Kicktastic Blog

Dream Big, Start Small, Get Moving

Jenn Downs

by Jenn Downs

May 24, 2013


For most of my life, I’ve wanted to start my own business.

One of the few classes I really cared about in college was “Entrepreneurship in the Music Business,” and I even helped a few small companies grow. But other than a few half-hearted attempts at starting record labels with friends, I’ve never had the support or means to take the leap.

I almost followed this same path again by taking a job offer in San Francisco with a growing startup, but this time it felt wrong. Moving to San Francisco felt like running away from something instead of running toward an opportunity.

So I decided to stay in Atlanta and figure out what I wanted out of life. Since I was on a break from being in a band, I couldn’t fall back on my usual way of finding purpose—that is, starting a new band. This time I wanted something more meaningful and stable. Something I could see my family involved with in the future. Something that would bring more good into the world.

I knew ConvergeSE was right around the corner and offered a chance to hang out with my people and bounce ideas off of them. While I was there, I decided to take Carl Smith’s “Your Money or Your Life” workshop followed immediately by Kicktastic’s “Freakishly Profitable” workshop.

In his workshop Carl asked, “What would you do if time and money were no option?”

But he quickly turned the question around to make it less self-centered: “How does what you want to do with your life help other people?”

I realized that I want to help artists make a living. I want to help artists survive and then some. After several more of Carl’s exercises, I realized I was starting something like a record label. Again. Except this time without the musician’s ego driving me.

But dreams are dreams, and I wondered how I would even begin to pull this off. That’s where “Freakishly Profitable” came in. Nate, Jonathan, and Austin taught us how to plan to grow your business, how to avoid wasting time and money, and how to stay motivated. And more importantly, they gave me the kick in the pants I needed to start making this music business a solid idea and eventually a real, thriving business.

Two pieces of advice stood out the most:

“Don’t work with terrible people.”

This is the reason I’m on a break from being in a band: I worked with too many terrible people. Artists who want to remain good people need other good people around them to give them reality checks.

We need our friends to remind us that though we might feel like the single greatest thing on earth while on stage, we still have to do the hard work and treat people with respect. I only want to work with people who also share this value. If they’re into music to escape responsibility and live some kind of rock-and-roll fantasy, we’re not going to work well together.

So when I went to call a friend, who does shares my values, for the purpose of roping him into doing this music project with me, I was only half-surprised to find that he had already texted me, saying he wanted to move back to Atlanta.

“Pick a day to grow your business.”

I have an awesome job that I don’t want to leave. (I am a person of multiple passions.) I also have enough experience to know how hard it is to make a living in the music business.

I made the decision to start a new business right in the middle of speaking at several conferences, starting a major project at work, and wanting to start a family. If I were a sane person, I would wait to start this new business in late July when I have some free time.

But if I don’t get started now, I risk waiting too long, letting the idea slip away, and losing my momentum. So what I’m going to do is keep talking to friends who I want to get involved, brainstorming weekly about what goods and services I want to provide, and making copious amounts of to-do lists!

I’m also looking at how fast I want to grow this business and deciding on how much time I can allow myself to spend on it each week.

In my head I have a six-year plan. The first couple of years will be slower if I want to realize my other dream of starting a family. If I start small now, I won’t have to take such a huge step back when I need time off to have a kid. If I don’t start now, I risk falling into parenthood so deeply that I put off my dream for several years.

Starting small now seems so much more realistic (and promising) than starting some years in the future.

What have I done since the workshop on April 25th?

  • Lowered my overhead by selling some oversized gear that would have gone into storage
  • Bought my husband a new acoustic guitar so we can play together at home without having to pay for a practice space
  • Put my own acoustic songs online (finally!)
  • Helped my neighbor book a tour of the Southeast this summer
  • Played Open Mic nights with my neighbor to keep getting songs in front of people
  • Started working with a friend to help illustrate a logo for Be Particular! (Music Company Collective)
  • Talked to our music brand manager to get more involved with music at work
  • Incorporated music-related examples into tech talks
  • Booked musical, rather than speaking, gigs at upcoming conferences
  • Wrote this article to hold myself accountable and bring my friends into the process

The very next thing on my to-do list is to set up our spare room as a music room and make it a cozy place for people to play, write, and listen to music together and have an art escape in my own home.

When you create space and give attention to something, when you consciously say, “This is what I want,” then that something will come back to you.

Start planning, start building momentum with small tasks, and you’ll be amazed at what happens.


Categories: Growing | Tags: jenn downs, freakishly profitable, carl smith

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