I can’t believe that I have been in business for seven years this month! Seven years ago, on 1st June 2016, I opened the doors of Emerald Education Centre in Bundoran, Donegal to local students for the first time. Seriously, those have been the fastest years of my life, as well as some of the hardest and most magnificent. The learning curve that I have been on has been nothing short of spectacular. I was just a primary school teacher, without any previous knowledge about running a business. Sure, I could do the teaching or tutoring part of things with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back, but the business part? Well, that was something completely new and, if I am honest, absolutely terrifying for me. The number of hours I worked in the initial years, and in the years that followed (although not so much.) has made me into a bone fide businesswoman. I did feel incredible imposter syndrome at the start. Who was I to be running a business? Yes, I had experience in senior management at primary schools in the past, but running a business was nothing like that. I just followed policy before, but now I was getting to set those policies and boundaries for myself. I was getting the opportunity to shape my own future, the way I wanted. And that, my friend, was scary as hell.
I had to master different skills, from building a website – albeit a bit of an eyesore compared to the beautiful sleek one I have now – but I did it. I learned a new skill and grew in confidence. I also had to try to master the hurdles of social media. Before I started my business, Facebook was a place to hang out with my friends and family and post funny pictures and memes. Now I had to learn to use it as a business tool. It was – and still is – a scary thought, putting your work and ideas out there, for the whole of the internet to see and make judgements on, but I overcame my fear and did it anyway. I have not quite ‘mastered’ it, but I am certainly a lot further on than before.
I initially thought about how I was going to keep abreast of changes in education and learn about the latest strategies and information in my field. When I was teaching, it was easy to attend courses. I told myself that I didn’t need permission to go on courses. If I wanted to learn how to do something, I owed it to myself to learn from experts, and not spend hours and hours fishing around on YouTube for the perfect catch to figure something out. I learned many skills that I have put in place in my business and even did a Master’s degree in Advanced Education. I didn’t need to do it – I can hardly promote myself! – but I wanted to do it FOR ME and for my students. They deserve the best I can offer them, and I can only offer them my best If I get the best training.
There is something I did not realise would be a vital cog in my entrepreneurial machine – networking. I had moved to a new country. I had no real connections to speak of, let alone ask, to help me spread the word about my fledgling business. I made a point of speaking to all the mums (and dads) at the school gates. I had to build a new friendship network. I joined different groups online to chat with people and tell them about my new venture. Within a year of being in business, I found out about the Donegal Women in Business Network. I remember going along to my very first network meeting in Ballybofey. I felt like a frightened child on my first day at school. I found myself in a room full of confident businesswomen, delivering their business pitches fluently and fearlessly. I wanted to be more like them. Luckily, I met the wonderful Evelyn McGlynn, the brains behind Evelyn McMarketing and Donegal Mammy, who took me under her wing and introduced me to other formidable females.
Being part of the Donegal Women in Business Network was a smart move. Not only has it helped me to create and widen a wonderful network of supportive women, but it has also given me some fantastic friendships. From a business point of view, I have been able to attend many training courses and conferences – lots of them completely free of charge – and access funding to help grow my online presence. None of that would have been possible if I had not taken that first step and attended that initial network meeting.
Several years on, I am privileged to be on the committee of the Donegal Women in Business Network.
The moral of my story? You don’t need to have all the answers, or even know the business journey you plan to go on when you first start out. But you do need all the help and guidance you can get and being a member of our network is one sure way of ticking that box.
If you want to know more about my tuition business, the course I offer and how I can help children aged 5-18 with Maths and English support, email me at email@example.com.
See you at the next network meeting!