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In the course of my travels, I’m frequently asked at what point new staff should be added to the school. This, of course, depends on many factors, but I can say that most schools hire staff long before it’s really needed. Now when I talk about staff, I’m talking about paid staff – not the multitude of students you have that may help out, without getting paid, whenever they are needed.
Some instructors hire not so much so the students can be looked after, but so the head instructor can take Monday nights off to watch football. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – once you are satisfied with the income from your school. Most instructors who hire for this reason, do it before that income point is reached – thereby ensuring that it’s never reached.
Some instructors hire staff purely out of ego. They want someone they can have underneath them that will jump at their commands without quitting. They want someone to run errands, fetch coffee, and stand in awe of their fearsome master. Others hire staff because they feel the students demand more staff.
A parent might complain once about the instructor leaving the class when the phone rings, and so the next day he runs out and hires a secretary. One night, too many people show up for class, and again he hears the comments from the lobby. Immediately, the instructor runs out and hires somebody else to help him teach.
I’ve just come back from a consulting visit with a school that grosses around $14,000 per month, with a rent of $2,000. This should be an ample figure to provide a healthy profit for its owner. But in fact, the studio actually loses money. The simple fact of the matter is that after the assistant instructor gets his $400 per week, the secretary gets her $300, and the night help share a little money that’s left over, there’s nothing left to pay the other bills.
And we haven’t discussed the bookkeeper, six part time assistants, or the girl who puts the data in the computer. Add in payroll taxes, which many schools fail to keep up with, plus federal, state, taxes, Social Security, and it’s easy to see why the only person who doesn’t get paid in the school is the guy that actually owns it.
On the subject of taxes, the IRS is coming down very hard on people who claim to be independent contractors. I know of several schools in the last couple of years who have burned big time by claiming that their staff were subcontractors, rather than putting them on payroll. Two people I know were actually forced to sell thriving schools to pay their tax bill – so beware.
The criteria is now very strict. Check with your accountant on the specifics. This point alone should make many instructors think twice before adding to their staff, since payroll taxes and Social Security add a hefty burden to your expenses, and come directly off your bottom line profits.
Many schools add an extra office person, when they have less than a hundred paying students. This is an unnecessary luxury. I have phone conversations every week with instructors who have 50, 60, or 70 students, who ask if they are ready for staff. In my opinion, the need for a second paid member of staff rarely comes around until you’ve reached that critical stage over 120 students.
At that point, a second full time instructor can be added to the staff. That’s not to say you won’t need some part time help before you reach 120 students, but if you can’t handle a hundred students on your own, you’re going to have trouble making a good living in this business.
If possible, the person hired should not just teach, but also contribute to the sales, marketing, and follow up effort for each student. In other words, he should be capable of signing up, selling, merchandising, updating the computer, and all the other daily, and sometimes mundane, tasks that running a successful school demands.
It’s hard for you to justify hiring an office person who’s incapable of teaching trial lessons, or substituting in a pinch if needed. That’s not to say that at some point, I wouldn’t hire an office person without these skills. But typically, I’d like that person to have a few basic skills.
I ran my school with the aid of one full-time instructor, myself, and two young assistants to teach on Saturdays, so I could take the day off. This allowed us to service 250 students, and more importantly, allowed our bottom line profit to stay in excess of $10,000 a month. Was it hard work running a studio like that? You bet it was!
But at that time, I was far more concerned with getting ahead financially, than I was worried about working hard. We ran back to back private lessons from noon until 9:00, and group classes from 4:00 until 9:00. All classes started on the hour, and ran for 50 minutes.
This is a key point. Whether you run hour classes or 50 minute classes, it doesn’t matter. But, you need to keep a ten-minute period at the end of each class. That is the most important period of your day. Those ten minutes between your classes are the time you run your business, sell your merchandise, upgrade students, and make your renewals.
At times, we would even allow a high ranking student to teach the class during the stretching and warm-up period, thereby giving us an additional 15 minutes, where business could be taken care of with no problem. Often, this would be a black belt, not on the staff. Or, perhaps even a brown or green belt.
I had several teenage kids around 16 and 17 who were excellent instructors, and I also had several professional people among the high ranks, such as doctors or lawyers, who jumped at the chance to teach class for just a moment. As a matter of fact, some of them were so gung ho to get out there and teach, that I bet I could have charged them for the privilege. In fact, later on I’ll explain how I did.
I’m sure that you have many high ranking and equally enthusiastic students in your school. Teach them how to run the very beginning of your class. The stretching period, or the intro period, or the basic period. Then, use that period to do business with your students who finished the previous class.
The problem that instructors bring up to me again and again when I recommend lean staff – again – paid staff. You can take all the free staff and people willing to help you for nothing, that you can get. What we’re talking about here is paid staff.
