February 2017 | Ask Rhee Gold

Advice for dance teachers

Q: Dear Rhee,

My studio is three years old and I am ready to hire my first office manager. Is there a defined job description for this kind of position? What are the main responsibilities? What is the current rate of pay for a studio office manager and how many hours per week are standard? Any information you can share would be helpful. —Heather

A: Dear Heather,

Congratulations on building your business to the point where you can afford an office manager; give yourself a pat on the back for that accomplishment. There isn’t an industry-standard job description for a dance school office manager, but here are my thoughts about and expectations for such a position.

Most important, look for a person with excellent communication skills, both verbal and written. The office manager often makes the first impression on potential clients and is the go-to person for current clients. A non-intimidating person who is upbeat, friendly, and patient works best.

The office manager must be willing to learn as much as possible about your school, its history, and your educational philosophy and business objectives. She should understand why dance education is important and how you deliver it. The manager doesn’t need to be an expert about dance but she must be willing to learn and able to explain the benefits of dance training to potential clients.

The office manager opens the school one hour before classes start. During this time you should meet with her, either by phone or in person, to communicate the day’s expectations or go over a list of expected actions. This is also when she checks and responds to phone messages and email inquiries; she should respond to all communications within 24 hours.

The office manager processes all payments and keeps track of clients who are behind; she calls clients with overdue accounts at least once every two weeks to ask when payment can be expected. She keeps all client accounts up to date and reports (during your daily meeting) about any family that is behind on payments by two months or more.

The office manager creates handouts, email blasts, and other communications materials. She plays an important role in ordering costumes: she places the orders and communicates with the costume companies throughout the process. As the orders arrive she double-checks that the inventory and sizes are accurate and makes sure that any problems are resolved.

Other office manager responsibilities might include finding and booking substitute teachers, filling out registration forms for offsite events like competitions or conventions, booking auditoriums for performances, keeping you abreast of issues or conflicts with students or parents, managing the school’s cleaning staff, and more, depending on your specific needs.

The average hourly wage for an office manager is between $12 and $22, depending on the size and location of your studio and the amount and difficulty of assigned tasks.

Average hours per week can vary significantly depending on your budget, the number of hours and time of day your studio is open, and the work assigned; as noted above, your office manager should be onsite an hour before the business opens.

One important final note: don’t hire a friend or the parent of a student who is deeply involved in the studio. (I learned that lesson the hard way.) In either of these cases there will come a time when you will feel conflicted because your business or educational decisions could affect or offend your office manager personally, especially if a decision involves her child. Do all that you can to maintain a purely professional business relationship with all of your employees. All the best. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

After 22 years of 25 or more hours per week teaching all ages and levels at my studio, I am getting ready to step back to fewer than six hours per week, teaching only the preschool students. My other teachers will take on the rest of the classes. There are two reasons for this change: first, I want to focus on growing my business by spending my time on marketing, organizing, and bringing new income-making ideas into my studio; and second, I believe that I need to teach the babies because I am the best at it and I’ve discovered that the preschoolers’ parents love it when the owner teaches their children.

Should I set up my office at the studio or in my house? I think it would be good to work in the studio in order to see everything that’s happening there and to be visible to my customers, but I worry that I may not get a lot done because of distractions. If I work from home there won’t be as many distractions, but I worry that I could become out of touch with the business: the thought of being at the studio only six hours per week scares me a bit because I want to be on top of things.

What are your thoughts about what I should do? What works best? Any info is helpful. —Casey

A: Hello Casey,

Good for you for making a positive change for yourself and your school. I believe focusing on the business-related aspects of your school will help to grow your enrollment. I agree that having the owner teach the youngest children is a bonus.

However, you are thinking in black and white when it comes to where your office is located. I recommend that you do both: set up your systems so that all the studio files are in the cloud or on a network that you can access from either location. On days when you need to concentrate with no distractions, work from home. On others, when you feel that you need to be at the studio to check on what’s happening or to be available to staff and clients in person, go there to work.

Now you will have the time to check in with parents by hanging out in the lobby area once in a while. Ask them questions to learn what they’re thinking, to find ways to improve your services, or to find out about classes or programs that they might like you to offer. A completely absentee owner can give the impression that she doesn’t care or that she’s thinking only about cashing her customers’ checks. Moreover, being physically present at least some of the time ensures that the owner, rather than a faculty person or an office manager, is the face of the business. Good luck. —Rhee

Q: Dear Rhee,

How would you handle a situation with a teacher who is loved by the kids and their parents, but you know isn’t very good? This is my dilemma: I know that I will lose students if I let this teacher go but I also have other teachers who would do a far superior job in the classroom. This teacher is a nice person, has a great work ethic, and is always helpful, which is why I have employed her for several years, but her classes are not up to par with the quality that I want my school to offer. She will be devastated if I let her go. I don’t know what to do. —Kate

A: Hi Kate,

Finding teachers who are nice people with a solid work ethic is a good thing. Maybe this shouldn’t be a decision about whether to fire this employee, but about how you can assist her to become a better teacher. Offer to help her, financially and logistically, to attend some continuing education classes or workshops. Have her assist you or your other, better teachers so that she experiences and understands the instructional standards that you expect. Provide her with in-house teacher training or create a syllabus of what she is expected to accomplish within her classroom.

Investing in continuing education for your faculty is an important key to success in the always evolving dance education field. Turn your dilemma into an opportunity, and inspire this teacher to be the best that she can be. Good luck. —Rhee