“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.” – Henry Ford
I keep these words close by as I go through the ups and downs of managing a business. As the founder and CEO of Connexion Tutoring LLC, I’ve learned quite a bit about starting a small business.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m far from a business expert, but I have experienced some excellent reasons to start a business, as well as other aspects that kept me up at night. I encourage everyone to start their own business, and I wish I had a mentor to explain some fundamentals when I first began.
One of the main goals of starting a business is to bring in a solid income while doing something you love. So the first step is to take a look at where you are right now. What do you love to do? Now let’s think of a way to make money by taking that passion to the next level. Have fun with this and be creative! Throw all labels and cultural rules out the door and go into this with an open mind and heart. Here is how I started:
After graduating from UC Berkeley, I was working part-time on Neuroscience research. It became clear quickly, that I needed a supplementary source of income. I had enjoyed tutoring all through high school and college and went in for an interview at a mainstream tutoring center. I almost accepted their job offer but couldn’t wrap my head around getting only a percentage of the profit for tutoring I would be doing. The opportunity was appealing because it meant stable hours and I’d never have to find my own clients. This is where I was: A potential employee working for others and making a stable income. The thought of seeking and juggling my own clients seemed a bit difficult, and being naturally shy, it wasn’t something I wanted to do.
That is exactly why I knew I had to go out on my own, because being timid and small-minded can be my greatest obstacle to success. I made a deal with a friend who was an independent tutor that for every client he referred to me, I would give him a small portion of my hourly earnings. Very quickly I was making ends meet and having a fun time developing individualized tutoring plans for my own students. Now this is where I was: Tutoring my very own students in my free time and making ends meet. It was time to think outside the box again. I wondered how I could spend more time tutoring to bring in more income without sacrificing the quality of my tutoring. If only I had 30 of me to do more work! If my friend could make money off of me for every hour I tutored, why couldn’t I have my own team of tutors?
Starting my own business was exciting, but at heart I am less of an entrepreneur and more of a scientist who loves teaching and helping others. I wanted to create a business framework that would combine my Neuroscience passion with my genuine desire to help students excel. Not losing site of your goals can be the hardest part of the business building process. I threw my passion into starting my business and spent every chance I could researching, learning, and networking. I read about a dozen business related books at the library and called various government agencies to find out what I needed to become a legitimate business. All the filing of permits, articles of organization, statement of information, operating agreement, contract creation, lawyer and CPA conversations and much more started to make my dream seem less attainable. Even today, I spend a good deal of my time trying to think outside of the current box my business is in by creating new ways to make operations more efficient, and my services of the highest quality. Taking time to meditate and take a step back from the small details is essential to your overall momentum and goals. Not finding time to look at the overall picture and dynamically adjust your strategy is a bit like a logger not finding the time to sharpen his axe before cutting wood.
After I had created the framework of my business I was able to return to my dreams of exploring how the brain learns and helping students grow. I knew it would be important to find an edge that would set Connexion Tutoring apart from all the other tutoring businesses in the world. My edge was what I call “NeuroTutoring”: Training top-quality tutors to teach students in ways their brain was “hardwired,” to create new pathways and learn new concepts. Over time, the little voice inside urged me to again think outside the box so I hired my best tutor as a manager to help me grow the business.
I found it very helpful to write my goals on the wall, along with inspiring quotes and even fake checks I wrote myself with the amounts I wanted to see manifest as profit. Making your goals as clear as possible is the first step to achieving those goals. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” At times when I felt stuck and didn’t know how to get to where I wanted to be, I remembered this quote to take everything one step at a time. You may or may not be able to see yourself as CEO of a large corporation but you just might be able to see yourself selling a service or product. Try going to the library to research business topics or get ideas from the work of others. Maybe you’ve been frustrated by the way a particular company operates, and want to create a business that amends these errors. The sky’s the limit. Give yourself the freedom to brainstorm. You can create a business that mirrors your personality. Even if it’s a small business run out of your home, you can enjoy all sorts of tax breaks.
In the beginning of Connexion’s growth, I came up with a 5-step growth plan for my business that you may find intuitive, but maybe a good place to start:
Step 1: “If you build it, they will come”: Create the framework of the business and come up with a way to get an edge over your competition. Be thrifty to minimize capital but never cut corners! Customers pick up on the corners you cut (no matter how small a detail) and in the long run you’ll want to have things done right. For instance, all of the computers at our tutoring center I found for free on Craigslist or I bought for very cheap from research centers I worked at. However, I pay a great deal of revenue to maintain our progress report system each month (I could cut corners and tutor without this form of communication, but I believe it is essential to providing the best service I can).
Inevitably (in business, politics, and most any profession), you’ll be faced with the classic dilemma to either favor your ideals and original intentions or favor some extra green instead. I won’t harp on this point but running an honest and even compassionate business will make your work rewarding and whole. Getting up in the morning just to acquire more green paper is not satisfying to the human heart in the long run. Besides, you’ll get more repeat customers and referrals if you go out of your way to treat them like humans and not just clients.
On another note, I’d suggest setting up the business as a Limited Liability Company to afford some protection against lawsuits. However some experts differ in this opinion so you’ll want to do your own research.
Step 2: Automation: Find people to perpetuate the framework and train them to be self-sufficient. This will help your business grow and eventually turn the fruits of your labor into residual profit. Then you can decide if you want to stay intimately involved or start the process over with a new business. Do not forget to get insurance in case your staff makes a mistake. Some lawsuits have been successful in “piercing the corporate veil” and suing the partners of the business and not just the business itself.
Step 3: Find Your Market and Sell, Sell, Sell: Bring in the clients for 1. (your framework) to be perpetuated by 2. (your staff). Creatively try new ways to advertise as sometimes a simple change in the grammar of an ad’s headline can make all the difference. Maybe you know an experienced writer friend who can help (hint hint Joah). Then, think of ways to make your advertising more efficient by training staff to help. You can read a book about marketing to get more ideas, or even simply ask similar companies what works best for them. It takes some finesse of course to seem less like competition but sometimes people are willing to share or work out ways for both parties to benefit.
Step 4: Growth: Repeat Steps 1, 2 and 3 in every major market and city in the Nation. Then go Global.
Step 5: Sell your business: I’m not sure I’ll want to sell my business for decades because of the fun and success I’m sharing, but people are willing to drop a lot of cash on buying a business. This is a great incentive to start your own business knowing that even a small one could sell for large sums.
At the moment, I have only accomplished the first 3 steps but I am talking with my staff about franchising. We’re taking each step at our own pace because it’s important to me that we don’t spread ourselves thin as this would sacrifice the quality of our service and compromise my original intentions.
I hope you’ll explore the idea of starting a business and I would be happy to answer any questions you might have to the best of my ability. You can find my email on our website at:
Have fun building your business and creatively thinking outside the box. In this way, business formation is a piece of artwork in progress that you are shaping and creating to turn your dreams into reality. Get excited, become adventurous, live life fully and get out in the world to obtain whatever resources you need to manifest your dreams. Within every person lies something much greater than we can even dream and sometimes it takes some courage to take the first step to get to the top of that staircase. I once read that, “Anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing Poorly.” This profound quote reminds us that we can’t expect to be business masters in the beginning. Eventually you’ll be the best at what you do, but for right now the job is worth doing poorly as you grow into the expert you seek to be.
Wishing you the best in your own journey, and all my encouragement to seek out change fearlessly.