Before starting the next season of dance, take time to set up a retention plan. In the past, engaging classes and good customer service worked as a retention plan, but today a more intentional blueprint is needed to keep students for the full season, as well as for seasons to come.
Before diving into specific tactics, let’s talk strategy. Everyone wants to feel seen, heard, and valued. How do you translate that into a retention plan? Ask yourself: How will I help each dancer and family feel like they belong at my studio? What can I do throughout their experience to make personal connections? (I have worked on this in my business for the past 30 years—it can shift your mindset and help you foster strong bonds with your dance family customers.)
The “everyone is seen, heard, and valued” strategy starts with a sound onboarding process for students and families. The book Never Lose a Customer Again by Joey Coleman has some great ideas for this—he stresses that the first 100 days of a customer’s experience will make or break their loyalty.
At my studio, we built an onboarding system focused on long-term retention, and we recognize that it starts with a new student’s experience. The tactics we use have added up to 97 percent retention of new students for the 2022-2023 season—a jump from 91 percent the previous season. Next year we’re aiming even higher!
With eight steps over six weeks, this system helps each new family learn about the studio and how we do things. Through information, education, and encouragement, we show them what the year ahead looks like. This process removes any buyer’s remorse, provides parents with a clear road map, and celebrates them as part of our community.
If you’re ready to ramp up your retention, here is an outline of our onboarding system that you can easily adapt.
Step 1 – Upon registration
- Upload new student information to new student document
- Write and mail a welcome card to the new student’s family
Our welcome cards are branded with the studio colors and logo, and messages are always hand-written by a staff member.
Step 2 – Upon registration
- Send confirmation email with schedule, teacher info, payment info, costume info, and the video message from their teacher.
The video message is 15-20 seconds long, with the teacher introducing themselves and welcoming the student to their class. Teachers record these at our beginning-of-the-season kickoff meeting. We keep the video files in a Google Drive album for easy access.
Step 3 – Monday morning of the student’s first week
- Send welcome email
The welcome email includes general information about the studio, what makes us special, and links to our social media accounts and parent hub.
Step 4 – Monday morning of the student’s second week
- Send pre-recorded video message from the owner
In this video, I welcome the family and say I hope they enjoyed their first week of classes. I let them know they will be receiving frequent messages for the next several weeks, and ask them to reach out to staff if they have any questions.
Step 5 – Monday morning of the student’s third week
- Place a check-in phone call to parent; how are things going so far?
At this point, someone from our front desk calls the parent for a personal check-in. Team members are trained to “listen to understand” and not just respond with a canned answer. This is our opportunity to get to know the new parent and for them to know we strive for a five-star experience.
Step 6 – Monday morning of the student’s fourth week
- Send progress text to parent from teacher; celebrate something awesome about the student
In a spreadsheet, each teacher makes notes about new students between their second and third week of class. A front desk staff member sends a text to the parent including the highlights of these notes.
Step 7 – Monday morning of the student’s fifth week
- Send culture email
This email explains the core values our culture is built on. It also tells parents they will now be receiving a monthly update instead of a weekly message.
Step 8 – Monday morning of the student’s sixth week
- Transition out of onboarding into regular communication flow; send pre-recorded explanation video
This video explains all the ways we communicate and shares links to our contact information, website, social media, and parent hub.
Once this onboarding process is complete, the regular communication flow includes a monthly studio update by email, weekly Monday minute videos from the owner on our private Facebook page, and a personal check-in phone call every 90 days from someone on our front desk team. We set these 90 day calls up strategically so we have information to share when we call and have the opportunity to see if they have questions about what is coming. We also ask about their experience and if there is anything we can do to improve.
In addition to a strong onboarding process, a retention strategy should carry through the entire dance season. Small season-based tactics can have a big impact on connecting with students and parents.
Beat the winter slump
Student (and parent) engagement and focus can dip in the winter, both due to the weather and the holidays, resulting in student drops. Here are some retention strategies to help prevent those withdrawals from happening.
- Costume celebrations. Make “costume reveals” fun! Get kids excited about seeing their costumes on social media and in class. When it’s time to send costumes home, have students try them on at the studio and show them off in a costume parade.
- Surprise show-and-tell. Talk to your teachers about having impromptu “show-and-tell” days. Classes can demonstrate their choreography or skills progress to each other. These informal in-studio connections change up the day’s status quo and generate excitement.
- Theme weeks. Encourage students to dress up in a themed outfit or listen to themed music in class. Try some of our favorite themes—Beach Week, Pajama Week, and Crazy Sock Week! Be sure to take lots of photos to share with parents.
- Make learning the recital dance fun and stress-free. Fun can easily get overlooked during the “learning choreography” phase. Have dancers practice short phrases in groups or facing away from the mirror. Ask them to count out loud while listening to the music (no dancing!) or clap while marking. Lean into all the different learning styles. And ask teachers to plan out choreography in advance to avoid the stress of last-minute cramming; explain that planning allows for flexibility of what and how much to teach each day.
Cool down spring fever
When the weather gets warmer, kids want to play outside—not come to class. Keep classes entertaining and engaging. This is a great time to look forward to recital, but students also need something within closer reach. My studio rolls out a studio-wide SMART Goal Challenge each spring. (SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive.) A specific SMART skill is assigned to each class, and as a group, they create a plan as to how they will achieve the goal. Not only do students get excited, they even practice at home! In a beginning level tap class, last year’s spring SMART goal was to do a single time step. For some students this was a challenging goal, but it helped to have peer support and a reason to practice outside of class.
Spring is also the season for our one-on-one “pathway meetings” with older students to talk about their progress and future goals. We offer these parent-teacher-student conferences for dancers who are in fourth grade or older. Each student feels seen, heard, and valued, and through each achievement or goal-met, becomes more connected to the studio. It is also an excellent way for teachers to become more engaged with dance families, and to understand the students’ goals in and out of the dance classroom.
Create impact with recital
Share recital info early and often, using several channels of communication. Consider setting up a dedicated one-stop-shop website, such as through Google sites, where you can direct parents any time you answer a question. Post reminders on your private Facebook page, and use countdowns for big events like ticket sales, picture days, and rehearsals. Share photos and video snippets of the work in progress in the classroom. Pull your studio parents into all the excitement of this busy but rewarding time!
Remember that retention takes place throughout a dance season, not just at one time of year. If what once worked no longer does and your retention rate slips, revisit your strategy and ramp up your tactics. Plan how you will connect with each student and parent, and connect with that plan all year long.