By Meghan Seaman
School owners are always looking for new and exciting ways to market their businesses. But for most of us, many opportunities already exist in our studios’ perks, programs, and other offerings. In marketing our current studio offerings as something special, we save money as well as time and creative energy.
Your facility is a great place to begin. Do you have sprung floors? High ceilings? Be sure to mention them as desirable safety features in your marketing materials. Make note of viewing windows, free wi-fi access, or quiet homework areas in brochures and on your website.
It’s likely that you spent quite a bit of money building or equipping your studio space, designing the dance rooms, and hiring quality instructors. While these things may seem like minimal requirements to seasoned dancers, for new customers they can be presented as perks. For example, Lori Laumann Weil, owner of Creative Dance & Music Studio in Harvey, Louisiana, has attracted and retained more than 200 dancers by such practical policies as accepting credit cards, keeping class sizes small, and offering only well-trained, adult instructors—all things she says set her studio apart from others in her area.
School owner Hedy Perna offers a raffle—the first 100 returning students who pre-register are entered into a drawing for a free dance class for the entire upcoming season. “It really works!” Perna says.
On a similar note, don’t underestimate the selling power of your location. I use the convenient downtown location of my studio, On Stage Dance Studio in Stratford, Ontario, Canada, as a selling feature. Its central location means that after school many students can take a city bus or walk to the studio together. Parents love the fact that they have one fewer trip to the studio to make, and older dancers help out by walking the younger students from their schools to the studio. When parents do need to make the drive into town, they can take advantage of the many nearby shopping centers to run errands or enjoy some quiet time in a coffee shop.
Registration is a great time to add some perks that might entice current students to return for another dance season. At Perna Dance Center in Hazlet, New Jersey, owner Hedy Perna offers a raffle for all returning students. The first 100 returning students who pre-register are entered into a drawing for a free dance class for the entire upcoming season. “You’d better believe that when they bring in their pre-registration forms, they all ask, ‘Did I make it into the first 100?’ It really works!” Perna says.
Another registration bonus offer might be a gift to the first registrants or all who register before a certain date. Things like car decals, water bottles, and T-shirts with the studio’s logo on them are low-cost options for freebies, and they work double duty— not only can they persuade families to register more quickly, but they serve as free advertising.
Marketing to current students works as well as marketing to new clients. Melanie Boniszewski offers a “Customer Appreciation Week” at her Tonawanda Dance Arts in Tonawanda, New York. During this week, all students may try any class in any dance genre, for free. Not only do the families feel appreciated and rewarded, but the trial classes often convince students to add a new style of dance to their weekly schedule. It’s a win–win.
Teffany Comeaux-Ibarra, owner of Teffany’s Dance Studio in Corpus Christi, Texas, has implemented a creative—and very successful—program for her preschool dancers: upon registration, they receive a free “Class of 20XX” T-shirt. She says this plants the idea in parents’ minds that “they are committing to the entire 12-plus years.” Since beginning this program, she says, only six preschool students have dropped out.
New marketing plans are always desirable, but first, don’t forget to look around at what’s already in place. Anything that sets your business apart can be advertised as a reason to choose it over others, and these existing selling points have the advantage of involving little time or cost.
What a turn-of-the-20th-century principle of economics means to you
By Misty Lown
True or false? The work of an Italian economist from more than 100 years ago is having a large impact on your dance studio business today. True!
In 1906, Vilfredo Pareto made a simple observation that changed the course of business management forever—he noticed that 80 percent of the peas in his garden came from 20 percent of the plants. He then observed that 80 percent of the land in Italy was owned by 20 percent of the people. Years later, in 1941, Joseph Juran expanded the Pareto principle from economics to quality issues. Have you ever heard the saying, “Twenty percent of the people cause 80 percent of the problems”? You can thank Juran for making that observation common knowledge.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Twenty percent of the people cause 80 percent of the problems”? From marketing to customers to choreography, you can count on approximately 80 percent of your results coming from approximately 20 percent of the causes.
Fast forward to 2014. Pareto’s principle is still being proved true in businesses today, and dance studios are no exception. From marketing to revenue, from customers to teachers, from exercises to choreography, you can count on approximately 80 percent of your results coming from approximately 20 percent of the causes. Let’s do some digging into your business and see what can be mined from “the law of the vital few,” as Pareto’s principle is also called.
Marketing and revenue
I’m starting in the same place Pareto did—economics. Six years ago, after learning about Pareto’s principle, I decided to give it a road test. I’ve always been a numbers gal. I like to know where my school’s enrollment is, how high payroll is running, which accounts are past due. Even so, I had never looked beyond the stats to see what was driving the numbers I liked to track. I began to dig deeper, tearing through every layer of my business in search of the vital few things that were making the biggest impact on its financial performance.
The biggest shock was discovering that my children’s classes (ages 2 to 8) were outperforming my advanced classes (ages 14 to 18). And not by a small amount—by 400 percent. That’s right. Those little once-a-week, 30-minute classes for kids were generating four times the revenue my senior-level classes were. I had found my vital few.
It seemed counterintuitive at first. The advanced students are the largest accounts; they take the most classes and buy the most costumes. However, the senior-level students also take class at the most deeply discounted multi-class rates; study with the most experienced and highest paid teachers; and require the greatest amount of administrative time.
This led me to two important conclusions. One, I needed to put even more time and energy into developing, marketing, growing, and staffing our children’s program. Second, the pricing for the senior-level dancers needed to be adjusted to more closely reflect the value of the training and support they received. Both decisions have had a positive impact on the business health of my studio, allowing me to expand it twice and update the lobby to serve families better.
Customers and teachers
After I tackled the economic side of Pareto’s equation, it was time to follow Juran’s lead and apply the concept to quality issues. I wasn’t sure how I would measure this factor and stumbled across the answer by accident, going through my emails one day. As I stared at a complaint from a parent, the third one that week, I was reminded of that person’s complaint from the week before and the week before that. You get the idea. With an excitement that can only be fueled by discovery, I looked at her thread of complaints with new eyes.
This lady and her daughter were not only proving Pareto true, they were beating the odds. The duo represented 10 percent of this particular class by enrollment, but caused 90 percent of the problems within that group. Complaints about placement, multiple exchanges of costumes, disruptions in class, disrespect shown to teachers, issues in the dressing room, and negative online behavior—you name it, it was a problem.
I called a conference with the woman and her daughter, which resulted in their withdrawing from the studio. Although I was sad to see the student go, I did breathe a sigh of relief when my inbox was no longer barking at me.
Perhaps you’ve been there, or are there right now. A quick survey of your messages and to-do list could reveal a handful of people who are causing you the greatest grief in your job.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for listening to people’s concerns. Listening gives me a chance to course-correct if the school or I have missed the mark somehow, or to explain why, after 16 years in business, we do things the way we do. Listening is always a win. But I cannot allow a handful of people to hijack my time and energy with complaints on a regular basis. I am too busy serving the families who value our mission.
The same qualitative question could be applied to your teaching staff. Start tracking the comments you hear about teachers from parents and students. It won’t be too long before you notice a pattern. There will be one or two teachers who get a steady stream of complaints, and a few “rock stars” who get raves.
Put your time, attention, and resources into building on the success of your most capable teachers. They may be available for additional classes or responsibilities. Arrange for them to mentor younger teachers. Offer space for private lessons or have them lead an all-staff workshop in their area of expertise. Certainly, offer the struggling teachers as much support as possible to get through the season, but seriously consider whether to rehire them for the next season. In my experience, people who are not meeting standards during the school year do not magically turn around over the summer.
Exercises and choreography
This third, and perhaps most subjective category—exercises and choreography—is also governed by the 80/20 principle. Nowhere in your business is the impact of a few great (or awful) things more visibly felt than in your final product.
Consider recital and competition. There is always one piece that stands out. It’s the routine everyone talks about and buys a video of. On the other hand, there can also be that one number that doesn’t live up to your expectations. The choreography isn’t up to par, the kids aren’t well rehearsed, or the costumes don’t quite work. As many times as I’ve walked away from a performance ecstatic about the one piece that was amazing, I’ve also walked away haunted by one that missed the mark.
Classroom exercises and training don’t play out as publicly as recitals and competitions, but they are no exception to the law of the vital few. For all the hours spent in the classroom, it can be one correction, singular insight, or observation that will transform a student’s turns, placement, or alignment, affecting their long-term development as a dancer. Conversely, poor instruction in a few foundational concepts, such as spotting, alignment, or turnout, can put a student behind the curve for years to come.
In the case of classroom exercises and choreography, the importance of teacher training and ongoing mentorship cannot be overstated. Equip your teachers with instructional priorities, curriculums, and resources on the front side, but be prepared to observe, assess, and provide timely feedback once things get going. This is where most studio owners fall short. Preparing teachers to enter the classroom by giving them handbooks, lessons plans, attendance sheets, and music is only the beginning. A great finish is made through ongoing feedback, course correction, and mentorship.
Finding the “big rocks”
You’re probably familiar with the story of the college professor who showed his class the importance of the “big rocks” in life—another way of naming the few things in your work or life that are vital to you. To demonstrate his point, he filled a mason jar with big rocks. Although the jar looked full, he proved it wasn’t by adding pebbles, then sand to the jar, shaking the jar to make room for each addition. In a second demonstration, he put the items into the jar in reverse order—the sand and pebbles took up so much space that there was no room for the big rocks.
Consider the big rocks the 20 percent and the sand and pebbles the 80 percent. His point? If you prioritize the “big rock” issues—those vital few—there will be room in the crevices and corners for the non-essentials. However, if you allow your day to be filled with non-essential issues, low-priority projects, or drama (i.e., sand and pebbles), there will be no room left for what matters to you.
It sounds like a lesson Pareto would have liked, and it’s a great example of why prioritizing—paying attention to the “big rocks” first—anchors your work and personal life with what you value most.
What are the big rocks in your business, the vital few things that only you can do to move your business forward? Mine are creating programs, marketing, coaching teachers, and building strategic relationships in the community. I have the ability to do other things, such as bookkeeping, checking messages, cleaning, and ordering costumes, but so does my staff. And, for the most part, they do a better job. My time is better spent working in the areas that have the greatest positive impact on my business and that are things only I can do.
Finally, then there is the matter of you. Pareto discovered the 80/20 principle and related it to economics; Juran applied the concept to management. And now I am challenging you to apply it to your life as an entrepreneur. What are the vital few things in your life that, when you get them “right,” make you feel like all is well with the world? Name them. Write them down today and tape them to your computer screen. And then every time you open an email or look at your to-do list, filter those smaller concerns through your “big rocks” first.
Social media’s popularity has given studio owners a bonanza of (free!) marketing opportunities. But because social-media platforms are so easy to use and because they feel informal, it’s also easy to forget that your studio’s reputation is on the line with each word you type and each photo you post. Don’t let missteps get in the way of your efforts. Keep your online integrity intact with these tips.
Before posting photos and videos of classes and performances, make sure you have permission from your students’ parents. Including a photo/video release statement with registration materials is best; if it’s too late for that, direct parents to a release form on your website or in your email newsletter.
To avoid having an “all about me” image, intersperse some inspirational quotes and images, or post links to relevant dance news stories or online articles.
The release should state that the parent allows your school to use photos or videos of their child in marketing materials, including on social media. If any clients are unwilling to sign the release, make a note in their account not to use images of those children.
When you do post photos and videos, make sure you don’t show favoritism toward a certain student, class, or performing group.
No disruptive opinions
Whether you’re posting a status update, commenting on a post, or tweeting, always pause before issuing a strong opinion. Avoid remarks that could be construed as sexist, racist, or politically divisive. If you know what you’re about to post is controversial and you still want to do it, preface it with “I understand this may be a hot topic, but I think . . .” or “This may be a point of contention, but my thoughts about it are . . .” Be prepared for a backlash, however.
Even when you opt for maximum privacy settings on your accounts, your posts can be traced back to you. On Facebook, for example, even if your profile is private, others may be able to see comments you make on friends’ posts.
It’s natural, and expected, that you’ll plug your studio’s events and brag about your faculty and students on your Facebook page or Twitter account. Showcase your school mindfully, by limiting the number of self-promotional posts, especially in a short period of time. To avoid having an “all about me” image, intersperse some inspirational quotes and images, or post links to relevant dance news stories or online articles. Celebrate the dance world as a whole along with marketing your school.
Watch those words
Don’t underestimate good spelling and grammar. Those who follow you on social media will be more likely to take you seriously and respect your opinions if they can clearly understand what you are saying. Always re-read your remarks before posting or tweeting, and check any spelling or grammar you aren’t sure about.
For example, it’s common to mistake your for you’re, or to mix up there, their, and they’re. Know the difference, and use them correctly so you don’t look careless. Do not overuse punctuation or emoticons; multiple exclamation points, slipshod apostrophes, and excessive use of smiley faces can look unintentionally juvenile.
Also be careful with abbreviations, like typing 2 in place of to, too, or two, or u for you. Although these shortcuts are commonplace on social media (especially on Twitter, where tweets are limited to 140 characters) abbreviations make it appear like you didn’t put time or thought into what you wrote. Save them for tweets or don’t use them at all.
Resist the urge to badmouth any person or business on social media, or to jump on someone else’s badmouthing bandwagon. If you had a personal misunderstanding or a terrible customer-service experience, say something constructive or say nothing at all. Don’t indulge in a rant that you might later regret.
The moral of the story on social media? Integrity and presentation are important! The way you communicate online should accurately reflect your level of professionalism.
By Misty Lown
Most studio owners say they use social media. But there is a big difference between being on social media and using it as an effective marketing strategy. The idea is to get your audience involved, share value-added content, and get friends and followers to share your message.
With more than one billion users, Facebook is one of the biggest social media platforms. If you are not using it to showcase students, promote events, and make important announcements, you are missing out on powerful, free marketing.
For a good example of how to go beyond typical posts and promos, follow Emily Weber of Yorkville Performing Arts Center in Yorkville, Illinois. Among many unique posts, she gave a $5 credit to studio parents if they posted on Facebook that they had registered for classes (and sent her a screen shot as proof).
It’s one thing to make a post that will be seen by my studio “friends”; having the post seen by thousands of my clients’ friends takes it to the next level.
I adapted Emily’s idea by asking our parents and students to post: “I just registered for fall classes at Misty’s Dance Unlimited! Have you? www.mistysdance.com/registration” in exchange for the credit. This got posting traffic going and allowed viewers to register from the link.
The best part about this kind of promotion is the compound effect it has on visibility. It’s one thing to make a post that will be seen by my studio “friends”; having the post seen by thousands of my clients’ friends takes it to the next level. And it has social credibility because the post comes from them, not me. You can run similar promotions with students.
Finding the “you” in YouTube
Video is an excellent way to get prospects to “see” your students without stepping inside your studio.
Use videos you already have—recitals, community performances, and competitions—to set up a YouTube page. Then expand your presence by developing content: alumni interviews, news coverage, clips from events, or instructional videos (on how to make a bun, for example).
To make parents smile, try doing something similar to what Katie Owings of Inspiration Performing Arts Center in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, did. She posted a video of preschoolers running across the studio floor, throwing their hands up, and saying, “I am wonderful!” at the end of class.
Instagram: where the students are
With square cropping, vintage-looking filters, and easy mobile posting, Instagram is a popular photo-sharing platform. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, Instagram is growing at almost twice the rate of its parent company, Facebook. That’s some serious traffic!
Take advantage of the interest by running a contest. Invite students to post pictures of themselves in their favorite costume or best tilt pose and hashtag it to your studio (#yourstudioname). Even better, run a contest in which students take “selfies” while wearing your studio gear to school; the post with the most “likes” wins.
Get in the action yourself by posting a picture of children hugging in class; hashtag it with #loveteachingdance and #yourstudioname. Or post a picture from a community performance and hashtag the venue. Don’t forget about master classes, team nights, and dress rehearsals. You can also use hashtags to evoke an emotion: “We’re offering modern next year! #soexcited #yourstudioname.”
Words to the wise
Make sure the release on your registration materials covers using images and videos of students for social media. If you don’t have a release, ask before you post.
Stay focused. It is better to be active and well represented on two or three social media platforms than to sign up for many sites and not do much.
Balance your posts. I find the highest degree of interaction comes with two to three posts per week. Posting too much becomes white noise to an overstimulated audience. With too few posts, you’ll lose momentum.
For every post that asks for registrations, do nine posts that are fun, conversational, or informational. Your audience will leave if you sell too much.
Consider assigning weekly posts to an assistant. You don’t have to do all the work, but it’s important that you, and your studio, are represented.
By Julie Holt Lucia
Warning! Reading this story may inspire outrageous marketing ideas. Your imagination may begin to take your studio marketing beyond your wildest dreams. I take no responsibility for the increase in business you may receive as a result.
What you just read is a touch of guerrilla marketing, the attention-grabbing strategy that’s rooted in creativity. If you’ve been looking for a way to jazz up your studio’s image, then why not approach your marketing with a different perspective?
Guerrilla marketing is defined by its unconventional (and often inexpensive) way of piquing people’s interest in a product or services.
Guerrilla marketing is defined by its unconventional (and often inexpensive) way of piquing people’s interest in a product or services. Non-traditional marketing can help you gain new customers without blowing your budget. To get the most out of these tactics, take a positive, imaginative, and interactive approach to ensure that potential customers have a great feeling about your school and want to learn more.
To get you started, here are some ideas you can adapt to your studio’s needs and budget.
Enlist the help of your staff, students, or students’ parents. Purchase some inexpensive tulle and ribbon at a craft store and create tutus in your studio’s colors. (There are some great no-sew tutu tutorials online.)
Attach a tag with your logo to each tutu that reads: “Found: one tutu. Please return to ABC Dance School in exchange for one free dance lesson.” Then drop the tutus in obvious places at busy neighborhood areas or events, such as the library or a farmer’s market. (No matter where you target your drops, even if it’s public, remember to seek permission first.)
Public parks are great places to attract new customers, but this idea could work on the sidewalk outside your school or even in your parking lot. Dress a handful of dancers in costume and stage makeup and place them in busy areas to act as living statues. Identify them as dancers from your school by having them hold a stack of brochures (or place them nearby). The dancers should stay silent and change positions infrequently. To truly get into the act, have someone carry the dancers to their places and remove them afterward.
Find an open, grassy area and stage a casual dance contest among your staff or dancers (decked out in studio T-shirts), inviting observers to join in. As you “judge” during the contest, hand out dance class coupons or promotional tokens as prizes (you could even make mini-tutus to give away; see tutu drop). Keep the focus on enjoying fun music and interacting with potential customers.
Create a studio “lemonade” stand where, in exchange for a penny (or just a smile), your staff or dancers will demonstrate various dance styles or teach a simple dance move. Bring your own chairs and table, or set up at a park bench. Call it a “Dance-ade” stand and provide free lemonade as a fun twist.
If your studio has windows that face a major street or parking lot, consider painting words or a phrase on them (outside or inside) with glow-in-the-dark paint. Choose something simple like “We dance. Do you?” or “Enjoy. Dance. Here.” If you don’t have permission to use paint on your windows, try the same idea on poster board attached to the windows.
This idea works best during the busy holiday shopping season. Find places that are likely to have long lines—stores that open particularly early, movie theaters, restaurants—and have a group of teachers or dancers perform for the people waiting in line. The more costumed and dressed up the dancers are, the better, and they should perform as full-out as possible. (Option: ask observers to join in.) Use traditional Nutcracker music or holiday tunes to keep the mood light.
With guerrilla marketing, creativity is key (as is being considerate of locations and people). The goal is to leave onlookers feeling entertained, curious, and amused—and attracted to what you’re offering. Use these marketing opportunities to raise your studio’s profile in a thought-provoking and exciting way, and you’ll likely see an upswing in business. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Words from the publisher
We are in conference mode here at the Rhee Gold Company and Dance Studio Life. What started as Project Motivate with 20 attendees in 1998 has morphed into the DanceLife Teacher Conference, which attracts more than 700 teachers, school owners, and studio managers from across the United States and Canada, and from as far away as Italy and Australia.
As we celebrate our 15th anniversary as conference producers, we’ll offer more than ever—well over 100 classes and seminars in the first four days of August, presented at the five-diamond Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. The diverse faculty includes some of the brightest minds in the field, coming from backgrounds in hip-hop, classical ballet, tap, contemporary, jazz, preschool education, and more.
It’s important, I believe, to get back to basics with dance classes. Although there are numerous conventions that offer advanced master classes, few provide the chance to learn new concepts for preschool, beginner, and intermediate students. Yet these classes are exactly what every school owner or teacher needs to do well, in order to maintain their school’s financial health.
A full track of business sessions for studio owners includes concepts and techniques for marketing, office organization, summer programs, websites and social media, building new profit centers, plus more. In addition, there will be special sessions for studio managers and closed “studio owner only” events.
Since communication is key in dance education, many schools have brought their entire faculty and staff to our last few conferences to ensure that everyone is learning and sharing with a singular mind-set. Often, while the teachers take classes, the studio managers and school owners attend the business seminars. Together they build camaraderie and bring a bounty of new ideas back to their home studios.
As the conference director, I have a goal of bringing the dance community together to share a love for the art of dance, while simultaneously providing opportunities to learn and grow as professionals—and thus improve as teachers and as business owners. I look at the conference as a way for attendees to rejuvenate their dance spirit, build confidence, and learn new teaching skills that will not only improve students technically but also inspire them to develop a lifelong passion for dance.
