Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Ebony Qualls, owner of Studio Ebony, located in Washington, DC, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I'm Ebony Qualls, and my mission is to help folks express their unique creativity through belly dance and belly dance fitness classes online. I'm dedicated to celebrating diversity in age, body type, and culture. I'm passionate about helping people expand access to different types of wellness in a movement that we may not have previously considered. I've been teaching belly dance in Washington, DC, since 2003. I'm grateful to be touring internationally since 2008 as a headlining teacher and performer throughout Asia, Canada, Europe, South America, and the US. I've led workshops at multiple Wanderlust, Daybreaker, Lululemon, and Ecstatic dance events and online and in-person for Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.
I am the co-creator of the Black Bellydance Bundle, a project that increases diversity and inclusivity in the belly dance community. It includes podcast sessions, a highly engaged Instagram challenge, a guide to allyship, and 30 hours of classes with 14 highly sought-after instructors. Since 2020, I've taken my teaching online. I'm grateful to be a new studio owner with hundreds of students spanning the globe.
Tell us about yourself
After 14 years of service with a well-known company as a digital marketer and SEO lead, my position was eliminated at the end of 2018 due to a company reorganization. I knew that this was my opportunity to discover my true calling. I had been studying belly dance since 2001 and teaching since 2003, but it was mostly a side hustle. For the next year, I increased my international touring reach with dance but still kept my foot in the door of the SEO world, working remotely as a freelancer. My question to myself was, "Can I make a living as an artist, or do I need to return to full-time office work?". I kept telling myself that I believed I could figure it out. In the spring of 2020, I took my teaching completely online and was extremely happy (and surprised) to discover that being a full-time artist is a viable career for me.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
What I'm most proud of is my ability to help people love their bodies and express their sensuality as they choose and as they are. There are not many belly dancers of color that are well known, and I pride myself on how many folks write to tell me that I inspire them to seek wellness and creativity in a new way. I have a passion for helping all kinds of people expand their views and access different types of wellness in a movement that we may not have previously considered.
Bellydance is radically inclusive. No one is too anything to be welcome in this dance form. I direct a performance troupe that features a beautiful group of talented women with a vast range of ages (from mid-twenties to seventies, yes, seventies!), body types, and skin colors. We totally love and uplift each other. (See us dance on my Instagram channel). This group of women has traveled with me throughout the US, Paris, and Hawaii as headlining performers. I'm so very proud of them.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
My biggest challenge is balancing the work of keeping the business running on my own with the bigger-picture work of thinking strategically to improve what I provide to the community. I have a background in graphic design and digital marketing - so I do all of the teaching, admin, graphic design, web design, digital marketing, email marketing, etc. myself. What I'm working on is understanding that I have the opportunity to streamline my efforts (and get some help) for maximum impact.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Ask for help. Find a business coach or try group coaching. Running a business is tons of work. Having support can ease some of the stress of not knowing where to start.
- Keep learning. I watch several business webinars a week that will help me become a better business owner. But I try not to overload myself with information.
- Take breaks. If you're doing it all yourself, it can be easy to work from sun up to sun down. But that can lead to burnout. Schedule breaks throughout the day, go on vacation and hire some help.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.