Digitalization for cultural entrepreneurs. Interview with Atenea Carter

Due to the exceptional situation we are experiencing because of the COVID-19 crisis, many entrepreneurs in the cultural and artistic sector have been forced to digitise their businesses. That's the case of Atenea Carter, singer and vocal coach who combines her work as an artist and singer with her profession as a vocal teacher.

At the end of 2018, Atenea put her identity and branding in our hands when she decided to open her first voice and singing school in Terrassa (Barcelona). At that time, the whole brand focused on giving visibility to her new physical studio. Still, with the coronavirus crisis, she had to reinvent herself. We wanted to interview Atenea to tell us about her experience with digitalisation during the pandemic.

Hello Misterio Studio! It's a pleasure to be interviewed by enterprising women and great professionals like you. First of all, thank you for helping me to give birth to my baby (haha), that is, to give shape, colour, concept and emotion to the image of my business. I am infinitely grateful for your attention, patience, and professionalism. Working with such creative and lovely people was a very enriching experience. Besides, at an entrepreneurial level, you are an example for me. I will never tire of recommending you! Thank you infinite šŸ™‚

What forced you to start digitising your business?

I am a jazz singer and vocal coach, and my business was a physical business (a voice school in Terrassa). Due to the problems with the mask when singing and the very high risk of exposure to COVID-19 when teaching, I decided to close the premises that shaped my school and orient myself 100% to the online world.

What options did you consider when you were thinking about it?

Honestly, at some point, I considered as plan B to go back to being an employee of a company, but that meant taking a step back in my life since what motivated me to leave my previous job and start a business was the fact of being able to live from my creativity as a teacher, as a singer and in the business area (I consider business as another way of being highly creative). So when the virus happened, plan A was to teach online.

At first, it started as temporary, as the plan was to confine us for 15 days, and both the students and I thought it would be that way. But as the situation became longer and longer, seeing the risk of exposure to the virus that we had in my school, and taking into account that the students can work the voice perfectly well from home, I finally closed the studio doors, but with the security and experience of having already transitioned online during the three months of quarantine.

What benefits or advantages do you find now that you work online?

The first advantage has been opening my online school on Patreon (yay!). A worldwide school, with a community that includes students from several countries, with classes offered 24/7 and from any device, and offering them at a much more affordable price than in-person classes: this would have been so unthinkable for me that open an online school with all these advantages only a year after opening the physical school, I would have laughed out loud! I'm enjoying taking my creativity to such a broad level :) I feel very grateful for it.

Secondly, another advantage, although it doesn't sound very sexy (haha), is working from home and the savings that this implies in terms of location, expenses for supplies, insurance, etc., and the management of everything that a physical location demands. For entrepreneurs just starting, the costs we can save allow us to grow more efficiently.

On the other hand, at the moment we are in, not being exposed to the virus is a great advantage and the reason for turning to the online world.

But there have been other beautiful advantages: I have students in Switzerland, California, Madrid, Huesca, Canary Islands, Valencia, Buenos Aires and different parts of Catalonia. For me, this seemed impossible before! The fact that my business has become international and being able to create a community with so many diverse people is totally in line with my values. It is something that makes me feel even more fulfilled than before. The students from my physical school who have stayed in the online classes also highlight the time and money savings they get from not having to travel to my school.

Another advantage is scalability. Before, my business was scalable up to a certain point; I could attend to as many students as possible in the school (a 50m2 space). Now it's different: the scalability margin is so significant that I have created my new online school on Patreon at such an affordable price, which would have been utopian before (with my physical business).

Finally, and this is the "sexiest" advantage of all: I can take my business everywhere. This summer, I could work from the homes of relatives who live on the beach. For me, who still has a traditional business mentality, it seems unbelievable to be able to do something like that! I live far away from my friends and family, and being able to move my business with me so I can spend more time with them is excellent. It's something that, after all, I allow myself to enjoy.

Tell us a little about this digitalisation's disadvantages and if your student profile has changed

In my case, the disadvantage is having to say goodbye to an extensive portfolio of clients who were used to coming to the school. Many came to learn to sing and make friends, meet and socialise inside and outside the classroom. Clients who wanted to socialise face-to-face have moved on to other schools that have decided to stay open. But once I found another type of student and saw that they are worldwide, life opened up a much bigger window for me than I had, and I am very grateful for that.

What are the most significant difficulties, and have you found a way to overcome them?

The most significant difficulty has been the "reset" of my business: turning to the online world means a new branding, a new strategy, and new advertising campaigns in formats opposite the ones I used to use... In short, having a new mindset in record time to continue living from my business.

Facebook Ads, setting up my membership in a beautiful pre-designed platform for creators (Patreon) with all the processes of data protection, payment gateway, etc., automated by the platform, has been the way to accelerate the growth process of my online business. That and having professionals in the digital business sector to count on their advice have been key to adapting my business in record time (still in process!). The key to overcoming adversity lies in learning and implementing new things.

Would you like to return to the old model when this situation changes? Do you see a hybrid model as viable?

What a good question! I have thought about it and would like to do a hybrid model, but 90% online - 10% face-to-face. I could offer face-to-face workshops occasionally but keep the online as a fundamental part of my business.

First of all, because of my online school on Patreon, the fact that it is online allows me to reach exponentially much further, to more people, create an infinitely larger community and also offer an affordable price: all this aligns with the values of my business perfectly.
Also, being an artist, I need to be mobile and have freedom of movement and schedules, and the online format gives me infinite freedom in these aspects.

It is not in my plans to reopen because after all this adventure and after all the drama it has involved, I have realised that my business is not four walls: my business is me, my philosophy regarding the teaching of vocal technique, my creativity as an artist and teacher and my students. Besides, it was hard to admit it. Still, I recognised that the premises enslaved me and the little scalability I had made me spend many hours there. It would have taken me much longer to grow than I am growing now.

However, I did have a lot of fun doing face-to-face classes. I want to maintain this occasionally by doing workshops in a co-working space prepared for them (there are many options nowadays).

It's essential to open your mind to share, ask for help if needed, and stop "owning" to start "being". It is not easy, but we will be more open-minded and free and learn to flow much more.
Thank you very much, Atenea, for sharing your experience in digital entrepreneurship with us. For everybody who may be interested in her project, we provide the link to Atenea's online school.