Categorized | Shoestring Startup

The Snowball Effect of a Shoestring Startup

The Snowball Effect of a Shoestring StartupIn December of 1997, I quit my assistant ship at graduate school, packed up the meager belongings of a poor college student, and moved to Atlanta to pursue a singer/songwriter dream. Quickly understanding that the life of a performing musician wasn’t cutting it financially, I decided to accept a corporate day job to pay the bills and fund my songwriting pursuit. At the same time, I began teaching piano on the side. Within four years, I was able to quit my corporate job and focus solely on teaching full time. From there my music education business snowballed.

In 2003, this “small side job” had escalated to 78 piano students per week with a growing wait list. Needing help, I hired a friend to teach the customers on the wait list, and as a result discovered our niche market – in-home music lessons. As our student number grew, I hired more instructors and branched out to offer music lessons on other instruments. In 2007, Metro Music Makers incorporated; and today, we have 18 independent contractors working for the company. Our instructors teach lessons on piano, guitar, voice, violin, drums and percussion in the convenience of our customers’ homes.

The business venture started without a dime. I provided a service to fit a specific need, and I made sure that the service was the best quality that could be offered. To this day, I personally interview and audition each instructor that we hire to make sure he or she is capable of offering music lessons and customer service that meet our high standards.

The key to our business success has been building positive and lasting relationships with our customers. In turn, our customers have referred their friends, neighbors and family members to us. Our increasing student number is largely the result of word-of-mouth advertising; and, to show our appreciation, we reward our customers for referring new business to us. We also reward our instructors for referring both new business and new instructors to us.

In regards to how we handle our competition, we stay aware of what our competition offers and what it doesn’t offer. Being aware of our competition helps us to stay current in the market. We can’t afford to lose sleep over the competition, so we stay focused on our customers, our service and our unique strategy for growth.

As a home-based business our overhead costs are low, and this has been very beneficial in aiding steady growth during a tough economy. We operate on a lean budget, and we outsource projects carefully and only if absolutely needed. Time efficient processes save us money, so we do our best to automate our processes with affordable software. Because our overhead is minimal and because we receive payment for services in advance, Metro Music Makers has been able to thrive on a shoestring budget.

For a musician without any formal business education, running the business has been a “hands-on” experience. As the business began to snowball, I felt myself running to keep up. Along the way, I’ve surrounded myself with experts who can give me sound advice. In addition, I search for mentors who have “been there, done that” so that I can learn from their mistakes and successes.

Advisors that an entrepreneur may seek out include a lawyer, tax accountant, and business growth consultant or business coach. The first expert advisor necessary for my business was an accountant. With the time I spent running the startup, the last thing I had time for was staying up-to-date on all the IRS code. Making sure that the company is in compliance with current tax laws and regulations is crucial, and it was most cost effective for me to hire someone to handle the company’s tax returns.

Eventually, as I made the decision to incorporate, I hired a lawyer to help me with the process. A good point here for those of you operating on a shoestring budget is that I didn’t hire a lawyer until it was necessary for taking our business to the next level. In addition to incorporating, our lawyer has been essential in making sure that our independent contractor agreements and policies are in compliance with state laws. Since our lawyer also works with large corporations, he has been able to help me envision a bigger picture for Metro Music Makers when I previously have been too caught up in the daily duties of running the business to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Finding the right people can be a difficult task. I have had three different accountants since the start of my business in 1998, and they all came highly recommended. Our lawyer was referred by a friend who owns a successful small business. At the initial meeting with each of these advisors, we spent time going over my business in detail. I prepared several questions of my own to make sure that they were going to be the right fit for my company and the company’s future.

The Snowball Effect of a Shoestring Startup

Allison J Boyd

I have found that I can be my biggest obstacle. I think most small business owners would agree that it’s easy to second guess the decisions we make and to lose focus on our vision for the business. My biggest advice to other entrepreneurs is to know what you do best and to do it the best. Also, I advise small business owners to stay focused on your unique vision for your company and don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked. Your unique vision may change and take different shape during the course of reaching your goals. Be careful not to allow influencers who don’t know your business like you do to get you off track! Remember, you will always know the heart of your business better than anyone else. You breathed the life into your business, and you can take it where you want it to go.

Here are five important questions for anyone who is thinking about starting a business on a shoestring budget:

  1. Am I willing and able to put in the initial time and energy it will take to get the business up and running on a lean budget?
  2. Will my business provide a service or product that customers will pay for in advance?
  3. Will the profit margins be large enough to have a successful business?
  4. Will my business require overhead costs that exceed my shoestring budget?
  5. Can my business grow without spending large amounts on marketing?

As a small business owner, my role in the company has transitioned with our growth. This school year is my first year to step away from teaching so that I can focus on my vision for Metro Music Makers. Right now, that means putting all of my energy into our organization and further growth and expansion. We’ll be offering new and exciting opportunities for both our instructors and students. I’m very excited about the future, and I believe the sky’s the limit!

For more information about Metro Music Makers, please visit

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One Response to “The Snowball Effect of a Shoestring Startup”

  1. Stefanie says:

    These words ring true to a fellow friend, mother and female entrepreneur. Congratulations on all of your success! Pat yourself on the back and maintain your optimism. Thank you for sharing your story.


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