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Lessons Learned from my Successes and Failures as an Entrepreneur

Becoming an entrepreneur has always been my goal and I’ve had many forays into entrepreneurialism. Some were successful, others failed, however I learned important lessons from all of them.

After graduating with a Master of Music degree in Voice/Opera Performance, I did what all my other colleagues did to pay the bills. I taught voice lessons.  I was an entrepreneur! Teaching gave me the flexibility to audition and alter my timetable to accommodate my performance schedules.  In-between, and to pay the bills, I taught other music-related courses like harmony, theory, aural skills, music theatre performance classes, and even jazz/pop performance classes. I even did the occasional substitute teaching for music history classes (not my forte).  The lessons I learned as a music teacher were invaluable.

  • Teach people what they want and add in what they need. They’ll eventually come around, but they are the paying customer and I needed to help them meet their goals. I learned this lesson from a student who said – I don’t get all this i, oo, ah, scale stuff. I asked her “don’t you want to expand your vocal range?” She said, “no, I just want to go through a bunch of country and western songs every week so that I can sing in a band.” That was a moment of revelation to me. After that epiphany, I changed my approach. It was fun for me to accompany her CW songs and not have to worry about technique. She was happy knowing she’d accomplished her goal of learning enough songs for a couple of sets on stage with a band.
  • Only take students you like. When I started, I thought I could teach everybody, but I learned not everyone is my student. Some people are better with another type of teacher/personality. Eventually, I had a studio of singers I loved to teach and who were a pleasure to listen to. It didn’t feel like work and I looked forward to each day.
  •  Smile and be pleasant even if you’re having a horrible day. People take music lessons because they want some joy in their lives.  I needed to learn how to put myself in a positive mindset during lessons. I cringe sometimes when I think of earlier me. Lesson learned.
  • Set boundaries – also called creating and sticking to a Lesson Policy. Also called signing a contract (as an entrepreneur) I learned early on, I had to draw a line in the sand about;
    • cancellations  –  24 hours notice required except with extreme or sudden illness
    • rescheduled lessons  – I had some students who accumulated so many canceled lessons they could have an entire semester of free lessons. I couldn’t pay my rent with that! I made it a policy that rescheduled lessons had to made up within four months  
    • payment – if a student showed up to their lesson with all kinds of excuses about why they couldn’t pay and promised to make it up at a later date, I told them I would be happy to teach them after they paid. They went home without a lesson. I weeded out the people who didn’t pay, and only had people who valued my time and expertise
  • Charge what you’re worth (and what the market can bear). This is always tough for new entrepreneurs. I used to get calls from people who only wanted to pay $10 or $20 an hour and were comparing me to the music teacher they knew who taught out of a church basement with no formal training.  I had competed with thousands of top-notch performers to gain entry into a master’s program from a top 10 American university and had studied with the best of the best. I knew I could fix technical problems and had a broad knowledge of classical repertoire and music theatre. That skill, knowledge, and expertise were worth something.
  • Get organized – my schedule could be crazy, and I had to figure out how to keep on top of my many activities.  Initially, I kept messing up and people were mad and frustrated with me. I used a colour-coded schedule I carried with me at all times, that worked, problem solved.  To this day I still colour-code my schedule in my google calendar.

Eventually, I wanted new challenges and experiences. I was tired of being an entrepreneur who lived in a practice room all day, and working evenings, weekends, and holidays. Juggling lots of balls for a not-so-great-income had gotten old. Although I made a good hourly wage, I could only physically teach so many students per day. My yearly pay usually capped at $30K.

I changed careers and joined the world of 9:00 -5:00 work. Becoming an employee after being an entrepreneur took some adjustment, and after 15 years, I yearned to be my own boss again. My biggest gripe with the world of work was that I didn’t have any control over the people I was working with.  During the interview processes, employers made it clear they were seeking the best, brightest, and most skilled, only to hire me then tell me to sit on my hands and wait for my boss to tell me what to do. Although it paid well, I felt that I was losing my soul.

