One year ago today, I walked into the Chamber of Commerce office and registered my private tutoring company as a one-woman business. Asked to predict how many clients I thought I would get in my first year, I guessed five, knowing that I would be satisfied even to reach this number. Fast forward to September 2019, and I have taught more than 40 different students in subjects ranging from SAT English to beginners' Latin, from seven-year-olds wanting to get ahead with 11+ preparation, to proofreading personal statements for university entry.
With my first year as a business owner behind me, here are the top five things which I've learned along the way:
1. Never underestimate the power of "word of mouth" recommendations.
After teaching my first few students, I started to gain a reputation with agencies, on homeschooling forums and among parents whose children attend the same school. Capturing the mind of just one student can easily lead to a whole bunch of them, if you make a big enough impact to get people talking positively about you.
2. Admin is a necessary evil when it comes to owning a business.
The whole point of me starting my company was that I love to teach. My favourite part of this job is getting to inspire, guide and work with students in a wide variety of subjects. On the flip side, I absolutely don't love: accounting, spreadsheets, invoicing, printing and filing. I soon realised that these had to become a big part of my life, unless I was willing to delegate all of my bookkeeping to paid professionals. Fortunately, I found a way to deal with these things fairly efficiently and painlessly, but it doesn't mean I tackle them with any more enthusiasm than I did at the beginning.
3. Working from home can make work/life balance feel impossible at times.
In April/May, as exam time loomed, I was often teaching for eight or nine hours a day. With the office just a few steps away from the living room, it was easy to walk in there even when I didn't have a lesson, to complete plans, reports and marking. It can be difficult to turn off work mode when you can't actively remove yourself from the place where you work. My solution this year has been to schedule all of my lessons on weekdays, plan further in advance, and only check my emails when I'm at my computer, to try to avoid the feeling of being constantly "at work".
4. Do what is right for you and your business, even if it means saying no sometimes.
I'm very much a "yes" person: I like to help people, please people and I hate to let anybody down. That being said, throughout this year opportunities have arisen to which I've had to say no, because they just didn't fit with my plans at the time. On one occasion a company approached me, wanting to collaborate, but I had no time in my schedule for taking new students on a large scale. Although they seemed like a great, forward-thinking company, after some thought, I had to turn them down. I really didn't want to send the email, but their response was very friendly and positive, reminding me that most people in the small business world understand if you can't say yes to everything. Doing so wouldn't be possible, but more importantly, it wouldn't be in the best interests of your business.
5. An office dog can make a world of difference.
On 1st January 2019, we brought home a little black and white puppy called Finne. I was determined to raise him as an "office dog", so that we could enjoy each other's company during the day even while I'm teaching. From the age of nine weeks, Finne slept in my home office, and, once he had overcome the temptation to eat the plant in the corner of the room, he became the perfect work companion. He even knows the sound of the Skype "hang-up" button, so he immediately wakes up and comes over for attention when I finish a lesson. Having an office dog has given me a great reason to go outside and enjoy some fresh air between classes, and has been one of the major factors in improving my work-life balance (see Point 3)!
Now that my first year in business is done, I'm looking ahead to how my Tutor Room can help even more students to achieve their goals in the years ahead!