Olyvia Works: An Interview with Christina Channell of PreCussion for Kids
As a woman here in the United States I keep bumping up against this awful, ugly myth that says we can’t be a “good” mother and wife while doing something of our own.
Whether we want to do something as big as a holding a demanding job outside the home or as small as nudging along a blog in the evenings, there are people out there who love to tell us we just can’t have it all.
Well, I’m here to tell you something, ladies: that’s ridiculous.
Today’s Olyvia Works interview is with a woman who can prove it.
Christina Channell is the owner of PreCussion for Kids, Inc. A percussion instructor for children, Christina is also a happily married mother of three (utterly adorable) children — that she homeschools no less.
(Basically, she’s a rockstar. But a totally relatable one, which is why I loveLOVE that’s here.)
She inspires me to no end, and I know you’re going to find her smart, no-nonsense approach to life a kick in the buns for whatever it is you want to do (but have been told that, as a woman with a hubby and/or kids, you can’t.)
Here she is!
1. Christina, give us the scoop on your background and how you went from potential elementary school teacher…to studying to be a doula…to running your own successful business as a children’s percussion instructor!
My career path has most certainly been a zigzag.
I grew up in a very musical family. My two siblings and I represent the seventh generation of percussionists in the Spevak family tree. As a child, I was very aware of my father’s love for playing the drums. I watched him leave for gigs at fancy Chicago nightclubs and weddings every weekend, drum set tightly packed in his van.
My brother and I would sit on the basement steps and watch him rehearse with his band on weeknights.
My father is a very humble man – he never brags about himself – but I knew even as a little kid that he was an extraordinarily accomplished musician. Naturally, we kids were taught how to play our rudiments on the practice pad. We practiced our grooves on the drum set for our extended family members at Thanksgiving.
We learned music whether we liked it or not – the family tradition must go on!
After high school I decided to pursue a bachelor’s in elementary education. Teaching seemed like something I would enjoy and something I could do well. I did do well, graduating from Northern Illinois University in 2010 with honors.
However, I had by that time realized that teaching in the classroom setting was not for me. After the birth of my first child, I decided to shift gears completely and become a doula, which is a fancy title for someone who assists women in childbirth. Once again I enjoyed learning the necessary skills for the job, but soon discovered that this was not the right fit either.
By this time in my life, my father had shifted gears too. No longer was he hauling his drums to the city every weekend for gigs. He had become an in-demand percussion teacher at his own studio in the suburbs.
What a dream he fulfilled! He turned a three-unit industrial building into the most incredible music education facility this community has ever seen. His private program was drawing eager learners out of the woodwork to the point that he could not accept students younger than middle school – there simply wasn’t room for them on his roster.
One day he said to me, “Christie, you have a teaching degree. You’ve played music since you were a child. Why not teach these young kids so they don’t have to wait until they’re older?”
He made a compelling case. Copious research has shown that early childhood is an ideal time to learn the fine art of music, yet the limited resources of our schools require kids to wait until fifth or sixth grade for school band. Something needed to be done for these excited young kids, and opportunity was staring me down.
In 2012, I joined the “family farm” and PreCussion for Kids, Inc. was born. It has been a tremendously fulfilling career for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d end up doing this, but it sure seems perfectly providential now!
2. You’ve done all this while pregnant, raising three babies, AND homeschooling. On a very practical level, how have you been able to do it?
They say “like father like daughter,” and as much as I tease to the contrary, it’s true: I’m just like my dad. He likes to challenge himself and so do I.
One thing I absolutely love about my job is that I work with family. We love and support one another on a daily basis.
Imagine working in an office environment where your boss or coworkers actually share your goals and want what is best for you. That’s my work environment every single day – and it’s wonderful.
I am able to put priority on my role as mother to my three children thanks to a very flexible work schedule and a supportive spouse who shares child-rearing responsibilities with me. The flexibility makes homeschooling possible too, a dream that has always been close to my heart.
My father supports me both as Dad and as a fellow professional. He pushes me to do well as a teacher while still valuing my need for balance in all things.
And yes, I taught drums while very, very, very pregnant! I remember teaching a class of fourth grade boys one afternoon while nine days past my due date. After playing on the drum sets for an hour, my enormous midsection totally getting in the way of my snare drum, a parent asked me what on earth I was doing teaching instead of waiting around at home.
“What else am I going to do? It’s a work day!” They laughed. I was serious.
3. Break down a typical working day for us:
I’m very glad you asked me this question. Allow me to admit right up front that my desire for order and routine has not completely manifested itself as a huge success! Often I’ve felt like I just can’t achieve all the items on my daily to-do list for my business.
This has been frustrating for me in the past, but I’m beginning to make progress in a better direction. Here’s my (very newly implemented) “typical day” routine:
7 AM – Wake up. Make coffee. Read email and respond to student needs. Post to social media according to a little routine I’ve established.
7:30 – Kids awake, get bathed, dressed, fed.
8:30 (Yes, an hour later, there’s three of them!) – School time, materials ideally prepped the night before but more realistically improvised like the certified elementary educator that I am. We have daily learning goals and we work hard to meet them. So far my kindergartener and preschooler are right on track.
