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  • Writer's pictureAli Simon & JoDee Scissors

Art Teacher Turned Entrepreneur and CEO

Teachers are CEO's of their classroom. They wear many hats that allow them to be efficient, strategic decision makers and leaders. Learn why teacher leadership skills translate well into entrepreneurship.

From Classroom CEO to Business CEO

JoDee 0:51

Today we have Alycia Trotter, she is a former educator and art teacher, she knew she wanted to be a business owner. And after 14 years in the classroom, she leapt into the entrepreneur world and founded A Joyful Mess art studio in Prosper, Texas.

Ali 1:07

So I'll start off with what are the top teacher brain skills that have assisted you in becoming an entrepreneur?

Alycia 1:14

So the skills that teachers have and the skills that entrepreneurs have. They are so interchangeable, I mean, it's just such an easy transition from going into the classroom to being an entrepreneur, because you use so much of the same skill sets, which is why I think your podcast is absolutely amazing and right on, right on point. And so I'm really excited to be here and be a part of this. But what I wanted to say was that the when you are a teacher, you are a CEO of your classroom. And so you are organizing, multitasking, creating plans, trying to figure out what works, what doesn't work, adjusting, trying, again, you're collecting and analyzing data, you're building relationships, you're working with a team, if you're a team lead, you're leading a team. So all of that right there. I mean, that's more than three. But that is, those are all the same skill sets that you use in the classroom that I also use, as you know, a business owner and running my studio. So that just marries it's just been you know, I won't say that it's been easy, because, you know, running your own business is, it's hard. Everybody thinks it's this big, glamorous thing like, oh, you started your own business, like you must automatically become a millionaire. And your life is so easy. And you, you just do whatever you want, whenever you want when it's a lot of tough work and a lot of late hours and learning things from scratch and trying new things. But all that the classroom prepared me for all that. And it's it really, in that regard has been an easy transition.

JoDee 2:46

I like that you use the word CEO, because what I found in my startup, my sister, she's an entrepreneur who worked for the NBA, she's this high executive person. And she had this like status. And I felt like I didn't deserve a CEO status and she said, Well, who is this lineup and she was like, You're the CEO. She's like men put CEO in front of their title all the time. You need to put CEO in front of your title, because you are the CEO. And even though I was like I don't deserve this tell she was like, Yes, you do.

Alycia 3:19

Yes, you do. Yeah. You're the CEO, CFO, CPO, CAO.

JoDee 3:25

Everything. That's right.

Ali 3:28

And I love to hear all the things that you went over. I mean, we could spend several episodes talking about all of those teacher brain skills. Yeah. So I guess let's hear a little bit more about how you started your studio. what that experience was like.

Taking a Chance of Yourself and Your Dream

Alycia 3:41

Yeah, so I was in the classroom for 14 years. And towards the end of my teaching career, as much as I loved being in the classroom, I just art is I mean, children are my passion. But art is obviously my other passion. And I just remember time my husband was like, I just am in this like this. Everything is getting, you know, rigid is everything is being reinvented, yes, rigid and reinvented, but it's not being reinvented. And there is just a lot when you've been in it for a while and you start to see those, those changes and all of that it, it gets really exhausting. And it's taxing on not just you as a person, but your family. I always felt like I was a better mom to my own kids in the summertime than I was during the school year, because I was giving so much of myself to everybody else's kids, which is what teachers do. But then I'd get home and I was so tired. And then I have my own little babies. And it's just, it was exhausting. And I just wanted to sit down and relax. And and so I felt like I wasn't being my best for them. You know, I knew that something had to shift. And I thought well, art is my passion. And at that time the art teacher was actually leaving to go open up a new school and so I talked to my principal and said, you know, what do you think? And she was like, Oh my gosh, because I already did so much art. Um, at that time I was teaching second grade and so I did a tons of project based in my classroom and art and because that's how kids learn And so she knew that that was where my heart was. And she was like, go for it, do it. And so I did. And it was amazing. And it was great. But even still, there was something that was missing, there was something that I just knew I needed. And I always thought about owning my own business and in the community that we're in, it's such a kid based community. And we've got music, and we've got sports, but we didn't have art, and then knew that was missing the missing piece. And I actually started doing art camps out of my garage in the summertime for those kiddos. And it was great. And then when that started, I did that for about five years. And then when that just was told my husband, I said, I think this could be much bigger. And that's kind of what led me into the studio, I just started kind of putting it in the universe, letting people know, this is what I wanted to do looking for space, and all the breadcrumbs just started falling into place. And you know, when that happens, you know, it's meant to be

