A Day In The Life of A Start-Up: Day 9

A New Lockdown – A Music Teacher’s Point of View

2020 has been such an impactful time for music teachers, not only as many of them are working musicians – so gigging, playing in function bands for weddings and parties which have stopped over the last few months, reducing their income – but also as their music lessons have significantly declined during the national lockdown.

It is true that many of these teachers have done a tremendous job moving their lessons online, however, during national lockdowns, the numbers of enquiries fall through the floor – meaning that lesson numbers decrease and teachers grow worried about the sustainability of their teaching business. This has not been helped by the confusing information given on whether they are able to teach at local music studios – for example from an education provision point of view or whether no lessons should take place either in school or out of school. We have taken the line that in-person lessons are no longer possible from the new lockdown date and will monitor new guidelines as they come through.

Overall, a worrying time for music teachers but the resilience shown by the community during the first lockdown gives great confidence that when this lockdown lifts we will again see students and teachers returning to lessons.

Sitar Lessons London

It is always really exciting for the team when we have the opportunity to work with a music teacher on a new instrument, something that happens rarely now that we work across so many of the popular instruments. However, it was with great pleasure to welcome Tommy Khosla into the team as one of the UK’s leading sitar players.

Tommy will be working with us to launch a new Sitar Lessons London music hub, specializing in helping students from across the capital learn to play the sitar. Winner of UK Awards for Young Musicians in Indian Classical Music, Tommy has had a passion for the sitar for many years and was keen to share his passion with students throughout London.

As you can imagine there is a great cultural interest in learning sitar music, with students travelling from across London to Tommy to take lessons. However, with the impact of the new lockdown restrictions, it appears that this will be online for the moment.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on November 6, 2020

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A Day In The Life of A Start-Up: Day 2

Social Media

There is always a challenge for a business to get the most (or anything!) out of social media. Not only are there so many platforms, but the amount of time that can be wasted by a business trying to maintain social media presents with little or no positive outcome is significant. Of course, if your business is one that can sell directly through social media then it makes so much sense to sell through those platforms – almost as if they are a marketplace.

However, when selling music lessons I know that the team has always struggled to try to develop a strategy that helps to promote our music lessons to the diverse group of interested individuals who take lessons. For many years it has been clear that this was a strategy that didn’t give the results that we were keen to get from it – in other words, the input time compared to the numbers of enquiries coming through social media wasn’t scalable.

With this in mind, a lot of time in 2020 has been spent by the team on developing a social media strategy that would help to develop the business. This moved the focus away from trying to generate more student enquiries through social media and instead of using social media to highlight the open teaching positions that the business had. Essentially, the team refocused from student enquiry generation to using social media to fill vacant roles and almost immediately the results of the time versus success completely changed. The team has been able to use the mgrmusic Facebook page to highlight the job opportunities that teachers could apply to with real success.

They have also grown out the closed teacher community on Facebook, to give teachers a space to seek advice and provide support to other music teachers, this has been a really effective place for music teachers to feel part of an online community during covid-19. At the same time reducing the number of platforms that we use for social media has helped to focus the strategy, closing down the Instagram account and reflecting on whether the Twitter account has a significant impact on business development.

Guitar Lessons Wimbledon

It is always a real compliment when a teacher who is based in one location move to a new location and is keen to continue working together in the new location. Charlie English, an experienced guitar teacher who we have worked with for many years recently relocated to the south-west of London, keen to launch a new Guitar Lessons Wimbledon music hub. He has been a fantastic guitar teacher, helping students of all ages and abilities to develop their playing ability in Southampton and I am sure that he will make the Guitar Lessons Wimbledon music school a real success for the local learners.

Of course at the moment almost all the lessons nationally are taking place online, but it has been positive to see that enquiries have continued to come in with a geo-relevant search pattern – meaning that students in say Reading are interested in taking lessons with a guitar teacher in Reading, even if that is just online for the moment. Many enquiries say that “when this is all over I would like to take in person lessons with you, but for now do you teach online?” – of course, that said there has been an increase in online enquiries, but it has been really reassuring that these are less compared to those that are still geographically relevant to the music teachers. Lets hope this is a theme that continues moving forward, as local music students need local students to teach – as much to keep them enthused about staying in the private music teaching business as it is to form a sustainable income.

 

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 30, 2020

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A Day In The Life of A Start-Up: Day 1

Introduction

For a long time now I have been keen to write a daily overview of how a business develops on a day to day basis. This is partly so that entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs could both recognize the common challenges faced with growing a business and see under the hood at what happens in any one particular day to contribute to the success of the business.

Partly inspired by the recent Amazon series “All or Nothing” about professional football teams Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs, where fans were brought behind the scenes in professional football to see the day to day workings of the club. Not that I think that there is anything as interesting as that in this case, but who knows!

I was also keen to write on a more frequent basis on a personal level to document overtime what the team at mgrmusic.com works on and how these projects go. As a student of History at the University of Exeter, documenting is a great source of resource in the future to assess why decisions were taken and reflect on how things could have been done differently. My original plan was to start writing these from 1 January 2021, but I wanted to start by giving it a go over the next month to see if I really could commit to providing daily updates on the work that the team at mgrmusic.com had done.

Piano Lessons Faversham

The main focus of work by the team on Wednesday 28th October 2020 was conducting interviews for the open piano teacher role for the Piano Lessons Faversham teaching hub. Originally a page focused on generating students for a piano teacher named Jess France, it has been left vacant in recent months as Jess relocated up to Cambridge. With a flow of new piano student enquiries coming through the team was keen to bring onboard a new local teacher to help tutor these piano students. However, the interviews that the team conducted yesterday look likely not to resolve that quite yet, as finding the right candidate to onboard is more important than bringing onboard any teacher that might be able to help.

For example, it is quite common at the moment for teachers who are not geographically located near the locational where the enquiries are coming in, to get in touch and offer their services in an online capacity. While they are correct that the majority of music lessons will take place online for the foreseeable future, it is not a long term solution to local students who would be keen to return to in-person lessons in 2021 when the wider situation allows it. Ultimately, a long term resolution has always benefited the business more than short term fixes – so that logic again will need to apply here.

Sitar Lessons London

For the first time in a long time, the business opened up a new teaching hub for an instrument that we had previously never offered lessons upon – the sitar. I know the team was delighted to have the opportunity to start working with Tommy Khosla, Winner of UK Awards for Young Musicians in Indian Classical Music, who has a deep passion for sitar music and helping to teach the sitar to new learners.

His enthusiasm for the sitar was infectious and I know that the team were delighted to work with him to launch Sitar Lessons London – the business’s first attempt at developing a dedicated sitar school in the UK. One of the most interesting aspects of instruments like the sitar is that as students recognise it is a more unusual instrument they are more like to travel, or be willing to take lessons online, as clearly the number of local sitar teachers is lower than say guitar or singing tutors. With this in mind, opening a London wide Sitar school made a lot of sense for the team – rather than focusing on a smaller area of London.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 29, 2020

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Teaching in Rolling Lockdowns

Currently, the teaching world is facing a few potential bumps in the road, as are many other sectors in the arts and beyond.

Since the initial UK wide lockdown started to ease over the summer and schools returned to normal, many music teachers were able to resume their duties providing their environments were safe to do so.

For many teachers this means working in more controlled spaces with additional measures put in place to ensure safety. This could be wearing PPE, using hand sanitizers, and introducing social distancing measures to teaching areas where possible.

As we start to fast approach the tail end of 2020, the normality we’d hoped to have seen by now seems to be moving further away as various regions of the UK move in and our of more localised lockdowns. Currently called circuit breakers or fire break lockdowns.

What does this mean for many teachers?

Many teachers will be unable to operate during these rolling lockdowns. This means both teachers home studios or business premises will be closing temporarily as they are considered non-essential services.

Now is a better time than ever to have a backup plan.

The easiest way to try to maintain your workload through this constantly changing time is to speak to students early and bring up the idea of temporary online lessons.

Many teachers around the country have found much success in taking their lessons online during this testing time so as things continue to evolve, it’s certainly worth bringing that topic up with students.

Check with your students and see if they’d be interested in Zoom or Skype sessions for the duration of any periods of “lockdown” to ensure their learning is not disrupted.

Online lessons are a different dynamic to face to face lessons, but in our industry, we currently have to do what we can to survive.


Guitar Lessons London

I’m thrilled to announce that we have begun work with Lucas Polo who will be heading up our Guitar Lessons London page.

Lucas is a seasoned touring musician and I look forward to him bringing all this experience and knowledge to our base of students. He is based in the centre of London and will be servicing his local area of future guitar stars.

I welcome Lucas onboard and look forward to many years of continued success.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 27, 2020

Planning for a Rainy Day

In the business world, and the working world, we’ve all heard the saying “for a rainy day”. This typically means being prepared for when things are bad.

A rainy day is usually considered by be a period of unemployment, low workloads or a period of poor health, but is anyone ever prepared for a global pandemic?

As we move out of one of the toughest years many small businesses have, and probably will ever, face, we must consider how we can prevent hardship in future days.

Many small business owners simply cannot go a year without working. It’s the lifeblood of their existence. By this point you’ve already put everything on the line to pursue your passion. You’ve turned your dream into your career. Now we’re all fighting just to stop it slipping away.

Let’s explore three main talking points that could potential help you the next time we see a little rain in the world.

1. Broaden Your Reach – Embrace the Internet

If you’re a local store that offers products to your local community, perhaps an eCommerce option would help add a little safety to your future plans. If you rely on selling locally that’s perfectly fine. However, in the event of current events happing again in another form, your local community may not be able to sustain your business. Get yourself online and make your product available to the wider world.

2. Conduct Business Virtually

If you’re a service provider such as a music teacher, therapist, nutritionist, trainer or anyone else who guides people and helps them realise their potential, then you’ll know that being in a room with someone is essential to conduct business… or is it? These days with services like Zoom and Skype, your clients can be anywhere in the world at anytime and you can still deliver the same level of service you would face to face.

3. Put a Little Aside

This is easier said than done, but if this year has taught us anything, it’s the need to be ready. Try to put a little extra money aside each month just in case you ever find yourself in this unfortunate situation again. It doesn’t have to be huge amounts, but a small amount on a regular basis adds up. This can really help keep you going in tough times.

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Singing Lessons Oxford

It brings me great pleasure to welcome Zoe Mace onboard as the person heading up our Singing Lessons Oxford page.

Zoe has done a huge amount of charity work as a singer, including recording three classical charity albums which raised in excess of £200,000 for various children’s charities.

I know Zoe is going to be a fantastic teacher and our base of students are going to love lessons with her. I want to welcome her onboard and I look forward to seeing her career grow.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 25, 2020

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Socially Distanced Performance

As the UK prepares to enter another wave of potential lock downs, the hospitality industry is once again dealt a blow.

Venues are still not able to host regular performances by musicians, comedians and performers. Theatres still face closures and bars are unable to host their weekly singers.

Let’s talk about socially distanced gigs. Can these be a viable way of reviving the live music industry or are they too far removed from what we expect from a live music experience.

The pros of a socially distanced gig are:

Performers can Perform: This is a big one. Over the last 6 months many performers who depend on their gig based income will be able to take the stage again and perform their music. This includes artists who write their own music and working bands who perform at weddings, functions and bars.

Smaller audience sizes mean more intimate performances: Imagine getting to see your favourite band of all time, but only 50 other people can attend. That makes it a very intimate and personal experience. You could be up close and personal with an artist that you might normally see with a crowd of 1000 plus.

Venues, staff and technical crew get to keep on working: We’ve all seen the massive knock on effect Covid-19 has had on the behind the scenes staff. It’s easy to remember that musicians and performers have lost work, but don’t forget about the sound guys, the lighting guys, the riggers, the stand hands. Socially distanced gigs allow them to get back to doing what they love too.

Now let’s look at some potential cons:

Reduced audience numbers means less ticket sales: If you rely on your income from performing, then it may not be a reliable income stream with these measures. You’d have to perform to smaller numbers which means less ticket sales. The only way to keep your earnings up would be to raise ticket prices, but the major risk there is in alienating fans. You don’t want to price yourself out.

Venues may struggle to cover costs: Venues have overheads. Staff costs, security costs, running costs. Many grassroots venues work with local talent to work out payment deals where the venue get their costs covered from the bar/door and a little of the profit goes to the performers. Can venues still earn this additional income with smaller numbers in attendance?

The feel just won’t be the same: Many musicians live for that feeling of stepping out onto a stage and feeling the packed rooms energy. Will this energy still be present with a socially distanced crowd?

This topic is going to be a big talking point over the next 6 months as musicians and performers all around the country try to find a way to keep their show on the road. Do you think it’s possible to successfully put on a socially distanced gig and is this potentially the future of the arts industry?


Bass Lessons Greenwich

Here is a quick business update from mgrmusic.com.

We’ve just teamed up with the fantastic bass teacher Flo Moore who will be heading up the Bass Lessons Greenwich page.

Flo is a graduate of the Royal Academy and has performed at the Royal Albert Hall, The Barbican, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and other prestigious venues.

I look forward  to hearing from students who get to share the experience and knowledge of Flo in her lessons and I’m excited to see her success grow.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 20, 2020

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Is Social Media Important for Music Teachers?

A question many teachers struggle with is “Is social media important?”.

Social media is a fantastic way to connect people. For teachers it is potential to reach out direct to your audience. It allows you to promote your business directly to potential students.

With so many people living their lives and making important decisions through social platforms, it’s no surprise that the way businesses are marketing themselves has changed.

The three big social media networks are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Each of these platforms offers a unique way to connect with students and potential students alike.


Facebook

On Facebook you can set up a page specifically for your business. On this page you can list all your business details and you can also share content such as text, videos and images. This content can be educational based, but you can also use it to share information such as changes to your business, or articles you think will be of value to your students.

Facebook also has a fantastic Ad Manager program that allows you to create paid-for advertisements for your business. Using this platform you can create adverts that tailor them to specific demographic within a specific radius of your business.

Instagram

Instagram is more image and video based. You can post images and 60 second videos. For music teachers, this is especially useful if you want to communicate short educational messages or show people what you’re doing. Instagram is a very personal social media and creates a sense of community with the followers and the business.

Videos are useful to show your ability at a musician. This can really help attract potential students.

If you run a Facebook ad, it will also be run on Instagram as the services are both owned by Facebook.

Twitter

Twitter is great as a customer service platform. It allows you to exchange short messages with followers. You may not have much luck with longer educational content here, but if you want to reach out to someone quickly and efficiently, Twitter is a great place to start.

Twitter is also a great platform for you as a teacher to connect with other entities in the business world. It allows you to reach out to companies or organizations you might want to built rapport with.


So as you can see, social media can be useful for music teachers. It allows you to create a presence online and a place to engage with and connect with your existing students and potential future students.

The advertising capabilities of social media are growing from strength to strength on an almost daily basis and right now, they’re some of the cheapest ads you can purchase.

If you are a music teacher but you’re not on the social media train, you should consider jumping onboard and connecting with an audience that’s out there just waiting for you to come along and inspire them.


Trumpet Lessons Swansea

I’m very excited to bring Neil Southgate onboard with mgrmusic.com as the teacher for our Trumpet Lessons Swansea page. We haven’t featured many trumpet players but as we grow into this area, it’s very exciting to work with someone of Neil’s calibre.

Neil is a very active musician who plays with a popular Soul group and he holds a Masters in Musicology from Cardiff University.

He has been teaching for over 6 years and I am thrilled that Neil will be sharing this knowledge and expertise with mgrmusic.com students.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 20, 2020

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Make Your Teaching Space Safe

If you’re a music teacher and you’re able to resume teaching, either from your own music studio or from a school premises, you have to consider how you’re going to make this as safe as possible.

There is plenty of advice out there from the UK Government on what measures need to be in place. You can use this information to start to form an idea of how to ensure the lessons you offer are as safe as possible.

Let’s look at a few safety measures and discuss how they could benefit or hinder a music lesson:

Face Coverings: The main advice from the Government is around the wearing of face coverings. It is possible to conduct music lessons while wearing a face covering. This reduces the transmission risk of the virus and keeps you both safe. Many students will probably be more than happy to comply with wearing a face covering, especially if you work from a home studio or a professionally owned studio. The potential negatives are around communication. Some students may find it harder to hear things you say while wearing a face covering, so you may need to reinforce some points.

Hand Sanitizer: Hand sanitizer is a great way to reduce risk and it should be essential in any teaching area, especially where instruments are shared. The downside is that for people who play stringed instruments such as guitars, hand sanitizer can tenderise the fingertips.

Social Distancing: This is the easiest one to implement if you have the space to do so. If your teaching space allows it, you can simply set up slightly further apart than you usually would. There are not really any potential negatives to this, other than minor inconveniences such as sharing sheet music would be made more difficult due to sitting further away from the music stand.

Online Sessions: Many teachers have taken to the internet to maintain their schedules. If you are in a position to do so with certain students, it might be worth exploring if Skype/Zoom lessons are suitable. You’d need to make sure you both have a stable internet connection. It will change the dynamic of the lesson so it won’t work for everybody.

