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Dance Marketing 101: How to keep fans & customers happy

Dance Marketing Customer Satisfaction Overview

It is easier to sell to returning customers than to new ones. Someone who already took one of your classes, visited a show or bought one of your DVDs is much more likely to come back to you again. Given that your work did not suck, of course. But as we know it doesn’t, we can consider the statement above true unconditionally.

There are a few key things that you should have in mind to keep your business relationships healthy. These also make it easy for everyone to promote you by simply recommending you to others. Most of the points below are considered to be common sense for everyone who “made it in the dance industry.” but there are also instances where people sweat it and justify it with “we are hip hop”.

Being hip hop can never be a justification for not having your shit together.

everyone who knows how to run a dance business
  1. Deliver quality. You don’t have to be the best in what you do, but you have to deliver well. Every time. Not delivering once, will lead to not getting the job again. Also, the scene is small, and promoters talk. A bad reputation spreads like a virus.
  2. Handle the paperwork. Writing proposals and invoices are not optional. You will not be paid before you provide an invoice. Everything else is not serious business. The data that has to be on an invoice differs a little bit from country to country. I recommend that you talk to an accountant or consultant at least once to make sure you cover everything you need. I will provide an example for correct invoicing in Austria in an upcoming post.
  3. Contracts! These are not as essential as invoicing as a lot of business can be done by handshake if you know your partners. Sometimes you will have to make a contract though. Don’t be afraid of it, read it all, ask if you don’t understand the meaning of certain paragraphs. It’s not rocket science. If you need to, consult a lawyer, but that is not needed most of the time.
  4. Communicate clearly. Let people know what you need to deliver and what they get. Don’t be vague.
  5. Online Presence. Make it easy for people to find you and share info about you online. Be present on the Social Media platform that is big inside your scene and have your own website (sometimes a crew website is enough, but I recommend you get your own). The own website is so important as it is your digital property. If a Social Media platform decides to shut down for whatever reason, everything you have there is gone. That will not happen with your website. Besides that, it radiates professionalism when you can point people to your website instead of Facebook or Instagram.
  6. Be on time. Don’t be late when being on-site and don’t be late with sending invoices (or making payments when you are on the other end of the transaction). If you are late, your behaviour suggests that you don’t take the job (and therefore your customers) seriously.
  7. Have your CV and references ready (and up to date), alongside with action photos and portraits. When someone wants to hand your file to another interested guy, it should not take you days to collect everything.
  8. Be easy-going and easy to handle. This and the point about communicating clearly. Of course, you need to talk about problems if there are any. But do it tastefully and never be an asshole. Nobody wants to work with assholes.

These eight pieces of advice will help you to keep existing customers happy and make it easier to book additional jobs. All of them apply to new customers as well, of course.

I wanted to cover these first as I think, it is crucial to prioritise existing relationships, before trying to reach more people. Recruiting more fans or customers is a waste of time (and money) if you can not keep them. At least it is a very inefficient use of your time and a source of an unhealthy hustle. We don’t want to be busy acquiring one-time customers. We want to build a tribe of fans & customers who comes back to on every occasion us because they know what we got and they love it.

I made a distinction between fan and customer above. That is not necessary, but for me, it makes a difference in how I approach people. A fan is someone who adores my work (as an artist or teacher). A customer is someone who buys my time and skills for a specific job. The fan will consume stuff that I create because I decide to create it. The customer wants me to create something for him and has his own agenda besides liking my work.

What to put into your street dance curriculum?

Overview about the content of a street dance class

Today’s post will be more of a list than a real article. I will cover everything that I think one should teach in a regular dance class. So this is your “how to structure your dance lessons”, but it could also serve as “how to structure your own practise” (when you remove the theory stuff of course). If you missed last week’s “How to be a good dance teacher“, go and check it out now.

