Dance studio owner knows the steps to success

Katie Geddes is a trained dancer who, in 2009, combined her professional skills with an entrepreneurial spirit and set up The Dance Studio Leeds (DSL). Classing the business as ‘beyond start-up but still in growth phase’, Katie went along to Meet a Mentor late last year. She chatted to us about the outcome and told us a bit about her boutique dance business.

Originally from Skegness, Katie Geddes studied performing arts in Nottingham before graduating in 2006 and moving to Leeds with her partner. She says:

“My course was primarily performance based so the intention is that you’re going to go out and perform or teach, both of which I did do for a few years. I was freelancing when the opportunity came up to open the studio.”

Having received some support through workshops on bookkeeping and marketing run by the now defunct Business Link, Katie established DSL. This friendly dance studio is used by dancers of all abilities and is housed in a former textile mill situated close to Leeds city centre. It’s used by freelance dance teachers to give lessons in everything from first wedding dances to tap, ballet, jazz and Cuban salsa and also offers dance workshops for team building and staff away days. The business is solid, with a respectable turnover and profit, so why did Katie decide to go along to Meet a Mentor?

“I’d been actively searching for an enterprise mentor for around a year by that point because I’d heard other people say they’d found it very beneficial. My partner has a mentor helping with his business and I know it’s quite common practice in America too, where businesses look for that support. I’m not from a business background so everything I’ve done I’ve either learnt along the way or it comes from industry knowledge rather than entrepreneurial insight.”

Having thus far taken what she describes as a ‘natural path’ with DSL, Katie felt it was time to access the more solid experience and learning of another person. Like many small and medium business owners / managers, she felt quite isolated in her efforts to take the business forward and she didn’t have lot of staff to bounce ideas off. In fact, long before attending Meet a Mentor, Katie already had one very specific individual in mind as her perfect mentor, as she recalls:

“My business model was based loosely on that of Pineapple Dance Studios in London, which was founded by Debbie Moore, who would be my ultimate mentor. About a year before I went to Meet a Mentor I did manage to get a face-to-face meeting with Debbie but it was very much a one off encounter.”

Inspired by this connection with a high-profile industry figure, Katie booked her place at Meet a Mentor.

“I was open-minded and not expecting to get someone within my industry. In fact, I thought it might even be an advantage to connect with a mentor coming from a non-dance background because they’d be looking at DSL from a purely business-minded point of view.”

Having met lots of great people at the session and exchanged business cards with loads of new faces, Katie was later matched through the IOEE with Colin Kemp, a Lloyds Banking Group mentor who is also based in Leeds. It’s still early days for this new mentor/mentee partnership, but the studio owner already feels they’re making good headway. She says:

“The first session was about getting to know more about each other and where we’re each coming from. The second was about highlighting areas I’d like to explore. For instance, considering how we take the business forward, in terms of expansion. We talked about feasibility, costings, and whether it makes business sense to try to grow the business.”

Colin’s mentoring has helped Katie explore her own motivations for potentially expanding the business. With his support she’s begun to ask herself exactly why she aspires to have a bigger business and whether sometimes it makes commercial sense to remain at an established size for a set period of time. Katie says:

“Colin’s been very helpful because he’s coming from a different perspective. There are points he brings up that I’ve never considered. Bigger isn’t always better in business. You have to make sure growth is the right decision for your business, rather than just a general rule.”

The dance studio owner has already made some tentative steps towards giving something back to the mentoring community, delivering talks to students who are soon to graduate and hoping to enter the industry, telling them her own entrepreneurial story. As a mentee, Katie has found Colin’s support so helpful that she can see herself passing on the mentoring baton in years to come and offering her own experience to mentees.

“I think I’d have to have a few more years behind me before I began mentoring myself but it’s definitely something I would like to do in the future when I have more knowledge to share.”