When I began performing and teaching professionally, I knew I had tolet other people know that I was in business. I have been successful at this, but along the way I’ve managed to waste a lot ofmoney! By trial and error, I’ve learned some of the the most cost-effective ways to promote my business. I hope that by writing this article I can save my readers some time, energy and money.
Below are a listing of advertising and promotional ideas. I have listed them in the order I believe new professional dancers and teachers should implement them. All of the ideas will help you to get business, but some are more helpful than others, and some should be done in order so that one step builds upon another.
1. Get a listing in a local belly-dance newsletter and on any local belly-dance websites. This is your first, and probably least expensive step. Why is this important? Belly-dance publication and websites are read by people who definitely want to learn to dance, and dance students look for new teachers all the time for a variety of reasons. A student may move, her schedule may no longer match that of her original teacher, she may want to pick up an additional class, or she may simply want a new perspective. When you advertise in a local dance publication, students and teachers alike will know you exist and that you are teaching.
Should you pay for a display ad in your local belly dance magazine? That depends on your advertising budget. As you will see below, there are two very important–and somewhat expensive–ways to promote yourself. If money is tight, pay only for a teacher’s listing and save your pennies for other forms of advertising and promotion. However, if you have the money, choose an ad size you can easily afford month after month and run it in every issue, updating the information as your business grows and changes.
2. Get a photo business card. Photo cards are more expensive than regular ones, but they are very important in our business. It’s not only potential clients who want to know what we look like; potentialstudents like to see pictures of us, too. When people see your photograph, they feel like they are acquainted with you. They know what that disembodied voice on the end of the phone looks like. Don’t put the sexiest picture of yourself on you card, unless all you plan to do are belly-grams. Choose a photo and a pose that best represents you and your business overall. I regretted putting a picture of myself in a cabaret costume on my first photo card. My current card uses a photo of me in a baladi dress, and it has helped me to get a lot morestudents, community gigs and dancing jobs for Arabic families. If you run a troupe that usually dresses in tribal garb, put that costume on the card. It’s a great way for community-event organizers to see what you do, it helps to give the public new ideas about the dance, and anyone who wants a more common cabaret costume will ask you if you wear one.
If you are worried about the cost of the photo cards, remember that in many cases they can save you from sending expensive photographs to agents and potential clients.
When you make the cards, add only the information that is least likely to change. This is the time to think hard about whether you are going to get a business line or voicemail hotline (see idea number three for a discussion of this.) List only those activities you know you will be doing for several years, like “performing,” “teaching” or “booking agent.” Don’t list types of classes (unless it’s something trademarked like “The Yummy Tummy Workout”) and don’t list places where you dance, even if you have been there for years. (A dancer I know just found that out the hard way! She listed her regular dancing gig on her new cards, and a month later she got fed up with the job and quit!) Don’t list an email address unless you check that e-mail daily, and don’t list an email address that you have through an internet service provider. ISPs “go bad” or change ownership all the time, and you may change your personal e-mail address several times during the “lifespan” of your cards. Get an address through a web-based e-mail service like Hotmail, Excite or Yahoo. You will never be forced to change that address, and you will be a lot more likely to get an address that reflects your dance business.
Sometimes no amount of planning will prevent outdated cards. For example, you may have to change your area code, or you may decide to build a website. Both of these things happened to me, and I solved the problem by having nice white labels printed in the same font as my card. I just place the labels on the back of the cardsover my old phone number and e-mail address. (This presumes that the front of your card has nothing but your photo and name, and that all of your contact information is printed on the back. I highly recommend this arrangement.)
Not only should you always have them in your purse, in your dancebag and in your car, but you should keep some push-pins in your car in the event that you come across a promising bulletin board. You can also leave stacks of cards. Some places where I have been allowed to leave stacks of cards or pin them to bulletin boards are are day spas, massage therapy clinics, dancewear shops, health food stores, book stores, New Age stores and even the localsupermarket. Basically, any place that has a large female clienteleand is dedicated to health, fitness and/or creativity is a good place to leave your cards.
3. Get a phone book listing. Once you have made yourself known to the local dance students and you have a useful set of business cards to distribute, the very next best use of your money is to list yourself in the local yellow and white pages.
When people look for dancers or dance teachers, they turn to the yellow pages. Most of my business comes from the yellow pages, and the number of people finding me through the phone book has increased since “smart directory services” have become popular.
Since there probably aren’t very many belly-dance businesses advertised in the phone book, you don’t need a box ad. You just need a business name that has the word “belly-dance” in it.
