Coping with Changes to Music Therapy Business During the Pandemic
While I was in graduate school pursuing my Master in Music Therapy degree, I took courses to prepare myself to become a music therapy business owner. I studied business structures, marketing, financial tracking and taxes, and prepared a business plan that was going to knock it out of the park, right?
I started my business in 2014 and hit the ground running. Since then, my business has grown to a team of music therapists working out of two offices and in several community facilities across NW Ohio. During my time preparing to open the business, and through countless hours spent studying ways to grow my business and working with business mentors and professionals, the contingency plans I created never accounted for losing almost all of my business clients and contacts overnight! At worst, I had considered what I would do as a business owner if some of our hours were cut, or if an employee had to take unexpected time off. I am a thinker and a planner, and as far as I was considered the business was covered…or so I thought.
Then, March 2020 came knocking at our door, and the news of COVID-19 becoming a pandemic rocked my business to the core. Like most states, Ohio issued guidelines for small businesses regarding ability to operate and mandated that people stay home and out of public spaces. The people we provide music therapy sessions to at schools and nursing homes were abruptly cut off from services. The people who come into our office spaces were suddenly told we were closed. As a business owner, I was faced with the difficult decision of how to stay afloat when it felt like we were being flooded with bad news from every direction.
All of a sudden, I found myself spending most of my time on my computer, researching,
networking, watching webinars, and reading what was happening with other small businesses, especially in the music therapy community, and discovering how others were responding.
I knew that we could not just leave people who have come to expect our services at home with no option to continue their progress in therapy.
We made plans as a team as to how we could offer remote music therapy sessions via video conference. We proposed these options to everyone who had been receiving services from our business, and luckily for us, some people were able to join us in this new adventure. For many of our sessions, though, video conferencing was not going to work due to location logistics, needs of the individual, technological issues, and financial constraints.
As a business owner, the thought of not being able to keep my employees on payroll kept me up at night. The Paycheck Protection Program became available and I was able to apply through a local bank and receive funding to help keep my team employed during this time. In addition, I applied for several grant and funding opportunities for small businesses being affected by COVID-19.
We pivoted the business to provide remote sessions only and added services like pre-recorded sessions to be used by facilities, a special initiative for the front line workers, and online summer music camps. It seemed that outside of our regularly occurring sessions that transitioned to remote sessions, most everything else we were working towards was a bust. We were not able to get people to reach out or sign up for any new services. Our team worked hard to market these services, network with others about what we were offering, and it seemed we were getting nowhere. How could we continue to support the community when everyone was experiencing stress and changes?
As a business owner, I have grown in ways that I never expected to. My team of amazing music therapists have been pushed to their limits yet continued to work hard despite the challenges that we have been facing. As a person, I have experienced every emotion imaginable over the last few months. From anger for being in this situation, to sadness over the loss we experienced and not being able to provide services, to excitement that we received some funding to keep doing music therapy, to nervousness as we look to open our offices back up with limited capacity.
Many of the people with whom we work are anxious to get back to in-person sessions. This eagerness brings many new decisions as a business owner, and a new chapter of change for the business. Things that we took for granted before have to now be analyzed under a magnifying glass. How will we continue to provide services and keep everyone safe? What happens when someone puts an instrument in their mouth? What should we do if families want to wait in our waiting room? Should we close our bathrooms? Who is appropriate to come into our offices and who is not? Do we have enough space to socially distance? What happens to those people who we support through more hands-on interactions? Do we need to stop singing?
All I know is this: as music therapists, we have the skill-set to triumph through challenges!
We might be stretched beyond our comfort level, but we are flexible, we are moldable, we are persistent, and we are making differences in people’s lives despite the changes we have experienced. To all the music therapy business owners out there, keep supporting one another, keep talking to one another, keep shining, keep smiling, and as much as possible, continue to live out your mission!
Amy Foley, MMT, MT-BC is the owner/director of Heartstring Melodies, LLC with offices in Findlay and Toledo, Ohio. Heartstring Melodies, LLC began in 2014 and provides music therapy services across NW Ohio. In addition to Heartstring Melodies, LLC, Amy is music therapy faculty and the Field and Clinical Placement Coordinator at the University of Indianapolis.