Now, how do you handle a phone? If an instructor has trained himself properly on telephone techniques, he should be able to get on and off the phone when it rings in the middle of class in less than 60 seconds. This thereby overcomes the most venomous of objections about the single instructor and that of interrupted classes.
Whatever you do, if you are running a school on your own, or are lacking in help, do not put an answering machine on when you are teaching class. That is business suicide, plan and simple. If you’re not in, and a prospect is looking through the Yellow Pages, he or she will go right down the page to the next school listed.
Do not let a mother or parent answer the phone and say the wrong thing, and sound very unprofessional. Instead, make sure that anyone who answers the phone, even if it’s a parent, is trained to do so professionally. Never let an untrained assistant or student answer the phone. Yet, as I call around the country, these things happen to me every single day, and I shake my head in wonder that these schools are actually open.
What would you do if you needed work on your car, and when you called the first garage in the middle of the business day, the answering machine came on, and the mechanic said, “I’m sorry. I can’t come to the phone right now. I’m working on a car.” Or, if a customer picked up the phone and you asked how much a tune-up was, only to be told, “I don’t work here, I’m just a mother waiting for my car, and the mechanic’s up to his knees in grease right now.”
I can tell you exactly what I’d do, and I’m sure it’s exactly the same thing most of you would do – hang up and call the next person. Here’s how to handle the phone when you find yourself alone, teaching class, without any qualified help to answer it. It happens to all of us sometimes.
Firstly, most of the phone calls you take are from friends, advertisers, and existing students who have questions. With these people you can always simply ask them to call you after class. Give them a specific time – ‘John, do me a favor, please. I’m in the middle of class. Call me back at 6:02.” That takes five seconds of your time to accomplish, and you’ll be back in class before they’ve even finished doing the 20 front punches you’ve just called out.
In my school, the phone would ring anywhere from 3-5 times an hour. Most of these were from students who wanted to know the time of their private lesson, or change it to another day. These questions were quick. When they called, I simply prefaced every sentence with, “I’m in the middle of class right now, but let me see if I can help you quickly.”
That way, it let them know in advance I had to be brief, and they understood. If I could not help them inside 60 seconds, I offered to call them back at the end of class and, writing down their name and number, made sure they did.
Then there was the information call. If you figure that you get 30 calls per month, that works out at only one information call per day, so it’s much less of a problem than most instructors make it out to be. If you use the basic method that I do, whereby it is to get the prospect to come in for an information kit and a short, free trial lesson, it’s very easy to get on and off the phone in 60 seconds without much hassle:
“I tell you what, Bob – I’m right in the middle of class right now. So, let me suggest this – the best thing for you to do is to come by the school and pick up our free, 8 page information kit to answer all of your questions. At that time you can also take a look at the facilities, meet the staff, and we’ll even give you a short trial class so you can actually see what it’s all about. What would be a good time for you to come in? Would 4 pm be good, or would 7 pm be better?”
I can’t tell you how effective this simple statement has been for me, and for the people that I work with, over the years. It sounds like you have their interest at heart. That you do indeed want to provide them with all the information they need to make a good decision.
The point is, to develop a way to get the prospect down to your school without spending a good 10 or 20 minutes on the phone answering useless questions. In fact, the longer you stay on the phone, the less likely it is that they show up at all.
Now and again, even if you are fast, someone is going to complain about you leaving class. I had this problem happen to me several times – even though I got handling the phone in 60 seconds or less down to an art form – still occasionally, I had complaints. And here’s how I dealt with them:
Mother: “That phone rings a lot during Johnny’s class. You should get a secretary or something.” Here’s what I said: “You know, that’s a great idea. In fact, I’m looking into doing just that – and it will only cost $400 a week. Would you mind paying an extra $10 or $20 per month, if I use the money for a secretary?”
At that point, the parent usually says, “Er…” at which point I say, “I’ll tell you what – do me a favor. Why don’t you make up a list of other parents willing to pay an extra $20, and we’ll hire someone next month. One of two things will happen. Either she’ll do nothing, which is the case 99% of the time, or she will actually come back with a few parents who are willing to pay more. In that case, go ahead and get the extra staff, since it didn’t hurt the bottom line.
Let’s talk about how to take care of trial lessons when you find yourself short on qualified staff. Because our schedule was so tight, we moved away from the long time tradition of two or three 30-minute intros. We simply didn’t have time. Instead, we developed the 15-minute sign up, whereby a student took a 7-10 minute intro, followed up by a 5-7 minute sales conference.
We set up our programs to make signing up easy, and would follow up after their first test, usually in 4-6 weeks, with the option of upgrading to the Black Belt Club program.