Without further ado, this is what I think you should teach in regular classes (this means in a recurring setup, not a one-time workshop):

  • The history and cultural context of the dance style.
    • Where and when did it come from?
    • Who are the guys that made it happen?
      You want your students to take classes from these guys when they have the chance to do so.
    • Where there specific circumstances that sparked the birth of the scene and the style?
    • Point your students to the documentaries about your style if there are any.
  • The moves, aka the vocabulary of the dance.
    • The techniques themselves.
    • The origin of the steps.
    • Drills.
    • How to create your own drills.
    • Methods on how to work with these moves and create variations.
  • The groove(s). I love to call it the grammar of the style but I know that some people disagree.
  • The basics of music and counting.
  • The connection of the dance to the music.
  • The concepts and ideas behind freestyling.
  • You should also teach your choreographies as people should learn to pick up choreography.
  • How social dance works.
    This helps to understand where our styles come from.
  • How cyphers work and cypher etiquette.
  • How battles work, tactics and battle etiquette.
  • Preparing the body.
    More important for breaking than other styles, but definitely recommended for all the styles.
    • Strength exercises.
    • Stamina training.
    • Balance.
    • Coordination.
    • Stretching.

Do you cover everything in your classes? If not, can you expand your curriculum to cover everything?

Did I miss anything? Let me know.

How to Start Your Freestyle with Micro-Structures

A sketch of a dancer with marked timings on specific body-parts

Out of the many possibilities to start a freestyle, I find “micro-structuring” to be one of the easiest and at the same time most versatile. The concept is straightforward and similar to last week’s “Structure through Timing and Topics“. Here is “how to freestyle with micro-structures”.

You take a short timeframe (I recommend anything between one and four bars) and define where you put your focus on any given time. If you are new to the idea of structuring your dance in general or have a hard time counting music, go with one bar for a start.

Now define your focus for every time within that bar. For example: on the 1 and 2 of the bar you do a step, and on 3 and 4, you work with an isolation movement. That only means you make moves that are based on steps for two counts and then isolation-based moves for another two counts. After a bar (or the duration you chose) you repeat the idea.

Your structure can be as easy the example above or more complicated: You could also choose a chest pop that starts a travelling movement on the 1. Glides with rotations that carry you through 2 and 3 and finish with a hard stop on the snare drum on 4. Now you accent only the head on the “and” before you come around to the chest-hit on 1.

Again, your structure can be as straightforward or as sophisticated as you wish. For beginners, I recommend making the differences between the elements very clear. Like, Steps on one part, hand styles on the next, then isolations and so on. If you are more advanced, you can do more stuff at the same time and shift only the emphasis from one element to the other. You could keep doing steps all the time and add isolations for the first half of the bar and switch to counter-movement in the second half.

Go crazy with your ideas but don’t fall into the trap to make your structure too specific, so that it becomes choreography.

Marketing for Dancers – an Introduction

Illustration of how marketing is split up

When you want to kickstart your dance career or any endeavour in the dance industry, you will need some marketing. Marketing is a term that is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. I love the simple definition from Seth Godin’s blog:

If you need to persuade someone to take action, you’re doing marketing.

Seth Godin

It means whenever we try to make people take our classes, watch our work or click one of our links; we are marketing. Easy as that. In our daily dance business work, marketing is the equivalent of customer service and customer acquisition. But we hate to call it like that.

You can split it into brand marketing and direct marketing.

Brand Marketing is the way that big brands used back in the days when all the hype and the best options you had were tv ads, billboards and ads in magazines. The concept is to expose as many people to your brand message and establish an image in their minds. When you remember who is behind the slogans “connecting people” or “just do it”, you saw brand marketing at its finest in action. For some applications, brand marketing is still the way to go. For entrepreneurs like freelance dancers, it is not. The goal is brand marketing is to reach as many people as possible. As many as possible means high investment in either cash or time. We don’t have the time, and we don’t want to spend our money on people that will not support.

