Thursday, January 8, 2009

Dancing With the Doldrums

Below is an article I wrote for Dance Teacher Magazine. I'm presenting a marketing program for them in late February in Las Vegas. Thought you might appreciate it. The basic points work in any business.

“All it takes to make creativity a part of your life is the willingness to make it a habit.” Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit.

How’s business? Are you slowing down, holding your own, or growing? The first step in facing tight economic times is not to panic. Many bankers, real estate experts, and business forecasters are saying that our greatest problem is fear. The more fearful you are, the worse the future looks.

The next step is to ask the question: How will I manage and grow my business during the next 12-24 months? A recent survey of economists predicts an economic recovery beginning in mid-2009, or the end of the year at the latest. This, too, shall pass; so use this time to creatively position and grow your business.

It’s easy to glide through the good times, but when business tightens the best business owners get creative. Start looking at today as an opportunity to be more creative in your marketing. You’ll find that most businesses are going into a “hunker-down” mode. They are cutting back on marketing, which means less exposure…this is a great opportunity! Whenever you see your competition’s brake lights, it’s time to hit the gas and pass them. You won’t be spending lots of money; you will be spending time and energy. Here are five strategies that can make the next two years your best.

1. Start by pulling out a calendar that you will use as the basis of your marketing plan for the next 2 years. Mark any notable dates from dance history; note birthdays of any and all dance greats you love and admire; Nureyev, Balanchine, Graham, Joffrey; write down the birthday of your studio or group. Create a date at least every quarter that will be a student, parent, family, or school appreciation day. You will be using these celebrations and dates to create promotions and to get publicity.

2. Retention is the key in difficult times so “show’em some love!” Over-serve the families and students you already have. Doing a better job of encouraging students and parents, saying “Thank You,” more often is a great start. What low-cost incentives might you offer current students to raise the value of their experience? Extra lessons, information and more opportunities to learn, an opportunity to teach are all ways you can add value. Adding value especially helps families with children—who may be asking the “Is dance an expense or investment?” question—decide in your favor.

Also, give your current students an incentive to reach out to people like themselves. Might you give a discount to families in specific neighborhoods? Or give a family a discount if they bring in more students? The discount does not have to be monetary. It could be, again, more lessons, more opportunities to be engaged.

3. Look for “Low-Hanging Fruit.” These are the students who are “easy-pickin’s,” as Southerners say. They are individuals and groups who have an obvious need for your service. You don’t have to convince them of the need, you simply need to persuade them that you are one to fill the need. A percentage of the people you contact will enroll. Sales is all about the numbers.

Once you have identified the potential students find low-cost ways to expose them to your message. You might post flyers on the bulletin board in an office building. You might give a short presentation to a parents’ group about the fact that dance has been shown to improve students’ grades. Or, you could give a demonstration using dance as an energy pick-me-up to a business. The key is to hit as many individuals and groups as possible. Go to gmarketing.com and register for a free, low-cost marketing tip each week from Guerrilla Marketing International.

If you have a profile of your perfect student, create a promotion designed to attract them. What about promoting a dance evening as an opportunity for singles—different promotions for different ages—to meet. Or, market a “Cheap Date” night for couples.

4. Go where the money is. The great bank robber of the 1930s, Willie Sutton, was once asked why he robbed banks. He said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Look for potential groups and individuals who do not seem to be affected by the economic downturn. For instance, health care is not taking as big a hit, financially, as banks. Creating a special promotion for doctors and nurses, or their families, is a creative way to target a new market.

5. Offer dance as a solution to a problem. When people have a problem they are in pain, psychologically. Can you offer dance as a creative solution to easing pain? What about dance as an escape; a way to feel better about oneself, an economic way to get out and have some fun?
Look back at your marketing of the last few years. What message were you trying to send to current and potential students? A new message, dance as a way to ease pain and have fun, not only makes you new in the minds of your current students, the message creates awareness in the minds of new, potential students.

A final point. There will continue to be “nattering nabobs of negativity” as Vice President Spiro Agnew once said. Don’t listen to them. Stay positive, be creative, and make the next two years your best. When the economy recovers you will be in a stronger position and the competition will be seeing the bottoms of your shoes.

Dance on.

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