Why Your Dance Business Needs a Strategic Plan—Even Now

A smart plan can serve as a road map through a world of unknowns. Here’s why your dance business needs one, and four steps to set you up for planning success.

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It may feel like an impossible time to plan ahead for your business: The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a flurry of unexpected challenges (for dance businesses, especially) that have forced many to pivot almost constantly. And with cases on the rise again, it’s hard to know what the future will look like.

But, perhaps counterintuitively, having a detailed strategic plan can ensure that you’re ready to adapt to meet any challenge, all while continuing to work towards your larger goals.

Strategic plans typically include specific business objectives, a timeline for when to accomplish them, and financial projections and budgets. They can also outline various scenarios, depending on how your business performs, to ensure you are staying on track to reach your long-term goals.

Smart strategic planning takes four steps: assessing where your business is currently, developing a strategy based on your long-term goals, taking concrete steps towards accomplishing those goals, and regularly evaluating your performance to stay on track.

Step 1: Assessing Your Business

A streaming platform for performing arts content, Marquee TV began in London in 2018 with three co-founders and an attitude that revolved around a single word: hustle. But as the company grew and needed more discipline and direction, the strategic planning process became the framework for defining solid deliverables and resource allocation. Co-founder Marc Kirschner began developing a strategic plan based on resources and staff available, aspects of the business that needed development, as well as long-term revenue goals.

“The strategic planning process is an ongoing exercise for us,” says Kirschner, “in large part because we are actively bringing in investment. So it’s put us in a place where we need to be super-accountable and very specific. It’s been helpful for us in minimizing the scarcity mindset because with planning, we know we’re focusing our resources on where they need to be, instead of where it might be nice for them to be.”

Step 2: Developing a Strategy

As Kirschner charts the smartest way forward for Marquee, he plans for multiple possible outcomes and balances short- and long-term priorities.

“I have a list of about 40 different priorities for us as a business at any given time,” he says. “By mapping them all out, I am able to see which projects need to take priority in order to accomplish other goals down the road, which keeps us focused on the important day-to-day tasks as well as making sure the bigger-picture projects are being worked on.”

During the pandemic, the biggest change in strategy for Marquee has been adapting to the changing way audiences are consuming performing-arts content—from primarily in-person to now almost exclusively digitally. A detailed strategic plan has allowed them to meet the demands of their arts partners who suddenly need a digital outlet, having built a strong framework for streaming and monetizing dance content since the company’s inception.

Step 3: Defining Concrete Actions

For Alana Tillim, owner of Santa Barbara Dance Arts, building a strategic plan has kept her working towards the studio’s long-term goals while enacting her business’s values in an actionable way.

Alana Tillim of Santa Barbara Dance Arts’ strategic planning setup. Photo courtesy Tillim

“I start with where I am, especially the challenges. I then look at where I want to be,” she says. “Then I start my planning with my desired outcomes as the focus. For example, if I have problems with gossip and ‘mean girls,’ I look at my outcome as kind and drama-free students. Then, I begin building strategic steps to bridge the gap that align with the core values and culture of the studio.” This has included SBDA’s Kindness Counts Award (where students are nominated and recognized by teachers), as well as a Shout-Out Box that allowed students to highlight each other’s accomplishments both inside and outside of the studio.

Working closely with her cash-flow spreadsheet and project-management software (she uses monday.com), Tillim is able to organize day-to-day operations, add urgent tasks (like safety planning and canceling programs that won’t work during the pandemic), while still reverse-engineering long-term projects. This process allowed her to plan for and build a COVID-safe outdoor studio in order to continue operations safely for the foreseeable future.

Tillim’s process could be replicated for other culture-focused long-term objectives, which can sometimes feel difficult to put into action. A goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive work environment, for instance, could be actioned with concrete steps, like planning for an annual anti-racism training and making sure a portion of your budget is going to the BIPOC community.

Step 4: Regular Evaluation

The task of strategic planning is never over. For a plan to be dynamic, it must be plastic to adapt to changing circumstances.

For Marquee, the company’s strategic plan is examined every quarter, not only ensuring the team is hitting their goals, but also allowing them to reevaluate their strategy if prior assumptions about their planning and growth no longer hold true.

“In my budgets, I have both an actual column, as well as three different adjusted models, depending on how close we come to our goals,” says Tillim. “This process prevents me from making bad spending decisions. Now more than ever it is important to know your worst-case financial scenario and know your strategic plan can weather any storm.”

Phil Chan is an arts administrator and former dancer, and has written for Dance Magazine, Dance Europe, Dancer Magazine, The Huffington Post and FLATT Magazine. He is also the author of Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing between Intention and Impact.