Death of a business
This week saw the demise of my initial efforts into entrepreneurship. I entered the office of the Secretary of State and filed paperwork to kill my business.
Considering my new employment and the hours which I am required to be at work, a restriction which prevents me from tutoring during prime hours for that activity, I decided it was time to walk away. I also had grown tired of dealing with parents who wanted me to fix their kid. That consideration certainly ensured that my decision to walk away would not be revoked, at least for the present moment.
My business may be dead, but I don't consider my effort to be a failure. Quite the contrary! My experience was very successful, especially considering what I learned from my period of self-employment. For one, I learned why most people don't engage self-employment. They don't want to have to chase after their work every day in order to get paid. They simply want to show up at their workplace, do their work, and collect their pay. It takes a different sort of person to run against that grain.
I also learned a lot about marketing, advertising, legal structures, and tax structures. The website I developed for my business reflects much of that learning. Given that I deleted my website with the death of my business, I've assembled some screen shots so that you could see what I built.
My home page contained a rotation of photographs, the first of which appears above. The next appears here, and the others are scattered throughout this post. The content is a brief summary of the highlights of what appears in other pages. I had started a Facebook page but never really used it. My attitude towards Facebook explains part of the reason for that. I had also contracted with a Canadian company to provide credit card processing for my clients, as I insisted on payment before rendering services to customers who hired me themselves, independent of any third-party service provider. However, I did not anticipate the regulatory management required on my end, and I never worked through it all since most of my customers were approaching me through third-party service providers.
Here I provide a brief background about myself and my business. While I describe a disagreement working for corporate America, that doesn't mean I don't mesh with large organizations. If that were true, I wouldn't be fitting in as well as I am teaching at the college level.
I also wanted to give back to my community, and so a portion of my earnings were contributed to a religious organization which used 100% of my donation to help others in need. My desire to give back was inspired in part by Arnold Schwarzenegger and his response to the question "What is the secret of success?" If you haven't heard his answer, you should look it up. It's very inspiring. He gave 6 rules for success, and giving back is Rule #6.
On this page I detail the services I provided as well as pricing. Pricing was always difficult. Government taking about half my earnings means I needed to charge twice the amount I needed to pay my expenses and pay myself so I could in turn pay my bills and have a decent standard of living. Competing at that price point proved challenging, especially when the competition was some punk teenager who didn't have living expenses to pay and was looking simply for some extra cash. But I made a good go of it while I was in business. I justified my higher price with something a teenager couldn't provide --- real world experience about what is really important to master beyond the current assignment in front of the student. And my clients appreciated that insight tremendously.
The image shown here is a little grainy. The image quality is fine, but adding it here requires an expansion of the image that shows some partial degradation. I can provide the original image, which can be read much more clearly, upon request.
As mentioned before, I worked with third-party providers for my business. These partners provided portals for the clients to find me. So all of the advertising and marketing they did, allowing me to focus more on the actual work of my business.
Not all of these partners operated with the same model, however. For example, Tutor Select charged a set rate for access to the students on their site, with prices differing depending on the subscription purchased (weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually). However, Tutor Doctor sells contracts to its customers, who purchased a set number of visits with a tutor. I get a portion of that contract fee for my services.
Thumbtack was very different; they charged me for the privilege of making a quote to a potential customer. That model did not mesh with me at all. My price wasn't going to change; I listed it on my website. So paying out money to quote a customer base that, in all honesty, is comparing quotes from different vendors made little sense for me. These people are looking for lowest price, and that wasn't me. And Wyz Ant charged 40% commission on whatever I charged. With the government taking half, that left me with 10%. That left me with a pittance, which despite my higher-than-average hourly fee wasn't even close to minimum wage. Needless to say, I didn't use them very much.
The good part of all this, however, is that I got to see how different approaches did or did not work. And I learned a lot about the marketplace and how business works. I knew these things on a superficial level before I worked my business, but owning and operating my own business gave me a better appreciation of what all my employers have experienced.
I learned early in my career that, when you explain the expectations up front, you tend to have fewer problems down the road. I also learned the importance of documenting procedures so that any who have questions or concerns can consult a common reference for resolution. That's what this page provided. I leveraged what I could glean from the experience of others in addition to my own experience in creating the policies for my business. Again, as with the Services page, I can provide a better quality view of the image upon request.
My clients were very satisfied with my work, continuing a long standing tradition I have adopted in my career of delivering good work on time every time. I really wished that they would have been willing to add their recommendations to my LinkedIn profile, but I'll take their good words all the same.
Note the scheduling button, which appears throughout my site, links to a separate calendaring application called SetMore that managed all my appointments for me. And it was free since I had no need of the advanced options requiring subscription service. My experience with them was really good. I had no complaints.
Smart but Scattered Kids
I mentioned earlier how I tired of dealing with parents who wanted me to fix their kid. As a professional, I felt it incumbent upon me to explain what my business could and could not do for potential customers. I also noticed some of my competition promising to deliver what they really couldn't, and I wanted to warn people about heeding that siren call. Those considerations gave birth to this page. I think I make a pretty good analogy with the roofer and the plumber.
News and Events
I didn't use this page much because I focused so much on actually operating my business, but I did take a moment to mention how I gave back to my community in terms of not only money but also time. I volunteer as a merit badge counselor for several merit badges and was invited to organize and provide classes for two merit badges (Energy and Engineering) at a summer merit badge camp. The classes were a huge success. I still have the presentation slides for each of those classes, which I can make available upon request.
This final page provided means for potential customers to contact me. The address was for the mailbox I had enlisted for my business, which I wanted to keep separate from my home address (for reasons which should be obvious).
A few more words
Some might say that my business failed. I submit the opposite conclusion. Sure, my business didn't make me independently wealthy. But my business was a huge success. I learned an incredible amount about how business actually works and about the interplay between business and government. I also acquired a new appreciation for what all employers experience, particularly with the headaches from paperwork needed to satisfy government regulation. I never hired employees, but it wasn't hard for me to imagine (and still isn't) what a headache that must be at times as well.
And whatever aspect of my experience others might insist is a failure can be a stepping stone in any future attempts towards greater and more palpable success. After all, the real failure failure occurs not from getting knocked down but from deciding not to get back up and try again. Will I try this again? Tutoring may or may not be in my future. Other business ventures, yes, but at least for the next few years as a supplement to more traditional employment working for someone else. I don't really miss having to chase down my work and really enjoy both the ease of simply showing up to my workplace and finding my work there and a steady paycheck. But my experience running my own business will now inform everything I do from here on out. And I see that as a very good thing.
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