How I Quit Apologizing for Making Money and Learned to Enjoy Running a Business

This longtime dance studio owner radically reimagined her business when she took to heart two simple pieces of advice: Don’t work for free; and let your clients see your success.

Students of Royal Dance Works in performance. Courtesy of Royal Dance Works

Carole Royal opened Royal Dance Works in Phoenix, AZ, nearly 40 years ago. “I had to learn that running a business required much more than being passionate about teaching dance,” she says. “I kept equating running my studio with volunteering as a Girl Scout leader or coaching a peewee softball team. Having a business working with children where you charge a price was a rough concept for me. In hindsight, I wish I’d thought about pediatricians. They work with children, and they don’t volunteer—they make money!” —DBW

My initial business plan was slim. I had tuition revenue, but I did everything else for free—like choreographing competition solos. I didn’t charge anything extra for conventions, and I’d kill myself getting everything ready. Then I began listening to other dance teachers. I learned that to run a successful business, you need to get your income from several different sources, not just tuition.

Giving Your Business Staying Power

When you love doing something as much as studio owners love teaching dance, it’s easy to feel guilty about charging for it. But the truth is, you can really love it and still make money—and grow a business with staying power.

You need to understand that your time—or a staff member’s—is money.

To choreograph a solo, you charge a fee. And when you stop choreographing and have another teacher create the solos, you still need to make sure that you’re getting a fee. When I began to tack on administrative fees, I was nervous—all the convention fees were published, and the parents would know I’d charged extra. But it’s important to be aware of the standard practices in your market. I learned that this was standard practice with other studio owners, and I knew I could go back and tell that to parents.

Even the phrase “tack on” is misleading, since it sounds like I’m doing something underhanded. What I’m actually doing is covering the services my studio provides. I’m transparent with parents, telling them that I add fees for other services as well, like fitting and ordering costumes. But I’m not specific about how much—I give a range. Being up front and unapologetic about charges doesn’t mean you have to divulge every single financial detail to parents. I’m not at all transparent about my personal finances, and I don’t share information about my studio’s profits and losses.

Courtesy of Royal Dance Works

There is a difference between studio revenues and your salary.

I needed to stop trying to prove parents wrong when they accused me of being wealthy. They seemed to think that their tuition was paying for my car, and it bothered me that they didn’t get the difference between my studio’s revenues and my salary. But instead of waving my W-2 in their faces to let them know I’m not ripping them off, I’ve totally changed my philosophy. I now give myself permission to try to make as much as my studio parents think I do. You need to communicate the idea that you are successful, and then you gain the confidence. I drive a Lexus and I’m proud of it. My clients wouldn’t trust that I was good enough at this job if all I could afford to drive was a jalopy.

The right price lets you deliver quality.

Setting prices at the right level is essential if you want to build a sustainable business. Set them too low, and you won’t be able to grow and offer new opportunities to your dancers or attract the best teachers. To decide on my prices, I first researched the going rates of other studios in the area. I positioned my tuition rates on the more expensive side, to reflect that my studio has top-notch teachers. Studio fathers, especially, tend to think that owning a dance studio is a hobby, but I think the fathers at my studio really respect what I do.

Courtesy of Royal Dance Works

The Bottom Line

Only a couple of my students will go on to be professional dancers. Yet what they learn at my studio will help them be successful in whatever they choose to do: commitment, dedication and discipline, plus the ability to learn quickly, get along with all kinds of kids and listen to authority. It’s especially gratifying when students tell me they want to grow up and be a successful business owner just like me.

Last updated October 1, 2019