Sarah had no choice but to make the best of 2020. After being forced to shield during Covid and unable to go back to her teacher job she made the brave decision to start her own tutoring business. Sarah shares the highs and lows of last year with us...
This interview is part of our It's Never Too Late series, championing women regardless of age, to follow their big, bold ambitions.
Hey Sarah, we're so pleased to meet you, can you start with telling us how old you were when you started your business?
Hello! I turned 50 last year. It was going to be my year but I’ve still not had a chance to celebrate my birthday yet! It turned out to be my year but for completely different reasons!
So, tell us about your business, what's it called and what do you do?
It's called Sarah Logan Tutoring. I tutor children in Key Stage 2.
How long have you been running this business for?
Since October 2020, before that I was a primary school teacher for 17 years.
Had you run your own business before this?
Yes, I ran a Free From food stall at local markets and events for two years from 2016-2018 along with supply teaching. I loved doing it but it was hard work and long hours. After two years of building up I was ready to take on full time staff and start looking at premises, but I was also contending with a difficult relationship at home. In the end, I left my partner and moved back to my Devon roots, leaving my business behind. Times felt too turbulent to build it up again so I returned to the more stable role of permanent primary school teacher. I’d started doing some supply in 2018 anyway. I missed working with children and secretly wanted to see if I could step back into teaching.
So what made you take the leap from being a teacher to running your own business?
Covid! I was put on the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable list for primary immune deficiency this year, and so spent much of the year shielding. As the new school term rolled round my GP didn’t feel it would be safe for me to go back, so I ended up leaving my permanent role.
In March, I felt out of control. I felt that if I lost my job I’d lose my house and whole life too. All the stability that I’d created by returning to a safe and steady job felt like it could slip away in an instant.
I could see how Covid was panning out and knew that I might not make it back to the classroom in September. It was like being in an extremely slow car-crash and waiting for the impact - until I took control of my future again. I joined a Facebook group set up to support teachers leaving the classroom. One of the group founders, Sharon Cawley, had put up a video about how to tutor online and it was just inspirational. She made it look easy (it is!) and at first I thought it would be something to help me get by, but now I love it and wouldn’t go back. Classroom teaching has become bogged down in paperwork and targets, which came at the expense of actually teaching. Now I get to make measurable differences to children’s learning and I can see the impact that my tutoring has.
That's amazing that you continued to push for your passion. What did you find hard in the beginning?
With my first business, I took a passion and developed it with little thought to how it would develop. In the end, success was a burden. I was being invited to 3-6 events each week and cooking salads, snacks and quiches for each of them beforehand. I’d often work 12 hour days, 7 days a week because I hadn’t thought about scaling. With my tutoring, I could see from the start how I wanted it to develop and how scalability would be a key to success, so I’ve managed to avoid the pitfall that I fell into first time around. I still find it hard to stand up and sell myself, although I am getting better at it. I have 17 years of classroom experience, a wealth of training and a great track record, including mentoring student teachers, yet I still suffer from imposter syndrome.
What surprised you most about starting your own business?
Actually, it was how easy it is to do. There’s so much support out there to help you set up, and the camaraderie you’ll find in the business world is amazing. I looked on Eventbrite and found free training via Zoom and that helped me set myself up digitally. I trained as an Apple Teacher, updated dyslexia knowledge and marketing courses - all for free! Other people have given me tips on accounting, tax returns, books to read, software, so much more. People are always ready to chip in and offer support. Now I am in more of a position to, I like to pay that forward too.
It's great how much support is out there and how people are so willing to help. What would you do differently?
Put some money aside each month for inevitable taxes, think a bit more about forward planning for the changes that I want to make this year, not get distracted by bright, shiny ideas that aren’t part of my ‘plan'.
Way back when, before teaching, I spent 8 years working in Global Brand Management, so when it came to marketing my food business I thought it was all about getting my name out there. This time round I’ve thought more about my clients and their needs; my tutoring marketing comes from a place of integrity, dependability and trust - you want the right person to teach your kids, right!
Absolutely! Aside from education, what are you passionate about?
I guess that nature has always been a thread through my life. I’m very outdoorsy and a quiet environmentalist. I live on a derelict farm now, which I’m slowly improving with a permaculture fruit and veg garden and some chickens. I’m a triathlete too and love open water swimming and getting out on my bike.
Oooh we love open water swimming! What makes you feel good inside?
My son, my friends, a sunny day. Also, knowing that I’ve sorted out someone’s confidence in maths or taken away their fear of spelling is a really powerful thing. I think that’s really why I returned to teaching first time round, because making that small difference changes lives and futures. Imagine thinking always that you’re no good at something then finally realising that you are great! It’s difficult these days to make that difference in a busy classroom, and is also why I’m so in love with tutoring now.
What is something that's made you proud in the last 12 months?
When I first started thinking about setting up a tutoring service I got in touch with a couple of my former pupils (that I taught for 4 years) to ask if they would write me a recommendation. They are all adults now and following their own careers or at Uni. Their comments were so beautiful, it made me realise that I’d truly made a difference to their lives as well as their education. I got a bit teary!
What advice would you give to someone who has been dreaming of starting their own business later in life, but has been holding back?
Stop holding back! Take a deep breath and jump on in! I’ve taken this from my triathlon training: make a list of the barriers then strategise how you will overcome each one of them. If you need to, break each of those strategies down into smaller components. Remember, races are not finished instantly; they are a series of small steps. Which small steps can you take whilst still maintaining your current stability? Can you swap social media for an online accounting course? An hour of TV for a book on small business marketing?
Whatever your barriers are, train towards removing them and congratulate yourself with each step.
In teaching we level children all the time and if a child isn’t age related then we say they are ‘Working Towards’. It’s a bit of a joke to myself, but offers self-acceptance as well to call myself ‘Working Towards’ in business. I won’t get everything right, but that’s the process of learning. I might not be playing with the big boys at the moment, but if I’m Working Towards then I’m always stretching myself and who knows where I will end up?
Finally Sarah, what are your goals for the next 12 months?
Scalability is going to be key for me as a next step. The time I can tutor is limited to after-school time, 39 weeks of the year. I’m exploring options of tutoring in small online groups, and in finding other tutors to work with too. There’s a huge demand for tuition but I need to find the sweet-spot of work-life balance. However I progress, there is one certainty that I know - I will not be moving back to the classroom.
Connect with Sarah
If you want to find out more about Sarah here are her contact details:
Take a look at Sarah's Maths SATs small group tuition classes here