How I started my own microschool and you can too.
This is the story of my journey from artist - to teacher - to entrepreneur — to founding a company that helped teacher start microschools and developing more options for families hoping to personalize their child’s education. To learn more about options for learning from home or starting microschools, visit Modulo or read about how to start a learning pod.
And so we begin.
In 2009, I was broke.
And it was the height of the recession.
Like any practical teaching artist/aspiring actress/private tutor/babysitter, I used the last $800 on my credit card to buy an airplane ticket to France to meet my favorite theater director.
Houston, I had a problem.
Now, a normal person would have taken a look at their bank account and decided that it might be a good time to start looking for a job. After all, I was a highly qualified teacher, well educated with a Summa Cum Laude degree from an upstanding university and could do a number of practical to sublime tasks.
Luckily, I am not a normal person.
And the best idea I had was to start my own business.
Note to self: this is in general a terrible idea of something to do when you’re broke, except for the incontrovertible fact that it makes one HIGHLY MOTIVATED to make money.
Specifically, a French language and acting school.
Pretty much, there was no market research that demonstrated a French language and acting school would be a success. I basically just slapped my two skills together and waited to see what happened.
Now as crazy as this may sound, within three weeks, I had paid off my entire $3000 credit card bill and earned enough to support myself.
Over the next year, I earned $80,000.
Over the next three years, I’d had 2000 students go through my school.
We never raised money.
We barely spent any money on advertising — and certainly not at the beginning.
What’s more I changed.
I made some of the best friends of my life.
I worked when I wanted to and stopped when I wanted to.
I cultivated a strong sense of healthy humility, knowing my personal finances were only as strong as the services I provided to my customers. There was no time to be arrogant because the quality of my work was directly connected to the results I achieved.
I discovered the city and all the beauty in it with people who were excited to explore with me.
During this process, I discovered something interesting.
There were so many incredibly talented teachers and artists like me who thought what I was doing was really cool! So, they would decide that they would want to start their own business too.
And here’s what they’d do: A friend would say something like, “you should offer a singing class — there aren’t any in my neighborhood and your so good with kids! So they’d put up a poster or post an ad on Craigslist. On a good day, they’d get an inquiry. And then they’d be really sad when no one signed up, not even their freaking friend who asked them to do it in the first place (Just as an FYI, that person, the suggester, never signs up). “I don’t understand!” they’d say tearing their hair, “that person seemed so interested!! What happened?! And then they’d give up, because “no one seemed interested.”
What I realized is that there are so many teachers who are excited to start their own businesses, but they lack the time, resources and expertise to connect to the people who need them most.
I’ve been the optimistic “poster putter upper” too and experienced the raw disappointment of not getting students.
When I was twiddling my thumbs thinking about starting my own business, I had a revelation.
The hidden assumption was this:
If I was offering something of quality, something needed, people would “just sign up”. A little bird would flutter over and whisper in people’s ear — “hey take Manisha’s class” and the organic sign-ups would just flood in.
If I was offering something of value, it would grow organically without any effort.
If I was offering something of value, it would grow via word of mouth without any effort. And if it’s not growing that way, something is wrong with me, with my attitude or what i was offering.
And what I’ve learned is that is simply not true.
Yes, ABSOLUTELY, you need to have a great offering.
You need to offer something of GREAT value .
You NEED to be the best at what you do.
That’s the baseline.
You owe it to your customers, to yourself, and yes — you owe it to humanity.
This world needs businesses that are going to make it a better place. Our world is in pain and we need people who bring goodness and transformation to it.
But every successful business needs to put time and energy into getting the word out — especially in the beginning.
There’s one concept that enabled me to start my own business and this is it.
Marketing is about volume.
Marketing is about commitment.
And yes, marketing takes time.
Just because you put time into marketing does not mean your product is no good. Just the opposite, the more time that you put into marketing, the more passion it shows for the incredible opportunity you are offering people, the gift you’ve chosen to bring to the world. In fact, you owe it to them to give them the opportunity to connect with you.
The world has a lot of noise in it, a lot of noise — facebook, twitter, tv, cell phones, aliens sending weird sattelite messages, Russians hacking elections — -and you need to cut through all that junk and reach people with your crystal clear value. You owe it to them to do so.
And it’s worth it because there is no greater joy, no greater sense of fulfillment, than owning your own business, having ownership over your life, your time, your ideas and your impact.
When I started my own business, I did a calculation.
I needed to pay off my credit card debt.
I figured, since I was just starting off, I should charge half the rate of French classes in the area (so I could compete on price)
I also wanted the cost of the space I rented for the class to be exactly the cost of one student signing up, so at least if I only got one sign up I’d break even.
Personally, I feel comfortable with 15–18 students in a class.
Other teachers like smaller groups, so I had to factor that in as well.
I figured I would need 15 students to hit my goal.
I also figured that for every 10 people that were interested in my class, one would sign up.
Lastly, it seemed to me that for every 100 people I reached out to, one person would be interested or know someone who was.
That meant that in order to get 15 signups, I would need make a personal connection with 1500 people.
This would take me about 8 hours a day/for 7 days straight.
How excited was I to fill my class with eager students? Very excited.
How motivated was I to get power over my life and my time? Very motivated.
How anxious was I to pay off my credit card bill? Very, very anxious.
So to work I went.
I opened up my gmail.
I opened up my facebook.
I opened up my LinkedIN.
And I sent a personalized email to 1500+ people telling them about the class.
Every single email had a personal, relevant comment about their life and how we met.
“Hey Anthony, how’s the baby?
“Hi Grace, I have such lovely memories of the beckett play you performed in.
“Hi Julie, it’s been a while since Robert’s party, but I still remember our delightful conversation about chocolate crickets.
And then, this is very important, I profoundly thanked them when they responded or spread the word. Expressing gratitude often and sincerely and without expectation is so important in building a business, both for your soul and for the growth of your company.
Always keep that close to heart )
Then, I wanted to reach more and so I went on twitter, and responded to people who had posted “need French”
I did the same on Facebook.
And then, when they expressed interest, I followed up with them again and again and again in very gentle and kind ways until they said yes or no, they wanted to sign up. (Some signed up for that class and some signed up years later. Very few were annoyed, but most thanked me for reminding them)
Did it take time? Yes.
Was it boring? Very
Was it worth it? Resoundingly YES!
Because in 3 weeks, my class was full, my debt was paid and I launched one of the most exciting journeys of my life!
If you want to start a microschool, here are a few more practical tips to get you started.