Starting and growing a private tuition business

Steve Spriggs, founder of William Clarence Education, which offers private academic tuition, talks about his company's marketing challenges, controlling costs and his growth plans.

Where did you see the business opportunity?

I worked in the City for five years on the trading desk for a hedge fund, and was made redundant last May. It came at the perfect time; I hated the corporate lifestyle and I knew I wasn’t going to last in it forever.

After looking into tutoring short term in Economics, which is my background, I saw an advert for a tutoring position and expected to get a couple of hours a week for a bit of income until I decided on long-term plans. Within a few weeks I was fully booked and turning people away. I realised that not many people had the combination of professional and academic experience, but also the willingness to tutor.

I found that people were asking for subjects I didn’t cover. An average educational agency today is working on a volume model with maybe 1,000 tutors, but without really caring about the long term tutor/student relationship. I thought there was a better service to be provided with a smaller amount of tutors and a more consultative approach. So I started William Clarence Education in September last year with that outlook.

How did you finance and market it?

Having worked in the City in a well-paid role I had saved up some money, knowing I wouldn’t be doing that forever and would be in need of that money for future plans. Marketing was hard. I had worked in recruitment for a year straight after University which gave me a taste of hardcore sales, and with hindsight this stood me in good stead. I was on the phones for days and days speaking to newspapers, schools, Universities and magazines about the story and my plans. I managed to get coverage in small local magazines and newspapers as a result.

I went back to my old school and university as well and put myself out on the alumni website. I was also able to promote myself through their social media, which helped.

What challenges did you face?

It quickly became apparent there were two aspects of the business, on one side you need to keep really solid control of the financials. Also, because it’s a people-facing business, you need a friendly face at the door.

When you start paying other people to do things for you, things like websites, social media and design, costs can spiral out of control. I overcame it by being obsessive over every penny leaving the door. Irrelevant of what sector you’re in, if you keep control of your costs you are making it much more viable, and giving yourself the best chance!

People who come from a different background from myself (not financial) are generally a bit more freewheeling with the spending I think. I did spend quite a bit to get a really good website, which is essentially the shop window, but it’s a lot cheaper than a shop lease!

Did you get any help?

I was lucky enough to meet a lady who worked for a big educational institute in London and was an ex-headmistress of a top boarding school. She was a voice of experience and had been in education all her life, very people focused. I wanted her onboard to deal with parents and tutors to offer the level of service I knew wasn’t around at the moment. I arranged a coffee with her, ran her through my plans and thankfully she left her job to join me. It was money well spent.

What are your growth plans?

When I first started I had the intention of growing to a size where we were servicing clients to a level I would want to benefit from myself and making money from it too. The two don’t necessarily go together always; you can provide a fantastic service but not make any money.

I’d like to see the business grow and make more links to the academic institutions and become a leading advisory educational consultancy.

William Clarence Education can be contacted by email on info@williamclarence.com or by phone on 0207 4128988.

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