JoDee 5:54

When you made the transition, did you have any business owners or entrepreneurs that mentored or you watched before? Because I remember when you made that transition, at that time, in my life, I was seeing women my age go into entrepreneurship. And I could see myself in those shoes, it was the first time because I had entrepreneurs in my family, my sisters, both of my parents were entrepreneurs. But it was seeing someone my own age, do it and made it seem so much more achievable.

Alycia 6:27

Yeah, I actually don't have any entrepreneurs in my family. And I don't have what I have as a family of teachers. And it's, that's what all my family is my extended family and everything else. We're a bunch of teachers, and really having that teacher, brain and mindset, it was an easy, I could see how they fit together. And I could see how I could do this and how it would be a transition. But I was going to continue to teach because we have classes at our studio, I teach homeschool art classes, I teach after school classes, I mean, it's essentially teaching art, it's just, I'm doing it with the kids that want to be there. Instead of having a class of man it was getting to like 30-35. And you know, less than half really wanted to be in art, they wanted to be in PE or they maybe they were musical or technology or whatever. Whereas now at the studio, I'm teaching kids that want to do art and want to be there. And so, so actually, if you look at it like that, I was just changing locations, and I was taking out all the stuff that was driving me crazy about being in the classroom, and just getting to keep the good pieces. And so really, it wasn't too hard of an of an idea of a leap.

You Know When It's Time to Leave the Classroom

Ali 7:35

You still get to do a lot of the fun parts that you enjoyed it sounds like with teaching. But I think we also have to give you credit that you left a steady paycheck life as a teacher, and you jumped into entrepreneurship. So I'd love to hear maybe when you knew you were ready to do that, or what made you feel empowered to do that?

Alycia 7:53

Yeah. So I knew I was ready to do it. When the art camps in my garage, were just, you know, going crazy. And I was having to turn people away. And I started that kind of got the wheels turning. If I had a studio space, what else could I do? Birthday parties after school classes, and we do mommy and me play groups in the morning. Just how else can I bring people bring the art world to the community. As far as the support system, you know, my husband was a huge support, my husband was like, I think you can do this, it's also very helpful that he has a good job. And so we were able to, you know, take that leap because I could depend on him and I could depend on you know, his his stability and his job and that type of stuff. Now, the insurance that's been a little difficult. I mean, we're, we've, we have insurance, but insurance is expensive. So things like that you have to think about too, you know. But but it's been good. And he's been my supporter, and he's been a huge fan. And he said I think he should do it. He's like, let's we'll make it work, we'll figure it out. And so that was super helpful to have somebody, you know, right there with me, even if he's not at the studio, and he's not artsy. And he doesn't understand everything that I'm doing. He's super supportive in the areas that I need him to be.

JoDee 9:06

You bring up the point of insurance because I think that's a huge reason why people don't step out of education because of the benefits that come with it, whether that's health benefits or a pension down the road. And those are those are things that districts they take on the load of that compensation, but what are the options when you don't have someone doing that? You know, for you so.

Overcoming Barriers to Leaving

Alycia 9:28

Yeah, that that was a stumbling block. But I will say that I remember talking to my mom about it. And she said you can't let this be the reason why you don't follow your dream. She said we will figure it out. We will help you figure it out. You will figure it out. Like this can't be why you don't follow your dream. I just remember thinking you're right like we'll figure this out. We did. We knew we had the option we could go on my husband's insurance. It's just really expensive. But we also know that okay, we have to budget that in we have to set that into our budget. Same thing with retirement, no, I don't have retirement being pulled out by the district, I have to do that myself. So there is a lot of things when you're an entrepreneur that you do have to think about, it's not that you can't do it, you just have to have that discipline to make it automatic. And, and have every month when you deposit your check, make a savings account or work with a financial advisor and set that money aside and budget that into, okay, this is what I need to make each month. But really, I need to make this much more because I need to account for paying for my insurance. It's not simple, it's not easy. But if you want something bad enough, you can make it work.

