Principal In The Spotlight

This week we have had a chat with Kerry, Principal of Little Voices West Kent.

We spoke about work/life balance whilst owning your own business and being a mum  and Kerry even offers advice and her top tips for success.

How do you find the work/life balance? 

My husband and I started Little Voices when I was 7 months pregnant with baby number 2. It was an exciting time for our family and I looked forward for something more to do with my time during naps and early bedtimes.

Little Voices has provided me with an opportunity to work from home so that I was available for my children. I remember phoning parents in the beginning whilst my 3month old was asleep in a baby carrier on my chest and the parents asking if I had a dog next to me or a sleeping baby?

From those early beginnings I have been able to involve my children in delivering flyers and cupcakes to schools, end of term report pack production lines, helping with music and prizes at community fairs, and have enrolled my own children in lessons so we can sing and perform together both in the classroom and at home.

Work/life balance is never easy for a working mum but I think what has helped me with this has been utilising my time effectively when my children have been at pre-school or taking naps. I would schedule calls and emails during naps and any visits, errands or sensitive matters would be planned whilst they were at pre-school or primary school. I actually found my time to be more effectively used in that way because I was focused and didn’t have any time to get distracted.

What have been your top highlights from running your Little Voices business ?

Highlights for me come under different categories:

Personal – my own 3yr old receiving her first solo exam certificate
Business – having people search out specifically for Little Voices because of the feedback and praise they’d heard from friends or colleagues about what we do and the reputation we have for helping young people achieve.
Community – Receiving a runner up award in the Kent Women in Business Awards 2021 for resilience. Ooh AND definitely the sense of community that comes at the end of a theatre week when children have not only learned their lines and songs by heart, but have helped make scenery and costumes from scratch, build friendships, adapted characters, and inspired each other.

Pupil achievements- seeing development and change over time as pupils work hard toward a goal and successfully achieve it. For example one girl struggling to reach the high notes in her song and then being able to belt them confidently and keep them sustained. Another was a girl who struggled severely with autism and was unable to attend mainstream school because of it. Little Voices was her only outlet from home which she never missed.

From experience of nerves and uncertainty toward teachers generally, she builds trust and a healthy relationship with her tutor and peers that she confidently participated in a group musical theatre performance for a singing and dance competition-on stage- in front of judges- and got invited back to be in the finals.

Receiving exam results from LAMDA that our pupils achieved 100% Distinctions across the board. This was a VERY exciting and proud moment for us and definitely a highlight of why I love what I do.

I know you are working from the US at the moment. How do you manage this? What do you have in place?

Little Voices values stress the importance of following your dreams and teaches our pupils that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.  When I knew our family would be moving to America to support my husband pursue his own dreams of being a choir director, I began training one of my staff so she would feel confident being promoted to Vice Principal. I was certain she had the same vision for Little Voices, was invested in what it stands for, and most importantly, would have the same passion for tailoring our lessons for individual success as I would in the same situation. The care, compassion and musical knowledge would fit the role perfectly. And it has worked! Steph and I speak at least twice weekly to check in, review goals and make plans for Little Voices West Kent. We have termly planning sessions on zoom with our tutors so we are all on the same page, and discuss each of our pupils by name so our planning is child centred, fun and caters for all the personalities we have in our lessons.

Outside of this, I have a very good alarm clock! Haha. Thankfully Ben leaves for graduate school the same time as our children leave for their school bus so if I have calls or meetings (virtual, no less), he is able to handle our morning routine while I handle business, then we swap back when he has to leave. It takes a lot of scheduling and sometimes my window of opportunity is limited because of the 5hr time difference between Michigan and the UK, but for the most part, with a lot of things moving online, I have only had a handful of issues that weren’t able to be sorted in the moment.

What advice would you give someone who is having a baby and wanting to diversify and run their own business?

