Arts People – the First Nine Months
Or why starting a business is both rewarding and scary
A cup of coffee
In March 2018, Richard and Richard met for a coffee in Greengates, Bradford. The first Richard had an idea and wanted to know what the second Richard thought of it. He was aware that there were primary schools keen to offer music teaching to their children, but without the expertise to do so and, it appeared, without being able to find the right specialists to help. He wanted to help and needed a partner. From this conversation was born Arts People.
We knew many schools were committed to music, without being able to offer it successfully. We also knew that there were musicians with the right skills who were struggling to find teaching work. We believed we could match them up. And, whilst we were doing that, we could support with training, advice and quality assurance. Very quickly, we realised that what we wanted most of all was for many more children to have the opportunity to learn arts well. And for us to make that happen.
We committed ourselves at the outset to ensuring quality in all we did: effective recruitment and matching of schools and tutors; proper quality assurance of teaching; appropriate training and support for tutors; good service for schools. This commitment to quality would be seen in everything we did. We also committed to supporting the cause of arts education more generally and, early on, we agreed to put 10% of all profit into a fund to support the arts education of those who were struggling to afford it.
The product or service itself was always going to be the key issue for us therefore, but we also had to decide on a price. This was a tricky area. Price is an issue of morality: the price needs to ensure a fair return to risk, skill and effort, but no more than that; it is also one of marketing: too low a price might signal poor quality, but too high a price will make the service unaffordable. We think we got it about right, especially ensuring that our tutors receive a decent return and that we reward schools which provide our tutors with a sensible chunk of teaching time. With any new business, there is little expectation that the owners make money in the early years and that has proved accurate in our case, but we are happy that we have a product and pricing model that will stand the test of time. And we are enjoying making a difference!
April and May were busy months. We needed to find the words to summarise our ethos, mission and product offer. We needed to establish a brand that supported the clarity of those words. We needed to set targets and draft a plan. Then, by May half-term (undesirably, but unavoidably, late) we needed to find a small number of schools that would take a risk on a new business that had no track record. Finally, in June and July, we would be able to recruit tutors and draw up contracts.
At the end of May, we were still in discussion with several schools and a few had signed up. Mindful of our commitment to quality and needing to be certain we had the right tutors in place, we stopped selling. It is an unusual business that spends a major part of the year not making sales, but for us it was essential; our focus had to shift to the service we were providing for our first schools. It seems to have worked. satisfaction is high and we are working in partnership with some great tutors and schools.
We are grateful to the schools that trusted us and followed through on their initial commitment. We are sorry to those of you we had to turn away. The narrative above might help explain why. Now that we can approach 2019 -20 with more time and confidence, we are looking forward to working with more of you and helping more children enjoy performing.