Ali 10:36

I know that that really does seem like a big barrier. Having gone through different insurance options myself, that's really key, I think when you're going to make a transition, especially as an entrepreneur, because you won't have that that steady paycheck necessarily in the beginning. Do you have any tips about budgeting that you would share with our listeners? I know that that term also is very intimidating.

Alycia 10:58

Yes, it is. I you know, I think the best thing that I did from the get go was hire a CPA and a bookkeeper. And it's not that I couldn't do the books myself because I can but and I tried for the first couple of months, but then you're doing you're creating the lessons you're working with your team, you're I mean, you're everything from creating the lessons to the face of the company, to the janitor of the company, to I mean, you're everything and, and sometimes, you know, you have to weigh that time and finance thing and, and what makes the most sense. And for me, I tried to do the books by myself for a little while. And then I was like, Okay, we have to, I gotta find somebody. And that was I wish I would have done it sooner. And I've actually heard that from a lot of people is to hire your bookkeeper, right from the beginning, I wish I would have done it sooner, and I didn't. And now I'm one of those people, you know,

JoDee 11:50

I'm, I'm feeling that because I now am the owner of my own startup. Here I am wearing all the hats again, I guess teaching and I had a very simple transition where I took off so many hats. And now I have them back on and I'm like, oh my god, this is a me problem.

Alycia 12:06

I think that is a that is Teacher mentality. Because teachers wear all the hats, they get very used to wearing all the hats, they're very okay with wearing all the hats, you know, because a lot of times, it's just easier if I wear the hat than to pass it off to somebody else. And in the teaching world, you want the best for your kiddos, right? You want those, those 25 kids that your those are your babies, every single one of them. So you're not going to pass that off to somebody else. Like that's yeah, you're gonna do that, you know. And so when you start your own business, you do the same thing. But then you start to quickly learn that if I want to be a CEO, that is the difference. If I want to be a CEO, that actually means you have to step back so that you can make the bigger decisions and work on the overall picture and take your business forward. Because you can't look forward. If you're looking down, you know, you can't look forward into your business and plan ahead if you're looking down day to day to day to day. And so that's what has really helped me kind of take my hat's off is, is I was looking down at the day to day and that's doing my books, but I'm not doing them until 11 o'clock at night. Because I'm doing all these other things I'm looking down instead of looking out. And now I feel like that I've been able to pass some of those hats off, I've really been able to look out and kind of see the future of my business versus just, you know what's going to happen next month.

Always Feeling Like Your Tank is Empty

Ali 13:21

So a lot of what I'm hearing from you going back to the beginning of the interview, is the pressure as a teacher that you felt and I felt it before. And I think Jody has alluded to this also, to do all the things, we have so much to do that we come home, we have no energy, our tank is empty as an entrepreneur, it sounds like you could choose to do that. But from your experience, perhaps as a teacher, there are some responsibilities that you now have the flexibility to outsource and I think I know my experience. Yeah, my experience as a teacher has allowed me to see so many things clear. Like I think it's a great first career because it teaches you how to do all these things. And then when you're in your next career, your next stage of life, you learn from that experience, but you're in a different position. Like you're not responsible for 25 or 35 little human beings. I mean, you're definitely still responsible for the students in your studio. But you love that part of your job it sounds like. So you're you're making time to do that and how do you balance like choosing what to do and then what you should outsource