As I look back to the beginning of my journey as a conference producer, I remember the skeptics who told me that dance teachers and school owners were too competitive to want to share their knowledge. My instincts told me that wasn’t true. As the DanceLife Teacher Conference has proved over and over again, dance educators embrace the chance to communicate and to celebrate their common bond.
Need some promotional ideas to generate traffic to your school during the summer? Here are 10 test-driven tips to get you started.
1. Drop-in class cards. Set up a weekly schedule of classes with several style options for each age group. Students buy the cards (prepaid for 5 or 10 classes) and drop in to any class they choose. They can try different styles, double up on classes one week and skip the next, or take off for vacation at any time. Current dancers can stay active all summer and new students can explore dance with little commitment.
2. Free classes. Print some “free class” cards that are valid for any summer drop-in classes. Hand them out everywhere all spring—at beaches, parks, local businesses, and events.
3. Summer snippits. In the spring, offer a day of free “summer snippits,” mini-classes that are taught all day long. Kids can sample dance styles to help them decide which summer camp classes to take. Lots of press (social media, emails, handouts, posters) is needed to make this work, and it will cost you something (printing costs, paying staff), but if even just a few campers register, it’s worth it. Consider offering discounts and gifts too.
An early drop-off option could make a difference for a parent who is trying to get to work.
4. School vacation mini-camps. Use February school vacation as a testing ground for new ideas. My school offers one-day sessions of summer camp ideas, making the session the same length as the camp (for example, 9am to 12pm for a morning-only camp). We take note of which sessions filled, were easy to teach, felt too long or too short—in general, what worked and what didn’t. Based on that information, I finalize the summer schedule. We always get great feedback and it helps the teachers be prepared for summer.
5. Connect with the rec department. Offering classes this way can publicize your name and product to hundreds (or even thousands) of families. I work with one that offers a week of summer camps identical to those held at the studio. The rec department sells the camps at a discounted rate and the information goes out to the entire town; the school owner is paid either an hourly rate or a percentage of the profits. Working with a third party takes extra time, but the exposure is worth it.
6. School flyers. Every spring I print customized summer brochures offering discounts: “ABC Elementary School receives $10 off the registration fee. Mention your school’s name to claim your discount!” Find out the school districts’ rules regarding such handouts and be sure the flyers are attractive, clear, and professional.
7. Convenience. Make it easy for families to participate in summer programs. An early drop-off option (for example, 9am for a 9:30 camp) could make a difference for a parent who has children in various camps or is trying to get to work. For morning programs, offer a lunch option and delayed pickup. Since my staff arrives at the studio 30 minutes early and stays 30 minutes after camp to clean up, there’s no additional cost to me.
8. Siblings. If space permits, bring in extra staff to run simultaneous programs for boys and girls of various ages. Being able to drop off their children at one place at the same time can be a big draw for parents. We offer princess- and ballerina-themed camps along with pirate- and Jedi-themed ones, plus some that attract both girls and boys (circus, art, music, hip-hop, etc.).
9. Groupon or other coupon sites. Group coupons are a great way to get your name out there for summer. The profit margin is extremely low with these companies, but I consider them a form of advertising. My school registered hundreds of new students through an online coupon deal last summer.
10. Early-bird deals. Discounts are great motivators. We offer early registration before the April vacation week, along with a “no camp-change fee” policy. This allows families to get the discount even though they have no idea when their summer vacation will fall. Since they know they can switch to another week, they are happy to reap the benefits of registering early.
Waiting in a long holiday shopping line? Need a break from tree trimming? Check out the November issue of Dance Studio Life magazine now online and rejuvenate yourself with a hearty “Leap into Creativity.”
Along with helpful technique hints, marketing suggestions, and classroom strategies, this issue contains fun and fascinating features on topic such as: the Gelsey Kirkland Academy, classroom accompanists, Gaga movement, teaching expressiveness, and Boston Ballet’s Adaptive Dance. Interested in learning how to do professional-quality in-studio photography? Curious about the growing art of aerial dance? Or check out this odd couple: we found a dance studio that doubles as a furniture store.
And, as always, Rhee Gold dispenses a month’s worth of wisdom and advice in his popular “Ask Rhee Gold” column. Visit http://www.dancestudiolife.com/2012/11/november-2012-dance-studio-life/ to read all about it!
By Julie Holt Lucia
I once had a ballet teacher who made up what I thought was an uproarious metaphor: she asked me to pretend that I had a little bird on my shoulder that would chirp reminders in my ear throughout class. Use your center! Chin up! Lengthen your back! Stretch your ankles! My bird was certainly busy.
Looking back (and now seeing it from a teacher’s point of view), I can appreciate where she was coming from. Not only do I wish my students had their own little birds, I wish their parents did too. In fact, I wish I had a personal, chirping guide for every potential customer who walked in the door.
As it so happens, there is a little bird that can help keep your customers informed and do much more—Twitter. As you probably know, it’s a micro-blogging social network whose logo is a bird, and the messages exchanged are called “tweets.” But have you thought about it as a marketing tool for your dance studio? Twitter can reach your customer base and beyond, giving your school a connection to prospective customers, your customers’ family members and friends, and other dance organizations.
Every time you tweet you are marketing your school, so keep your messages positive, likable, helpful, and engaging.
Twitter’s signup process is simple; you register with an email address and create a unique username and password. You then choose your primary language and time zone, and decide if you want to “protect” your tweets. Protecting your tweets allows you to control who sees your messages; for a business though, keep in mind that choosing this feature could severely limit your audience.
Next you’ll need to set up a profile page. This is the information available to the public, so you’ll want to display your studio name, website, and a short description (called a “bio”). You can also add to your website a Twitter logo button that links to your account, which can help connect you to potential customers.
One of the first things you’ll notice on Twitter is that you have a newsfeed, similar to Facebook’s but much faster paced. You can choose people or businesses to “follow” by using Twitter’s search feature, and the tweets of those you are following will show up on your newsfeed. Likewise, when people choose to follow you, your tweets will show up on their newsfeeds.
As you compose your first message, remember that tweets are limited to 140 characters. This feature is one of Twitter’s hallmarks—messages should be eye-catching and short, allowing users to quickly scan their newsfeeds for interesting tidbits of information.
Two other unique Twitter features are mentions and hashtags. You can “mention” another Twitter user by placing an “at” symbol (@) before their username, which will alert them to your tweet and allow them to reply. Adding a hashtag symbol (#) before a word or phrase helps categorize your tweet, allowing others to click on the hashtagged subject and find similar tweets. For example, this tweet uses both mentions and hashtags: “Wow, what wonderful service today at @ABCDanceStore! #pointeshoes #customerservice.”
Every time you tweet you are marketing your school, so keep your messages positive, likable, helpful, and engaging. Twitter can be an excellent way to educate your customers about dance in general, while establishing a strong online presence for your school. It is a great way to hold your customers’ interest outside of the studio and get them talking (or tweeting!) about your business in a constructive way.
Try tweeting links to interesting dance stories, reviews, videos, or tutorials. You could also tweet special offers or discounts and reminders about registration, upcoming performances, or fund-raisers. Twitter works best when you use it frequently (users’ newsfeeds move in real time), so if it’s too much work to maintain it yourself, delegate tweeting to a trusted employee who understands your studio’s mission and customer base.
Do keep your tweets from becoming too detailed, and don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t put on your website. Remember that unless you have protected your tweets, anyone can view them—including random strangers and your competitors.
These days, marketing comes in many forms, and Twitter’s uniqueness and popularity make it an important opportunity to explore. A basic Twitter account is free, accessible, and easy to set up. Listen to your own little bird and go tweet!
By Julie Holt Lucia
For many people, the word “marketing” drums up colorful images of advertising: print and television ads, brochures and flyers, websites and blogs. But that’s not all marketing can be. For dance teachers—and studio owners in particular—marketing must go above and beyond common, passive forms of advertising to showcase the value of our skills and services and build and sustain positive relationships.
Relationships are key in the small dance world. The relationships that create such connections as word-of-mouth recommendations or referrals for jobs or auditions are priceless. And one of the most effortless ways to maintain those relationships is networking.
Networking in person, with handshakes and smiles and business cards, can be refreshing and productive. But we dance people are so often bound to our work that we rarely get out to networking events. So instead of going out, we can go in—to LinkedIn, a professional networking website.
If Facebook could be considered the cocktail dress of social networking, then LinkedIn is the pantsuit.
Like Facebook, LinkedIn allows users to share personal information within a network of colleagues. But unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is strictly business. Once you are a registered user, your profile becomes your customized resume and professional portfolio—you won’t find any vacation photos or mind-numbing memes here.
LinkedIn’s main purpose is to “connect” professionals to other professionals, across industries. That means we can connect with (and market to) anyone: other small business owners, co-workers, customers, employees, friends—as long as we already know the other person in some capacity. (LinkedIn’s security features do not allow connections between random strangers.) Think of LinkedIn as your newfangled, online Rolodex: a collection of contacts with whom you may have done business in the past or may do business in the future.
Once you’ve registered, LinkedIn guides you through the first steps of becoming a user: you set up a profile and begin connecting to other users. Your profile includes your current and past work experience, education, special skills, a single photo, and any links you want to provide (such as to your choreography). You can offer as much or as little information on your profile as you like and can update your account settings to match your comfort level.
For dance teachers, your profile is your marketing tool, essentially becoming a central place where you can contain and control your professional identity online. For example, LinkedIn allows users to choose whether their profiles can show up on search engine results. (You may like this feature if you are job hunting and want your profile to display when you are Googled.) You can also use your profile to post status updates about any jobs you hold now or about the type of job you’re looking for. Other users can write recommendations on your profile, which serve as instant references.
In addition to connecting directly with other users, you can join alumni groups and industry-specific groups to find new contacts. Your network may include hundreds of users, any one of whom could potentially play a part in your next career move.
Studio owners who become LinkedIn users can create a company page in addition to a personal profile. A company page allows you to market your school with a customized business profile that any LinkedIn user can view. As a page administrator, you can post information about your school (such as an overview and link to your website), as well as a description of services and a list of LinkedIn users who are current or former employees. Prospective or current customers or employees can “follow” your page, which means that by posting company status updates and photos, you keep them engaged in your marketing efforts. (You can update the page as often as you want to.)
For a fee, LinkedIn also offers unique company page features, allowing administrators to post job openings, analyze page views by other users, and customize the page for specific LinkedIn audiences (such as users within a certain location, age range, or industry).
So give the word “marketing” new meaning. LinkedIn can cultivate your professional network, offering more opportunities to build and sustain the relationships that make your studio—and your dance life—tick.
By Rhee Gold
Words from the publisher
Henry Ford once said, “If there is one thing which I would banish from the earth it is fear.”
Some people believe that fear is experienced only in dramatic or scary situations, but in reality it can linger in the subconscious, creating a constant state of inhibition. Fear holds us back from achieving our lifelong dreams. Instead of stepping out of our comfort zone to get ourselves where we want to be, we talk ourselves out of taking action by focusing on the “what ifs,” which are more powerful than our desire to dance down that instinctual path.
The dancer who goes to every audition thinking she is not good enough will probably not be good enough at that moment. Her fear will show as a lack of confidence, obvious in her movement and demeanor. She’ll answer questions with her head down, in a voice that can hardly be heard. She might in fact be a good enough dancer to get the job, but someone who has total confidence (and maybe even less skill) will be offered the contract.
The school owner who would like to buy a building sees a perfect location but tells herself she could never afford it and doesn’t investigate further. Yet someone else does, and that person discovers that with some creative thinking she can afford that building.
The dance teacher who wants to expand her knowledge is afraid to take a class because she’s worried that her potential classmates will think she isn’t good enough to be a teacher. And so she never allows herself to improve.
Fear leads to frustration, which usually sabotages true happiness. Self-confidence is never gained because we continue to believe, and send the message to others, that there’s no way we can do what we dream of. Sometimes, when a dream does manage to squeeze past all our fears and inhibitions, we squelch it prematurely. Because we didn’t believe such happiness would come to us, we panic that it might end. And thus we sabotage ourselves.
Most of what we desire is attainable if we allow ourselves to leave the safety zone we’ve built in our own subconscious. Each time we fight off our fears, we nurture self-confidence. Over time we eventually will live life with more confidence, more self-respect, and more happiness. Our dreams may not evolve exactly as we’ve pictured them, but if we find the guts to go for them, we will land in a place that turns out to be the right fit.
If Henry Ford had chosen to live in fear instead of taking action, we all might be riding horses to our studios instead of driving cars. It is time for you to set fear aside and pursue your dreams. I believe you can do it.
By Julie Holt Lucia
Remember your childhood bedroom or college dorm room—it was full of dance things, right? Trinkets, posters, leotards, programs, pointe shoes—you name it. And the centerpiece was probably your bulletin board, covered with photos, bumper stickers, and magazine pages. There were things you wanted to buy (those cute legwarmers), things you wanted to see one day (the Paris Opera!), and things you wanted to remember forever (that inspiring note from your teacher). Now that old-fashioned bulletin board has gotten a modern makeover, and it’s called Pinterest.com.
Like all social media sites, Pinterest is about sharing—in this case, virtual bulletin boards. Here’s how it works: users create a profile with “pinboards” (commonly referred to as just “boards”) where they can organize and “pin” things they like from other websites. A pin is a representative photo or image from a website that, when clicked, leads you to the source. To make the process easy, Pinterest has a special button called the “pinmarklet,” which you place on your browser so you can pin at any time. Users “follow” other users to share pins, so you can browse various profiles and “re-pin” accordingly.
So what exactly does this mean for your studio? A marketing opportunity! Although most Pinterest users are individuals, companies and organizations are now using it too, and they’re not just promoting their products. Businesses create boards that educate and inspire, attracting new customers and keeping current ones talking. For dance studio owners, that means using Pinterest to display anything that your current and potential clients might find entertaining or informative.
Creating pinboards is as simple as typing and clicking, so put your marketing smarts to work. How about a board for dancewear, with links to retailers? Or a board to recommend dance books? You could have boards dedicated to dance history, dance places, beautiful photos, motivational quotes, healthy snacks, hairstyle ideas—any subject is fair game. Pinterest can be a practical way for your customers to get advice or suggestions from you without even having to ask, at any time of day.
There are a few challenges to using the site. First, it is “invitation only,” which means that you must request an invitation to join or have an existing user invite you. Also, you must be a Facebook or Twitter user. Once you have an invitation (sent by email), the profile setup process requires you to log in using your Facebook or Twitter account. This allows you to share your pins with friends or followers—optional, but another way to reach your customers.
You can update your Pinterest profile to show as much or as little information about your school as you like. Keep in mind that all Pinterest user profiles and their boards are publicly viewable, but Pinterest does not display any personal information beyond your username, image, and description.
Promoting Pinterest with your customers is a snap: just let them know you have a profile. People who already use the site can search your username and follow your boards, or you can find and follow them first. For people who don’t use Pinterest, you have two options: invite them to join, or give them the direct link to your profile (e.g., pinterest.com/dollysdanceacademy).
Since your Pinterest profile represents your studio, it’s a good idea to verify that the things you pin come from legitimate sources—say, an online magazine article, blog, or retailer. If you re-pin from another user, be sure to click through to the website source to make sure you’d feel comfortable leading your customers there. You’ll also want to give proper credit to your sources whenever possible.
Marketing tools that are free, simple to learn, and have the potential to reach all of our target markets—potential customers, recreational customers, and intensive customers—are rare, but Pinterest is one of them. And it can do much more than promote your studio’s existence. What you share on your boards can help to shape your business image. And you can educate your customers about the varied aspects of dance and inspire them with beautiful pictures and quotes.
How pinteresting is that?
By Rhee Gold
Words from the publisher
As I’m writing this, I’m heading into my fifth week of seminars at the DanceLife Retreat Center. And what I’ve discovered is that not only can dreams come true, but they can exceed our expectations.
Here’s what I’m talking about. At one seminar, a dance teacher from Scotland became close friends with a teacher from Pittsburgh. Through the seminar process they were inspired to continue sharing ideas about music and business after they went home—and of course they’ve had plenty of trials and tribulations to talk about too. They have so much in common that they’ve decided they really need this friendship.
And here’s another example: some of the teachers have brought their non-dancing husbands with them to the seminar, and they’ve headed home with a renewed sense of support for each other. The seminar helps the husbands better understand that “this dance thing” really does make a difference and that their significant others are changing lives for the better through their dedication.
Then there are the teachers who are on the brink of giving up everything related to dance because they’re burned out. Some are tired of teaching in isolation, surrounded by those who mean well but don’t understand their passion; some are worn down by difficult parents or the challenges of business competition. But something happens to them over the weekend. I’ve seen some of them become confident enough to make the changes that will bring them happiness, and I’ve seen others leave with a renewed fervor to begin anew.
Balancing out those burned-out teachers are the enthusiastic ones who come to the seminar to gain new ideas for their classroom or business. Their gusto seems to rub off on everyone around them as they send the message that teaching dance can be an utter joy.
I’ve watched teachers work together to develop ideas and concepts for future recitals. They laugh and pat each other on the back for their good ideas, overflowing with creativity and energy. They’re sharing ideas, creating together, and realizing how much they have in common.
When I saw registrations coming in from across the United States and Canada but also from Mexico, Australia, Italy, and Scotland, I wondered whether such far-flung people would have anything in common. But as it turns out, all dance teachers have similar needs and desires. School owners in Scotland have to deal with parent issues and teachers in Italy struggle with self-confidence, just as those in Connecticut or California do. No matter where we come from, we all need to communicate with other dance people. Those who come to the DanceLife Retreat Center go home with a sense that they are not alone.
For me, witnessing these life-changing moments is a special gift that I cherish. It reaffirms my belief that those who teach dance are some of the best people in the world and that the key to success and happiness is sharing what we love with those who understand it.
And that’s what it’s all about.
By Debra Danese
QR barcodes are starting to show up everywhere. Everyone from Fortune 500 companies to the U.S. government is using these square, two-dimensional barcodes in their marketing. Easy to use, they can help you rev up your studio’s advertising with a bit of interactive fun. And creating them costs you nothing.
A basic QR code (“QR” means “quick response”) or other 2-D tag is a barcode that can link to just about anything, including URLs, video, text, and location coordinates. Consumers simply need to install a barcode scanner app and then point their phone’s camera at the code to read its contents and get redirected to advertiser-chosen content.
Developed in Japan, this technology is still relatively new to the American mainstream. So what do these barcodes have to do with you? Simply this: they let you market your dance studio business more immediately and effectively. How? The QR code is like an instant link to whatever you want seen on your website—a message, news, or offers—without people having to type in a URL.
The codes are more effective than other advertising forms because you can link them to multimedia, such as your school’s GPS coordinates or audio and video clips. However, you need to entice customers by offering them something they can use or see only by scanning the code.
Codes can go on anything used to promote a business: brochures, direct mail materials, business cards, signage, ads, recital programs, ticket stubs, bumper stickers, and even T-shirts. Let’s say someone scans the code on one of your competition team dancers’ shirts. Up comes the studio’s website, with stats about the team, audition information, how often it competes, and so on.
A QR code can provide contact information, class schedules, directions, and announcements. But the real fun for consumers happens when accessing the code leads to something interactive. For example, offer a coupon to try a class or a discount on supplies, link to a cyber tour of your school that highlights new amenities, or offer an incentive for early registration. You could introduce a new teacher or demo a new class with a 20-second video, or offer tips for dancers that are reinforced with photos.
Iren Beathe Teigen, owner of Spirenett Designs, suggests changing the content of a QR code “whenever you like, or use several different codes for a message profiled in the same way.” A code that’s placed on, for example, a poster in a dressing room might link to a teacher reminiscing about her years as a student and how she got where she is. Another could open in the stairwell, with the school owner saying how many times she has gone up and down those stairs thinking of how her school would grow into what it is today.
Give consumers plenty of ways to encounter your codes. Put them on temporary tattoos handed out at a community event, on posters for upcoming performances, on shirts worn at conventions, or on candy sold at your recital. Tell people why to scan them. Say, “See a clip from our upcoming show,” or “Receive a coupon to try a class.”
So how do you create a code? An Internet search for QR generators brings up sites that will generate codes for free and give step-by-step directions on how to enter the information you want encoded. The code can be opened in an image-manipulation program, such as Adobe Illustrator, and sized to your specifications. It has to be readable; two inches square is the smallest you should go, and too big for a phone camera to focus on is a problem.
Test the code. If it scans correctly, a box will pop up that describes the embedded data. Test its readability with various apps and phones, in varying light conditions like glare or dimness, and at different angles. If it’s not being picked up, your code might be too small or might contain too much data. Remember, the content has to fit on a phone screen.
Codes can also be formatted to collect phone numbers and email addresses. Ask those who scan your code if it’s OK to contact them with offers and information to build loyal clients.
People love a deal, and coupons are an easy way to attract thrifty parents. Why not offer them for dance lessons? They’re appropriate for all classes and levels, but let’s look at what works well for parents of preschoolers.
Start by giving each enrolled preschooler’s family one coupon for a free class and ask them to give them to friends and relatives. That means if you have 50 preschool children enrolled, the coupons give you the potential to attract 50 more little dancers (and their parents) to your program. Give each parent five coupons and you could bring in 250 interested little dancers.
Now look beyond your doors for more ways to attract new clients. Other options include mailing coupons to people who have inquired about your preschool program but have never registered, giving them to your faculty and staff to give to their friends and families, dropping them off at local preschools and kindergartens, and distributing them at your school’s performances and recitals.