Plexiglass Screens: If social distancing in your teaching space is tricky or not an option, perhaps looking into a plexiglass screen divider would be beneficial, similar to those you now see in supermarkets and bars. This would allow you to be a little closer to your student but still safely protected by the screen. This, combined with face coverings would really improve the safety levels.

As you can see, there are a lot of options to consider when it comes to teaching in a safe and compliant way. It’s very important to keep checking for the latest advice and keep up to speed on all the latest suggestions for keeping you and your clients safe during this time.


Singing Lessons Wimbledon

I am very excited to announce that we have just started working with the fantastic Melissa Toy who will be taking on our Singing Lessons Wimbledon page.

Melissa is a fantastic singer and teacher. She has over 10 year experience and teachers across all genres. She is a qualified Voice Specialist and holds a first-class BA (Hons) in Creative Musicianship.

I am very excited to see how Melissa career grows and I look forward to hearing from students who benefit from her experience and expertise.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 13, 2020

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The Importance of Having a Great Website

Having a great website is so important for a business. They are your central hub and a place to reinforce your branding identity. Your website will tell potential clients and customers about you and the services you offer.

Most business rely heavily on social media, which his fantastic for community outreach, however, you can only take the branding so far. A website will give viewers the full story about you and your business from the first click.

This applies to all sectors. For mgrmusic.com, our website gives potential students and teachers a place to explore what we have to offer. It gives them a list of the teachers in their local area and it allows them to reach out with any questions. It also centralizes everything into one place. Imagine having to create a social media page for each individual location your business operates in.

A website will also allow you to learn about SEO. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. This is the method in which Google looks for and ranks businesses and websites according to a range of factors. If you ensure your website has good SEO, when people search for your service on Google your website will rank higher in the results.

Web design used to be an awfully expensive thing. Now, in 2020, we have so many tools available to us that allow us to build professional websites from our own home. All you need is a few simple things:

1. A Domain Name – This is your websites URL address. There are many domain registrars that you can purchase a domain from. It’s always good practise to aim for yourbusiness.com, or .co.uk if you want a more localised website. Domain names, for the most part, are very affordable. You can expect to pay £10-20 a year on average to have your own domain.

2. Web Hosting – Web hosting is a place on the internet where your website is stored. Hosting suppliers are companies that run servers all over the world from data centres. You rent space off them on a monthly/quarterly/yearly basis to place your website on their servers. When people access your URL, they get redirected to the hosts servers and then to your website. Hosting pricing can vary based on the company, web traffic, website size and more.

3. A Web Builder – Ok, I did say you can do this yourself, but some people just aren’t comfortable with this aspect. Tools like WordPress and GoDaddy make web building much easier these days. If you feel up to it, give it a go! You can download so many plugins, themes, add ons and more that will make web building a breeze. If you still don’t feel confident, or you want someone to build you something very specific, you may need to contract a good web developer.

Now that you know what it takes to have a good website, it’s time for you to get building. Stamp your brand authority all over it and get that SEO on point so your website ranks high in Google. Whatever your sector, from guitar teacher to solicitor, having a good website is your authority mark in your field.


Zoom Cello Lessons

Just a quick business update from my side, I’m very excited to announce we’ve just launched our Zoom Cello Lessons website. With the restrictions brought on by Covid-19, we’ve worked hard to get teachers online.

I am so pleased to be working with Viki Steiri who will be heading up the Zoom Cello Lessons page. Viki will be hosting online lessons for cello students from all over. She is bringing her 15 plus years of experience and knowledge to the table to share with students. Her experience and list of accolades speaks for itself.

I look forward to watching Viki’s online lessons grow and flourish.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 3, 2020

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Moving Your Teaching Business Online

Many teachers all around the country are being forced to rethink and restructure their business models. Covid-19 has thrown a giant, pandemic shaped spanner in the works and it’s affecting out industry on so many levels.

If you are a teacher as part of a music school, or you teach in a range of local schools, you may find that you are currently able to work as normal under the guidelines providing you adhere to the protective measures set out.

However, the hardest hit has been the private tutors. Those teachers that work from their own home studios or the houses of their students.

The teachers that deliver one on one lessons anywhere, anytime. Their livelihood has changed and could remain in a state of limbo for some time.

So, what can teachers do to help keep business flowing.

Embrace the internet.

We can now teach our students over various video call programs like Skype, Zoom or Facetime. If you are new to this world, it can seem daunting, but don’t worry. It does not have to be.

Teaching online has never been easier to get started with. You just need a few simple things to get started:

Access to a Video Calling Platform

You can download Skype or Zoom for free. If you have Facebook or an iOS device you can also video call contacts that way. For teachers who don’t want to use personal profiles, you can stick with Skype and Zoom.

They both offer you a range of options such as screen sharing, screen annotations, a chat feed and more.

A Good Quality Webcam

You’ll need a good webcam for your student to get the best visual experience. HD webcams are very affordable and readily available. Try to get one that works in 1080p resolution.

An Audio Interface

An audio interface is a USB device that allows you to connect speakers and a microphone to your computer. You can also connect guitars directly. A good interface will allow you to have microphones set up so your student can hear you and your guitar. Built in microphones to laptops and webcams work fine, but they aren’t always the best quality.

A Stable Internet Connection

Video calling can use a lot of bandwidth so a stable connection is vital to preventing dropouts during video calls. If you run off a WiFi network, consider a cabled connection. You can connect your PC or laptop straight to your router with an ethernet cable. If this is not an option, perhaps you work from a room far form the router, consider a WiFi Range extender.

This is a product that plugs into a wall socket and boosts the wifi signal.


Bass Lessons Colchester

Here is a small business update for this week to round topic off. I am thrilled to start working with Craig Tyler who will be leading the way with our Bass Lessons Colchester page.

Craig is a great teacher and musician and I am excited to see him grow his career.

He has already done a lot of high profile work in the music industry including performing at Royal Ascot, The FA Cup Winners Party and the 21st World Scout Jamboree infront of HRH the Duke of Cambridge and 50,000 spectators.

Posted under Business Advice

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 29, 2020

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Teaching During a Pandemic

If anyone out there is a teacher, you will know the impact that the last 6 months has had on the typical day to day working methods of a teacher.

It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher at a large school or you run a private tuition business, like many of the teachers I work with under mgrmusic.com, thing have changed. We as teachers, and business owners in a broader sense, need to adapt to this.

So, one conversation I’ve had many times since March is relating to what teachers can do to continue working both in a safe and controlled manner that does not go against any Government guidelines.

The simple option is move online. Many teachers I work with have moved a majority of their workload onto online platforms like Skype and Zoom. This allows them to continue working with students over a video call.

Teaching over video presents some new challenges that face-to-face lessons don’t present, but most teachers are able to quicky adapt to this.

Now that things are slowly returning to some form or normality, many teachers with teaching studios big enough, or indeed those who work at schools, are able to resume face-to-face lessons with social distancing measures in place.

If you teach one on one, this could be as simple as keeping your distance and wearing a face mask. Some teachers may want to look into a plexiglass screen that can be placed between you and the student, similar to those you see at supermarket checkouts.

While there are many challenges currently in the way, and with more to probably come, teachers are now being made to think outside the box more than ever.

Assess your teaching environment and see if you can make it safe for resuming your day to day work.


Guitar Lessons Sheffield

Here is a small business update for this week to round this off. I’m delighted to announce that we’ve recently partnered up with Robbie Chapman who will be heading up the Guitar Lessons Sheffield website. Robbie is a fantastic teacher and it brings me great pleasure to bring him onboard during this turbulent time.

I look forward to seeing his business grow and seeing him pass on his knowledge and experience to all his students.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 17, 2020

Running a Small Business During Covid-19

Covid-19 has really shook the business world. There are many areas of business that have been forced into fight or flight mode. In my own business with mgrmusic.com I have faced many challenges.

The industry we operate in is that of music education. Working with teachers and students all around the UK to deliver high quality instrument lessons.

The big challenges stem from this being a job that is predominantly face-to-face for all involved. Covid-19 has meant many restrictions needing to be in place which ultimately led to a lot of lessons being cancelled.

All businesses will have learned many lessons in this testing time, but unfortunately not everyone will have been able to weather the storm.

So what can we do better? How can we as small business continue to operate and be ready for whatever comes next.

  1. Secure Online Provisions for Trading – If you deliver a service such as music lessons, or you are able to provide your customers what they need via an online platform, now is the time to set up. Look at Zoom or Skype for client facing roles or if your business provides products, look into eCommerce solutions.
  2. Implement Safety Measures – If your role absolutely demands face-to-face interaction then it’s worth checking out some ways you can better protect your environment and give your customers piece of mind. Keep plenty of hand sanitiser and wipes near by. Perhaps a plexiglass screen between you and a customer if you meet face to face regularly. Look at ways you can make the work place a safe place.
  3. Plan, Plan, Plan – Plan everything. Plan for the good days and plan for the bad. With a situation like the one the world is currently in, nothing is as it was. Your regular routines may not return to normal for some time. We have to anticipate that some appointments and customers will now be gone and perhaps new customers timeslots in our working world may need to be spaced out for us to better prepare the space we work. Factor all this in to your planning.
  4. Keep Checking the Advice – Keep looking at the Government advice and speak to your local councillors to ensure that your work place is Covid compliant and that you are able to trade safely and securely.

It’s a tricky time for us all. If we are prepared and we use a lot of forward thinking, we can get through this. For all the small business owners out there, you are not alone.


Drum Lessons Guildford

Here is a small business update to round this off, although Covid-19 has proved tricky for many teachers we work with, we have been taking this opportunity to expand our teacher base. We recently welcomed Russel Bradley onboard as the drum teacher for the Drum Lessons Guildford website.

I am very excited to have Russell on board. He is highly qualified and very experience and I look forward to seeing how he passes this knowledge and experience onto his students.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 12, 2020

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The Importance of a Good Website

Websites may feel slightly outdated in 2019. After all, everyone talks about social media being the be all and end all of online advertising. While, to an extent this is a true fact, websites are still relevant and here is why.

Think of your website as your online hub. It can be seen as a central repository for your business. You might be driving your customer interaction on Facebook, showing service demos on Youtube and delivering customer service via Twitter, but your website is going to be your central place for discovery and traffic direction.

If you have a good website, it will not only confirm your business as a serious entity (Who doesn’t check Google first when looking for a business) but it will also show your clients a portfolio of what you do, what your business offers and what your mission is.

When a client navigates to your website, they should see a series of links. Links to pages within your website for various topics but also links out to your social media pages. As I said, you may drive engagement and content through your social media channels but imagine your website as your big, digital business card.

This is the place your clients will see what you offer and see how profession your service is. Websites are also a great place to host client testimonials and newsfeed/blog items that are too long for a social media post.

If your business is a business that sells a physical product, or a service, clients are going to be more trusting of a website to handle payments. Your website is an invaluable tool that will really help your business stand out from the crowd. Make sure it’s of a high standard and show the world what you can do.

Posted under Advertising Online

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on December 8, 2019

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How to Advertise Yourself Online

When you get into business, one of the big considerations is how to correctly advertise the service that you’re offering. These days, we live in an age where the internet rules the circuit. Everything that we do and subscribe to, comes from our usage of the internet.

Our conversations with friends take place on social media, our memories are stored on photo sharing sites, our music and film choices come from huge streaming libraries and the knowledge we consume comes from forums, webinars and blogs. So, how can we levy this when it comes to just running a business.

Advertising is key to any business’ success, especially if you have a product of a service that is offered in return for a monetary value. There are a number of services that we can use to advertise online including:

  • Facebook/Instagram Ads
  • Youtube Ads
  • Google Ad Words

All of these advertising channels allow us to cater adverts to a specific audience. The great thing about social media is that everyone puts their own personalities and tastes into it so we can use this information to target them. If your company offers driving lessons, you could target ads to people in that age bracket in your area. If you’re a company offering a business service, such as an accountancy firm, you could target self employed people in a much wider area. You are in complete control of the demographic of these adverts.

Social media has allowed this method of advertising to become very visual so when setting up an ad campaign online, ensure that your photos or video content is eye catching, informative and to the point. You want the viewer to understand exactly what you are offering from the moment that your ad lands in their feed. 

Each social media ad method allows you to view analytics to see how many views the ad has received and how many of those views are converting customers.

Google Ad Words is slightly different as this works on keywords. You would need to list all the keywords associated with your business and create an ad campaign based on this. It will target your demographic audience when they use those specific keywords.

Online adverts almost always are cheaper to run than printed or physical media ads and certainly have more scalability potential. They are so under priced so look at them and see how they can benefit you today.

Posted under Advertising Online

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on November 21, 2019

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Teacher Hiring

This week I’d like to talk a little about hiring. It’s been a very productive week for us at mgrmusic.com and we’ve hired 8 new teachers. Hiring is something that many small businesses struggle to fit into their already jam-packed schedules.

When we hire new teachers, we have a process that we like to follow.

First of all, we have to find teachers that I feel will be a good fit for what we do. We want to speak to individuals who are motivated and hungry to grow their business and we hire based on locational needs. When we’re building a new page for a new town, we then have to find a teacher to fill that space.

My usual process involves an initial outreach where we initiate contact to get the conversation going before scheduling a call. Once a teacher signs up via the online form we provide, we then schedule a follow up call to get them geared up for the next step which is getting into our systems and seeing how it all works.

Once we’ve hired a teacher, we spend time with them to be sure they know how to use the platform and perform all the admin tasks. This is similar to the training that you’d typically go through when starting any job. We schedule some phone calls/Skype calls to walk over everything that needs to be discussed and be sure that everything is in place for that teacher to start receiving lessons.

For anyone who runs a service based business, they know that on boarding clients correctly is a core part of the sales process – after all this is it the first time a new client (in our case teacher) interacts with your business/product, so you want to make a great impression. It is also a time where they are likely to have the most questions, so ensuring that the support is there to help them in those early days is so important in setting up a long lasting partnership.


Small business update this week, one of the newly onboard teachers has joined as a Piano Teacher in Bournemouth, named Alicia Sanchez. Alicia is originally from Madrid and moved to England in recent years to study a for a Masters in Health Psychology at Bournemouth University.

She runs her piano lessons business as a mobile teacher and works with students around the area to share her knowledge. Alicia specialises in Classical music and is very well educated in the works of Chopin, Bach, Beethoven and Liszt. She can also teach a wide range of other styles. We are delighted to have her onboard and really excited to have now opened a new music hub in Bournemouth for piano lessons.

 

Posted under mgrmusic.com, Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 10, 2019

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UK Guitar Show

On the weekend of the 21st and 22nd of September I travelled down to London to attend the UK Guitar Show. I had been planning to attend for a few months in order to facilitate some face to face relationships with companies I had already started speaking with but also just to catch up with people I already knew.

Events like this are wonderful for networking and getting to know the people behind the business. I spoke to a bunch of vendors from both big and small companies and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The show was so well organised, and everything was really easy to find.

Some of my favourite discussions happened with some great companies that manufacture guitar amplifiers such as Orange and Blackstar. Both companies make incredible amps and we often find teachers and students of mgrmusic.com singing the praises of small and large amps from both companies.

One really cool conversation was with the owner of a company called Chicken Picks. They produce high quality guitar picks using some unique design and manufacturing methods. We spoke at length not only about the product but about the ethos of the company and the people behind the brand. It was really interesting to find out how they make their picks and how they get them to market.

They engineer their picks from a thermosetting plastic which is harder and denser than standard guitar picks, therefore harder wearing and will last longer and more resistant to breaks and chips appearing with heavy use.

If that wasn’t cool enough, their manufacturing is based in Belgium and Germany where they actually give back to local communities. They employ staff from a company called Fivelingo which is a sheltered employment organization. Fivelingo prioritise employment opportunities for job seekers and they also provide income support to low income workers.

They offer workshops and opportunities for anyone to learn a skill and secure a great job. Sometimes we forget just how personal the supply chains of some smaller companies can be. We should do more to support companies like this.


We have recently brought onboard the amazing Greg Mudd as a bass teacher in Southampton. Greg is a highly respected player and has performed across the world in some fantastic venues. He has also taught bass at some incredibly prestigious institutions.

He is currently based at Portsmouth Naval Base where he works as the Professor of Bass Guitar for the Royal Marines Band Service and a lecturer of Developing the Musician at Southampton’s Solent University.

His list of qualifications is also impressive including a Masters Degree in Musicology, BA (hons) in Humanities and Music, Diploma in Music and more. We are excited to have Greg onboard and look forward to working with him in more detail.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 7, 2019

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Why YouTube Can Help Grow Your Business

Has the internet changed the way we all teach? I certainly think so. In 2019, there is a growing hungry for visual media. Many teachers are taking their cause to the internet and teaching via the medium of video. This could be pre-recorded lessons or live on Skype.

The reason for this is that the internet simply allows us to connect with more people. If you teach face to face, you’re somewhat limited geographically, but if you teach on Skype, location is no longer a factor. If you are a good teacher, you could teach from LA to Sri Lanka and everything in between, time zones permitting of course.

