I sold my dance studio this past spring after 8 years of business. I wanted to dive into my story today- and share a bit about my dance studio ownership journey, selling my dance studio, and the transition into running Resourceful Dance! Fair warning- it’s a long one. Being concise isn’t my strong suit:)
I never set out to own a dance studio. It was never on my list of things I wanted to do “when I grew up”. I was having too much fun dancing myself.. it was hard to imagine wanting to put my own dreams aside to support other people’s growth. I didn’t exactly set out to become a professional dancer either, I just knew as I head into college and then after college that I wasn’t ready to give it up. So I kept going! I loved dancing in college. I loved the structure and predictability. For the most part, if you worked hard you saw results. I thrived in that environment. Three hours of technique every day and then rehearsals?!?! Bring it on!
I had a harder time with the transition into the professional world. I moved right after college to NYC. I had a plan, but my vision and goals were not nearly as defined as they needed to be. I auditioned for HUNDREDS of things. Broadway, modern, big companies, small companies, projects, commercial events.. and got cut every time. I was on scholarship with a medium sized modern company, and had arranged work study at Steps.. but it wasn’t long before I started to feel really discouraged. It was also the first time I had a glimpse into how things aren’t always fair, and life isn’t as simple as just working hard. Even though my years there didn’t go exactly like I had envisioned, I am still very glad I went. I learned how to survive in a HARD city. I met so many interesting and inspiring people. I learned that I am capable of taking chances. I also realized that while I love to dance, I didn’t LOVE navigating the professional dance world. I didn’t love the rejection or how your self worth was wrapped up in how you did at ballet class. I can see looking back that this experience shaped a big part of who I am today. It definitely helped prepare me for the ups and downs of entrepreneurship!
I moved home to Chicago after two years in NYC. I was done. I have family and a great support of friends in Chicago. I found dancing here much easier. I could live at home, audition, and then lay the ground work for how I was going to support myself. I fell into teaching because that is what you do if you are trying to be a dancer in Chicago! Everyone dances during the day then commutes out to the suburbs to teach in the evenings. For two years I chugged along working at several different studios and continuing to focus on my own dance career; taking class, rehearsing and performing with several mid-sized companies.
One day after teaching, I had a (life changing!) conversation. The studio owner told me that she was thinking of selling her business. She didn’t think that I would be interested- she wanted to know if I knew of any other studios that might be looking to expand. I think she was also giving me a heads up that if she didn’t work something out, she would be closing the doors. Aka time to find another job! I knew she was pretty desperate to get out and I knew the bottom price she would take for her business- information she probably wouldn’t have shared openly with me if she knew I was interested.
Almost immediately I wanted to do it. I would like to say that this was a life long dream, but it wasn’t. It felt like fate. I was feeling a little discontent with my life as a starving artist and this was the solution.
I could teach at one location (instead of driving all over the Chicago suburbs), make great money, and continue to dance during the day. How hard could it be?!?
If you are a studio owner you know the answer to that question… HARD! I naively became a dance studio owner at age 24. The first year was humbling. I felt insecure about the direction I wanted to take the studio and was very sensitive to people’s feelings about the change in ownership. The previous owner didn’t make things easy- three months after selling the studio to me she went to work for a competitor and actively recruited her previous students. It took about three years for the dust to settle. I started to gain more confidence about what I was bringing to the table and we started to grow.
At this point I was doing everything. I was teaching the majority of the classes. I was the janitor. I was the bookkeeper. I did the invoices. I replied to all the emails. I directed the company. I returned calls. I lead the marketing. I am sure many of you can relate. It didn’t even cross my mind that this was kinda crazy. I had the time to do it and to be honest LIKED to be the one to do it all. This all worked fine and dandy until I had my first child:) Thankfully, it was also around this time that my sister Colleen came to work with me. Coming off of her experience in a wholesale bakery, she was able to take my “systems” (which consisted of lots of post it notes) and make changes that made a huge difference in our daily studio life.
I knew that it was very important to me to take the time I needed to be mostly home with my daughter. I couldn’t wrap my head around having a newborn and continuing to teach five days a week. After she was born I dropped down to only being in the studio two evenings a week. When I first put the schedule out there was a little backlash. People were upset I wasn’t teaching things and worried about what would happen when I wasn’t in. Do you know what happened when the school year started? Nothing! Ha! We worked really hard leading up that year to streamline our operations. Simple things like a cleaning schedules, a phone log, and a daily task list ensured that things continued to run smoothly. Our customers learned that in most situations they do not NEED to talk with me. Our office staff and teachers almost always had the answers they are looking for. We made sure our staff had the information they needed to take initiative and solve problems without me there. Most importantly, I learned to trust my staff and feel confident in their abilities. Here is where we were laying the groundwork for Resourceful Dance and I didn’t even realize it.