Direct Marketing is an approach where you try to expose only the right people to your message and ignore everyone else. Another difference to brand marketing is that you want people to do some specific, like book a class. It’s not about your image, but your offer. We are not aiming for maximum reach, but for a good percentage between people reached to people who finally accept our offer.

Some of you may already see that I talk about how we can measure our marketing success in the last sentences of the paragraphs above. We will not dive deeper into this today, but for sure later down the road – first, some more general things about marketing.

When you talk about your work to make people come and watch or participate, that is marketing. When you do it without the intention to market, it is as well.

When you post on social media, that is marketing. When other people talk about your work or post on social media, that is marketing as well. And it is free and reaches people that you won’t reach on your own.

1.000 True Fans

The best marketing you can get is still fans talking about your work. They will praise what you do and recommend you to others. They work as your free army of marketers without you getting involved. Kevin Kelly published the idea of 1.000 True Fans in 2008. It has since then become one of the most used approaches to creating a sustainable income for artists.

The basic idea behind the 1.000 True Fans is that you don’t need to become a star with millions of followers to make a decent living. What you need are 1.000 True Fans (in other places they are called Superfans) that are into your work that they will practically consume everything you release. I am not talking about Followers or Likes. True Fans would travel 300 miles to see the new piece you created. They would join a class or workshop you give. They would also buy a DVD or pay to download a movie. They would attend the events you create, and they would purchase merchandise if you had it. They also would support crowdfunding campaigns of yours because they want to see what you make of it.

Just to support the idea with numbers: when you manage to sell 50 bucks of work to 1.000 people you made 50.000. Remove half to be safe on taxes, and you still have 25.000. Most people can make a living from that, as it is over 2k per month after tax.

So the point of our marketing is to find 1.000 people who love what we do. Those 1.000 will become your stable source of income and act as recruiters for new True Fans as well as regular customers who only consume some of your work.

How will we approach to find our True Fans?
By engaging in work that is meaningful to us and sharing it with the world. Do you remember Your Bigger Picture? Your True Fans share your vision, that is why you need to know it. If you keep working on projects that play into that vision, they will follow. And they will tell others about it.

How to find those guys?

These are the marketing tools that we can utilise, but they are only the transport vehicle of our message.

  • Direct Contact. It’s still #1 to find and create True Fans. People who see your work live and enjoy it are likely to check out what you do next.
  • Social Media is the #2 way of connecting at the moment of this writing, but not as good for bonding with your True Fans as the next.
  • #3 Your Website and Email list are often neglected since the rise of social media. The advantage of them is that they are your property. When any given social media platforms change their algorithm of presenting your content, you can not do anything about it. If they shut-down, all your contacts are gone. That is not likely to happen soon, but you never know. Social Media is also an open experience; anyone can join. For bonding purposes, it is far more effective to create an intimate and exclusive atmosphere.

Far behind those 3 are other methods like print ads, media coverage, tv shows, guerilla (or ninja) marketing ideas and everything else. There are applications where these OTHER methods can help and give your reputation a push, but they are situational. We will deal with all of the above topics in detail.

Crafting your message

No matter what vehicle we choose to transport our message, its content is what matters most. It is our promise what people can expect from us. If we can deliver on this promise, again and again, our circle will grow and eventually we will hit a thousand.

Go back to your bigger picture and think about which kind of people would share your vision. Don’t think about it as a mass of people, think about it as your one perfect fan. If you can see clearly how she ticks, what she wants from life and what she wants from you, you will know what you have to deliver.

What do you want them to do?

The second part is to find out what you want them to do, if they share your vision. In short, you want them to be part of your journey by consuming your offers. You already know what you offer from Your Dance Business Set-Up. If you missed this one, go back and read it now.

How to be a good dance teacher – an overview

An illustration of the topic

Starting now, we will take a closer look at our primary work fields of dance. I begin with teaching as it is one that applies to most of us, and I consider it to be the most reliable one.