Employment didn’t stop me from pursuing entrepreneurship though, and while working, I continued being an entrepreneur by starting a number of part time businesses including;

  • an opera company called The Great Western Opera Company (GWOC) – started in my 20’s while teaching music, it nearly killed me
  • a spa called Beauty and the Basement – aptly named because it was in the basement of my house
  • an accent reduction coaching business – fun and good for spending money
  • a property management business –  Calgary Dwelling Consultants (CDC)
  • an online business for 1st-time investors who want to self-manage– my current gig
  • Writing – ongoing gig

GWOC involved a ton of arts administration and people management and I was singing in the shows and teaching full time. To say being a multiple entrepreneur was hectic was an understatement. I entered into the business not realizing how much time and effort it took to raise funds for productions. I also hadn’t anticipated what I would do if singers chose to fly out for a second audition with a big company rather than performing with my company at a festival.  I lost a lot of sleep and felt stressed out most of the time. The performances were great. Singing repertoire I loved and putting together shows, was a great creative outlet. Money was a constant worry.

Accent reduction was probably the easiest business to start up and paid immediately, it was very similar to teaching ESL and didn’t require any start-up costs. Most of my business came through word of mouth.

I started Beauty and the Basement thinking I could rent out the basement space in my Fort McMurray home to individual nail technicians or massage therapists. That didn’t go well, and I changed lanes and ran it myself, back to being an entrepreneur. It was hard work and I didn’t keep track of my spending. At the end of 12 months, my accountant told me the business had cost me $50k and I needed to either make a lot more money very quickly or fold. In my heart of hearts, I knew I didn’t want a business that nailed me into one location, so I opted to shut the doors and repay the debt.

Property investing – over the years, while working, I bought two houses and a condo. Managing my own properties involved a huge learning curve and I figured I could turn my knowledge and expertise of finding great tenants into a business. Calgary Dwelling Consultants started out as a tenant-finding business and was fun and profitable the first couple of years. I loved being an entrepreneur who helped property owners find great tenants, and tenants find great places to live.

In Alberta real estate is a highly regulated business and there was pressure to become licensed. After CDC became licensed, I found my entire day occupied with maintenance requests from cranky, rude tenants, and landlords. I hated it. To justify my decision to end the business to my husband I crunched the numbers. When we were a tenant finding business, if we made $2000, we got to keep $2000.  When we were property managers, every month we had to pay brokerage commissions, disbursement fees, association fees, and yearly re-licensing fees. For every $2000 we made we got to keep $400. That was enough to convince him we should change lanes.

It wasn’t all bad though. While at CDC, we (my husband and I) started our own meetup group and I created a course – Landlord Fundamentals 101 online. We also gave many presentations on specific topics that are valuable to landlords such as tenant screening, maintenance, among others, and produced short videos. Those were and still are fun.

Writing- I’ve always written and fell into a freelance gig for a technical company I had worked with in a previous job. I liked it, and I decided to take some courses to hone my craft. A year later, I’ve managed to stay steadily busy and love the flexible schedule, learning new things every day,  and the challenge of finding the “hook”.

That brings me to now. My dream for the past 10 years has been to be an entrepreneur who has a profitable online business I can do from anywhere in the world. I love traveling, I’ve been to 25 countries, and when COVID is under control, I want to experience more of the world.  To get me there, I’ve chosen to invest in business mentoring. It’s been a couple of months and little by little I’m starting to see results. My first product was launched two weeks ago 10 Essential Landlord Forms (shameless plug) and I was over the moon when PayPal sent me notification of my first payment.  My husband found it funny that I got so excited about $34 bucks, but I can see the potential, and that’s exciting.

Next year (COVID permitting)  I hope to be the entrepreneur of my dreams and writing a sequel to this post from an exotic location.

Nelda Schulte is a property investor who is passionate about helping investors who self-manage have profitable investment properties through resources and education. If you struggle with the wrong landlord forms, or worse yet, no landlord forms check out Nelda’s 10 Essential Editable Landlord Forms that help you separate the good tenants from the bad and increase your property’s profitability.

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2 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from my Successes and Failures as an Entrepreneur”

  1. Great Nelda!

    The article shows the need an entrepreneur must have to experiment, be flexible and have the tenacity to achieve your ultimate goals. Always trying and adapting, while maintaining a specific course. Failure is sometimes the springboard for future success, giving up misses the opportunity to benefit from experience and initial effort.

    Build an initial asset and experience base and constantly leverage those achievements to get to what you set out as your goals. A series of failures magically and frequently turns into a series of successes. An Entrepreneur is ultimately an Optimist, always building.

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