How to start a dance school ?

It goes without saying that if you’re thinking of starting a dance school, some prior dance experience is advisable. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean boxes of rosettes or a roll call of professional accolades. Mental fitness and stamina is more important that outstanding physical fitness.

A passion for dance is a must, but so is a passion for people – and a good level of patience. Could you welcome 20 strangers into your studio and teach a class where they all feel engaged and included? Could you tailor your dance classes to individuals and never show your frustration to slow learners? Do you have the creativity to devise custom dance routines?

dance-academyOf course, as the owner of a dance studio, you don’t have to teach lessons yourself. However, in the early stages, not only is this cost-effective but it is a good way to get to know your customer and hone your customer-service skills. It also means you can step in if one of your teachers drops out at the last minute.

Although running a dance school can be a very sociable business, it also requires great personal discipline. You may want your dance school to have an inclusive, family feel – but remember, it can be hard to take money from friends. You need to be very organised, business orientated and able to draw the line between friends and clients.

After all, the social aspect is just one part of your business. You may teach 15 hours of dance classes a week, but spend another 50-70 doing admin – whether answering e-mail enquiries, writing training manuals for new teachers, paying invoices, arranging venue bookings or updating your website and social media. No matter how active your start-up, the back room business remains.

You may also want to look for specific growth opportunities. Is a new dance style in vogue? Or is a particular era enjoying a contemporary revival – such as rockabilly, folk or the forties? Recent trends include the rise of fitness-focused fusion dance styles, such as Zumba and Ceroc, and early years’ activities, such as Ballet Babes. This decision – and in particular whether you choose to focus on children or adults – will help you to define your target market.

Next you need to decide upon a location. This is where market research is crucial, as Lianne Weston-Mommsen, co-founder of Starz Academy UK in Hampshire, explains: “Areas that you’d think on paper should be brilliant, such as those with higher household incomes, sometimes don’t really work. But in other areas, there might be more demand than you’d expect.”

One way to decide if a location is appropriate is to look at whether there are any similar, successful dance schools operating in the area. If there are, you’ll know there is demand for your business type and you then need to make an assessment as to whether there is room for some healthy competition.

Research your competitors thoroughly and ask yourself: How could I do it better? Brainstorm a unique selling point and plan your branding carefully, to avoid stepping on your competitors’ toes. You could also test the water before you launch by offering short courses of lessons – for example at a local gym.

Indeed, you may want to continue to rent studio space, such as this, at least for the first year or so of your business. It’s a great way to keep costs down until you can afford your own studio.

This removes much of the risk from starting your own business, as you are buying into a tried and tested formula and your franchisor has already made their start-up mistakes and learnt the lessons. This means you can benefit from their years of skills and experience from day one, and will receive training to learn the tricks of the trade.

Joining an already-established business also means much of the back room work is done for you. Some franchisors employ efficient database systems to minimise franchisee paperwork, as well as providing support with licensing and legislation. That is not to mention the marketing benefits of being part of a high profile, trusted brand.

“It can be very lonely running your own business,” points out Denise Hutton-Gozney, founder of Razzamataz.

“Our franchisees receive a minimum of two Skype calls from our management team per term and we have an annual sit-down business development review. We also provide a weekly business newsletter, which keeps them up-to-date.”

She adds that Razzamataz further provides a website specifically for its franchisees, where they can find everything from teacher contracts and health and safety templates to PR and marketing tools – doing much of the legwork for you.

However, becoming a franchisee won’t be for everyone. If you don’t like following a structured system, this may not be for you. Of course, to buy into a franchise, you also need a sufficient body of capital saved up.

A dance or performing arts franchise in the UK will generally cost you between £5,000 and £25,000. This is likely to include your franchise licence, some initial training, merchandise and marketing support. Remember though, your start-up costs won’t end there.

You’ll also need to shell out for Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, first aid courses and similar expenses. Your franchisor may also request you have a launch budget put aside of a few thousand pounds. Look carefully at your franchisee agreement and assess the total costs. Then decide whether you think the contract offers good value for money, or if you’d rather go it alone.

If you would prefer to cater towards adult dancers, one popular opportunity within the dance franchise space is Zumba Fitness®. This fusion of Latin dance with international music has boomed in the last few years, due to its focus on fitness and the party atmosphere it brings to classes.

Zumba is not a franchise in the traditional sense of the word – you’re not buying into a business as such, but Zumba is a registered trademark, created and owned by US company Zumba Fitness LLC. To start teaching it, you initially need to attend a one-day Zumba instructor training course (which usually start at around £200), then maintain an up-to-date instructor licence throughout the time you teach the class.

This is a relatively affordable franchise option, but a crucial one. Any dance teacher who includes ‘Zumba’ in their class titles (or teaches it) without having a current certificate of completion is in violation of trademark and copyright laws.

Consider where your business might be in five or 10 years’ time and try to choose a name that allows for expansion. For example, although Lianne Weston-Mommsen and her business partner Cheryl Dodd exclusively offered early years ballet classes when they launched their dance school in September 2010, 18 months on and they were able to expand into more unisex dance styles, because they chose a versatile name in ‘Starz Academy UK’.

Weston-Mommsen advises: “Go in expecting to succeed and with a very definite angle of what you want it to become. We wanted to go in with professional looking marketing and a full syllabus. That made us recognisable sooner than it would have done if we’d started small.”

Starz Academy UK has also benefited, Weston-Mommsen insists, from having joint founders. A partnership can allow you to split your workload between the creative and the business – with one founder focusing on teaching classes and writing syllabuses, while the other manages the books, admin and marketing.

The advent of social media provides scope for you to undertake a fair amount of online promotion for free. Similarly, there are various listing companies that you can provide your school’s location to, so that it ranks well in online searches. Most will not charge for this.

One marketing strategy, which may help to drive initial customers to your dance school, is to offer discounted classes through a daily deals site, such as Groupon. These can be controversial but Inspiration2Dance founder Viktoriya Wilton believes that, “if you’ve tried Groupon and failed, it’s because you didn’t manage it very well.”

She used the site to offer six-week beginners’ courses in a variety of dance styles and found it a successful way to get new customers and create momentum for her business. She advises that entrepreneurs can control demand for their deal through, “managing numbers yourself, by asking customers to book their dance type on your own website.”

Another way to raise awareness of your business – besides traditional PR and marketing – is to plan showcases, presentations and specialist workshops, where prospective customers can see what your existing students have learnt (and maybe even have a go themselves). After all, you can shout about your dance school all you like, but, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

As with most businesses, you will need public liability insurance to cover you against any accidents or injuries which may occur in your classes. If you are a member of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, they can help to arrange this for you. You will also need a Public Performance Licence (PPL) for permission to legally play music. Most of the venues you hire will already have one of these, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

It is also sensible to do a health and safety assessment of your business and put a policy in place before you launch. You may want to consider completing a basic first aid course. Similarly, if you are planning to teach students who are under the age of 18, you will need to have intermittent Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and request this of all teachers working with this age group.

You will also need to decide on the best legal structure for your start-up (whether you want to be a sole trader, form a partnership, or register a limited company), and make sure you comply with all the relevant legal requirements. For more information on the different business structures and your responsibilities regarding tax, administration, etc, read our article on how to choose the right legal structure for your start-up.



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