In today’s show, I wanna share with you eight lessons I learned from COVID—lessons that I learned the hard way, but lessons that I can apply to the future.
1. How To Lead During A Crisis
It was during the recession that I learned this lesson, and during COVID, I experienced it again. I had to go through the process once more—the importance of remaining level-headed and cool-headed in a moment of crisis. Just think back to those first few weeks of COVID. Your staff was looking to you, and your reaction to the situation was impacting their sense of faith in you and their sense of security. I’m sure the families in your music school were affected as well.
I heard someone on a podcast recently talking about how, during COVID, the big lesson they learned was the importance of first deciding or embracing the belief that we’re going to get through this. No matter what, this ship isn’t going down. I think that is a great lesson to learn in a moment of crisis.
Do you have faith in yourself? Do you believe you have what it takes to save the ship? There are plenty of things looming on the horizon, such as economic instability.
We hear people using language that we’re not used to hearing. The term ‘civil war’ is thrown out there; perhaps it’s an alarmist expression. The phrase ‘World War III’ is also tossed around. How real of a threat is it? I don’t know, but it is possible that we could face another significant challenge. Can you, in that moment, say to yourself, ’We’re going to get through this’? Confidence in your ability to lead in a crisis like this is essential, and I believe we all learned that during COVID.
Another lesson from that time is the importance of facing problems head-on. Nobody knew in the first few weeks how long this was going to last. We all had to be fearless in our efforts. Fear in a moment like this can really cripple a business leader. It ties in with the whole idea of being level-headed. I learned during COVID that I had to take my fear and all negative emotions, put them in a box, set them aside, and confront head-on what I needed to do to lead.
Regarding leadership, it’s crucial to step back, devise a plan, and execute it swiftly. I was impressed to see how many music schools, within a day or two after the world started shutting down, were putting plans into place. They were using platforms like Zoom, Rock Out Loud, or other streaming services to conduct their lessons online.
You often witness this in movies where an army general leads his men into battle. The general is always so level-headed, understanding the risks that surround them.
They comprehend that they could get shot at any moment, but they also realize that the only way, the only hope for getting through this, is to stay focused and clear-headed. They identify the challenges at hand, create a plan, and execute it.
2. The Value Of Multiple Revenue Streams
COVID exposed how vulnerable I was. By the time it hit, I had already sold my music school. I had three programs—Kidzrock, Jr. Rockerz, and Piano Jam—that I was licensing, and I was making a nice living off of them. Within the realm of my business, I had three different revenue streams, but none outside of my business. And I took a major hit.
My business is based on kids being able to be together in a room playing music. It never occurred to me that this would no longer be a possibility, but it happened. Since COVID, I’ve made it a point to learn more about real estate and investing, aiming to have income from revenue streams beyond my business. Had I had those additional revenue streams in place during COVID, I could have at least used them as a lifeboat while I waited out the storm.
3. How to Pivot
Another great lesson I learned was how to pivot, especially during a crisis. My current business model wasn’t really relevant anymore. It’s akin to those restaurants that pivoted during COVID. Their traditional model of people coming into their space, sitting down, and having a meal was no longer a possibility. They changed their business model and started selling food out of the back door.
Before you can successfully pivot, you have to sort of reassess or re-examine the needs of your market. When a crisis occurs, the needs of your market can change. They certainly changed during COVID.
Parents were desperate for structure for their children and yearned for them to have connections because they became isolated. With no physical school attendance, and even when on Zoom, where they joined around 25 other kids, it became quite easy for a child to tune out or play with their phone during class. They couldn’t do that in a traditional school setting. However, in a private lesson over video, a child can establish a more meaningful connection with an individual than in a large Zoom class at school.
I made the mistake during COVID of not surveying and reassessing my market, which consists of people like you—music school owners. I came out with some products that I thought were interesting and would be helpful, but they didn’t resonate with the pressing needs of my audience. As a result, people didn’t buy them, and those products failed. That’s how you learn.
