Welcome to the first Freelancer / Small Business Chat for 2012! Today we’re going to meet Liz Light, who set up Stage2 Youth Theatre back in 1988 (thus winning the prize for “longest-running business featured so far”). I came across Stage2 through meeting Ethan Hudson, who is an Apprentice working for the company and also a member of my local Business Association, at a business breakfast. I was impressed by how committed the staff are to this theatre, and also by the range of the productions they put on (have a look at their website for this month’s productions if you’re within reach of the Midlands).
Personally, I’m particularly struck by how the ethos of the company has obviously stayed the same over the years, supportive, inclusive and treating everyone with respect. When I started my own business, some people seemed to think that I’d turn into some kind of combination of Alan Sugar and Mrs Thatcher, whereas I like to think I operate with similar principles to those with which I started. Liz shows how you can grow and change while remaining true to your founding principles.
So let’s meet Liz …
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
I set up Stage2 Youth Theatre in 1988 and we registered as a not for profit organisation in 2003.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
I had already run a Theatre Company with my friends for 6 years but they all left the area to go to University or get jobs. I was quite attached to Kings Heath so I decided to stay and give myself a new challenge/further develop my knowledge.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I am really interested in young people and helping them to develop their potential. I want them to be constantly exploring new areas and learning what suits them and what doesn’t. I remember that I loved to be given responsibility at a young age and disliked being patronised(!). I work on those principles – though many of my students have been far, far cleverer than me! Drama is a fantastic mechanism for a huge range of kids to come together and make a positive contribution – whether to acting (in casts or choruses), technical areas (lighting and sound, stage management, design), marketing, fundraising, administration, leadership, etc, etc.
Had you run your own business before?
Only on a not for profit basis – see above.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
I ran the company myself on a part-time basis for years, employing freelancers where needed. In 2006 I went full-time and took on a colleague. We now have four full-time staff.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
Have more confidence in yourself – take the plunge and go full-time earlier!
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
Nothing. I quite liked discovering everything as I went along. Making mistakes and learning from them – finding solutions and moving on.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
Nothing really. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way but I truly believe that in good faith we always made the best decisions with the information available at the time.
What are you glad you did?
Moved to the city centre to open us up to everyone from the whole city.
What’s your top business tip?
Same as my tip for life – have the strength to change the things you can, serenity to accept the things you can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
Options and opportunities have all grown and staff time has increased accordingly but our basic principles and ethos have remained the same.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
Hopefully with stable mid or long term funding.
Of course we wish Liz the very best of luck at this difficult time for arts funding – Stage2 obviously play a vital role in the lives of the members and also in theatre in Birmingham. I’m looking forward to seeing them continue to go from strength to strength.