Earlier this month, YoungEntrepreneur.com was honored to be chosen as a 2011 Small Business Influencers Champion. We are thrilled to have been selected, and we know that our amazing community of young entrepreneurs made it happen.
One such supporter who deserves our thanks is Alaina Ostroff, Founder of Tutor Champ, a math and science tutoring company for students from grade-one through college. With a degree in biomedical engineering with a concentration in biomechanics and a minor in mathematics, starting a math and science tutoring company might seem like a natural fit for Alaina. But as you'll read below, she never expected to be the CEO of her own company. She's done a great job of it so far though; and her advice for young entrepreneurs is right on the mark.
Enjoy the interview, and help us thank and congratulate Alaina in the comments section!
The concept behind your company, Tutor Champ, is something there seems to be a great need for. Can you sum up what it is for our readers who aren't familiar with Tutor Champ?
Tutor Champ is a tutoring company specializing in math and science subjects for all ages. I have been tutoring students for many levels of math for about 8 years now, and when I learned of America being 26th in the world in math I thought I could make a difference somehow. I started advertising locally, made a Facebook fan page and a website, and soon I had many students where I literally drove from house to house on my street tutoring subjects such as Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and II, Geometry, Chemistry, Pre-Calc, Trigonometry, Calculus, and the SATs. I studied biomedical engineering while in college which is deeply rooted in mathematics giving me the background to help students who may struggle with some concepts.
What has been the biggest challenge in building your business, and how have you overcome it?
It has been difficult learning how to manage my time. There is so much that goes into the marketing and social media aspects of my business as well as the advertising and actual tutoring. Sometimes it can get very stressful wearing many hats, but on the days I don't have students I put all my time solely into the marketing and advertising. I had to learn many important key strategies in social media techniques, but thankfully there is a lot of great information out there.
How is your business different today from the original concept? Did you have to change your business model at any point? Are you more successful than you had hoped?
Starting off I was worried if I could make this my full-time job. But here I am, now an LLC, and with over 1,200 Facebook fans from all over the world in just 6 months. I am very blessed and am definitely more successful than I had hoped and planned. I do have big dreams for Tutor Champ to expand in the future, but you have to start small to plan big.
How did you feel going into an industry where there is existing competition from some large companies? How did you plan to compete with them?
Honestly, I was a little worried about competing with the big tutoring companies like Sylvan and Kumon. But once I really delved into it, I realized that I provided my services in two distinct differences from them. For one, the Tutor Champ model is to drive directly to the student's home or library, whereas the student has to drive to Sylvan and Kumon, which could become an inconvenience for the parent or student. In addition, Sylvan and Kumon are math and reading tutoring companies, whereas Tutor Champ specializes in math and science. I thought that if a student had a problem in math they would go to the company which specializes in math. My thought process proved to be correct.
What three pieces of advice do you have for young entrepreneurs interested in starting their first business?
1. Determine your market and find your "niche"
Finding your market is one thing, but determining your niche within that market is a little more difficult. Clients will be scared away if your market is too broad or generalized, so definitely narrow it down to a specific product or service you are offering. Also, stake out your competition and do some real market research. You're probably not trying to re-create the wheel here, but check out what your competition is doing and see how you can innovate the business to make it different or better with your "stamp" of creativity on it.
2. Have discipline and time management skills.
This is very difficult if you are not used to being your own boss and working from home. Many countless hours are spent at home where people think you are just goofing off when in all reality you are putting in the most crucial part of your business — planning and brainstorming. Do you have a business name, logo, and website? Are you on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter? How will you be doing your advertising? I made a checklist of these beginning steps and felt such a sense of accomplishment when I crossed one of them off my to-do list. This part should actually be the most fun because it is your business you are coming up with — your name, your brand, so be creative!Â If you are passionate about it then I'm sure you already have a name picked out. Juggling with competing priorities both personally and professionally can be very taxing at times as well. However, if you are surrounded by people who love and support you then I'm sure they will understand how much time is needed to start a business. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, "If you have a full-time job and you're home at 6 then you have time to quickly eat before you do what you love from 7 — 2 in the morning."Â Passion is the name of the game here.
3. Get over your fear!
Fear was by far the biggest challenge I faced. Will I be able to bring in enough money each month? How can I attract clients, and will they keep coming back? Did I make the right decision to pursue this? Will people think I am crazy trying to start a business in this economy? I assure you, all of these feelings are absolutely normal. But if you focus too much on the worries and the doubts then you will just attract them in your life (Law of Attraction). I found that in time I thrived on fear the most because I was more fearful on quitting and giving up then actually succeeding.
How do you personally define success?
My personal definition of success is doing what you love and following your passion, because life is too short not to. I think Confucius said it best: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."