The Business of Pole Dancing
My name is Michelle Shimmy and I am a professional pole dancer. I opened my first pole dance studio, the Pole Dance Academy, in 2009 with my sister Maddie. We now have three studios in Sydney.
Prior to opening the studios, I was a corporate lawyer in a top tier law firm in Sydney. I had been pole dancing for about three years and I was absolutely crazy about it. At the same time, I wasn’t happy with life in the corporate world and I was increasingly feeling dissatisfied with my career choice.
One day whilst complaining to a friend on the phone about how unhappy I was in my job as a lawyer, my friend suggested I open a pole studio. At first I thought she was mad. But she had planted the seed, and not long after my sister and I began making plans to open a studio.
We had zero business experience. We had no idea what we were doing. We had heard the statistics about 50% of businesses failing in their first two years, and we did not want that to happen to us. So we worked hard (insanely hard) and built our business up to where it is today.
Here are 5 things I wish someone had told me before I started my own business.
1. Do your homework
The lawyer in me has always believed that you should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. The preparation you do before you open will stand you in good stead once you open for business, particularly because once you open, you’ll be so busy running your operations that you won’t have as much time to consider these topics.
Part of doing your homework includes writing a business plan. Do a SWOT analysis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Be brutally honest with yourself, particularly about your weaknesses and threats. How will you deal with them?
Do thorough market research. Before opening, my sister and I created surveys and we hit the streets, to get to know our market. It was tough work but it gave us a good understanding of how people felt about pole dance in the area we wanted to open the studio in.
Prepare for success, but be sure to include in your preparations an exit strategy or a contingency plan. If things don’t work out the way you want them to, what will you do?
2. How will you eat?? Or DRINK??
This is not an exaggeration! When you start your own business, sometimes it can feel like all the money you earn goes straight back out in staff wages, bills, rent and utilities before you even get to pocket a cent.
And it’s true - paying everyone else is always the first priority, while paying yourself is the last. Often it can take a new business a couple of years to starting turning a profit. It’s not easy to maintain morale while you watch your savings disappear.
In the first two years of running our business, my sister and I both continued to work full time, and we did not pay ourselves a a salary from the business. It meant that we were basically both working two full-time jobs - and only being paid for one. But at least we knew that we had steady incomes and we didn’t need to worry about being able to pay our bills.
At the time, I certainly didn't realise how long it would take us to be able to pay ourselves!
Of course, working two-full time jobs is very tiring, so you need to be honest with yourself - will you be able to make the sacrifices necessary to see your business flourish in the longer term?
3. Your business will consume you
Running your own business is not a 9-5 job. You will be working long hours, evenings, weekends - pretty much non-stop. It can take a toll on personal relationships. It’s important to set boundaries so that you have some off-time, but realistically, as the business owner the buck stops with you.
At the same time, it’s important not the get caught up in the day-to-day details and lose sight of the bigger picture. You need to be able to delegate certain tasks so that you are able to focus and reflect on the future growth of your business (this is easier said than done, trust me!).
4. Dealing with contractors, real estate agents and others
As a woman in business, I have learnt the hard way that your instinct to be nice and accommodating is often interpreted as weakness that can be taken advantage of. Nowadays, when I’m negotiating or dealing with a contractor, I don’t worry about whether they will think that I’m nice or not. I’m professional and polite, but I don’t make allowances or concessions unless I have to. We have been burnt dealing with builders, real estate agents and other suppliers, and we have learnt the hard way that it’s better to be clear about exactly what you want and not accept anything less than the service you have been promised and have paid for.
Get everything in writing! Resist the urge to just make a quick phone call, or if you do make a phone call, follow up with an email confirming what was agreed. You will save yourself so much confusion and frustration if you keep communications in writing so that you have proof of what was said and agreed to.
5. Get an excellent book keeper and accountant
This is something we did immediately, even before we started seeing any income. We knew that we wanted to focus on the business and not on keeping track of receipts, and it’s a decision I have never regretted. The peace of mind that comes with knowing that your accounts are all in order is worth every cent! If you need guidance on the process involved in setting up your business, engage a small business advisor who can assist with setting up your accounting, training in financials and general business support and coaching (I recommend Jules Bresse: www.breesedynamics.com).
Hang in there - it’s worth it
Running your own business is hard work, but very rewarding. Once you get through the first couple of years, it gets easier to manage and you can start to enjoy the fruits of your labour. But be prepared for a hard slog to start with!
I'd love to hear your comments about your experiences running your own business. What were your challenges/lessons, and what were your greatest moments? Do you have any tips on how to manage life / work / friends / family / everything else?
Please feel free to share in the comments below!
Michelle Shimmy xxx