Yesterday evening I was invited back to my old university, City University, to give a talk at their Careers In Music Event. Following the success of the evening I thought I’d share with you what I shared with them…
I thought I’d start by giving a little bit of background about my career path since graduating from City.
Whilst studying here at City, I decided to set up my first company, the Chocolate Box Music Agency, out of the desire to secure more paid function gigs. This is the company that appears alongside my name on your programme there.
Chocolate Box is essentially a music agency providing wedding bands and musicians for events and functions. It’s now recognized as one of the more bespoke agencies with a growing global reputation. We are also known for paying our musicians very good rates as one of the things that motivated me to start up in the first place was securing great pay for musicians and ridding the world of the £50 gig economy. I’m still working on that particular goal but I’d like to think I’m making an impact, no matter how small!
This sense of purpose and having a clear goal in mind is one of the most crucial bits of advice I could give to any aspiring entrepreneur. Knowing WHY you are doing something and knowing exactly what you want to achieve is paramount to your success. I’ll explain in more detail but first let me finish my personal entrepreneurial story.
Following the success of the Chocolate Box Music Agency, I then went on to start the North London Music Academy, a music school in Camden for adults and children, followed a few years later by Industry Inspired Artists, an artist development company and record label.
I also own a dance studios, an artist management company and my most recent venture is an online business mentoring and coaching service aimed at musicians and creative types looking for support in their entrepreneurial and freelance ventures.
That’s a total of six businesses since graduating and I don’t intend to stop any time soon. Warren Buffet is famous for saying every billionaire has at least seven streams of income and as one of the wealthiest men in the world I’m inclined to trust his sentiment.
That said, being an entrepreneur and pursuing entrepreneurial visions isn’t just about money. In fact money ought to be at the bottom of your priority list because you won’t have much of it for at least three years if not longer! Some businesses get rich quick it’s true but most take at least 3 years to break even, and that brings me back to the first point I made about having a sense of purpose.
Why did I start up in business? My dream was to help people. My first target market was musicians. I wanted to secure better paid work for my friends. A humble dream but one I achieved. My dream then grew. I wanted to create a whole generation of musicians who I could provide these financial opportunities to, and so I started my school. As an artist and singer/songwriter (I release my album this weekend by the way) I also recognized the frustration of fellow artists struggling to break the industry and I wanted to help them too and so on and so on. My ambition to help and to serve has gotten bigger and bigger as I’ve grown more confident as an entrepreneur and as a musician myself.
It’s certainly not the traditional career path for a music grad but what is?! A music degree can take you anywhere! We are a creative people, I’d like to think we’re natural entrepreneurial spirits, we’re certainly not conformists. I know hundreds of musicians who battled parents’ desires for them to be doctors or lawyers.
One of the things I come across a lot in my line of work is the perceived value of music, musicians and the lack of value musicians place on themselves. It frustrates the hell out of me and if I may, I’d like to impart a little teaching on you right now which I give to all the music teachers who work for me at the school, all the musicians in the agency, the artists on my record label, and all those musicians and creative types I mentor and coach. It’s this…
You are awesome
That simple. Self-belief is PARAMOUNT to your success whether you intend to set up your own business or not. As musicians you have dedicated your lives to your craft and your art form. You spend hours rehearsing and studying and refining the tiniest details in everything you play, perform and produce. You’ve already committed three years of your life to studying here and no doubt a ton of money, and that’s not including all the time and money spent to put you in that seat you’re sat in.
When you graduate I want you to graduate with a sense of high value. You have gifts to offer the world that aren’t in any way inferior to those of a law grad or a mathematician, so please, if you take on a teaching job, don’t teach for £20 an hour, it’s an insult to yourself, your musical peers and the music economy itself. Similarly please don’t accept gigs for £50. You’re worth so much more!! This is one of things I’m fighting to create in all aspects of everything I do… fair pay for musicians! But my first battle is convincing you guys you’re worth it!
If you believe in yourself, every one around you will too.
Before I get kicked off the stage I want to give you some practical tips for setting up your own business and building your own life.
As musicians, your brand identity is you. All companies have their ‘mission statement’ and ‘core values’. As freelance musicians your approach to acquiring work shouldn’t be any different so take the time to think about your USP’s (that’s unique selling points), think about what makes you different, want you stand for and what you stand against. Then, it might seem obvious but you need a website, and your website needs to present your brand identity in a clear and concise way. This identity then needs to be reflected on all your social media channels, your invoices, business cards and email signatures. The tiniest details make your brand strong and powerful. Strong and powerful companies get noticed. You want to get noticed. Make sure your fonts, colours, logo (if you have one) are coherent across all the different platforms. When I talk about platforms I’m talking about your online and offline prescence. When we think online we think facebook business page (or music page), twitter, youtube channel, pinterest, your blog, your website, instagram, periscope, even your snap chat. Something I also seem to find myself saying on repeat to my musicians is the importance of maintaining a professional identity. It’s fine to have pictures of yourself arse over elbow on a Saturday night but keep it limited to a private facebook account that’s only viewable by friends. Have a separate page for your business brand, whether that’s you as a freelance musician or an actual company that you’ve set up.
Ok next. Automation. As an entrepreneur, automation will become your best friend! Automate everything you possibly can and you will learn to leverage your time. Time is not your friend in business. The stuff seems to slip away from you at lightening speed and you can never get enough of the damn stuff. Trust me I’d work 8 days a week if I could!! Fortunately technology is your friend and there’s so much you can automate these days. All the social media posts for all 6 companies are automated for me using a great little tool called hootsuite. I also recommend buffer and edgar. All my emails are automated too using mailchimp. My booking and accounts are automated so I don’t spend hours every week processing invoices and receipts. I use Xero Accounting cloud software synced with a gadget called commerce sync which talks to paywhirl and skedda. Forgive me if I’m baffling you with jargon here, the point I want to make is that by automating as much as possible I’m free to focus on the business and use my time wisely to do what I love and make the change in the world I want to see.
Tip number 3.
Work smart not hard. Running around in circles like a headless chicken gets you nowhere. Trust me I tried it for a few years and I burned out. There’s nothing glamorous about pretending to be busy. It’s a sham. People who pretend to be busy are usually busy doing nothing. Get to know yourself. Recognize your strengths and your weaknesses, and what you can’t do yourself, or teach yourself, hire someone else to do it for you. Delegation is my new best friend, and it’s taken me almost 8 years to really understand the power of it. You don’t need to be making loads of money to start building a team. Virtual assistants can be just as useful as physical ones and they’re far cheaper. There’s also a great website called fiverr (fiverr with two r’s at the end) where freelancers and entrepreneurs just like us trade skills and prices can start at just £5.
I’ll stop there because I don’t want to bore you to death or overwhelm you and having you running for the hills. What I will say to anyone thinking of starting their own business or stepping out as a freelancer and avoiding the 9 to 5 world, is this… there’s nothing more empowering in the world than having a dream and creating that reality for yourself.
It’s not all roses and pound signs, in fact in can be quite the opposite, and I’ve had plenty of moments where I’ve considered giving it all up for job security. I’ve also given up my 20s to build my empire but I intend to take a break in my 30s and enjoy the fruits of my success.
It’s not for everyone, but if anything of what I’ve said to you just now has lit a spark for you then come talk to me after. I am a business mentor and coach, and I’m especially passionate about working with musicians so if you’ll let me, I can help you design your own life too.