Once you have distributed the coupons, schedule a couple of extra classes to accommodate those who will use them. Don’t require dancewear, just comfortable clothes and soft-soled shoes, and let the parents observe. You might opt to hold a class just for coupon users, which has the advantage of preventing any potential disruption of your regular classes or concerns from existing students about the coupon users’ lack of dance attire. The downside is that an entire class of first-timers might not give parents an accurate idea of what an established class is like.
Another option is to mix a few coupon users into an existing class. Limit the number to two or three so that the newcomers don’t disrupt the class, and explain to the current students that the visitors are in street clothes because they haven’t bought their dancewear yet.
As with any preschool class, there may be some children who prefer to observe rather than participate. Make them feel welcome too. And give the parents of any observers some ground rules for controlling their children’s behavior during the class.
Make the class fun and invite the parents into the classroom to ask questions afterward. Require them to fill out a form with their street and email addresses and phone number so that you can add them to your mailing lists. You can also offer coupon holders the chance to observe a class before deciding whether their children are ready to try one.
Not every coupon user will register immediately, but offering an incentive to sign up that day might bring in a few new students. The incentive could be a free pair of ballet shoes or a leotard, or a discount on the registration fee. If they don’t register, you might follow up with an email or phone call to thank them for visiting and to ask how their children responded to the class. Put these families on your regular mailing list or send them newsletters three or four times a year. Offer them another coupon the next time you do the promotion, and be sure to invite them to the annual recital.
The coupons should have an expiration date on them; three months is a reasonable period. However, if someone with an expired coupon calls and wants to try a class, make sure to accommodate them.
You can print the coupons yourself on business card stock (available at any office supply store) on a laser printer or have them printed inexpensively at one of the many online print sites. Business card stock is easy to fit in a pocket or wallet and is sturdier than paper. Always include the expiration date and the address, website, phone number, and logo of your school.
With the development of new technologies and media for “getting the word out,” email newsletters are emerging as an integral part of any dance studio’s communication with current dance families and as a tool for gaining new clients. Constant Contact’s email marketing program has proven successful for my studio, although other equally advantageous companies exist.
The program allows you to create multiple distribution lists, ideal for targeting an email blast audience. It provides a large variety of email templates categorized by purpose, color scheme, and layout with customizable fonts, pictures, headers, and footers. After using the program for more than a year, I’ve come up with 10 tips for producing the most effective email newsletters.
1. Be clear. From the message subject line to the text header, let your clients know why they are receiving it. For example, the subject line might say, “Everything You Need to Know for Recital.”
2. Be consistent. Tell your clients they will receive a monthly email newsletter. To improve the chances that they will read it, tell them when to expect it. Consider the time of day and day of the week; your goal is to achieve maximum opening rates.
I send my newsletter on the third Thursday of the month so my clients have the weekend to read it; the third week of the month gives them a week’s notice if I’m highlighting anything pertinent for the first of the month. I’m happy with a 65 percent opening rate initially; after a reminder blast, that may go to 75 percent.
3. Be concise. Brevity is appreciated. Limit individual topics within the email to one or two paragraphs; anything too long will deter people from reading the information. Include links to your website (such as “Click here to read more”) to expand on what’s in the newsletter and send more traffic to your website.
4. Be creative. Although email newsletters typically convey important studio information, they should also include interesting content for potential clients who subscribe to your newsletter via your website. Include small sections like “Featured Teacher,” “Dance Facts,” “In the Community,” “Featured Family,” or “Tip of the Month.” Templates include sidebars that are perfect for additional information. However, don’t overload them with extras.
5. Be colorful. Play with formatting options by changing font colors and styles, and use background colors to make important sections pop. (But always use the same header so your newsletter is recognizable.) Include photos to enhance the look and add interest.
6. Be connective. Your newsletters should connect people to other resources offered by your studio. Constant Contact allows you to insert links to most social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) It also provides a “Forward to a friend” link, perfect for expanding your studio’s potential clientele.
7. Be courteous. Because email blasts are so easy to create, you’ll find yourself sending more than just monthly newsletters. Be careful not to send too many in a month or your clients might regard them as junk mail.
8. Be commercial. Offer advertising options in the monthly newsletters; with such a large audience, a business-card-size ad or bigger write-up could benefit many businesses. Charge a nominal fee ($10 to $20 per ad) and limit the number to two to four so that readers don’t find them offensive.
9. Be informed. Constant Contact provides detailed reports on opening rates, bounce rates, link clicks, and forwards. No longer can clients claim they didn’t receive important information; if the email is not on the bounce list, it is in their inbox, and if it’s not on the opened list, they haven’t read it. This allows me to make sure an email address is correct, see which content gets the most hits, and track which group is opening the emails (clients vs. someone who signed up via our website).
10. Be compact. Use a table of contents to help clients jump to the sections that interest them. Use short, clear names for the links to help clients find what they are looking for quickly.
I established my school, Astoria Dance Centre in Astoria, New York, in l983 as a pre-professional ballet school, and over the years it has expanded to include other dance disciplines, piano, acting, and voice. The school’s unique selling point became “Dancing, singing, acting, and music lessons, all in one convenient location!” Along with those changes came a new approach to marketing.
The classes I offer in the summer are always new and exciting, and different from what I typically offer during the school year. When marketing summer programs, I find that it is always best to use catchy names. So one way I changed my marketing strategy was to rename the musical-theater summer camp ADC’s Summer Starz.
I market the Summer Starz program and other summer camps via direct mail, sending out postcards in staggered batches beginning in early to late winter—in-house mailings first, followed by mailing lists acquired during the year and former summer students. I target households with children in the program’s age divisions (6 to 8, 9 to 12, and teens), our inquiry lists, former students, and all currently enrolled students. Through the direct mailings and e-blasts and marketing campaigns sent to everyone on our email lists, in three years the program has grown from five students to roughly 125. The marketing focuses on enriching a child’s summer, our unique selling point of convenience, and fun, fun, and more fun!
Marketing the program at the right time is important. Parents start planning their children’s activities for the summer in late winter or early spring. Also important is getting the postcards mailed at the right time of the week (I like Friday for a Monday delivery) and never near a holiday weekend.
It’s also important to address the needs of your clients in your marketing materials. Holding the Summer Starz program during the day didn’t work for my working-class clientele. Once I let my clients know I’d switched the classes to evenings, my enrollment grew. The late start time also worked to my advantage because kids who attend day camps can also attend a summer enrichment program in the evenings.
Include attractive aspects of your program in your marketing. For example, I keep dance attire to a minimum, a plus for cost-conscious parents. Activewear and sneakers work well for musical theater. I emphasize that they get acting, singing, and dance all in one convenient location and an opportunity to determine a child’s interests and strengths in a short period of time. To attract boys, I let the brothers of registered girls dance for free during the summer.
The program always culminates in an in-studio showcase of musical-theater numbers, sometimes with an acting scene (often written by the kids). When friends and family are invited, word-of-mouth marketing is free. The showcase is a great way for me to build interest in Broadway Bound, a year-round program that grew out of the Summer Starz program.
In addition to marketing the school-year program as I do the summer program, in the fall I buy a display ad in the local paper and in September I send flyers to local schools. Information about the fall program is always listed on the school website, including what the package offers, such as a musical-theater class or choice of dance class, a small group vocal lesson, and a group acting class. I bundle classes on the same day whenever possible for my clients’ convenience.
Another selling point is that Broadway Bound helps children and teens prepare for auditions for performing arts secondary schools as well as colleges. I promote the fact that students enrolled in Broadway Bound have three opportunities to perform locally in a professional setting. The performances are a form of advertising for the program itself; I also advertise the Summer Starz program during the shows. That way, our in-house and word-of-mouth marketing cycle begins again.
With the changing economy and increased overhead, more studios than ever before are running programs in the summer months. In marketing such programs, several strategies are key to success.
The first is to have everything ready early. Over the past several years I’ve noticed that I need to start promoting and setting up schedules for summer much earlier than I used to in order to secure registrations, no later than the beginning of March.
Why? These days children are tremendously overbooked, and in my area parents are seeking activities for children who are much younger than in previous times. And there is so much for them to choose from. Not only is my school vying for parents to choose our dance camp over another, but also over non-dance activities. With that in mind, I schedule my dance camps for weeks that do not coincide with local sports camps and other popular activities. Town-run activity schedules are out early; for others, I ask for their schedules.
When my school’s dance camp enrollment began to drop off several years ago, I looked at why that was happening and who was still signing up. One of my faculty members was quick to note that the program didn’t sound very exciting on paper—yet I knew what we offered was fun and educational. We needed to make sure the camps were marketed effectively so that everyone else knew that. Remember, your goal is to have your program be the one that parents schedule everything else around.
So I looked at our ads and promotional materials and saw that we didn’t have very much, nor was what we had very exciting. Our simple, multiple-page summer brochure describing our summer programs was generic and boring. So I started fresh, by creating a tri-fold brochure. Because we offer three types of camps, I created three brochures for three target groups, each with a unique look.
Don’t forget to pay close attention to what you call your camps. For example, since much of our client base is female, I decided to change the name of the program for 4- to 7-year-olds from Dance/Arts Camp to Princess Dance Camp, even though I knew that doing so would eliminate boys in this age level. (This year I plan to market a boys-only camp, with a name that will grab attention.)
The Princess camp brochure explains that each day of the week is dedicated to a different princess and includes photos from the prior year’s camp as well as testimonials from parents. Testimonials are essential; people really do read them. It attracted 25-plus children for each of the two weeks (up from 10 dancers per week the prior year).
We then created a separate brochure for dancers 3 to 5 years old, which yielded 15-plus dancers per week, mostly 3-year-olds.
Once you have an attention-getting brochure, it’s time to get the word out. I distributed the brochures to target age groups within the studio and to daycare centers, activity centers, and pediatricians’ offices. In addition, I advertised in local newspapers, which usually run summer activity and camp sections in March or April. (I’ve always had much better luck with small papers than those with huge distributions.) Each ad targeted a particular age group and offered a discount if registered by May 1.
Don’t forget electronic media. Facebook is a great place to advertise upcoming programs, but you should update the page at least daily in order to reach your audience. I also send out an email blast announcing the dance camps to my current clientele and subscribers. Then I follow up with several more, saying “Don’t miss out!” or “Classes filling quickly!” or “Deadline approaching!” To my shock, I discovered that many people at our studio did not realize we offered a summer program.
It’s not enough to have a great program; you’ve got to make sure you’re selling it well. With marketing materials that appeal to the audience you wish to reach, and by getting the word out early, you’re sure to get results.
“For immediate release.” Utilizing these three words in a press release—a written statement to the media announcing your news—is an easy and economical way to publicize your dance studio. It is also an efficient way to promote a new business, product, or service to a broad and diverse audience. For example, I have sent out press releases about student and faculty accomplishments, performance dates, and master classes, which have been published by media organizations at no cost to me.
A press release can be sent by email, snail mail, or fax. Email is the fastest and most efficient way, and widely accepted by media groups. It’s best to ask for submission guidelines, but if you send the release as an attachment, also paste the text into the body of your email since some companies will not open attachments due to concerns about viruses. Consider including one or two pictures with good reproduction quality. (Print media will need a higher-resolution photo than electronic media.)
You do not need a PR professional to write your release. However, keep in mind certain guidelines when composing your press release.
First, it should be written in the third person. The content should be factual and avoid any evidence of ego. Resist the inclination to sell by using phrases such as “committed to quality.” Remember, the organizations you submit your information to aren’t interested in helping you make money or promote your business; they are looking for news that will inform and entertain the public. The idea is to get your release published and ideally garner enough interest to be contacted for an interview and possible feature.
There is an established format for writing a press release, although I have seen slight variations. (You can find many examples online.) It should be double spaced and set in a basic, 12-point font. Include your company logo with a contact name, address, phone number, and email and web addresses at the top. (This should be the name of the person sending out the release, who may or may not be the person to contact for more information mentioned at the end of the release.)
This should be followed by the words “For immediate release” in all caps and centered. (Or if embargoed until a certain date, indicate that.) Next comes the headline or title of your story, which should contain the most exciting news in your release. Make it short but attention grabbing.
The lead paragraph should begin with the date and city the release is originating from. Then state the “who, what, when, where, and why” of the story. Keep to the facts and remember that this is not an advertisement; it is a notice. Keep it general and get more specific in the next paragraph.
In the second paragraph, explain why the reader should care and give more specific information about when the event will happen, and how one can find more information about it. This might be through a website, the person sending out the release, or someone else; for example, an office manager for information regarding a new class or a box office for ticket sales. Including a quote can put things in perspective and add a personal touch.
The content should be factual and avoid any evidence of ego. Resist the inclination to sell by using phrases such as “committed to quality.”
The third paragraph should be a summation and include information about your business. Consider limiting your press release to one page. Again, the idea is to stimulate interest, not to tell the entire story. Center three hash marks (###) under the last line of your release to indicate the end. Last, include a sentence at the bottom such as “For additional information, contact” followed by the contact person’s name, title, phone number, and email address.
Several weeks before sending out your release, compile a list of media sources. Include local papers (daily, weekly, and monthly circulations), magazines, radio stations, and online dance news sources. Check with community dance organizations as well as those on the state and national level. Look at the kinds of news and calendar items they run. Does your release look like a logical fit? Be sure to find out which department covers news like yours and what the deadline is. Follow up within two days to confirm the receipt of your submission.
Finally, send a thank-you email to the organizations that publish your press release. Ideally, you will begin to build media contacts for future newsworthy events.
Do you have a marketing idea you’d like to share? Send it to email@example.com.
By Melissa Hoffman
Reaching out to the community should be an integral part of any school owner’s marketing plan. The more visible your school is, the better. Such outreach can take many forms, including local performances, demonstrations, community fund-raisers, and sports team sponsorship—all events at which you can distribute your studio’s information. And you might want to consider offering specials for attendees. Yes, I’m talking about discounts. Given the temperament of the economy, your marketing plan might need to include some enticing deals.
I’ve always believed that you get what you pay for, so it was hard for me to accept the idea of discounting a product that I consider to be of high quality. However, I also believe that you need to spend money to make money. Therefore I decided to offer discounts that have expirations and are directed at target groups. In thinking of these discounts as part of my marketing budget, I don’t feel as though I’m giving my services for less than their worth. And the response from those target groups has proved the value of offering discounts: the school’s bottom line increased.
What would those target groups be for you? Take a look at the programs you would like to bolster. For my school, my priority is always keeping the parent/tot and preschool programs healthy, so I look for opportunities to do free classes or demonstrations at local preschools and daycare centers. Then I offer parents a deal: if they register their children within two weeks of my visit, either they get 15 percent off the first month’s tuition or I will waive the registration fee.
For current students, I offer a free registration night at the end of the dance year. It was amazing how many people registered early—and what a great feeling it was to go into recital with so many known returning students. In addition, this practice allowed me to see where additional classes might be needed. (For example, the Saturday preschool classes were essentially full before we opened enrollment to the public.)
Though I had always done pre-registration prior to the recital, I had never offered a special. The result was worth it. Since so many people were willing to make a trip to the studio to save $10, I realized that such deals are what they want or need. So I took an additional step and offered an annual discount. If tuition was paid in full by July 1, then families would receive a 15 percent discount; if paid by August 1, a 10 percent discount would apply. For a couple of families, this discount allowed their children to take an additional class. So they are happy and I can make up some of the loss in other ways—costume profits, for example.
In considering this kind of discounting, be sure to include a withdrawal policy. I offer a 100 percent refund if within 30 days and no classes are taken; within 60 days, 80 percent; within 90 days, 50 percent. After 120 days, I give no refunds. Enough of my clients paid for the year in advance that my school’s summer cash flow increased—but not so much that I wasn’t worried about budgeting for the fall.
In trying to entice new students in general, I found that placing ads that are actually coupons for free registration (valid only on a specific open house night) worked great. I place them primarily in newspapers, especially those with a coupon or “back to school” section. Again, more people attended than ever before. I am now placing similar ads for specific classes. For example, I would like to grow our program for 2-year-olds, so I offered a special for that age group during September.
I’ve also begun to target particular groups by offering “groupon” (group coupon) specials. Look online for local opportunities as well as national organizations such as LivingSocial and Goldstar. These programs initially made me nervous because you need to have offers that are significantly discounted in order to participate. The first one I offered was for Zumba. Though only four people took advantage of a 50 percent discount, these same people also purchased additional class cards at full price and brought more people to class with them. Since the up-front cost paid off, I will now try it with select dance programs.
Think of discounting as an effective marketing technique. By offering deals to your clients, you’ll be boosting your business.
Have a marketing idea you’d like to share? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A strong preschool program indicates a bright future for a dance school. By offering a quality curriculum and hiring teachers with experience in preschool education, school owners can inspire this age group to make dance a part of their lives for the next 15 years.
In marketing to this population, you are targeting the parents of children who are 6 and under. Many of them know nothing about dance, but they need to know that the dance school they are considering really does care about and have experience in working with this special age group. With that in mind, I recommend separating preschool marketing from that for the general population.
The images presented here are examples of preschool marketing materials that can be utilized as postcards, web pages, ads, and so on. The message these pieces convey is that at ABC School of Dance the preschool program is a passion. The school owners are selling the joy that dance brings to all children. The happy faces of the mom and the children are the selling point. You’ll also notice that a photo of a boy is in one of the pieces. Including boys in marketing materials is important because it shows that dance is for everyone.
These ads are simple and to the point. There are no taglines that say the school is the best or most professional because those aren’t the parents’ priorities. They simply want their children to be happy in their dance classes, and that’s what these ads say ABC School of Dance can do for them.
September and October are prime time for dance studios. Schools are back in session and parents are busy signing kids up for after-school activities. Make the most of the momentum with these tips to maximize the back-to-school enrollment wave.
New and improved
Take advantage of our increasingly digital society by having your website up to date. On your homepage, include an easy link to fall schedules and prices. Replace any images of your competition winners and accolades of your advanced students with pictures of preschoolers and other beginning students. It’s important to take out the intimidation factor for potential new clients who are making a virtual visit. And don’t forget to put your web address on every promotional item you distribute or print. A website only works if potential customers actually get to it.
If you have a studio Facebook page, link to it from your website. Facebook is a great place to post pictures of smiling children from your summer camps, share inspirational quotes about teaching children, and issue a timely invitation to upcoming events such as open houses, the first day of classes, and “Try It Day.” You can also use Facebook to send personalized invitations to these events to local moms groups, preschools, and other organizations focused on parents and kids.
Another way to use Facebook is to run a “profile picture contest” to win a free month of classes. Invite friends to submit pictures of their little ones in their tutus and princess costumes. The child selected to be your studio’s Facebook profile photo for the month of September also receives a free month of classes. (And, of course you will probably give all of the runners-up a free single class, because everyone likes to feel like a winner—and the point is to get them through the door.)
Even if you are not savvy with a computer, you can take advantage of technology to bring greater efficiency and effectiveness to traditional back-to-school marketing techniques such as mailers. Gone are the days of laboring on a postcard design, printing labels, and fumbling with stamps. Today’s direct mail companies can take you through the process from idea to delivery with a few phone calls. Additionally, they have the ability to target your mailing to specific ZIP codes and household demographics. Now you don’t have to waste time and money mailing your materials to everyone if your information only applies to certain groups.
Tried and true
Some tried-and-true methods are still yielding good returns on time and money.
Put it on your calendar to host a “back to dance” open house with sample classes, studio tours, and performances. Because this is a free event for the community, you should be able to get it listed in your newspaper’s community calendar free of charge. If you really want to create a splash, you could rent a bounce house, offer face painting and free root beer floats, and call it a “Back to Dance Block Party.” The idea is to get families to your studio to see your facility and to interact with your friendly staff.
Print advertising is another traditional method that still works well during certain times of the year such as September and October because parents are already thinking about joining new activities at this time. If you choose to buy print advertising, don’t forget to include a call to action, such as “Only 10 spaces left—register now!” or an offer, such as “Register by October 1 to receive a free pair of ballet shoes.” The goal of investing in print advertising isn’t just to introduce the readers to your brand but also to get them to your door. If you have a choice, go for a local parenting magazine over the newspaper because of the narrow readership focus.
The best advice
The most effective way to boost your business is simple: answer your phone. Your marketing efforts won’t amount to anything if people can’t connect with you. We live in a get-it-now culture, which means that people will often keep calling until they talk to someone—and that someone might be at another school. Studio owners who answer their phones consistently during September and October (or have their phones answered by someone cheerful and knowledgeable) will get the lion’s share of the enrollment in these prime-time months.
Let’s say that you are marketing your school or your classes . . . if within that marketing you throw in a snide remark about the competitor(s), you have added negativity to your own advertising that will hinder your success. It is best to market by informing the world about what you do best, and forget about jabbing the competition. You are too confident in yourself and your own success for that. Have a great day—Rhee
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s October 2009 annual survey, more than half of children under age 2 are minorities. And early analysis of the 2010 U.S. census reveals that slightly less than half of children under age 3 are non-Hispanic whites. So what does that mean to you? It means that accepting all children regardless of race, nationality or religion and treating them equally is more than just the right thing for your school to do. A large percentage of dance school business will come from minority-group populations. In some communities, embracing them could be the difference between success and failure.
The largest minority group in America is the Hispanic population, a catchall term (along with “Latino”) for people from Mexico, Central and South America, Spain, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Despite these groups’ cultural diversity, non-Hispanic Americans tend to lump them together because they speak the common language of Spanish.
