We're back with another Dreamers + Doers interview!
Catherine Bender is a flutist and music instructor in Seattle. Not only is she an extremely talented musician, she is wonderfully kind and genuine. I really enjoyed getting to know her through this D+D process! Be sure to check out her interview below, especially the final question. It gave me goosebumps to hear about her big dreams!
Catherine, tell me a bit about your business.
I run a music studio teaching private flute and piano lessons. My students are all ages and primarily beginner or intermediate level, although I've had a few advanced players. I love getting people excited about music! My studio is a supportive learning environment that encourages the development of self-discipline and musical expression along with the fundamentals of music. And because musicality is informed by theory, history, and culture, I involve these areas whenever possible.
How long have you been dreaming about starting your business? What made you finally go for it?
Honestly, I never expected to be a teacher, even though I've always loved sharing knowledge. I taught for about a year and a half before moving to Seattle through a community music school and for the children of some friends, but I never thought about setting up my own studio. Then one of my flutist friends with a teaching studio had to move out of state and she gave my name out to students as an alternate option. I got my two first students that way and was hooked! I've been teaching for five years in the Seattle area and it's been incredible.
What is your favorite part about running your business? Least favorite part?
Hands down, my students are the best thing about teaching. Watching them learn and develop as musicians is so rewarding - and they're all such amazing people! It's a real privilege to get to work with each one of them.
My least favorite part has been enforcing policies around lesson cancellation. I try to be as flexible as possible because I know that life happens, but it can get really chaotic (and expensive for me) if several people cancel last minute. I'd rather just show up and teach, but part of running the business is doing the business side of things too!
What has been the best business advice you've received?
I've gotten a lot of great advice over the years from the folks at Capitol Music about building my studio and where I hope to go. The two pieces of advice that stick out were to get in with a "pod" of moms (because a lot of students hear about me by word of mouth) and to switch to a semester system rather than going month to month (much easier to plan ahead).
But even more important than advice is the experience I got before starting my business. I worked for several years as executive director of Gallery Concerts, a chamber music non-profit in Seattle, and that experience has been absolutely invaluable in terms of learning about what it means to operate a business. The non-profit was small and I ended up getting my hands in everything - back office admin, front of house sales, concert management, and most importantly, bookkeeping. I credit a lot of my success to the skills I learned there.
Tell me about your greatest business success and your biggest challenge.
Business-wise, my greatest success is making money - enough to pay off my not insignificant student loans every month, cover business expenses, and bank a little.
The biggest challenge has definitely been making time for the business. I work a day job and maintain a very active life, and it has been a struggle at times to balance everything. I've taken steps this year to simplify, though, and I expect next year to be much less stressful!
Where do you hope your business is in 1 year? 5 years?
I'm taking the summer to implement some big changes to my studio this year - I'm switching over to a semester billing and scheduling system, I'm establishing some new studio policies, and I'm developing a new curriculum that will help my students measure their success.
In five years I would love to double my studio size and have a larger studio space where I can store my instruments, music, and teaching materials. I'd like to have a sound/recording system so that I can play CDs and have my students listen to themselves.
What would you do with your business if you knew you couldn't fail?
I'd establish a non-profit that provides free and subsidized music lessons on a sliding scale to low and middle income kids in the Seattle area. The focus would initially be on private lessons, but we could add ensembles and group lessons, and eventually history and theory classes, perhaps even branch out into other areas of the arts. There would be field trips to give kids a chance to participate in the rich cultural life of Seattle, and it would be great to get professional musicians in to talk to students about their experiences. We could offer end of year recitals and - maybe - college scholarships.
We would employ college and graduate students or recent grads in music who want some real-world experience teaching; it could even partner with a pedagogy class or the education department at UW. Teachers would be paid a living wage and if I'm really dreaming big, I'd like to provide benefits as well.
I imagine music/arts centers around the city in areas of greatest need, probably close to schools to provide after-school programming. Funding would be primarily grants and donations. In a perfect world, I win the lottery and establish a trust to be used for the non-profit.
Thank you, Catherine, for sharing your business and talents with us! If you're looking for flute lessons or a flutist for your wedding, definitely reach out to Catherine!
Know someone running their own small business? We'd love to feature them! Tell us in the comments below (or send us an email!)