Do not think that you have to have a business phone line in order to get a phone book listing! In fact, take it from me: having a special line for your dance business that rings in your home can be more of aheadache than a help! The phone will ring at odd hours, and if you turn the only line in your house into a business line, you will either sound unprofessional to your clients or confusing to acquaintances (“You gave me the wrong number! I keep getting a message from somebody named Little Egypt!”) So, if your budget won’t allow a special line in your home just for your business, what can you do?
I use a voicemail hotline. It only costs $10 per month. I can leave a very detailed message about my classes and prices, and if I’m hosting a special event I can put the directions on it the day before. When somebody leaves a message for me, my pager is alerted. I am never disturbed by telemarketers or creepy late-night callers.
My voicemail hotline number is listed in the yellow pages just like any other business phone number. This costs me $60 per year. The total $180 per year it costs me to have this set-up is much less than I used to pay for a business line!
Of course, there is one disadvantage to this plan: no one calling me for the first time will get me “live.” (Of course, they don’t know this; all dance studios have voice mail or answering machines to catch calls while classes are being taught!) Still, when booking performances,speed is important, especially if there are several competing belly-gram services. If you use this system and don’t have a pager, you will have to check your messages often.
One final matter to consider is where to place your listings. Sometimes you have to rely on trial and error. If you both perform and teach, you will want to be listed under both “entertainers” and “dance instructors” in your part of the city. But should you be listed in other parts of the city? Should you be listed citywide? And under what categories? Since you pay for each listing, these are important questions.
So far I have found the best solution is to be listed under “entertainment: business and family” and “dance instruction” in my part of the city, and under “entertainment: business and family” city-wide. This is because I have found that potential students from other parts of town do not want to travel to my part of town, so a city- wide instructor listing is a waste of money. Since your city may have a better freeway system than mine, you may have different results.
Here is one kind of listing you shouldn’t spend a moment considering: a special link from the website of your local yellow-pages company to your website, or any other special link service they offer. Why? Well, think for a moment about how you would go about finding yellow-page listings on the internet. Quick! What would you type in?
If you guessed “yellow pages”, you’re wrong! “Yellowpages.com” is not owned by anyone remotely affiliated with any official phone compmay anywhere in the U.S.! Quick! Guess again! What are your local yellow pages called? What do they call themselves on the internet? Where can you find them???
My point is–well, there are two point. First of all, your potential customers won’t be able to find the listings, either, and most of all, any business that did not see the wisdom of reserving their own, highly-distinctive name, rigth business to advise you on the wise use ofyour internet advertising dollars.
4. Get a small internet presence. I will discuss the advantages of websites later on. Right now, the next most cost-effective step for you to take is to simply have an internet account so that you can receive email and find directories with which to list your name and business. Email is just one more way that you can communicate with potential students an clients.
As I suggested above, get a web-based email account. You will be able to give it a name that reflects your dance business, and you will be less likely to change it. You may want to join a belly dance email list. This will help you get to know other dancers, and you might learn something interesting.
5. Make some fliers. For the next step to be effective, you have to be willing to maintain a regular route of delivering, replenishing,replacing and removing your promotional fliers. If you have the money for a phone book listing this step is less important, but if money is tight, this step is essential. Also, fliers tell people more about your business than a single line in a phone book.
First, find out if there really is any place in town for you to leave your fliers. Like business cards, they can sometimes be left at day spas,massage therapy clinics, dancewear shops, health food stores,New Age stores, and they can be posted on bulletin boards inhealth clubs, book stores, libraries, community centers and oncampuses.
You might design two types of fliers: one that can be left in a stackand one that is meant to be hung on a bulletin board and has those tear-off tabs with your phone number.
Keep careful track of where you leave the fliers and how many you left. Some places will only display a particular flier for a month, so you will have to revisit that place on a regular basis. Your fliers will be most effective if they are distributed consistently. You not only have to watch to see if your pile of fliers needs to be replenished, but you have to make sure your fliers don’t get buried under the fliers of others, or totally covered up on a bulletin board. (Remember to be polite when you hang you fliers. You may have to reshuffle the entire bulletin board to get your flier up without totally covering others, but it’s the right thing to do, and you’ll be setting a good example for others.)
This isn’t the place to discuss good flier design, but pay attention to professional-looking, eye-catching fliers, and judge your flier layouts honestly against them. If you know that your fliers are different—in a bad way—but you can’t figure out why, go to a typesetter for help! It’s no use spending money on paper and photocopying if your fliers won’t attract business.
6. Still have some cash left? Get a large internet presence. How much money an internet presence will cost you will depend on whether or not you can program your own site, and if your particular business needs it’s own domain name. For example, do you need to be called
Will www.danceworld.com/littleegypt do?
