Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Julie Yoder, Founder of English With Purpose, located in Washington, DC, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
English With Purpose is a customized English language coaching service that serves international professionals who are working for a better world. We help clients eliminate their final communication barriers, unlock career potential, and confidently lead teams in English. We offer one-to-one and group coaching programs and our unique private online membership community, International Professionals With Purpose.
Tell us about yourself
I had been thinking of starting my own language school of some kind for many years after working in some terrible ones that exploited both students and teachers and seemed unconcerned with whether or not students met their goals. That was the dominant business model in private adult language schools at the time - just fill the classrooms with bodies/tuition, develop your own set of textbooks that everyone must use, and hire teachers cheaply to maximize profits.
In search of a decent salary and an environment committed to actually serving student needs, I ended up teaching in the public school system for six years, which I loved in many ways. But then I was finally pushed into self-employment following a health collapse when I became too sick to work. I quickly drained my savings paying for basic needs and medical expenses. But I still had my education, 10 years of experience at that point, and an idea for how to fill a market gap I had noticed. So I built a basic website focused on my niche, and slowly the clients started coming.
The business has grown and changed over the years, and these days I'm motivated by the exciting prospects of language coaching, which is an emerging field different from language training and teaching, and an approach that I believe brings deeper results for clients. English With Purpose rebranded as a language coaching service in 2018.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I'm not going to say I didn't panic during the pandemic - I did many times - but ultimately, I stayed the course and paid close attention to market trends and rapid changes in my industry. I pivoted our services as many times as needed to retain clients and gain new ones and acquired whatever skills were needed to better serve our clients. I also connected with other language coaches from around the world in the spirit of collaboration, and together we strategized about how to both survive and meet client needs in a time of crisis.
It wasn't easy, especially with the rapid race-to-the-bottom with pricing in our industry, but I sustained the company and even took it in a new direction. And I really grew professionally. So I would say my biggest accomplishment so far has been responding proactively to the Covid-19 crisis, fighting for my business, and coming out the other side with a healthy business and even more refined niche.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Giving yourself permission to rest and take down time, which is essential but very difficult to do whether you're in a feast or famine period. Feast periods make you feel like you'll never get on top of everything, and famine periods make you feel like you should always be doing something to get revenue going again. A steady medium is ideal but not always within our control. So you have to learn how to ride the waves while still taking care of yourself.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Create two budgets - one that shows you the bare minimum that you can live on while still growing your business, and another that is your ideal budget and monthly revenue - the one you are working towards. If you are starting out and don't have access to resources or outside funding, you should aim to live within that first budget until things shift. You don't want to strip your savings or limited resources to start a business if you have no safety net to catch you, especially these days with the very uncertain economic future. Constantly worrying about money takes up a great deal of energy that detracts from growing your business. And it can break up partnerships and marriages. Don't live above your means or take on unnecessary debt.
- Related to that - ignore any simplistic messages of "Just do these things, and you will be successful." Anything meaningful takes time and practice. Keep going, and don't expect to be successful quickly. If you are - fantastic! But too many people give up too early because of the cultural message that easy money is out there and that you have somehow failed if you haven't tapped into it.
- Find ways to stay intrinsically motivated. The extrinsic rewards are your happy customers/clients, the value of your work, and your revenue, but these can take time. There are no markers/performance reviews/grades to evaluate your work, and it can get isolating. What is your "why" for doing this work, and how can you keep that at the forefront.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Networks are essential! You need the right people around you. I have a group of language coaches I can reach out to, a wonderful local women's business network full of people doing all kinds of work, and a special "entrepreneur friend" who I call when I need to be brought back from the edge with some encouragement. She, in turn, calls me when needed. We also brainstorm and strategize together. The English With Purpose team is small right now but very carefully selected. I wouldn't still be running this business without the understanding and support of my various networks and team.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.