Kathryn Raats was only 23 when she opened her fourth music school. At an age when many people are still studying or trying to decide what they wanted to do with themselves, Kathryn had already graduated from university, set up two businesses and was busy building an empire: the West Coast Music School.
Shannon Meyerkort spoke with Kathryn about how she managed to turn her love of music into a successful Perth business.
You were on-track to be a midwife or obstetrician - what happened to make you change career paths?
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Unfortunately during my studies I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that impacted my health quite heavily. I picked up bugs very easily - and I had to be realistic about the fact that being constantly sick was not going to be great for me in the long run - and it wasnít safe for me to be working with newborns. I adored the wellness focus of being a midwife, but after I graduated, I had to make the hard decision to explore different career options.
I donít regret studying nursing and midwifery at all. In fact, I use the skills I learnt during my studies in my business today. Having a thorough understanding of developmental milestones, critical thinking and working in a team has definitely benefitted West Coast Music School directly.
How long had you been teaching music as a hobby before you realised it was something you could do as a career?
I started playing piano at the age of five, and started teaching at eighteen to help me through university. To be honest, turning music into a career kind of snuck up on me. I never really expected that it would be this way - but who wouldnít want to live and breathe what they are passionate about on a daily basis!
I taught privately for 5 years before I decided to take it to the next level - owning a music school. Music had been such a huge part of my upbringing - Iíve played piano, guitar, cello, violin, the oboe and sung all throughout my childhood, but I always came back to the piano.
Kathryn with some of her students
Where did you go to get advice about setting up your own business?
When I started ĎKathrynís Piano Schoolí - a very miniature version of West Coast Music School, I just made it up as I went along. It was a very simple business set up as a sole trader. However, when I started West Coast Music School - that was a whole other ball game.
For the first 6 months, it was operated as a sole trader, but I transitioned into a company midway through 2015. The business was growing very quickly and it was beginning to challenge me in new ways.
I had no idea how to run a company, and that was when I came across an entrepreneurial education school called The Entourage. I can say that the support, education and guidance that I have received through them has changed my life and the way I operate the company.
If you knew in high school that your illness was going to prevent you from fulfilling your end goal of being an obstetrician, would you have done things differently?
I suppose I probably would have done things differently if I had known then what I know now - but Iím not entirely sure what 17 year old Kathryn would have wanted to do other than healthcare of some sort.
However, in saying that, I wouldnít change how things went. I strongly believe that everything that has happened in my life up to this point has prepared me for what comes next. It equipped me with the skills I needed to create what I have built.
What unique challenges have you faced being a young woman with her own business?
Iíve learnt that you have to fail fast. There is no point trying to be perfect - because there is no way you will be. Every mistake or failure is only giving you skills to tackle the next challenge, so there is no point postponing them. In other words, you just have to take the risk and jump off the cliff. Being a perfectionist will never allow you to build a business. Being a musician naturally lead me to being a perfectionist, so this was the hardest thing for me to let go of.
You also have to learn to be accountable for yourself. There is no point making excuses about why something didnít happen or why you didnít get around to dealing with something. The sooner you stop making excuses, the sooner your productivity will skyrocket.
Iíve also found that although the business world is changing for women, it does still prove to be challenging at times. I have dealt with personalities that havenít treated me equally because of my gender and age. But as I have become more confident in myself and my abilities, I feel like other people have been able to pick up on that and realise that I mean business!
Finally, Iíve learnt that you should always try to be the dumbest person in the room. Donít be afraid to ask questions! Itís the only way you will learn and grow.
What advice would you offer to other young Perth women who are trying to decide whether to keep their creative passions a hobby or take it to a more professional level?
One of my favourite sayings is by LinkedIn Founder, Reid Hoffman. ďAn Entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way downĒ. This sums it up perfectly.
You just have to jump - there is no one out there who can tell you to do it. Yes, it can be extremely daunting to do, but you will never know if it will work out unless you actually do it.
Itís all about mindset - you need to learn that failure is your friend. You are going to make mistakes and thatís fine, but you will learn from them.
You will also have to understand that you must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Running your own business challenges you constantly on a daily basis. You will never feel totally satisfied or comfortable. Take the jump - start small, test the market and go from there.
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