It’s Female Founder Friday and I’m pleased to share the story of woman entrepreneur, Ann Dolin. Ann is the founder of Educational Connections, a organization that focuses on personalized educational support and has assisted over 10,000 students in the DC metro area achieve excellence.
So, if you’re curious how a call to the police launched a tutoring company or are a woman with a passion that could possibly pay the bills, don’t miss Ann’s startup story, challenges, and advice for other female founders!
What inspired you to create your company?
I started my career in 1992 as a fourth grade teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools, and on the side I did a bit of tutoring. After a short time I realized how much I loved helping kids one on one. At the end of the day, after I planned my lessons, I would drive to students’ homes and work with them on an individual basis. I loved seeing how their grades and confidence improved so quickly, and I really loved,getting to know their parents as well.
In 1998, after my first son was born, I took a leap of faith and quit my teaching job to tutor a few kids at my dining room table, and stay home with my son. But that quickly evolved into tutoring homeschoolers during
the day, and middle and high school kids at night, and students all day Saturday and half day Sunday, until one day my neighbor called the police because so many people were dropping off and picking up.
It was then that a friend said, “Why don’t you hire people to work for you?” Having employees never occurred to me, but that’s what I did. And that’s how Educational Connections was born.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure from going from idea to business?
I knew that I was a good teacher and a great tutor, but what I didn’t know how to run a business. At first I approached everything from an educator’s point of view. And I didn’t track sales. I didn’t track leads. I didn’t do any marketing. I had no idea what I was doing, not even how to use basic bookkeeping software. A friend once sent me a link to a feature called wave vs quickbooks and it blew my mind how much easier it would have been to use a software if I’d known how to. I almost treated my business like a hobby, even though I worked extremely hard, because I knew no other way.
It wasn’t until my first consultant, Eric Cohen, said, “You need to start tracking sales, and leads, and looking at a profit and loss statement at least on a monthly basis. You need to look at things like conversion rate and cost per student.” That had never occurred to me. Of course, this was a huge
turning point in the company.
What are you afraid of?
I’m afraid that technology will make tutoring obsolete. Currently, parents and kids love working with an educator on a one to one basis. However, there could be a time when artificial intelligence takes over that role, or that everything is done online, instead of sitting next to a person. Although we do a bit of online tutoring here and there, it’s an extremely small part of our business model.
I’d like to reduce the geographic area we serve and have greater penetration of a smaller market. There are over 1.1 million people in Fairfax County alone. I believe we can be helping far more students in area than we currently do.
What’s a business or life hack that you recommend to help other female entrepreneurs?
Get help early on. Seek out a consultant, or talk to friends that have had similar businesses to see if they can assist. Always ask for help. That’s one thing I’ve been good at over the years, and I think it’s gotten me to this point. I always ask other people’s opinions so I didn’t feel so alone. When you run your business it’s really easy to feel alone, but if you have company, if you have like-minded people surrounding you and supporting you, it makes it a whole lot easier.
Share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
I think as females we’re always told to have a work life balance, but I honestly think that’s impossible. Your work is part of you. If you love what you do it follows you in every aspect of your life. So, for me, it’s been hard to turn off email or not be involved in my business after hours.
Realize that for about the first five years you’re going to put in an extraordinary amount of work, and that’s okay because it does get better once you get over the hump and you can hire people to balance you out.
I have a great vision. I can see where I want my company to go, but I’m not as good at execution, so I’ve surrounded myself with people that are very, very good at those types of things. And that way I don’t have to do a lot of the work that’s hard for me. So, my advice would be two-fold: be willing to work very hard in the beginning and then find the people to balance you out and don’t hire people just like you.