Wednesday Winners: Adam & Rachel Atkins

Welcome to the first of a regular weekly feature, “Wednesday Winners” where we sit down with somebody who has taken the plunge into the scary world of self-employment. We ask them all about their venture, hoping to learn a trick or two, and find out about the challenges, and rewards, of setting up their own business.

This week, we had a chat with the awesome Adam & Rachel Atkins, founders and directors of ‘Anthem Music & Creative Arts’. After realising during university that they could supplement their humble student allowance with extra income working as private music tutors, they gradually earned an outstanding reputation for delivering high quality instrument tuition. They began to generate their own business by delivering music-based workshops in schools, inspiring the next generation of youngsters to take up an instrument. Their story speaks of their dedication and professionalism, and highlights the importance of a good reputation.

ImageJUKU: Hi guys, thank you for chatting to us today. Could you first tell us a little bit about what ‘Anthem Music & Creative Arts’ is all about?

Adam: We are a music service whereby we find work in High Schools as well as create work in High Schools by doing promotional assemblies and demonstrations. There are 3 main parts to our company, we do high school tuition, private tuition, and the ‘bandHUB’ course that we run in schools and in the community. We create an interest for high school students that want to take up an instrument by taking a live band into their school and putting on a good show to show them how fun live music can be. Then what we do, is we’ve got a database of tutors that we have, and we find the most appropriate teacher for that school and for what instruments are in demand and we’ll send them into the high schools to teach the students, so as a company our job is to create the work, and then send the appropriate teachers into the schools to teach. We also do private tuition as well.

JUKU: What inspired you to to take up this venture?

Rachel: I think it was kind of accidental rather than we decided we wanted to be teachers, it was more that it fell into our lap really. To us, we’re passionate about our instruments so we were really happy that we would be doing a job in music but it wasn’t at that point that we thought we really wanted to teach. It just panned out that way. Throughout the year, we’ve kind of figured that, we love to gig, but the way the music industry is at the moment it pays more to teach. So although it was accidental that we fell into it, we’ve kind of crafted our whole lives around that because we do enjoy it as well.

JUKU: Can you explain to us how the ‘bandHUB’ course works?

Adam: We have these devices called Jam hub’s, whereby a full band can plug into this one device and they can rehearse through headphones. It means that you can have multiple bands in one room, all rehearsing silently, but in their headphones they sound like a full rock band or pop band, or whatever they want to sound like. It enables a tutor to teach multiple bands at one time, which makes it really accessible for students, it helps to keep the price down because lots of students can take part, and it means you can have a full-on lesson as a band without a drummer making tons of noise, or the guitarist making tons of noise because everyones on headphones.

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JUKU: What have been some of the challenges that you have faced in your venture?

Adam: One of the biggest difficulties has been people management and figuring out how to get the best out of people so they can provide the best service and a good name for our company as well.

Rachel: I think the nature of what we do now is placing a lot of trust in other people to kind of carry what we want them to carry, the culture of our company, that sort of thing. Obviously everyone’s human, and no matter who we have working for us, no one is going to be perfect. Its only small things, we’ve never had any huge issues. Because Adam and I are still working full time at the moment, its all about trying to juggle our jobs, and manage other people doing jobs for us. When they are sick and can’t do it, we have to find cover, and when we’re trying to do our jobs at the same time, it just becomes that little bit harder to do 2 things at once.

Adam: There are certain points when it dawns on you, “its all relying on you”, you’ve not just got a pay packet coming in at the end of the month. Its on your own head to keep the work coming in and to keep your reputation up. There are certain points when you hit certain milestones and you have a little think and it seems like a massive challenge. But we believe in what we do and we enjoy what we do so we keep it up. It seems to be going well so we just keep going for it really.

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JUKU: What dreams and visions do you have for your business?