Alycia 14:31

Right? So you know, it's really easy to outsource the things you don't like when you hire a teacher you don't get to pick and choose. But you know when you're a business owner you do so I get to outsource you know the CPA. That was easy. I don't know anything about taxes. I don't know anything about that. That was easy bookkeeping. Honestly I really didn't like it I could do it but I didn't like it but yes and so that I outsource. The creative stuff I'm not outsourcing projects or outsourcing you know the those fun things that fill up my cup, those are things that I'm going to keep doing and that I'm going to keep growing. Now I do have at this point, I have six teachers with me at the studio. So I don't teach all the classes. In fact, they teach about 75% of my classes now. And that's because part of being an entrepreneur for me was time freedom. Going back to that whole thing about when I said in the summertime, I was a better mom, I want to be a better mom all year round. And so for me, being a CEO, one of the big things that I really wanted was that time freedom and that flexibility, I'm home with my kiddos, whenever they're home, just like I was, when I was a teacher, I can take vacations with them whenever I want, not just on spring break, or not just on Christmas holiday, that type of stuff, I'm able to be home with them in the summertime still, even though we've got camps going on all summer long at the studio, but I've got teachers that teach the majority of them, I do teach some of them, but I work it out to where I get to be home with the kids, most of the time, I get to pick and choose the things that fill my cup, and that keep the creative part of me going and I got to hand off the things that are harder for me or that don't fill my cup. And so that's been really great.

JoDee 16:09

You know, we've had a couple of listeners reach out to us that are specifically art teachers. And they, I think that sometimes creatives feel constrained within a certain type of framework or larger organizations, because the larger the organization, the less creative opportunities are permitted, you know, so can you relate to that at all? Oh, yeah.

Alycia 16:33

Oh, yeah. Yeah, standards. Yeah. So you know, when you're in the teaching world, everybody knows you have your standards, you have what you have to teach. This has to be taught. Usually, at this time, during this point of the year, during this grade level, that's what's nice about the studio is that now I'm in an atmosphere where I can create, I can do it, how I want to do it, and in the timeframe that I want to do it. And with my teachers, I give them that freedom as well. They're creatives and I have to let them be creative, and I let have to let them have their freedom. That's why I want them to be at our studio is because it's because of their creativity. So they do come up with their own lessons. We talk about big projects, we all get together, which is really fun. And talk about, you know, big summer camps or big workshops that we're doing. And we brainstorm and, and it's just, it's a lot of fun to sit around and have that creative mindset and not be stifled by any outside.

JoDee 17:27

And you have a community because teachers rely on teachers as their day to day community. And so it sounds like you have done that within your own organization.

Creating Your Own Support Team

Alycia 17:35

Yeah, that's important. That's one of those teacher things I brought with me, you have to have a team you have to have people to bounce ideas off of. And I have that at the studio creatively. And I also created within our community, I knew I wanted to be a part of a mastermind group, a Business Mastermind group. And I knew I wanted it to be women, women owned Master, you know, people and so I actually couldn't find anything like that. So I went and didn't even know some of the people but I knew them from Instagram or following them on online. And they just had these qualities that really, you know, I admired about him. And so I just was like, Hey, would you be interested in meeting like once a month and talking about business stuff? And, and they were like, yes. And so now there's a group of us, we meet actually, every other week now. And we are all women owned businesses. We're all indifferent. We all do something different. But we're all in the Prosper community. And so it's been so amazing. I've learned so much from them. And it's just been a really cool group. So yeah, having a team, whether it's right within your business, or even outside of it is super important. I just thought, Okay, I'm gonna put on my, my brave pants, and I'm just gonna go ask them, you know, and each one, like I said, I've been watching and I just felt like had this different quality that I thought was really cool that I myself was lacking. And so I thought, okay, if I can learn from her, you know, one of them's amazing with social media. So I'm like, gosh, if I could just have her kind of pour into me a little bit about social media one is amazing with her client relationship. And like, Okay, if she can pour into me a little bit.

Ali 19:10

Like you basically created like a planned learning community like, yeah, that's what I was. Yeah, well, I actually created this on your own. It's amazing. Well, I'm so delighted to have this conversation with you today, Alicia, and I think you're gonna be really inspirational to all of our listeners who are thinking about starting a new career as an entrepreneur. If you want to learn more about Alicia you can follow her on Facebook at A Joyful Mess, and on Instagram at A Joyful Mess Art Studio.

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