Email. Love it or dread it… it gives you the ability to instantly communicate with your students, parents, and potential customers.
The trouble is that your email about classes, performances, and registration deadlines are just a few of the hundreds that your customers receive on a weekly basis. As valuable as email can be, if you are not careful it can also be a constant demand on your time and attention taking away from the most important tasks required in running a successful studio.
What can you do as a busy owner or teacher to do to master this communication tool so that the messages you send get read and you get back more time?
Here are some tips to help you become more effective and in-control of your email inbox.
#1. Guard your time: What’s urgent for one parent or student may not necessarily be urgent on your end.
While we often feel like we need to be accessible and available for our students and families during most waking hours of the day, I could literally sit at my computer and on my iPhone all day and field inbound requests.
Resist the temptation to play ping-pong with your inbox! Now is the time to establish some parameters around when you will respond to emails.
If you have staff working for you in your office it is also key to establish a general response time for emails, ideally in 24 hours or less, excluding weekends or holidays. If you can’t take the time for a thorough reply in that time frame, just let the person on the other end of your email know that you received their message and give them an idea of when they can expect either a phone call or an email reply. It closes the loop and prevents that ‘did they get my message’ uncertainty.
Useful Tip: There is a difference between checking in to know what is going on versus being in the mode of reacting and responding to every inbound request throughout the day. When you schedule time to reply, you’ll be much more effective when you do. You’ll find that this focused effort makes you much quicker at getting the important messages handled.
#2. Don’t reinvent the wheel: Use frequently asked questions and similar info web pages to reduce your email time.
Have you noticed that many parents just don’t read notices? I’m convinced that even if we stapled memos and announcements to the dance bags of some of our students that the parents would still call on the day of the recital wondering if they needed to buy tickets.
The good news, you can leverage your important information and announcements that you give out in class and send by email by creating a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website. FAQ pages are handy for general information or even a Recital FAQ.
Wondering what to include? Go back into your sent mail and notice some of the repetitive replies you send.
Do the questions include:
- “My child has ever danced before what class should they take?”
- “Do you send bills for tuition?”
- “When is the recital again?”
- “When do I need to buy tickets”
- “Is the studio open during xyz week/holiday” the list goes on and on.
By having these kind of questions answered on your website you can confidently hand out memos while also letting parents and students know that the most important information they will need to know is always posted on your website.
Useful Tip: When we began online registration we noticed we were getting a lot of emails from parents who were unsure of what class would be best for their dancer in regard to style and level. For years these questions were answered by phone or in person. To increase our customer service and assistance we took these emails and created a “how to choose the proper class” page on our website. Not only has this page helped people make the right choice, but it has increased registrations into our beginner programs and we reduce redundant emails.
#3. Make it easy for people: Write subject lines and messages that are specific.
If you need someone to remember an important date or deadline, lead with that info! For a busy mom like myself with two school-aged kids in dance, karate, gymnastics, piano, and more just managing their schedules feels like a full time job. Many of your parents and students are likely the same and the recital details are just one of hundreds pinned to their calendar.
When it comes to crafting emails, be specific with your subject lines. Nothing is more frustrating than an email subject such as: Subject: Important info for you. Ok, important info for what?!?! More specific is much better: Subject: Important details for 1:00 PM Matinee on Sat. June 24th.
Write the details of your emails with the perspective of someone who has never experienced this event before. What could you explain more clearly? Where could you cut out any unnecessary info? You’ll be well on your way to emails that get read and understood.
Useful tip: When we write our studio emails we run them through a who, what, when, where, why, and how test. If our email answers all of those questions then we send it! If anything is missing we go back and clarify before emailing hundreds of our families. It makes life so much easier and while it can seem like you are stating the obvious at times, these steps help to reduce possible confusion in an email message.
We’ve gotten our fair share of email from upset parents even when it feels as if we have gone above and beyond to make things easy and enjoyable for them. Trust me, it’s tempting to reply with a not so nice response to a hurtful message. But it’s better to just walk away from the computer and take some time to process what has happened.
The trouble with email is that the emotion or tone cannot be fully interpreted. In that moment it can be difficult to know whether you’re dealing with an unreasonable parent or a student with a legitimate concern or complaint.
Save yourself the regret and upset by not responding right away, but instead give yourself at least 24 hours to process your own range of emotions.
Useful tip: When it comes to replying to a less than pleasant email, ask someone on your staff or a close family member to read it out loud to you to see if what you wrote comes across the way you intended. Circumstances vary and the sting of complaints can hurt. Only put in writing information and communications that maintain the same level of professionalism you are committed to upholding.
Email can be one of your best tools in running and growing your studio. But just like you schedule your classes, meetings, and daily appointments, it helps to take back control over your inbox.
I encourage you to take on one or more of the above strategies so you can get more focused work done on email to be more efficient during times of intense demands and also when it’s slow. You just might find you’ll have more time to spend with family, friends, and dancing!
What have you found to be most effective when it comes to managing your email?
Suzanne Blake Gerety is not only the very busy mom of two young children but is the owner and co-founder of DanceStudioOwner.com, and the Vice President of Kathy Blake Dance Studios. She is a regularly featured contributor in various pieces for Dance Teacher Magazine including, “Ask the Experts”, business articles, and has presented live workshops at Dance Media’s Dance Teacher Summit New York City.
Suzanne experiences the ups and downs of studio ownership too, which is what inspires her to help studio owners and teachers keep their passion for dance alive as they grow their business. You can connect with Suzanne on Twitter @SuzanneGerety and at DanceStudioOwner.com.