Mad Hatters Theatre School started in 2011 after founder Hollie Milburn recognized a need for affordable extra-curricular theatre training for children and young people in and around the Shefford, Bedfordshire (UK) area. The school now offers musical theatre classes for children, as well as private singing lessons for both children and adults.
Using ACTIVEWorks Camp & Class Manager (CCM) to handle registrations, email communications and more, the school was seeing a lot of success through the years. Then, the swift emergence of a pandemic instantly brought in-person classes to a screeching halt.
As with many businesses in the world, the quick spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the resulting social distancing guidelines meant that Mad Hatters could no longer hold in-person programs.
Hollie knew the loss of registrations and revenue wouldn’t be sustainable for long, so she started scrambling to find a solution.
“The idea to offer virtual classes had never even entered my head,” Hollie says. “We are very much a person-to-person business, but I found myself under quite a lot of pressure to make my business survive.”
A friend of Hollie’s had mentioned the video conferencing application Zoom and the possibility of offering classes with it. After a mere three days of scrambling, Hollie had managed to get all of Mad Hatters’ classes online via this medium, while still using ACTIVEWorks Camp & Class Manager for registrations.
“For most people, their businesses are their lives. I couldn’t image a world without mine in it so I did whatever was necessary.”
Both Hollie and her entire staff had to quickly learn how to use video conferencing software to teach classes, and also had to make changes to the structure of the lessons offered.
“Our normal group classes could last up to three hours and we quickly realized children were not going to sit and watch a computer screen for that long, especially with the distraction on home being all around them.”
Mad Hatters addressed this problem by splitting classes into shorter sessions spread throughout the week.
Another issue Hollie ran into was registration forms. She needed forms that distinguished between virtual programming and in-person but were also secure. With the help of CCM, Hollie was able to change the forms and continue to securely manage her online registrations.
According to Hollie, Mad Hatters initially lost just under a third of their registrations. But since beginning virtual offerings, registrations recovered back to where they were prior.
That’s not to say Hollie hasn’t felt the financial impact at all though.
“With everything going on and all the economic hardship, I knew I couldn’t keep running my classes at the same prices,” she says. “To me the most important thing was keeping the Mad Hatters' family together and making sure people could continue with classes.”
Fortunately, overhead costs and performance licensing fees have also gone down which helps to offset the impact.
“Things are going to be slightly tight for a while, but in my mind it’s much better to deal with that and to be fortunate enough to come out on the other side.”
Hollie says that while she anticipates most of the children’s classes to return to in-person, she does think they will continue offering private singing lessons virtually for adults.
“It helps us to expand our reach,” she says. “We’re no longer limited to only local classes. If I want to advertise the classes to people in Scotland, I can easily do so.”
As for her advice to others considering making a switch to virtual?
“If you haven’t gone online, just do it. It’s a very scary time for everyone but it’s a matter of survival. The sooner you do it, the sooner you will start to feel like you are regaining some form of control over your business again to which you have worked so hard to make succeed. At least then you know that you have tried everything that you can, whatever the outcome, and be proud of all that you have achieved and will continue to achieve throughout the process.”