A good teacher should bring the following:

The Curriculum

Your curriculum is the content of your classes. You decide what to teach and in which order. A lot of people copy the curriculum of their teachers without changing or questioning it. That is a bad practice. Your teacher, most likely, has another pool of knowledge and experiences as you have. Creating your curriculum and writing it down makes you think about how you want to approach teaching others. It streamlines the whole process and helps you to refine it. Having your curriculum in writing also helps you to keep track of what you did and what you will do, you can use it to promote your classes or hand it out to the students as a reminder.

For example, when teaching breaking, I do not show the six-step in the first lesson. Some of my colleagues think this is a sacrilege, as the step is considered the base of footwork. I agree that it is a crucial step, but I believe that someone who has never moved on the floor before, is not ready to do this in a way that makes sense immediately. So I teach them basic positioning on the floor, the Russian, CCs, Scrambles and Back-Shuffles before moving on to the six-step. These more manageable steps help the people to develop a feeling for floorwork and approach the six-step differently as when I would jump directly into it.

You don’t have to take this idea into your curriculum. But as I have my thoughts behind doing so, you will have your intentions why you would do things a certain way. Let these thoughts influence how you teach.

Don’t limit your curriculum to moves. Add space for explaining music, history, concepts and everything else you consider valuable when approaching dance. Show the ways dance is done – in cyphers, battles or on stage with fixed choreography. Give them the whole package.

But on the other hand: Be real! Don’t put stuff in your curriculum that you don’t understand. If your students ask for it, be honest about it and give them what you know, but point out that it’s wise to ask someone else as well for the topic.

The Toolbox

I stole the idea of the toolbox from Steven King. He writes about it in the book “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”. Your toolbox is your set of methods that you can use to teach what you know. The important word is “can”. You don’t have to use all the tools all the time, but you want to have them with you when you need them.

A plumber might only need one tool when coming to a clients house to fix an issue. But he does not know which device he will need. So he brings all his tools and chooses on-site.

It’s the same with teaching. On the top of your toolbox you have “show and tell”. It means you show what you want the students to learn and explain. It’s your everyday tool. If the students get what you want, you don’t need anything else. Job done. But otherwise, you will reach back into your toolbox and use some progressions to get the harder moves by learning prerequisites first and then drill them to make the guys fluent. You might throw in some practise games, include peer learning – where the students teach and correct each other – or call and response exercises. I will present all the tools that I know over time. For now, I want you to think about what methods you know and add them to your curriculum, so you don’t forget them. There might be some gems that you rarely use.

Understanding the Needs of your Students

Talking to and understanding your students is not directly teaching, but it is crucial to understand who they are and what they need. I recommend you dedicate a few minutes at the beginning of each class to talking and listening. Ask how they have been, how practice went and from time to time if there are particular topics they want to explore. When you ask how training went, you also imply that they work on the stuff outside. When some of them do, it should motivate others to do so as well.

Don’t make this all about small talk. Ask and listen to understand, not with the intention to reply. Use what you learn to improve your teaching.

On the other side: if you understand what the students need, but they don’t – tell them. It is your job to make them dance and grow. When they ask for things they don’t need, bring them back on track. Otherwise, you are in danger to become a dancing animator or a best-friend replacement. Ignore this piece of advice if that is your niche – it’s a viable one if you want to fill that role.

Structure your Freestyle with timings and topics

16 bars structured in 4 x 4 bars with topics attached

Creating a structure for your freestyle before starting takes a lot of pressure away in the actual thinking process during the dance. Some people will argue that it is not freestyle anymore when you structure it beforehand. We choose to ignore these naysayers for today as we still don’t choreograph the round ahead of time.

What we do is we decide ahead of time for how long we will dance. Then we split the time into parts of the same length and give every piece a simple topic.

For example, we dance for 16 bars (meaning 8 8-counts) and keep every topic for 4 bars (2 8-counts). Now we choose the topics “work with isolations”, “travel through the whole space”, “use some floor work” and “incorporate some pops for accents”.