Many musicians are looking to places like Youtube to host their content to educate everyone, and the great news for the consumer is this is FREE. Video allows people to consume media anywhere, anytime and with the fast-paced ways of the modern world, this seems to be getting more and more normal.

The benefits as I said are that you can connect the whole world to your cause with relative ease and with social media as the biggest marketing tool, you could reach an audience of millions armed with only your knowledge and a camera.

Making this content is not always easy, it does often require good quality equipment that can capture high quality video and audio and the ability to manipulate these recordings after they are made to ensure they are polished and ready to go.

If you are just getting started with the idea of video lessons, a good quality HD camera and a small home recording set up will give you the ability to do this. Audio and video editing is an art form in it’s own right so there is certainly going to be some additional learning for you as you get into this process. There are plenty of resources out there to help you become a fantastic editor and have your videos looking polished and professional in no time.


We are excited to be working with the wonderful Toby Huelin as our Piano Teacher in York. Tony is a fantastic teacher, offering custom tailored piano lessons across all genres to his students. He is an incredibly versatile teacher and can play anything from Classical to Jazz as well as being as holding experience teaching in schools at KS2 through to A-Level in Music and Music Technology.

He has also taught music at Victoria College, Jersey College for Girls, Jersey Academy of Music and Blackheath Conservatoire. Toby also holds a First Class Degree in Music from the University of Oxford and a Masters in Composition at Distinction level from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Outside of teaching, Toby works as a composer for theatre, film and concert halls. His music has been heard in venues such as Maida Vale, Wigmore Hall, The Barbican and Abbey Road and performed by ensembles such as The BBC Singers, EXAUDI, The Cavaleri Quartet and more.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 26, 2019

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The Power of Partnerships

We at mgrmusic.com are a corporate partner of ISM, the Incorporated Society for Musicians. The ISM provides a huge range of benefits for working musicians as well as some fantastic opportunities for networking, which is a topic we’ve discussed a few times in these blogs.

ISM recently held a Drinks Event which allowed many of their corporate partners and members to meet up and network. It was fantastic for some of the mgrmusic.com team to be able to attend this event and network so many of the other companies that provide services into the music education sector.

Through this, we were able to speak to a bunch of different companies and individuals at the event which I believe helps strengthen those business to business relationships. You may recall that I mentioned the importance of relationships between two businesses lies with the people behind the business. These sorts of events allow those face to face relationships to flourish behind the business.

As a corporate partner, we have a good relationship with ISM but I think it is essential to meet up regularly and spend time getting to know the people behind the service. As well as catching up with various members of the ISM family including their Head of Marketing, the Creative Content/Publications Manager, the Membership Officer, the team spent time building new relationships with business that we might form new partnerships with moving forward. This might give us further opportunities to provide content to some of the leading music education services in the UK.

These events allow your business network to grow and also increase the potentials for any opportunities that may arise. Sometimes you don’t know a partnership is even on the table until you speak face to face with someone. I often find that even in informal discussions about business you often find that there are ways for us all to help each other and to continually grow where we are in the business world. So if you ever have the opportunity to get out of the office and network with other businesses that operate in your sector then it is well worth making sure that your business is represented there!

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I am thrilled to share with you that we have recently taken on a fantastic Singing Teacher in Whitney named Marlin Shakaj. Merlin comes to us as an experience singing teacher, but she also has background in teaching flute.

Merlin offers some very exciting and enjoyable lessons and her students can’t speak high enough of her teaching ability. She is a graduate of the Tirana University of Arts where she holds a Bachelor of Music and she also played with the National Radio and Television Orchestra of Albania as their principal flutist.

She has worked alongside some very highly regarded conductors such as Anna Volchenko, Uwe Theimer, Mateusz Moleda and Noorman Widjaja as part of her work with the orchestra.

Posted under Building Partnerships

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 19, 2019

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How to Use Social Media to Advertise Your Business

It’s hard advertising your services online. There are so many other great businesses and competition is tight. Let’s take a minute to think about how social media could be a huge game changer for so many of us when it comes to getting our business out there.

So, the chances are you probably spent some time each day scrolling through your newsfeed on Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platform and in amongst the baby pictures from friends and cat memes, occasionally you might come across an advertisement of some sort. Possibly from a local business that are sponsoring posts.

Right now, social media plays a huge role in not only how we consume content, but how we visualise business. That business advert you are seeing is a carefully targeted advert. You are seeing it because either your phones tracking cookies are linking it to content you’ve viewed online or because the advertiser has chosen someone of your demographic to see the post.

You can apply this to your own marketing strategy right away with a few small clicks. Start off by writing a list of who your business or product appeals to. Then, check out Facebooks Ad Manager. You can create tailor made adverts to push your business post or video into the news feeds of the people who fit your demographic.

You can set a daily budget (Which by the way is very under-priced for the exposure you receive) and set your radius and let the systems algorithm do the rest. You are now advertising your business on the worlds largest directory of potential customers.

Don’t have any budget? Not to worry. The great thing about Facebook (And other social media platforms) algorithms is that they recognise when content is popular and make it appear in more newsfeeds. The more it’s seen and interacted with, the further it goes. Get your friends and family to share the post on their own pages. This means connections they have that you do not have will see the post and it will help the organic reach grow which increases the chances even further of it being seen.

Social Media is yours for the taking. Make yourself seen.

Posted under Advertising Online

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 17, 2019

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2Factor Authentication – Why Security Should be Central to Your Business

Security seems to be a recurring theme in these posts but once again here I am to discuss the importance of security to a business website. Over the last month I’ve been making a conscious effort to improve the security on the mgrmusic.com platform to ensure that business can run smoothly and safely for myself, all the teachers we work with and any students that use our platform.

With the increase of hacking attacks and viruses that you hear about targeting websites and their plugins, I’ve decided to upgrade all the security systems that keep things safe for us.

The biggest change that I have implemented is the inclusion of 2 Factor Authentication on all our website and email log ins. For anyone unfamiliar with the term 2 Factor Authentication (2FA for short), this is essentially an addition step to logging in that involves a second stage of verification. Many websites already use this as an option such as Facebook who will prompt you to enter a code displayed on your mobile when logging into an unrecognised device.

I have decided to go with Google Authenticator for the same purpose so when myself, other employees and teachers log into our platform, they are prompted to enter their email and password as usual, before being prompted to open an app on their phone to obtain a security code, this is the second factor of the authentication. This code allows the security software to know the person logging in is indeed the person who it should be.

So many big businesses get hacked on a regular basis and the impacts range from a temporary loss of service to a long-term loss of income. My goal as a business owner is to ensure that all the people that use my service never have to deal with the outcome of such attacks. I want my platform to be secure and reliable for all that use it.


We have recently welcomed the incredible Hannah Rose to the mgrmusic.com family under the Piano Lessons Manchester page. Hannah holds a Bachelor of Music from the Royal Northern College of Music and specialises in pop and classical music. She has an unbeatable work ethic, teaching at two music institutions in her local area as well as running her own private tuition business.

She works over graded curriculum with students and also provides lessons based around their own musical tastes and interests to ensure very dynamic learning. We look forward to seeing Hannah’s business grow and we are thrilled to have her onboard with us.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 13, 2019

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Business Partnerships

Let’s talk about networking and the power of community in business. Every business you see has links with other companies. There intertwining threads through business are the veins that carry the company’s lifeblood. Can one company exist without another? Sure, but it does help to have connections.

Building relationships in business is a powerful thing and it should never be overlooked. When it comes to relationship business it’s often worth remembering that you aren’t building a relationship with the company as an entity, but with an individual (or individuals) within that business. These relationships should be viewed almost like your friendship circles. The people within the companies that you have relationships with as essentially your “business friends”.

It’s these close-knit relationships that allow you to maintain a great working relationship.

Never underestimate the importance of face-to-face networking. This is often a great way to get started with building relationships. I find that cold-email or cold-calling a company that you want to work with is often met with barriers, because to that company, you don’t have a face.

If you really want to network and get to know the people behind companies, get out there and meet them. Whatever your industry, check online and on social media for any networking events. It is often possible to see which companies will be attending, and sometimes even the person at that company.

If you feel you have a relationship worth building and you can offer them something in return, you can make it your aim to meet the person on the other end of that potential partnership. Things will blossom more in a face-to-face setting.

The digital age allows us to stay in touch electronically, and any face to face relationships that you build on, you can follow up with emails shortly after to keep that contact up. What is your business and what sort of companies do you think you would be able to form a beneficial partnership with? Make a list and get out there and shake some hands.


Now for a business update, we’ve recently taken on a new teacher in Liverpool heading up our Piano Lessons Liverpool website. Her name is Sophie Leaver and she is a multi-instrumentalist who graduated with a First in Music from the University of Liverpool. She also holds a Masters Degree in Music Performance and Pedagogy which she obtain in September 2018.

Sophie is an accomplished pianist, singer and guitar player and has performed at a range of festivals, sporting events and even on the ITV series Victoria.

Sophie started teaching in 2017 in New York before moving her teaching business to the Merseyside area of Liverpool.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 3, 2019

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Continuous Systems Improvement

Off the back of me discussing some of the lessons learned from the recent spam attack, I took the opportunity to make some important updates and implemented some new procedures to increase security and also improve a lot of other administrative processes along the way.

One thing that I’ve recently improved is the websites database systems. Due to the nature of the business, we receive a high volume of enquiries from potential students all around the UK. The unfortunate nature of dealing with high volume in a small business is that sometimes things could get missed, or as I’ve also seen, technology plays a part in the item not arriving with us even though the customer has submitted it.

I’ve made some back-end updates to the website which now provide a timestamp to all submitted entries. This means, even if an email physically does not arrive in our inbox, there will be a marker of this in the database. This means if a customer contacts us to say they got in touch but did not hear back, I can simply retrieve the entry from the database and deal with it right away. This saves us extra time and saves the customer from having to resubmit their request.

These increased records will improve our overall efficiency and also free up some all-important time to work on other aspects of the business too.

I have also made some important updates to our phone service which now provides each locational webpage with its own local phone number. This allows us to retrieve voicemails much faster and send them to the local teachers in a timelier manner. Previously the voicemails all collected in a central repository with no location indicator.


Quick business update, we’ve recently taken on a new singing teacher based in Newcastle that will be heading up our Singing Lessons Newcastle. We are so pleased to welcome Jay Hepple onboard to share his knowledge and experience with students.

Jay is not only a fantastic singing teacher, but he also performs up and down the UK on a regular basis with his band Groove Allstars at weddings and functions. You may also have heard him sing as part of SoulTown at one of the many Haven Holiday Parks around the country. He’s even sung on stage with Take That on their recent Greatest Hits Tour as part of their choir. Pretty cool huh?

Jay holds a 1stClass BA Honours in the Music Industry from the Academy of Music and Sound in Gateshead.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on September 3, 2019

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Spam Email Attack

So this week’s business update here, and this time it’s got a valuable lesson attached. Recently, some of the mgrmusic.com website contact forms fell victim to a spam attack. This type of attack is a bot-based attack which doesn’t directly affect the website, but the bot uses the contact form as a proxy to send emails out to multiple recipients.

These types of attacks work based on the contact form replying to the submitter with an auto reply. For instance, if you typed in the body of the text “Win £100” and entered your email in the field, our system would generate an auto reply to you and a copy of the text you submitted. The bot had used out system to email spam to a substantial number of emails, as we pay per email it also incurred a quite significant bill. Indeed, it was a bit of a perfect storm that highlighted a security vulnerability in our systems that needed resolving.

So, what did we learn? I mentioned last time that I was working on some integration with ReCapcha and we have rebuilt our contact forms from the ground up to prevent this happening in future. I have also been keen to increase security across the business, adding in 2 factor authentication on all business email logins and will look to do the same with websites. I would recommend that you do the same as well for your start-up, after all the cost of getting it wrong can literally put you out of business – no matter what size your company is.

One aspect of this that I really want to share with you is that as business owners we abstract business problems away from clients – it is part of the service we provide by default. Certain things should never make it to the client view of the business as it’s not something they should ever have to worry about when using your service.

In my case, I don’t want my teachers to be concerned with web security or the websites running as planned, but due to this attack I had to take various websites offline for 24 hours to increase security measures which placed this issue in the view of my teachers. This broke that invisible shield that you as a business owner abstract away from the client, suddenly teachers wanted to know why their websites were down and what was the cause of the attack – in other words the client became concerned with a business issue.

A good example of this scenario is in recent years when KFC changed suppliers and various branches ran out of chicken due to a change in suppliers. This meant, instead of the customers arriving and just using the service they expect (ordering their bucket of chicken!), they were then aware of issues with the supply chain. Not a great look for the company, after all you just want your customers to be thinking “wow this is great chicken”.

It is these moments, often of very high stress that you see how your company can cope with a setback and then how you can improve your systems/processes by resolving it in such a way that it could never happen again. This is what I hope that we achieved this week.


Piano Lessons Nottingham

Here is a small business update to round this off, we’ve recently started working with the fantastic Chloe Leak who will be the teacher on our Piano Lessons Nottingham page. Chloe brings many years of experience along with her and we are very excited to have her on board.

Chloe obtained her music teaching diploma in 2017 and knew from the age of 10 she wanted a career in music. She was committee to playing piano from a young age and now wants to share that knowledge and experience with students in the city of Nottingham

Nottingham has a thriving music scene with lots of new bands and great venues all around so it’s wonderful to see a new generation of musicians coming through under Chloe’s guidance.

I look forward to seeing Chloe’s business grow and grow.

Posted under mgrmusic.com

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 24, 2019

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New Website Designs

I am always looking to present my business in the best possible light, be that via face to face meetings or just the general online perception of what MGR Music does.

In recent weeks I have turned my attention to my website and how it looks. I always strive to ensure my website meets all the expected standards of the modern-day web surfer. I want the website to always look modern and contemporary while still maintaining a very small business feel. I don’t feel a grandiose, corporate website would work for my business because we are not a global enterprise, we are a small team of musicians and music teachers who are passionate about creating sustainable careers for other teachers.

I decided to revisit the overall design of some of my location specific webpages and see if I could enhance them even more. Over the last year I have attended many workshops on web design and I wanted to put some of my new skills to the test. Here is a little preview:

I want to streamline the user experience and give them all the information they need in a short, concise manner on a website that is easy on the eye and cross compatible across multiple platforms. After all, most people browse the internet on their phones and tablets these days, it makes sense to make that a big consideration when designing something.

I am very excited to roll this new design out, but it is not without its challenges. I’ve been working to integrate the ReCaptcha tool to the contact form that you see on many websites, this presented many challenges which I will cover in more depth soon.


Piano Lessons Solihull

A small business update here for you, we’ve recently started working with the fantastic Callum Fisher who will be the teacher connected with our Piano Lessons Solihull website. Callum is a mobile teacher who travels to students within his covered region and he provides some very high quality and informative piano lessons.

We are extremely excited to have Callum on board with us and we look forward to growing his student base and seeing his business really blossom in the coming year.

Posted under MGR Music

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 16, 2019

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Why Customer Feedback Is So Important

As a small business, our customers are our lifeline. It is of utmost importance to us, and to them, that the service we deliver is always the best it can possibly be. We never want to let down these people. They are the most important asset in what we do or what we sell, and they are keeping us in our position of being the business owners we are.

Customer Feedback is so important, especially in the age we live in. These days, everyone has a voice and a platform to express that voice. If we offer a service or product, we want to take on board our customers voice. Let your customers give you their feedback, or better yet, you ask them the question:

“What can I/we do to make this experience/service/product better for YOU?”

This makes the customer see that you really do value their custom. While we have the vision for the business, our customers are the ones who know what they want and how they want it delivered so this should never be overlooked. Remember the old saying, the customer is always right? This is true to an extent.

We often see big businesses asking customers to complete surveys to say how they rate that interaction or to provide feedback but in the world of small business this is often overlooked and it shouldn’t be. In our world, we have a much closer connection with our customers as we often know them all by name and interact with them on a more regular basis. 

In my own business, I regularly ask my customers how they find the service and if there is anything, they would like to suggest I’m always open to having that discussion. Customer feedback can lead to growth. We don’t have to take everything our customers suggest on board, but it’s certainly food for thought. Let’s get behind our customers and let them help us. 

If the customer is happy, they will keep coming back time and time again. Happy customers often lead to word of mouth spreading. Let’s aim to deliver the best service we can!

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 12, 2019

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Graduate Acceleration Showcase 2019

It was fantastic to meet Joe Pearce and Emily Davies after the Graduate Acceleration Showcase at Deloitte in late June. Similar to the event I was fortunate enough to be invited to as a student, where SETsquared university students pitch their business ideas to a room of entrepreneurs and experts, this event was aimed at recent graduate entrepreneurs.

The event itself was the “culmination of a 5-month programme to hone each graduate company’s pitch”, helping students to critically develop their business idea, as well as promote it and network with other likeminded entrepreneurs. Taking students through this process I think is a great approach to focus minds on start-up thinking – helping students to understand and communicate the problem that they are trying to solve, the solution that they offer and the business model that can make money by providing that solution.

