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  • Karin Heuert Galvão

From teacher to business owner: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Photo: Edu Gratão

I moved to São Paulo about 16 years ago, and back then I believed that nobody would hire me as an English teacher because I was from the countryside and I didn't have much experience, that is why I would apply to other jobs, such as a receptionist or a secretary. I had worked as a teacher in my hometown in Paraná, but for some reason, I felt as if I was not good enough for the big city. After 3 attempts as a receptionist and secretary, I realized that in each one of the jobs I would do most of the work in English, including negotiations and meetings with foreign clients, and the funny thing was that I would remain being a receptionist or secretary. After some time, I took a risk and started sending out CVs to schools and to my surprise, the institutions actually wanted to hire me. I worked in some language schools in São Paulo, but soon I started teaching private lessons in my apartment because I was too afraid of walking home from school in the evening. One thing let to another and bada bing bada boom, I had to open my own business.

Contrary to what most people believe, I had no business plan, no idea of what I was doing, but I knew had to do it. So 11 years ago I open i-Study Interactive Learning, I worked mostly in companies and in my apartment, and things were going OK. I hired a few other teachers to work with me because classes were in high demand and I couldn't afford losing a client or an opportunity. Little did I know that by not preparing myself for that position as a Director of Studies of a language school, I would soon pay the price, and I did.

In the early years of my company, I mistakenly thought that I needed a venue, a room where students would have classes, so I rented a room in Granja Viana, had it decorated and everything and that only led me to losing a lot of money. What I didn't know then, but I know now is that you must be wise with your money, and invest in low risk projects, especially when you're starting a business. I find it amusing to see start ups renting rooms and having designers decorating them, I only do the math in my brain now and remain quiet, because it's not my place to say what other people should do with their money, particularly when they advertise themselves as "experts" in the field. So shush Karin, shush.

After moving to 3 different locations, spending my money and my family's money, and on top of that finding out about a serious problem with my accounting, I had to take the bull by the horns and be done with the mess. I had to let go 2 employees, move the office to my house, reorganize and regroup. At the time I was a hot mess, my business was collapsing, I had a baby to take care of, no money in my pocket and a lot, A LOT of bills to pay. It was the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me, because it made me realize how much training I needed, and not only pedagogical or linguistic training, but Business training. That's when I started taking courses, watching webinars until my eyes bled, connecting with other business owners, and hire the right people based on their expertise. I hired a Financial Analyst to help me understand the severity of the damage and help me draw up a plan, it took me nearly 2 years to pay all the debt, but I did, thanks to commitment and hard work.

Nowadays, my business is completely different from what it was 11 years ago, it has matured and moved on to a different path, but be sure that we're in constant development. Here are a few things I learned during these 11 years:

The Good

I love being the boss of me and deciding what is going to be done or not - don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be arrogant, I'm just being sincere. I enjoy the fact that I can decide on my work schedule, which allows me to have more flexibility.

The fact that I can be creative is also another positive aspect, I can develop different projects and trust my gut. Another plus is that I enjoyed working from home and close to home, I thank God everyday that I don't have to be stuck in traffic which allows me to spend more time with my family.

The Bad

Being the boss of me is great and deciding on what is going to be done or not too, but "with great power, comes great responsibility" (Uncle Ben, Spider Man), so if one decision in wrong, it's my ass on the line. (That's the moment I tell you that in this blog I'll be a bit more 'potty mouthed', but I promise I won't drop the f bomb on you).

Because I work mostly from home, I cannot enjoy a "Teachers' Lounge" and interact with other teachers on a daily basis, that is why I try to participate in events in Brazil and in other parts of the world.

The Ugly

Having to deal with crap is going to part of your daily routine. (Sorry, another bad word.) Do you know those little things that irritate you most of the time? Well, they're going to happen everyday and you have to learn how to deal with them. I have learned a great deal already, but every now and then there is a reminder that I'm just like John Snow and "I know nothing". For this, make sure you constantly develop your emotional intelligence, it's about understanding others and yourself and, consequently, you'll be better able to deal with these things in a peaceful way.

All in all, it has been a journey, full of ups and downs, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

The best of luck to all entrepreneurs out there! And soldier on!



Special Thanks:

This post was a suggestion from Adhara Ferrari. Thank you for contributing with the blog.

If you wish to suggest a topic, you can send me a message here or to Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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