How to start a dance school
Here we cover the basic steps, from marketing to initial costs, to help you sashay your way to success with a dance class company
When starting a dance school, these areas are essential to consider:
What is a dance studio business and who is it suited to?
With the popularity of TV programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance, demand for dancing lessons is on the rise. Whether betrothed couples hoping to hone their first dance or young professionals seeking a fresh way to keep fit and make friends, dance classes have enjoyed a contemporary renaissance and now remain a popular pastime for many – and that creates an opportunity for quick-footed entrepreneurs.
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?
Of 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.
Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.
The planning and preparation involved in launching a dance school
The first question you need to answer is – what kind of dance do you want to teach?
If you have the skill-base to support it, there are definite advantages to offering a wide variety of classes. However, don't feel you need to know every dance style yourself. You'll never be able to answer all your customers' requests, but can always hire freelance dance teachers to fill the gaps.
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.
Business models and structure
One option to consider is to buy into an existing franchise, such as Baby Ballet, diddi dance or – if you are interested in offering drama and singing classes too – performing arts franchise Razzamataz, which raised £85,000 investment from Duncan Bannatyne in the 2007 series of Dragons' Den.
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.
Marketing your dance classes and studio
Once you're happy with your idea, you need to raise awareness of your business. Core to your marketing campaign will be the name you choose for your dance school. Get it wrong and you will find your start-up much harder to promote. Likewise, if your name is too similar to that of a competitor, you may have the same problem.
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.
Rules and regulations when launching a dance school
There are very few restrictions to starting a dance school. You don't need prior certification – on the contrary, the International Dance Teachers Association won't actually accredit you as a dance teacher until you have at least two years' teaching experience. The only exceptions are specialist franchises, such as Zumba, which do require you to complete training in advance.
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.
Dance school start-up costs
The main outgoings for a start-up dance school are renting venues and paying teachers. The cost of these will vary greatly according to the region you operate in, but the good news is that both should be payable by the hour, and if you later acquire a dance studio of your own, you can hire the space out for the same price to other dance teachers in your area – this will also help you increase the types of dance lessons you can offer without you having to undergo the training.
If you plan to provide your teachers with any kind of props to use in classes, that is another start-up cost you need to factor in and if you are going to provide refreshments, there will be a one-off cost to buy relevant equipment and minimal ongoing expenses, to replenish teabags, milk and sugar.
Then there are the practicalities. Quotes for Public Liability Insurance will vary but should be around the £120 mark (per annum) and a Public Performance Licence (PPL) is about £100 a year. Creating a website can be relevantly cheap enough but expect to pay for your website domain name and hosting – however again this shouldn't be massively expensive. If you need someone to design and maintain your website for you, this will cost more, but there are plenty of basic web-builder tools online, which are free to use for a basic site, or cost up to around £25 per month for more advanced features.
If you are going to send out newsletters, promotional offers or product orders by snail mail, expect to spend on postage as well as the cost of printing and creating the leaflets. But, don't forget that to build a brand you need a professional and compelling logo for your letterhead and other branding. Unless you spent your past life as a graphic designer, you need to budget for this and you may also want to invest in a copyright application, to protect your brand.
However, as your business grows, you may want to expand your marketing budget, perhaps hiring a freelance consultant to provide occasional advice and help you gain press exposure. If you can afford to put aside £1,000 a year to promote your dance school, you'll be giving yourself a great chance of growth.
How much can a dance teacher potentially earn?
If successful, starting your own dance school could earn you a fair little income: upwards of around £30,000. Of course, how much you earn is completely dependent on how many dance classes you run. But – if you can keep your outgoings low – much of this income is your own to keep.
This was a major motivation for Wilton to start her dance school. Having started teaching evening classes as a hobby, she soon found that, “I could earn twice as much from running a dance school than I could from my London admin role.”
It is important to research venue and teacher fees in your local area before you start out, as these will play a significant role in dictating how much you charge your students. After all, it's not worth running a class unless you turn a profit. You need to be sure you can achieve this, even if some weeks' classes have poor attendance.
Starz Academy UK charges £4.60 per child for a 30-minute Ballet Babes class, followed by 30 minutes social, play and refreshment time – which is included in the price.
Each class has a maximum capacity of 16 children, however Starz Academy UK requires at least six children to attend in order to break even. One way to ensure this, is to ask parents to pay termly (Starz offer 12 week terms for £55), providing them with an incentive to attend each week, and safeguarding the business's balance sheet if some students are absent for any reason.
Similarly, Wilton charges an upfront fee of £60 for a six-week dance course in central London, with a deal of £100 offered to couples. However, she also offers a drop-in price of £12 per class, to entice first-timers who might not be ready to commit to a full course or have unpredictable working hours. For private, one-to-one tuition your fee can be much higher: between £45 and £100 in the capital. London Zumba teachers typically charge between £7 and £12 per hour.
You could also boost the revenue generated at each class by selling a small selection of relevant stock, such as children's tutus at a toddler ballet class or weighted toning sticks at Zumba (which can be used to boost the workout). As Weston-Mommsen points out, this can be a good money-spinner, because – in the case of early years ballet classes at least – “once someone sees one child in a tutu, they tend to want their own.” If you choose this route, that is another cost to factor into your business plan: buying up a supply of stock (and possibly paying for somewhere to store it). You also need to equip each teacher with a box of samples, so customers can view the products and then make an order – either online or to collect the next week.
To help formulate your dance school business plan you may find it useful to download our free business plan template.
As your brand develops, you may want to consider making your dance school into a franchise. This could be a great way to grow your business, while passing regional management to your franchisees.
Tips for dance school success and useful contacts
Hopefully by now you have all the tools to make your dance school a success. However, if you get stuck along the way, there are plenty of organisations out there to help you.
These include the Imperial Society for Teachers of Dancing, the International Dance Teachers Association and the Royal Academy of Dance – as well as Startups' own site.
Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing http://www.istd.org
International Dance Teachers Association http://www.idta.co.uk
Royal Academy of Dance http://www.rad.org.uk
If you are still unsure about whether you could start a dance school, use these top tips from entrepreneurs who have opened their own.
Lianne Weston-Mommsen, Starz Academy UK:
- “You get most people word-of-mouth so reputation is key. Your customer service must be excellent – address queries and issues immediately and don't put customers under pressure to buy stock.
- There is always room to improve, so listen to your teachers' feedback and never think you know it all. Listen to other people, because what works on paper might not work in reality.
- Launch in new locations – but then stop and grow what you've got. Fill your existing classes rather than opening more. Recruiting area managers can help deal with the most time-heavy bits of your business.
- Consider your business like a spider diagram. What can come out of your central bubble? Get the first bit right before you roll out other ideas. Learn from your mistakes so that you can be more efficient second time around.”
Denise Hutton-Gozney, Razzamataz Theatre Schools:
- “Research your market and remember, location, location, location!
- Follow best practice – make sure your health and safety policy is up to date.
- Recruit a fabulous team. Never go for second best.
- Be organised and try to have fun along the way.
- Get a mentor (I went to The Prince's Trust). They can seem nosy but they're there to help you. They provide great advice and are much cheaper than turning to consultants! Mine also put me forward for some awards.
- Everyone loves a star. If you can get someone high profile in to launch your business or judge your competitions, it does help.”
Viktoriya Wilton, Inspiration2Dance:
- “Stay on top of your cashflow and make every penny count.
- Get out of your comfort zone.
- Don't be scared. Fear is the only thing that prevents us from doing something. You might be surprised how easy it really is!”