Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in language education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Claire Schneider, Director of Language Matters, located in Santa Fe, NM, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Language Matters offers in-person and online English classes to speakers of other languages. In-person classes in the classroom are integrated with practice outside the classroom in real-life situations. Online classes are customized, and a digital program is being developed. The programs at Language Matters are unique, interactive, and fun (yes, even for adults)!
Students come from other countries for a language/cultural immersion. They have lessons in the classroom before going on related excursions. They may also engage in local volunteer work. Online students attend from various countries, but the majority are professional Japanese ex-pats in the U.S.
Tell us about yourself
I was motivated to start this business because of my international background and experience learning languages. I studied five foreign languages (plus Latin!) but did not feel confident using any of them unless I'd had considerable practice outside the classroom.
Before starting my business, I taught English to immigrants at the Santa Fe Community College. I saw the impact that the program had on their success in the U.S. Students got better jobs, passed their citizenship exam, developed confidence, and became more integrated into the community. We went on excursions to the farmers' market, museums, and performances to practice English. This experience gave me the idea to create a similar program in the private sector but targeted at international students. I plan the curricula and excursions according to the student's interests and goals. For instance, we might visit a potter, take a tour of a chocolate factory, speak with someone who has hiked the Grand Canyon over 100 times, or listen to a renowned storyteller. Some students travel to other tourist destinations in the U.S. to enhance their overall experience.
Speaking English empowers individuals so that they can participate successfully in local and global communities. This is what motivates me day to day, and it's incredibly rewarding to work.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
ESL instructors are notoriously underpaid. My biggest accomplishment is being able to charge a fair price for my services that is commensurate with my skills, experience, and effectiveness as an instructor in helping students reach their goals.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The hardest thing for me is marketing my business. I'm passionate about teaching and designing curricula. It's challenging to learn a whole new skill set to sell my product, and it remains my biggest obstacle.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Stay focused on your vision while also being flexible and ready to pivot if necessary. For example, I started teaching online during the pandemic.
- Friends and family don't always give the best advice. Listen to the naysayers but don't necessarily heed their advice.
- Hire people to support you with tasks where you lack the necessary skills but stay hands-on, like learning how to edit your own website.
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.
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