Welcome to an update with a difference – we last spoke to Zoe Austin, a Cambridgeshire musician and voice, violin, piano and music theory music teacher, back in 2012! She’s had some ups and downs since then, but I was very happy to welcome her back into the fold for this update. Back then, when I asked Zoe where she wanted to be in a year’s time, she had this to say: “Unlike some freelancers, my self-employed work is done, at this point, out of necessity rather than a great desire to be my own boss (although, that would be very nice!). I would quite happily be employed in one job which pays me enough and satisfies all of my creative needs. Realistically, in a year, I think I will still be a working musician – teaching and playing – and, I hope, I will be in a better financial position than I am now with a bit more energy and just as much love and enthusiasm for music as I have now.” Let’s see where she is now!
Hello again, Zoe, and it’s lovely to have you back. Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward just one year, four years ago?
As you mention, my last interview was actually four years ago. Whilst you did kindly wish to include me after that, I had too many things going on in my personal and work lives at that point to even know how to begin answering the posed questions! What I would say I have obviously learned since my last interview, however, is that I would not actually be particularly happy having only one job: I get bored very easily, by colleagues, job role, work environment and work hours, so it really is best for me that every work day is slightly different. I have also, through painful experience this year, come to realise that if I were to be in only one job and experienced difficulties there, I would not have anywhere else to ‘go’ for the rest of the week: in order to take refuge from any difficulties and, most importantly, to maintain my professional self-esteem which may take a battering in environments where my work is not appreciated.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
I still provide voice, violin, piano and music theory lessons to mainstream pupils through my work with Huntingdonshire Music School and as a private tutor, so those things remain.
Things are in a state of flux for me at present, with a current posting as music teacher in a special school ending this month but an exciting new one beginning in August where I will be providing music sessions for adults with learning disabilities with an arts charity in Cambridge. Events this year have cemented in my mind that I am most happy working with people with learning disabilities, so I shall pursue more work in this area over time.
I have finally stopped being afraid of practising Music Therapy and will have my first piece of work in that field since my last one around two years ago and it will be beginning some time next month.
In other news, I have begun writing a book for first-time music tutors. My hope is that if I mention it here I will feel more obliged to actually write some of it, so that I have something to report back in a year’s time!
You’ve said it here now, so you have to do it! Happy writing! What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I wish I had renewed my HCPC registration in order to maintain my licence to practice as a Music Therapist. Because I could not afford to do so at the time (and, I will be honest, I had given up on the prospect of ever being a Music Therapist – for both positive and negative reasons), I let it slip and will now need to undergo a lengthy process to ‘update my skills’. It is doable, but will mean a lot of extra work will be added to my already busy timetable and it could have been easily avoided.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Prioritise your own well-being, even if other people don’t like it.
I suffer from a chronic health complaint which flares up sometimes without notice and which will then necessitate my spending 2-3 days in bed recuperating. This happens roughly once or twice per school term. It has become clear that, whilst I experience wonderful support from the manager in one of my jobs, two heads of service in other places I provide music clearly believe that I am shirking my responsibilities and deliberately taking time off. I am as open and honest about my health problems as I can be, but I can only apologise so much and I can only do so much to accommodate the needs of other people. I am old enough now and have lived with these difficulties for long enough to know what I need when a flare-up occurs, and I will do whatever it takes for me to feel better. This has meant, unfortunately, that work opportunities within two organisations have been taken from me this year, but I refuse to take this personally.
My best friend Jon always says to me, ‘Go where you are appreciated’ and I would say the same to you. If you’re not liked, understood or respected within one setting, even though you have done nothing wrong, then keep your dignity intact and do whatever it takes to get out of that place: your happiness and health are far more important than the needs of any business.
On a different, more practical note, I gathered my courage and asked the parents of some of my long-time pupils to write testimonials for me. They were all very kind in what they wrote, I was very touched! With their consent, these testimonials are published on my business Facebook page and my profile page at musicteachers.co.uk.
BONUS NEW QUESTION: What question would YOU like to ask other small business owners?
Fancy any music provision? No, really, I need the work.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Still providing music to many different people in order to improve their lives somewhat, but with perhaps a little less travelling and a few earlier nights!
A rollercoaster ride indeed, but Zoe’s got some good learning points here and I thank her for her honesty and openness in sharing her story. Retaining our dignity and health is so important, but often forgotten in the struggle to keep going and/or the race for profits. Hopefully the new opportunities she’s embracing this summer will improve things for her and her business. Good luck!
Zoe said, “I no longer update my blog as I have found the following platforms to me much more lucrative and helpful”:
You can email Zoe, or call her on 07791308536
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.