How about www.worldcities.com/commerce/middleeast/arts/littleegypt?
In the first example, you have your own domain name. In the second, you are using the easily-found-and- remembered domain of an organization that provides inexpensive—sometimes free—web hosting. In the third example, you have a free site with a company that gives you the space in exchange for the ability to run their own ads on your site (and you have a very long and confusing URL!) In the fourth example, you are using the space provided by yourinternet service provider, who may charge you more money if they find you are using your complementary site for commerce.
If you are trying to build a performing business, there is no substitute for your own domain name, or at least one that falls under the umbrella of a professional-looking dance or arts organization. (An example of a domain name is www.littleegypt.com. And example of a simple address that falls under the umbrella of an organization is www.danceworld.com/littleegypt.) You will be (hopefully) working with professional corporate-event planners, large agencies and perhaps even the corporations themselves, and your site should be easy to find and remember. Domain names are also helpful for aspiring teachers, but they aren’t as important. Potential dance students are likely to find you through one of the belly-dance databases, or by typing “belly-dance new york” into a major search engine. Major search engines will find you not according to your URL, but according to how well your meta-tags are programmed. (This isn’t the place to discuss meta-tags; the point is, if you just want people to know you teach once a week at the community center, you don’t need your own URL; students can still find you and they won’t mind if you have a complicated e-mail address.)
The one thing I would advise against is using the free site that came with your internet service. Here is what could very likely happen: You have an informative site called www.bobsinternet.com/~littleegypt. Many people, including current and potential clients, current and potential students, national dance magazines, the local dance newsletter, and anyone with your business card and flier know this is your URL. Then Bobsinternet is bought by Meganet, and Meganet is an awful internet service provider. You hate them. They cost $10 more per month and their service is awful. You decide to switch to Tomsinternet. Now you can move your site to www.tomsinternet.com/~littleegypt. But wait! What about all those people who try to get you at the Bobsinternet site? How will they find you? Will they think you’ve gone out of business?
You will have to keep the Bobsinternet site up for a safe margain of at least six months. Even if you cancel your Bobsinternet account, you will have to pay $5 or more per month to keep a page on Bobsinternet pointing people to your new page. And what if Tomsinternet doesn’t work out? What a mess!
Here is what I suggest: if you really haven’t any money to spend each month on your website, and you have determined that having a long, complicated e-mail address won’t hurt your business, then get a free website with a commercial company. Your site won’t move when you change providers.
If you want to put your best foot forward to potential clients, you may need professional help designing your site. I’m not talking about programming the html—the computer code that makes the sites look the way they do–many people can learn to do this. I am talking about the actual artistic design of your site. Quite frankly, some people are good at typesetting and design and some are not. Here is a test: look at a few dozen belly-dance websites. Do they all look the same to you? Get help now! If you notice a difference between them, can you figure out what design elements make them different? If you can’t, get help!
What is your site good for? You can display photos, which not only show potential clients and students what you look like, but can show the kinds of costumes you wear and the kinds of “looks” you can achieve. You can list your teaching schedule, prices, directionsand registration contacts. You can display your resume. You can advertise the restaurants, fairs and events at which you will be dancing. You can encourage people to join your local belly-dance organization. You can plug the performances and classes of fellow dancers. You can tell the public more about Middle-Eastern dance. And most of all, you can tell everyone viewing your site what makes you and your troupe special.
7.Go National. Your final step is to advertise in national Middle-Eastern Dance magazines. This is a vital step if you wish to be hired to teach workshops around the country, and if this is your goal, you should advertise in one or more of the national and regional magazines (like Jareeda!) before you even think about an extensive website. However, if you plan to stay in town, more people will find you through the phone book or internet than through any single magazine. Be sure to keep your listing current, updating phone numbers and internet addresses as soon as you change them. List only the information that is unlikely to change, such as the basic services you provide (teaching, performing, costuming, leading a troupe) and any information that will trigger the memory of the readers (“director of the “Belly-Babes Dance Troupe”; “winner of the 1999 “Tummy Twister” contest; “first place in the “Creative Costume” contest”; producer of the “Belly-Buster” video series.)
In this article I have concentrated on the best ways to spend your advertising dollar. There are, of course, other ways to let people know your name. One way is to write for local and national dance magazines. Another is to write about dance for local magazines and newspapers. And be sure to attend all of the local events dance events you can. There is no substitute for meeting people face-to-face.
Good luck, and good dancing!
Angelique is a teacher and performer in Phoenix, Arizona. You can find her on the web at www.angeliqueandfriends.com