Business Development · Business Management

How do I expand my successful sole-proprietor business?

Russ Hanush Founder, Physics Phor Phun Tutoring

March 6th, 2020

I have a solid tutoring business that was able to run on autopilot for over ten years, but I'm doing it all alone. I'm doing a complete floor to ceiling restructure now, but I don't know a thing about business operations.

Dennis Callanan Chapter Chairman at Rhode Island SCORE Chapter

March 6th, 2020

Russ: You appear to have hit the "classic wall" of a solo entrepreneur! There is only so much one person can do to grow their business. Not sure what your specific obstacles are? If you had had more students to tutor could you handle them? If the answer is yes than you need to hire a sales/marketing person to get out in the field and promote your tutoring services. I always ask a solo entrepreneur what is the activity he/she performs that has the biggest impact to your top line? In your case if tutoring is worth $75/hr. you should not be spending time doing other business functions that you could outsource or hire someone to do for say $25 hr. Every time you are doing that type of function you are costing your business $50 of potential revenue. Finally if your challenge is you need to bring on more tutors than it is best to view yourself like a "franchise". This requires you to take the time to develop SOP's ( standard operating procedures) . This can be a time consuming but very worth while exercise. The goal is to cover all the details involved starting with first tutor-student (parent?) introduction right through the details how you assess a students needs the tutoring process you present, down to the details of how in your experience you have been successful in your tutoring process. The goal should be that every student ,within reason, has a tutoring experience as if you were their tutor. This requires the training of new tutors on how (SOP) you expect them to operate. In my places these tutors can come aboard as (US 1099) Independent Contractors. If this can be done legally you reduce cost side of additional resources. In my experience no one is a better salesperson for a businesses product or services than the business founder. Hopefully this would allow yo additional time to recruit new students. Remember once you have a success with a student this is the time to ask student or parent for a referral , "Mr./Mrs. Jones I am pleased with the progress your son/daughter has made in his understanding of Algebra. Would you know any of your friends or colleagues whose son/daughter could benefit from my companies tutoring services? Here are a few of my business cards I would greatly appreciate you passing along". Sorry for being so long winded. Let me know if I was off base on my guesses on your growth challenges.

Russ Hanush Founder, Physics Phor Phun Tutoring

March 8th, 2020

I would definitely rule John in! He sounds like a great employee even if he doesn't share my exact vision. I can work with that. I feel as a leader, it is my responsibility to motivate people to help accomplish my vision.


This is all bringing some clarity to the problem for me. I can fill up my schedule year after year. The only thing holding me back is not having other people on my team who can take on more of the clients I am currently turning away. Dennis has really helped me too with the idea of SOPs. So my next question down that road is about systems. Where do I go to learn about the systems I need to put in place to employ people? I have had tutors take my payments from the clients and split. I worry about protecting my clients from employees who might try to take off with them and work with them on the side, cutting me out. These all seem to be standard business concerns, so there must be somewhere I can learn about those types of systems.

Tony B All knowledge is self knowledge. Keep learning. Stay hungry.

March 6th, 2020

Congrats on maintaining the business for so long. The trick here is not to over think anything. Growth is a get out what you put in model. Since you are a single operator, take small steps so that the adjustments you need to make as you go aren't so wide when they swing. Anything you can do to avoid getting overwhelmed at the onset.


So the first question is what do you want to grow? You mentioned doing this alone. Was that managing other tutors on your own or doing all the tutoring on your own?


Why now? What promted you to change something that has been running on autopilot for so many years? This motivation or change in behavior can give you some clear direction on your priorities.


Where do you see yourself when this revamp is all done? Basically; what is the end of the story here if everything meets your expectations. Do you see yourself more or less involved in the day to day? Possibly expanding into new directions with the business model? Ultimately what would you consider a success?


Let's just start here for now and maybe we can workshop this here for you and others can contribute as well. Be patient with us and elaborate on each of these as much as you can. The more we know about your thought processes and expectations, the better we can help.


Cheers! Tony B.

Frank Praino "Whether You Think You Can or You Think You Can't, Your Right"- H.Ford

March 6th, 2020

Hi Russ,


According to your title you have a "...sole-proprietor business."


As you expand, I would suggest restructuring your business entity status, to either an LLC or a Corp (which you can further file as an S-Corp).


Operating as a Sole-Proprietor will limit your growth potential; Increase your personal liability; Reduce your access to business funding and financing; and most importantly... NO Corporate Veil!


There is no legal distinction between you and your business- which leaves you personally exposed to All Business Lawsuits, Debts, Bills, etc.... So, if your successful with your growth objectives- you will likely be involved in a lawsuit. And trust me, when you do you- you'll want to be behind that Veil!


Best of luck,


Frank


Russ Hanush Founder, Physics Phor Phun Tutoring

March 6th, 2020

Thanks Tony B!


The model I'm trying to grow is an online concierge college-prep tutoring service. I have been doing this alone, always filling my schedule to the brim, but have had poor success finding other tutors of my caliber; my background is laboratory research rather than academia, my specialty is STEM.


What prompted the change was a change in the administration in my local school district. Teachers were giving out grades like candy rather than teaching, and that does not produce motivated students. Eventually, I see myself filling a niche between Tutors International who provides full-time live-in tutors to the ultra wealthy, and Varsity tutors who provide single subject tutoring on an hourly basis. I'm looking to involve myself more in the marketing and less in the tutoring, but I've always had a hard time finding tutors for the most rigorous courses the big universities want, so I find myself limited by the hours I can work on building the business after I tutor my heart out every day.