What I should have done is surveyed my market, interviewed people, talked to them, and tried to understand the challenges and struggles they were going through. Then, I could have come up with a product that would directly address those problems and needs. Instead, I just guessed—I threw something out there that I thought they needed. But if I think they need it and they don’t, it’s not going to sell.
4. The Value Of Creative Problem Solving
As a business leader, creativity is key. It’s essential. It’s always how you fix your problems. Creativity allows you to maximize or make the most out of a situation that’s full of limitations.
The tools we used to run a music school—encompassing the environment of the building, the interior of the school, and the physical experience—were all taken away. Everything had to shift to the virtual and digital realm. The challenge became making the virtual music lesson a meaningful experience and figuring out how to continue attracting new students during COVID. Creativity was the key that allowed you to change your messaging during this challenging period.
Perhaps during COVID, your messaging changed from “Music lessons that help kids build confidence” to a message about connection. Music lessons became an opportunity for your child to feel less isolated and more connected.
I’m a very creative person, and that’s why I love entrepreneurship. The combination of having a plan, being organized, and having a clear and creative vision is essential in any business.
5. The Importance Of Investing In Yourself
I didn’t realize that I was investing in myself all these years, but I was. It was probably around eight or ten years ago, mainly because I was getting into licensing my programs, and I realized that the only business skills I had were within the domain of running a music school.
I started reading lots of books on marketing, sales, leadership, and business. The reason I was doing it was that I thought, “If I read all this stuff and learn it, I’ll be able to better run, operate, and grow my music school, as well as better run, operate, and grow my licensing business.” And it did pay off; I mean, it totally paid off.
During that time, I was building up skills. Skills that can never be taken from me. They are valuable in the job market. Because of COVID, for the first time in 23 years and with a wife and three kids to feed, it became clear to me that I might need to find a job.
I figured my employee days were over. After running my own business for years, why would I consider getting a job again? I talked to one of my business mentors, and he said, “Dude, look at all these skills you have. These are valuable skills. You have value in the marketplace.”
So, when I first started, I just talked to business owners in my community. I also chatted with people who own businesses. As I’ve mentioned on this podcast, I’m an Orthodox Jew, and we spend a lot of time together. We gather every day to go to the synagogue, creating excellent networking opportunities for me.
I began chatting with people about their businesses, offering advice, and consulting with them. I was surprised by how the knowledge I gained from running a music school and studying business applied to various industries. Many small business owners found value in my expertise.
When I started looking for a job, I was surprised by how people reacted to my resume. Eventually, I landed a job with Ensemble Music Schools. If you’re not familiar, Ensemble buys music schools. If that interests you, even if it’s for the future, check out our website at welovemusicschools.com. You can schedule a call with me, and I’ll share more about what’s involved. Jeff Homer at Ensemble Music Schools hired me to lead the sales department.
I was incredibly excited; words can’t describe it. Getting this job allowed me to apply the skills I learned from running a business and investing in self-education in a whole new setting. While Ensemble focuses on music schools, the business structure is entirely different from a music school.
It’s more like how a typical organization operates. I wasn’t selling a service or dealing with parents looking for music lessons anymore. Instead, I was handling a completely different clientele and business structure. I gained a lot of business knowledge during my two years with Ensemble.
The painful truth is, you know, some businesses go under. Many music schools shut their doors during COVID. If the owners were well-versed in business, if they had spent years investing in themselves, those people would have had a much easier time—or, I would think, they had a much easier time moving into the next chapter in their life.
The more you invest in your business knowledge, the better you can run your business and the more value you bring to the marketplace. You know what? Maybe in your 70s, consider selling your music school to Ensemble, but also consult with other music schools, dance schools, or other businesses a couple of days a week. It might be a nice way to stay active.
Your business can be taken from you. Your music school can shut down, but your knowledge and experience can’t be taken away. I learned during COVID that I could use my knowledge and experience to pivot, get a job, and get back on my feet.
