If you want a successful dance studio, you must create a successful front desk.
Dance studio owners usually have to wear a lot of hats, especially when they are just starting out. Often the budget is tight and the staff is either small or nonexistent. It is usually manageable at first because there are few students and lots of excitement about the new endeavor. However, it doesn’t take long to start to feel overwhelmed when you’re trying to do it all. Overwhelm inevitably leads to some level of disorganization which is not a good look for your dance studio. The first place that disorganization often shows up for a studio is on the administrative end. Accounts get charged incorrectly, communication with studio families is often lacking, and prospective new customers fall through the cracks and are lost forever.
A successful front desk scenario must have the following ingredients: a friendly, organized person that cares about your studio and your clientele, a clearly defined system of operation, the tools to facilitate the system, and plenty of training on the system and the tools.
Whether you are running your studio by yourself currently, or have a staff to help you. Take time to sit down and think through each day at your studio. What steps need to happen? List them in detail from unlocking the door when you arrive to locking it when you leave. Include details about unique things that might need to happen on different days of the week, month or year. Include information about what tool needs to be used for each task, including what keys open what doors, what forms are used for which administrative task, what websites you use to accomplish other tasks. Be detailed.
This exercise will likely expose areas that you are currently lacking a system for. Create a system for every task. Think big. When you’re creating new systems make sure they will work as your studio grows. Put systems in place that will be able to serve double or triple the amount of students that you currently have just as efficiently as they serve the students that you have now.
Everytime you add a new process to running your studio, create detailed directions for it that someone else can easily follow. For example, if you start using a new scheduling app that allows prospective new students to book drop-ins or free trials, be sure to document how to set up your classes in it. I call these SOP’s or standard operating procedures. I create them everytime I add something on the admin side of my studio. If it’s a task that needs to be done only sporadically, it will help me remember how to do it without wasting time fumbling around the next time it needs to be done. It also makes it easy to hand off a task and know that it will be done the way that I need it to be. I keep them all in Google Drive so they are easily shareable with my staff. They also all go into my “office bible” binder in hard copy form.
Make sure that your systems are as simple as possible. Don’t overcomplicate things. Remember, the whole point of having systems to make life easier, not to make more work. Also, don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel. If you need a system in place to get something done, it’s likely that someone else has also needed a system for that and created it. They have probably even taught it to others. A quick Google search might be able to provide you with a great idea or a tutorial to help you.
Get the right tools to do the job effectively and efficiently. No matter who is going to be executing the task, make sure that you find the best tool that you can for getting it done. That includes hardware, software, office supplies, applications, and work space. Don’t hobble along without studio management software that can keep all of your student, staff, and financial information straight, run automatic payments, send out emails, organize your recitals, let new students enroll online, allow you to sell items online, and allow you to work from anywhere. Don’t try to track new leads that need follow-ups on a notepad and waste time playing phone tag. There are apps that do that for you!
As in any industry, your tools will only be effective in the hands of someone trained to use them. Take time to learn the capabilities of your software and applications. If you are delegating tasks to others, take time to train them thoroughly. I have written about my shortcomings as a lazy communicator and how that led to a lot of frustration for me when I was first able to hire front desk staff. Ultimately, as the boss, we have to take responsibility for the actions of those under us. If someone is struggling to follow our systems, we have to take a good look at the training and tools that we have provided them, as well as the systems themselves. Be willing to offer more training, listen to feedback, and adjust course as needed.
Alternatives to the Front Desk
What if you don’t have a front desk? Many studio owners run their business without their own studio. They may rent a room by the hour at a YMCA or community center, or only teach online. Other studio owners may have their own location, but no front desk staff… yet. In either case, these studio owners’ still need customers, so they still need customer service. If this is you, here are some ways to stay on top of great customer care while you grow. Leverage technology. Again, find the most efficient and effective studio software. Let people with inquiries know when they are going to hear from you. Include a statement in your outgoing voicemail message and your email signature that says what days and times you respond to calls and emails. Adhere strictly to those times so that your calls and emails don’t pile up, and so that you can build trust with your prospects and customers.