A good way to begin to learn about or become more involved with the Hispanic population in your community is to check out the closest Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Investigate the member businesses to determine if you could build relationships with them by cross-promoting your services. Many preschools, daycare centers, and similar children-oriented businesses and activities cater to Hispanics. Maybe you could teach some classes for one or more of those businesses, building your name and reputation within that community. Investigate which dance genres might be relevant to the cultural heritage of the children you are working with. It’s great for the kids to learn about their heritage, and such a targeted approach will likely impress the parents.
Explore the possibilities offered by local celebrations or parades. The widely celebrated Mexican-American Cinco de Mayo is the first to come to mind, but there could be events in your area that you’re not aware of. Offer to do a performance or consider sponsoring some portion of the event. You might be able to set up a booth to distribute your school’s marketing materials at one of these events or at a Chamber of Commerce–sponsored activity.
In your marketing materials, both print and online, it is important to include pictures that represent the diversity of your school’s population. Larger markets like Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and New York have several Spanish-language daily newspapers, both in print and online. Advertising in such papers (print or online) is a good way to introduce your school to the community. Don’t be afraid to incorporate Spanish in your marketing materials.
On allied-media.com, a piece titled “Hispanic American Market” (which lists Laura Sonderup, managing director of Heinrich Hispanidad, a division of Heinrich Marketing, Inc., as its source), says “38 percent of Hispanics surveyed found English-language ads less effective than Spanish ads in terms of recall and 70 percent less effective than Spanish ads in terms of persuasion. Many younger and acculturated Latinos mix languages into a form of ‘Spanglish,’ in which they speak English peppered with Spanish words. But when it comes to selling, 56 percent of Latino adults respond best to advertising when it is presented in Spanish.”
And don’t ignore relationships. “Riding the Rising Wave of Hispanic Buying Power,” an article on Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s website, frbatlanta.org, quotes Maritza Pichon, former executive director of the Latin American Association of Atlanta: “Relationships are extremely important in the Hispanic culture. If you treat Hispanic customers with both respect and cultural understanding, they will remain loyal to your business and tell their friends and family that you have gone the extra mile to make them feel welcomed.”
You must be sincerely interested in and respectful of the Hispanic cultures in order to attract their families to your school. If your goal is to simply make more money, then it will never work out.
Dance is a universal language. With that in mind and your personal passion to share the art form, you can bring diversity into your school.
Do you want to become savvy at marketing your school? Welcome to our new department, which will present various marketing concepts and how to implement them.
Today’s marketing options are plentiful. Whether your budget is small or large (or nonexistent), you can get the word out about your school. In particular, the Internet offers many ways to use your creativity to successfully market your school to the world via websites, social networking pages, and discounted online printing resources. In this issue, we’ll talk about websites.
Most potential students (or their parents) who visit your website know little about dance education, so it’s important that your site doesn’t send the message that people have to be “in the know” to comprehend what’s presented. An example of a website that might discourage dance novices from contacting you would be one that focuses only on the advanced or competitive dancers, barely mentioning classes for beginner or recreational students.
Parents are typically in the market for classes for their 4- to 12-year-olds. Other visitors might be teens and adults who are seeking everything from adult tap classes to Zumba to hip-hop. When they arrive at your home page, they should be able to easily find the options available to them, whether they’re looking for recreational or combo classes, preschool programs, or beginner classes for adults and teens.
That means you need to put links to those classes (or to general categories that include them) on your home page. I suggest the following: preschool (age 6 and under), recreational and combination classes (age 7 to adult), teen classes, adult classes, and intensive options. If you offer such classes as Zumba or Mommy and Me, include direct links to them on your home page too.
It is important to make all curriculum descriptions equally thorough. I have seen many studio websites that feature several pages of information for their competitive programs but offer only one- or two-line descriptions of all other programs. If you go overboard on featuring your competitive dancers or trophies, visitors may think that your school focuses on only the most talented dancers. You want to convey that 4- to 12-year-olds, novice dancers, and people looking for Zumba classes are equally valued at your school.
When choosing videos and photos for your site, include the school’s general population. A video snippet of preschoolers looking like they are having the time of their lives in class will be far more attractive to potential clients than a video of last year’s competition winners would be.
Think business, not ego. Some school owners believe that marketing should tout that they produce the finest, most professional dancers, while others brag about awards and accolades in an attempt to pull students from other schools. The reality is that such boasting can intimidate many of your website’s visitors. Instead, show that your school is a place where everyone dances and has a blast. Show that you believe that dance is for everyone, from the 3-year-old fantasizing about being a fairy princess, to the teenager trying his first hip-hop class, to those dedicated adult tappers.
And finally, include the following information or pages on your website (as applicable): About us; school history; class schedules; contact info, including your mailing and email addresses and phone number (don’t make them fill out an online form to reach you; supply a one-click email link); faculty photos and bios; pictures; benefits of dance training; info on former students who own schools or are now teaching or performing; offerings for boys; birthday parties; testimonials; summer programs or camps; and a Facebook link or “like” button.
By Roxanne Claire
You’ve given a lot of thought to marketing your studio. You’ve updated your website. You’ve sent out postcards and taken out ads. You’ve donated to neighborhood fund-raisers. Now it’s time to turn your attention to organizing promotional events. Such events can be an important part of your marketing plan. Marketing, after all, is more than letting people know what you offer and why they should buy from you. It’s about building relationships. The promotional event is designed to do just that.
Promotional events should bring people into your studio, where they can get to know you and have fun. When people have an exciting or positive experience at one of your events, they associate that warm feeling with your studio. Successful promotional events build your brand image and show people who you are.
Take a look around and you’ll see examples of promotional events everywhere. From the corporate sponsorship of sporting events to your local community’s “fun run,” ideas abound for promotional event themes. Among the most easily understood and immediately appealing are changes in the seasons and the holidays they bring. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities you might want to consider for your studio.
Pumpkins and ghouls
September is a busy month for families since everyone is settling into a new routine. October, on the other hand, is filled with possibilities: falling leaves, Halloween, and, in some communities, Day of the Dead. A community event for October can include painting jack-o’-lanterns or making ghosts out of cheesecloth and starch.
You’ll never go wrong decorating cookies. Children love turning simple sugar cookies into pumpkins or bat-sprinkled moons. Add coloring pages and colorful glitter pens for Day of the Dead. For a sweet touch, put out some candy corn or Day of the Dead bread, sprinkled with colorful sugar.
For a Fall Into Autumn festival, put your neighborhood’s falling leaves to use by making leaf door hangers. Glue leaves (or leaf cutouts) to a card-stock door hanger. Add a raffia bow and an autumn-inspired quote such as “It’s leaf-kicking season.” Offering apple juice or sweet cider along with pumpkin or zucchini muffins makes your event a harvest celebration.
For many of us, December means Christmas. Start a new holiday tradition with a Christmas ornament workshop. Put glue on the tips of pinecones (craft stores such as Michaels will have cinnamon-scented ones) and then sprinkle with white or iridescent glitter for the look of freshly fallen snow. Tie with red yarn or a pretty holiday ribbon. Older children can paint plain glass ornaments (also available at craft stores). Since it’s the season of giving, consider “selling” places in the ornament workshop and donating the proceeds to your community food bank.
Who doesn’t love Rudolph the reindeer? A quick, easy, and fun craft for kids is to make Rudolph’s head out of Cocoa Krispies and marshmallows. (Grease a measuring cup for an easy way to form the head.) Add pretzel sticks for his ears and a slice of maraschino cherry or a cinnamon red hot for his nose. You can also make reindeer cocoa cones by filling clear plastic cone bags with hot cocoa mix and marshmallows and gluing a red ball to the pointed end and antlers on either side of the wide end.
Season of light
Another appropriate craft for this season is making candles. To avoid the risks of hot wax, offer children sheets of beeswax and roll your candles. To include those who celebrate Hanukkah, add a small Star of David cookie cutter and wax sheets in contrasting colors.
Another craft that can celebrate either Christmas or Hanukkah is the candle cookie. Dip pirouette cookies or pretzel rods in white chocolate and, using frosting, fix a candy orange slice at one end. Any cookie with a hole in the middle will work as a holder.
To honor Hispanic traditions, use a hole punch to turn plain brown paper bags into luminarias, or small lanterns, glowing with candlelight. Kitty litter or sand provides a non-flammable base for the bag and tea candle.
St. Patrick’s Day
Everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day! Make a leprechaun catcher or the wee fellow himself. Cover an oatmeal or Kleenex box in green construction paper, add a trap door (disguised with an unglued piece of green construction paper) and a small ball of gold foil for temptation, and voila! You have yourself a leprechaun catcher.
Or draw a leprechaun’s face on the back of a paper plate. Cut two rectangles, one large for the hat and one narrow for the brim, from green construction paper. Add a black band and a gold buckle (a small rectangle of yellow construction paper with the center cut out). Cut red construction paper in narrow strips and roll them around a pencil to curl, then glue them to your leprechaun’s chin for his beard.
To make St. Patrick’s Day goodies, cut Rice Krispies treats with a shamrock-shaped cookie cutter and top with green frosting. Fill a pot with gold coins (bubble gum or chocolate) for children to help themselves to on their way out the door.
When April brings you showers, make rainbows. An easy and mess-free way to make a rainbow for your wall or window is to use clear contact paper (available at hardware stores) and colored tissue paper. Tape the contact paper to the floor or a window or studio mirror. Let the children place the colored tissue paper on it however they like, then place another sheet of contact paper on top, sealing the design. Frame the art project by using colored masking tape.
Nothing says your promotional event has to be held at your studio. A neighborhood pool or park makes a good site for an event.
You can also furnish unfrosted cupcakes, letting children add the green frosting, flower-shaped sprinkles, and a cocktail umbrella. If your budget is a little larger, you can supply kid-sized white umbrellas, available from Oriental Trading and many costume supply houses, and a handful of non-toxic markers. This is another event that can serve double-duty as a fund-raiser for a charity, food bank, or homeless shelter.
Make May baskets by having children decorate triangles of construction paper with markers or stickers. Roll the triangles into cones and staple shut. Staple a strip of construction paper to form a handle, and fill with paper flowers.
You can make flowers by cutting a small paper cup into strips from rim to base, leaving them attached at the base. Draw a cute face on the base and glue a craft stick to the back for the stem. You can also cut daisy shapes from construction paper and add a pipe cleaner or bendable straw stem and a pompom in the center. Then try to leave the basket at a friend’s house early one morning without getting caught!
A sweet open house
What says “summer” more than a lemonade stand? Whether you set up your stand outside your school or in the lobby or a studio, make this event your open house by having your fall brochure available and a receptionist on hand to take registrations. Sell pink lemonade and donate the proceeds to breast cancer research. A cookie decorating station with store bakery cookies, icing, and sprinkles will delight children. Enlist a parent with a professional-quality camera and offer free photos for a surefire draw for parents. Collect email addresses to send them the link for smugmug.com or a similar photo service so parents can order inexpensive copies of their child’s photograph.
Nothing says your promotional event has to be held at your studio. A neighborhood pool or park makes a good site for an event. (Ask your local parks department for permission.) A nearby elementary school may allow you to organize a “splash day” event on its grounds. Sponge relay races, squirt guns, shaving cream “costumes,” and wading pools will appeal to small and elementary-aged children. Be sure to have sufficient adult supervision and check to make sure your insurance policy will cover events not held on your property.
Sources for seasonal activities abound. FamilyFun magazine has creative ideas in every issue. Websites aimed at preschool or elementary school teachers not only have ideas, they frequently have templates and craft instructions. Oriental Trading has an astounding array of low-cost craft ideas and supplies. Books such as Kids Celebrate! are treasure troves of unique and memorable ideas. Be willing to think outside the box. If April is about showers, do an Internet search for “umbrella crafts” and check out baby shower sites for ideas you can adapt to your event.
Planning your event requires juggling several considerations. Many crafts are too expensive, too labor intensive, or make too much of a mess to be appropriate for group events. However, you may be able to find a way to simplify that craft idea you love. Do consider your “audience.” Can your craft be adapted to the different age groups who might attend your event?
Space is another practical consideration. What kinds of activities are appropriate for your studio space? How many people can you accommodate? What day and time will draw the people you want to attract? Saturdays are traditional for many kinds of promotional events. Does this fit with your school’s schedule and the schedule of your students? You may want to consider hosting your event to coincide with the end of one of your classes, to attract those students as they leave.
Finally, decorations add a festive note to any celebration. Balloons, streamers, and other party decorations can help create an immediate “It’s a party!” impression, setting the tone for the fun to come.
Fun for everyone
The promotional event is another useful tool in your marketing toolbox. Successful events draw new students to your school and help create stronger ties with current ones. With careful planning, you’ll have as much fun hosting them as families do attending them.
Leaf door hangers: makingfriends.com/fallcrafts/fall_doorhanger.htm
Cocoa reindeer: recipelink.com/mf/26/1165
Candle cookie: mrspersonality.com/2009/12/candle-cookies.html
Leprechaun trap: familyfun.go.com/crafts/to-catch-a-leprechaun-710897/
Paper plate leprechaun: crafts-for-all-seasons.com/paper-plate-leprechaun.html
Paper flowers: crafts.kaboose.com/construction-paper-flowers.html
By Melissa Hoffman
What can email do for your business? If you’re like me—not a computer whiz—it’s probably more than you think.
Until about eight months ago I believed that the biggest advantage of using email was that I could answer inquiries and parents’ questions at midnight if need be and send out an information letter five times a year. True, the 24/7 aspect of email makes it a valuable communication tool in the dance school business, what with our crazy hours. However, I have since learned that email can be hugely beneficial in marketing my business to clientele new and old.
Not long ago, I decided to rethink my approach to marketing, and a large part of that was to begin using email as the marketing tool it can be. Since I know far more about dance than about using the Internet to market my business, I was a bit nervous. Right away I enlisted help, not only to help me get started but to learn everything I could about this aspect of my business. I hired one of my teachers who is very computer savvy, who is teaching me as we go. I now do much of the inputting and she adds photos and formats everything properly. We meet once a week for an hour to go over what’s coming up for future emails.
Let’s walk through the steps I took to make email work its magic for me.
Step 1: Choosing a provider
My first task was to find the right email marketing tool for me. That meant taking a look at our current email list and determining how best to reach out to additional clientele.
There are several email marketing companies (see sidebar), and all come with a monthly fee that’s based on the number of emails you plan to send. You can also add features, such as the ability to include photos, for an added cost. The prices seemed fairly comparable. After speaking to many customers of such services and watching informational videos, I decided on Constant Contact. For me, what was most important was that the system would be easy to use, and many people I know who use Constant Contact were very positive about it. Live help is always available and there are many tutorials.
Next, I had my web designer add a “join our mailing list” button to my school’s website so that those who are looking for dance classes can receive notifications from us.
Step 2: Getting set up
Next I needed to transfer my existing email list to Constant Contact. I chose to divide the list into categories: existing students, new students, general interest (the new contacts who clicked on the “join our mailing list” button), and company dancers. This makes it easy to send emails to only certain groups.
With this service I can send emails to more addresses than my regular email account allowed, which was 100 at a time. I also like that it is permission based, so people can choose to remove themselves from the list. I can include the same address in several email categories without worrying that people will get duplicate emails; Constant Contact will send only one email to any address.
Although people have the option to unsubscribe, as of the end of 2010 I had had only seven removals since the time I began using Constant Contact in June 2010. There is also a feature that allows the recipients to forward the email to a friend, and I have seen those referrals happen much more often than removals.
Once you’ve created the mailing list, the fun can begin!
Step 3: Rethink your content
In analyzing my email lists, I realized I’d made a mistake over the years by not including past clients. I have always kept non-returning students on my “snail mail” list for three years; however, I did not keep them on my email list. But now I’ve gone through my files from the past couple of years and added those families onto my email list. Why? Although they might not have children who still want to dance, they might have grandchildren, friends, or neighbors who might be interested. They don’t need to know when dress rehearsal is, but there are other events that could draw them to the school.
My newsletter has never looked so professional. When the first one went out, I received 12 emails within a few minutes telling me how impressive it was.
So, given the broader scope of my email list, I’ve changed my newsletters to include information for the general public. We offer plenty of activities that anyone can participate in without having a child enrolled in the school, such as Parents Night Out, birthday parties, or Zumba for adults. Now people from outside the school are joining in activities they otherwise would not have. And the list helps with publicity: the more times people see the name of your business, the more likely they are to remember it.
Step 4: Create templates
The thought of creating templates made me feel like I was stepping outside of my comfort zone, so I got help. My assistant created numerous templates, including one for our monthly newsletter and others for quick reminder blasts about upcoming events. The templates make it easy to create each newsletter, though I still enlist help with pictures and making each mailing look the best it can.
My newsletter has never looked so professional. Readers can click on a subject and go right to that feature article, join us on Facebook and Twitter, and click on links that bring them to my school’s website. Plus, I can archive the newsletters or quick blasts for easy reference. When the first newsletter went out, I received 12 emails within a few minutes telling me how impressive it was.
Step 5: Reap the benefits
Since beginning with Constant Contact I have watched my mailing list double. Along with the former clients I put back on the list, others have joined via my school’s website and from referrals. Constant Contact has quickly become an integral part of how I do business.
One of the best features of this system is the ability to analyze email activity (included in the monthly fee). I can see whose emails bounced (and why), who has opened their email (and who has not), who opted out of receiving them, and much more. This information is available as soon as an email is sent, but I generally look the next day so that I can manage any bounce-backs. This feature is invaluable for me as a business owner.
And I’ve put my emails to work for me. After revamping my newsletters, I began offering advertising opportunities to other businesses. I take only two per month (business-card size) and charge $20, and now there is a waiting list. These businesses also now share my newsletters with their clientele.
Through better use of email, I’ve increased my school’s visibility—and what’s just as important is the fact that what goes out to my existing and potential clients adds to my image as a professional.
Constant Contact: www.ConstantContact.com
Benchmark Email: www.benchmarkemail.com
Mad Mimi: www.madmimi.com
Project Motivate: small in size, big on ideas
By Karen White
The studio owners and teachers filling The Gold School studio had a million questions—about marketing techniques, dealing with problem personalities, balancing work and family, providing quality education, and making money.
One new owner admitted she’s worried about dealing with it all and not losing her mind. “What should I do?” she asked.
Rhee Gold’s answer was short and sweet. “Quit!”
The teachers laughed, but they also learned plenty during the three days of Gold’s latest Project Motivate, held at his home studio in Brockton, Massachusetts, last July. Unlike Gold’s DanceLife Teacher Conference, which attracts upward of 600 studio owners and teachers, Project Motivate (DLTC’s precursor) is cozy, with more than 60 attendees at the event. The long weekend included lectures on web-based marketing, Q&A sessions, discussions of revenue-generating and recital ideas, sample dance classes taught by Gold School instructors, and a performance by Gold School intensive program dancers. And, of course, lots of encouragement from Rhee.
“I’m really liking this intimate atmosphere,” Gay Barboza, owner of AMJ Dance Center in Attleboro, Massachusetts, said. “I like the juxtaposition of the classroom and the business ideas. People are willing to share; there’s no stress here; and it’s close to my hometown. Could this be any more fabulous?”
Owners from 15 states and Canada mingled and chatted, traded marketing materials, and commiserated about the frustrations of running a dance studio business. “I love that we get to choose the topics,” said Ann Marie Frank, president of AMA Dancers & Co. in Des Plaines, Illinois. “I find comfort in learning that so much of this happens to all of us—that it’s not unique to my studio.”
The weekend was laced with Rhee’s brand of tough love—nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, he said, but it’s going to take a lot of work. “Know that everything you do has a piece of you in it. You have to give a bit extra to get the job done. We have the ability to say, ‘I am not going to leave any stone unturned.’ ”
Certainly no stones were left unturned—and nearly no topics unmentioned—by the studio owners. They asked about inspiring dance team members and firing inefficient teachers, satisfying parents and protecting quality, increasing revenue and reducing gossip. Many shared their secrets for success. Others lamented hurdles they can’t get over or goals they’ve yet to reach. One studio owner admitted that her seemingly great success—930 students—is overwhelming her life.
While “you can make a darned good living” owning a dance studio, Rhee said, it won’t make you a millionaire. Instead, what connects dance teachers is their lifelong desire to dance. Teachers should fully appreciate the impact they have on the lives of students. A studio’s best dancer, he said, is not always the most advanced team member, but “the preschool kid with the enormous smile on her face.”
A dance studio is about more than just training dancers, according to Rhee—it’s about what goes on in the heart and soul of your students. “Look at every kid who walks in the door and say, ‘I can make a difference in this kid’s life.’ Even if they have a size 13 foot, or weigh 300 pounds, or have a mother who’s a maniac.” He added, “This stack of money will grow because you are [touching kids’ lives] so well.”
Owners also heard plenty of solid business pointers. One seminar covered communication and advertising, with Rhee describing how to use e-newsletters, Facebook pages, and websites to keep in touch with current clients as well as attract new ones. Websites should be inviting and arranged in an easy-to-find-information format, especially for parents whose children may be new to dance. Pictures should illustrate the studio’s personality but also emphasize fun classes and happy students.
One of the biggest advantages of social media, he said, is the ability to track viewership—to tell almost instantly, for example, whether a Facebook advertisement is gathering any attention. A communications program such as Constant Contact will keep you updated about who is opening (and hopefully reading) notices or monthly newsletters.
There’s power in positive advertising—such as an ad showing a grinning toddler. Those scenes happen every day in every studio, he said. Rennie Gold, Rhee’s brother and owner of The Gold School, said he keeps a camera in each studio and takes snapshots when students are changing shoes or at other downtimes. Occasionally he walks around the studio videotaping class or rehearsals. He uses the images in advertisements or “commercials” found on the studio website.
