Do you offer free trials?..Well you shouldn’t!
Free trials have traditionally been something that schools have done in order to give potential students the opportunity to try their classes. By getting bodies through the door they now believe they have the opportunity to turn those trials in to paying customers. I am going to shock you by telling you that I haven’t offered trials in over 2 years. My retention rate is at 92% and my payment rate is 96%. I realised something: Parents are only thinking of themselves and their families, which they should, and during the process of them worrying about themselves they are wasting a lot of my time. As a studio I have hundreds of families to worry about so reducing every single sale down to whether the individual is happy will be the death of my business and my sanity. Teaching parents to respect you, your craft, skill level, staff, business and policies and procedures starts before a parent walks through the door. When I break the ‘devastating’ news to potential parents and students that I do not give them something for free they start to tell me my why they would benefit from a free trial:
“I need to make sure my child will connect with the teacher.”
“I want to see if my child likes dance.”
“They have never been in a structured environment other than school and I need to see if they can cope.”
“I want to see if my child fits in with the other students.”
Now, in addition to the fact that I am a dance teacher of 20 years and a studio owner for almost 5, I am also a parent of a dancer and have been a dancer with devoted parents so I have a very 3D perspective on studio life, parents perceptions, expectations and what is reasonable and unreasonable from many perspectives. Let’s have a look at why I do not offer trials and how I address the above parental concerns.
First and foremost, I am the expert. This is my business. My livelihood, career and financial independence is entirely linked to my success. Therefore, I trust in MY ABILITY to run MY COMPANY. This is part of my business plan because I know how often dance teachers make decisions to make everyone else happy. All this does is compromise your ability to run a successful company. You will piss people off if you are doing things right. This is because you do not overvalue a non experts opinion on how to run YOUR BUSINESS. So if you stick to your policies and procedures you will quickly weed out the customers you do not want anyway. You think you do; but you don’t. I promise! So when people ask me whether I do trials and I say no, I stick to my guns no matter what. I confidently explain why, which I will get to very soon, and ask them if they would like to pay their non-refundable deposit to hold their spot. If they say no, then guess what, they were never that interested in the first place and I have just saved myself a lot of energy. But more often, I get a deposit over the phone without even meeting them because my business is worth their investment. Now, how does this translate in to addressing some of the above concerns. Well, since I am the expert, it will be my job to teach children all about dance. How, in the world can a non expert, a child non the less, judge my school and teachings in 1 lesson, heck even a week. Dance takes years and my lesson plans vary depending on what the students need. No one in their right mind should think that they can assess their child’s love for dance in under 6 months of lessons. Why 6 months? I found that 6 months was the magic amount of time where children have experienced enough classes consistently, with the same group of children, and have learned enough dance to gauge whether dance is right for them. I mean let’s be honest, 6 months isn’t enough time for a casual dancer to be very good but it is enough time for a kid to remember and execute basics, feel comfortable with the teachers teaching abilities and class structure and make some solid friends. I need people to allow me to do my job. Sticking with me over a reasonable amount of time is the only way I can do that. It’s that simple. This is how I explain the benefits of their children attending 6 months of dance:
- I preserve the learning environment in order to achieve the absolute best results possible. I always explain that it is incredibly distracting if parents and random trial students are coming in and out of classes. The current students may not feel comfortable with new faces from week to week. Class routine and rhythm is consistently disrupted when new students are not entering the school at the same time. And ultimately my time should be spent on paying costumers. Aren’t they the ones that deserve all of my time?!
- Dance classes vary from week to week. Not every dance class is learning a combo to your favourite song on the radio. Some weeks are doing plies and sautes all class. Students that have built a respect for you and your school know these classes are necessary and so their intended results are achieved. However, imagine being a new student and you walk in on a strenuous technique class. That’s not fun at all and no matter what they will judge your school on that 1 class. Did that class really sell your new student in to signing up. Probably not since they haven’t been educated on dance process and class structure from the beginning of the year and are probably not going to be as good at the steps as your current students. More often than not the student leaves believing they don’t like dance and that they aren’t any good at it. Plus if that child has had a bad day, they will bring that bad day with them. Trying to manage an unknown student with negative energy while they are experiencing trial anxiety is nothing less than disastrous!! See how judging dance and your school in 1 class could actually be detrimental to your school?
Now, if a parent wants to see whether their child will connect with me or any of my staff then they simply need to set up a meeting with us. Children and parents can usually gauge from a 2 minute conversation whether they like you. Dance has nothing to do with this so why would you compromise your class for a personality assessment. I mean, I get that not everyone will get along and that certain children need certain types of instruction, however, a child and their teacher need time to connect. I cannot learn all of their quirks and learning needs in 2 minutes or even 2 classes. The bond between teacher and student takes time and if this time is not given in a professional setting than there isn’t any hope in the students progressing properly or the teacher being able to personalise your child’s class experience. Enjoyment of dance and the school comes with feeling comfortable in your surroundings. Too much anxiety exists during trial periods making this dynamic absolutely impossible.
