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workingwise.co.uk spoke to Michaela Crumpton, who runs two Razzamataz theatre schools in Bristol about how she got to where she is now.
When she was on the point of leaving school back in the 1980s, Michaela Crumpton went to her careers adviser and said she wanted to sing for a living. The careers advisors told her to get a job in retail. Forty years later Michaela is running two musical theatre schools through the Razzamataz franchise and helping lots of young people to express themselves through song and dance.
Initially, however, Michaela took her careers adviser’s words seriously and didn’t question her advice. She took a Youth Training Scheme place at a big Boots store in Birmingham and thoroughly enjoyed it, staying for three years. From there she moved to a shop selling bed linen and worked her way up to a management position before she decided she wanted to do something different.
She had long wanted to become a police officer, but her eyesight was not good enough at the time. So she applied to be a traffic warden instead. She loved being out in the community and calls it ‘one of the best jobs’.
Michaela then decided to take a career break to pursue her love of singing after a holiday karaoke experience in Tenerife. She moved to Tenerife and started singing as a Gloria Estefan tribute act. She said that experience taught her a lot about people and how different their tastes and sense of humour are. There she met her husband and the two got married on her return to the UK. Michaela returned to retail, but kept singing on the side in hotels and clubs. She also discovered a love of musical theatre through a local group.
After retail, she took a part-time receptionist job at the NHS which she did while bringing up her daughter who is now 17.
It was then that some friends asked her to teach singing at their Razzamataz school in the area. At first Michaela turned them down. “I had done a musical theatre diploma,” she says, “but I was suffering from imposter syndrome.” In the end she was convinced to give it a go and she found that she loved it. “It’s a joy seeing the children progress over the weeks of teaching,” she says.
Her friends then took over another franchise in the Bristol area and asked her to run the Saturday school there while continuing to teach her original classes. It was a busy time, but Michaela learned a lot about running a school and what makes a good teacher. A few years later her friends decided they wanted to sell their franchises and asked Michaela if she would like to buy one. She said no at first, but they kept asking and encouraging her, saying they would help her. She was moving house at the time so decided that she might as well change other aspects of her life at the same time. She bought the franchise. “It was terrifying, but I soon realised I could do it and that I knew more than I thought,” she says.
Michaela says the franchise structure and support have really helped her. “If I was doing it on my own I would not have survived,” she says. “Head Office makes it easier. They are always on hand to help and provide lots of resources.”
Since she took on the franchise she has had to contend with Covid, for instance, and says Head office gave her the tools to move the classes online as well as briefings on health and safety and other issues. Franchisees are also on a Whatsapp group and share advice. Michaela is proud that, while she calls herself a ‘dinosaur’ when it comes to tech, she has been able to help others with tech advice. In fact she won an award for it for moving out of her comfort zone. She adds that being a franchisee has given her more control over the hours she works which has meant she has been able to be around more for her daughter when she was growing up.
Michaela, who now runs two franchises in Bristol [she took on the second in 2021], says her work and life experiences have really helped her develop her Razzamataz businesses. For instance, from her retail work, she has learned a lot about customer service; from being a traffic warden she is good at cooling potential confrontational situations.
She has built the classes her business offers up from 35-40 kids to over 100 before Covid. They then slipped back to 60 due to the pandemic and are now at around 110. She says that, despite the cost of living crisis, parents continue to invest in their children. Moreover, the kind of classes she runs are ideal for Covid recovery, she says, helping children to rebuild their confidence and to express themselves. She loves seeing the children progress and talks about helping teens with mental health problems.
Her school runs singing, dancing and drama classes and children who sign up have to do all three disciplines. The classes are for children of all ages, including, most recently, toddlers, who come with their parents. Michaela says the biggest challenges she has faced, apart from Covid, have been over staffing, including addressing sickness cover, and dealing with the accounts. She now has a bank of people who can step into the breach if someone goes off sick and she has been able to develop her financial skills. So much so that she has joined a local business support group with other SMEs and offers advice to other business owners. “I’m quite proud of myself,” she says.
Her main focus at the moment is to build up the number of younger pupils at the schools and the summer show which this year will be back on stage [last year it was filmed and shown in a local cinema]. She is also considering further expansion. And her husband, a tiler, is considering retiring, she says, and may join the business. He already helps out on Saturdays, supporting and chatting to parents. Michaela says: “Razzamataz is like one big family.”