How I Host Visiting Artists Without Losing Money

Amy Bond
Balancing the financial health of your studio and hosting visiting instructors can get tricky!

Hosting visiting instructors is fun, exciting, and provides opportunities for owners, instructors, and students to learn from some of the top pole dancers, aerialists, and professional movement artists from around the world. Unfortunately, hosting a visiting artists also often means studios lose money.

To date, the pole dance industry has a pretty static structure for hosting visiting artists. Usually, the professional reaches out with an email, or a Facebook message with something like “Hey, I’m going to be in your city on X-Y days. Could you host me?’ They include packets of their work, that list workshop descriptions and glossy pictures of their signature movement styles. At the end of those packets, there is a pricing page that list a per person and per workshop rate of anywhere between $50–$75 and a minimum number of attendees that the instructor requires in order to host.

If the studio agrees to the minimums and price points, then the owner will generally do a lot of work trying to get students in the door. The studio does the marketing, boosts posts on Facebook and Instagram, creates events, prints out flyers and crosses their fingers that the minimum number of people will come.

In short, studio owners take on a lot of risk as signups are often out of their control. They get a lot of emails the day before the workshop from students who signed up but now have to go on a trip or have hurt their finger, asking if they can have their money back. The studio owner wants to be understanding so they often say yes.

Before I opened San Francisco Pole & Dance, I’d often hear the frustration and anxiety from other studio managers and owners about this process.

“I don’t know why I agreed to this,” many would complain. “I think I might be losing money.” they’d continue. For the most part, they were right, they were losing money and most were losing more money than they thought because they hadn’t accounted for the opportunity cost of the classes they could have held instead of hosting. At the end of of the day though, many would feel like it was still worth it, because they had a good time, so did their students and the workshops felt like community building. There seems to be a strong mentality that in order to host workshops, a studio must sacrifice financially in order to host visiting artists.

There are many costs to hosting visiting instructors that do not seem to be well considered. For one, there is the opportunity cost of cancelling classes, which gross an average of somewhere between $200-$300. There is also the fact that students spending money on workshops often means they have less money to spend on normal classes and so attendance at the hosting studio is lower in the week or two after workshops are held.

Add on to that the additional time required by the studio owner or manager to schedule, promote, and coordinate schedules, and the true cost of hosting makes it hard for me, as a studio owner, to justify a business case for hosting very often. The $10 per student per student per workshop that I add on to the visiting instructors per head minimum simply doesn’t make financial sense.

But.

I’m greedy for knowledge.

I love hosting visiting artists.

I love learning new modalities of teaching and training.

I love meeting new people.

Le sigh.

I knew when I opened San Francisco Pole & Dance that I didn’t want to stop the tradition of hosting visiting instructors, because it was through workshops that I’ve met so many beautiful artists who have touched me and the rest of the pole community in profound ways.

So I decided to develop an alternative.

I took the approach recommended by self-described ‘lifestyle guru’, Tim Ferris, and asked myself, “If this was easy, what would it look like?”

The answer to that was a contract that didn’t make me feel stressed as a business owner; one that removes minimum requirements (which numbers are usually out of my control), incentivizes marketing from everyone, and that integrates a 50/50 revenue share based on a price point that I recommend to the visiting artist given my knowledge of the San Francisco pole market.

So far this approach has worked really well for me, from both a community building perspective and a business perspective. Because I do not have to work with minimums, I get rid of the anxiety and stress of agreeing to host a workshop but then maybe having to cancel it later because people didn’t sign up or having to eat the costs of the slots that weren’t filled if I agree to host it anyway.

With a 50/50 rev share at a $50 per person price point, I need just 10 attendees in order to cover the average revenue of the class I would have otherwise held. By controlling the price point, I also am able to make workshops less expensive to students so that more people can attend. The difference between the number of attendees at a $75 price point does end up being dramatically smaller than the number of attendees at a $50 price point so more people gain from the knowledge.

Here’s how my contract looks.

Preview of SF Pole and Dance’s Standard Visiting Instructor Contract.

If you are studio owner and you want to adopt this model, please feel free to customize this template to use it for your own purposes.

*Please note that I am not, by sharing this template, providing you with legal advice. I am a lawyer, just not your lawyer, unless we have entered in an agreement stating as much.*

In 16 months, I’ve hosted 14 visiting artists for one-time workshops using this revenue share model. It’s been effective in that it has made it financially viable for me to host many visiting instructors, keeping the things that I love about workshops but also covering the costs of hosting, the time spent marketing and the opportunity cost of hosting a regular class. In turn, our studio continues to provide world class instruction beyond our regularly scheduled instructors and thereby make the San Francisco pole community stronger, more diverse, and more well rounded.

Certainly there are visiting instructors who have said no to this proposition. Many of them are people I respect as artists and I’ll often introduce them to other studios in the area and pay that studio to attend their workshops if the other studios do decide to host them. That is the more financially viable option for me and the option that is better for my business.

That said, I do believe that the one downfall to the workshop model is that it simply doesn’t build in the layer of repetition that is often needed in order to learn a skillset deeply. While workshops provide an opportunity to learn unique tricks and combos, they usually don’t go very deep with the how (correct form) and why (basic explanation of biomechanics) in order to develop a given style. This is true for most workshops, regardless of whether there are minimums or revenue share or per head price points. Traveling artists, by their very definition, travel, and many often can’t afford to stay or don’t want to stay in one place, especially expensive metropolitan cities, for very long.

To that end, I am currently piloting a new kind of visiting instructor hosting model, a short term artist-in-residence stay where visiting instructors can come and teach regularly scheduled classes at SF Pole and Dance instead of one-time workshops. Part of the deal is that I, the studio owner, host them at my apartment so they don’t have to worry about the cost of lodging, and in exchange, they teach regular classes at regular instructor rates. San Francisco Pole & Dance is doing our first pilot with this now, and I can’t wait to share how that is going in a future blog post.

If you are a studio owner and have played with different hosting models that have either worked well or failed wildly, I’d love to learn more about what you’ve tried. Please comment here or email me at amy@sfpoleanddance.com

Amy Bond

Written by

Amy Bond

I post about pole dancing, training, competitions, and how I run a small business. All musings about the failures of my youth at www.amybondwrites.com

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