Laura Barrett | Crain's Tampa Bay

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Laura Barrett

Background:  

Founded by Laura Barrett, a classically trained opera singer with a music degree from the University of South Florida, Barrett School of Music provides music lessons for a wide range of instruments to clients in Seminole Heights, South Tampa, and Westchase, and has plans to expand to Lakeland and St. Petersburg.

The Mistake:

I thought of myself as a musician who accidentally runs a studio. I didn’t value branding and marketing myself.

I come from a music family. In school, I pursued music because it seemed like the right thing to do. It wasn’t even a completely intentional decision. But after graduation, I was like, “I don’t want to do this. Everybody in my family does this. I want to do something different.” So I took a very corporate job … and lasted about three months. It was terrible. I didn’t want to work a nine-to-five with no flexibility. So I quit. But while I was doing that job, I had a couple of music students I was teaching on the side. So I decided to go for it and build my own studio.

When I first founded the school and started teaching, I wasn’t sure if I even loved music anymore. I was so flooded by it. Building the studio was fun, but at the time I didn’t realize that what I really enjoyed was the process of building the studio. Only recently have I decided, in my head, that I’m a businessperson. I always thought of myself as a musician who accidentally runs a studio. I didn’t value branding and marketing myself, at all.

Part of it stems from my very non-business mind. I tend to think of myself as an artist and musician – and I am those – but thinking of the studio as a business was new for me. Once I started hiring people, I realized there’s more to running a business than having an awesome product or service. I think our service is the best. But there’s got to be a support system in place to promote that service, to maintain that service.

Not thinking of things as a business meant I didn’t take risks.

The Lesson:

I should’ve acknowledged that I’m starting a business and not just providing a service. And I should have believed in a more well-rounded approach to starting a business and been more intentional with community outreach. I’ve always performed – I’m not at all shy – but at first I didn’t think of the business as something that could always be promoted. Tying my brand as a performer to the business was really smart. But it can be hard to lift your head up above all of the distractions and realize, “Oh, I’m building something here.”

On an abstract level, the other big thing I’ve learned is to just go for it. That goes along with seeing what you are doing as a business and appreciating the value of branding and marketing. Not thinking of things as a business meant I didn’t take risks … I just tried to maintain. Two years ago, doing this interview would have horrified me. I wouldn’t know what to say because, in my mind, I wasn’t running a business.

Or lining up a gig and saying we’re going to assemble a full band and sing a bunch of pop songs – that’s very outside of my solo-opera-singer mentality. But now I realize that I can totally do that because I’m a professional musician – and that means going for things and trying new stuff, which in turn is good for marketing myself and the business.

Follow Barrett School of Music on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thebarrettschool.

Photo by Markus Neuert | Courtesy of Laura Barrett

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