Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in dance education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Genevieve Weeks, Founder of Tutu School, located in Chicago, IL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am the Founder and CEO of Tutu School, a collection of ballet schools for very young children across the U.S. and now Canada. We provide a magical introduction to ballet for children 18 months to 8 years old.
Tell us about yourself
In my first career, I was a professional ballet dancer. I retired from performing after I launched Tutu School and in between having my first and second + third child (twins!), but ballet truly has been the guiding force of my entire life. Some of my earliest memories are of dancing around my parent's living room to whatever music was playing, getting lost in the notes, and finding myself in that space where I could be creative and imaginative and follow my impulse to move. Later, it was that same impulse that I chased on stage. When I started thinking about transitioning into my next thing, I knew that creating space for creativity and joy was what I believed in the most about ballet and what had been such a formative force for me growing up with ballet in my life. I knew I wanted to bring that to other children.
At the same time, I saw a real white space in the way ballet was being introduced to young children. Despite a first ballet lesson still being a standard "milestone moment" in the lives of many kids, the dance schools I saw and danced at and taught at over the years weren't really set up to cater to very young dancers. I started dreaming about what a boutique-style ballet school would look like and how tailored and customized its program - everything from branding to curriculum to the space itself - could be if it was solely focused on one thing: A magical introduction to ballet for very young children.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
We have grown Tutu School as a franchise. Today we have 75 locations that are open or in the process of opening. I didn't start franchising Tutu School because I was interested in nurturing other entrepreneurs (although I am) - I franchised because I wanted to scale my company and grow my brand. But the community of owners and partners that has evolved because we chose to franchise is my favorite thing about our growth and success. We support and learn from one another, we're invested in the success of one another, and our brand has been strengthened by our collective commitment and creativity. Being a part of the journey of so many different entrepreneurs - and seeing what they achieve together - is definitely one of the things I am the most proud of.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
For me, it's balancing the fulfillment I get from building and taking care of a brand while ensuring I set good work-life boundaries and don't burn out. I recently told our team this: Our goal – at Tutu School or in life - should not be finishing some never-ending To Do list. Spoiler alert, never-ending To Do lists have no end. There's literally no way to win or succeed at them. Our work at Tutu School is not on the list. Our job at Tutu School is the why the list supports. Why do we exist? We exist to make space in the lives of children for creativity and joy. And our lists, our tasks, and our projects support that why, but we need to find meaningful and healthy ways to navigate them.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be obsessed with branding. Having a consistent brand thread woven through everything you do with your business is key. And I mean everything - including the smallest details. It drives engagement with customers, employees, and the community, and it sparks my own inspiration and connection as well.
- Set your company up to scale. As you're establishing your business, make every decision you can from the perspective of how would this scale? Especially ask yourself, are there clear systems and processes in place? Setting up with a foundation for growth right from the start saves so much time in the long run, and even if you end up not scaling in a traditional sense (by, say, opening up additional locations), your business will be stronger because you made decisions through that lens.
- Stay connected to your why. Know your company's mission, its values, and root everything in both. You work too hard as an entrepreneur not to give yourself the gift of being connected to why you do what you do.
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.
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