Choose the lengths of the whole freestyle and the time of your parts as you wish. Make the topics as easy or complex as you want. If you want to, you can only create a series of topics and change when you feel like changing. It is your dance, and the concept should help you create it.

If this comes easy for you, I recommend you choose the length of your themes considering the song structure of the music you work with. So your changes are aligned with the changes in the music.

Artisan or Originator? Supporter or Maker?

Two scales with artisan-originator and maker-supporter label

Today we will answer two more questions before we move into the nitty-gritty and details of our dance business.
Question #1 is: “Are you an artisan or an originator”?
Question #2 is: “Are you a maker or a supporter”?
Most people tend to answer these questions with Originator and Maker. That is what we want to be, and that is fine. But for most of us, it is also dishonest with ourselves and therefore unfair to ourselves.

To be sure, we are talking about the same things; I will briefly explain what I mean when I use the four terms.

An originator is someone who paves the way for something new. He is the pioneer — someone who either creates a new game or changes the rules in an existing one. In our scene, an originator would be, i.e. someone who created a dance style or at least a proper amount of new moves. Maybe it is a choreographer who developed a new way to create pieces or a coach who has a revolutionary method to train and motivate his students. It’s also the dancer who we can’t classify into a specific style because he does not stick to the rules of someone else.

An artisan is someone who learns as much as possible about his craft. She can also create new things from there, but the impact is not as significant as from an originator. Often the artisan has a broader knowledge than the originator, but it does not reach as deep. In our scene, this would be everyone who learns the roots of a style and how it works. We can classify their dance as a specific style that someone else created.

The supporter is someone who helps other people to reach their goals and rock their projects. In our scene, these would be all the guys who help to organise events, dance in the pieces that others produce and try to be helpful wherever they can.

Makers act on themselves and usually, they rely on supporters to help them. Makers are the ones who start projects when they think something is missing or needs to be changed. They are the motors that keep the scene alive.

Of course, the reality is not black and white, and one can be a little bit of both in both cases. Once again being honest with yourself is the key. If you never started nor finished a project because you thought it needs to be done, you are probably not a maker. When you learn all the details of a given dance style and insist that it has to look a certain way, you are an artisan – no question.

It is imperative to understand that these terms are not judging about the value of someone. Originators and Artisans, Makers or Supporters. There is no one better than the other.

The reason why we ask the question of what we are is that it helps us to understand and create our business. As mentioned in Your Bigger Picture, we use the insights from those questions to be authentic and consistent.

If we are an artisan, we want our message to be about honing our craft and taking it to the next level. As an originator we don’t want to talk about playing by the rules because we don’t – we make them.
The maker’s promise is about making things happen (that’s why we call them maker) and the supporter helps the makers succeed. There is a place and a need for every role.

The thing you want to avoid is to build your promise or your message in the wrong way. Don’t pretend you are someone you are not, because people sense and avoid fake people. Believe that you are needed the way you are.

Answer those two questions! We will create our business and marketing strategies on the answers.

Your Bigger Picture

A character talking about the Bigger Picture

This week we will look into two important questions that help us to make our dance business a thriving one, instead of an exhausting but unsatisfying hustle.

Today it is about “The Bigger Picture”. Usually, the bigger picture comes up when somebody tells us to think again, think about the future or don’t think so egocentric. The Bigger Picture focusses on a greater good. And exactly there is the issue with The Bigger Picture.

The Bigger Picture is a subjective vision of how the world (or anything if we talk about a specific topic) should be. So everybody has a different bigger picture. Knowing your better vision of a future is essential, and it is a shame why so many people don’t even think about it. So take a moment to go deep inside yourself an think about how you would design a better future for everyone.

In my Bigger Picture, people would spend their lives doing work they loved, expressing themselves honestly and appreciate time over money. That is oversimplified, but it covers the key points.

