A studio’s management structure should be as custom as a fingerprint. Whereas working with a franchise brand offers a turnkey solution complete with a built-in business model, the independent boutique studio owner writes their own management rulebook from scratch. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and fortunately you don’t need an MBA to write a business plan or determine how you’ll manage your team. Start by understanding your personal management style and create a system that compliments you.

I started Vertical Method in San Francisco in 2013 as a one-woman-show after I left a 20-year dance career working as an independent contractor. I adored the freelance lifestyle, and to start taking on the day-to-day management of other people was not my natural inclination. That said, I’m in awe of great managers. The daily operations of running a brick and mortar can get overwhelming, but good managers keep their cool and make it look easy. I think this natural skill-set of managers comes from genes distributed at birth that some people get a higher percentage of than others (I got almost zero). Alas, a business will not grow without a staff and structure in place, so I put my introvert ways aside, shelved my loner tendencies, and created a plan to manage staff and maintain quality control without venturing too far outside my comfort zone.

  1. Focus on what you know instead of what you don’t know. Quality control and employee control can be topics fueled with frustration and confusion. I reached into my own background and pulled a page from the ballroom dance studio playbook to create my staff structure. In a typical dance studio, private lessons feed the teachers and group classes feed the studio. If the studio doors close, nobody works, and there’s a mutual commitment on both the owner’s and instructor’s sides to maintain the business. Therefore, I hire independent contractors (IC) instead of employees and together we work to keep the studio doors open, one contract at a time.
  1. Control is a myth. There can be some gray area surrounding what makes someone an IC v. an employee. Legally, it boils down to “control.” During my 20 years as an IC, I worked at 15 different dance studios in California and I signed a few illegal non-compete contracts because I didn’t know my rights. California’s Right to Work Act trumps most contracts attempting to control their contractors and thereby renders most non-compete clauses obsolete. As it turns out, in the world of ICs, the person writing a check is in a lesser position of control than the person accepting it. Mismanaging ICs can result is excessive fines from state and federal agencies. That said, once you accept that you can’t control your trainers, including when or how they teach, you’ll start to look for a certain type of person when hiring and you’ll modify your certification program if training on a method.
  1. “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” Wise words from billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson which I take to heart, and it’s why I encourage the business endeavors of all my ICs. They work with each other’s schedules, share contacts and clients, and create a valuable support system. A good IC will run a business all parties can profit from for a contracted period of time. And someday, when their contract inevitably ends, you’ll be esteemed colleagues within a greater fitness community.
  1. Put it in writing. It’s important to remember that each IC has his/her own business goals and that agenda might not reflect yours. You can still do great business together for a contracted period of time. Problems arise from lack of boundaries and bad contracts. There is a difference between a teacher getting creative and them going rogue. To avoid the latter, hire wisely and write a contract clearly stating your expectations of the service and period of time you’ve contracted. I create a single page contract regarding the studio space, a Non Disclosure Agreement for IP, our negotiated percentage of profits, proof of liability insurance and certification, and an understanding of Vertical Method’s foundation principles for each advertised class.
  1. Good fences make good neighbors. Know your boundaries when it comes to ICs v. employees. For example, you cannot ask an IC to work exclusively for you or perform non-contracted tasks such as greeting clients at reception or cleaning the bathroom. All states have slight variations regarding treatment and control of those you employ versus those who are employees. The IRS.gov checklist of distinctions on their website is a universal place to start.

Jennifer Davis is the founder of Vertical Method in San Francisco and the inventor of the patent-pending VertiBAR™ Station.

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