Nicola Lander founded Jigsaw Performing Arts in 1995 so she could pass her passion for performing arts on to others.

Jigsaw offers dance, drama and singing classes to children aged 3- 18 years. It has 23 locations in and around London and is now expanding through a franchise network. You’ll also find holiday courses, a Youth Theatre Company, birthday parties and an agency for children wanting to gain professional work.

Over the years Nicola’s belief in the benefits of performing arts for children has been proven time and time again. It’s what drives her to keep running high-quality performing arts classes, and why she was shortlisted for our SME Business of the Year – Growth Award (London and The South).

Forward Ladies: How did you come up with the idea for your business?

NL: I trained as a performer at Mountview Theatre School and in between my performance jobs I would take on teaching work for various companies. I loved teaching as much as I enjoyed performing, so I decided to set up my own classes.

I didn’t have any business qualifications or experience, but I had the drive to make my classes a success and so I learned on the job.

Forward Ladies: What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

NL: The whole business was a really exciting challenge and lots of it was trial and error with marketing and recruitment.

Our systems have never stood still, and even 21 years later we are still fine-tuning and updating things. You can never think the job is complete.

Everything can be overcome with hard work and determination, sprinkled with quite a lot of positivity.

Forward Ladies: How did you fund your business?

NL: The initial setup was funded by myself. There weren’t a lot of up front costs initially so it was manageable.

The main expense in my business is teachers, and I did a lot of it myself in the early days to keep costs down. When I started to employ other teachers, I made sure the fees came in before the teachers needed paying!

Forward Ladies: What is your top tip for growing your business?

NL: As hard-working and dedicated as I am, there is only so much I can do in a day. It’s really important to get others on board who share your passion for what you do, but make sure they have a slightly different skillset that complements your strengths / weaknesses. You must always appreciate your team.

People always say the customer comes first. We really do put our customers – the students – at the heart of everything we do and every decision we make. From the resources we choose to the staff that we hire.

Forward Ladies: Why would you recommend that people build their network and find the support they need to start and grow their business?

NL: There are certain aspects of our business that are outsourced due to expertise and cost effectiveness. It’s important to connect with others who have expertise in different areas to support your business.

Forward Ladies: How do you maintain a work/life balance?

NL: By being extremely organised! This is the big question for all working mums!

There are times in the year where my business takes over, but I balance that by making sure I have times where my family take over. For example, we enjoyed a long holiday and lots of quality family time in Australia this summer, visiting the in-laws.

I had to be really organised and put things in place before I left and I have been extremely busy since coming back. It was worth it though.

Forward Ladies: How has mentorship made a difference in your business?

NL: It’s good to have people you trust that you can turn to when you have a big decision to make.  My step-father ran his own business, so in the early days I would call on him to discuss situations.

Now I rely on friends in similar businesses and employees who are key players. Lots of people have contributed to the success of my business over the years. It’s good to be open to other people’s ideas and help.

Forward Ladies: Thank you for your time Nicola, you’ve been great!

Would you like your business and hard work to be recognised, just like Nicola has been? Then apply for one of our prestigious National Women in Business awards, so we can celebrate your success and inspire other women to do the same. There’s nothing we love more than promoting incredible women in business!