It also encourages students to put into words their business ideas. Learning the art of business model creation, developing support and exercises around it, is every bit as important as the businesses themselves at this stage. As Joe always says, “we back the jockey not the horse” – in other words the University of Exeter is continuing to invest resources into developing entrepreneurial students, giving them the skill sets to develop businesses that achieve various degrees of financial success with a profound impact on the development of the student(s) themselves. If you are interested in applying to a future Graduate Acceleration programme simply email .


Here at mgrmusic.com the team have been delighted to announce the launch of Singing Lessons Cambridge, working with a fantastic singing teacher called Rossella Pugliano. Rossella has many years of experience teaching singing lessons, helping her students to rapidly develop their vocal ability. She is based in central Cambridge and is able to provide singing lessons to students of all ages, across a wide range of different musical genres. It has been fantastic to have Rossella join the team as mgrmusic.com launched its latest music hub. The plans are to continue to launch music hubs across the UK, offering music lessons with experienced and professional music teachers – alongside a wider international growth strategy. As ever I will keep you up to date with how the team progresses these plans over the next few months!

Posted under Student Showcase

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on July 8, 2019

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Scratch – Student StartUps Magazine

It was awesome to receive Volume 2 of “Scratch” the Student StartsUps Magazine, wonderfully produced Think Try Do at the University of Exeter. Packed full of interviews with current and form entrepreneurial students it is a must read for current students with an interest in creating their own business.

There were interviews with familiar faces for anyone who has read this blog – with articles on Alex Nechoroskovas, James Wild and Jacob Marsh. Yet, it was the article on Lyster Surf Craft that really caught my eye. Founded by Duncan Lyster the story of Lyster Surf Craft is the perfect example of a “hobby” that had the potential to grow into a business opportunity. Duncan had been making wooden surfboards for 4 years, with only the last two years seeing him create wooden surf boards a business proposition.

Not only are the boards much better for the environment but they are literally works of art. Duncan’s real challenge has been to create a board that is as light as a traditional polyurethane board without it being overly labour intensive to manufacture. After 18 months of developing he is now ready to start making his first sales – with such a strong product that is clearly anchored in Duncan’s own personal connection to surfing and passion for the idea it will be really exciting to see how it develops. It will be really interesting to see how he approaches the marketing of the product now that he is ready to make sales, as I think the brand and product itself is so strong. Hopefully this will be able to capture the interest of fellow surfers both here in the UK and abroad to enable the orders to start flowing in. You can see how he is getting on by visiting lystersurfcraft.co.uk.


Here at MGR Music Tuition the team has been working really hard on launching new music hubs across the UK. I know they are delighted to announce the launch of the Singing Lessons Bournemouth, Guitar Lessons Southampton and Piano Lessons Manchester music hubs during May, working with a range of professional music teachers to deliver these lessons. Enquiries across the teacher database are increasing month on month, with the team focused on ensuring that they are putting in the infrastructure to grow the business significantly over the next 24 months.

Alongside this the mgrmusic.com has started generating enquiries in the USA which is fantastic news, bringing an influx of 40 new teacher sign-ups from the USA during May alone. I know that the ultimate ambition for the platform is to be an internationally recognised platform for music students to find music teachers – so the team will continue to work on fulfilling this vision on step at a time. On of the big successes on this front was the launch of Drum Lessons Berlin, working with Barney Riley – a drum teacher that we used to work with in Leeds before he relocated to Germany. Having seen enquiries come in for Barney in Berlin, with students booking lessons with him I am confident that the team can apply what they have learned from Drum Lessons Berlin to other cities across Europe and beyond.

Posted under Scratch Magazine

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 11, 2019

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The Deck Wall of Fame

It was amazing to hear from Emily Davies of Think, Try, Do earlier in the week to say that the University of Exeter is putting together a “Wall of Fame” showcasing student entrepreneurs past and present. I am delighted to say that a guitar that I gave to Joe Pearce when I finished my role as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence will be included in this showcase.

It was a guitar that I had bought as part of a different business idea called “Amplified Art”, where I would get local airbrush artists to airbrush famous guitarists onto guitars. I trialed this with about 5 guitars, with the one that I gave to Joe featuring Jimi Hendrix on it. While I managed to get the guitar into a local guitar shop to see if it sold the business itself never took off…turns out people aren’t really that interested in buying a guitar with a famous guitarist airbrushed onto it.

It is kind of interesting that this guitar will be used to showcase MGR Music Tuition LTD, as it was actually an example of another one of my failed ideas…of which there were many during university. So the real story behind the guitar is one of continuously trying to create business models and products. After all you only need one business model to take off – so keep making ideas and testing them out.

I would really recommend trying to gorilla test ideas and products, essentially making the lowest cost version of your product/business model to test it out. Get it out into the real world then see whether it works or not. If the answer is that it does then you can increase the investment into the idea and let the product develop from there. I have met a lot of entrepreneurs who look to gain a huge investment into their website for example, even though they have never sold one of the products they wish to feature on their website. My advice – get out on a market stall and see if you can sell the product. This is still something that I know the team at mgrmusic.com are learning – the hardest thing to do is actually get into the world and start selling, it is a lot easier to put it off. Keep focusing on developing the product etc. without doing the thing that brings in the money…which is of course the art of selling the product as it stands today.

It will be great to see how the Wall of Fame looks and I really hope that I get an opportunity to see it. If I do I will post some photos of it on here, highlighting some of the other products that have made it into the “Hall of Fame”.

A small update this time on progress. The team has been really excited to start working with a partner in the USA to feature teachers in the USA on the mgrmusic.com music teacher database. This will hopefully help us to start generating enquiries for music teachers in America, as well as here in Europe. We also had the great news of launching the Singing Lessons Edinburgh music hub with professional music teacher Joe Revell which is tremendous news. We had previously worked with Joe in Glasgow as a singing teacher so we were delighted to team up with him again to deliver professional singing tuition in Scotland’s capital city.

Posted under Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 12, 2019

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Impact of Brexit / Piano Lessons Leeds

I think everyone is tired of Brexit, no matter their individual views on the outcome they want for the process. With the impact of the second delay effecting small-businesses I thought I would be interesting to explore specifically what this impact is and how start-ups might be able to mitigate it.

After talking with start-up owners it is clear that Brexit impact is very much dependant on the type of business model that a start-up runs. For example, those business models that require the import of resources or the export of products to EU countries and beyond have some of the most direct concerns about any change in cross border trade-deals.

This can be contrasted with eCommence websites that are focused on selling British made products or re-selling services in the UK. Changes to cross border relationships is less impactful, so concerns quickly turn to the impact of Brexit on consumer confidence and spending power. This approach certainly falls into broader business fears of an economic downturn post-Brexit that would cause lower sales for start-ups.

Unfortunately, from my conversations with start-ups there was little optimism about Brexit – even from pro-Brexit start-up owners. The main reason for this is no-one I spoke too could define with confidence at this stage how Brexit would turn out, so inevitably they worried that it would be a type of Brexit that they didn’t want. One that would negatively impact their business.

As we turned to ideas about how to mitigate against the start-ups most feared impacts of Brexit talks became more positive. For example, all the start-ups I spoke to acknowledge that surviving economic downturns are part of running a successful business over the medium to long-term. So investing time in planning how would we run our business if we had a 30% decrease in sales during 2020 is worth doing regardless of Brexit. I remember reading James Caan’s book, where the former Dragon’s Den investor wrote about how he had to “button down the hatches” to survive one economic downturn that effectively stopped major companies hiring for several months…a problem if you run a recruitment start-up! Therefore, having a strategy in place for economic downturns is no bad thing regardless of Brexit.

Exploring how to deal with changes in cross-broader relations fell into two categories (1) understanding what the changes meant so that the business was compliant, could rebuild their supply chains with a clear understanding of timings and also continue to build positive relationships with suppliers or buyers in the EU was key.

Category (2) was the specific short term impact of Brexit that might disrupt supply chains in such a way that would negatively impact the business, frustrating customers and loosing short-term business. As we have heard in the new stockpiling is a common response to this, though a costly expense for a start-up to undertake.

While it goes beyond the scope of this article to provide specific advice for start-ups planning for Brexit one thing that became clear from my conversations with start-ups was that having open discussions about Brexit and its impact on your business is a healthy thing to do. Several start-up owners actually said they felt better having spoke about the impact of Brexit on their business – simply having a conversation about it seemed to have helped them to air their fears.

So do reach out to other businesses through your network and speak to business owners like yourself to explore how you industry is planning for Brexit. Even if the outcome of these talks is for you to put something in place to plan for an economic downturn that is no bad thing to have planned out.


Piano Lessons Leeds

A small business update is that the mgrmusic.com team have been delighted to launch the Piano Lessons Leeds music hub earlier in April. Working closely with local piano teacher George MacDonald, who is a professional piano tutor with many years teaching experience, the team is looking to built one of the leading piano schools in Leeds over the next few years.

George is well placed to be able to lead this development having graduated with a BA Hons (Music) in Jazz Piano at Leeds College of Music. This local knowledge of music education within Leeds is combined with a wider network of musicians that George has performed with through the various bands. Enabling him to connect students to local musical opportunities as they develop their piano playing to a level that would enable them to perform. I know that the team are delighted to have him onboard and I wish him a warm welcome, as well as every success to the new Piano Lessons Leeds school.

Posted under MGR Music

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 28, 2019

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Inside The Mind of An Entrepreneur: Matt Morley

A series of articles that focuses on interviewing current and former University of Exeter students who have launched and ran successful start-ups. These articles will explore more than simply a student’s “success story” and will delve into the psyche of an entrepreneur to find what motivated them.

If entrepreneurialism is a mindset then university might well be an ideal support environment to develop these thought-processes, the right skills sets and network opportunities to launch start-ups that will profoundly change the world we live in.

“Certainty” has a Value, especially in an uncertain world.

My interview with Matt Morley of Tickbox, Explaain & Savvy 

The Entrepreneur & The Opportunity

Matt Morely studied a History BA at the University of Exeter. Inspired by a growing interested politics he canvased independently to find out what voters were really thinking.

Across the political spectrum voters and non-voters experienced similar feelings; either an uncertainty in who to vote for or (when certainty existed towards a candidate/party) apprehension as to whether that candidate/party really represented their views.

This was a problem. Especially as functioning democracy requires engagement from the popular with the political process. If the population felt uncertain and apprehensive about the democratic process this would, theoretically, increase disengagement and apathy towards elections.

Consequently, a logical question and one that Matt posed was “how could this uncertainty be reduced”. Keen to create something that could be used by the entire voting population Matt knew that the answer would combine technology with accurate information.

The Start-Up & Successes 

TickBox was developed as a possible solution, with a mission to “to make interacting with voting and democracy as easy as possible”. This would be achieved by “putting all the information you need online and in one place, allowing you to search for the information you need about the issues you care about”.

First deployment, with fairly limited resources, was for the 2014 University of Exeter Students’ Guild Sabbatical elections. This trial “required a lot of work to get right and taught us a lot about what we did and didn’t know”, more importantly it demonstrated that “a demand for such a service”. Clearly the solution had to be improved, streamlined and suitable for the masses – yet, even in its first stage it worked as a solution.

Refined and ready to go for the 2014 European Election was when TickBox really demonstrated it potential, as “strangers” in their thousands used the platform “to create the change they wanted to see in the world”. Over 40,000 users had visited before the election was over, with some amazing feedback from users: 

By 2017 General Election these ideas had been further refined to see the ge2017.com platform have over 2 million users and national press coverage (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/06/democracy-theres-an-app-for-that-the-tech-upstarts-trying-to-hack-british-politics).

Beyond Elections

The success of these platforms, combined with the realisation that drawing revenue from election platforms was fairly limited Matt pivoted his ideas. In recent months he has been working on a new project called Savvy. Significantly, it uses the same approach of helping people quickly gain information to provide more certainly. He highlights this as a fundamental human need, that we inherently desire a more certain and organised world to live in.

Savvy is a Chrome extension that enables users to rapidly search their Google Drive for information in a search sidebar. For companies this can mean a team of employees can rapidly request information from Google Sheets without having to open up the documents in question. It streamlines the process of information retrieval, essentially enabling you to “Google” your own documents

This project is currently in development and I will update you on its progress. Having used Savvy first hand I know the potential that this extension has for many millions of users around the world.

However, what Matt was keen to highlight was this was a different approach to the same ambition he has of increasing human certainty. With a different approach to the same aim a business model might be developed that is sustainable or more viable than another. Recognising when to pivot can define whether, in Matt’s case, his platform used by millions  of voters with relatively little income or his Chrome Extension which might be used by 500 top companies with significant income helps him achieve his own personal motivational aims.

These personal motivations are always interesting to explore when it comes to entrepreneurs. For Matt he visualises that one day in the future he will be able to spend time with his future children, not having to work as hard as his contemporaries will do. This underlying motivation is what pushes him to commit so much of his life in the present to achieve this aim.

Motivation and the Entrepreneurial Experience

Lets explore more of what drives Matt as an entrepreneur. As Matt saw it during university, the world we live in is dramatically changing. Whole industries that are traditional forms of employment will be gone in 5, 10, 15 years time. After all, training to be a typewritest in the 1960s seemed like a strong career decision, yet by the end of the 1970s the industry was in terminal decline.

Observing this macro-trend, against the university backdrop of producing ideal candidates for industries that tech will replace Matt was both “pulled and pushed out of uni”. There was no doubt in his mind that he got the best of both worlds, leaving with “half the student debt, having never done a dissertation” while having met some “amazing people”. University itself, as Matt highlighted was an ideal “safe harbour” to test and launch a business.

Core to Matt’s personal motivation is that he wants to “invent the future”. Approached not from a grandiose or arrogant mindset, but from a humble belief that humans have an infinity ability for improvement as long as they break free from traditional thought paths and accepted “truths”. Radical change takes place at an apex where great new ideas are met by a society that is willing to let go of the “baggage of the past”.

After leaving university Matt became the University of Exeter’s Entrepreneur in Residence. This gave him the “breathing space needed” to develop his start-up, with the help of Joe Pearce. Matt was influential in the development of the “Think, Try, Do” project, helping to triple the amount of money invested in student enterprise. With some of the businesses that received their first £5,000 investments under Matt’s watch now having gone onto receive multi-million dollar investments.

Crucially, as Matt points out the Think, Try, Do program was about developing student enterprise on a very individual basis. Not every business created will be a multi-million pound enterprise (or as Matt put it “not everyone needs a rocket to go to Mars, if all they want to do is go to Bristol) and that is absolutely fine. Instead, helping students gain the skills required to develop a start-up business to its full potential is the objective.

How Matt thinks about the world

By understanding his motivations we can now explore his approach to business. Matt explained that you must always look at what people are using everyday as bench-marker to your ideas. This means if you are a tech company then users expect the speed of Google and the usability of Uber.

Secondly, you should be obsessed with creating the solution to the problem or opportunity that you have identified. Explore what your prejudices are, as well as those of your users (they might think they know what they want, but actually they haven’t imaged a better solution).

Thirdly, selecting the right team will make or break your business. If your idea is good but you simply don’t have the personal or the correct investor to execute it as a project it will fail.

Finally, there is also no rulebook (as long as it is legal!). So create many ideas, focusing on those that are in your sphere of interest. For Matt he explained that he has idea generation times often during/directly after exercise and before sleep. Developing time to generate ideas and starting the thought processes of (a) what problems can I identify (b) how could I solve that problem using my skills (c) is that something that someone will pay me to solve, will go a long way in an entrepreneurs early stage development.

If you want to find out more about developing your thought process to become an entrepreneur then please contact thinktrydo@exeter.ac.uk.

Further Reading – The Resources Matt Recommends:

As part of this series of articles I asked each entrepreneur to submit the books, videos, podcasts and other materials that has influenced their journey. Below are the materials that Matt recommends:

Books

1. Sapiens – Yuval Harari – Everything we do in business has to serve the basic ‘homo sapien’ need. I always like to work back from first principles. In what I do that means looking at emotions like fear and delight – when you design and build something you’re always appealing to an emotion as well as reason

2. Life 3.0 – Max Tegmark – If you only read one book on AI it has to be this. Everything we do as a species going forward will be in partnership with AI

3. Hit Markers – Derek Thompson – A brilliant book on product and the human needs products solve.

Videos:

Sam Altman, 10 Rules for Success (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRLyLQos6FQ)

Start with Why, Simon Sinek (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action)

Podcasts:

Masters of Scale podcast with Reid Hoffman (https://mastersofscale.com/)

 

Business Update

Since my last business update I am pleased to announce that mgrmusic.com is continuing to grow its teaching locations with the addition of the Guitar Lessons Coventry webpage with professional teacher Arthur Stanley. Arthur has been teaching privately in the Coventry area for just over 3 years and works with students from age 5 and up. He is a fantastic addition to the MGR Music family and is a wonderfully versatile player who teachers all styles from his comfortable home studio and also at students homes via his mobile teaching service.

Arthur is currently in his third year of a BA Music Performance degree and juggling this with his busy teaching schedule shows how hard working he is. I have been looking for an experience, versatile teacher in the Coventry area for some time now and Arthur is the perfect addition. I am looking forward to hearing how many great things his new students will have to say about him.