Adam: The one ambition that we came up with when we set the company up, is that we’d like to able to find 10 teachers full-time work, so 5 days a week in schools. It would mean that myself and Rachel would take a step back from the actual teaching and we would focus on promotion and performing for the kids in schools. We’d just like to be able to run the company and provide the work for people, and just be able to create the interest in music, and inspire the next generation of people to start learning instruments. It’s exciting to work in an industry like music, when a kid picks up an instrument that could be something that changes their life. It’s really exciting to be able to give that to people, and to able to provide work for people with the economy the way it is at the moment. 

JUKU: How do you think being married affects the way that you run the business together?

Adam: I think with us working as a partnership, just our general personality traits compliment each other. I’m very passionate and enthusiastic about the music side of things and Rachel is very organised and driven in the business side. If it was left up to me, I’d be creating these incredible chord charts and backing tracks for students but I’d never get us into to any schools. Whereas if it was up to Rachel, she’d have these incredible spreadsheets and business plans, so together with Rachel’s business head and I’ve got this enthusiastic creative side, I think we compliment each other really well in a way that pushes the company forward. I think it would be detrimental if you and your partner had exactly the same character traits really. I think opposites really help the business move forward because we’ve both got different corners of the business covered.  

JUKU: Adam & Rachel, thank you for talking to JUKU:Vocation! All the best with your future endeavours!

You can find out more about ‘Anthem Music & Creative Arts’ by visiting their website at www.anthemtuition.co.uk or checking out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/anthemtuition

Interview & Article by Ed Jervis

12/02/13

Animalism

By Hollie Weatherstone

I recently dipped my toes into the most parasitic region of the private sector in an act of desperation, and unsurprisingly, they very quickly got bitten off. Whilst I’m sure that there are a lot of very principled and decent businesses out there in the vast and formidable ocean of employment, I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to fish any of them out. I was working on our neo-liberal free-market economy’s roughest edge – direct sales and marketing.

 

I don’t want to chirp on about how difficult I have been finding it as young graduate entering the job market, but eating soup with a fork might be easier as far as I’m concerned. After numerous rejection letters, emails and telephone calls I finally got offered an interview with a Marketing and Sales Company called ‘Parker Worldwide’ based in Southampton. I didn’t actually remember applying for a job with them but I had filled out so many applications that I might not have remembered. The energetic woman on the phone said that they had looked at my CV and wanted to invite me into a first-stage interview for a position on their ‘management training programme’. I was over the moon with delight; finally someone had actually read my CV and seemed to like what they saw.

 

So I went in for the first round of interviewing. When I stepped into their offices I thought that it seemed like a very cool work environment with bright red walls, fish tanks and a pool table. There were quite a number of other applicants waiting in line for an interview which made me quite nervous and desperate to set myself apart from the rest. The interview itself lasted a total of about 3 minutes and most of which consisted of my interviewer talking about herself and what she did within the organisation. I walked away quite bewildered and not fully understanding the exact specifications of the job at hand.

 

Alas, I received a call that very evening from my interviewer who claimed that she was very impressed with my interview and wanted to invite me in for the second stage. Again, I couldn’t believe it and celebrated at the fact that I had got this far along the interviewing process.

 

The second interview consisted of me being taken out onto the street with a bunch of other young graduates and foreign students and being ‘observed’  by a ‘lead account manager’ as they knocked on doors and tried to sign people up for loft and cavity wall insulation. It wasn’t exactly or even slightly what I expected but I was willing to give it a chance, after all, it was promised that this was just the first stage of the ‘management training process’ and I would “soon have my own office and team and be making an average of £1000-£4000 per week.”

 

Surprise, surprise- I was given the job! From this point onwards it was a downward spiral of lies and greed. I was made to do 2 days of unpaid training which lasted from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., I was exhausted but keen to prove myself and work my way up the ‘metaphorical hierarchy’. They could justify not paying us because we were technically ‘self-employed’ despite telling us where and when to work (and thus breaking what I understood to be employment law). Everything was commission-based which I would never usually go for but I had no other prospects so I felt like I had to accept this.

