Teaching dance is such a passion for many people. To have the ability to share your art and pass it on to others is a great thing. For some people it is a hobby, something they do on the side for extra income or something they do so they can just keep dancing. However some people want dance teaching to be their career.
If that is you that is great! Teaching artists are amazing people with so much to share. I believe so strongly in the benefits that come from learning an artform, especially dance. We need great teachers. However having a business is so much more than just teaching dance.
Being a business owner can be overwhelming but it can also be exciting! I was surprised at how much I love the other aspects of being a business owner and that I was actually good at it. As a small business owner you need to be all in one – accounting, human resources, the cleaning service, etc. You can do it! You just need a plan.
Make a Business Plan
Recently I was asked to have a conversation with a friend of a friend to give her some business advice. She and I have very similar business models, teaching in community education, after school programs etc. so I was looking forward to talking with her and hearing her thoughts on this type of business. The slight difference is that instead of offering dance and theater classes as my company does her company offers art classes.
My friend said she recently purchased this program from another woman and was feeling overwhelmed with all the time she needed to put in, was not spending enough time with her family and was concerned that she wasn’t taking a paycheck. I was interested to find out what was taking so much of her time and why the business was not profitable.
I asked her to break down her income – how much she charges, how many students she has, etc. and her expenses. She was able to tell me about how many students she had and how much she charges each student. From what she told me it seemed like she had a good number of students and business was good.
Then I asked her to break down her expenses. This was not as easy for her. In fact she wasn’t able to tell me much about where her money was going.
Knowing your numbers is very important when you are running a business. The fact that this woman didn’t know what her business expenses were is a problem. If you are not holding yourself accountable then you are probably spending too much. She even admitted that she wanted someone else to take over the financial part of her business because it wasn’t her strength.
It’s exciting to own your own business. It’s feels good doing what is important to you, to feed your passion and do something good for your community. You do need to decide however if you are in it to make money or not. If you are in it to make money you need to have a plan on how you are going to make it work.
Owning a dance studio can be a large investment. There are floors, barres, mirrors, computers, etc that you need before you collect any money. Then when the business is running you will need to pay for the rental of the space, the utilities, employees etc. It might feel overwhelming to add all of that up to know what you are actually spending however it is important that you do that. Then you need to ask yourself, how much income will I need to actually make a profit? Is that number possible? This is your business plan. How much money is going out and how much will come back in?
On certain Facebook groups I read so many posts from dance teachers and studio owners saying they don’t make enough money. They want to be able to support their families or they want to feel like they are getting some financial reward for all the hard work they put in but it just isn’t happening.
It is so inspiring to hear how committed these individuals are. They love to teach dance and want to inspire their students and watch them grow. It takes so much to accomplish this goal. Dance teaching requires so much emotional and physical commitment to the students and families as well as the financial investment in all the equipment to help them succeed.
There are so many amazing things you can have in a dance studio. However if you want to make money you may need to look at your business differently. You need to go through the numbers and decide if you are able to have all the bells and whistles or can you make do with less.
In my career I have thought many times about having my own physical space for a studio instead of offering classes through community programs. I also looked at a few dance studios that were for sale to purchase. It was so tempting and my heart wanted to go for it however when I looked at the financials it just wasn’t a good business decision for me. The businesses that I looked at didn’t make any money. No matter how much I wanted the dream it wouldn’t have been smart for me. First I knew that if I put money into a physical space I would have to work longer hours and be away from my family more. There also was no guarantee that the studio would be profitable.
When I decided to start a performing arts business I found enough locations that wanted my classes to support myself and I taught all the classes myself. When I wanted to have kids however I realized that I couldn’t afford to take maternity leave. I had to find a way to keep income coming in even though I wanted time off. I took the next step and added even more classes and hired teachers to teach them.
Now my business is at the point where I teach only a few hours a week and manage the rest of my classes and teachers from home.
I would love to have my own studio however for me personally I know I do not want to commit to the time and energy it would take to make it successful. If you have a studio or if that is your dream this article is not to dissuade you from doing that at all! The point that I hope to make is that if you want income just know you will have to make a strong commitment and make sure you have a business plan.
Find Your Niche
The Minneapolis/St Paul area where I am has a vibrant performing arts community. Many artists come here from New York or other larger cities to pursue their passion because there is so much to offer and the cost of living is not as high. There are also many successful dance studios as well.
Part of your business plan is finding your niche. How will your studio fit in your community? In my book How to Teach Preschool Ballet I talk about this. This is important so you are not competing with too many businesses that are just like yours. This way you will have a higher chance of success.
Since I know of so many dance studios in my area I didn’t want to just be another face in the crowd. There were so many competitive studios so I went a different route. I work with families that don’t want to make a big time or financial commitment. My students want to try dance but also want to be able to try other activities as well.
What makes your studio stand out? How is it different? How will you compete?
If you live in a small area that doesn’t have a studio or not many you might be in luck. Your area might be in need of more arts programs. If you live in a larger area however you might need to do some creative thinking. If there are a lot of competitive studios maybe you should be more recreational. Maybe you should just make sure your studio is far enough away from others so parents that live close will be more willing to drive to you. You could just focus on ballet or another discipline. Just know that if you specialize too much you also decrease your market.
Stick to the Plan but Be Flexible
When I say stick to the plan I mean make sure you are holding yourself accountable. If you only have a certain amount of money in your budget for floors don’t overspend for something more expensive just because you are tempted. Make sure you also go through your books on a regular basis. If you can hire someone to do your finances for you that would be great. Just make sure you look at them as well to check up.
What happens if you are doing everything in your plan but you still don’t feel like you are making ends meet? Then you have to be flexible. How can you bring in more income? Do you need to change your classes? Are some class times or disciplines more popular than others? Can you have an incentive for students to sign up for ballet or other add ons? Can you sell dancewear or gifts? I know some studios rent space to other teachers that offer fitness classes or teach private lessons.
I believe anything is possible if you are willing to figure out how to make it happen. If owning your own business is your dream go for it! Just know it takes a lot of hard work, research, flexibility and commitment.