As a teacher that thrives off seeing student growth I will be very interested to watch how Arthur grows as a teacher as we connect him with some great students. Coventry has a fantastic music community with a lot of educational options available via the local College and University as well as a community project called the Coventry Music Hub. In 10 years time, I hope Arthur’s students will be the leading musicians in this area. I am looking forward to seeing this growth. Over the course of 2019 I will be looking to grow MGR Music Tuition in many new key locations around the UK, working alongside the small team we have a mgrmusic.com to achieve that.

Posted under SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on February 27, 2019

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What can Young People Achieve

I am always reminded of how young people can rapidly rise to the top of their profession when watching football. As the England team prepared to travel out to Russia for the World Cup, with one of the youngest squads of all time, it is a clear reminder that individuals in their late teens to mid-twenties can be leading figures in their profession. After all, the 23 players picked represent the best footballers that England has to offer across all generations – yet, the average age is 26.

I am also reminded by it when commentators refer to players as “young men”, for example, when Raheem Sterling played for Liverpool in his early career. Already playing at one of Europe’s leading professional football clubs, earning tens of thousands a week Sterling was also a father by 18. Indeed, similar to the current Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp who had his first child at 19 and yet was a professional footballer in the German leagues before becoming one of Europe’s top managers.

Clearly sport favours those with younger bodies, so younger players have the opportunity to out compete older ones. Yet, there is nothing stopping you from developing your mind as a teenager to “out compete” even experienced business men and women. I believe that culturally we accept industry leaders as older generations. Yet, when it comes to certain industries like football it would be unimaginable to send out a group of 45 year olds to represent England.

The narrative that young people can change the world and be the industry leaders is one that is not often told. When the narrative does form it is an uneasy one, look at Mark Zuckerberg and the uneasy relationship the media have with a really young industry leader. My feelings are young people have the ability to see business opportunities faster than older generations and with the right support the potential to become industry leaders rapidly. One good example is E-Sports, where the leading commentators have a similar average age to the England squad. Compare that to the commentators who will be presenting at the World Cup and I am fairly sure that the average age will be double that of the England squad.

I would go even a step further and say that they have the power to create entirely new industries. So if you are in any doubt about what young people can achieve just look at the musicians, actors/actresses, sportsmen & women, who can rise to the top of their industry between their late teens and mid-twenties. What is stopping you doing the same in the business world?!

Business Update – Guitar Lessons Nottingham

Since my last business update I am delighted to announce that we have started working with Joe Egan, a professional guitar teacher who offers guitar lessons in Nottingham. Joe has many years teaching experience, helping students from the ages of 6 upwards to learn to play the guitar. He is based in central Nottingham, from a teaching space with easy access from across the city. This makes a huge different for students, enabling many more guitarists to come to access the newly founded Guitar Lessons Nottingham guitar school.

I was also keen to work with Joe as he is a jazz guitar specialist. Drawing on his many years of playing guitar in an array of jazz bands this knowledge is something that enables him to stand out from other guitar teacher in Nottingham. Jazz music is the ultimate expression of musical creativity and improvisation, skills that I think are so valuable for students to master. After all, learning to repeat music is very different to learning how to create music. In addition, Joe covers a wide range of different musical genres – drawing on this creative playing approach across all playing styles.

It is wonderful to see how the music business is continuing to rapidly expand. Over the next few weeks I plan to meet some influential businesses within music to form working partnerships that will help drive our music schools forward. I will, as ever, keep you updated with the process, challenges and developments of what it is like to run a business as a young person.

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This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 10, 2018

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GDPR / Piano Lessons Bristol

GDPR – SME Panic Grows

Another week and more panic in the business world about GDPR. I think small and medium sized companies have been spooked by big companies trying to “re-consent” their users/newsletter lists. This has prompted SMEs to try and do the same, often resulting in less than 5% response from their newsletter listings. In other words, they have decimated their newsletter lists, now panic that a core sales route for their business can no longer be used and are extremely anxious about the effect of GDPR on business.

The EU is driven, in many ways, to facilitate greater trade between EU countries. What a travesty it would be if the introduction of an EU law, like the GDPR, has such significant implications that it caused a sudden drop in trade. Especially in the SME sector, where margins are often tight and livelihoods are always at stake. However, in recent days I have also seen several articles that say the “re-consenting” emails that keep appearing in our email inboxes, might be unnecessary (and in some cases illegal!).

For example, BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones investigated this subject further. He interviewed a data protection legal specialist who explained “90% of the emails are unnecessary – it doesn’t have to be re-consented unless you didn’t get consent in the first place” (GDPR: The great data privacy panic). Essentially good data practices before GDPR would be recognised after the 25th May 2018 – after all the law cannot be retrospective.

Another interesting read was a WordPress Guide to GDPR: (GDPR Compliance – Everything You Need to Know. Most interesting thing being the cost of non-compliance, that, according to the article, in most reasonable cases, starts with a Warning, then a Reprimand, then Suspension of data processing, the a Fine. Like most legal disputes I am sure it is in the interest of both parties to resolve an issue without having to go to court. This article suggests that businesses that act reasonably and react reasonably to complaints should be able to avoid more serious ends of that disciplinary process.

There is no doubt that the introduction of GDPR has caused a panic in the business world. Its impact might well be negative in regard to damaging reasonably run SMEs, fearful that they might be non-compliant simply stopping sales routes that actually are reasonable uses of data. Nonetheless, it is clear that reform around data was needed. What is most evident that SMEs need more support to understand what an introduction of a new EU law like this is to their specific business case.

Piano Lessons Bristol

Away from GDPR, this week has seen the launching of a new music hub in Bristol. Bristol is one of the most important cities for music in the UK. It has a thriving music scene with a very engaged population of Bristolians who enjoy supporting all arts. Indeed, Bristol was the second city I expanded into when I first created the business from my Lafrowda flat (something you can read more about in The Tab). Over the last few years this has been focused on guitar lessons, singing lessons and drum lessons. However, I am very excited to announce that the Piano Lessons Bristol music hub has been launched this week.

Dan Somers, who is a mobile piano teacher in Bristol, is a fantastic tutor to take on piano students in the city. With his many years teaching experience, combined with his Music Performance and Production degree from the London Centre of Contemporary Music, Dan is already one of the leading piano teachers in the city. His ability to provide students with lessons in the comfort of their own homes makes his lessons accessible to many more students across the city – including those that face mobility and transport challenges.

Like many of the music teachers I know across the UK, Dan is an active musicians. Alongside his piano lessons her regularly performs in a swing band called Ruby & Her Howlin’ Boys. It is so important as a music teacher to have a creative and performance outlet, alongside working as a music teacher. After all, if the only time you play the instrument is during beginner music lessons with students you quickly loose your own enjoyment of playing. All musicians have to continue to push themselves to continue to develop, learn new styles of music and broaden their musical horizons. I am really excited to see how we can develop this music hub in Bristol, having launched it earlier this week.

Posted under GDPR, MGR Music, Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 25, 2018

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GDPR / Guitar Lessons Leeds

Continuing my weekly updates on what it is like to run a small online business, you can check out below what I have been working on this week (7th – 12th May 2018):

GDPR

The upcoming introduction of GDPR was the main focus of this week. I was contacted by many of the music teachers I work with about what the introduction of GDPR meant for them, as well as communicating with entrepreneurs that I know to assess how best to approach GDPR compliance. Like most of us during the last few weeks I have been inundated with emails from larger corporations explaining how GDPR would impact the way I received communications from them.

This has sharpen the minds of many smaller businesses to assess what they need to do to be GDPR compliant by the 25th May 2018. Adapting to new legislation as a small business is certainly nothing new, all entrepreneurs at some stage will face this challenge. Often the real challenge is understanding what the legislation means and how it specifically relates to your business/industry. A significant portion of my week was assessing the GDPR’s impact within the music education industry, drawing together my thoughts for other music teachers to read: GDPR Guide for Music Teachers.

Having spoken with many different entrepreneurs over the last week about the GDPR their processes have been similar to mine. Assessing what they currently have in place in regard to securing the data they collect. Examining how and why they are collecting this data. Researching and seeking professional advice to ensure that they will comply by the 25th May. A good article to get you started on what you need to know as a small business about the GDPR can be found here: What is GDPR for Small Business (SimplyBusiness.co.uk)

Guitar Lessons Leeds

I was delighted to launch the second “music hub” this week in Leeds, UK. Based in Leeds the music school will be run by Kieran Gunter, an experienced professional guitar teacher in Leeds. This marks an important stage in the expansion process for 2018, with Kieran being an ideal guitar teacher to bring onboard to support this. I have been so impressed by his enthusiasm for all forms of guitar music, from classical guitar right through to modern genres.

His holistic approach to teaching, ensuring that students learn the many different aspects of how to play the guitar; from helping students understand the rhythmic aspects of music to teaching them exercises that build finger strength. With Kieran as Head Guitar Teacher at this local music hub I am really excited to see how it develops as a local music school with our support.

This week also saw the start of a potentially interesting relationship with the Trinity College exam board, in relation to their Rock & Pop exams. As our music teaching community are are mainly focused on teaching “contemporary” music styles, due to the high student interest in modern genres, there might be some really exciting opportunities to explore with Trinity College.

Posted under Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 12, 2018

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MGR Music Progress Update & Guitar Lessons Manchester

Progress Update – Introduction

It has been over six-months since I wrote my last progress update on the development of the national music teacher database. As we are edging towards the summer again I thought I would write a group of mini-blog updates on how everything is develop in real time. This will give entrepreneurial students a real insight into how businesses develop day by day, week by week. I have found from first hand experience that while progress can feel slow on any one day, by making multiple good business decision overtime that progress is multiplied dramatically. Conversely, the consequences of a poor decision can significantly impact speed of growth, especially when the pace of growth increases.

In this mini-series of blog posts I will take you inside each of the key decisions made each week, providing insight into why these conclusions have been reached and analysing the results of these decisions. By doing this I hope to take you with me in my entrepreneurial journey. Enjoy!

Think, Try, Do – News

One exciting development away from the business is that I will be working with Emily, Katie and David of the Think, Try, Do team on a new project that will be released later this year. The project will focus on interviewing 50 current and former University of Exeter student entrepreneurs. It will not only explore their “success stories” but also examine the motivations behind their entrepreneurialism. Asking some of the more philosophical questions behind what really makes a successful entrepreneur and how can we help develop other students with this mind set. There will be more on this to follow in due course, with the first interview of Matt Morley, of Savvy, having been the first to be interviewed for the project.

MGR Music – Six Months of Development

In my last post (August 2017), I talked a lot about trying to get the national music teacher database off the ground. Comparing it to a plane taxiing along the runway, not fully knowing if when the plane stopped and the throttle was applied the plane would take off. I also talked a lot about my determination to make the platform into an online community of music, using it as almost a “Facebook for music teachers”.

Nearly six months on it is really interesting to reflect on this (part of the reason why I write this blog!). Firstly, I am pleased to say that platform has taken off, developing as a place where students can find highly-qualified music teachers in their location. Interestingly, having trialed the platform during early 2018 as a “social media” platform for music teachers, I ended moving away from that idea completely.

Two reasons became self-evident; firstly, put simply music teachers didn’t use it (or want to use it) as a social media platform. While we have forums on mgrmusic.com that are active, music teachers continue to prefer to post questions and seek advice in our Music Teacher’s Group on Facebook. As much as I wanted our music teacher community to engage with the platform as a the location to create the community upon the true was Facebook provides a better frame work to do that. A realisation therefore was we should concentrate on developing the Facebook group since that is the place where music teachers feel comfortable to engage with one another.

Secondly, being a small team we cannot compete with multi-million pound online social platforms. It sounds obvious when you say it, but when you are developing something that you really want people to use you can convince yourself that people will use it. However, compare it to a platform like Facebook and you can see the limitations of our platform. Matt Morley summed this up perfectly to me – “users expect the speed of Google and the user friendly app feel of Uber”. The platform we made was good, nonetheless, it isn’t our core business to provide a social media platform for music teachers. It is obvious to those music teachers that the platform, while being full functional, isn’t as good as Facebook…and why should it be, considering the cost investment of the two platforms.

Two months ago I have such a clear thought. It was a true moment of realisation; “as a small business we should only concentrate on our core business”. With such a small team we don’t have the luxury to input a lot of time into projects that are not absolutely central to the business. Reflecting on this I would say that over the last two years I have developed a lot of different ideas, with an array of success, however very few of these ideas where absolutely central to the core business. Once I realised this it became obvious for me what I needed to do; sandbox projects that did not contribute to the core business and re-focus on making the core business awesome.

MGR Music – Guitar Lessons Manchester

Refocusing on the core business was the significant change of business strategy that has taken place during 2018. Specifically, this has meant the planned creation and launch of local music hubs. Each music hub will have a high-qualified and experienced music teacher, offering lessons to students in that area. I am very proud to say at the start of May 2018 we officially launched our first music hub, Guitar Lessons Manchester.

This was a huge step up from what we had previously offered, which was essentially a database of music teachers. This left the student to find a suitable teacher for themselves, rather than creating the infrastructure for great music teachers to provide professional tuition to students. Although some areas had consistent steams of enquiries, including for drum lessons in Leicester and guitar lessons in Manchester – as mentioned in my last post in August 2017 – I felt we could do so much more in locations where high numbers of music students were getting in touch. Therefore, in early May we appointed Dan Hall as Head Guitar Teacher at Guitar Lessons Manchester, creating our first music hub.

Dan is an extremely experienced guitar teacher, having taught the guitar for over 10 years both privately and in local schools. He is a qualified guitar teacher, having gained a FD Pop Music and Performance University of Salford. His impressive experience and knowledge as a guitar teacher is backed up by a fantastic approach to the lessons. Adopting a “no pressure” style of teaching Dan works hard to ensure are inspired to learn, rather than forced to. This approach to teaching, that draws a lot upon what the guitar student wants to learn, really resonated with me as a guitar teacher. The music hub will be based in the Stretford area of Manchester, with great transport links from across the city. Dan and I will work extremely closely together to provide the highest-quality guitar tuition that Manchester has to offer. This focus and investment in these music hubs will provide opportunities for guitarists of all abilities to rapidly progress in an environment that is ideal for guitar lessons.

It was fantastic announcement to launch Guitar Lessons Manchester with Dan this month. I have plans to launch a small number of dedicated music hubs across the UK over the next 6 months and I will keep you up to date with this progress. After nearly 6 months of development of the platform it is wonderful to feel that I am taking the next steps in my entrepreneurial journey and look forward to sharing this experience with you.

 

Posted under MGR Music, Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 5, 2018

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Music Teacher Database – Progress Update

Six months on from launching the national database of music teachers, known as mgrmusic.com, I thought I would be a good time to give a progress update on the development of the platform, both from a business and design point of view.

It has been an exciting first half a year of fast paced development: the teaching community has grown rapidly, with 208 music teachers, across a wide range of different instruments, joining the website during those first six months. We have had student enquiries coming through as well, the first ones coming in as early as the 26th March, with consistent enquiries coming through for drum lessons and guitar lessons, far more than I could have hoped for in what remains an incredibly early stage of development.

The website too is able to interact with users from social media in a way that is entirely new for me, both as it is able to service users located anywhere in the UK, as well as music teachers wanting to use their profile pages to promote themselves via their own social media streams. This inadvertently helps to promote the websites as a whole, generating more enquiries for the wider teacher community every time a profile or article is shared. The mgrmusic.com blog has been a real creative outlet for myself, enabling me to promote some of the more interested items of news that pass across my desk to the teacher community – from competitions at Marshall Amps HQ in Milton Keynes to local festivals, music teacher job opportunities and educational resources.

Nonetheless, there have been setbacks too – from decisions to sandbox other projects like HomeGyms.co.uk and WeddingBand.co.uk to focus on this project, as I believe it has real potential – one greater than those previous two ideas, to implementing upgrades on the website that are not supported on legacy browsers (alienating some of the teacher’s with older PCs who are unable to access the website – something that will be resolved in the next few months). I always feel launching a new project is a little like being at an airport, you wait around for ages for your flight, constantly checking your passport and tickets, finally board the plane and slowly start taxiing on the runway, the plane then stops, with the engines gearing up for full throttle before you start a very bumpy acceleration down the runway – we are certainly at this stage now, accelerating down the runway and believe me it is bumpy and uncomfortable, yet filled with the hope that we will get up into the air and the project will take off.

As soon as I feel that we have left ground, continuing the metaphor(!), I am incredibly keen to develop a teacher community area on the website similar to the one that have developed and cultivated on the MGR Music Tuition platform with 150 teachers I work with directly. This community area could be ten times bigger, and therefore ten times more useful, for the teachers within the community – providing peer support, ideas around best practise as well as a space to network and engage with one another in what can be quite an isolating job. This would see the database become somewhat of a dedicated social network for music teachers, where they can interact both with students and other teachers on a national level. My plan over the next six months is to take it to a place were the website has a micro-community of engaged active teachers using the platform, with around 500 teachers in the broader community. I will keep you updated how it goes!