“I’ve been listening to Rhee and Rennie for years. They’re teachers’ teachers. I came here hoping to network, but this is just so inspirational.” — teacher Barbara Ostromecky
Even if your school has an excellent record training top dancers, Rhee said, it’s not always wise to show images of advanced dancers on pointe, emphasize competition awards won, or rave about teachers’ professional qualifications. Most parents want a once-a-week, fun dance experience for their children. Intimidating customers is never a good idea.
Nicola Kozmyk, owner of Pure Motion Dance Co. in Calgary, Canada, said learning about marketing tools is one of the top reasons why she enjoys Rhee’s conventions and workshops. “After the Orlando [DLTC] convention, I went home and revamped my studio website,” said Kozmyk, who has owned her studio for three years.
Katie Hignett, owner/director of Dance Innovations Dance Center in Greenland, New Hampshire, said she was also on the lookout for marketing and advertising tips. “I started with 69 students. Now I have 150, and I’m putting in the floor in my second room. I’ve doubled my clientele by word-of-mouth, but now I need to advertise.”
In-classroom expertise was also on display. Kathy Kozul, a former member of Boston Ballet and current Gold School ballet instructor, ran through a detailed description of how to encourage proper alignment through floor barre exercises. If the exercises strengthen the back and abdominals, she said, they will improve turnout. Teachers need to make sure that students use correct muscles and proper hip placement when doing floor exercises such as développé à la seconde or rond de jambe.
While several studio owners took to the floor to feel the alignment for themselves, the next day’s classes were for viewing only. Rennie Gold taught sample classes to two levels, preteens and advanced dancers. He explained the finer points of his method (one point is calling all students “dancers” to create a professional atmosphere) and how he allows even the younger dancers to contribute to the choreography with small sections of improvisation.
The studio owners seemed most amazed by what happened at the end of each lesson—all the students surrounded Rennie to say a personal “thank you” before exiting the class.
It’s common practice at his studio. “If it’s a bad day, [that personal contact] gives you a moment to look that child in the eye so he knows you’re not mad at him,” he said. “Parents love the fact that their children are so respectful.”
That comment was indicative of the weekend’s theme—that the personality of each studio reflects its owner. When the discussion turned to dealing with negative comments from disgruntled moms or sullen students, Rhee asked his audience to consider their own in-studio attitude. “Everyone will dance to the same beat. If you walk into the studio depressed, upset, or not into it, that will be the atmosphere of the entire building,” he said. “Your parents and kids will be just like you. Instead, make sure the energy you bring into the classroom is positive.”
Forget about that one negative comment after a stellar recital, he said. Believe you are smart enough to know what to do in every situation. Have confidence in your own abilities. “If you fear losing students, your fears are holding you back. If you’re not doing well financially or you’re not happy, that’s a lack of confidence,” Rhee said. “It all starts with the person whose dream it was to start this studio. Have the guts to go for it, and run your school that way.”
This sort of talk is what brings Barbara Ostromecky back time and time again to Gold’s events. “I’ve been listening to Rhee and Rennie for years,” said Ostromecky, who runs a dance program for Girls Inc. of Worcester, Massachusetts. “They’re teachers’ teachers. I came here hoping to network, but this is just so inspirational.”
Also inspirational was a performance by The Gold School Project Moves intensive dancers, which ended with a lyrical piece inspired by the passing of a beloved local dance teacher who urged dancers to “come to the edge.” As the piece neared its end, one dancer spoke: “They came. He pushed. And they flew.” Many of the studio owners in the room were in tears.
The weekend ended on a high note, with several teachers describing creative ideas for recitals or finance-generating performance teams. Rhee started the conversations but always handed off the microphone to the studio owners, asking what they do well and what works for them.
When Rhee chipped in, it was to offer solid advice earned over his lifetime as a studio owner’s son, title-winning dancer, master teacher, convention director, and motivational speaker: Dance is evolving faster now than ever, and studio owners need to be on top of it with innovative ideas and a willingness to change. You need to find your strength—perhaps it’s preschoolers or recreational kids—and “go ballistic.” Work hard if that’s what makes you happy, and if you reach a goal, take time to savor your accomplishment.
Some advice may be tough to hear (“If you can’t take a kid peeing on the floor, you’re in the wrong business!”), but it always comes with Rhee’s full understanding of what it means to be a dance teacher.
“The day when that little girl comes up and says, ‘I love you’—you will never remember much about the money, but you will remember that. If you’re not surrounded by people who believe [in what you do], get rid of them,” he said. “Give it all the passion you’ve got. Know you are going to make a difference and that you are going to be remembered because you made a difference.
“How cool is that?”
Jackrabbit Technologies, producers of class management software for dance studios and other educational settings, has unveiled a new option that is free to users and will help them market to prospects with greater ease and cost-effectiveness.
The Unlimited Lead File gives Jackrabbit customers a way to segregate inactive users from active users and keep them in the system so they can market to them. By offering this option, Jackrabbit also enables customers to reduce their active student count and in turn, reduce their active student-based fees.
The option also opens up new marketing capabilities because customers can not only move inactive students from their Jackrabbit active file, but they can also enter prospects who have never enrolled with their organization and create a full-fledged marketing database.
The new feature allows prospects to be placed in the Unlimited Lead File in three ways.
Contacts can be uploaded from data files, such as Excel; entered individually; or moved from the active contacts in the Jackrabbit system.
The Unlimited Lead File has no associated quantity limits, so users can aggressively build prospect databases and maintain contact with students and families that have a history with them. The size of a customer’s Unlimited Lead File also has no impact on active student numbers, and therefore adding contacts to it does not increase monthly system cost.
To learn about Jackrabbit solutions for specific types of class-based organizations, visit www.Jackrabbittech.com.
What social networking media outlets can do for you
By Christina H. Davis
It’s never been easier to get the word out about your studio. School owners now have a plethora of online marketing opportunities to choose from to reach students and parents, including popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Learning how to put online marketing to use may seem daunting, but dance studio owners can harness the power of social media to help build their businesses. All it takes is a little research, experimentation, and effort.
Stepping out with Facebook
The hottest social media site continues to be Facebook, which boasts more than 400 million active users around the globe. While the site was originally launched by and for college students, it has attracted people of all ages looking to connect virtually, and it’s also become a great place for businesses to connect with customers—including dance studios.
While individuals can create pages to communicate with friends and family, businesses can create “fan pages” at no cost. Users of Facebook can then become a “fan” of the business and leave messages, post photos, and upload videos.
One studio that has begun experimenting with a Facebook fan page is California Dance Academy. Robbin Shahani, the studio’s executive director, and his wife bought what was then known as the Rozann-Zimmerman Ballet Center in Chatsworth, a suburb of Los Angeles, in July 2008. Less than a year later, they launched a Facebook page under the school’s current name.
Initially, Shahani had hoped to develop a portion of his school’s website as a place for current students to connect and post comments and pictures. But he soon realized that Facebook offered an existing platform to do that—and that many of his students and their parents were already on the fast-growing social networking site.
So far, it’s still slow going, according to Shahani. As of May 24, the school, which has 110 students and 10 teachers, had 149 fans on its Facebook page. “There’s been some interaction between the students, which is what I really want to foster and encourage more of,” Shahani says. “If we were better at regular posts, I suspect people would make it part of a routine” to check the page for updates.
Shahani’s measure of success is mostly anecdotal. “When students or parents take the initiative in posting what’s important to them, that’s obviously great insight for us as directors,” he says.
School owners use social media sites like Facebook for a variety of reasons, according to Stacey Marolf. She owns StudioOfDance.com, a Portland, Oregon-based business that focuses on websites for dance studios. She says some of her clients simply want to boost loyalty with existing customers by providing them with an online way to connect with the studio, much like California Dance Academy’s strategy. Other schools are focused on driving traffic from Facebook to their websites, while still others hope to generate new business.
At a minimum, Marolf says, owners should track how new students hear about their studios. “Asking new students and/or their parents whether they know about your Facebook presence, and whether it played a role in their decision, will allow you to measure your success,” she says.
One school that’s been more aggressive about tracking its Facebook page’s success is The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and West Chester, Pennsylvania. The school, which has a very strong ballet program for teens, launched its Facebook page in July 2009. As of May 24, it had an impressive 8,887 fans.
Alexander Spassoff, communications director for The Rock, says he uses Facebook primarily as a broadcast platform and is hoping to move it toward being “a help center” for teens interested in dance to ask questions. He pays particular attention to Facebook Insights, a free program that provides demographic information at no cost for any Facebook page. He can see clearly that the school’s Facebook audience is within its target market—females ages 13 to 17.
Facebook has attracted people of all ages looking to connect virtually, and it’s also become a great place for businesses to connect with customers—including dance studios.
Spassoff also delves into the analytics for the school’s website (therockschool.org) and says Facebook is consistently in the top three for referring traffic. As a one-man marketing operation for the 1,500-student school (1,000 in the regular program and 500 in the summer program), Spassoff’s time is stretched thin, but he’s convinced that Facebook is an important alternative to traditional newspapers for getting the word out about the school. “Maybe Facebook is not where it’s going to be,” he says. “Maybe it’s YouTube or maybe it’s something no one’s heard of. But everyone agrees that media’s changing.”
Of course, the resources available to The Rock School far outpace the average dance studio. So Marolf offers some words of advice to her clients who feel overwhelmed by the demands of keeping pace. “I think that a lot of social media can be great, if you are ready to commit to them and be consistent” by keeping online information current, she says. An out-of-date Facebook page or blog can send a bad message to prospective students.
Rather than setting up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a blog all at once, Marolf advises her clients to start with one outlet. She says studio owners should talk to their students and parents about how they would like to connect and go with the most popular method.
While Shahani and others are happy to jump onto the Web 2.0 bandwagon, some still keep their feet on the curb. One of them is Nancy Solomon Rothenberg, owner of Studio B Dance Center in Eastchester, New York. She loves using Facebook in her personal life but has no plans to create a page for her studio. “I believe in word of mouth,” she says. “If parents love you and talk about you, that’s the best form of advertising.”
Solomon Rothenberg says that other studio owners have reported problems or fears with sites like Facebook. A parent who posts a negative comment can scare off potential customers, she says. And the need to police constantly changing privacy policies worries many people.
There are ways to keep tabs on some of the online social media chatter, according to Chad Michael Lawson, a Phoenix-based website developer and marketer who owns RealDealDanceWebSites.com and RealDealDanceMarketing.com. He recommends setting up email alerts on Facebook, which notify you every time someone posts on your studio’s fan page. For other sites, you can set up custom email alerts through search engines such as Google or Yahoo with your studio’s name as a filter. You’ll automatically be notified every time your studio’s name is mentioned on the Internet.
Another potential problem with sites like Facebook is the blurring of the line that separates teachers from students and even parents. Solomon Rothenberg says she has banned her teachers from friending students on Facebook. At first, her teachers were “a little put off about the rules,” she says, but soon they came to understand that the policy was about maintaining the studio’s professional image.
While Solomon Rothenberg is cautious about social media, she isn’t ignoring the Internet. She has a studio website with a dynamic video introduction and a full page of testimonials from students about why they love dance. To her, that page of testimonials is worth more than any Facebook page. “Those are real kids,” she says. “You can just feel their enthusiasm coming through.”
Facebook and Twitter may be getting the most attention from marketers at the moment, but video-hosting sites can be equally useful for studio owners. What better way to show what a studio is about than through a video clip?
Cathy Patterson, owner of Point B Dance in Lawrence, Kansas, has been an early adopter of online video. Her studio focuses solely on adult students, most of whom attend the University of Kansas. After attending a marketing class that reviewed the power of video to draw people into a website, she knew she had to give it a try. Over the past year she’s uploaded numerous clips from rehearsals and classes at her studio, and she now features a video clip prominently on her site’s home page. “My enrollment has jumped up since I added the video on the home page,” she says.
But part of the reason why YouTube has worked for Patterson is that the majority of her students are college age, meaning that they can legally give their consent to appear in a promotional video. She says that if she owned a traditional studio with younger students, she’d be more hesitant to use the videos so prominently.
The novelty of starring on a short video clip has not worn off on the students at Point B.
“I have people texting me, asking me when that one is going up on YouTube,” Patterson says. “I didn’t think it would be that big a deal, but it is.”
Patterson uses a Flip camera (which retails for as little as $149) to shoot simple footage at the end of class. She announces that she’ll be recording and gives the students the choice to sit out. Then she uploads the video and it’s on her site within minutes.
Patterson hasn’t done much on Facebook or Twitter, and she shares some of Solomon Rothenberg’s misgivings about them. In fact, when she uploads videos, she blocks the ability for people to comment on them. “I want people to make their own opinions,” she says.
While Patterson is concerned about comments, she’s not worried about people stealing her or her staff’s choreography when they watch it online. “We would feel like it was a compliment,” she says.
Lawson is a big proponent of the power of leveraging social media. “You can’t put a website online and just think, ‘Oh, this is enough,’ ” he says. “It has to be alive. You have to be tied into [social media] in order for it to work.”
So when Lawson builds a website for a client, he’s sure to establish a presence for the business with Twitter, Blip (a video hosting site similar to YouTube), and Flickr (a photo hosting site), along with Facebook. He builds a simple interface with the various social media sites right into each client’s website content management system.
Establishing a presence on a variety of sites is important, Lawson says, because studio owners will find a different audience at each. The people found on Flickr, which is popular with photo buffs, are quite different from those who hang out on Twitter. And the users of Twitter are likely to only overlap slightly with those on Facebook.
Keeping each social site’s audience in mind is key, according to Lawson. For example, he says the best way to connect on Twitter is for dance studio owners to follow members of the local community and share news that would be of interest to potential customers. “If you want to use Twitter for business, post stuff going on around your town,” he says. “It’s like being a member of the chamber of commerce without having to leave your studio.”
Establishing a presence doesn’t mean giving prospective clients the hard-sell; that doesn’t work on social media, says Lawson. “If you come across too strong,” he says, “it’s like walking into a party and immediately saying, ‘Here’s my card.’ No one wants to talk to that guy. You have to mimic how you would act at a party.”
Lawson acknowledges the challenge in managing a business along with multiple fan pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels. To cope with their competing time demands, he recommends something that dance people are very familiar with: discipline. “If you can carve out a half an hour in the morning, that’s all you need,” he says.
Social Media Basics
What is it? A website where people can connect with others to share photos, videos, and information.
How many people use it? More than 400 million active users.
The pros? Its popularity is skyrocketing, with a broad cross-section of age groups.
The cons? The potential for negative feedback and privacy issues.
What is it? A “micro-blog” where users share status updates (limited to 140 characters) with their “followers.”
How many people use it? Nearly 75 million (industry estimate).
The pros? It can create a lot of buzz around a dance studio if used properly.
The cons? The audience may not match with the demographic of the average dance studio.
What is it? A video hosting site.
How many people use it? The site receives 1 billion views per day.
The pros? Studio owners can upload videos for free and embed them on their websites or Facebook fan pages.
The cons? Some parents may not feel comfortable with their children’s images being posted on the site.
By Cheryl Ossola and David Favrot
Call it a sign of the times, a response to the sorry state of the economy. But I’ve noticed some marketing methods and “value-added” efforts by major ballet companies that boost their own visibility and image while promoting creativity in others.
I’m talking about companies’ community-oriented efforts during their Nutcracker runs: San Francisco Ballet’s “Magical Memories Nutcracker Video Contest” (make a short video “that reenacts or re-imagines a scene or a favorite magical memory from Nutcracker”) and Pacific Northwest Ballet’s call for choral groups to perform in the lobby before performances. PNB has had professional singers perform in previous years, but this year, to save money, it asked for volunteers. In a similar vein, Cincinnati Ballet had young violinists playing in the lobby pre-Nutcracker. These ideas are smart because they’re fun, they hit us where it matters most—in our hearts—and they inspire creativity, which seems fitting for arts organizations.
I wasn’t in the lobby in Seattle or Cincinnati to hear those community choral groups sing and the pint-sized violinists play, but I can tell you that hearing them would have made going to Nutcracker that much more memorable. Sure, I like the idea of engaging professional singers and musicians—they need to stay afloat too—but think of all the youngsters who saw kids just like themselves singing and playing at such a big-deal event. If they’re not destined to be dancers, they just might think about adding music to their lives.
Since it was online, I had full access to SFB’s contest. With few exceptions, the videos proved the depth of our emotional connection to this American ballet tradition. Most were funny, quirky, or sentimental, and their creators showed talents that have nothing to do with dance: developing a concept, writing a script, designing a set or costumes, and figuring out how to bring their ideas to life, real or animated, on the small screen.
I hope these companies achieved what they set out to with these ventures and I’d like to see this trend continue, regardless of the state of the economy. Whether you find fulfillment in music, making videos, or dancing, it’s all good. It’s all art, and we need more of it in our world. —Cheryl Ossola, Editor in Chief
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
She isn’t much to look at on YouTube: a stout, middle-aged woman, dressed in what look like the living-room draperies. Arms outstretched, she waltzes back and forth in front of a row of formal, impassive men for a few seconds. Still, this snippet of grainy, silent, black-and-white film, shot outdoors near Moscow in 1921, is the only surviving dance footage of Isadora Duncan: breaker of taboos, proponent of socialism and sexual liberation, and—for lovers of modern dance—the Mother of Us All.
Of course, we should be grateful even for this morsel. Photographer Edward Steichen recalled that Duncan “didn’t want her dancing recorded in motion pictures but would rather have it remembered as a legend,” and she got her wish. But one can’t help thinking of more recent dance figures whose documentary record falls far short of the ideal.
Take Merce Cunningham, for example. He was creating new work right up to the end of his life last year at age 90, but how much is readily accessible to the curious? (I’m singling him out because I’m a fan, but the video shelves aren’t overloaded with Paul Taylor or Pina Bausch, either.) Search for Cunningham on Amazon, and you find this: Two documentaries by Elliot Caplan, Cage/Cunningham (1991) and Points in Space (1986), and Charles Atlas’ Merce Cunningham—A Lifetime of Dance (2000), as well as two instructional DVDs on Cunningham technique. There’s also a DVD of Cunningham’s Split Sides (2003), though the scores by rock critical faves Radiohead and Sigur Ros may play a role in its preservation, and Caplan’s Merce Cunningham Collection, Volume 1, a set of three works. Atlas’ DVD of BIPED (one of Cunningham’s most acclaimed later works, from 1999) has been discontinued for the U.S. market; I have a French copy in the PAL video format that I can play only on my MacBook.
And that’s about it. The Cunningham Dance Foundation has announced an ambitious plan to preserve his choreographic legacy, but in the meantime, what we have is a paltry representation of six decades of creativity from one of the last century’s most acclaimed dancemakers. Merce Cunningham, those who loved his work, and those who might learn to love it if they could only see it deserve better. —David Favrot, Associate Editor
Photo opps make good marketing
Contributed by Brandan Newman, Fitness Arts Center, Madison, Alabama
I’m a new school owner, just having opened last June, and I also moved to a new state knowing not a single person. So getting the word out about my new school has been a challenge, with an essentially nonexistent marketing budget. Then I had this idea, which will help in my marketing and branding.
Everywhere I go, I see photo cutout boards where people can poke their heads through an opening where the face should be and have their picture taken as a moose, or a farmer, or a mermaid. But I’ve never seen one of a dancer, let alone an Irish dancer. So I decided to create one. I took it one step further by adding my business name and logo at the top so that every picture that is taken will advertise my school, with no effort on my part. And people love to share goofy pictures of themselves.
I finished this project to coincide with my school’s “Bring a Friend to Dance Class” week. I took pictures of all the kids and printed them on the spot. My students and their friends loved it and were so excited to show their pictures to their moms and dads.
I plan on taking the photo board with me to fairs or festivals where I have a booth so that anyone who stops by can be photographed as an Irish dancer. I’ve already come up with other designs, since Irish is not the only style I teach, but I feel this particular board is unique. The materials cost me less than $20. (I was fortunate to find my school colors in the clearance paint section.) Everything was done by hand, and it took me around 20 hours to complete.
Perhaps this idea can benefit your school. I hope you enjoy it!
Community ties lead to a wealth of low-cost marketing options
Marketing—it’s a dreaded part of running a business for many dance school owners. It takes time and money and can drain even the most enthusiastic entrepreneur of creativity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. How can you build enthusiasm for your classes and your product without feeling that pressure? One great way to get the word out is by having new faces continually flowing through your school. Sometimes the joy the students show in their dancing is a better marketing tool than a brochure or website—the trick is to get people into your school to experience their enthusiasm, and that means tapping into the community. So if you’re looking for ways to bring in new faces but don’t have a huge marketing budget, these innovative, alternative marketing methods are for you.
Give each current student five coupons for a free class to distribute to five of their friends or relatives. During the first month of classes, coupon holders can try a class of their choice. Some will decide to register and some will not, but even the ones who don’t are excellent prospects; get everyone’s mailing and email addresses and add them to your lists. Send them newsletters, brochures, performance notices, and registration forms. Also, if you know you will have a lot of empty seats at your recital, send these prospects a couple of comp tickets. They’ll fill the auditorium, and if they’re on the fence about taking dance lessons, an impressive recital or performance can entice them to enroll.
Pick a class or group of students and offer them a bonus class. Make it a Friday night open hip-hop class for the students and one guest each. Why hip-hop? It’s beginner friendly, cool for everyone to do (even the boys), and it seems to help kids lose their inhibitions. That doesn’t rule out a jazz class or other forms of dance, however (though a ballet class might be too intimidating). The students will appreciate the free class, and they’ll introduce potential new students to the school. Be sure the teacher understands that the class should be fun and appropriate for beginner students.