10:30/11 – Free range child chaos while I finally eat breakfast. More email and social media.
12:00 – Little guy naps, girls watch PBS, I exercise. Shower, dress for the day.
The rest of the afternoon is spent running errands, prepping dinner, doing laundry, and preparing for the evening to come.
If it is an evening that I teach percussion classes, I usually leave for the studio at about 2 PM. I teach classes on the hour, every hour, until 7 PM. Time flies during teaching hours and I’m usually in disbelief that it’s time to close shop for the night.
Sometimes on my way home I will allow time for shopping, catching up on the phone with friends, or even just mentally regrouping in the quiet of my car. My commute is thirty minutes each way and I actually really benefit from this time of solitude.
When I get home the family usually eats a snack together and the kids go to sleep. I then pick up the house, prep for the day to come, or just collapse into bed. I’ll let you guess which is the most common activity for me at this time.
This may sound like a crazy way to live life as a family of five (and in addition to all this, my husband works too). However, a typical day brings lots of quality time with my kids as well as productivity both at home and on the job. We’ve found a very good balance that works well for all of us.
4. I imagine it’s difficult to devote time to regular attendance of local networking events. How have you chosen to build and market your business? What has worked the best for you?
You’re right – its very hard to stay involved with local networking while keeping all the balls in the air. I’ve learned to prioritize.
At first I exhausted myself trying to take advantage of every marketing opportunity I could possibly find – the Chamber of Commerce, leads meetings, general newspaper advertisement. Then I realized that I really needed to be specific.
My program isn’t for everybody. I teach music – specifically percussion – specifically for primary grades. It makes no sense to distribute flyers to the general population with such a narrow market!
Now I hone in on opportunities to reach my intended client base, most especially with schools. I keep good relationships with local public school music teachers and have established myself as a reputable private educator.
I offer free field trips to the area public and private schools (a particularly busy endeavor in the spring months). I regularly donate gift certificates to silent auctions which benefit local Montessori programs. Not only does this support education but it also gets my program information out there to parents.
As a homeschooling mom, I have connections to the area homeschooling groups and word has spread this way. A good portion of my students are homeschooled, as a matter of fact, and I’ve been blessed to make connections with some really inspiring moms (and dads too). My two passions work together sometimes!
A tip I’d give any new business owner: know your market so you don’t waste time and effort. Find your specific client base and go directly to them.
5. What mistakes — big or small — have you made over the past few years that other women business owners should be careful to avoid?
I’ve been in business for three years and have thankfully managed to steer clear of all major business disasters. But before you think I’m being cocky, I’d admit that I’ve had my dad to help me navigate the unknown territory.
As a nervous new program director I really didn’t know anything about how to start a business. Dad’s first recommendation? Hire an attorney. So I did. She set up my corporation, she filed my paperwork with the state of Illinois, and she keeps me in compliance with all the nuanced business laws that affect entrepreneurs.
I teach drums – I don’t know how to file articles of incorporation to designate myself as a shareholder in an S corporation! But my attorney does – and she’s worth every penny. Total peace of mind.
Here’s a lesson I needed to learn on my own: keep things in writing with clients.
I’m a lover of clarity and I have a good memory. This does not mean that everyone else operates this way. Lines of communication are a tricky thing and sometimes you’ll even run into a person who isn’t interested in being honest.
I prefer email communication for discussing scheduling matters. On numerous occasions I have been able to resolve a conflict by producing an email conversation from my archives bin.
I also have a contract for class registration and recital participation which are very thorough and straightforward. I’ve implemented clear procedures and routines for tuition, absences, make-up classes, practice expectations, and even things like photography releases for my website and advertising materials.
The clearer you are, the more efficient you can be. Put it in writing and you won’t have to slow down to resolve conflict!
6. Social media presents huge opportunity for businesses, but on the flip side, many business owners are unprepared to handle the (very public) negative reviews that can come with it. Does this ever worry you, or do you have an action plan in place for dealing with online complaints?
I use Facebook as social media for my business and thus far I’ve not received any negative online feedback. I’m lucky to have had some satisfied parents post glowing reviews which certainly made my day.
However, it is a little concerning that any person could just post whatever they like and have it impact my business in a bad way. If ever I find myself in a position where I must respond to negative feedback, I’ll engage the person directly on my page to resolve the issue. I’ve seen other businesses do this in a tactful way and it actually became an opportunity for the company owners to shine.
I think genuine concern for customer satisfaction is really appealing to people.
7. You’re an avid reader! What books have been most helpful to you professionally?
I’m currently reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – awesome biography. I find Jobs’ combination of creativity and business smarts to be inspiring.
Next on my to-read list is How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. An old classic! My dad had this one sitting around when I was a kid. I thought he was such a dork for reading something like that. Now I’m looking for his copy for myself.
Do you shatter myths in the way you merge business + family life? If not, did Christina’s interview inspire you to start? I want to hear your story and/or your biggest “a-ha!” from today’s post.