englishbiz Story: Part 6- Go big or…

So, here we are with a handful of schools and we are now in full scramble mode. When you have just one school to run, like out of your house and next to your kitchen where you have lunch and tea with the missus, you know where everything is, and things are pretty much where you left them.

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When you have three schools to run you are in a place that can only be described as “tenuous”. This is the time when you have both momentum (see previous blogs as to how important/cool this is to have in your company) and many nights of limited sleep. Everything you are doing now needs to be duplicated. The good thing is that you are going to replicate what works well. The bad thing is that now you need three of everything. Plus you need some staff you can depend on.

Ah… yes, staff. When we think about “staff” I think we need to reframe this as “team”, and if possible, “family”. We spend a huge amount of time during the week in each other’s presence and there is a lot of work to do. We have jobs to pay our rents and to make sure that we can do things like eat, keep the lights on at home, buy socks (finally), and get things for our kids, like piano lessons.

I had never been a boss before, and now we have people who are looking to me for leadership. How did this possibly happen?  I have to admit, being a teacher at the university when I could just come and go as I like, say what I like, do what I like, and not have to worry about anyone else was pretty great. Now I have to watch how I act and react with our team. When things go good, or our staff does well, I have to remember to recognize that, praise that, and thank the person directly for the good work they do. When something goes wrong, or a teacher or staff is lacking attention to what they are doing I have to try to be gentle in reminding, and try to remain calm when sometimes they just blow it.

The learning curve at the beginning of working with people and having them work with us was really hard, I must confess. I will be honest that at the beginning there were a lot of things I did not know how to do, and I must give my most heartfelt thanks to the teachers and staff who worked with us at the very beginning. They taught me a lot about how to lead our company, and also for the things that we need to do and make sure we do right to keep englishbiz growing strong and being a great place for kids to be.

There are some regrets too. For sure. And there are also some hard realities about growing that are not easy for our team. I had read somewhere that the staff that is with you at the beginning is usually not there 5 years later. The reasoning for that is that when a company is growing, and thus changing, the people you work with are not comfortable with sudden and radical movements. People are, by nature when it comes to work and stable income, rather conservative. People do not like things that feel unbalanced and moving under them in their places of employment.

We grew our staff from one (that would be me) to two, then to three, and then to six. We then looked at the next two branches to open up and did that within the same year. Lastly we added one more school on top, right across the street from the Ritsurin Park of Takamatsu city, basically planting our flag in this town and quietly stating that englishbiz is the big dog for kids English education around here.

From the outside, englishbiz looked like we were bursting at the seams with new students. We were not quite bursting, but we were figuring out the shape of our school and what different clients around the city wanted for their kids. Then we had to modify and make sure that we were hearing the voices of our clients clearly so that we were offering the right kinds of classes in the right places. Since opening the last school we have been developing more carefully on the inside of the company. We have better ways of delivering lessons, we have more streamlined methods of training and developing new staff, we have a better sense of the long term goals of our clients and are working on better programs to meet that need.

It is easy to open a shop. Just put down some money for rent, put out a sign, and wait for the customers and clients to roll on in. This is what a lot of people think is the way businesses start. But the reality is that it is often scary, lonely, and you are riddled with all kinds of insecurities about whether or not this thing is going to work.

But then… it does.

Then the reports come from parents that you changed their kid’s life. They say that while all their child’s other grades are dismal, their English grade is like a beacon of hope on the report card. Kids start to speak English spontaneously to their parents in the car as they drive around town. Parents tell us that in the morning when their child gets up sometimes the first thing they say is, “Today I have my English lesson!”

This, in my singular opinion, is how we “go big”.

Going big is not a number of shops you have open, or how many staff are working with you. Going big is not blathering on about meeting corporate needs and being involved in whatever industry as their language consultant etc.

Going big is when you make that unique and significant connection with the student across the table from you. Going big is the student’s realization that they are exploding with ability and promise. Going big is when the student looks at you and you know that THEY know that they have this whole “English thing” under control.

Going big is watching them take off because you got them started in the right direction.

Then you duplicate THAT.

That’s how we go big at englishbiz.

Man, I love this company.

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