Posted under Progress Update

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 3, 2017

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Music Teachers

Over the time that I have ran MGR Music Tuition Ltd, since launching it during my first year studying at the University of Exeter in 2009, I have always been limited to generating enquiries for music teachers located in large cities across four instruments – guitar, singing, piano and drums. This restriction put a top limit to the size of the teaching community that I could grow, indeed, as of 2017 we are almost at full capacity in terms of teaching community I can grow within the UK.

This is why over the last 12 months I have been so keen to develop a national platform to enable me to generate enquiries for teachers located anywhere in the UK, across all possible instrument types. After months of negotiations I finally managed to acquire and then develop a new national database of active music teachers in the UK and Ireland called mgrmusic.com – it is designed so that students can select the type of instrument that they want to learn and then enter their postcode, with the search results providing them with teachers that are the most local to them.

Music Teacher is a new national database of active music teachers located throughout the UK and Ireland.

Music Teacher is a new national database of active music teachers located throughout the UK and Ireland.

Having researched a lot of the other music teacher databases in the UK, I have found that they lack some of the critical information that can help inform students as to whether the teacher is suitable to teach them or not. For example information as to whether a teacher holds a valid DBS Check, up to date public liability insurance, or has the necessary qualifications and teaching experience to tutor to a professional level. I made sure, therefore, that all of this information would be included in every one of the tutor profiles featured throughout the website. Students can also leave reviews of teachers which is a fantastic way for teacher to build up an online reputation of providing high quality music tuition, that is then presented back to future students.

Leo Wood's Music Teacher profile, including the review that a student left about her private music tuition.

Leo Wood’s Music Teacher profile, including a customer review and information about whether she is DBS Checked, has public liability insurance and relevant qualifications.

Over the website provides a brilliant platform for me to continue to build a community of music teachers, as well as expand into new locations by offering piano lessons in Bristol, guitar Lessons in Leeds and singing lessons in London. It is also incredibly exciting to be able to grow the community to include saxophone, violin and other music teachers of all instruments – including some of the more unusual instruments like ukulele, djembe and cajon. My ambition for the Music Teacher website is to develop it over the next two to five years into the leading platform to find music teachers in the UK and Ireland.

Posted under Music Teachers

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 5, 2017

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Home Gyms

Working as the Student Entrepreneur in Residence I met many entrepreneurial students studying at the university, though I knew that these students were only the tip of the iceberg in the numbers of students at the university running successful business. Over the summer I was lucky enough to meet a former student at the University of Exeter, Jamie Brown, who never made it up to the Innovation Centre but had been running a remarkably successful online eCommerce website called Body Massage Shop, selling massage equipment to buyers throughout the EU.

After talking a lot about our respective businesses, where it was clear we shared many of the same challenges, gained similar but complimentary skill sets and both motivated to start new business ventures we agreed to explore the possibility of new projects. This experience re-inforced my view that connecting entrepreneurs, whether to share business growth issues or to engage in seed idea development, is an integrally worthwhile exercise.

As so often is the way one of the reasons Jamie never made it up to the Innovation Centre was as he was so busy running his business he didn’t have time to take out to explore the opportunities that the Innovation Centre / University of Exeter as a whole had to offer to early stage entrepreneurs. This paradox is something that we are certainly looking to address and if you have a business please do get in touch with the Invocation Centre to network with other business minded students.

From our early stage talks, followed by extensive research Jamie and myself decided to start a new business selling home gym equipment, from free weights to treadmills. The new business, called HomeGyms.co.uk, will be developed during late 2016 and launched in early 2017. I am hopeful that with our combined experience of running successful online businesses, and the skills the we have developed during our time operating these startups, that we can create new business model that can grow into something major. I will keep you updated!

HomeGyms.co.uk is a new project started with Jamie Brown a former University of Exeter student.

Home Gyms is a new project started with Jamie Brown a former University of Exeter student.

As for an update on the new Wedding Band project I have started receiving a few enquiries starting to come through the website, though I have to say overall I have been slight underwhelmed with the level of traffic coming to the website. It will mean I will have to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the data I have to explore whether the project as a whole is a viable one. Though we are still in the early stages of the project I had expected a greater flow of traffic to be coming to the website, similar to that of the music tuition websites, however, the data sets are really quiet different in terms of click through rate. So still work to be done on this project I think!

As for MGR Music Tuition the business is still continuing to grow rapidly, with recent months seeing new websites like Piano Lessons Belfast, Singing Lessons Rotherham and Singing Lessons York all being launched, or under development. With over 130 teachers both in the UK and Ireland the business has grown significantly during 2016 and with strong growth prospects for 2017 as well – though issues around Brexit, Scottish Independence and economic prospects on account of these do add to a more uncertain picture moving forward.

Posted under Home Gyms, New Project

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on October 26, 2016

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Entrepreneur of the Year 2016

On the 8th April I was invited to attend the Express & Echo 2016 Business Awards, held at Sandy Park in Exeter. With the encouragement of Joe Pearce I had entered an application for MGR Music Tuition to be up for an award, that of Entrepreneur of the Year 2016. I was really pleased that the business was nominated for this award and come the night of the event, where I met loads of amazing individuals, I was totally blown away to actually win the award!

Express & Echo Business Awards 2016 - Matthew Rusk, Entrepreneur of the Year Winner

Express & Echo Business Awards 2016 – Matthew Rusk, Entrepreneur of the Year Winner

I have to say it was a huge surprise for me as I hadn’t ever won an award like this in my life and for the business to be recognised in this way was absolutely amazing for me. As you will see by reading through this blog throughout the years I have written it music tuition is what I am truly passionate about, dedicating most of my life to it – so I was really moved to be presented with an award that highlighted this work. I know that I wouldn’t have been able develop the business so much without the help of a few individuals, namely Joe Pearce & the Innovation Centre, Nick Terry (who showed me what real academic work was!), Matt Pocock, Tom Morgan, Mark Hamilton, as well as more widely all the students that I taught guitar to and all the teachers that I have worked with over the last four years.

As amazing as it is to reflect on what has happened over the last four years I have to say I am way more excited about the development of new projects during 2016! The most significant of which is the development of a music tuition agency, helping clients to find their perfect wedding band. I will be aiming to launch the website in the mid-summer, bringing onboard around 10 bands to launch in three locations, namely Leicester, Bristol and of course the big one London. As mentioned in my previous post it will be a gradual process of identifying the right bands and artists and bringing them onto the website, while at the same time highlighting to this area of the market that there is a dedicated website that lists verified wedding entertainment, as opposed to music agencies that list bands of all abilities and experience levels. I already have some great bands and artist involved in the project, from dedicated 80s tribute band “Rubix Cube” to professional solo singer Gemma Louise Doyle. For me it is really exciting as it is a new area of the music industry, in this case music entertainment – meaning that I have plenty to learn if it is going to be a successful project. As ever I will keep you updated with the project, the next challenge is preparing everything for a successful launch in the summer!

Posted under Entrepreneur of the Year 2016, Wedding Band

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 17, 2016

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National Business Awards & Wedding Band

There has been a lot happening since my last post in August 2015! Firstly, I was very privileged to be able to join the University of Exeter at the National Business Awards in November, where the university had been nominate for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. Despite Exeter missing out on the award to the University of Leeds I think our invitation and nomination was testament to the progress that the University of Exeter had made in recent years in terms of entrepreneurial support, with the likes of Joe Pearce and Tracey Costello needing to take a lot of credit for driving forward this programme. I was joined by other current or graduated students that had benefited from this investment, both financial but far more importantly in terms of an investment of time and skill development. While not all of the “student entrepreneurs” can continued to run their businesses post graduation everyone of them that I spoke to talked of the impact that it has had on their career being involved in creating a start up business.

The National Business Awards

The National Business Awards

That evening was also made very special by the keynotes speech given by Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on The Moon. Buzz, spoke with passion about the “space race” and the ingenuity and invention needed to achieve dreams that no one had thought possible before, alongside the respect needed for those that had achieved feats of human endeavour (for example his respect for Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space) as well as the often unseen consequences of achieving these feats. Clearly his experience on The Moon had deeply impacted him as he talked about the “magnificent desolation” of The Moon’s surface that was covered in a “soft grey talcum powder”, indeed, with something so profoundly different from any experience another human had had (apart from a small number of NASA astronauts) I was left wondering whether Buzz’s life thereafter had shown signs of undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder – a topic that I had studied at university in regard to WW2 soldiers.

Two things he spoke about will always stick with me – firstly a story from Buzz that upon hearing that the USSR had successfully got the first man into space in 1961 President Kennedy was determined that the USA should demonstrate their space capabilities…by sending their astronauts to Mars. Gathering his scientists together he sent them away for a weekend to plan it, only to have the news presented to him on the Monday that the scientists didn’t think it was possible and that the USA “should shoot for The Moon instead”. Kennedy was devastated (according to Buzz), but eventually came onboard with the new plan – one that Buzz Aldrin was able to execute alongside Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins.

Secondly, that Buzz was utterly convinced that the human race should be aiming to land astronauts on Mars, as well as set up a colony on Mars as soon as possible. Indeed, he had even written a book about it noting the benefits that such investment in space travel would bring in terms of technological advances, advances in communications, medicine and material designs. While he acknowledge it was not for his generation he made clear that the future of the human race depended on it – such passion for an idea that I am sure many of us would say is a bit barmy (though one that he & Kennedy might well be right about!) was interesting to listen to because the initial reaction is simply to dismiss it as “too crazy”. However, this really only goes to highlight our own barriers in terms of what we think is possible and of what we think the human race is capable of – strangely while many of us around the table agreed that “humans will one day live on Mars” none of us thought it should be our generation that took the risks to go and work out how to make it possible! Overall it was great night, with Buzz’s talk something I will take away with me for the rest of my life…after all it isn’t everyday you get to listen to someone that has stepped foot on The Moon!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Buzz Aldrin, the second man on The Moon, in full speech about why we should go to Mars!

Here at MGR Music Tuition I have been working very hard over the last few months creating a centralised platform to enable the teachers I work with to complete the admin side of things; specifically reporting the lessons that they have taught and making payment for these lessons. I was really excited to launch this in February 2016 – the platform also enables teachers to engage with one another in an interactive forum, a space where they can share best practise and gain advice about the many challenges of being a private music teacher. The team of teachers I work with has now grown to over 125, likely to peak at 150 later in the year, when the business will reach its full potential in terms of music teachers within the UK. Once that is reached this will mark a different stage of the business, moving from a start up business, through a phase I have jokingly referred to as the “teenage years” (sometimes temperamental but certainly more mature than early on) to something that is more akin to mid-twenties individual (more independent, with characteristics of its own). The analogy of comparing the life of a business to a humans, with a “birth”, early stages where the business needs constant attention before it can slowly become more independent, is one that I have heard about from other entrepreneurs and I would certainly that this has been my experience as well. With the music tuition business become more settled I thought I would explore launching a “project on the side” to work on during 2016.

With many of the teachers that I work with being active local musicians, driving their musical careers forward alongside their teaching, I decided to explore whether I can help them develop this aspect of their careers. Knowing that many of them generate revenue from “function band” performances and having researched the area thoroughly I decided to launch WeddingBand.co.uk, a website where local bands can list themselves, enabling clients to select them for their live wedding / reception music. Having spoken with a lot of the teachers that do wedding gigs that major complaint was that often the gigs where long distances away from where the band is actually based. Therefore creating more gigs in the specific area where the band resides would be an incredibly useful service for these musicians. The website is just at a prototype stage at the moment but I am excited to try and develop it over the next 12 months to see if I can get bands onboard and ultimately make their experience as musicians even better!

Wedding Band

Posted under Business Innovation, National Business Awards, New Project

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on March 28, 2016

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National Business Awards

This morning I heard from the Innovation Centre that the University of Exeter has been shortlisted for the Duke of York Award for University Entrepreneurship. This is a great achievement for all areas of the university that have worked tirelessly to improve the support of students with business and product ideas. It is also a special moment for the Innovation Centre which has been one of the key partners in the this development of entrepreneurial provision at the university. I had the fortune of see this first had during the Exeter Start Up Weekend in July, where the university had clearly invested a lot of time and money into a fantastic conference to enable current and former students develop their business ideas within 54 hours before pitching them to a group of business experts.

National Business Awards

This shows how far the support for entrepreneurs has come during the time that I studied at the University of Exeter (09-12), where even basic provision was hard sort for. As an entrepreneur at the university you can now find support and help everywhere from the Careers Centre and Ignite at the Students’ Guild to specially tailored advice by business experts at the Innovation Centre. The appointment of a Student Entrepreneur in Residence enables students to approach a former student who has experience of running a business while studying a degree, this is invaluable as balancing your workload, business and social life can be an isolating challenge.

To know that there are students just like you, dedicating their spare time to start a business while at university is undoubtedly a liberating discovery – indeed, while individual businesses are different in what they produce the core components of a business are often very similar. Student entrepreneurs therefore often face the same challenges, whether it is cash flow, holding too much stock, product development, quality control, sourcing products, advertising, client experience, profit margin, scalability to name a few. If you are a student at the University of Exeter who has, or is thinking of, starting a business don’t hesitate to get in touch with . You can find out more about National Business Awards Finalists on their website.

In terms of MGR Music Tuition I have been continuing to launch new websites across the UK, most excitingly for me releasing the Guitar Lessons York website, following drum, singing and piano websites released in York and where we already have a large group of active music students and talented teachers. It has been an extremely busy time in terms of the infrastructure of the business, having moved all the websites onto a Virtual Private Server (giving me far more control over the hosting and management of the website, preventing them from crashing due to unwelcome updates).

In addition, I have spend the last few days adding a server monitoring service to these VPS. This will enable me to record all the server data, including any downtime of the server or websites – in which case I will be notified by a call/sms/email depending on the time of day so I can jump in to ensure that the website never go down without me knowing about it. If you run a busy website, whether eCommerce, news or social facing it is critical that your website downtime is extremely low (as noted by Mark Zuckerberg’s character in The Social Network film: “let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don’t crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle…”. Therefore as any business builds up, investment in safety guards and contingency plans, is a wise choice (and perhaps highlights a gradual change within a business from a start-up to a more mature going concern).

As such here at MGR Music Tuition it has been a year of re-investment into the business, to ensure that I can keep it growing in a manageable manner by laying strong foundations to build upon. I hope to see the results of this in early 2016 and as ever I will keep you updated with my progress!

Posted under Business Innovation, Innovation Centre

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 6, 2015

Final Call: Exeter Start Up Weekend

Just a quick reminder about the Exeter Start Up Weekend to be held between the 17th – 19th June at the University of Exeter. It is the first time that university will be hosting the event, billed as providing “a unique opportunity to build lasting relationships with co-founders, mentors and possible investors” it is well worth exploring if you are interested in being involved in a start up business. Luckily, you don’t even need to come to the event with a business idea! If you have a passion for business, an interest in entrepreneurialism and an ability to sell, sell, sell then you will be welcomed with open arms into the event.

Those participants that do have ideas have 60 seconds to make a pitch to their poetical team. From there the best ideas will be developed. The weekend culminates with presentations to an audience of judges and potential investors, with prizes going to the best business ideas from the weekends developments. There will be support from former students who have gone on to run successful businesses in a whole range of different sectors. To book your ticket please check out Exeter Start Up Weekend 2015.

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I will be blogging, reporting on each of the days events of the Start Up Weekend, as well as providing progress updates on some of the mentor’s businesses to keep you up to date. In term of MGR Music Tuition we have been madly hiring teachers of the last few weeks as we continue to expand nationally. We were also lucky enough to get our first ever enquiry on a language website which is exciting – much more work to do but it is possible that in late 2015 we will expanding beyond music lessons to language lessons here in the UK. We also launched several new websites including Piano Lessons Hull, Piano Lessons Coventry and Guitar Lessons Barnsley in the last few weeks.  So all go on the website build front. I am eager to meet some of this years web designers and coders at this years Start Up Weekend!

Posted under Start Up Weekend 2015

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on July 12, 2015

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How to Make Money From Websites

It is a question that I often get ask, indeed, one that I often pose to myself. “How can you make money from websites?” Or the rather more general “How do I make money on the internet?” In todays world there are literally billions of people on the internet, just waiting to spend their hard earned cash on everything from everyday items to luxury gifts there must be certain categories of business model that cater for these. There is a market for everything on the internet – so how can you capitalise on it?

Well broadly from all my experience in running an online business for the past five years there are basically 10 ways to make money from running websites on the internet (and to date I have only be successful in one method, in a small niche market). Here is the low down on how to make money from a website;

1. Advertising – literally the answer to every question I ever asked to a student with a business idea when I asked “how are you going to monetise it?”. The truth it unless you are Google or Facebook you are not going to be able to generate a primary income, comparable to your best friends that have just secured corporate jobs in London, from having pay-per-click adversing on your website. Even websites with thousands of hits per day will struggle to make more than a few pounds from their blog – think of similarities in Spotify for musicians. Pay-per-click is great but won’t cut it.

