15 January, 2015

How to get students and keep them...

How to get them:

Facebook: Use it. I had the benefit of growing up in the town in which we started classes - I knew a lot of people. I added everyone on facebook who I had ever known in the area and then I posted a lot about my own journey with pole and occasionally shared information about my classes. Naturally some of the girls on my friends list were interested and came and took classes. Some stayed and some didn't and many brought along friends. I also liked all of the local businesses pages and posted information about my classes on their walls - I got a few students this way. I also always try and interact with these pages by commenting on or liking their posts in the hope that they might pass a few people my way. This is your no.1 tool. You can make ads, you can post videos that get shared around. Just try not to be annoying. The key is to be interesting and informative.

Local/Events: New students can't find you if they don't know you're there. Get your name out there! Either via facebook or the local community. Get some flyers printed and take them to local businesses. It is so easy to design flyers using canva.com and most printing websites, like vistaprint, aren't actually too expensive. Use local businesses and interact with the people there - they'll remember who you are and what you do. Get involved in local events (festivals, carnivals, arts weeks, fundraising events) - this can mean giving up some free time and it isn't always the most effective way to get new students but in the beginning it can at least give you a bit of visibility in your local area. 

Word of mouth: Do a good job. Get to know your students, all of the below points in the "keep" section will help you. They will then tell their friends how much they love it, how fun it is and how they should come and take a class. They'll also likely post their pictures and videos from class on facebook to all of their hundreds of friends. You never know who might see and decide to come along! I've found that when students "drag" a friend along to class it rarely works out - because it's their friends thing and it's not often for them. Don't be discouraged if two students start together and only one continues. It is normal.

How to keep them:

Be accessible: Now, you have to have some boundaries and limits in place with your students for a whole host of reasons but ensure that they always know how to get hold of you; either by facebook or by phone. Often students just need to know that you are there if they need questions answering and it can make them feel uncomfortable if they can't get a hold of you knowing you have their money. I can be bad at this as I get so many messages every single day that if I replied to them all straight away I would never stop. If you also struggle with this; set time apart during working hours specifically to deal with messages and inquiries. Let your students know this is the case.

Be a friend: Students don't just need an instructor. Many of my students have issues with confidence, body image and mental health and they don't just need someone to show them how to do things. They need someone to believe in them, encourage them and be there if they need to talk. I hope that all of my students know that they can come to me if they ever need me; at any time of any day. And it's no good pretending, your students aren't stupid - if you're not a people person then maybe this job isn't for you. 

Create community: I try and encourage group conversation and activities so students get to know each other, but I have noticed they're pretty good at introducing themselves to each other and making each other feel welcome without me having to do a thing. It makes me proud how welcoming my students are. I also created a secret fb group so that they can share their pictures and videos from class with each other away from prying eyes and chat to people from other classes. They're always supportive and like and comment on each other videos and pictures. A sense of community will keep students coming back. It's so important that everyone feels safe within class. Don't put up with drama, don't allow negative self talk and just simply try to keep things positive! Encourage them to take pictures and videos and tell them how great they're all doing - because they are and they deserve to know it. Not just once in a blue moon but as often as possible! Most importantly...when someone does something amazing, or something they've worked hard for, clap and cheer - your students will follow your lead and it makes everyone feel great!

Don't rush them: I see it all the time – studios that throw their students upside down as quickly as possible. There is NO reason to do this whatsoever, there are hundreds of spins, transitions and dance moves you can teach your students to safely and effectively build their strength up. You will never run out of things to teach if you plan your classes in this way. But also you will alienate a huge portion of your students if you do rush things through. We’ve all had students who are over-weight and have a serious lack of strength, who need to take things slowly, who may not be inverting for 6 months or more. They need your time and attention and they do not need to be rushed ahead. More often than not they get fed up and leave. Leaving whole studios filled with strong skinny former dancers. Great, if you have an abundance of those locally and can run your business on that, but the vast majority of my customer base are not those people.

I’ve also had those students who want to get upside down before they can do much else and you’re not helping them, or yourself, by letting them. I had a student who joined me for her Christmas break from University this year. Prior to her coming to class I asked her what she had been working on, so I could decide which group to put her in. She told me she had been working on crucifix and butterfly and so I put her in groups that were working on just inverting. Very very quickly it became apparent that she didn’t have a whole lot of upper body strength and my suspicions were proven when I watched her invert for the first time – throwing herself in to it. Now, I have to pick up the pieces and change my lesson plans to ensure she has things that are achievable for her to do. I have to strip things right back, because she had been taught to invert before she'd done some pretty basic spins and moves, she hadn't even climbed before. It’s not her fault, at all, and I am more than happy to accommodate her. MORE than happy. But if she had been taught things slowly and at the right pace to start with we could have avoided all of it. She’s doing great, she works hard, and I know she will be just fine but damn it does make me angry for her. Seriously, do yourselves and your students a favor - sit down and put together a nice, thorough and slow beginner syllabus that includes strength training (I did a post and a pole kisses email about strength training). Phew that was a long point, but an important one.

Be careful with your words: The Pole Dancing Bloggers have a bloghop right now where everyone writes on one topic. January's topic is this - "things not to say to beginners". The posts have been amazing to read. It brings up an important point about how we speak to our students. It's so easy to say something careless, that we don't even realise upsets or demotivates our students. Here are some examples from the bloghop:
Not all of those were spoken by instructors, some were by other students, so it's important to not only watch your own language (I have a really bad habit of saying "okay so just lift your right leg..." because it never is "just" for most students) but also that of your students. If a student says something is easy - correct them politely and say that the move is hard for many people. If a student says something nasty, that has never happened in my classes as far as I am aware, there are lots of ways to deal with it depending on your personality - ask them to leave, move them to a different class away from the student they were rude to, ask them not to use negative language in class. I have also heard of instances where students were told they are too big for the poles, or would never be able to do something. In my eyes a good instructor can teach anyone, as long as they are safe and are not causing huge problems. If you struggle to teach larger students maybe spend some time talking to instructors who have more experience and learn how you might be able to help them - rather than resorting to telling them they can't do it. 

It can be little tiny things like using the word "just" or it can be something huge but if you want to keep your students you have to be careful about how you talk to them.