Melodie Ellis knows what it’s like to work for somebody else. And she knows what it means to work for herself. In fact, she managed to do both for almost eight years, holding down a job as an employee at a private piano studio while also teaching students on her own in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In 2004, she decided to make the leap to full-time self-employment. She left her studio job and started her own business – “Learn Piano in Your Home”, now Starlight Music Lessons.
“I guess I was tired of dealing with politics… When you work for somebody else sometimes it can seem like no matter what you do you’re not going to be able to make things better,” Melodie remembers. But she had learned that things are different when you are your own boss. “When you have your own business, you can change everything by your actions.”
Five years later, 14 contractors now work for Melodie, and Learn Piano in Your Home caters to over 200 students, providing private lessons not just in piano, but also in voice, guitar, drums, brass instruments, and more.
“As I started to grow, I saw the need to write a business plan,” says Melodie, but since her business was so small and she had such limited time at her disposal, it wasn’t a huge priority. “What really motivated me to do it was that I wanted to apply for a grant.” As a member of the National Association for the Self-Employed, she was eligible to apply for a $5,000 Business Development Grant. Applicants are required to meet certain criteria, including submitting a business plan.
Melodie knew she would have to do some research. She bought a few books to help guide her through the plan-writing process, but says they weren’t nearly as helpful as she had hoped they would be. “I found them to be very theoretical and not practical at all. I didn’t get anywhere with them. I understood the concepts, but when it came down to putting it all on paper… the books were just really poor at trying to help me do that.”
Next she hit the Internet, looking for some business-planning software to help. “And that’s when I found Business Plan Pro. It was definitely worth it, because it allowed me to put everything together and it made it all practical and very real.”
One of the challenges Melodie faced in writing her plan was the fact that her business had been in operation for several years prior to putting the plan together. “I had to go back and think through things very concretely. I hadn’t always paid attention to the numbers or tracked them that carefully… I had to get all those numbers from my history and somehow incorporate them into my plan. And that can be hard when you don’t have an MBA,” she says with a laugh.
In the end, Melodie’s hard work paid off. “I know that the fact that my business plan was well put together was definitely a major factor in getting the grant,” says Melodie.
“One of the most helpful things about the software was that, at the beginning, it asks you the question about whether you’re an existing business or a brand new business, and it tailors the plan based on your answer,” Melodie comments. She had tried other tools but found that they didn’t make this distinction, and in fact seemed to be based on the assumption that business plans were only for start-ups. That made the process harder for her, trying to fit details about an ongoing business into a start-up format.
“Just that one choice made all the difference in the world.”