2. Sell Advertising – the second most common answer when people understand the financials behind pay-per-click adversing. This is a tough sell, you will need to approach a company and ask them to redirect X% of their adversing budget to your buy advertising space on your website. My question is to you – have you got the stats to back up your claim that adversing on your website will increase their businesses sales by X% or is X% more efficient than their current adversing? Without the stats why would any company risk the investment in advertising on your website? Still once you have built a brand it can be a great source of income providing that you keep adding value to the paying business.

3. Email Marketing – also known as list building. I have several books on this at home but am yet to read them – the old style internet entrepreneurs swear by them, but for me personally I have little knowledge in creating massive mailing lists & how to monetise them. Therefore I would give this as a neutral idea as I am not qualified to comment on it – read more by Googling “how to create a list building website”.

4. Create a paid board – job websites are a great example of this. Essentially people pay to be connected, whether it is employers paying to access employers (or visa-versa), plumbers and house owners or any other connecting of people. If you generate a good niche website that performs better than any other within that area of the market you can generate a great income – indeed, here at the Innovation Centre Environment Job is an example of this model.

5. Affiliate Marketing – the idea that if an individual goes onto a buy a product advertised on your website, having clicked on that link, then you receive a % of the sale price. Again a great source of passive income, but painfully low in terms of money coming in. Indeed, you are at the mercy of the product being so good people want to buy it. Possible but again a hard sell.

6. Sell Your Own Product – this tends to be the most profitable way of making money on the internet. Having a great product in the first place and using the internet as a marketplace for that product. The website therefore is only the shop, rather that purpose of the entire business. I have known students at the University of Exeter to make a decent secondary income – and at times primary income – from selling great products from their websites (Young Ones, Mammal Swag, Jollie’s Goods).

7. Sell a service – if you don’t have a product then selling a service, yours or someone else’s, will fulfil the same goal. In my instance I originally sold the service of “guitar lessons” before graduating to sell the service of “guitar students” to other teachers across the UK. Done correctly it can be a really lucrative form of income.

8. Paid Content – I have known of a few businesses at UOE that have created a website/app model around people paying for content. Indeed, there was a very interesting medical business that wished to gain students as subscribers for their exam-revision tools that looked promising. If you can explore a niche where (i) quality information is needed promptly and (ii) few other sources provide it for free it can work well. However, I would look at the examples of newspapers that have gone to a paid content model – The Sun for example – that must find it hard to compete against the many media outlets that can generate the same stories and place them online free.

9. Sell the website design – if you have designed the website yourself then sell the design to other people. This is great way of making money and you can continue to run your own website as it normally is, while advertising at the same time that people can buy the template you have designed should they like it!

10. Sell the website – literally the design, domain and content. I have heard of websites being sold for £100,000, if they boast great traffic in a field that a new company wants to get into – essentially they snap up the pre-existing website than take months to build up their own one. Having tried models 6, 7 and 9 I thought I would give model 10 a go this summer! Therefore I have created a website that goes after one thing…website traffic. I have no idea if anyone will ever want to buy it, but with over 44,000 searches per month in a low competition are of the market hopefully with a solid domain name I can get 20,000 hits per month on the website. Imagine being one of the definitive sources of information in this area of the market – I am sure that will be of interest to a company somewhere. However, trying to avoid the “if I build it, they will come” attitude I will try and monetise it in secondary ways with a collection of all the above methods. From this I will be able to feedback over the next three, six and twelve months – what really is the best way to make money from a website.

Posted under Innovation Centre, New Project, Student Businesses

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 27, 2015

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On The Edge: The Hour Record

On the 7th June 2015 Sir Bradley Wiggins did something that anyone who has the ability to ride a bike can – he hopped on his bike and cycled for an hour recording how far he had travelled. The very pureness of the record caught many people’s eyes, including my own, as unlike so many professional sports where it is hard for a “normal” individual to compare themselves to the “professional” (I mean how much better is Messi really from a player at my local 5-a-side tournament…okay, a lot but exactly how much) this record is simple and entirely comparable. Simply get on your bike and ride! In the case of Wiggins he smashed the World Record for the largest distance traveled in one hour on a commercial road bike – covering a massive distance of 54.526km (33.88 miles). The previous record held by fellow Briton Alex Dowsett, of 52.937km (32.89 miles) had been set in May, as a international resurgence of interest in “the hour record” became well underway.

Yet, the thing that I found the most interesting was the way Wiggins and cyclists that had previously attempted the challenge had talked about the hour record. It was always about the perfect balance of living on the absolutely edge – as Chris Boardman, former Olympic Pursuit Champion, said; a rider is constantly asking, “is my pace sustainable? If it’s a definite yes you’re not going hard enough, if it’s a no, you’ve overcooked it.” (The Guardian). Wiggins himself noted that although the first 45 minutes could be trained for the “the last fifteen is really what counts”, it is the unknown like “the last 100 metres in a 400 race, either you die or carry on. The bit you don’t look forward to but you just deal with it when you get there – a bit like pregnancy” (BBC Sport).

It really struck a chord with me, reminding me of challenges I felt in the very early stages of trying to create a business at the University of Exeter. Even before I had the idea that I developed into the business that I run today, I had such a feeling in Lafrowda that their was no “Plan B”, I had to make a business to generate money. As Wiggins says “either you die or carry on”, it was never in the physical sense but always in the mental sense – I wouldn’t give up on creating a business idea that worked.

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Sir Bradley Wiggins riding during the Tour De France

In second year I went to a talk about business where I remember the speaker saying that creating a business is like going through pregnancy (interestingly something Wiggins also references), and might be as close that a man can get to experiencing what pregnancy is like. One of the big parts of pregnancy is of course pain – though I haven’t experienced pregnancy I can say that creating a business is also a painful experience. It is hard, sometimes it hurts mentally – you are tired, stressed, overworked – sometimes physically – for example when I would cycle to Broadclyst once a week to teach a guitar student who couldn’t make it in to Exeter as I needed the money – at times socially – the times I spent developing websites rather than out with friends. It is a sacrifice but something that is worthwhile because you are trying to achieve something that, although everyone has the capacity to do, only few will achieve.

As Michael Hutchinson, former national time trial champion, noted about non-professional cyclist and present of 5 live OJ Borg had a go at the hour record “there becomes a point where everything hurts, even things not involved. His eyelids will hurt, even things nothing to do with riding a bike” BBC 5 Live. OJ managed an impressive 39.61km and said it was the most challenging thing he had done in his life – while it might not be a World Record simply to have achieve a score was impressive (much like a first marathon). Out of all of this I would suggest that one thing has become clear to me – to truly succeed in anything, including business, you need to ride as close to the edge of your personal capabilities no matter what they may be.

Secondly, in all of the interviews the riders said that they would be happy if they knew that they gave 100% and “left the tank empty” at the end – few talked about actually gaining the record, just that they wanted to know they had given their best performance. Indeed, Wiggins stated if he didn’t break it but gave everything he wouldn’t retry as he knew he did his best. Therefore like business while you can measure yourself against others (especially financially), looking within and deciding “have I really given my all to this” is probably a better measure of your success.

And thirdly, pain is part of it. Pain is acceptable. If you are not in pain creating your business you are not trying hard enough – if you are blacking out because of too much pain then you are working too hard – you need to be on the edge a little faster than you think you can go but not fast enough so you can’t sustain it. It is within this paradox that you will succeed.

In terms of the development of the business over the last three weeks we have major progress. Thanks to the help of writers here at the University of Exeter websites like Singing Lessons Norwich and Piano Lessons Swansea have been successfully launched, both of which building on existing instruments within the location – along with the hiring the first drum teacher in Glasgow for the Drum Lessons Glasgow website which is fantastic news. Glasgow is such a musical city, with a proud history of generating fantastic bands with the likes of Biffy Clyro, Franz Ferdinand, Travis and Glasvegas all hailing from the city – not to mention the infamous early Oasis gig at the fantastically named King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow where the Gallagher brothers marched onstage, kicking off the band that was playing, to perform their early songs. In the audience was a certain Alan McGee who promptly signed up the band there and then, enabling them to release their debut album Definitely Maybe and go onto international stardom. The rest they say is history!

Photography: Radu Razvan

Posted under Business Inspiration

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 18, 2015

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Exeter StartUp Weekend 2015

The Innovation Centre is excited to be holding its first Google Startup Weekend this summer. Held between July 17 – 19th 2015, the event will be an opportunity for students with early stage business ideas (or no ideas at all!) to become part of an intense weekend designed to launch real businesses. Startup Weekend is a global phenomenon – 54 hours of fast and furious prototype development through to exploring potential markets and pitching. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to build lasting relationships with co-founders; mentors, and investors.

Whether you are the next big Tech thing, Food and Drink idea, social enterprise, Renewable Energy, Retail product, arts organisation or budding Start-Up Entrenprenuer then Exeter StartUp Weekend could be the place for you to launch. Calling on former University of Exeter students that have gone on to create businesses, including Stew Noakes (QualiTest), Tom Carrington-Smith (The Eleven), Ben Tyson (Born Social) and myself (MGR Music Tuition LTD), to help get your business ideas off the ground the StartUp weekend will be an event not to be missed.

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It terms of my week here at MGR Music Tuition it has been busy as ever, updating the music websites to make the mobile friendly (thanks to Google’s new algorithm – read more in my “Google Mobile Update” post). I am currently managing to update two websites a day (taking 1 & 1/2 hours each!) – so it will be 50 day process to get all the websites updated! We have also managed to launch two new websites this week; Piano Lessons Norwich and for the fantastic Andy Smith, who is the current singing teacher we work with in Reading, a second website Piano Lessons Reading to enable him to tutor piano students of all ages and ability in Reading. However, the big challenge in the coming weeks will be to ensure that the speed at which I can hire new teachers will match that of the new enquiries coming in!

Posted under Business Innovation, Events, Ignite, Innovation Centre

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 15, 2015

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The General Election: Who is Best For Business Innovation?

With all the coverage of the 2015 election I thought it would be an interesting task to sit down and analyses the election manifestos of the main political parities solely from the point of view of which party would be best for business innovation. This means delving deep into each parties proposed policies around entrepreneurship, small & medium size businesses as well cultivating a wider economic environment that is favourable for business start up. This also means putting aside my personal political views (bit of a Labour man), as much as is possible, to make this hopefully an objective overview of which party is looking to support entrepreneurs the most. This article is certainly not designed to swing your vote but instead perhaps explore something that wasn’t really mentioned during the election process – namely who is best party for the entrepreneur?

Firstly, lets explore two major factors that are continuing to shape the UK’s economy for all businesses. This is of course the sustained fallout of the 2008 economic crash, that is still having profound implications in the way businesses and government are run – while the next five years is predicted to gradually improve there is no doubt that the UK’s economy is still in recovery mode. The second major factor is Europe; everything from a Greek exit to our own place within the EU, with the potential of an EU referendum during the next government should The Conservative party win a majority there is a very real change we might also be heading for the EU exit door. These factors certainly don’t lead to the most favourable of economic environments for business – recovery and uncertainty.

So what do The Conservative party offer to an entrepreneur in their manifesto – well good news. Not only does it have a clear focus on economic improvement, based on a track record of generally improving the UK economy (we saw in 2014 the UK economy grow faster than any other advanced economy) but defined incentives for entrepreneurs in the shape of Small Business Rate Relief. In addition some 27 thousand business mentors will be made available to entrepreneurs and small businesses that would not be able to afford the advice otherwise – so far so good. However, I am rather more skeptical about George Osborne’s promises of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ – despite the impressive figure of investment in national infrastructure and UK based business research (£2.9 billion) – cities like Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle to name but a few need far more investment on an entrepreneurial support level to build on the successes so far. For example Newcastle has become well known within the entrepreneurial community over the last four years for its developing “tech hub” – indeed you can read more about it on the Ignite100 website which is now one of the UK’s leading Startup Accelerator Programmes – nonetheless the original idea for a Newcastle based “tech hub” came from passionate individuals that came together to crowdsource funding to make it happen rather than from a top down initiative. Therefore, I would have like to have seen, from an entrepreneurial point at least, a commitment within the “Northern Powerhouse” promise to support, seed and grow “tech hubs” in all major UK cities north of London.

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In addition the proposed referendum on EU membership has got to be a cause for concern for small businesses, indeed, businesses of all sizes, as it effect the status-quo of our ability to access the European market with new products. While the renegotiation of our relationship with Europe might not be a bad thing on multiple levels the threat of leaving the EU entirely will no doubt have an impact on businesses, especially those start ups that are looking to sell into the EU who now cannot easily predict what the environment will be to do so from 2017 onwards.

Turning to the Labour Party it is abundantly clear that they simply do not have a concise economic plan that could gain the support of entrepreneurs (or indeed the wide business community). Where the plan is set forth it seems remarkably similar to that of The Conservatives, namely freeze business rates, invest in national infrastructure and the north – yet, by sticking with planned austerity cuts (albeit not as drastic as The Conservatives, potentially leading to borrowing more) in the end there is little to distinguish between the two parties other than The Conservative party seems to be much clearer in exactly what their plans are for the economy. Beyond these general Labour points their manifesto is rather too descriptive, without the qualifications and details of that of The Conservative party. Yet, there is a saving grace – by their commitment to maintain the UK’s membership in Europe it will ensure that a period of EU uncertainty will be avoided.

The Lib Dems’ manifesto is somewhat of a strange one in the sense that they suggest that The Conservatives deficit cuts were unscrupulous, which they might well have been, yet rather than ending austerity the Lib Dems will do it more “fairly”. This is odd in the sense that inevitably cuts will effect individuals in society and the chances are even the Lib Dems cuts will hit the sick, disabled and poor the hardest – where exactly is the fairness in that. However, when it comes to the economy the Lib Dems talk about a “greener economy” based on new principles of capitalism – building on the new Green Investment Bank which backs “green” start up ideas and businesses around the country. This is good news if you are an environmentally conscious entrepreneur. It is also good news for a long term economic forecast, enabling a society based on greener sources of energy – something certainly worth looking into more depending on your business type.

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Ultimately, therefore I would summarise the following (i) The Conservatives are the clear favourites on purely an economic level, categorically more impressive on the entrepreneurial support front than Labour – though the threat of Brexit looms (ii) Labour, despite hammering their economic policy into stone, is far more flimsy than The Conservatives clear plans though Britain’s membership of the EU would be assured and (iii) the “greener” economy promoted in the Lib Dems manifesto is certainly appealing for environmental entrepreneurs – however, I fear the Nick Clegg’s party will get crushed for a different point, remember those promises about University tuition fees?!

On the business front it has been another business week as the business is continuing to expand at a rapid pace. With over 100 students waiting for lessons in places we are still hiring teachers I know that the potential for the continued expansion of the business is massive. However, ensuring that the right structures are in place to enable that to be a smooth upward trajectory of growth is an equally massive challenge – this includes stepping back from business tasks that I always thought I would do so I can focus on other aspects of the business. Alongside the help I now receive with the website writing (mostly from Exeter Uni students!), I am having some help on the admin side of things with enquiries and invoices now being looked after by other people – this has freed me up to hire new teachers and focus on the management of the business rather then simply fulfilling its basic processes (scary stuff!). On the website front, thanks to the likes of Rhys Lewis (first year, Exeter Uni student), Belinda Lavin (ex-Exeter student), Adam Sumnall (ex-Exeter student) and a few others we are now cracking through the websites with Drum Lessons Birmingham and Piano Lessons Aberdeen going live this week – the later being a fantastic achievement as the first website released in the initial expansion was the Guitar Lessons Aberdeen website (due to me writing them in alphabetic order), so to be able to expand into a third instrument in Aberdeen is great news and far beyond my original ambitions.

This progress is in addition to hiring new teachers in for the Drum Lessons Derby and Drum Lessons Edinburgh websites where a very talented drum Italian drum teacher, Diego Zanelli, has joined the team. So the business is continuing to grow each week – yet, like any business the economic environment the the business exist within is critical to its success. Paying for music lessons at £25 to £30 per hour is certainly not cheap – that is a £50 to £100 per month commitment to learn that instrument and certainly one of the first things that goes when people want to reduce their outgoings in times of economic depression. Therefore, the election in a few days time will have an impact on my business as each parties different economic plans will foster an environment more or less favourable to the average person having disposable income. For it is in the disposable income that music lessons are paid for and the business is built. Ultimately the link between the political environment and the success of your business is ever-present and something that all entrepreneurs should keep an eye on.

Posted under Business Innovation, Politics

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 5, 2015

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Google Mobile Update

On the 25th of April 2015 Google brought out one of the most significant algorithmic search updates since the famous Panda/Penguin updates. Responding to a major shift during the last four years in the way that people search on Google, the leading search engine introduced this update to place mobile friendly websites higher in mobile searches than “non-mobile friendly” websites. This makes sense as over 45% of website users are now surfing the internet via their smartphone devices.

So what does this mean for the internet, well potentially the change will have dramatic ramifications across the globe as, on the top level, many of the FTSE, Dow Jones and S&P 500 companies do not have “mobile-friendly” websites – this update could see them drop off into Google obscurity until they re-aline with Google requirements for all websites. On a small to medium size business level you will see companies that generate a large proportion of their clients, if not all their clients, from the internet potentially destroyed as leads dry up due to drops in the mobile search. So what is it specifically that Google is requiring websites to be?

