For my entrepreneur report, I interviewed a middle-aged woman, Jane, who has owned her own tutoring business since 1993. Jane is married with two teenaged children, and she has worked in the field of education since graduating from college in 1988. From 1988 to 1993, Jane worked in the public school system as an English teacher. Even before the age of standardized testing, courtesy of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, Jane recognized that some young people were in fact being “left behind.” That is, they were not reaching their full potential, and standard classroom instruction was insufficient in addressing their needs. They had difficulties with reading and writing, and the frustrated expressions on their faces were obvious. As a young, idealistic educator, Jane took it upon herself to work with some of her struggling students after school.
In a private, individual setting, Jane was able to present the same material from the classroom differently in an attempt to decipher those students’ learning strengths and weaknesses. Jane soon discovered that while there were some similarities in the learning styles of her students, they were largely different in how they learned the material. Some of the students were purely visual learners while others thrived with an auditory style; some students even benefitted the most from instructional styles that focused on tactile methods. As she worked with these students outside of school and saw their confidence increase in the classroom, Jane started to believe that she was more effective in an individual setting than she was in a classroom setting. After five years working full-time for pay in public schools and part-time for free as a tutor, Jane bravely decided, at age twenty-seven, to start her own private tutoring business based upon the practice and experience she had acquired. This was a logical decision, as “entrepreneurship is an orientation toward opportunity recognition” (Minniti, 2007).
Jane’s private tutoring service differed from standard tutoring offered in her community, as the standard tutoring usually would involve one tutor and a small group of students, rather than one tutor and one student. Jane’s company offered individual tutoring sessions, wherein the student could work one-on-one with Jane. Jane’s business was also unusual from an entrepreneurial perspective because she was the only person involved for the first few years, while “multi-person teams are associated” with well over two-thirds of most “nascent enterprises” (Reynolds & Curtin, 2008). Jane started slowly, and many of her initial clients came to her based upon her family and friends’ recommendations. She initially worked with high school students, focusing on the areas of reading and writing, though she occasionally worked with middle school students as well. She did not yet have an office, and she would drive from one student’s house to another in conducting her sessions. Occasionally, she would meet students in the library if they preferred. She charged a fixed hourly rate, and she accepted cash or personal checks for payment.
As time progressed, demand slowly increased, and Jane soon found herself unable to privately tutor every potential client. Jane did not want to turn away any student, not for the potential financial loss, but because she wanted to make sure that every student who needed help would receive it. After careful thought and numerous discussions with her husband, Jane decided to expand her private, personal business beyond a one-woman operation and employ three other individuals, all with experience in education, as independent contractors who could meet with students when Jane was unable to. To compensate these women, Jane charged the same hourly rate to each client, and she gave 80% of this rate to her independent contractors while keeping 20% for herself. Jane explained that this was uncommonly generous for a tutoring service, as most major, heavily commercialized tutoring companies take at least 50% of their respective hourly rates. However, Jane’s major motivation was to reach students, not necessarily to reach great riches, and she also believed that paying her independent contractors the majority of the hourly rate would help to assure their loyalty and their genuine efforts in working with students.
Jane’s beliefs proved accurate, and her three independent contractors forged valuable bonds with the clients they were assigned. This in turn led to an exponential increase in positive word-of-mouth for Jane’s business, and she soon found herself hiring more independent contractors. While the independent contractors initially tutored students the same way that Jane did, by driving from house to house, one independent contractor suggested to Jane that opening a small office would help to centralize much of the business, as well as provide a dependable location for students to go to if their house situation was chaotic. Jane explained that she always believed in a circular business model, as opposed to a hierarchal model, which meant that she was more than willing to listen to the suggestions of her independent contractors, rather than assume the role of a dictator. Jane opened up a small office, and before long, her business became extremely successful, and it remains so today.
Jane is somewhat atypical as people traditionally believe that successful business owners are men. This belief is attributed to the fact that women may have difficult reconciling work with family responsibilities. (Minniti, 2007). However, Jane manages both skillfully, and her family and business have positively impacted one another. This is especially true these days, since her teenaged children spread free publicity for Jane’s business. Jane is determined and intelligent, but she is motivated more by internal rewards, such as seeing students succeed, than external rewards, such as money. Ironically, this motivation has resulted in Jane earning far more money in the private tutoring sector than she would have in the public education sector.
Her business is likewise not totally typical, as its processes and methods are fluid and subject to change depending upon client needs. There is little overhead as far as raw materials are concerned; this is common for businesses that provide services as opposed to products. In recent times, Jane has expanded her business into offering SKYPE tutorial sessions, taking advantage of the burgeoning industry of technological communications. She recently hired a Colombian tutor, and the tutor suggested starting a SKYPE program between American tutors and teenagers living in Colombia to improve their English and cultural understanding skills. This is just one of the many opportunities for growth available to Jane’s company. While Jane could not have known this in 1993, she picked an excellent business to invest in due to the overall growth in the private tutoring sector. BusinessWire optimistically claims that the private tutoring business is projected to reach $100 billion globally by 2017, illuminating substantial opportunities for growth (BusinessWire, 2011).
Jane has learned a lot from her business, and she says that one of the most important entrepreneurial lessons that she has learned is not to be afraid of taking risks. She said she would have left the public school system much sooner had she not been afraid to begin her own business. She says that she had virtually no debt when she began her business, as she did not need to invest in large amounts of capital. She also says she wished she had opened an office sooner, but she waited years to do so because of not wanting to take on debt. She advises any aspiring entrepreneur to find their passion and follow it, and with hard work and determination, success will follow.
- BusinessWire. 2011. Private Tutoring Market to Witness Huge Growth to Reach $100 Billion. [online] Available at: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110722005211/en/Private-Tutoring-Market-Witness-Huge-Growth-Reach [Accessed: 22 Jul 2013].
- Minniti, M. (2007). Entrepreneurship: Engine of Growth. Westport, Connecticutt: Praeger Publishers.
- Reynolds, P. & Curtin, R. (2008). Business Creation in the United States: Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II Initial Assessment. Hanover, Massachusetts: now Publishers, Inc.