New environments equal new rules. Expecting a child to know and understand the inner working of my school in such a short period of time is absolutely crazy. They will not do a great job for a while until they understand my class and build some skills. It really blows my mind how many parents are weary of structured classes. Children almost always can handle whatever you tell them too. In my opinion, one of the only cures for tears due to separation anxiety, a child running in and out of class, not taking instruction and the list goes on is doing something consistently. Thats it. Literally thats it. Showing up every week is really the only way to teach your children how to conduct themselves in a dance class. So no you cannot decide whether they will sit still or do everything I say in 1 class because the reality is they most likely wont. So guess what studio owners, those parents are most likely going leave your trial thinking their kid isn’t ready when really its that they haven’t been given a chance to be ready.
Making friends is a really cool part of dance. My son has made a few that I know will last a lifetime. Now I’m going to step aside from the teacher role for one second and add my 2 cents in from a parenting perspective. Please remember it’s my perspective so do what you feel is right. I personally teach my son that he is not supposed to do anything because of friends. Children will be children. They are fickle. They are rapidly changing. So under no circumstances would I take him anywhere because his friends are doing it. Nor would I leave solely based on the fact that his friends were leaving. I attend a dance school because I want my son to be in expert hands with strong policies that benefit my son’s training and that the instructors have proven, updated and safe teaching techniques. That is ALL I base my decisions on. If he makes friends cool. If I personally like the owner or instructor cool. If I don’t love the staff personally but love their output and feel they are incredibly professional than I would pick that school any day. This isn’t a popularity party its a learning institution. Ultimately I am raising a leader not a follower and thinking for themselves is what keeps them out of trouble. Now I am going to put back on my teacher hat and address this from the business perspective. If a parent is worried that their child may or may not connect with others I let them know that my students don’t talk in class. That classes are all about dance. That I control my classroom entirely. I do utilise team building exercises that are appropriate for everyone and are dance based so that they can bond with one another. However at the end of the day our bullying policy is air tight and that all the children who attend my school have the same goal; learn how to dance. I also explain that because my policies include prepayment of 6 months of lessons this ensures that children will consistently return allowing their child to bond without the fear of losing their friends abruptly.
I am going to briefly address the money aspect of this. Many parents say, well this is a big investment. I need to know if it is worth it. I wonder if when they book their trips to bali or take their families out for massive dinners if they pre sample the vacation destinations or the food. That’s a big no! They do research. They ask friends. They pre pay and then once the experience is over do they know whether they loved it or not. Notice how no one worked for free to gain their business. Notice how not one of those companies spent hours convincing them to spend their money with them. They simply put their resources out there and have processes in place that help to guide the customers in the right direction. And dance teachers always remember, parents almost always find money for trips, shopping, lattes, lunch with friends and manis and pedis. Don’t feel bad for getting that money. If they want to attend your school they will easily and happily find that money. If they can’t get that money together then it’s because of the following: 1) They do not feel your company is worth paying; or 2) they honestly can’t afford it. Dance schools are a non-essential service so you do not owe anyone’s children lessons. No money, no lesson!
I believe that free trials most often bring in the wrong kind of student and parent. Not always, but I am going to say that the ones you think you converted would have signed up without the trial anyway. Parents almost always know before they call whether they will be willing to pay your fees, follow your policies and respect your school. Qualities of good dance parents are those who: respect you as a business owner, pay their bills, respect your boundaries, and see you as the professional you are. By not offering trials parents are forced to MAKE A DECISION – JOIN MY SCHOOL OR DON’T JOIN MY SCHOOL. It is literally that easy. They will have read your website, followed your Facebook, spoken to their friends, exc, exc, exc; SO even if they say they aren’t sure, they usually are. After the 6 months is over they can decide to stay on for the concert or try something else, but at least they have given me, my staff, dance and my school a fair and educated shot at being right for them. I deserve that much respect. So do my students and so do my staff. Think of all the follow-up emails, phone calls, front desk and email inquiries you can stop doing by simply making people make a decision. Dance teachers you and I both know that a child and parent cannot asses dance or your school in 1 class. So be confident in your ability to provide dance to your students. At first, you will lose many parents when you start forcing people to pay you on time, especially when you enforce your policies like non-attendance for unpaid accounts. You will start losing people when you force people to respect you in your business environment. You will lose business if you change nothing or everything. It’s the ones you keep that matters. So guess what? If you stick to your guns and institute policies that puts your business first then you will gain parents and students that make your life and business easy to run and enjoyable to work at. As a teacher you will be able to realise your vision because you and your company has stopped trying to accomodate and please everyone. You have reduced stress because let’s be real dance teachers, you are receiving plenty of hate mail and having enough angry encounters while scrambling to please everyone else, neglecting your own family, not paying yourself and killing yourself to produce results in class ANYWAY. By requiring people to MAKE A DECISION, you are requiring them to treat you like every other business. Once they make that decision all you have to focus on is showing them that they made the RIGHT DECISION!
Best of luck dance teachers:) So much love to you all!!!
Ps. I’m going to say that there is only one situation where I believe a trial makes sense: When your child is a proven competitive dancer and is moving from another city. Not one or the other but both. If they are competitive and you have lived somewhere for a while then you are fully aware what is out there and the calibre of the schools. Normally these children would attend competitions in their area and would be able to assess their skills compared to the other schools. However, if you are not attending comps with potential schools than you really do not know whether your child makes the cut. If you are moving from another city but are not a highly trained dancer than the lack of experience would mean that you and your child would fall in to all of the above categories. If they don’t allow you to trial their classes then that’s their perogative and they should be respected for their decisions. And studios, if you do make an exception than be confident in that exception and do not allow that exception to become your norm!!!