 

I soon got to know my colleagues and quickly found that many of them hadn’t even graduated high school, never mind University, some couldn’t speak or comprehend English fully and one of them had apparently been convicted of a violent crime. It seemed that they were hiring anybody and everybody and not doing any background checks.

 

Every morning we all gathered in the office with false cheer and hopes, you could see the desperation and greed in people’s eyes; hoping that they might one day ascend into management. I had been drawn into the cult-like atmosphere where we were force fed positivity through American style chanting and daily inspirational stories.

 

Then we went out in the freezing cold and spend hours knocking on strangers’ doors hoping that we might be able to convince at least a few people to sign-up so that at least our travel expenses would be covered. I actually did quite well, I ‘rang a bell’ most days (this means I got at least 4). I was excited to receive my long awaited pay but was disappointed each week as it came as it was always much less that I had anticipated and the managers were all ‘too busy running a business’ to look into it. I wasn’t the only person in this position, we weren’t supposed to discuss negative topics when working but three of us cracked and had long discussions about all the things that had gone wrong i.e. underpayment, the managers sending us out without badges or insurance or CRBs etc. and we decided to quit.

 

We decided that we could in fact do it better, we would set up our own business and learn from the mistakes of Parker Worldwide; we would treat each other and our Sales Reps with respect and openness, we would make sure that we were all protected and provided a sense of security to our reps by covering training costs, paying them properly and giving them a higher commission rate alongside making sure that everything was above board; seeking legal advice and writing up contracts and agreements.

 

HOW WRONG WE WERE. We may have started ‘Blue Monkey Solutions’ up with good intentions but power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It must have felt something like when Lenin wrote ‘What is to Be Done’ and started the Communist Revolution across Eastern Europe but eventually the ends got forgotten in the means that were taken to get there and true communism was never actually realised because man is inherently selfish and greedy.

 

To cut a very long and tiresome story short the result was one of my ‘Directors in Partnership’ arguing with me about asbestos outside the front of a back-alley pub and then telling me using his best Alan Sugar impression that I was “out”. A very direct ending to my career in Direct Sales and Marketing. I felt like George Orwell’s Boxer the horse getting taken to the glue factory; I had written the business plan, drafted the contracts for our Sales Representatives, made a leaflet, picked up appointments and set-up our Facebook and email and now I was redundant. I was just another finger in the honey-pot and they wanted more honey to themselves so I was getting carted-off by the knackers.

 

Our business ‘Blue Monkey Solutions’ had become just like ‘Parker Worldwide’, if not worse, and all within 3 weeks of setting it up. It felt like exactly like the story of ‘Animal Farm’ but also exactly the opposite as our story was reared by capitalism and not communism. Within the first month, the principles on which we had hoped to build our company on had become reduced to a single principle: All directors are equal, but some directors are more equal than others.

 

I’m writing this article for one core motive: to warn any other naïve young people like myself to not get sucked-up by a Direct Sales and Marketing company and cling on to the hope that it might actually work for you and make you rich.  It’s not a safe and steady environment to work in and it’s full of dodgy dealings and corner cutting fuelled by people’s greed and desperation. It will leave you feeling violated and scammed.
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Read more from Hollie at hollieweatherstone.blogspot.co.uk

The Great Unwashed’s Guide to Freelancing

Well, hello there…

I guess you’re on here because you’re either one of our friends, you’re unemployed, or you’ve just taken some time out to browse Facebook after a long, hard working week. If it’s the latter, I’d imagine you’re pretty bored now and are now doing something useful with your time, or looking at pictures of cats on the Internet.

I’m George, by the way. It’s good to meet you.

Anyway, given the purpose of this webpage is to help each other, provide support and contacts as well as making some new friends along the way, I thought I’d share some of the experiences I’ve had since I graduated in June last year.

