Freelancing: an essential guide with ICMP alumnus Alex Bruce

Our guitar alumnus tells us how he launched his successful teaching business Bruce Music...
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ICMP alumnus Alex Bruce launched London guitar, piano and vocal tuition company Bruce Music while studying at ICMP back in 2013.

Bruce Music has now grown into an industry success story, employing 35 teachers, including many ICMP students and alumni, and is currently expanding across the UK. The company is a happy team of young, active professional musicians and prides itself on high quality teaching and forward thinking customer service.

Ahead of his visit to ICMP to speak on a panel exploring the world of self-employment, we quizzed Alex on his essential advice for going it alone and succeeding as a freelance music industry professional... 

What prompted you to set up your own business?

I was thinking ahead to finishing university and the need to support myself without a student loan. I was already teaching guitar for other companies, enjoying it and feeling its benefits on my musicianship, so setting up my own teaching business seemed a good way to continue this while, crucially, being able to directly affect my workload/income for the better.

For any of our students looking to do the same, what would be your top advice?

Obviously your studies have to come first, but if at all possible, don’t wait until you graduate to make a start. It’s important to set yourself up for a sustainable career and that takes time. At first it will be in your spare time, so keep it simple. Break the path ahead down into systematic, simple steps.

Business doesn't come to you, you have to go to it - so make sure you're finding out where your potential customers are looking and then putting yourself there, not just marketing randomly." 

Are there any things you’d wish you known before embarking on this career path? 

Always phone people and you can't cheat Google!

Looking after the financials at the start is a big challenge? How do you do this from the outset? 

In a way, I was lucky with this. Whatever money I made via the business was the only money I had to spare. So although things were tight at first, it was at least a simple situation and I knew where I stood. I also looked for opportunities i.e. I had students and friends who were web designers, logo designers etc. So I was able to benefit from their services either as a favour or in exchange for free guitar lessons! 

At the start, how did you establish yourself and promote your business? 

I worked hard to understand the various ways of ensuring my business would appear to online users. Things like flyers are fine to supplement this, but as a main marketing avenue are outdated and don't appear where most potential customers are looking. 

What, if any, are the downsides of running your own business?

The main one is that there is no guaranteed salary! This can of course be viewed as an opportunity - whatever profit you make, you keep! You're not limited by an imposed 'pay grade' but obviously there's the odd moment of fear and panic in there too, especially at the beginning. For some I'm sure the lack of a boss/being directed/office environment would be a downside too, although for me they're very much positives!

How did your time at ICMP ready you to embark on your own venture?

My time at ICMP exposed me to a wide range of musical styles, and forced me to get my sight reading up to standard. As a result when I encounter a jazz-obsessed student or need to teach sight reading to a classical guitar student, I can, and that wasn’t always the case.

More importantly though, I made some fantastic connections at ICMP. Around half my team are ICMP alumni, and besides knowing for sure they’ll be musically up to standard, many are people I met on the course and therefore know are people I can rely upon."  

Is there a typical day? And how important is giving your venture some sort of routine? 

Routine is important in the sense of ensuring you are allotting a certain amount of time to your venture. But it's also important that there's flexibility within that. Some of my days are spent entirely interviewing potential teachers, others split between admin, taking new enquiries, marketing, accounts and so on. What the most important tasks are changes depending on various factors - time of year, flow of business etc. The key thing is focusing on what's urgent and what's bringing in business right now! Routine that's too strict and specific creates anxiety when it then has to change.

What’s been keeping you busy? And what does the future have in store? 

At the moment, having been established in London six years, the business is expanding across the UK, so a lot of time is going into ensuring these other 'branches' of Bruce Music are running to and upholding the same standards (particularly of customer service) for which we've become known.

Hopefully the future holds a UK-wide Bruce Music being known for high quality private tuition in all instruments. 

Visit brucemusic.co.uk to find out more. 

Study Guitar in London in 2019

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by Jim Ottewill
March 26, 2019
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