Written by Lori Shecter

Onlinereg _blog...online registration, payment, discounts, and recurring billing:

This article will clear up the confusion as to what Studio Management Systems can do automatically, and what they can do with human help.  Because many studios have complex discount plans, it is impossible for any system to be able to allow students to register and pay online, receive discounts and have recurring automatic payment.  This article will unravel the differences between:

  1. Online registration
  2. Online enrollment
  3. Online payment and discounts
  4. Recurring billing
  5. Session packs
  6. Gateways

What studio owner wouldn’t want to wake up in the morning and find that, 10 new students have registered to the studio, placed themselves in the right classes, and entered their credit cards for recurring payment, OR better yet, paid in full?  How about eliminating all paperwork and endless hours of manually calculating each students’ annual cost, bookkeeping and bill collection and past due invoices?

It is a misnomer to believe that once you have a studio management system, that all manual work will go away, because, unfortunately, every dance studio has their own way of calculating costs and discounts which makes it impossible for ANY  studio software (including School Empower) to automate EVERYTHING!

1)      ONLINE REGISTRATION:  Online registration captures all the data from your students and their families.  The top four management systems (Jack Rabbit, Mind Body, School Empower and Studio Director) have fairly easy ways to put registration online.  It is also easy to put a link from your website to the online registration forms.

2)      ONLINE ENROLLMENT: This means that the student/families can enroll themselves in a class.  You are either a studio who allows online enrollment or a studio that only enrolls students in studio. Some studio management systems (Jack Rabbit, for example) allow online enrollment without payment.  School Empower is an E-COMMERCE studio system, which doesn’t allow for online enrollment unless some form of deposit or payment is made.  This is to aid the studio in making sure they get paid, and not have to worry about invoicing, late payments, etc.  If your studio doesn’t want auto recurring billing, recurring billing can be manual with School Empower (paid by parents online using Pay Pal, or credit card), as well as in studio via cash, check or credit card.

3)      ONLINE PAYMENT AND DISCOUNTS:  This is where the whole thing gets complex from both an admin and technology perspective.  Every system allows for studios to have multi-level and complex discounts.  However, if you are a studio that has multi-level discounts:  i.e. family discounts, returning discounts, multi-class (multi-hour) purchase discounts it is not possible to set it and forget it:  students will not be able to enroll and pay online and receive recurring billing.  While Jack Rabbit does a good job of aiding studios to have multi-level discounts, it usually requires the studio to first figure out what each student owes, and then notify the parents of their payment plan.  Similarly, School Empower offers multi-level custom discounts, but each family will have their own “payment plan.”  Families can then pay online manually, have auto recurring billing, or then pay in studio.  School Empower does offer simpler “memberships” which allows studios to set up membership levels (i.e. $500 for one class, $900 for two classes, etc.) and then enroll in the class.  However, if you allow online enrollment, the studio still needs to double check and confirm the student has enrolled in the correct classes.

4)      RECURRING BILLING:   We love recurring billing!  Recurring billing can only happen if your school management system is integrated with a payment gateway.  All the systems use different gateways that offer different pricing in terms of setup fees, costs and percentages.  If your system is not integrated with a payment gateway, recurring billing can be set up within QUICK BOOKS.  http://quickbooks.intuit.com/billing/ .  Quick book offers a free 30 day trial.  However, you do need their full suite of services which about $70/month.  Gateway fees (not related to Quick Books) generally starts at $20/month.  Percentage rates are between 1.9% and 3.5% depending on the gateway you use and the credit card the parent uses.

Shameless Plug for School Empower:

School Empower integrates with three different payment gateways, two of which allow recurring billing:  1) authorize.net and 2) Blue Fin. While Authorize.net is more expensive, it is more well-known than Blue Fin.  School Empower also integrates with a FREE VERSION (no monthly costs, but % based) of Pal Pal which allows for MANUAL recurring billing.  This allows the families to pay online every month going into their account and submitting payment.

5)      SESSION PACKS:  Mind Body and School Empower are the two systems that easily allow studios that have drop in classes to have session packs and to use them online.  This will allow the student to get a discount for a session pack (buying 8 classes for the price of 7), register online, and pay online using their session packs from the MY ACCOUNT tab.  We couldn’t find out if Jack Rabbit or Studio Director had these features.  However, session packs cannot and should not be combined with other discounts at your studio.

6)      GATEWAYS:  Ok, so here is the low down on gateways.  No studio management system can integrate with all gateways.  All of the studio systems have their “favorite” gateway based on either how affordable it is to the studio, or how it works with their system. Fees, as mentioned above vary from provider to provider and you need to add that into the monthly cost of doing business.  If you don’t care about online payment, one solution that I recommend  to use THE SQUARE or PAY PAL phone APP and enter all payments as cash in your system.  If that is something that is of interest to you, School Empower offers a free version of Pal Pal, but again, percentage rates are incurred. 

Schoolempower _free

I hope this article has clarified some of the questions and concerns about dance and cheer studio managment systems as well as payment gateways.  Obviously the discussion is endless and I would love to hear from all of you about your thoughts and experiences. Please comment below so we can get the conversation going!