I finished four years of Russian and Eastern European Studies at the University of Manchester, and by the time I’d done the whole rigmarole of dressing up like a far less wealthy Harry Potter, drank a lot of beer after the ceremony and inhaled the first vestiges of ‘real life’, I was ready to go out and become what is described on Peep Show as “a real person”.

Unfortunately, things haven’t quite turned out as I thought they would. There is no £20,000 job, I still live with my parents, and my overdraft still looks like a telephone number.

For all of you on here, I hope I can lend a sympathetic ear because since graduating with a language degree, everyone immediately presumes you can speak your designated language fluently. Well, unfortunately that isn’t the case, because I found Russian ludicrously hard and by the end of the degree, my energies were focussed on the writing and researching aspects of it; I figured there’s no point in wasting my time doing something I’m not good at, and should play to my strengths… a good point, given that I want to be a journalist, right?

This brings me nicely to my next point, because to an extent, I am a journalist. Since graduating, I’ve had the good fortune to have been published on a number of credible websites, blogs and also in nationally recognized print, but please let me advise you, this has not been easy. Simply, if you have any journalistic aspirations and don’t have a journalism degree/a first/Oxbridge credentials, then be prepared to be in for a long hard ride.

The first piece of advice I can give you, is to find your niche and don’t expect to get paid to start off with. My ‘thing’, if you will, is motorsport, and I quickly learnt that if you box yourself into one aspect of a field, then the doors close very quickly. I made the mistake of wanting to report on Formula One, and quickly learnt that if you go into something as high-profile as that, the opportunities quickly close as only a handful of people in the country do it, and trust me, they want to keep it for themselves. So, keep a broad range of interests (I’m currently writing about the World Rally Championship and haven’t been happier as a writer, actually) and keep abreast as to what’s going on in your chosen fields.

Secondly, get writing to publications you’re interested in, offer to work for free and get busy. Not in the sense of being a pain in the arse in the true sense, but forge contacts because these are what will help you out. My first experience of journalism was writing to Autosport magazine for some work experience, and since then, I’ve been back a fair few times and have made some friends there who have basically taught me the art of news writing and magazine design and layout without a formal qualification; Be nice, chum up in the tea-room with a mover and shaker from another department, start smoking (albeit temporarily, but it’s a great way of talking to people) and don’t be afraid to listen to advice and criticism. It’ll all help you in the end and if you do, people will be there to help you along the way, even when you aren’t in the office.

In short and to quote Journey (or Glee, if that’s how you choose to live your life), “don’t stop believing”. Whilst there will be times when you don’t want to go on, or are tempted to just throw it all in and find something that will pay a lot more and regularly, I would advise you not to, because it’ll quickly extinguish any creative urges you have. Just write and don’t stop doing it. Do some temping work to keep your bank balance healthy, but write to magazines for work experience (and be prepared to work for free for them for a while), start a blog, write articles for yourself, but don’t give up. Something will come good and you’ll soon have brass in your pockets from writing, as well as a phonebook brimming with journalists and race drivers.

Until next time,

–        G

George

(If you’d like to speak about this more, or share experiences and contacts, add me on Facebook or drop me an email at georgeeast6890@gmail.com)

So… I wasn’t born entitled?

Today is 17th January, 2013 and what’s new in the UK? Four major High Street retailers have already gone into administration and, according to BBC Breakfast, the news reads pretty much the same as it did in 1983 – the main topics being unemployment, press intrusion and David Bowie’s new hit single.


With the fall of HMV, Blockbuster, Jessops and Comet, a combined total of 16,685 jobs are under threat and other High Street chains run the risk of following suit after losing a considerable amount of business to the online marketplace. How does this make me feel as a jobseeker? Pretty rubbish. 