Next, take the idea one step further and offer the same class for the parents. Ask them to bring a friend who has children who might be interested in dance. When the class is over, thank everyone for coming and hand out the school brochure, along with a coupon for a free class for their child.
An audience of future students
The next time you hold an in-studio run-through for a competition or a performance, let the dancers invite their friends to act as an audience and experience the excitement of preparing for a show. Again, hand out brochures and build your client lists.
Business to business
Identify the businesses in your community that offer a product or service for children: karate, piano lessons, gymnastics, preschools, daycare centers, and so on. Offer to do cross-marketing with them. You will stock their literature at your school and share your mailing list with them, and they agree to do the same for you. Offering links to each other’s website is an excellent way to cross-market, and it won’t cost you a penny. Also approach students’ parents who own businesses with the same cross-marketing idea. Good things can happen for both of you!
Another business-to-business concept is a performance exchange. For example, your students could do a dance demonstration at the karate school and the karate students could show off their skills at your school.
Consider offering six-week programs that can start at any time of year. Courses might include creative movement or preschool, mommy and me, hip-hop, ballroom, or any kind of class you think would work in your market. Charge a flat fee without any strings attached—no costumes, no recitals, no extra expenses. Simply give them your best product: dance lessons. These short sessions often bring in those who are afraid to make a longer commitment or who aren’t sure whether their child is ready for dance classes. They might be just what the adult who always wished she had danced as a child needs in order to fulfill her dream—without jumping in full swing. Six-week programs also work well during periods when taking in new students isn’t practical—perhaps because you’re in the middle of recital choreography or the potential student doesn’t fit into the normal cycle. January is an excellent time to offer these programs.
These marketing ideas take some thought and energy, but what they don’t take is a lot of cash. Try a few of them—or come up with your own— and you may find that building ties with the community is a great way to boost enrollment.
By Rhee Gold
Why are you such an advocate for the recreational dancer?
First off, I believe that dance is an art form and that every person, whether child or adult, can experience that unique feeling that dancing gives us, whether they can do 10 pirouettes or only 1. To me it’s that inner-gut thing we should be passing on, regardless of the skill level of the student. If we as teachers lose sight of the value of the recreational dancer and focus only on our best or most promising students, then I wonder if we’ve also lost sight of why we became dance educators in the first place.
Tell me more about that inner-gut thing.
It’s that feeling that takes over when we feel the music in our dancing or the sweat is pouring off us in class. It could happen when we see a piece of our own choreography or someone else’s. It’s like a light switch that turns on the passion. And yes, I believe everyone has it, even the 11- year-old with the size 13 feet! Unfortunately, some teachers think that switch flips on only with the advanced dancers.
What do you say to teachers or school owners who tell you, “I’ve paid my dues; I don’t want to teach the recreational kids anymore?”
Believe it or not, I respond with “Not a problem!” Then I ask them, “Who will you get into your school to give those recreational dancers what they need?” Be sure you have the best people in place; then feel free to teach whom you like. But if you have the less-talented or least ambitious teachers working with your recreational dancers, that’s what you’ll get back from those students.
What are the benefits of a recreational program, to the teacher and the students?
The recreational programs are often a school’s financial backbone. A solid base of once- or twice-a-week students who are not training at a discounted tuition (like many advanced dancers do) can make or break a school.
Advanced dancers must start somewhere, and a recreational class is the place. Some will improve or develop a passion and want to take on more classes; eventually they become your advanced dancers. If you have a weak recreational program and rely on getting your stronger students from other schools, you’ll often inherit the other schools’ headaches, too. Better to build your own dancers who’ve grown up in your school and understand your philosophy.
Watching those recreational dancers grow and become more accomplished is sometimes more rewarding than working with advanced dancers, because they truly feel a sense of joy when they accomplish something. Often the advanced dancers take what they have for granted.
How do you make sure you give your recreational students the same amount of attention as your advanced or competition students?
For me it’s a quality thing. Give them good teachers who can choreograph for them, people who know how to instill a solid foundation and how to make the kids look and feel good about themselves by the end-of-the-year performance.
I don’t like to let teenagers teach the recreational kids—often younger teachers want to create great dancers and they skip the basics, going right to the big stuff without realizing that their students can’t do the material. Then the teacher and the students become frustrated, which is not good for them or the business.
How can a teacher regain her love of teaching recreational dancers?
Sit in on your recreational and preschool classes and notice the joy on the kids’ faces when they learn a basic shuffle or a simple pas de bourrée. Know that the recreational student feels great just learning the basics, which is the same thing your advanced dancers feel when they accomplish the big stuff. One doesn’t have a better feeling than the other, so why should we not be as excited for the recreational dancer as we are for the advanced one? Each of us was a recreational or preschool student once. It’s a good thing our teachers saw our potential—otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are today. Go look for students like yourself in those recreational classes!
Words from the publisher
By Rhee Gold
Many school owners are experiencing a bit of trepidation about how the economy might affect registration for the fall season. This year, the customer loyalty that you’ve developed will be more important than ever. If you can hang on to most of last year’s enrollment (and hopefully add to it), the upcoming season should be a successful one. In all of the marketing research I have done, one message appears constantly: It is 10 times more expensive to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. So what can you do to encourage your current clientele to re-register this fall?
Establish a relationship with your clients that fosters loyalty. Parents will do all they can to include dance lessons in their family budget if they believe in you and your school, and if they believe that what you offer is good for their children. You might assume that if you are the best teacher you can be, customer loyalty will follow. You could be right, but there may be more to it. As hard as it is for dance teachers to understand, good training is not always at the forefront of the parents’ minds. What can be just as important —or even more so—to parents is having their children feel like they belong to something special.
This summer, consider sending thank-you cards to your students and their parents. Make them personal by writing them out and signing them yourself. Address them to the students; kids love to get mail, and the parents will be impressed that you made personal contact with their child. Thank them for being part of the studio “family” and let them know how much you look forward to seeing them in the fall. Take it one step further by mentioning something that you appreciate about each child in your note. And it’s not a bad idea to send birthday cards to students with summer birthdays.
An additional strategy is to take that personal contact a step further with a phone call. The phone is a personal and effective way to touch base with your clientele. The fact that you took the time to call impresses parents, and these phone chats allow you to gain a deeper understanding of what’s important to them.
Be sure to stay on your clientele’s minds by sending a couple of summer newsletters, either by mail or email. Include pictures (especially ones that have lots of students in them) and news about your students. Parents and kids will hang on to the newsletters, and each time they see one it will remind them of how much they love your school.
In this economy, saving dollars is a huge incentive in building loyalty. Think about offering last year’s students one class at no charge (in a dance form they do not already take). Not only will the parents appreciate the free class, but the students may decide to add the class to their curriculum, which could generate more income in the long run. Another great way to help the parents save money is to offer a free leotard or pair of shoes when they register.
Whatever your plan for maintaining customer loyalty might be, you can be sure that satisfied customers make for satisfied business owners. You owe it to yourself to keep your clients—and yourself—happy.
Maximize your online presence with pay-per-click advertising
By Tracy Bauer-Durso
Are your advertising dollars working for you? If you’re like most school owners, you’d love to know that you’re getting a return on that hard-earned money. There is a way to be sure that your money is well spent—with pay-per-click advertising. Imagine not having to pay for ads that don’t bring in business. Wouldn’t you like to pay only for ads that get a response? And what if they cost only a few cents each time a potential client responded, instead of hundreds of dollars simply to be seen? How would it change your marketing plan if, rather than trying to attract potential clients, those people were looking for you? No doubt your mind is racing at the thought of how these conditions could affect your studio financially—and favorably.
How pay-per-click works
All it takes is a website to take advantage of an online advertising option that will draw much more traffic than you’re currently getting to your site. Pay-per-click advertising means that you pay for your ads only when someone clicks on them. That click then takes potential clients to your website, where they can learn more about your studio. With this form of advertising, thousands of people see your ads for free, but you pay for that visibility only when interested prospects want to learn more about your studio. And the best part is that you get to set the price you are willing to pay for those clicks.
You may be wondering how cost-effective this form of advertising is when anyone in the world can click on your ad. Of course you don’t want to pay for clicks from people who live in California, for example, when your studio is in Indiana. Regional pay-per-click advertising allows you to specify where you’d like your ad to be seen, thus targeting the communities that would be the best fit for your studio.
Here’s how the system works: A potential customer is looking for dance lessons in your community. She goes online and types the keywords “dance instruction” plus the town or city’s name into a search engine. Your ad then appears in a list of sponsored links on the prospect’s screen, and she decides to click on that ad to get more information. You set the cost per click and the maximum you are willing to spend on clicks each day. Although companies in competitive industries such as investing must pay $5 to $20 per click to get to the top of the search list, that’s not the case for the dance industry. Dance-related keywords get visitors to your site for as little as 10 to 20 cents per click. The more you pay per click, however, the higher your ad will be positioned on the list of advertisers that pops up on a potential client’s screen. And of course, the higher your ad is on the list, the more often it will get noticed.
To get a sense of how much to bid per click, type a keyword like “dance instruction” or “ballet classes,” plus your community, into a browser and see how many ads come up on the right. If only four or five ads appear, you know you face very little competition.
But why use pay-per-click when search engines pull up a list of websites for free? Won’t your studio’s site come up in any Internet search? Not necessarily. Usually you would have to pay a search engine optimization company thousands of dollars for a top position, or your site’s homepage must be well optimized (that is, full of the perfect keywords for the search engine to recognize). If you want to attract more traffic to your website, a pay-per-click ad is the best way to attract new online customers.
How good is it?
Let’s compare this marketing method with other options. With pay-per-click advertising, you pay pennies to reach a prospect who is searching for what you offer. Since this approach appeals directly to prospective clients, it generates hundreds of leads that you can convert into dozens of customers within weeks, at a reasonable price.
With a print ad, you might spend hundreds of dollars on marketing that goes to thousands of people who might or might not be interested in dance. Consider this example: A studio owner, struggling to grow her business, pays $200 per week for an ad in the community newspaper for four weeks. Unfortunately, the ad gets a response from only two prospective customers because it did not encourage readers to take action, and many of the people who read the paper were not interested in dance lessons. Perhaps they didn’t even have children. So this school owner spent $800 on failed advertising when she doesn’t have money to spare.
The most cost-effective way for your small business to get noticed is pay-per-click advertising. In only days or weeks, you can optimize online what would take months or years to test offline, while generating tremendous exposure for your studio at minimal cost.
Gretel Montano of Gretel’s Dance Studio in Bellflower, CA, had this to say about her experiences with pay-per-click advertising: “It didn’t take much effort to put the ads together; it took more effort to figure out the most effective way to do it. With the basic Google account, my ads didn’t target the audience I wanted. When I upgraded to the next level, I was able to find a better way to display my ads to the desired audience.” She says she spends $8 to $25 per month on the ads and acquired 30 new leads in an eight- to nine-month period through this form of advertising.
How do I get started?
Fortunately, you don’t have to be an Internet-savvy, technical wiz to utilize this advertising medium. Google’s services are very user friendly. Go to www.Google.com and click on “Google AdWords”; then follow the instructions to get set up on its search engine. You can create one or several ads for free in a matter of minutes and then easily test them to find out which marketing message is most appealing to Internet shoppers. You can run targeted ads for summer programs, ballet lessons, or preschool classes, or you can keep it simple and create only one general ad. Creating the ads is free of charge, so the options are unlimited.
Here’s a hint: If you want to find the most popular keywords that people use to search for dance lessons, go to www.goodkeywords.com. There, for no charge, you will discover the estimated number of searches per month for a particular keyword, as well as a list of popular, related search terms to consider. Since Google AdWords allows you to select as many keywords as you wish, the information provided on goodkeywords.com is extremely valuable.
Once you’ve determined the keywords on which you’d like to advertise, you can start posting ads immediately on Google’s search engine. It takes about 20 minutes to set up and your ads begin running in as few as 10 minutes after you create them. Then you can sit back and let the site do the work for you. On an ongoing basis, you’ll have access to a report detailing how many people typed the keywords you chose, saw your ads, clicked on your ads, and contacted you from your website. This data is invaluable to business owners who are trying to measure the success of their marketing campaigns.
Although I find that Google is the easiest to use, there are other pay-per-click advertising options, such as Yahoo® Small Business (www.overture.com). You don’t need to limit yourself to one search engine; once you have created ads that are successful on one, you can place them on another as well to get more traffic.
Is there a catch?
Used properly, pay-per-click advertising can help you measure your advertising potential in a matter of hours and start growing your business in a matter of days. This fact is especially valuable for owners of new studios who are looking for cost-effective ways to get exposure fast. It is important to note, however, that your success in converting pay-per-click traffic into leads that contact you depends on how well you optimize your own website. The ad will link people to your homepage; the website must do the rest of the work.
A good website is informative, professional, and enticing and gives prospective clients every incentive to ask for more information (see “Websites That Work,” page 32). At the bottom of every page, instead of merely including the standard contact information in a small font, include a no-risk offer for visitors to click on. Create a compelling offer that will tempt them to learn more about you. On that link, provide a form they can fill out with their contact information to receive a brochure, class schedule, video, trial class, or discount coupon. A studio website, when used effectively, can be a wonderful source of information for your prospects and an excellent way to generate leads for your studio.
Should I use any other kind of advertising?
As cost-effective as pay-per-click advertising can be (when combined with an optimized website), don’t abandon your current advertising media for exclusively Internet methods. The number of people that you can effectively attract online is limited, and you can’t make more people search for a term than are already doing so. However, the Internet is a great way to generate leads you would otherwise miss, and it is the perfect way to test your messages to find out what appeals most to your audience.
Once you are succeeding online, try using those messages in whichever form of print media will reach the most qualified prospects in the most cost-effective way. (How do you know which print media—like newspapers, Yellow Pages, direct mail, postcards, and flyers—are most effective? By asking potential customers how they heard about your school.) Chances are good that your online advertising message will also appeal to offline prospects, and knowing that an ad gets results makes spending $800 to place it in print media far less risky than running it without that online track record.
Your success with pay-per-click advertising depends on the strength of your ads, how searchable the keywords are, the popularity of Internet searches within your community, and the strength of your website’s homepage. However, since it is inexpensive and easy to set up, carries little risk, and continues to attract visitors to your website with no ongoing work on your part, it is worth adding to your marketing plan. Although advertising on the Internet is not a requirement for successfully marketing your dance studio, it offers an advantage to those who know how to use it effectively.
Everything you need to know to create crisp, compelling dance images
By Theresa Smerud
What do designing a website, putting together a registration packet or marketing piece, or writing a press release have in common? They all need great photos to spruce them up. But you, a dance studio owner, are not a professional photographer, so what are you to do? You have a camera, maybe even a digital one—but will it give you the results you need to create compelling images? Have you saved your digital images in the correct format and resolution for each project? If questions like these sound like technological mumbo jumbo to you, you’re about to breathe a sigh of relief. This article will give you essential information about how to capture and save dance images.
The shootout: point-and-shoot vs SLR cameras
First, what type of camera should you use? Most people know what a point-and-shoot camera looks like, but what is an SLR and what are the important differences between the two?
A point-and-shoot camera is small—it easily fits in a purse or pocket—and does not have interchangeable lenses. An SLR (single-lens reflex) camera is larger and gives you the ability to change lenses. With an SLR you view the scene through the lens, while most point-and-shoot cameras capture the image through a lens other than the one you view the scene with. Translation: With an SLR, you get what you see, for the most part, and with a point-and-shoot you do not. Both types of cameras allow you to program your desired “film” speed (ISO) and automatic shooting modes, as well as choose a color-temperature setting. But an SLR allows you to shoot in manual mode for more control and artistic options.
Point-and-shoots are great for vacations and most candid shots that do not have moving subjects, but they have a few drawbacks when working with dance imagery. First is the shutter delay. If you ever have tried to photograph a moving subject only to miss the picture you envisioned, you experienced shutter delay. Also, some point-and-shoots do not let you turn off the flash. For professional-looking images, you need to shoot without flash. Nothing screams “Amateur photographer!” more than an image with a washed-out subject with a large shadow behind it, which comes only from using on-camera flash.
The last important feature to consider is the camera’s resolution. Point-and-shoots typically do not offer a resolution higher than 6 megapixels, while professional SLRs can go as high as 22 megapixels. Resolution is a crucial consideration in image quality; the higher the pixel count, the bigger the potential print size. For example, 3-megapixel cameras can produce an adequate quality 4×6 print, while 8-megapixel cameras will produce great prints up to 11×14.
For most school owners’ purposes, a camera with 6 or 8 megapixels is ideal. Anything less is no good, especially for producing images for marketing pieces (and print forms other than newspapers) and enlargements to hang on studio walls. Anything bigger is more than you will need, and storing large images uses more memory on your computer’s hard drive.
To purchase a good point-and-shoot camera, expect to pay between $400 and $600; for a high-end amateur SLR with one standard lens, $600 to $800. Like everything else in life, you get what you pay for. If you plan to shoot the photographs for your marketing pieces yourself, it is worth investing in a camera that can create amazing images.
The nuts and bolts: ISO, color balance, and shooting modes
Now that you have your camera, you are ready to take some pictures. Step one is to familiarize yourself with your owner’s manual so that you can easily locate all the camera’s essential buttons, levers, and wheels.
Next, choose an ISO setting, which determines your camera’s sensitivity to light (the equivalent of film speed). The higher the ISO, the better the camera’s ability to capture images in low-light conditions; however, higher ISOs produce images with more digital “noise,” which gives them a grainy appearance. The main ISO settings are 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600. (Some cameras let you set an ISO number in between those.)
Since you typically will be shooting indoors using only available light (no flash), set the ISO anywhere between 800 and 1600, depending on the amount of light available and whether you want to stop the motion or allow it to blur. If you are inexperienced at photographing dancers, it is best to set your ISO at 1600 to freeze the motion. (It takes practice to shoot intentional motion blur well.) Though the images shot at this setting will be grainier than images shot at lower speeds, it is a tradeoff you should take. The dimensions of most images for publication will be fairly small, so the grain will not show. It only becomes problematic with images larger than 11×14.
Another control you should set is the color temperature, or white balance. Different light sources have different color temperatures, which show up as a color cast that is especially visible on white surfaces. For example, incandescent household lights have a yellow/orange cast and fluorescent light gives off a greenish cast.
Most cameras have icons for each color temperature choice, such as a light bulb for incandescent light, a sun for bright sunlight, and clouds for diffused light. Most indoor lighting situations will be incandescent, fluorescent, or diffused window light. If you do not want to spend time in the post-production phase adjusting the color, it is wise to set the white balance before you shoot. There is nothing worse than unintentional green, yellow, or blue skin tones.
Beyond automatic mode
Images made in the fully automatic mode are typically not too interesting. However, you can move beyond the auto mode without having to go completely manual. Most cameras have program modes that give you some control over how your final image looks.
Your owner’s manual will list the modes and usually includes photos that illustrate each one. These modes affect the image’s depth of field and shutter speed. The amount of depth of field determines how much of the photo is in focus. In portraits, using narrow depth of field allows the subject to be in focus while everything else in the background is out of focus. Point-and-shoot cameras and some entry-level amateur SLRs have icons that indicate the mode for a portrait, landscape, or close-up shot. For example, a silhouette of a face indicates the portrait mode while mountains represent the landscape mode.
The shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter remains open to allow light to hit the sensor. To freeze movement, shutter speeds of 1/250 or more are desirable. Most point-and-shoot cameras and some SLRs have a portrait mode that favors a short depth of field and a sports mode with a fast shutter speed to stop action. For those who have more photography experience and own an SLR, using the aperture- or shutter-priority mode will give you even more control over your images. With these modes, you can set the aperture needed for a certain amount of depth of field or the shutter speed needed to control the subject’s movement. In both cases, the camera takes care of the rest.
The art and soul of an image: composition
How do you create an artistic, compelling image? By keeping the following pointers in mind, you will dramatically improve your photography.
- Fill the frame: Fill the viewfinder with your subject so that there is little background or negative space (unless the image is for an ad and you need that extra space for text).
- The rule of thirds: If you divide your image into thirds, place your subject on one of those imaginary lines (preferably the second third, because we read from left to right). This rule applies to both vertical and horizontal planes. If you divide an image into thirds from top to bottom as well as left to right, you will add impact to your image by placing your subject where any of those imaginary lines intersect.
- Balance: Asymmetry is always more interesting than symmetry, so don’t try to balance your images perfectly.
- Mirrors: As they say in driver’s ed., “Always check your mirror before committing.” The same rule holds true in a dance studio. Mirrors are everywhere! Before you take the shot, make sure there is nothing reflected in the mirror that you don’t want in the image—and that means the photographer too! Clean mirrors of distracting fingerprints and smudges.
- Leading lines: Strong lines, especially diagonals, create a sense of movement and energy. Using lines in your images should be easy, because you have dancers standing in lines or at the barre. And dancers, of course, have great line!
- Directional light: Pay attention to the direction of the available light. Large windows can be both friend and foe. Avoid shooting toward the window or your dancers will be silhouetted—which might be awesome for some images but not necessarily the effect you were going for. Instead, shoot parallel to the windows, which will light the dancers from the side, sculpting and shaping them. Too much direct sunlight flooding in will create too much contrast, which means that your camera will not be able to capture detail in both the highlight and shadow areas. This type of lighting situation is best left to a professional. However, if you are lucky enough to have a window with north light, shoot away. This is the best exposure you could hope for because it offers even, consistent light.
