4 Things to Know Before You Open a Dance Studio—or Any Dance Business, for That Matter

Tutu School’s Genevieve Weeks’ best advice on developing that essential business owner’s mind-set

4 Things Before Opening a Studio
Genevieve Weeks, founder of Tutu School, with her three children. Andrew Weeks

Dreaming of opening a dance studio of your own? It might be more of a rude awakening than you’re imagining—especially if you’ve spent a few years as part of another studio’s faculty. Sure, you might have good ideas you’re ready to implement and a vision of yourself as the boss you’ve always wanted. But owning a business also means you’ll have to give up some of your favorite parts of your old job and learn or take on or even hire others for new roles and skills in order to keep your business moving forward. “If you’ve got the bug, it’s a magical adventure to own your own business,” says Genevieve Weeks, founder of Tutu School, a dance studio business with a successful franchise model that has grown to 34 locations throughout the country. “But some people are drawn to it because of the way they see it presented on Instagram. They’re not thinking about the layers underneath.” 

You’ll Need a Business Owner’s Mind-set

Owning a studio is a dramatic change in job description and requires a switch to a business mind-set—so here are four things to keep in mind before you launch.

1. Make sure you have enough capital to give yourself a really long runway for takeoff. 

“One of the primary reasons small businesses aren’t successful is that they’re not properly capitalized,” says Weeks. “You need enough of a runway to really give yourself a chance. You could be one month away from really turning a profit and becoming successful, but you have to shut down because you don’t have the next month’s rent or payroll.” 

That turn of events can be avoided with some simple but well-researched planning. “Take a realistic view—do a basic projection,” she says. “At least have a basic business plan, so you can have a conservative, best-case scenario and a middle-of-the-road scenario to see how long it’ll take to become profitable.” Then, she says, you’ll know how much money you really need in the bank.

2. Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know. 

“What’s in your wheelhouse, and what’s not?” asks Weeks. “Maybe you’re going into this because you care about curriculum, or you have a good head for marketing, or you really like working with children. But what feels foreign to you? Be up front with yourself right away.” That honesty will pay off in the short and long run. “If you can launch your business from a place of knowing ‘These are going to be my biggest contributions, and for this I’ll need to get assistance or strengthen my skills with additional learning,’ you won’t be caught off-guard,” she says, and have to scramble to find someone or something to do it for you.

3. Remember that the buck now stops with you.

Though get-rich-quick entrepreneurial schemes often come with attractive promises—“You’ll work so much less! You’ll earn money in your sleep!”—the truth of the matter is that running your own business “is a ton of work,” says Weeks. “The work has to get done, one way or another, and running your own business means that at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. You’re going to be the one putting in the hours so that everything that needs to get done gets done.”

4. Don’t be afraid of the numbers. 

“So many people go into this business coming from a passion perspective,” says Weeks. “We all want to be committed to what we’re doing, but the downside is that sometimes you’re afraid of the numbers. People think, ‘As long as I have money in the bank at the end of the day, I’m good.’”

“It doesn’t take an MBA to learn a few key factors for a healthy business,” she says. “You should understand a profit-loss statement, what break-even enrollment will be, what a healthy profit margin would be.” Then, she says, you’ll be able to thoughtfully make important decisions, like whether you have the money to hire an extra teacher when your time spent teaching is stretched thin. Once you’re comfortable with the numbers, you’ll be empowered to make decisions about your business. 

Two Habits This Owner Had to Learn Along the Way

Just do the next right thing. “When you’re a new owner, everything always feels important—so many things demand your attention,” says Weeks. “It’s easy to try to move in every direction, which means you don’t get very far at all. It’s important to just pick something and head in that direction. Take a deep breath, pick the next right thing and go there.”

Transition faster. “When something happens—finding out that a teacher is sick and you have to get somebody else there quickly, or else cancel classes—you always have that feeling that the sky is falling,” she says. “Now, though, I can move quickly from the crisis of the moment to how we solve it.” Weeks can even take panic moments a step further. “I ask myself, ‘Can we learn something from this, so we have a better plan for next time?’” she says. “I’ve learned how to transition faster from the moment of panic to how we take care of it, and what the opportunity is there.”

Rachel Rizzuto writes the Business column for Dance Teacher and is a second-year dance MFA student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.