What are my options? I’m a 24 year old graduate from the West Midlands. I’ve just arrived back in the UK after spending the last three years in Russia working as an English teacher and general Jack-of-all-trades-requiring-English-language. I have more debt than I could earn in a year and £3.50 in my back pocket. Being a Jack of all trades, I’ve mastered none and am qualified for few. I feel anxious. But luckily I am not alone.


According to statistics gathered in a 2007 survey conducted by MIND, 9.7% of people in England suffer with mixed anxiety and depression, while 4.7% suffer with generalised anxiety disorder. 


A more recent study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that 75.9% of people aged 16+ rated their overall ‘life satisfaction’ as 7 or more (7 being Medium and 9 being High) with the average falling at 7.4. This compares with 80% of people who gave a rating of 7 or more when asked whether they felt the things they did in their lives were ‘worthwhile’. 

 

71% of participants said that they were happy yesterday, which is great, but this was almost on par with the number of people who said that they had felt anxious – a whopping 60.1%.


Of course, these statistics come off the back of a major decline that occurred in 2009-10. No prizes for guessing the probable cause: the 2008 recession. Guardian analysts suppose that this indicates that “a better economy is often a happier one”*. Rightly so, but why does our happiness have to depend on our economy? 


Despite the recession, there is not much that is lacking in the majority of people’s lives in the UK as long as they’re employed. We have expendable cash, the ability to travel, fresh food, free healthcare (although the fees for a visit to the dentist are a joke), access to some of the best universities in the world and the benefits of world-class research, free-range eggs, Cadbury’s chocolate, a decent primary and secondary education system, Benefits (although not for much longer perhaps), and more besides. What is it exactly that we’re lacking? 


My primary concern at the moment is that the economy is not sustainable and, since it’s been proven above that this has a massive impact on my personal well-being, neither is my mental health, and I for one do not want to spend the rest of my adult life struggling with anxiety over my tax returns.


The UK is a consumerist society and relies heavily on people buying things (in-store and online). On Monday night, I went round to my dad’s to find him buying a fridge-freezer because his had broken down and it would’ve have cost £150 to repair it, giving it a renewed lifespan of 2-3 years, and only £150 more to buy a new one that would last longer. 


Our general preference in the UK is to buy new things instead of repairing old, and our economy relies on it which is fine, but this attitude towards money is then extended further and seen perhaps in the decline of a “career for life” or in growing divorce rates. We are fairly non-committal in our attitudes and it’s absolutely understandable why. With a recession predicted to happen every decade or every 20 years and the situation we’re in now where it’s difficult to imagine a life without another dip in the current recession, how could we responsibly commit to anything and what could we possibly commit ourselves to? Is there anything in our lives that escapes the impact of recession? This is a serious question, I’d be interested to know what you think. 


What are my options really? Do I a) join the rat race and risk a life of unfulfillment and permanent fear of redundancy having remortgaged more than my pension and having little or no equity elsewhere; b) resign myself to a quiet life with a small mortgage and a 9-5 job that might bore me witless but would ultimately allow me to not worry about these problems; or c) look for another option that would allow me to live well enough, to contribute meaningfully to the world around me and to create a more sustainable environment for my children and theirs?  


Perhaps there are more options available, but I think, in terms of commitment, I’ll go for the latter and, of course, the options here are limitless. Do I go abroad? I’ve tried Russia, what about China? What about options in the UK? There’s the Iona community in Scotland – I’m not really that Christian but why not give it a go? Should I become a Buddhist? Should I become a Communist? I blatantly don’t have enough money to be a philanthropist. Should I look for a life that incorporates all of these -ists and, if so, where can I find it?  


What should I do next? I am open to all options, however fanciful, but will reiterate that I only have £3.50 in my back pocket, very few applicable skills and a hoard of debt behind me. Any help you could give would be much appreciated.

 

Also, if you have found yourself in a similar position, I would LOVE to hear about it! Add me on Facebook or email ciara.bartlam@gmail.com

 

Ciara-x-

Ciara
*http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/20/happiness-index-anxiety-satisfaction-uk