Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Students who come to Kaleidoscope Art Studio in Mississauga get a lot more than lessons in applying oil paint to canvas or making a batik print.
Jennifer Morley, who started Kaleidoscope five years ago in the dining room of her previous home, says her studio – an Edwardian home overlooking a river – also serves as a sanctuary for many of her students.
“When they come here it’s a safe and social environment,” she says. “Some of our students are seniors who live alone and I may be the first person they’ve talked to that day.”
During its early years, Kaleidoscope catered solely to children and teens and Ms. Morley was the only teacher. Today, the studio attracts a primarily adult crowd and Ms. Morley has formed partnerships with three professional artists who come in regularly to teach their craft.
Kaleidscope’s revenue has doubled since it moved to its new home two years ago, Ms. Morley says. She attributes much of this growth to her constant networking efforts and to the bond she’s built with her students. “This business has been built a hundred per cent by me talking to people,” she says. “Outside of my website I’ve done no advertising, just one-on-one marketing.”
This personal approach does have a downside, however: It’s hard for Ms. Morley to take time off for professional development training or to spend leisure time with her daughters.
“What happens is when I come back and call people about upcoming art classes, they’ll often tell me that they’re going to take this month off and come back next month,” Ms. Morley says. “The last time I went away it took me a month to get classes full again.”
Ms. Morley says her business insurance requires her to be onsite during classes. But even if she gets this policy stipulation taken out – a move that would increase her premiums – it would still be hard to take time off for professional development and vacations.
“For some people it almost seems like broken trust when I go away,” she says.
The Challenge: How can Ms. Morley step away from her business without losing the momentum she’s worked so hard to build?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Tim Rudkins, consultant, Rudkins Small Business Solutions, Toronto
One of the hardest stages for most solo-preneurs or small business owners is to take the step from “being the business” to actually “building the business.” Also, it is difficult to admit that the business could run without their personal involvement all the time. In Ms. Morley’s case, the decision is simple: Does she want to build a business or does she prefer having a “sanctuary” for people? If she wants to build a business, then she has to start making hard business decisions.
She needs to be clear about how much the insurance would change and understand that this is the cost of doing and building a business. At the same time, she needs to continue to bring in other artists and build the brand of her business around these artists and the training that people receive at the studio. It’s important to build the brand of Kaleidoscope and lessen the brand of Ms. Morley.
She should also experiment and use other marketing approaches. Newsletters can be developed and sent from anywhere around the world. So can e-mail marketing. Ms. Morley should start blogging and linking these blogs to the artists who work at the studio.
She should also find some channel partners – such as art shops and schools – that will sell for her. Use the various artists as well and pay them based on training but also a percentage of the revenue they bring in. All of these approaches can be done from flexible locations and times, which will allow for more travel and professional development.
Karen Wright, executive coach, Toronto
Without knowing the details of her insurance policy, I have to believe that there is a way around that stipulation, such as perhaps designating another responsible staff member in her absence. She may be facing a slight increase in premiums, but she needs to be clear on what her options are to give her more flexibility.
I know that she really believes all the marketing happens when she’s in conversation with students and potential students, but keep in mind that the other teachers are in conversation with students, too. Could she create some sort of incentive bonus for teachers who persuade students to sign up for additional classes? There are also other ways to build customer loyalty, such as encouraging students to bring a friend or offering bonuses for repeat business. For example, take 10 classes and get your 11th one free.
She needs to build a system that’s working even when she’s not. She needs to be able to go away and come back, and realize that the business is still going.
Irina Revo, owner and aesthetician, Lege Artis Skin Care Inc., Toronto
The question for Jennifer Morley is how to maintain client engagement during business breaks. We struggled with this question ourselves, and continue to do so. But when we hired our first employee, we realized that we really needed to normalize our lives and start taking vacations.
One idea for Kaleidoscope is to create structured programs with set goals and sell the whole program as a package rather than random sessions. Spell out the goals, set the criteria to measure progress and it will become easier for you to engage your clients or students to follow the schedule. The schedule itself can be set up in such a way as to allow for several breaks throughout the year.
During the breaks the students should be encouraged to use the acquired skills on their own. Give them some homework – either as individuals or in small groups – with review of this homework scheduled upon Ms. Morley’s return. For example, she might ask her students to do some sketches or paintings to reflect the theme of the studied material. These works can then be incorporated into a school exhibition, possibly online with public discussion and selection of the best work.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Revise its insurance policy
Ms. Morley needs a policy that allows her to take time away from her business and keep her studio running at the same time. Or she can add a designated person to her current policy.
Use other forms of marketing
Newsletters, e-mail marketing and social media are great ways to keep customers engaged and signed up during the times Ms. Morley is away. What else is great about these tools? They can be used from any location.
Create multisession programs
Instead of selling one class at a time, Ms. Morley could create programs that teach a specific technique or theme over several classes. She can assign homework during her time away from the business.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.Report Typo/Error
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