6. The Value Of Delegation
Delegating is something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve had this mindset like, “I know I should probably delegate this, or I could delegate this, but this person won’t do it as well as me. I know how to do this. I know the right way.”
Quite often, one reason I didn’t delegate certain tasks is that the thought of doing it was just stressful. I’d think, “Oh my God, how am I even going to explain to somebody how to do this? The amount of time I’ll have to spend doing that? It’s just going to be exhausting.”
During COVID, once I got this position at Ensemble, my ability to focus on my licensing business was reduced to a couple of hours in the early morning. I’d get up at like 5:30, work on my business. Then, at night, maybe around 7:30 or eight, I’d spend a couple of hours working on my licensing business.
Well, that’s not enough time. Two to four hours a day is insufficient. So, I hired a virtual assistant, and over maybe three to six months, I delegated every aspect of my business that didn’t fall under the domain of vision and strategy to my virtual assistant. Everything.
And I think the same should apply to your music school. It’s crucial to understand the value you bring to your music school. Only you can come up with the vision for the business, determine the marketing message, and define what your school stands for. Only you can design the systems that help your school operate.
The better your systems, the more you can distance yourself from the daily operations. The more you can step back and see your music school from a more macro perspective.
If you’re handling billing, scheduling, paying bills, interviewing, cleaning, and teaching, you’re going to have a tough time focusing on the vision of your music school. It will be challenging to focus on strategy, and these are the things that only you can do.
Had I understood the importance of delegation and how to delegate effectively, I could have freed up so much time in my workday before COVID. I could have spent much more time developing new programs.
I don’t have that luxury now, but I’m glad that I learned the lesson about the importance and the value of delegation. Then, I learned how to delegate and how to manage the person implementing all these tasks that I’ve delegated.
7. The Importance Of Market Share
I learned that the smaller your market share, the more likely or prone you are to failure, especially during a crisis like COVID. The schools I spoke with that took a major hit or even closed their doors during COVID tended to have a smaller percentage of the market share.
They didn’t have a lot of students—maybe a hundred—while their competitors might have had 300 to 600 students. If you have 600 students and you take a hit—maybe there are some changes or setbacks in the economy—and you take a 15% hit, your business has a much better chance of absorbing that blow and rebounding. Whereas, if you have a small market share and you take a hit, like you might have during COVID, your chances of survival are a lot less likely.
Increasing your market share can be a protective measure and can allow you to absorb a big blow.
8. The Difference Between An Expense And An Investment
The final lesson I learned about business during COVID was the difference between an expense and an investment. Every time we spend money, there’s some sort of emotional response that we have to it.
Perhaps you’re thinking about purchasing a CRM for your music school. I’m sure it would make the management of your students easier, and it might help with your marketing efforts, but, you know, $200 a month? That’s a lot of money. It’s easy to talk yourself out of the purchase. However, if that purchase is going to allow you to better run your music school, if it’s going to free up time for you, it’s not an expense. It’s an investment.
If it’s going to free up time for you, it’s not an expense. It’s an investment.
That $200 a month is going to allow you to generate additional revenue. A software that’s going to automate certain functions within your music school will free up time—time that can be devoted to marketing and growth efforts.
The biggest investment I had to make, or that I did make during COVID, was hiring a virtual assistant. I was a little worried about how I was going to fit that into my budget, but I had no choice. I mean, I guess I had a choice; I could’ve slept less and worked more, but that would just run me ragged. I think the importance is always making a smart investment.
I’ll sometimes hear music school owners say, “Yeah, I hired this marketing company. They’re going to do all of my marketing.” This could be a good investment, but it could also be a poor investment, especially if you don’t really have a good way to manage success or hold this marketing firm accountable. To just simply say, “Here’s my $500 a month, market my business.”
Or it could be a bad investment to hire a business coach or to join one of these music school coaching programs and not do the homework, not go through the program. That investment then turns into an expense.
So, these are the eight lessons I learned about business during COVID. I hope that none of us ever have to go through anything like that again, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that big setbacks like this can happen. Plan for the best; prepare for the worst.