- Border mergers: Be on the lookout for garbage cans and coats, water bottles and dance bags, parents, a hand sticking out from behind someone’s head, or anything else you do not want to see in the photograph. Remove them or reframe the shot.
- Perspective: Look for a new vantage point to shoot from: Lie on the floor, stand on a ladder, or move to each corner of the room. Try angling your camera for an edgy, contemporary look.
Check your camera’s manual for the file size options your camera offers and how to set them. Before you start to shoot, set your camera to the largest JPG file option. (If your camera has a RAW mode, leave that to an experienced amateur or professional.) Larger files require more space on memory cards and your computer’s hard drive, but they will give you the highest resolution (which means the best picture quality) for your images. You might have to purchase extra cards if you shoot a moderate amount of images on a consistent basis.
For most print applications, saving your files as a 300 dpi (dots per inch) JPG will do. If you are submitting a file to a magazine or a newspaper, you will need to ask its editor how it should be saved or formatted. (Generally, magazines need high-resolution images of 300 dpi at 5×7 inches or larger, while newspapers can use much lower resolutions.) If formatting files is over your head, ask someone at the publication to talk you through it, or hire someone to do it for you.
The same holds true for images that need to be sized down for the Internet. A 4×6- or 5×7-inch image saved at a resolution of 72 dpi will be small enough to send quickly over the Internet but large enough to be viewed at a good size and reasonable quality. If you submit images for consideration to a publication via the Internet, you will then be asked to send a high-resolution file of the selected images via email, through their FTP site, or by post on a CD or DVD.
Don’t forget to back up your images on CDs, DVDs, or an external hard drive. External hard drives are easy to use and affordable; the cost depends on the amount of storage needed. Image files, particularly TIFFs and PSDs, require much more storage space than text files. If you don’t know which capacity to purchase, visit your local technology store for their recommendation.
If you are overwhelmed by exposure, depth of field, apertures, and shutter speeds, take comfort that you are not alone. This is hard stuff, but it’s not impossible to learn. Many great entry-level books (see “New Products for Business,” page TK) and websites (such as www.photo.net, www.photosecrets.com, and www.goldprints.com) are available to help you. And if you are not familiar with Photoshop Elements or Photoshop, it may be best to hand over your image files to an experienced amateur or professional photographer or graphic artist who can make enhancements and format files in an expedient manner. Keep in mind that you are busy running a dance studio, and your time is best spent doing just that. The money you spend on a professional will be well worth it. Remember: Image is everything!
Why and how to open an online door for potential clients
By Nancy Wozny
A decade ago, a potential customer’s first impression was made when he walked through a dance studio’s door. Today, that front door could be your school’s website. More and more Web-savvy folks shop online before checking out a studio in person.
But do you really need a website? “Yes, you do,” says Julie Parker, owner of Handwoven Webs in Asheville, NC. “More and more businesses are making their first impression on the Web.” Consider these key reasons for getting online: Your business will operate 24/7 (without you!); posting information online reduces your need for printed materials; and listing your website on all printed materials and advertisements boosts your school’s visibility and thus the power of your advertising. And most important, through the power of visual design, you will offer people a feel for what your school is all about.
Parker, who has been designing websites since 1997, helps people overcome the hurdle of the seemingly monumental task of creating their first site. “People can go into a crisis mode. They wonder, ‘Who am I really? How do I show myself to the world?’ ” says Parker. “That’s why they often don’t follow through.” To ease this daunting task, the designer urges her clients to envision each page of the site as a piece of paper. “Nothing is permanent,” she reminds them. “That fact helps with that deer-in-the-headlights syndrome that comes over [people] when they get started.”
Opening the door
Think of your website’s home page as your front door. “Use an introductory paragraph on the first page. Also, have the most important information on the front page and work down from there. Welcome [visitors] visually with clear and concise information,” says Parker. “That way they can know what you are all about without having to go anywhere.” She is not a huge fan of the splash page, which is usually a dramatic photo that viewers must click on to enter the site. For prospective customers with slow Internet connections, splash pages take a long time to load and may annoy rather than entertain. “They can be pretty and were very popular for a while, but why make people take an extra step to get to you?” Parker says. “Simple is best when it comes to bells and whistles. Some eye-catching and clever animation that’s not too distracting works well.”
A good website is easy to navigate, with the crucial information just one click away; having too many levels is not always a good thing. Readability is also important. For example, a black background may be dramatic, but it comes at the expense of easy reading. Also consider font styles; some typefaces are hard to decipher onscreen due to the thinness of certain characters.
Design: it’s all-important
A website is a visual environment. If you are not a visual person, hire someone who is. Your best bet is to find a Web designer with a graphic arts background. It’s relatively easy to find a designer—most sites have a credit line at the bottom of the home page, so shop around and then contact their creators. Parker believes that websites should be left to professionals, not your brother-in-law or a student’s enthusiastic parent.
Like Parker, Jeff Castellano of DanceWebDesign.com in Waldwick, NJ, specializes in working with people who are developing their first site. “Most of the time people are overwhelmed by the task. We make it easy by using 10 well-designed templates,” says Castellano, who has created 150 sites since 2003. “It helps the client to break down information this way. You don’t need to have everything up on your site.” Castellano thinks it’s best to get a site up and then update it as you go along. He also does a fair amount of redesigns. “Sometimes studio owners have sites they are not happy with,” he says. “I do a lot of repairing of sites designed by well-meaning parents.”
Basics of a good site
Castellano’s basic website structure consists of five pages, including a biographical “about us” page, a class schedule, a photo gallery, an events page, and contact information. Once he lays the material out that way, his clients relax and see that it’s a doable job. For basic websites he charges $250; any modifications to the template cost extra. For those who desire a more elaborate site, Castellano offers custom designs that include Flash (software that allows pictures to move) and start at approximately $1,000. A custom site of about 10 pages, with Flash, streaming video, shopping carts, or content-management options, would cost considerably more. Each added feature increases the price.
For updating information on the site, the designer offers two options, one where he does the work and another where he teaches his clients to do it themselves, with an easy-to-use program called Adobe Contribute.
Castellano’s company also offers a low-cost hosting service, which provides regular maintenance, starting at $24.99 per month with a one-year commitment. When considering a hosting service, don’t forget to ask about security. “Security with online transactions must be done with a secure certificate on the file server that hosts the website. This is known as a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and is an encrypted protocol that provides secure communications on the Internet,” says Castellano. “Sometimes a hosting company will offer SSL and sometimes it does not. When choosing an Internet service provider (ISP), it is important to know this if you plan have a true shopping-cart–based website.”
A website is a visual environment. If you are not a visual person, hire someone who is.
PayPal is another secure option for financial transactions; keep in mind that the company takes a percentage of each transaction for using its service.
A professional partnership
Betsy Daly worked closely with Castellano in developing a site for her studio, Cresskill Performing Arts in Cresskill, NJ. “It was a back-and-forth process, a true collaboration,” says Daly. “Jeff was very open to my ideas, such as having the dancers ‘float’ into the pages. I also added extra pages and more information to Jeff’s template. So the design is a combination of his template and my moving additions across the top of the pages, with spotlight photos on the sides and bottom of the pages.”
Before hiring Castellano, Daly did her homework. To find the look she wanted, she visited not only dance studio websites but also those of other organizations that deal with children, like gymnastics and music schools and YMCAs. “I wanted the site to show movement but not be too tricky either,” says Daly. “I wanted it to flow and appeal to parents, and especially parents of young children, who are my bread and butter.” She also specified that it should be easy for parents to navigate. “You don’t need to tell your whole life story on your website,” she says.
Daly selected a soft color palette and included photos of children of various ages and ethnic backgrounds. “I was going for a softer, less edgy look than what I had used before. I think parents can tell right away that we are not a competition studio.” She likes using unposed photos of dance students who look the part, so her site includes shots of them in T-shirts as well as costumes—and, of course, lots of dancing.
Daly believes in going to the pros for design services. “I think it’s a huge mistake to hire parents [of students] to do something as important as a website. It’s a danger zone, no matter how close you are to that parent or child.”
An online lifeline
Jaune Buisson Hebert of Metropolitan Dance Theater in Metairie, LA, didn’t have time to go to the pros after Hurricane Katrina flooded her studio. For Hebert, getting a website up fast was a survival mechanism rather than a marketing strategy. Prior to Katrina, building a website had been on her to-do list, but getting one up and running reached a new level of urgency after the storm, when cell towers came tumbling down along with phone services. The Internet remained the only way to keep in touch with her students, parents, and teachers, who had scattered all over the United States.
“I needed to set something up, and do it quickly,” says Hebert. “It was a lesson in emergency communications.” After the hurricane in August 2005, nothing was left of her studio; the entire block was destroyed. Hebert needed to start from scratch, first finding a new place and then letting her former students know about it. Her website proved invaluable during the months following the storm. Hebert slowly got the word out to her clients through a few working phone numbers. Word spread quickly once people learned that the site was up. Once the lines of communication were restored, students checked in to get the latest news and classes resumed in a temporary location in October.
Luckily for Hebert, Citymax.com was already on her radar as an easy place to set up a website, and at $20 a month, its build-your-own site services were affordable as well. Before the storm Hebert had been on the fence about having an online presence. “I never wanted it to replace a one-on-one visit with a parent or student,” she says. “Now I realize how persuasive a good website can be.”
Hebert did considerable research before arriving at the look she has now. “I went to all kinds of websites, good and bad,” she says. “I especially looked at websites of big dance companies and studios and wrote down what I liked. Even though I couldn’t afford [to hire] a marketing firm, I wanted to see what it looks like when you can.” She liked the clean look of many of those professional sites, especially New York City Ballet’s. “They really know what they are doing,” she says.
As for the design, she wanted her site to reflect her values and her studio’s character. “I have a lot of boys at my studio, so I stayed clear of pink tutus and made sure there was a male presence on the site,” she says. “I wanted potential moms to imagine their children fitting in there. Dancing is about so many different things, and I wanted my website to reflect that.”
Hebert tweaks her site with new photos and information as needed. “I love playing with it. Photos of happy children are the key—keep it natural, and a reflection of your studio, with lots of smiling preschoolers, happy and funky preteens, and beautiful older dancers. Parents want to know that the school will grow and adapt with them.”
Today Hebert finds that her students enjoy staying on top of studio life via her site. She has moved her registration process online, which she says streamlines the process.
In terms of other advantages, “it’s a terrific marketing tool. Plus, my students take an active role in organizing their schedules,” Hebert says. “Now they are reminding their parents about rehearsals and recitals.” She says the site also reduces the volume of paper she sends home with students.
Hebert doesn’t believe in overwhelming online visitors, so her site includes only what they need to know—essentials like faculty bios, directions to the school, and registration and parking information. “I want people to leave the site wanting to know more,” she says. “My website will never replace talking directly to me.”
The power of photos
Photos say a lot about what goes on inside a dance studio, and they make a huge difference in the site’s “wow” factor (see “Digital Photography 101,” page 48). Dance school owners are lucky to work with a very photogenic art form. Play with close-ups, tightly focused shots, and scenes from classes that portray the tone of your studio. Is your dress code casual? Then nix the photos of neatly coiffed girls. And show your students dancing. Those posed group photos may be perfect for sending to relatives, but they are too static for a website.
Ask yourself whether the photos on your site reflect what goes on at your studio. Also consider the audience you want to attract. Photos of reed-thin girls who look fabulous in their leotards may be beautiful, but will they drive parents or potential students with less-than-perfect bodies away from your business? There’s no need to exclude those slender girls, but be sure to balance them with images of children of all sizes and shapes.
Use a photo gallery page to spotlight recital and competition photos, and make sure to update it with new photos at least twice a year. (That goes for information, too—nothing shows that you are not on top of things like a neglected website.) Remember, parents want to see their own children on your site. Video is now an option, either via a YouTube link or by including it on the site.
There are a few technicalities about using photos on a website to keep in mind. Size is important; images should be saved as JPG files, and the resolution should be 72 or 96 dpi. Remember, for the Web you want low-resolution photos, which would look grainy in print. Always size photos before you post them; nothing is worse than making people wait for a huge photo to load. Be careful to maintain the aspect ratio of an image when resizing it. “If you decrease the width by 47 percent, be sure to decrease the height by 47 percent to avoid distortion,” says Parker. “It is amazing how many very thin or very smooshed people you see on the Web because people have not followed this rule in resizing their images.”
Images and graphic elements are powerful and enticing, but you also want to make sure people can find you. That means putting your keywords in the text as well as in images. For example, if you specialize in clogging but that word appears only in a graphic image on your site, your audience might have trouble finding you. “Text in an image format or JPG is essentially a picture of a word, and is not searchable,” warns Parker. “Logos and banners are likely to be graphic image files and that’s fine. But make sure that your keywords are not images.”
Whether you decide to take on the project yourself or hire a pro, know that a website can be a calling card that works nonstop for your business. Potential customers can find out if you are a fit for them before you turn the lights on in the morning. Plus, a well-functioning site frees you to do what you do best: teach dance and run your studio.
Here we go again! As we enter a new season of dance education, Dance Studio Life brings you the highly acclaimed annual season-opener issue, in which we explore all kinds of ideas to help you begin the season on the right foot. Our pages are packed with business-related articles that will stoke your enthusiasm. For example, check out the marketing concepts practiced by some of the most successful ballet schools in the nation; then, find out if you’re making any of the seven most common dance-school marketing mistakes—and if you are, learn how to avoid them. Need some great suggestions for advertising that works but won’t break your budget? Help yourself from more than a dozen easy-to-implement methods. Are you hosting an open house? We’ve got that covered, too, along with innovative ideas on how to manage your students’ parents in a way that works best for everyone.
There’s a lot more on how to start the season, but we’ve got the inspiration side covered, too. Learn what makes the great Ethan Stiefel tick and how he’s become a mentor for aspiring young dancers. And for the first time ever in print, former ballerina Marina Eglevsky shares her fascinating life story. Reading these stories will make you feel good all over.
As you ready yourself for new students and parents and perhaps new employees, I’d like to share one thought with you, something that I believe is important to our personal and professional successes: the impact of the people we surround ourselves with. It has a huge effect. When I see people whose presence simply brings a smile to my face, I feel good inside. That, in turn, has a positive effect on my attitude, and I find myself bringing a smile to everyone else I come in contact with. It’s sort of the “pass it forward” philosophy—and it works.
On the other hand, the same philosophy can have a negative effect if we surround ourselves with negative people. If we let them, they can sabotage the great day we were having by passing on their miserable one to us. I’ve come to a point in my life where I am so focused on what I want to accomplish that I try to be with people who are upbeat, encouraging, and spend life appreciating the good things that happen. They help me move my dream forward and I help them do the same. Yes, sometimes the blank hits the fan, but even that can be interpreted as a lesson. If we learn that we’ll never do that again, then something positive actually did come from it.
A new season can mean a new atmosphere that affects our well-being. Look around you to discover all the cheerful people who help to make your life positive. Spend as much time as you can with them. Stop asking the negative people how they are, because they want to tell you how awful everything is, and they will. Instead, offer them a compliment. Tell them that their hair looks nice or what a pleasure it is to see them, and then walk away before they can spray their negativity your way. Your compliment probably will make them smile for the first time in a long while. How positive is that!
Sometimes we hang onto negative people because we think that we can help cheer them up, or we do it out of guilt. No one else can deal with them, so for whatever reason, we take on the responsibility. Let it go, because people will not be happy unless they want to be. But you—you can be one of those people that everyone loves to be around, the one who walks into a room and makes it seem brighter. That positive energy will come back to you tenfold. What a way to start the new season!
Make your school open house say “Welcome!” to all and everyone wins
By Rhee Gold
If you’re like many school owners, you hold an annual open house to welcome the community and potential new clients. Great idea! Now put aside the temptation to use the occasion to prove how terrific your advanced dancers are—the goal of the day should be to show how fun dance can be, not to show off.
Presenting a dance demonstration that is overly detailed or too advanced is a mistake many school owners make. Instead, focus on a performance that everyone can enjoy—one that includes all levels and ages from preschoolers to your most advanced dancers. Abbreviated versions of class demonstrations work best, but don’t combine levels; give each class its own mini-performance. You want visiting youngsters of all ages to look at your dancers and say to their parents, “I can do that!”
A recent example of an excellent open house was the one held at Boston Ballet School last fall. Young visitors were invited to meet teachers, participate in or watch a class, and try on costumes. Attendees could sign up for a chance to win prizes, including tickets to Boston Ballet’s fall productions and classes at the school’s South Shore branch. Parent volunteers were on hand to answer questions and help with costume try-ons. All students who enrolled during the open house received a 10 percent discount and a pair of tickets to a Boston Ballet production.
So take a cue from the folks at Boston Ballet School and then follow the guidelines listed below, and your next open house will no doubt be a rousing success—and a lot of fun.
Promoting the event
Determine the date for a fall open house at the start of the summer. This will give you the chance to promote the event all summer, as well as ample time to invite all the prospective clients who inquire about your school over the summer. Also send invitations to everyone who has made inquiries in the past three years. Although inviting your current students is a good idea, you should be more interested in bringing new faces through your school.
Enlist the help of your current students with your promotional efforts. Give each of them five invitations to send to their friends. Or you could ask them for their friends’ addresses; having that contact information allows you to follow up with those who attended the open house.
Sending press releases to the local newspapers and following up with a phone call is critical. Time your paid advertising to appear in the Friday weekend section and in the Saturday morning edition for maximum impact.
The goal of the day should be to show how fun dance can be, not to show off.
Send flyers and an invitation letter to the owners and directors of other family-related businesses in your community, including daycare centers, preschools, karate schools, and real estate offices. Invite them to see what your school is all about and ask them to post your flyer on their bulletin boards. Offer to do the same for them. Also consider creating an open house advertising committee of volunteers and students who can blanket the neighborhoods with door hangers and flyers advertising the event.
Impress with organization
Preparation is the key to a successful open house. Plan it like you would a performance; make it organized, entertaining, and good for business. Let people walk away saying, “That school runs a smooth operation.”
Encourage all of your faculty and staff to be part of the day’s activities. Have them give tours of the school, answer questions, hand out brochures, take registrations, and help with performances or class demonstrations. The more staff on hand, the better. Delegate responsibilities for each staff member, such as who will answer questions (and where in the school they will be stationed) and who will supervise the performances. Hold brainstorming sessions to decide what kind of class demonstrations would be best for your market.
Consider whether your open house will have an effect on neighboring businesses. Some of them may want to get involved. Any business can sponsor an ad, and restaurants may be willing to provide free refreshments, such as pizza, for attendees.
Fill the day with imaginative and varied activities. Here are some ideas:
- Hand out giveaway gifts (bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, balloons imprinted with the studio’s logo).
- Create a goody bag to give to each visiting family. Include a giveaway gift, studio brochure, program from the previous year’s recital, and other school literature.
- Display a wide variety of pictures of your students having fun in classes and performances.
- Play DVDs of the school’s recitals and other performances.
- Offer refreshments.
- Keep children engaged with face painting, games, and storytelling. (Angelina Ballerina stories are perfect.)
- Let the younger children try on costumes. Tutus are a great way to inspire youngsters to become ballerinas.
- Offer a free family hip-hop class. (Consider requiring reservations.)
- Hold a raffle, the proceeds of which could go to a charity. A raffle is an excellent way to build your mailing lists; have ticket purchasers write down their street and email addresses along with their phone numbers. Ideas for raffle prizes could include a complimentary first month’s tuition, free tuition for one class for the year, a $250 gift certificate for school tuition (classes only, not costumes or dancewear), or a dancewear item or pair of shoes.
- Consider incorporating a fund-raiser, like a dance-a-thon, into your open house, with proceeds benefiting a children’s charity. Such events are a multiple win: The media will be attracted to the event and the community will recognize your school as a charity-minded organization.
Offer special attendees-only incentives to register at the open house. Some possibilities include:
- A free second class for the first month to new students who register for one class.
- A discounted or waived registration fee.
- A 10 percent discount when the full season’s tuition is paid up front.
- A 50 percent discount on tuition for the second child when siblings are enrolled.
- A free leotard and tights.
- A waiver of the last month’s tuition with registration for the full season.
A little planning, a welcoming and inclusive approach, and a fun-filled day of activities will make your open house a popular event that everyone looks forward to each year. Plus, it’s a chance to show that your school is about more than merely good dance training—it’s a vibrant part of the community.
7 common marketing mistakes and how to avoid them
By Tracy Bauer-Durso
Do you wonder why some studios prosper and grow year after year while others struggle to maintain their current students? Often a school that has trouble attracting students offers a program that is as good or better than one that attracts students with ease. Each might have a dedicated staff, highly trained teachers, quality programs and classes, exciting opportunities, and a passion for dance instruction. Yet one studio is able to market its program in a way that allows it to grow rapidly, while the other must rely on word of mouth or referrals from existing students just to stay in business no matter how much it advertises.
Even if the dance instruction being offered is top-notch, it can be challenging to communicate this “inner excellence” to the outside community in a way that intrigues them and encourages them to contact you. No matter how much advertising you do, you could be wasting your money if you are making any of the following common mistakes in dance studio marketing.
