people are keeping their kids at home and saving their money, plus there are other factors such as other dance studios opening. Most of my students love to do things in groups, so if one decides not to dance, then five of them don’t. I love what I do but it needs to pay the bills like it used to. This is my 20th year and sometimes I want to look for another job because of the money situation, and then I read Dance Studio Life and I get back that hope.

I think I need to reach new customers, but I’m not sure how to do it. I have a large Hispanic population in my school. I normally don’t advertise because word of mouth used to work fine for me. I’m trying Facebook and MySpace since they’re free, but I am not that computer savvy. I need to make ends meet and of course make some profit. Thanks! —Tonya

Hello Tonya,
It is time for you to get new faces into your school as quickly as possible. You have nothing to lose by offering a “bring a friend” week. Allow your students to invite their non-dancer friends to join them in class. (Teach at an elementary level during this week.) Make some sort of an offer to the enrolled students (a discount of 10 percent on tuition or something similar) if their friend registers for classes. You could also offer a discount to any of their friends who enroll.

Another way to bring in new students is to diversify your curriculum. Start to offer hip-hop (if you do not already) or social dance classes. You could do these classes in six- or eight-week increments to determine what’s popular in your area. It also might be a good idea to cater to the Hispanic population by offering dance traditions and folk dances of Mexico, South America, and Spain. Learn all you can about Hispanic culture and dance history so that you will be well educated in areas that will interest the potential clientele within your community. I believe many parents would be interested in exposing their children to dance that has origins in their culture.

Get out of the studio and do performances within your community to expose what your school is all about. At these performances be sure to hand out coupons for a free class in any style of dance. Build mailing and email lists by having a drawing for a month of free classes.

This is a time when you need to be creative by trying new things and overcoming any fears of stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes we find ourselves in the type of situation that you are experiencing because it is time to move in a new direction. You have nothing to lose, and this could be a learning experience that sets you on a new path that will lead to much success down the road. Good luck to you. —Rhee

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