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Starting a Small Business in DSM USA

Sophia Ahmad Business

March 17, 2022

As a trained classical pianist from the East Coast, I moved to Greater Des Moines (DSM) in 2007 after attending graduate school at Eastman School of Music. In addition to serving at my fulfilling full-time jobs in DSM, I performed as a pianist at the Salisbury House, the Des Moines Art Center and as a chamber musician through the Des Moines Symphony’s chamber music series. I also maintained a sizeable studio of piano students including some who went on to attend music schools/conservatories and win competitions.

My students’ families frequently asked me to teach in their homes to fit with their busy lifestyles. This was a great idea; however, it was incompatible with my schedule. I was expecting my first child in 2019 when I realized I could not sustain working fulltime, teaching, performing and serving as a wife and a mom.

My father is a Pakistani immigrant, physician and entrepreneur, and he started his own private medical practice. After sharing with him an idea for a service that provides convenient, high-quality music instruction, he encouraged me to pursue it. This side service would allow music to remain an important part of my life while I grew my family and learned additional skills as a small business owner. In the fall of 2019, I founded Mobile Music Lessons LLC. We offer high-quality, personalized and convenient music instruction in students’ homes, educational institutions and online. Since our founding, our business has grown more than fivefold, and we have expanded to present the Des Moines Area Piano Festival.

First Steps of Starting a Business

The first step I took went starting the business was registering it as an LLC. (By the way, the Greater Des Moines Partnership has a great resource blog post on how to start a business in Des Moines in 2022.) The second step I took was reaching out to Christina Moffatt, director of small business at The Partnership. By the time Christina and I met, I had registered for my LLC and had begun drafting up legal documents for the business. However, I needed guidance and expertise on running the business’ accounting and other important aspects, including human resources and legal. Christina and the Small Business Resources team helped my business succeed. They put me in touch with a bookkeeper who trained me on accounting software, which enabled me to set up a process to manage instructor payment and customer invoices. Christina invited me into a community of other service organizations, so that I could learn from others in the business. She was a great sounding board when I needed advice. Her team’s Top 5 Series provides great first-hand advice from other entrepreneurs in the DSM community.

Here are some tips I would share with others considering starting a small business in DSM USA:

  1. Do your research: Late-night googling, interviews with parents and other professional music instructors helped me build a model for my business that reflects my clientele and helps me attract and retain families and faculty.
  2. Know your comfort level: I was comfortable setting up a model where my largest expenses are variable, that is they are directly proportionate to my primary revenue sources. This enabled me to stay afloat and flexible during the pandemic and control growth on my own terms.
  3. Devise a plan, then ask for feedback: Before I reached out to The Partnership, I built out a high-level plan. This enabled me to maximize my coaching session with Christina and have a better understanding of the resources that I could access.

Looking for tools to help grow your startup or small business? Visit the Small Business Resources Hub to find the information you need or sign up for Mentor Connection to build relationships with a trusted group of mentors.

For more information on the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Top Five series, visit the Business Resources page. While there, be sure to register for the next Top Five series.

Sophia S. Ahmad

Sophia S. Ahmad is an optimist, wife, mom, pianist, educator and entrepreneur. By day, she connects philanthropic donors to critical needs at MercyOne Des Moines Foundation. She is the Founder and Principal of Mobile Music Lessons and the Founder and Director of the Des Moines Area Piano Festival.