Essentially, I have no real business experience. I had a great network of clients who fed me great referrals, but as their kids have grown and moved away, that network has changed, and I crave the opportunity to help truly motivated students succeed. Regarding Dennis' reply, my marketing efforts have sort of organically been generating SOPs, so I can see where formalizing them would be a great help in cloning what I do, I love it, thanks!

Tony B All knowledge is self knowledge. Keep learning. Stay hungry.

Last updated on March 7th, 2020

These details are a big help. I understand the issue with teachers handing out grades. This is such a huge issue. STEM is certainly a growing market thanks to companies like Apple, Tesla, Google...etc. I dare say it's cool nowadays. :)


Not to worry about having business experience. I've never met any business professional that didn't have to learn that part of their trade at some point. The key bullet points here are that you know your challenges; You know where you want to go and you know your industry.


Let's start addressing some of the challenges you are dealing with like time management, market interest, qualified support staff and a plan of action. There will be more I'm sure, but we want to start with some essentials and keep this in small chunks so it's easier to digest.


I do have some initial ideas to help get you kicked off so let me ask a few more questions.


How do you keep yourself up to date with new industry advancements and stay with or ahead of the curve for what you are offering? This can be important in helping define what your communication strategies can include when you do start marketing. Additionally, this can start identifying other strategies for possible partnerships and new platforms.


What makes you unique and valuable in this market? This may seem obvious to you and those that know you, but outside of that circle, we need a little help getting to know what makes you worth learning more about to potential partners and students.


What experience and instructional talents do you feel are the traits hard to find and important in other potential tutors? This sort of piggybacks off the previous question, but specifically addresses those red flags that we need to look to solve or workaround when acquiring talent for support.


Have you ever tried incorporating "original" content or cirriculum in supporting platforms such as audio or video?


Again, we'll keep it short and sweet at first since others will want to contribute as well.


Tony B All knowledge is self knowledge. Keep learning. Stay hungry.

Last updated on March 7th, 2020

@Dennis brought up SOP, which is certainly a great suggestion for training and will also serve well for your marketing and growth strategy in other ways we might touch on. The other thing he mentioned was simply asking existing clients for support as well. This is so underrated and is way easier and cheaper than going after new students through marketing and conventional monetary investments.


@Frank mentions your business class both short and long term. This is also important, but let's see what the strategy you end up with presents and what about it suggests is the best option for you moving forward.


Chicke Fitzgerald

March 7th, 2020

Dennis gave you solid advice. My advice is to stay the course once you decide to grow and find people that share your vision that will help you grow for a piece of the pie. Read Slicing Pie by Mike Moyer.

Tony B All knowledge is self knowledge. Keep learning. Stay hungry.

March 7th, 2020

@Chicke highlights an important soundbite. ".. and find people that share your vision.."


The last thing I want to do is rule out or discourage this idea, however, you don't always have the network or personal skills to lean on this and sometimes; there are just no other people that share your vision to the extent you do or that they are willing to give you time and resources to help you pursue your objective. When and if this comes along; it is certainly a golden opportunity and should be taken advantage of as best you can. So let's move forward under the assumption that these people don't exist, just yet, and see what we can do about inspiring people to adopt your idea and look for people who can be utilized for their talents, to help you achieve your objective.


For example; John Doe has a basic understanding of physics, or at least read your SOP and can fluently relate the lessons and easily and quickly pursue the answers to the questions your student is interested in, but the SOP and resource content doesn't support. John is a very enthusiastic personality, easy to get on with, the students love him and he gets great rewards out of teaching and supporting younger minds. Does this mean that you should rule him/her "out" because of their current education in the content or rule them "in" because they have the drive to learn and are self-motivated to get your business and student to the next level?

Russ Hanush Founder, Physics Phor Phun Tutoring

March 7th, 2020

Thanks Tony, those are some great questions. On the business experience end, my concerns are in hiring employees. I have client lists that need to be protected. One tutor ran off with my payments because the client paid them directly (easy fix, but it happened). And then there's all the legal mumbo jumbo, and I'm in California, the worst of the worst for hiring employees. As an online provider I can hire people out of state, but then what kind of issues does that bring up? I could have a $500k + business with just a few employees, there's certainly the customer base, but I'm limited to one right now, me.


My unique value is that I have years of real world experience applying what I teach; almost two decades in applied and basic nuclear and chemical science. I emphasize the connections between classes to simplify learning and improve understanding, whereas most tutors/teachers focus only on a single subject at a time. I also approach it with a great sense of humor - something seriously lacking in a lot of intellectuals.


The experience and talents I'm looking for are a real world STEM background, as opposed to an academic teaching background. They would also have to have kept up on their high school math skills. Something I find most people who have joined the workforce tend to forget.


Keeping myself up to date mainly involves not following the fads like common core. Math itself doesn't change, just how it is taught. I stick with the fundamentals because that's what works. The "improvements" brought to the table only serve to confuse the students. Science can change with new discoveries, but that rarely affects what is being taught in the classroom. I keep myself up to date there by being a member of the American Association of Physics Teachers, and being an avid reader of science news. College admissions testing changes. I have kept myself up to date there by buying the test prep books, exclusively from the makers of the tests.


I do have some original content, but it is paper/e-file handout sheets. I have never produced any audio or video products. There are quite a few out there, like the Kahn Academy, and MathTV, that have always made me feel like I'd just be adding to the noise.