Like many in her field, Liz Jackson Hearns was working two other teaching jobs when she started her own school, The Voice Lab. While many studios focus on lessons for children, Hearns caters to adults seeking vocal and piano lessons. “We find the most satisfaction and joy in helping adults overcome trepidation and past experiences and singing to uncover new levels of confidence, self-care, and creative expression," she says.
Hearns’ studio began in a rented church-basement room, one day each week. She had just finished graduate school, and knew she had an opportunity to create a special learning experience. “I put up an ad on Craigslist, and within a few months I had a full day of private students,” she recalls. “Then I added another teaching day and brought over a second teacher and partner, and we have grown quickly from there.”
Through client referrals, The Voice Lab has become known for serving transgender and gender nonconforming clients.
“I sought help from SCORE because I saw it as an opportunity to learn from someone for whom my daily struggles were easy to organize and maneuver,” Hearns says. She knew she needed someone to help fill in missing elements of her expertise and bridge the gap from teacher to business owner.
She selected volunteer mentor Steve Lome specifically after learning he was an expert in small-business finances. “What I did not anticipate, however, was the number of other challenges that he was equipped to help guide me with,” she says. They meet once per month, and sometimes more often if Hearns is navigating a particular challenge or project.
Lome guided Hearns through rebranding her business and redesigning her website and marketing material. “Steve has absolutely been integral to the expansion of my job description and all the things I’ve learned,” she says. “He has helped bring me back down to earth more times than I can count. He keeps me focused on the big dreams and helps me outline the steps to get there and see how each decision affects the business as a whole.
Hearns reports that while working with Lome, The Voice Lab has doubled revenue, moved into a storefront space (and is already considering options for expansion beyond that space), and grown from a serving 15 clients per week to 80. She now has a staff of nine, including five teachers and three office staff. “We are becoming a staple in the Chicago trans and gender nonconforming communities through the outreach and community participation we do on irregular basis,” Hearns says.
One of Hearns’ biggest professional goals was to present at an international voice conference; in 2017, she will do so at two.