What I Learned in My First Year of Small Business: Part II

In my previous post, I wrote about how children in my generation were encouraged to choose the career of their dreams, however controversial that may be. My dream job has always been to be a piano instructor, along with all the other roles that come with being part of the music world. Oh yes, I heard the warning, “You don’t do music for the money.” I’ve come to find out for myself that this is typically true. I don’t know many wealthy musicians, but in the past year I’ve come to know that there is a richness in doing what you love everyday, in living the life you’ve imagined. It is because of this truth that I’m sharing my small business story and what I have learned so far. 

The beginning of my story goes all the way back to a time that is long behind me now. A time when I weighed my values, my likes, dislikes, passions, and abilities in an attempt to determine my calling. Everyone gets to their place in life differently, but the following ideals I formed in high school played a big role in steering me to the place I am today:

  • I would like to pursue a career in music.
  • I want to educate others.
  • Community is one of my core values.
  • I would like to be able to set my own hours.
  • I want to make my own creative decisions.

These ideals spurred me on to study Music Education in college with the end goal in mind of starting an independent music studio. They served me well throughout college and hold true still today, as I blaze my own trail in the world of self employment! My diploma says that I am a highly qualified educator; In my undergrad, I took education courses that taught me how to teach. However, my degree did not include any business classes, because most Music Ed majors wind up employed by a school district. So as an independent music teacher, I am learning new things every day about what it means to run my own business.

To keep the studio running, daily tasks include to-do’s like bookkeeping, parent/client communication, advertising/marketing and graphic design all in addition to actually teaching lessons. Rather than writing about the things I learned how to do out of necessity this year like how to run a Google ad or design an attractive flyer, I want to communicate the lessons I’ve learned that now form the bedrock of how I operate my business.

1: You must stay positive.

If you can’t persevere through a slow season, put on a smile to smooth out a sticky situation, or say yes to new opportunities disguised as challenges, you can say goodbye to reaching your goals. There are going to be struggles, and on those disappointing days you will have to generate new positive thoughts, like a positive-thought factory. When a student quits, when a parent gets mad, when expectations are high – don’t lose hope. There is a way through, and seeing the struggle through a positive lens is imperative.

2: Pleasing customers while trying to stay faithful to your vision is a fine line to walk.

I have found that “the customer is always right,” often comes into conflict with “don’t sell yourself short.” I know I am providing a valuable service. I have structured my business in a way that ensures quality and efficiency. But occasionally, there will be a customer who thinks he shouldn’t have to pay so much, or should be able to schedule lessons whenever he wants, or receive lessons that have expired. Do you break your own policies to keep the client? Or adhere to your business structure and risk losing him to set a precedent for the future?

Responding to customer needs diplomatically has been one of my greatest challenges this year. I am still in the process of finding the middle ground between making an effort to do nice things for clients so that I’ll have a good reputation and get referrals – and knowing when to simply say ‘no.’

3: You can only spend so much time basking in business growth before it’s time to start working on the next big thing.

As a teacher, I love incentives. I also happen to love accessories. So naturally I told myself that after I hit a certain number of students I would go out and buy myself a designer purse as a reward. When I hit that number, I was so busy with all my new students that ran out of time to go shopping. A few weeks later several students quit and my plan of buying myself a present felt silly. From then on I chose to put my focus on the intrinsic rewards of my job! (One of these days I’ll get that purse 🙂 )

4: Change and growth bring challenges with them; expect resistance. 

I rang in the 2015 New Year working harder than ever in hopes of reaping some rewards later in the year – more students, more opportunities for students, and improved teaching practices. I had exciting ideas I couldn’t wait to implement. I reached out to new audiences and started offering lessons for preschoolers and home school students. I prepared a curriculum I had never used before and offered free trial lessons. I ran a booth at a convention. I introduced master classes. All of these changes will hugely benefit my studio in the long run, but implementing each of these has really rocked the boat this year. I have been met with resistance in each arena. The curriculum flopped – The trial students quit – The parents aren’t on board with the classes. I have learned that the work you put in does not always pay off as soon as you think it will. Nonetheless, I must believe that the seeds I’ve planted will come to fruition as the dust of change begins to settle.

5: Self employment involves patience and delayed gratification.

Even after you’ve put in tireless hours of impassioned work, new hangups will pop up and you will have more problems to solve. There is a sense that you can never do enough. It is then that you must remind yourself of the BIG PICTURE. This is your job, but in small business it is also your life. When I think about the rest of my life, I am happy that I have a long way to go in fine tuning my business. If I had it all figured out now, my future would be a bore! At the same time, it is important to relish in every small success along the way – a compliment, a referral, a student who understands a new concept because you were there to help – there is much to be thankful for in each step of the journey.

I am thankful for the challenges I have faced this year because they have brought me new understanding. I have learned so much and grown more than I could have ever imagined. Wherever you’re at on your journey, small business or not, may you see hope in the struggle, and find strength in your hope.

Related verses:

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23

“We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” -Romans 5:3-4

What ideas or values did you hold when you were young that had a significant impact on your life choices and work?

What have you learned in the past year about the nature of your work?

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