So why do we need to know that? How does it help our business? FraGue, stop preaching, start talking business.

When you understand how your own bigger picture looks like, you can use it to kickstart everything you do. The reason is that your subconsciousness knows your bigger picture very well. It knows what you wish and hope. And it is honest and direct. It will cheer for you and help you work when you move towards your bigger picture. But if you don’t, that bitch will sabotage you at every step along the road. It will do so by presenting a million possibilities to do something else, to procrastinate and it will pull you down into a swamp of distraction or unhappiness. You don’t want to mess with your subconsciousness. It runs the show a lot more than we are willing to see.

And to finally get to the points:
1) Choosing your business components: Your work will prosper more when you have your subconsciousness cheering. So don’t take jobs that influence the world in the other direction or compose your portfolio from activities you despise.
2) Promotion & Marketing: When you start to promote your work, you want to reach the right people. You don’t want to reach everyone. Because not everyone is interested in what you do. Reread the last two lines. The good thing about this is that you can focus on talking to the right people. The ones that want what you can offer. When you start to promote your work, you make a deal with people. You make an offer of what they can expect when they follow your work. People might join you or not. Those who do, follow you because they liked the original offer. If you change your offer, they might go somewhere else. So you should not change your offer without a good reason. The best way to stay consistent with what you do is to work on a future you believe in. Work on making your bigger picture a reality.

Creation & Assessement

The two halves of the brain discuss

Why do many people get stuck when they try to create new moves or routines? The answer is simple, but its impact is often underestimated, and therefore, people tend to ignore it.

Creation and analysis/assessment are very different processes:

In creation mode, you want the ideas to flow freely.
Creativity is what you need.

In assessment mode, you need to analyse your results from creation.
Logic is taking the lead here.

A popular scientific theory says that different sides of your brain are responsible for these two different tasks. And they don’t work well together. So if you try to do both at the same time, you are doing both inefficiently.

I can not comment if this theory is right or not, because I lack the scientific understanding. But I know that I work better when I only create at one time and judge later.

When you get stuck in your creation process, try to get rid of the voice in your head that wants to judge immediately. Film yourself and do that later. You will see the differences.

Planning Your Dance Business – The Satisfaction Side

FraGue stating that it works but he hates it

In the last weeks, we took an in-depth look at our own skillset and calculated the numbers that we need to survive while following our passion, either as a full-time job or side-hustle. Side-hustle makes the whole thing sound more doable, which is great, but it will still be a major hustle.

To set us up for success in this endurance game, we will also take our emotional state into consideration. If there are multiple options on the table on how we can compose our own dance menu, then we should also include the following questions into the decision-making process.

  1. Do I enjoy the work I will be doing?
  2. Can or will I be proud of the work?
  3. How much of it can I actually handle?

These three questions and the money questions from the last week will help us identify what composition is most likely to work for us in the long run.

When you followed the last weeks, you already know that I consider teaching as the most stable form of income. Once in my dance career, it was in the years from 2012 to 2014, I taught 10 classes a week – a total of 12,5 hours of teaching plus 6 hours of way, as not all studios were in my town. For some months this was fine, but I tired fast, and soon I was not happy anymore with the amount of giving classes. I was and am still proud of teaching as I can give back to the culture that is with me for almost twenty years now and seeing my own students progress is simply amazing. But I had to reduce the number of courses as otherwise, I would have burnt-out. I reduced to only 3 classes a week and was able to keep going.

When the questions above don’t raise any concerns about your plan: perfect, stop thinking, start doing. But if they do, consider taking the work field only as a small part overall and not as your primary source of income.
If this is the case with more or all of the work fields in your set-up, it might be wise to ease into it slowly and increase the amount of time spent. Keeping your day job while testing out the waters might seem unambitious to some hot shots, but for most of us, it is a smart thing to do.

Here is to work we can be proud of, that keeps us sane and well-fed.

via GIPHY