On Wednesday, January 31st the Center for Entrepreneurship co-hosted a convo with the Office of Career Development to give students the opportunity to learn from some of Nashville's creative entrepreneurs.
Belmont Alumna Libby Oellerich (2014) moderated the event and interviewed our creative entrepreneurs. She is the Creative Content Manager for Nashville Songwriters Association. She also has her own podcast called "The Local Lady."
Our interviewees (also Belmont Alumni) were:
Megan Beaven, who graduated as a Music Business major in 2015. She is now the proud owner of No Baked Cookie Dough.
Amanda Mazzo, who graduated in 2003 as a Commercial Voice major. She is now the Creative Director and COO of Mazzo Media.
Paul Nelson, a Commercial Cello major who graduated in 2002. He is now a Session Musician, Educator and Musicpreneur and has worked with artists such as OneRepublic and U2.
Ryan Schemmel, who majored in Music Business and graduated in 2010. He is the co-founder of Fort Houston.
In case you missed it, here is what we learned:
Biggest Challenges of Being an Entrepreneur:
Megan said that one of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur is trying to make enough money to match what you would have been making in a more traditional position. She worked in the music industry for a year after she graduated from Belmont and felt like she could either "keep climbing the music industry ladder" or do something for herself.
She said it was a challenge to risk the income she was making in order to pursue No Baked, but her passion for cookie dough and the desire to get out of the music industry helped her to take the leap of faith.
For Amanda, the biggest challenge is keeping track of everything. She has to keep very detailed records of everything for her business. She said that when she first started her business she had to "change hats from being a creative to running the details of everyday things."
Paul said that his biggest challenge is "[being] harder on [himself] than a boss would ever be on [him]." He has to keep himself on track and work very hard in order to achieve his goals.
When he first began as an entrepreneur, Ryan's biggest challenge was money. There is a lot of money that goes into making your own business, and if you don't have sufficient funds, it can be detrimental. He recalls moving back in with his "folks" for a year in order to save up enough cash to start Fort Houston.
Another big challenge for Ryan was customer service. If any of you have ever worked in retail, you know that dealing with unhappy customers can be quite the challenge. Ryan said that he learned this the hard way!
Embracing the Community Around You:
When he first started out as an entrepreneur, Ryan didn't have the funds for traditional marketing channels, so instead he tapped into the Nashville community. He had friends in local bands play at Fort Houston's events and promoted his business through them.
Amanda said,"If you're not going to be an advocate for your business, no one else is going to do it for you." This means that if you are not going to promote your business, then it simply won't "get out there." You have to put work into making sure people know about your business and who you are, and you can grow from there.
Making contacts or networking can help with this. Amanda suggested the Nashville Junior Chamber and Young Alumni as great organization with which to get involved.
Megan also harnessed Nashville's expansive and supportive community. Like Ryan, she did not have the funds for a big advertisement campaign when she first began her business. "The Nashville Community was great for getting the word out! I harnessed Nashville's love for local business." She reached out to lots of Nashville-based social media accounts and asked them to try her cookie dough and post about it.
She also had to learn the do's and don'ts of setting up pop-up shops. There are a lot of rules and regulations that go into selling on public property, so she had to work with private businesses to set up shops.
Finding Out Where Your Target Audience Is/Growing your Business:
Megan admits that she didn't really know what to expect when she first started No Baked. It was a lot of trying to keep up with orders, and she quickly saw that she couldn't do it all by herself. It goes to show that you don't know the issues until you actually start the business. Megan used targeted instagram pages that focused on the trends in Nashville and marketed toward Milennials.
On her marketing strategy, Amanda said, "The most cost effective marketing is definitely social media."
For Paul, it isn't about social media marketing. For him it's all about trying to make money doing what he loves most: music. But, to get his stuff out there, he doesn't just play music. He does it all. He describes it as "going through the open door."
The small businesses that worked with Ryan began collaborating with each other. His business became a great place for businesses to connect. Some businesses have been working with Ryan and his business since day one, and they are extremely loyal. He says, "They watch each other grow as we grow." They have now grown to hosting just over 60 businesses.
For Megan, learning to say no was very important. People often come into her store saying, "I can do this, if you pay this amount." Instead of paying people to do various things for her business, she steps back and tries to see what she could do for No Baked. "If it's something I can do, then I will do it to save the company money."
"Make the decision to put your all into something. If you really believe in something and put your all into it, it's worth it"
Amanda's advice for saying no is to look at your own goals. If a request aligns with your goals for your business, consider doing it. If a request fails to align with the goals of your business, tell them no.
When Paul gets a request, he tries to incorporate it into a system he already has. He also tries to align it with what he's trying to do: "Can you put together a brass section? I could but it's not part of what I'm trying to do."
"Taking the jump is scary but so worth it." Amanda recalls being afraid to make the change from working a steady job to being her own boss.
Paul said finding a rental property for his business was extremely difficult. Nashville properties are really expensive, something that needs to be taken into consideration if you are planning to have your business in Nashville.
Ryan said, "The risks of starting something new at the beginning is pretty obvious. Choosing whether or not to continue to take risks is more complicated. Once things kind of level out it is good. Do you want to take the same risks? It's important to level the risks out as they go along."
Learning Things About Yourself:
"You all know what your skill sets are. If you do something really well don't stop doing that thing or spread yourself thin. Getting better at allocating duties or saying no. Don't spread yourself too thin." Ryan gave the advice of using your strengths to your full advantage but not to get in over your head. If you can delegate tasks to other people so you can focus on what is most important, do that.
Paul said that learning balance was a struggle for him, but a very important skill for the entrepreneur. Paul said, "Getting up by 5AM and getting everything together has been the biggest game changer." Getting up early to get stuff done and have a productive day helped Paul get where he is today.
Balance was important for Amanda as well. "It's easy to get wrapped up in something that you love. I am not my job. There has to be that separation to still create and have a personal life." Making sure you have a life outside your business and learning to leave your work alone for a few hours will help you to relax and keep your sanity. Balance between home and work life is very important.
Work and home life balance was also a struggle for Megan for a while. "It's hard to turned No Baked off. It's hard to ignore all the notifications." It was also difficult delegating her attention to certain things because she is "playing every single role in the business." But, she is learning new things, and even got to uncover a new passion: "[I'm] Passionate about marketing, and I found out I love this and I get to do that every day."
Expanding & Growing:
No Baked just signed a lease for a second store in Louisville, KY. They are also about to start selling franchises to make the brand known nationwide.
Amanda's company just landed an account in Las Vegas. They are trying to spread their wings a bit more and expand their business.
Paul is currently working on pushing a record onto a Spotify playlist and is also working with OneRepublic.
Ryan is looking to grow the experiential art fabrication side of things. His company just set up a nonprofit section for what they do. He is looking to eventually add job training for skill sets to this area of the company.
What We Have Learned:
As an entrepreneur, you will learn as you go. Have the courage to make what you love into your career and don't be afraid to make the jump from employee to employer.