Great question! Like most things, there’s never a ‘perfect time’, but its certainly do-able. Having had our family grow from one to five children in my time working with and being Principal of Little Voices West Kent, there have been some incredible opportunities. I always wanted to teach my children by example that hard work pays off. Being a business owner and working mum allowed them to see the hard work that went on behind the scenes. They didn’t just show up to a rehearsal and get given a script, they saw the process of adapting scripts, printing, helped with stapling, putting packs together, lyrics, choreographing routines, staging scenes with cups, salt/pepper shakers, etc. as well as being prepared early with equipment for when the first student arrives.

As for timetabling, my advice is – Be present; you can’t do everything at once and neither should you be expected to. When you’re being mum, be mum excellently. Then take that hat off when you can and become business woman – and do it well. Then go back to being mum and vice-versa.

We have a catchphrase in our home: Work SMART! It involves being the most productive you can without working yourself into the ground. It’s about balance and priorities for what brings about the best outcome.

What was your background before joining the Little Voices family?

I loved to sing and perform from an incredibly early age. I took dance lessons from age 4, entered speech competitions, sang and danced atvarious theatres in Kent for shows and events, and remember the adrenaline looking out into the audience and giving my all. As a teenager my confidence was knocked quite significantly when the Head of Drama, in our first meeting together, told me I should select a different option for GCSE. My heart wanted to fight back and show her how capable I was but for some reason it affected me so much I opted for Art instead (ironically Art was led by and I was taught by her husband). I did well but always longed for theatre so joined an a senior dance class and an amateur dramatic society to fill the void and rebuild the confidence that had been lost.

Meanwhile, my parents were foster carers so we had many Looked After Children in our home over the years. I saw how communication had a direct impact on their lives, decisions they made, and actions they took. I was selected to be on the activities committee with the fostering agency board of directors acting as voice of families who fostered. It was so fun to see the transformation that came when they agreed to organise a weekly dance club for the Looked After Children. They had vision of our final performance, had a purpose, and were an important part of a group so felt they mattered.

Each week as we developed the dance, their confidence increased and the friendships grew. I was inspired to provide opportunities like this to young people where they felt valued and part of something, despite their circumstances.

Fast forward a few years, I completed a degree in Social Work, volunteered 18 months overseas, met and worked with people from literally all over the world and there, realised the strengths in my skillset. I then married a musician, we toured the UK with a musical production, premiered said show in the USA with a cast we’d had only virtual rehearsals with (back before it was the norm and before zoom ever existed), I certified as a Gym instructor and completed various Zumba instructor qualifications, and then slowed things down a bit when I became a mother.

My perspective developed while providing for another person. I felt a  responsibility to her to ensure she had the best opportunities, that she knew who she was and was happy enjoying life without influence from others – I was certain nobody would knock her confidence or make her doubt her capabilities.

When the opportunity to become part of Little Voices came along, I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we were getting ready to move house, my husband was graduating (again) from university, and we were ready for a new adventure. So we thought long and hard about all the ins and outs, and decided Kent was going to be the place we set roots for Little Voices – to provide something to the community that helped raise me.

To give something back, but also to prove locally that you really can rise above what people might think or say about you, turn it around and make something great from it.

Little Voices perfectly combined my desire to run a business, to provide opportunities for my children to be surrounded by positive influences, to involve them in music and drama (because of all the academic, and socio-emotional benefits that come from that), to be accepted, and ultimately know that there was someone who believed in them and would support them to achieving their goals.

I started as centre coordinator, voice tutor, and theatre week manager.  Then over time as my husband’s work became more time consuming, I eventually took over as Principal in a seamless transition. It has been incredible to see so so many children flourish in their personalities whilst having fun. They have developed their skills, made lifelong friends, connected with characters from theatre in new ways, learned life skills and increased in confidence to not only speak out but to follow their dreams.

What 5 qualities do you think it takes to run a successful Little Voices franchise?

– Vision
– Confident and care-FULL communication
– Strategic planning / organisation
– Creativity/outside the box thinking
– Resilience

What would your 3 top tips be for being a mum in business?

– Plan your work and work your plan.
– Be Kind! Especially to yourself.
– When things get tough – GET up, DRESS up, SHOW up but never ever give up on achieving your dreams.

If you are from the West Kent area and would love to find out more about Little Voices, click HERE.