1. Promoting negative messages about competitors
This is a serious mistake. While it may seem advantageous to tell people why they should avoid your competitors, you must remember that other schools are part of your dance community and that you will often share teachers and performance spaces with them. Bashing them will only make your fellow dance educators angry with you and give you a reputation for being petty. Dance classes are an option, not a need, and few parents want their children to be influenced by an unfriendly, competitive faculty. In fact, negative comments may turn people off from studying dance altogether. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of dance and what makes your studio special. It’s all in the rhetoric. People respond better to “Simple payment plan, affordable costumes, and family-friendly performances” than they do to “No hidden fees, expensive costumes, or endless performances.”
2. Focusing on the school’s features rather than on the benefit to potential customers
Though it may seem that mentioning your wonderful teachers, facility, opportunities, and programs is enough, new prospects don’t care about the school as much as they care about themselves. Instead of just listing your studio’s features, explain how they benefit your target market with a headline and supporting facts or testimonials that speak specifically to their needs and desires. Spelling out what your school has to offer your prospects gives your message more impact. “Gain confidence, poise, and lasting friendships by studying with nurturing teachers in a noncompetitive environment” is more appealing and will receive more responses than “Ballet, tap, and jazz for all ages. In business since 1980,” which focuses more on the school than on the potential student.
3. Puffery: Using baseless claims instead of compelling information
Common examples of puffery include claims like “family owned,” “excellent instruction,” “the only choice,” or “the best.” These phrases not only focus on the school rather than on the readers’ needs, they also don’t offer any compelling information. Almost any studio can make the same claims. If a business is family owned, does that make it better than a school that isn’t? It seems unlikely. If a school has been in business for 10 years, does that make it better than a school that’s been around for 5 years? Does it mean it’s not as good as a school that’s been around for 20 years? And how many times have you heard a business claim that it’s the best? People automatically dismiss these kinds of phrases because so many businesses use them. How could everybody possibly be the best? Puffed-up phrases don’t teach your prospects what they really need to know about your school in order to make an informed decision. When you avoid using generic phrases that could just as easily describe your competitors, your message is more believable.
4. Listing a menu of the school’s dance programs as the only ad copy
Most dance studio ads include only the name of the school, a list of classes offered, and contact information. However, people already expect a school to offer ballet, tap, jazz, and performing opportunities. Use the ad space to offer them more compelling reasons to choose your school. There’s a lot of competition out there. You want to stand out. What makes you different? What can you say that others aren’t saying?
People respond better to “Simple payment plan and affordable costumes” than they do to “No hidden fees or expensive costumes.”
5. Using the studio name and phone number as a call to action
Your marketing should give your prospects a compelling reason to act now. If it doesn’t, they may notice you but never contact you. Merely telling them you’re out there will seldom get a response, and you don’t want to waste your marketing dollars. Inspire your prospects to want to know more by offering them a free brochure, trial class, or open house. Then once they contact you, you can more easily convince them to register.
6. Photos that don’t represent the marketing message and support the headline
Your photo must support the goal of your marketing message or it is a waste of space. Most studio ads tend to have a picture or artwork of a dancer. What does your picture say about your school? If your school caters to young children, it would be a mistake to use a performance picture of a teen with her leg held up to her ear. If you want to emphasize a nurturing staff, a picture of a child in costume is less effective than one of a teacher working with a student. Consider the message you send with the age, sex, and dress code of the people in the picture you use. Be careful not to clutter your ad with too many photos and always include a caption with the picture so that it relates to the rest of the ad.
7. Painting an inaccurate picture of what the studio offers
The reality of what makes your studio special, and the experience people have when they study there, is a huge part of your marketing. Be sure that you deliver the promises that you make in your marketing campaigns. If your advertisements promote a certain image and create specific expectations, the school must live up to the reputation those ads generate. If it doesn’t, people may be very disappointed in their experience with you and spread negative word of mouth. For example, parents may respond to a studio that advertises to young children, then find that it caters to intensive dancers. When they leave, they share their disappointment with others.
The world is filled with potential clients, and they sign up for dance for different reasons. One school is unlikely to please everyone, because different programs and policies appeal to different people. Choose your position in the market and deliver the vision you describe in your marketing materials. Then the students that best support your vision will be the ones that join your studio—and chances are they will stay for years to come.
Tips of the trade from company-affiliated ballet schools
By Cheryl Ossola
Dance schools large and small have one vital need in common: students. And the best way to boost enrollment—after word-of-mouth advertising—is through effective marketing. Whether the purpose is to increase awareness of the school in the community or advertise a performance, the end goal of most marketing campaigns, directly or indirectly, is to promote enrollment. The bigger, company-affiliated schools have one major selling point that private studios don’t—the glamour and visibility of the ballet company they’re tied to—but they still compete with other schools for students. We talked to three of them to find out what marketing tricks they might have that private school owners could adapt for their own use. And also on these pages you’ll find examples of excellent print marketing materials from each of the schools.
Pacific Northwest Ballet School
Pacific Northwest Ballet School, founded in 1974, has sites in Seattle and Bellevue, WA, with a total enrollment (as of May 2007) of 1,018 students in its program divisions and approximately 600 enrolled in open classes. Marketing strategies differ somewhat for the two locations because the Bellevue site is newer and has more room for younger children. Consequently more emphasis is placed on recruiting that population, primarily through advertising in region-specific publications.
According to Lia Chiarelli, PNB’s associate director of marketing and communications, the school’s marketing efforts include three areas: “obtaining new students at the youngest level, retaining our students at the oldest level, and our summer program. We definitely focus on the younger levels and the summer course. Once students have been here for a few years and are invested, they generally like to stay,” she says. As part of the school’s retention efforts, families of enrolled children receive a 20 percent discount on tickets to company performances.
Naturally, access to the company is a big part of the school’s appeal. “The students get to see the professional dancers at work. It’s very inspiring. And some of the dancers teach in the school,” says Chiarelli. Opportunities to perform in the company’s production of The Nutcracker are also a boon in recruiting children.
Enrolling at a company-affiliated school requires an audition (except for open classes), and PNBS does conventional print advertising for its twice-a-year auditions: for the academic year (in local papers and family-focused magazines) and the summer program (in national dance-related magazines).
Other print methods include a mass mailing to schools throughout the United States and Canada and maintaining a small ad in the Yellow Pages.
“We do a lot of direct mail to families,” says Chiarelli. “Sometimes we even buy a list of families with children 10 and under, who live in a 5- to 10-mile radius, which is more affordable than you might think.” She says that many companies provide that resource, and often a mail house can make recommendations. “Lately we’ve had luck with Info USA [www.infousa.com].” She adds that PNBS sends flyers to local academic schools (with their permission) at the beginning and end of the school year, which she describes as “very productive.”
An ad in each of the company’s programs is a marketing staple, “but we hype it up for Nutcracker,” says Chiarelli. “Sometimes we’ll do an insert in the program that explains that all the children in the production are from the school. We try to draw a strong connection to the school every time we have families in the audience. We have school materials in the lobby, and we send information to any families who buy a family pack or child-priced tickets.”
In keeping with trends in communication technology, PNBS makes the most of electronic resources. In advertising summer programs, “we try to do a lot on our website and MySpace page,” Chiarelli remarks. “That’s been a great way to keep in touch with older students—we posted all of our audition cities on our MySpace.” The school’s email list for its monthly newsletter is 45,000 strong.
Another important source of enrollment for PNBS is outreach, particularly its DanceChance program, first implemented in 1994. Teachers go into Seattle schools and audition third-graders for the program. The schools must participate in a free or reduced-cost lunch program, which means that many of the students come from low-income families and might not normally have access to dance classes. The selected students are bused to PNBS and given tickets to company performances. After two years, the most promising of them (30 out of 154 students in 2006–07, according to Chiarelli) are mainstreamed into the regular classes on scholarships.
Scholarships are a big enticement, especially for boys. “The other thing that helps is that we have beautiful photography,” says Chiarelli. “We also do a ‘Bring a Friend Day.’ ” The school does radio spots to advertise its summer dance camps. “We did Radio Disney a few years ago, and that worked very well.”
Direct interaction with families is a productive marketing technique. During Nutcracker and other performances that draw families, the school’s teachers offer mini lessons before the show and during intermissions. “At our Fairy Princess Matinees, we’ll have a creative movement teacher come over and teach, and other staff will be there to answer questions,” Chiarelli explains. “We’ll also have face painting and coloring contests. We bring the school to the theater. It’s very effective and the audience loves it. The last time we did it we added about 150 names to our database.”
Boston Ballet School
Boston Ballet School was established in 1953 by E. Virginia Williams (predating Boston Ballet by 10 years) and now operates as part of the Center for Dance Education. CDE serves a large and diverse population, and because of that its marketing strategies are varied. Of its more than 3,000 students at three school locations and in multiple outreach programs, 1,500 attend the Boston Ballet School core classes.
Elizabeth Benjes, managing director of Boston Ballet School, says that CDE advertises to its diverse populations with lots of brochures. The schools generally follow the demographics of the cities they are in—Boston, Metrowest, and South Shore. (A fourth location, North Shore, is scheduled to open in 2008.) Boston is the broadest in terms of gender and culture and South Shore is the most economically diverse. “We train professional dancers as well as those interested in dance for fun and fitness, and we offer outreach and adult classes as well. Some brochures target certain populations and some cover them all. We have our own database that we’ve established over time,” Benjes says. The organization uses Tessitura, a management system that allows the school, box office, and development department to share a database. “We make use of all those contacts,” Benjes adds.
Scholarships are a big draw, especially at the highest levels. According to Benjes, the CDE gives out “more than $400,000 a year across all programs, in scholarships and financial aid.”
Marketing for the school’s three locations is largely uniform. “We don’t have to differentiate the marketing, but communication about the differences [between locations] can be challenging,” Benjes says. The winter programs are offered at all sites, but students must go to Boston for the summer program and advanced-level classes. “We encourage the students to move around a bit to integrate the populations. Some of the Boston students might want to go to the Metrowest studio to be in the performing group. Core classes might be offered in one place and electives in another.”
The school’s many public appearances are a good way to generate lists of potential new students. Students perform weekly at community events like festivals and museum exhibit openings. “We have our brochures out at all performances,” says Benjes. “We gather names from those, so we know they have an interest in dance.”
CDE does other print advertising in addition to the brochures. “I think the direct response rate is low, but [ads are] important in keeping our brand awareness with the public,” emphasizes Benjes. “They’re specifically for the school’s individual programs, our winter enrollment drive, or our summer program. We place a half-page ad for the program in the [company’s] Playbill. Most are for newspapers, and every now and then we’ll do a magazine or a camp insert. Most of our print advertising is to boost awareness of our South Shore location; there’s less brand awareness of it and more competition.”
At Miami City Ballet School, children ages 5 to 7 account for nearly half the school’s enrollment. ‘Kids start young and stay with the program,’ says director of marketing and communications Pete Upham.
Other forms of print marketing methods include posters, which the students put up, and go-cards (postcards with an eye-catching image on one side and performance information on the other) to advertise the spring showcase.
Like PNBS, the Boston school makes good use of electronic marketing methods. In addition to keeping its website updated, the school sends out e-blasts, which Benjes describes as “great because they’re cheap. We e-blast the school population every other week. The company puts out a newsletter every month, and they include [news about] the school.”
The primary market for all this advertising is younger children, according to Benjes. “Our classical ballet program is thriving, and our adult program too. It’s hard to say, but I think our primary financial base is [children ages] 5 to 11.”
Outreach is an indirect but effective form of marketing. CDE offers five programs, and one of them has had a significant effect on the school’s ability to recruit boys into its programs. “Part of the reason we’ve had success with boys is our Citydance program in the public schools,” remarks Benjes. The program includes 3,500 children in Boston public schools each year. “We do a workshop in every third-grade classroom and select 150 boys to participate [in a 10-week introductory ballet program on scholarship]. This year we have our very first alumnus going into Boston Ballet II—Isaac Akiba.” When enough boys are enrolled at one time, they are given their own classes, separate from the girls. Lecture programs for families and seniors keep audiences and potential students informed about ballet. “Every segment is important. We do a lecture series and tie into the ballets—it builds awareness and draws people in. We educate parents about ballet. One of our donors started a [lecture] program called ‘Ballet in the Balcony’ for high school groups and their parents.”
Benjes describes the school’s affiliation with Boston Ballet as “critical, both to our marketing and to how attractive we are to students. It makes marketing much easier—being able to promote that the students will perform in professional productions. And they watch world-class repetiteurs and choreographers in the studios. We did A Midsummer Night’s Dream recently, and [former New York City Ballet dancers] Allegra Kent, Gloria Govrin, and Sandra Jennings were there setting their roles—the kids will remember that for the rest of their lives.”
Miami City Ballet School
Miami City Ballet School calls itself a “Super Human School,” and maybe that’s why its marketing needs are fairly minimal. “Over the midsummer we might run a couple of ads in local papers or produce a flyer that’s available in the lobby and handed out. But there’s nothing really targeted that goes on,” says Pete Upham, director of marketing and communications. In addition to the flyers and newspaper ads, says Nicolle Ugarizza, MCB’s public relations manager, the school runs calendar listings, stories, and ads in local publications and a community magazine. And Upham adds that stories about the school can be found on the company’s website and in printed and email newsletters.
The school, which was established in 1993, serves roughly 400 children ages 5 to 19 in its 63,000-square-foot studio. Like the PNB and Boston schools, it considers younger children the primary target of enrollment marketing. The Children’s Division, consisting of 180 students ages 5 to 7 who take creative movement and ballet prep classes, accounts for nearly half the school’s enrollment; the other half covers the large age span from 8 to 19. “It flows up,” says Upham. “Kids start young and stay with the program. Some kids do come in older,” usually those who attend the school’s summer program. “It’s probably only two or three [students] a year, but it happens on a regular basis.”
Like the other schools, MCBS emphasizes that having students perform with the company is a valuable way to promote its programs. “We do [George] Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, so the people who go to see it know that those kids are in our school. That’s another way to gain exposure,” says Upham. The school places inserts about its student showcase, but not ads for auditions, in the company’s programs.
According to Upham, outreach is not a major source of enrollment. “More than just a handful of students have come out of those programs, but mostly on a scholarship basis,” he says. “The school does outreach programs, usually tied in with a local school system, such as making a dress rehearsal of Nutcracker available to school kids. And the school’s teachers do go out into selected disadvantaged areas and do an outreach program. We try to bring in talented children regardless of their financial status.”
Scholarships, though, are an enrollment-building tool for MCB. “At the advanced level, all of the students have some percentage of a scholarship. They have so many classes that it would be prohibitive in cost,” says Ugarizza.
Selling ballet in a non-ballet world
Print advertising, electronic communication methods, outreach, community visibility—large, company-affiliated schools share many of the same marketing methods with privately owned studios. But since their market is primarily ballet students, we wondered whether they feel they need to sell classical ballet to parents in a world that’s saturated with hip-hop and music-video dancing. All three responded with a unanimous no. “It’s not been an issue,” says PNBS’ Chiarelli. “Both of our locations are at capacity.” She cites the grassroots factor of “Sophie’s having a great time at PNB School, and they’re doing such-and-such” as hugely important.
“I don’t think [MCBS] has ever had an issue with that. [Students] understand that it’s a classical ballet school and that’s why they’re here,” says Ugarizza.
Benjes makes the point that the students may be Boston Ballet School’s best form of marketing. “We do compete with [other dance forms], but I think the students do a good job of speaking for themselves,” she says. “They make the benefits of ballet so obvious—they’re beautifully groomed and put together, with presence. They show the discipline, artistry, and camaraderie they get from ballet.”
How to plan and market holiday performances
By Rhee Gold
Does the thought of presenting a performance during the holiday season make you shudder with horror? Read on—this article, and the “Holiday Show Sampler” in this issue, might make you tingle with excitement instead.
Why do a show at such a busy time of year? The simple answer is that it’s good for the community, and your business. The period from mid-November through December is a great time to offer families that are looking for activities to enjoy together an occasion to be entertained. Parents are more likely to take their children to a holiday dance performance than they are to an annual recital or year-end performance. The diversity of content and length of many recitals can be a deterrent; holiday themes typically interest children more than standard recital fare does. Also, recital season coincides with graduations, weddings, and proms—commitments that can prevent potential students and their parents from attending your production.
Children are already excited at this time of year, so it’s a great chance to capture their holiday spirit and spark their imaginations. Inspiring young children to appreciate dance—and to want to be up on that stage—is good not only for your school but for dance education in general. And if you offer a January registration at your school, the timing is perfect to show potential clients what your dance program is all about.
Start planning early
Summer is the best time to start developing your holiday performance concept and strategy for success. Consider getting together with your faculty or other dance teachers for a fun brainstorming session. The best part of the decision-making process for a holiday show is that anything goes! One thing to keep in mind, though—a holiday performance should be family entertainment, with something for everyone, from young children to grandparents.
Start by contemplating the following:
- Do you want to do a traditional Nutcracker or put a creative, modern twist on the old tradition? Can you include music and themes that allow you to integrate various dance forms, like hip-hop, jazz, tap, and modern?
- Is it important to avoid a religious theme that could offend certain audiences? Or would your viewers appreciate a religious theme that incorporates diverse beliefs?
- Do you want to come up with your own unique dance tradition to celebrate the holidays?
Get all your students involved in the holiday performance. Don’t think of it as another opportunity to show off your best dancers; they have plenty of chances to shine at competitions or other concerts. Make this show a performance opportunity for everyone in your school, regardless of age or skill level. According to my seminar statistics, recreational and preschool populations comprise 85 percent of American and Canadian dance schools, compared to the 15 percent of students who participate in intensive or competitive programs. If you want to build a strong base of recreational students who will be loyal to your school, create dance experiences that involve everyone, from preschool to advanced.
Borrow an idea from ballet companies that alternate casts of children in their Nutcracker performances. Why? It’s a good strategy to increase ticket sales. The “babies” draw the most guests to annual recitals, so the more of your school’s younger set you can include in the performance, the better. The audience will love them, no matter what they do!
Why do a show at such a busy time of year? The simple answer is that it’s good for the community, and your business.
Consider taking the concept of inclusiveness a step further by involving your students’ parents. I once saw a Nutcracker spin-off that included a routine by parents who performed a soft-shoe to “Old Bones,” sung by George Burns. It was fun, entertaining, and an audience favorite.
Save money and create goodwill
Create a fulfilling experience for everyone involved and cut back on production expenses by earmarking the proceeds from your holiday show for a charity. When choosing an organization, keep in mind that one that benefits children dovetails nicely with the holiday spirit and makes a good partnership for your students. A benefit performance can offer some advantages, including qualifying your school for nonprofit rates for auditorium rental, program or poster printing, and other expenses. Also, local newspapers and radio and television stations are more likely to cover your event if it benefits a nonprofit organization. That’s good for charity and your school.
Even more important than minimizing your expenses, a charitable performance teaches students about the value of dancing for the benefit of others. Be sure to spend some time talking with them about the nature of the charity they are dancing for and why you selected it. They will learn how lucky they are to have healthy bodies that allow them to dance and appreciate what those who are not so fortunate have to live with every day. What a great lesson to learn at dance class!
There are two aspects to marketing, the short- and the long-term. The immediate goal is to sell tickets for a performance. But in the long run, marketing keeps your school’s name in the public’s awareness, and that’s good for business. The fact that your school is out there, regardless of the reason, only helps to promote everything that you do. Of course, selling tickets or promoting a performance may have the added benefit of attracting new students to your school. So keep in mind that just as the show itself might increase your school’s January registration, the marketing you do for it may boost future enrollment as well.
Let’s look at specific marketing techniques. First, include an announcement about your holiday performance plans in a new studio brochure. News about a holiday show will get your current students excited that something different is in the air, and it may attract new students. If you have an email list, be sure to send an announcement to that group as well.
In September or October, hold an audition (maybe only for the lead roles). It could be open to everyone interested in participating, whether or not they are registered at your school, or it could be an in-house audition open only to your students. Create a press release announcing the audition and send it to the local newspapers. Be sure to invite a photographer from the paper to shoot pictures during the audition process.
Send the same press release to the chamber of commerce and local businesses. This will inform the business community about the performance, bring your school’s name to their attention, and familiarize them with your project. Then, if you need to solicit donations or advertising for the program, they already will have heard of your school and the upcoming performance. Some businesses might be willing to help sell tickets. Keep this group on your mailing list for all performances.
In early October, bring in a volunteer photographer to shoot head shots of all the participating dancers. Create a press release that the dancers’ parents can send (with their child’s head shot) to local newspapers announcing that their child will be performing in a holiday show. Sometimes this approach works better than a press release from the school; newspapers may be more willing to run a story about a child in their community than one that promotes a business. Ask the parents to follow up with the newspaper to be sure that the release was received and find out when it might run.
Encourage your students to send the press release to their families and friends to encourage them to attend the performance. Be sure it includes your website address so that readers have the opportunity to learn more about your school.
In late October or early November, bring the photographer back to shoot pictures of the dancers learning their choreography and rehearsing for the big show. Use some of the photos to create another press release; also include information about how to purchase tickets. Again, send the release to local papers and have your students distribute it to friends and family.
About three weeks before the event, distribute posters or flyers announcing the performance, dates, and venue to the dancers. Give 10 of them to each student and ask them to post them around town at libraries, grocery stores, and other businesses and on community bulletin boards. This is also the time to run a small ad in your local newspaper, perhaps combining publicity about the show with information about your school’s upcoming January registration. If your budget allows, continue to run small ads right up until the show date. Also, call or send press releases to local radio and television stations and ask for a spot on their shows to discuss your performance.
With this planning and marketing time line in hand, you’ll be ready to get to work. But where do you find the time? you might ask. There’s no magic bullet; you simply make the time. It’s the season of giving, and there’s no better gift to give to your community than dance.