When the going gets tough, it’s TTG

 

Nice title, eh? I guess you are wondering what TTG means. It’s Time To Go. So, that’s my title. When the going gets tough, it’s time to go. Today I will tell you a story about a girl who wanted to be a big boss, to conquer the world of  business. But we don’t always get what we want, do we?

In 2007, after more than 10 years of teaching, I thought it was time to take the next step. Go up the career ladder and open up my own private language school. I was very excited, so was my sister. We were going to be partners. We were going to make something that was ours. We looked for a building to rent. We found one close to my house. We then furnished it and opened the school in September of 2007. During our first year we had 27 students. That was great. We had small sized classes, we did lots of extra curricular activities with students like parties for Christmas, birthday parties etc. I spent lots of Sundays teaching exam classes. They were free lessons aiming at helping my learners. It was a successful year. We were happy, our students were happy. Things were going to be super the next year.

They weren’t. While there was a small increase in the number of new students, I also had losses. Students finished their training or moved away. I pretty much had the same number of students. This is when some of my student/ customers started having money issues. recession and the financial crisis in Greece was knocking on the door. People started owing money/tuition. I did not send them home though, they were my kids. I kept them in their classes and continued to issue receipts for money I was not earning. The law  says that you must issue a receipt for the student at the end of every month, even if the student has not paid. You also pay tax for this student. This policy is based on the assumption that you will eventually get your money. I wasn’t.

To make matters worse, my expenses were piling up. My school was open 9 months a year and shut during the summer. I still had to pay rent for the months the school was shut.

2009-2013 were pretty much the same story. I now had about 40 students but the competition was killing me. There were new language schools in my area, charging peanuts for classes. I had to do the same. Of course, Greece was going through the financial crisis and people stopped taking language classes. This is when I started to lose my drive, so did my sister.

I was trying, trying and not seeing any results. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy with my lessons and my kids were great, but I couldn’t make ends meet and that was very disappointing. I did not have any more energy. I had had enough. I tried for 7 years and was not going to try anymore. In September 2014, my sister and I decided we were going to shut down the business. And we did.

I actually found myself ‘mourning’ the business. I had put my heart and soul into something that failed. I felt like a failure.

In retrospect, I think I approached the whole language school with a lot of enthusiasm but no marketing or business skills.

My mistakes……..

I opened a business in an area that already had many language schools. I was far away from actual schools. I was paying a high rent and a lot of tax. When I started the business, I did not have a financial plan. I did not do any market research. I did not actually do any research. I was naïve.

I found it very difficult to ‘sell’ my services. I was not at all aggressive. I was probably a pushover business woman.

I treated my students as my kids, not customers. This is nice and fuzzy, but it does not pay for the bills. Love alone, does not cover the expenses.

What about my teaching? Had I done enough? I thought I was doing a good job, but was I? Was this why the business was not successful?  I will never know.

I am aware of the fact that I am casting blame on everything else and not really myself, but the latter is hard. I am stubborn in that way.

Today

It is about 8 months later, and now the language school is a memory of the past. I tried it, it didn’t work, I moved on. On the plus side, I have more free time, and financially I am much better!!! I am free of something that was a dream and at the end, became a burden. Oh well, life is all about trial and error, isn’t it? Been there, done that.

Acknowledgements

Vedrana asked me what it was like to run a business and suggested I write a post, so here it is.

TTG is Eri’s phrase. I like it. I use it 🙂

2015-05-10 15.17.41

Till next time…..

 

 

 

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17 thoughts on “When the going gets tough, it’s TTG

  1. When you have your own school, you have your own business and think as a businesswoman. What we all do as teachers who want to move on to this field is that we do not consult anybody. Unfortunately it is not just teaching. You ARE a wonderful teacher. Your choice was good, in my opinion. But never say never! Who knows what will happen in the future? I wish you good luck!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Dora,
    Thanks for such a warm comment. I know. It’s never just about the teaching in these cases. And yes, you never know what the future holds. I do know that at the moment, I am content.
    🙂
    Joanna

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  3. I read this post yesterday, and got back to it today. I was so relieved to see that there are (at least?) two of us feeling, or having felt, the same way. Have been thinking about the ‘business’ side of ELT as opposed to the ‘academic/teaching’ part of it. Is there a middle? A balance? Must be, but perhaps I have not found it yet. I know this comment sounds vague (perhaps, not ready to share the details yet) – but please believe me that every paragraph makes so much sense to me. Thank you very much for sharing it. I think sharing, or being able to discuss it, is one of the steps towards getting over it!
    Zhenya

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Zhenya,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
    Writing this post was liberating. By deciding to let the school go, I freed myself. Yes, I was very disappointed and sad. This school was my creation, and it did not go as I planned and dreamed.
    I think that balance is key. That was my sore spot. I was more a teacher and less a business woman. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how I feel.
    When you are ready, you will share……
    Everything happens for a reason 🙂 What’s next? Who knows?
    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Joanna,
    In a way this is my post too. I’ve been getting ready to write it since I started my blog. I said yesterday on Twitter that my working title was “You gotta know when to hold ’em…”, and the other one is “Flogging a dead octopus”. It’s like a draft is in my head, although not a single word is on paper. Our school hasn’t officially closed yet; we’re hoping to do that this year. But we stopped offering classes last June, and moved out of the premises. I wasn’t actually there for that.
    I want to comment on every single paragraph you wrote, but that would be one long comment! Like you say, we’ll never know, will we? What exactly, or what combination of factors led to our businesses failing. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I know the problem wasn’t the quality of teaching. But whether things would have been any different if we had been more business-minded, or if it’s all down to the recession, this we’re not likely to ever know for sure.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Vedrana,
      You inspired this post and as I said in an earlier comment to Zhenya, writing it was liberating. I organized my thoughts. In my mind, my business was going to be a success. In reality, it wasn’t. I will never know why. I can only make assumptions and guesses. I really do not blame the closing of my school to poor teaching, but I did second guess myself so many times, those days.
      Bottom line is that while I was very sad by this event, now I am free. I have options. The future is scary, but then again, isn’t it always?
      Time to move on. I hope everything goes well for you : )
      We are tough cookies. We can pick ourselves up!!!
      Joanna