Well, originally websites were created to be viewed on wide-screened desktop (and more recently laptop) devices – this gave them an appearance where a lot of information would be displayed from left to right, before a user would scroll down “below the fold” as Google puts it. Those of you who use your smartphone to view websites will know that a “non-optimised” website will present this same information again within the same format, giving a website that requires a serious amount of zooming before you can read the text. A mobile friendly website tends to push the same content into blocks that re-size perfectly for all mobile devices – avoiding a client to zoom in and increase they scroll down through the information. Moreover, they are drawn through the website with links that are tappable on a mobile device – rather than the minuscule links on a non-optimised website that gives the frustration that many of you will share of tying to click one link but getting a completely different page to the one desired due to the links being so closely placed together.

This change in the Google algorithm has had a profound effect on many businesses, all of whom have been scrambling to get their websites updated fast enough for the algorithm update (the time between the Google announcement of the update and the actual update was only eight weeks, which isn’t long if you need to completed redesign your website!). Thankfully, in my case though the website designs did need updating to make them mobile friendly they didn’t need completely new designs – instead we adapted what we had to comply with the new algorithm requirements.

Guitar Lessons Swansea

Here you can see on the Guitar Lessons Swansea website how mobile users would see the websites prior to the mobile update – the text is almost unreadable due to the tiny size and the users ability to toggle through the website is much reduced due to the tiny links

Therefore over the last few weeks, with the help of 1010 Media, we set about updating the designs of all the websites to ensure that the music business’s websites would be complainant with the new Google algorithm. And I am please to reveal the finished article – something that we have tested extensively during April to ensure that it works seemlessly on all mobile devices, from iPads to Android smartphones (and I guess even smart-watches!).

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The Guitar Lessons Middlesbrough website is an example of the post updated website, where the content has now be optimised for a mobile device enabling the user to scroll down (rather than zoom in) for information. You might note the menu bar at the top that enable users to easily access other pages of the website.

I am especially excited to watch the analytics of the websites to see how this improves enquiry numbers, or client engagement with the website from mobile devices now that they are being update. It will be a slow process for me to update all 120 websites, but over the next 60 days I am to do just that – and no matter where you are with your business I would advise you to do the same. You can view here the Google Page Speed Analysis program to determine if your website is suitably responsive to mobile devices – Google will also provide pointers on how to improve that page. I guess my question to you, as a student business who sells products online, is can you afford (i) to have up to 45% of your audience poorly catered for with a non-mobile friendly website and (ii) can you afford to drop off Google’s mobile searches? If the answer is no, then best get to updating soon! But don’t despair – as with all algorithms Google will constantly review your website promoting it again once it complies to its requirements, therefore, you can still reverse any negative changes you might face over the next few months.

On the business front thanks to the help of many University of Exeter students that are helping me write and create new websites I am pleased to announce that we have finished Piano Lessons Sheffield website this week. As a business we are keen to continue to expand to over 120 websites across the UK within the next 4 months. It is going to be a big challenge but I think we are certainly up to it! Alongside this I am keen to look to the recruitment side of the business to ensure that we are hiring new teachers as new websites are created. It is a big challenge to balance the time input into all areas of the business but overall I feel that we are going in the right direction.

Posted under 1010 Media, MGR Music

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on May 3, 2015

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Progress Update: Tandem

I had the pleasure of catching up with Mark Milton this evening, talking about his new app concept Tandem. The premise of this app is to connect like minded individuals together through a “Tinder” type concept – however, there is a slight twist; individuals will be able to search a local area of potential friends that speak their native language. This is a fantastic idea for any individual that has ever ventured to a completely new country (with little linguistic experience) and wanted to meet a few native speakers to help them with their travels. Indeed, as someone that has recently spent a few months in Russia I can’t tell you how useful it would have been if, when I arrived on day one, I could have connected with a few English speakers before I acclimatised into the local culture.

Tandem - find your locals abroad!

Tandem – find your locals abroad!

Yet, the app has the potential to go even further than this, helping people to make connections with non-native speakers who share a particular linguistic interested – for example a French language student seeking a conversational partner, or a publisher who is interested in having their text translated. The app caters for all these by enabling the user to search the database of uses for the languages that they can communicate within.

In the next few months Mark is set to launch a beta platform for his app, that is likely to be renamed from Tandem, and I warmly invite you to try it out as well. For more information and to sing up check out Tandem’s Facebook page. I will keep you updated with Mark’s progress but I was really impressed with the possible uses for this app within the expat community, as well as the adventurous backpackers who stray beyond the English speaking countries of Australia and the USA!

On the business front we have an exciting announcement to make! Likened to Mark’s app idea MGR Music Tuition is also about to launch within the language market – following a similar model to the current music tuition one, where students are referred to local singing, drum, guitar and piano teachers, we will now provide language lessons across a range of languages and locations. Starting in London we have recently launched a French Lessons London website – something that if it proves successful we will look to expand into other areas of the UK. With French lessons being the most popular language to study in the capitol, according to our market research, I thought it would be a great place to start (though don’t mention that I only got a C in my French GCSEs!). Alongside this website I have recently bought many other language lessons websites across the UK in preparation for a potential expansion into this new linguistic market.

On the music tuition front the speed of growth has continued taking on new teachers for the Singing Lessons Preston website, as well as in Loughborough (were I was lucky enough to hire a former Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist for a singing website!). The business now has over 10,000 students on the books and continuing to expand into new locations each month. The biggest challenge at the moment is getting the right structures in place to enable people other than myself to come in and take on roles within the business – there are plenty of opportunities to work at MGR Music Tuition LTD at the moment so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like a flexible 1/4 time job!

Posted under Progress Update, Tandem

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on April 24, 2015

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Progress Update: 40FATHOMS

For the next in our series of progress updates I am pleased to announce a launch of a new business from a repeat University of Exeter entrepreneur Tom Frew. Having built on the success of Instabear, an automated Instagram printing business – with the photos being delivered directly to your door, Tom has been at it again! 40 Fathoms is a new business that looks to print heavy weight design posters both for the artists that produce them as well as the clients who want to purchase them. The posters, boasting some of the highest paper quality available on the market, are then expertly shipped to your door – a great business model that I am sure is bound to be a success (especially considering the experienced team behind it).

However, as someone from a website background I wanted to draw attention to the beautifully designed website that fits perfectly to the businesses professional branding. Indeed, it is certainly worth taking a look through the website to get a feel for how well made it is. This is something that all online entrepreneurs should look to aim to: building a website that fulfils its functional purpose as well as portraying its brand in the correct light. Interestingly the team went for a new domain ending, with the website domain being 40fatho.ms which is a clever branding decision (though we have to wait to see how it will impact the website in searches). I can’t wait to see how the business develops over the next year or so; all in all a well put together online business, with a tight brand and website that should stand for other Exeter students as a bench mark to presenting a professional business online.

40 Fathoms

40 Fathoms – A beautifully designed & branded website

In terms of business I have had the pleasure to have had Sina Shakiba, a University of Reading student, undertake his work experience with me for two weeks – he has helped immensely in the launch and creation of Singing Lessons Milton Keynes and the Drum Lessons Leeds websites, as well as getting involved with the customer relation side of the business. It is the first time I have had someone undertake work experience within MGR Music Tuition and I have to say that I felt as if I learned as much as Sina did. Specifically, how it was possible to “outsource” some of the repetitive tasks within the business giving myself more time to concentrate on “business critical” tasks that only I could complete (for example hiring new teachers). This experience gives me confidence to bring onboard other members of staff to help aid me in growing the business longer term – I would thoroughly recommend taking on a student on work experience if you are a startup business thinking about hiring someone, this will give you the ability to test if you really do need to hire someone, how you could structure a group of tasks for that person as well learn about your own managerial style – all of which valuable business experience.

Posted under 40 Fathoms, Instabear

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on August 9, 2014

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Progress Update: Tweekey

Tweekey Bags is a project that was started by Ben Ivey at the University of Exeter to fill a niche gap in the student’s sports stash marketplace. Ben identified that there was an underlying demand for university branded sports bags throughout sports societies, something that was going unfulfilled. Yet, due to the nature of the product – a university branded accessory – Ben faced a challenging process being able to gain the rights to use the university logo on his product. Though his passion, enthusiasm and pitching ability he was able to convince the university to allow him to do so – the fist student of my knowledge to be awarded the right – enabling him to create his business product.

He then rapidly developed a prototype product, utilising his Chinese language skills (developed thanks to a study abroad module on his course) to source a supplier. He then started building contacts and selling into the multiple sports clubs that Exeter has to offer in 2013 – something that went extremely well, seeing his product stocked in the uni shop as well as helping him win a Innovation Centre start up investment.

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Ben Ivey – Elite Sports Bags

2014 saw Tweekey develop further as a company, expanding into six different universities across the UK (Kent, Surrey, Bristol, Aberdeen, Dundee & Liverpool) alongside the University of Exeter. This has helped Ben sell over 400 bags this academic year – a fantastic achievement considering the challenges that are incorporated when trying to use someone else’s logo on your products! However, Ben is clear about why his business has been successful (i) it is a quality product that he is proud of (ii) the product generates money for the clubs as well as the universities every time that it is sold. Therefore, it is in their interest to help promote and sell his products – a great business model that might mean he slightly reduces his margin per product but dramatically increases the number of potential sales. I will keep you up to date with how Tweekey develops over the next few months right her on the blog – you can also check out the Tweekey Bags website directly.

When we spoke Ben was also keen to talk about some of the fantastic events he has been to over the last few months that have helped him develop as an entrepreneur. This included the Start Up Bus competition that saw six buses from across Europe bring some of the brightest young entrepreneurs together for a conference in Vienna. Along the way the entrepreneurs were tasked with creating new business ideas that they would pitch once they had arrived. Ben described this as a world-wind of experience, with his team coming third in the European competition gaining them an invitation to Silicon Valley later in the year.

Ben also suggested attending the Power To Achieve, Millionaire Mind Intensive and Unleash The Power Within conferences that aim to built upon core skills as an entrepreneur. The first of these, the Power To Achieve conference, covers a wide range of different areas of interest before focusing specifically on the limiting beliefs that hold you back in business. The second, the Millionaire Mind Intensive, explores how to manage your money – splitting it into “pots” that ensure that you have the right portfolio balance. The final conference ran by Tony Robins, a well known motivational speaker, looks at the psychology of being successful. I was really pleased to hear about Ben’s suggestions of worthwhile events to go to in the UK – indeed, self development is one of the most important aspects of being an entrepreneur so do check out some of these events in case they are of interest for you!

On a business from this week I had the exciting experience of launching the first international website – Singing Lessons Dublin in Ireland. With Ireland being a country boasting some of the worlds best musicians (U2, Sinéad O’Connor, Thin Lizzy) it was a really significant moment for myself not least as I am half Irish. Indeed, this is a big step for the business as we explore entering the music tuition markets in countries outside of the UK – I will keep you updated on how successful it is, at the moment I have no idea how it will develop! On the home front the business continues to expand taking on teachers for the Guitar Lessons Derby and Singing Lessons Portsmouth websites. If you have any questions about the conferences mentioned in this blog article don’t hesitate to get in touch .

Posted under Clothing Companies, Progress Update, Tweekey

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 26, 2014

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Silk Pillowcases: Creating An eCommerce Website on a Shoe String

Here it is, a progress update on my “eCommerce Website on a Shoe String” project. Just to recap, the motivation for this project came from observing many students at the university who were trying to set up retail businesses, with a substantial amount of their initial capitol been put into the creation on a eCommerce website – we are talking hundreds of pounds here, often thousands. We would be approached often at the Innovation Centre by clothing businesses, who claimed “we have a great product and a fantastic business model but we just need £1,000+ to build our website to market our product from – will you fund it?”. The answer was inevitably no.

Why? At the genesis of every business capital is tight; therefore an entrepreneurs ability to utilise this capital to its maximum effect on the business’s development is a sign of whether that business is going to be successful. The balance sheet of these students would often see hundreds of pounds spent on product development, tens of pounds on market research yet they wanted to spend thousands of pounds on a website! In some cases that is over 50% of a students entire investment into their business would be on their website, for the majority of retail businesses created at university this is an unnecessary and costly mistake. No imagine if 45% of that budget could be reallocated to (i) further product development (ii) additional market research – with the website/online sales platform accounting only for 5-10% of the businesses start up costs. Therefore, my challenge here is to create a eCommerce website on a shoe string budget – that is to make a fully functioning eCommerce website for just £75!

My last post on the project (20th April – Progress Update: CampusBoard) had seen me select name and product for my fictional eCommerce business – Mulberry Silk Pillowcase – then purchase the domain name (www.mulberrysilkpillocase.com) from a domain registers for £11.99. Then I moved to buy hosting for £2.49 per month – giving the start up costs so far as £14.48. The final step in my last update was to install WordPress, which is free, using their “Famous 5 Minute Install” – setting up a basic home page, with a little bit of content on it about my business.

Today we are going to look at how I developed this basic and standard WordPress theme into a fully functioning eCommerce website. The next step was to spend a little bit more of my £75.00 budget on purchasing a predesigned, WooCommerce compatible, WordPress theme. As mentioned before in this blog there are many free themes on WordPress that can be utilised to create your store, however, I think the price is reflected in the quality of the website designs and often customers can identify these websites as a WordPress template rather than your own store. This is a shame as for £30 – £50 you can get some outstanding templates that will look completely professional and standalone from the WordPress backend. After spending a good deal of time searching through different WordPress themes, all of which can be done by searching on Google, I decided that the Munditia Premium Coding Theme would most aptly reflect the general feel of the business. The cost price of this WooCommerce integrated theme was $60.00 or £36.89 – giving the total price spent on creating my eCommerce website as £51.37.

The process itself of purchasing a new theme and then uploading it to WordPress is quite simple. Firstly, pay for and download the theme of your choice onto your laptop then upload that to the WordPress Themes in your admin panel. You will then be able to select that theme as your theme of choice for your website. However, that really is the start of the process. Next, you will need to integrate all the compatible Plugins that the purchased theme specifies as necessary – primarily these Plugins will include WooCommerce, YITH WooCommerce Wishlist, WordPress SEO, Google XML Sitemaps, Contact Form 7, Broken Link Checker as well as others – that will facilitate the functionality of your website.

It is crucial to approach the downloaded theme as a paint-by-numbers canvas for you to build your website upon, so while the major structures of the website (number of partitions, element and widget location, website dynamics etc.) have been fixed for you there is still a great deal that you can edit to your own specifications. You don’t need to have a strong grasp of HTML to be able to achieve this, nor do you need to pay someone else to do it for you – read up, watch Youtube videos and ask for peoples advice in the multiple WordPress forums on the internet. To achieve the feel of the website that I wanted for my fictional product I started altering a number of the aspects of the original website – including changing theme colours from red to pink, altering the widget location and specification, removing aspects of the website I didn’t like (for example a pop up help box).

Of course all the changes thematically that you make on the website are intrinsically tied in to the customer journey that you wish to build for customers. Therefore, ascetic improvements must be in keeping with structural requirements that you have set out. For me, keeping a website simple is the key to success. The header menu denotes this sentiment, simply stating: Home, Shop, Benefits and About Us/Contact – with my customer journey always focused on ensuring that customers engage with shop, while being reassured by (i) the businesses credentials (About Us/Contact) and (ii) the benefit of the product (Home/Benefits).

The content, or copy as it is know, of your website is also an important factor in ensuring that your website and brand aline. You should both mirror your product and play to your target customer. I thought very carefully about the copy I wished to use on the website, knowing from my research that Silk Pillowcases tend to be bought by women as a luxury beauty product rather than an aid to more restful sleep. I hope that by reflecting and understanding the buyers motivation, communicated back to the customer through the content used on the website, will help improve potential sales. Moreover, to help gain these sales in the first place I would strongly suggest that every eCommerce website should run a blog as (i) it keeps your website looking fresh, updating regular clients to new developments (ii) helps increase traffic through the effect of the long search tail (Google it!) and (iii) makes you look like an authority in the field that you are selling within. Fulfilling this on the Silk Pillowcase website is the Silk Pillowcase Blog, in which I have already written three 300 – 800 word, original, quality posts (Types of Silk, Yuki Tsumugi Silk & Mulberry Silk) – that are the optimum types of post that you should be looking to upload.

Now that I have a fully functioning theme, with some good relevant content the next step will be to get the website there on a visual level – ensuring the all the images, page layouts and the dynamics of the website point towards my transaction goal. I would also need to begin to track the engagement new clients have on the website to understand how to continue to develop the website to best suit my target audience. I will explain how to do all of this in my next “eCommerce website on shoestring” post. Here at MGR Music Tuition this week has gone really well, launching Drum Lessons Bristol, Piano Lessons St Albans and Singing Lessons Aberdeen websites. It has been great to continue to expand the business both into new areas, such as St Albans, as well as tripling up in Bristol and Aberdeen with a third instrument on offer.

Posted under Clothing Companies, eCommerce Website On A Shoe String, New Project, SEiR

This post was written by Matthew Rusk on June 13, 2014

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