I began to take dance classes about 7 months ago...because of YOU, my clients, and thus, my viewpoint comes from a different place than most studio consultants. But I want to comment about a very distinct trait I've noticed between the successful and less successful studios where I take class. One studio I go to is jam packed 6 days a week plus packed at events. He also has great SEO (search engine optimization) on his website, and has tons of social marketing. The other class is half full 4 days a week with two events a month. He is a great dancer, a good teacher AND super nice! The difference between the successful studio and the less successful one? Teacher number 1 treats us as clients first, friends second. We are NO PAY, NO PLAY. Studio number two, while "nicer" (also an excellent instructor), has nowhere near the business of the first studio. In fact he has a day job to help pay the bills. The moral of this observation is to choose who you are and what you want your studio to be. That will guide you in your business decisions and help you maintain objectivity. Of course we are all human. Nothing is perfect, but have this thought in your mind: "if I owned a store how much will I give away for free? How long will I allow my customers to default on their credit cards?"
According to several seasoned studio owners, this is the most difficult part of any studio owner’s job. April Scandy of April's Dancing Feet said the first 8 years were really rough. But now, with over 700 students, she can no longer afford to let payments slip. For those children whose parents are truly struggling, April offers scholarships that are paid back by the students through internships and helping with various tasks. Other studio owners added their thoughts: "You get to know parents very well. They are somewhat like your family. If a parent truly loses a job and can't pay of course you are going to want to work with them." However, the amount of parents and the number of parents is going to be up to you. TRUST YOUR JUDGMENT. I believe there is a certain part of us that KNOWS WHAT WE KNOW and we know which parents need us to help and those who don't.
I understand that it is more complex when you are dealing with children, and in fact, there are some parents who lose jobs and can no longer pay for classes. But there are also parents who just love to take advantage of your kind heart.
- BE TOUGH: You need to know that the service you offer is the BEST IN THE TOWN. You can't be afraid of losing parents to the studio down the block because in the end, if they are NOT paying you, what good are they for your bottom line?
- MAKE IT EASY TO BE ON TIME: Offer automatic recurring billing. Our studio management system, School Empower, has customized payment plans for each parent that you can set up to automatically bill each month. If you can't afford a school management system, use PAYPAL. They have a FREE solution--you only pay the percentage. That percentage is worth the time and effort you take to get your bills paid.
- HAVE A BAD COP: If you feel it’s bad Karma to be calling and emailing your late paying parents, give this job to your office manager. Don't have an office manager? Perhaps a family member can pitch in to help once a month.
- GIVE PLENTY OF NOTICE: Don't wait until the last minute to tell your parents their child can't dance. Send out a 1 week reminder letting them know that bills are due.
- WIGGLE ROOM POLICY: If your "drop dead" day is the 15th, make sure you let them know on the 5th and on the 10th, that if payment is not received by the 15th, their child will not be dancing. It is a good idea to tell them of about your "waiting" list of families who also want to be in that class.
- PARENTS NEED TO BE TRAINED: Set your rules at the beginning of the school year. If a parent knows that you are going to let them slide from month to month, you are training them that this is an acceptable way to do business for you.
- DON'T BE AFRAID OF LOSING STUDENTS: One smaller studio said to me she was afraid her classes would appear too small for new parents checking them out. I say to that:
- LESS KIDS IS BETTER: Offer them more one-on-one instruction...it's closer to a private lesson without having to pay the higher price of one.
- LESS KIDS, LESS GERMS: (OK, I am a germ freak) But going into a crowded 20 kid room of sneezing kids gets my MONK on.
- SCHEDULE TOURS WITH PACKED DAYS: If you can, make sure you have more kids on the days of tours.
Don't act out of fear. The best result is when you take yourself and your studio seriously. If you’re afraid of losing clients so you bend at their every whim, they lose respect and half the time end up at stricter places. Act like you are the owner, you are proud, and YOU set the rules. I realize that it is about getting past that "critical mass" but if you want get past those nasty past dues, start treating every parent the same. One step at a time.