Everyone’s Succession Plan Looks Different

In March of 2022 I wanted out. Burnout was very real after two years of shutdowns, our business hanging in limbo and the sense that our hands were not steering our ship. It is probably worth mentioning that we are in Ontario, Canada.  The province that had the longest shutdowns anywhere … in the world! We bought our studio from our dance teacher in 1992.  30 years is a long time in any profession.  I am so fortunate to have two amazing business partners and lifelong friends that share the studio workload, but, like many of you I still felt overwhelmed, exhausted and burned out finishing our 21/22 season.  I equate the feeling to being in a hamster wheel and never getting off.  Just keep spinning, just keep spinning. For two years!  I had no idea what being “out” looked like or what it would take to get there but I knew big changes had to be made.  I talked to many studio owners who were going through a transition of retiring, selling or gifting their studios.  I wanted to find a one size fits all

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solution.  What I discovered is that absolutely all of them were doing things differently from each other.  There was no diagram or template to follow.  I had to forge my own path of what succession will look like for me.  I suppose I was naive in thinking that after I gathered the courage to admit to myself, my family, my business partners and our staff that I wanted “out”, a plan would magically fall into place.  Very far from it.  I actually created more work for myself … for a while.  I started thinking from big picture to small picture.  What does 10 years look like from now?  What does 5 years look like from now?  What does 2 years look like from now?  Good questions!  It took some soul searching and being honest with myself to find some answers.  I am still finding questions and solutions.

Here is what my journey looks like and it is still evolving and changing.

For 30 days I kept a yellow lined pad of paper beside me on my desk in my home office.  From the end of September to the end of October I was vigilant about writing down everything I did.  Everything.  I also logged the time it took me to do different tasks. When I went to the gym, when I shut down to make dinner and put my feet up before going to teach for the night, errands, house work and of course studio work.  Keeping track of time is huge.  More on that later.  

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Next I started grouping all the studio work for which I was responsible.  Programming, marketing, social media, music program, music staff, part time comp team, summer camps, mini camps, special events.  You get the picture.  For those of you that do the marketing and social media aspect of your studio it has become a job all on its own.  Gone are the days of mail out flyers and postcards, bus shelters and benches.  It is a never ending, always changing medium. I could not keep up and always felt like I was doing a bad job or at the very least half of what needed to be done.

With the guidance of Peter Mohr and mentorship of Stacey Morgan and Teri Mangiaratti, I took a hard look at what I am good at in the business, what I enjoy doing, what I am not good at and what I absolutely hate doing and started creating positions to delegate work!  This is where keeping track of the time it took me to complete tasks was important.  I hada  more accurate perspective when I started creating Director Positions and delegating work.  

First up … the stuff anyone can do.  

There was a lot on this list and most of it falls under the “I hate doing” category.

15 years ago forwarding the phones to my cell was life changing.  I was answering calls all the time, providing great customer service and taking registrations in the middle of grocery shopping.  So many times people would say “wow you are the only dance studio that answered”.   Fast forward 15 years and I was no longer the person who should be at the other end of the phone and I knew it.  As a business owner I would have fired me.  My patience had reached its limit.  In May of 2022 I handed the phones off.  I had a spare cell phone that we added to our phone plan for $40 a month and in one of the busiest times of the season I was no longer answering the calls.  It took some time for the transition to smooth itself out and I still get the odd text or call to clarify something but those are few and far between.  The summer of 2022 my phone was so quiet.  It was awesome.  Yes we pay our staff member who answers the phone but it is a worthwhile business expense.  My responsibility now is to make sure she has all the up to date current information to be able to do her job well.  

December 1, 2022 I delegated my butt off.  We have two front desk administrative staff members.  I added some work to fill out their desk hours and one of them was able to take on 10 hours of work during the week from home.  Now we pay me less admin per week but I also do less admin work now.  Here is what delegated work looks like.

  • All the emails are responded to with the exception of emails directed to one of the owners.  95% of emails do not need an owner to respond.  
  • Newsletters are done in rough draft with final touches done by me
  • Staff comp ticket orders
  • Responding to all social media messages
  • Organizing the Christmas Market
  • Gathering vendors and vendor payments for market
  • Student retention tracking
  • Setting up Studio Director for all programs I was in charge of
  • Seasonal colouring pages printed
  • Create email drip campaigns
  • Follow up student waiver & policies forms
  • Show programs
  • Music lesson make up lesson schedule
  • Setting up QR codes
  • Follow up dropped registrations
  • Year-end certificates

January 1, 2023 social media was next to go.  I met with one of our staff who also happens to do marketing as her full time job.  We decided on 5 hours a week for the year and reevaluated as the year progresses.  The best part is that she is so much faster and better at this job than I ever would be.  We have received many positive comments on our social media profile lately that I know this was a great decision.  I make sure she has all the information she needs to do her job. 

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Sometimes she reaches out to me to fine tune the details.  We have a google calendar dedicated to studio events and marketing for the entire year.  We both access it and update it and we both receive notifications when changes and additions are made.  It is a great system that is working.  To be honest, social media is merged into marketing too as most of the graphics and posts are used for ads that I run.  Maybe you have a parent working in the field or a senior student looking to pursue marketing.  How cool to add to a resume that they were the Marketing Director for the ABC School of Dance.  You never know until you ask.

Director Positions in place now:

  • Camp Director - Stipend
  • Summer Class Director - Stipend
  • Social Media Director - Weekly salary based on 5 hours per week
  • Part Time Competitive Director - Stipend

Getting all these items off my list and out of my head has made a big impact on my mental health and my ability to see the big picture of the business. This was a case of getting out of my own way.  Delegating allowed me clarity. Now it feels like there is space in my brain and a lightness in my spirit.  Before delegating, the wheels were constantly spinning and creating so much noise there was no room for anything else. Sound familiar?  There was certainly no room for vision and creativity.  Essential elements to move forward in life and business.   I also created a weekly Operations Meeting.   Everyone that deals with the running of the business and customer service was kept up to date the entire year. I highly suggest this so you are not the only one that knows what is going on.  It also means that once a week you may feel bombarded with questions but that is better than every day.  Gathering your essential staff in one place every week allows for conversation, ideas and solutions from smart people you have on your team.  Give them the opportunity to shine.  If you do not have a “team”, start thinking now.  There are creative ways to “pay” for services if finances are tight.  

Six months have passed since I started the “Succession Plan”.  Now I am not so sure full retirement is the plan any more … or maybe it is.  I do know that now I enjoy working ON the business.  That is where I feel I am at my best for me and for the business.

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What is considered to be a “late bloomer”,  Ann did not start her dancing career until she was 10 years old. The passion for dance was instant and soon what was a once a week jazz class quickly became ballet, jazz, tap, acro and pointe.  Now Ann is co-director of The Studio School of Dance & Music; Brampton, ON. She is also a member of I.D.E.A. International, Dance Safe Ontario, Canadian Dance Standards and The Gold Alliance.  Every class Ann instructs is always filled with challenge, fun and lots of laughter!  Ann never stops learning as a dancer and a teacher by attending various conferences and workshops and loves passing on that knowledge to her students.

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