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post about risk and knowing when to cut your losses, which are surely two vital components of business.
    Couple of points:
    1). Please don’t use the word “failure” (unless in the collocation “business failure”, with your businessperson hat on and not your teacher hat :-)).
    2) I’m sure in your case you wanted to be an entrepreneuer and give it a whirl, and you should never not follow your instincts. BUT, I do feel a lot of teachers are under pressure to stop being “just” a teacher at some point, simply because “just teaching” is undervalued, which is a pity.(I’m a great proponent in any walk of life of people doing a good job and being proud of it, without having to have a CEO/President title to bandy about.).

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Helen,
    It is very difficult to not see this as something that failed and evidently distributing a bit of the ‘fault’ to my own practices. I did learn that teaching is enough for me. I am content being a teacher. I tried something, it didn’t work and now I have moved on. I think I would have always wondered, ” What if?” if I hadn’t tried. 8 months later, I am ready for new teaching adventures :). At the moment, I am happy.
    Joanna

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  8. Pingback: 2 things…… | My Elt Rambles

  9. Hi Joanna,
    Thanks for sharing this and letting us learn from your experience too. I agree with Helen’s point about career progression as a teacher and how it can be made to feel obligatory to move on.
    If we don’t try anything new, we never learn, and it’s our experiences that make us more interesting people. I hope that the timing is better for whatever your next adventure is. I understand it from the last school I worked at, also new, and also affected by circumstances beyond our control.
    Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sandy,
      As you said, only by trying do we learn. I tried it, it didn’t work and now the school is a memory of the past.
      Both you and Helen are right. This was my way of going up the career ladder (or that’s what I thought). Now I know. Yes, I was sad, but at the end of the day, if I hadn’t tried it, I would have always wondered. Now I can say, “Been there , done that!”
      Thanks for the wishes. I think I am content at the moment. I feel happy with what I am doing so all good 🙂

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  10. Ho Joanna, I’ll reply at length to this when I’m not so tied up. I have a similar experience to share about our English Academy in Bilbao. It thrived for a number of years but then started slowly declining … as did my health. The only things that increased were our stress levels. It was hard to let go of our ‘baby’ but I felt almost immediately, better, found a job straight away and the rest is history. Knowing when it’s TTG is a skill. Sometimes we learn it the hard way. Good luck for all your future ventures and adventures!

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    • Hi Katherine,
      That’s what I used to call my school, my “baby” and yes, like you, I learnt the hard way. Today, everything is good. Knowing when it’s TTG is so hard sometimes. You always think, “I shouldn’t lose hope, maybe things will get better”. They don’t always get better.
      Bilbao eh? I see recession got the best of you guys as well.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
      Joanna

      Like

  11. I also began an institute with a friend and we ran NLP courses in English and in German and I did some English intensive courses as well. I was tired of working for other institutions where teachers were not treated well and thought this would be a better way of doing things. As we were both very busy with other jobs (I didn’t give up the other teaching to work at the institute full-time) we both found that we just didn’t have the energy to go on trying to build a business. We hadn’t rented space, the only thing we had spent money on was a website and some business cards so we were lucky in that respect.
    Today I still work freelance but teach in-company classes, write myself, do some consulting on writing projects, run teacher training workshops and have a few hours at the university. This all works better for me and I don’t have the burden of trying to run a complete business and teach at the same time. I still have to do my taxes and a certain amount of book-keeping but it is nothing like the amount of work that goes into a business.
    I congratulate all of you who have tried this – it is certainly an experience we never forget and we all learn from them. In NLP we say there are no failures, only feedback, a phrase I often think of when things don’t work out the way I had hoped. When the feedback says ‘it is time to go’ then it just might be.

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    • Hi Marjorie,
      I love that. ” There are no failures, only feedback”. You are right! I learnt a lot from this experience. I reflected and thought of all the ‘what ifs”. Writing about it helped me as well. No regrets. Trying is better than just dreaming.
      Thanks for sharing your story as well.
      Joanna

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  12. First of all I love your honesty. It takes courage to openly admit to something that obviously hurts. I don’t think you are blaming everyone else but yourself. What I saw is you taking full responsibility by acknowledging what you had done wrongly; namely no business plan or financial strategy. Also timing is a great issue. I believe that if you were to try something like this anew it would be better and different this time around. You would use previous endeavors and experience to do things differently. I would recommend you consider the possibility of an online esl school. There are a lot of us teachers that could get together and get this thing going without a middle man! Think about it! 😉

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    • Hi Demmy,
      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Being honest helped me see things clearly. These days I have been thinking that closing the business was the best thing I could do!!
      I have been thinking of going freelance online for a while now. Who knows… you may see something in the near future 😀
      Thanks again.
      Talk soon xx
      Joanna

      Like

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