Fast forward another couple years. Colleen and I both have children and I am pregnant with my second. After being unemployed for several months my husband gets a job offer… in Omaha. I could stay in the area and live with my parents while he took the job and continued to look for something here. But I knew that wasn’t right for our family. I decided to go. I knew that I wouldn’t be teaching a ton in the fall since I would have a newborn again, and I also knew that our studio was equipped to handle this transition. It wasn’t easy- and I can’t say that I recommend this path, but things did continue to chug on. Colleen was in three nights a week and we continued to develop systems that made sure things didn’t slip in-between the cracks. I was in town about once every six weeks and many of our families didn’t realize I was living out of state.
I always thought that being away from the studio and from my hometown was temporary. It would be a year, maybe two years max. Although I did love being home with my children, it did start to feel a little like I was missing out on all the things I loved about owning a dance studio and getting stuck with the less glamorous tasks. We also were starting to feel the effects of taking a few years off in the marketing department. We had the operations down- but some of the time consuming marketing activities had taken a back seat to the things that NEEDED to be done. Our website, Facebook, attending community events, and initiating new programs all were things we knew we should be doing- but with limited time they never seemed to get the attention they needed. These activities are also more difficult to delegate since they don’t bring typically bring in revenue immediately. These things take time… and in the moment they don’t feel like they are making a difference. It’s overwhelming. I get it!
About mid-way though my second year away from the studio my husband had an opportunity to take a three year position in Washington DC. It was a great job, and great for his career. In my mind the options were 1) he takes the job and I continue to run the studio from afar, 2) we move home to Chicago, or 3) selling my dance studio. I knew that if I was to return to the studio, I would need to go back to teaching five days a week and on top of that devote MORE time to marketing to get the studio were it needed to be. This would also mean that my husband was going to miss out on a great job opportunity and would be back on the job hunt in Chicago (which given his industry is not an easy task). Practically, this would also mean that my family would be living with my parents until he found a job. If I went to DC, I knew that it would put even more pressure on my sister. I wouldn’t be in every six weeks- I’d be in 2-3 times a year. I knew that my studio needed MORE attention- and that if I wasn’t there this was going to fall on her. I should also mention that at this point she is pregnant with her second child.
After lots of tears and lots of conversations I followed my gut. I decided to sell my dance studio. It was extremely difficult to put that out into the world- but as soon as I said it out loud I felt a wave of relief.
If my children were older, if Colleen’s children were older, if my husband was in a different industry.. maybe I would have made another decision. But given our situation this felt like the best option. I had always assumed that owning a studio was something I’d do forever, and in certain ways felt a little trapped by that feeling. Like I HAD to make this work regardless of my situation in life. Realizing that I wasn’t trapped and could make a change was liberating.
I couldn’t have asked for things to work out better. My first step was to talk to the teachers that had been with me the longest and see if anyone was interested. One of my teachers said “yes” almost immediately. He had been thinking about what was next for him and searching for something to put his mark on- and then I called. The transition was smooth. I kept waiting for the “drama” but it never came. We were able to tell families before my last recital and both be available to ease any concerns. Colleen and I were (and continue to be!) his number one fans and feel truly blessed that we get to watch our dancers continue to grow and learn.
The work we did when I first had my daughter and then the work we did when I moved to Omaha really did make my business stronger. We had a business that was “sell-able”. I like to think that I am super important:) But for the health of your business you have to put your ego aside and make sure it can run without you. Taking the time to put these systems in place is going to give you options when life throws you a curve ball. If I had stayed on the path of doing everything and being everyone for all of my students I would have never been able to sell my business.
Emotionally- it was hard. Colleen and I cried. A lot. But I know it was the right decision. Reflecting on the last few years, I am just now starting to realize how much stress I carried around. I have also been thinking about all the things I tried to get accomplished and realizing how over ambitious I was. I didn’t create nearly enough space or time for marketing and spent way to much time doing things I hated doing (I’m looking at you bookkeeping!). The years Colleen and I worked physically together were hands down the best years- because we had each other’s support. We are hoping that through the work we do at Resourceful Dance we can be that support system for you and your studio. We want to help you look at your studio objectively and figure out what needs to happen to ensure the future is bright.
I feel great about the path I am currently on and am so excited about the launch of Resourceful Dance. Colleen and I know that a need exists for what we are offering.. because WE needed it! We understand the struggle. We understand the passion and emotions involved. Most importantly, we understand the need for support. I can’t wait to get to know YOU and YOUR business and move forward together.
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