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10 Small Business Lessons from Entrepreneur Polly Schill

As a small business working with small businesses, we love to learn from our clients and apply what we learn from them to our business. We also work hard to understand how to serve them better. When we heard that Polly Schill, a Mavidea client and owner of The Next Step Dance Studio, had tripled her business in just three years, we had to find out how she did it.

Read our full Polly Schill interview write-up here

10 business lessons from Polly Schill

We talked with Polly and came away even more impressed with her than her tremendous growth. Here are our top 10 takeaways from our conversation with Polly:

No. 1 - Develop Yourself

You are never done learning as an entrepreneur. “If I didn’t develop myself as a business owner, the business could go in the opposite direction than it is now, or at the very least plateau," says Polly. Keep learning as you grow your business.

No. 2 - Adapt with Information

Polly wasn't looking to buy a business; she wanted to start one. She had plans to open up her own dance merchandise retail store before talking to Next Step's Director Darcey. When she learned how difficult the market is for a dance retail store that isn't part of a studio, she changed her plans and bought Next Step.

When you get information that impacts your plans, be willing to change along with them. Shifting our plans as business owners can be difficult, but it's absolutely necessary for certain situations and can lead to new, profitable opportunities.

No. 3 - Find Your Employee's Gifts

Polly runs a successful dance studio, but don't ask her to teach hip hop or contemporary to her students. She gets the most out of her employees by using their gifts to make the biggest positive impact possible on the business. For example, if you have someone who doesn't want to or doesn't feel comfortable answering the phone at the front desk, get them out of there and find a place where they will feel comfortable and a position they will thrive in.

No. 4 - Your Website "Makes a Huge Difference"

Whether for the better or for the worse, your website will make a huge difference and have an impact on your customers. Polly says, "Even as a consumer, I'm attracted to local businesses that put more time and care into their website because it usually means they will also put time and care into their customers." By having a website that stands out among your competitors, you can instantly position your business ahead of theirs when trying to reach potential customers online.

No. 5 - Clarify Your Goals & Vision For the Business

Polly told us that as a business owner, you have to "know how you will grow your business today. You can’t just want it to grow; it needs to be intentional." Polly sets metrics she wants the business to reach (retention rate, number of students, etc.) and then plans how Next Step will accomplish each. This is all part of her overall goals and vision for the business.

No. 6 - Find Market Gaps

When Polly learned about the local dance studio market, she noticed a trend. Every studio seemed to specialize in a specific type of dance, whether that was ballet, cheer, or ballroom dance. However, no studio had a wide offering that incorporated the majority of types of dance and a large variety of classes. Next Step teaches tots, youth, teen and adult classes, and even offers event-specific classes like when a couple is getting ready for their wedding, or when a bride wants to choreograph her dance with her father.

The 150 classes held each week is a lot to manage, but Polly has been able to surround herself with talent to manage and grow the business, even while catering to a large group of students.

No. 7 - Capture Leads

The previous version of The Next Step Dance Studio website provided every piece of information someone interested in a dance class could want, but it didn't capture leads. "Without being able to capture these leads (get their email address and/or phone number to contact them), we were losing out on opportunities and not giving customers the best possible experience. They were often leaving the site with unanswered questions because they were overwhelmed with all of the information. Being able to reach out and offer help gave us the opportunity to answer those questions and convert many leads into happy customers," says Polly.

Without obstructing a visitor's experience on your website, find ways to provide them help and value while collecting information that will allow you to have a conversation with them. If you don't know who is visiting your website and what they're looking for, you're missing out on potential sales.

No. 8 - Find Support

Polly says that at the beginning, she was flying by the seat of her pants all by herself, and it was a lonely experience. She learned about studio owner groups, and now participates regularly in two (one focused on the mission/vision side of studios and the other on growing the business using technology). Polly says to "find peers who aren't your direct competitors, share with them, and learn from them."

No. 9 - Drop the Bottom 10%

As hard as we all try, it's not possible to please everyone. To make sure she could properly care for the majority of her customers, she had to drop the bottom 10% of her customers when taking over the business. "This was very hard for me because I wanted to please everyone, but that's not possible, and by trying it was taking away from the experience of other customers." This also applies to classes that aren’t doing well and employees who are failing to meet basic requirements.

It may feel counterintuitive to your business’s growth to turn away customers, but in order to best serve the majority of your customers, you may have to let a few go.

No. 10 - Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

Few things are as important to Polly's marketing efforts than following up with potential leads and current customers as soon as possible. She makes personal phone calls and in-person visits instead of relying solely on emails and texts. "They need to see you and hear you. Not everything comes across how you would like it to when using email, and there's no replacement for being able to talk to someone face-to-face." This is an important reminder that for some types of communications with clients, having a phone conversation or a face-to-face meeting is the right thing to do, even if that means investing a bit more time in the relationship.

Thanks again to Polly Schill for sharing with us. To learn more about her business, visit TheNextStepDS.net. To find out about their competitive team, follow @studio4_nsds on Instagram.

To learn how Mavidea can help your small business grow, contact us to get started.