TEACHING LESSONS: Ask questions, research, and reach out
Published on 03 December 2020
SmartHub Business Manager Elize Hattin tunes in with Theresa to discuss how she turned her passion for working with special needs children to live their best possible life through tailored learning solutions, into a thriving business that can barely keep up with demand.
LEARNING TO TEACH
Like most parents, Theresa and her partner strive to do everything they can for their teenage son Matthew; their only child.
Theresa said having a child with autism means all family members live with a lot of stress and anxiety is part of everyday life.
“We tend to do all we can for our son, he's our main focus and that's what led me to here,” she says.
About two years ago, Theresa decided to start her own business, after she could not ‘find her fit’ working as a teacher aide.
“When you work in the schools, particularly in the Catholic education system, teacher aides go from class to class and you might be only there for 40 minutes helping a child.
“I wanted to have a deeper impact. I wanted to be with the same students and children each time to be able to follow through with what we were helping them to achieve.
“That's when I looked into starting to tutor them, so I would be with them constantly on a weekly basis,” she reflects.
Theresa’s business, AAA Tutoring Rockhampton specialises in tutoring primary school students; assisting them to become the best they can be, when it comes to their education.
While she focusses on special needs children, Theresa tutors children of all abilities, regardless of what level they are at in primary school.
“We do have teenagers, on modified programs that may be doing primary school level Math or English, or even helping them with their reading.
Theresa focusses on the three major subjects when tutoring, including Math, English, and Reading, saying these are they skills we all need to get through life.
“If we want children to have a fulfilling, productive life, we need to make sure they understand these concepts now.
“We can't wait till they want to get into University and realise they're only reading at a grade four level,” she cautions.
Central to Theresa’s business is ensuring her student clients are following the lessons, so they can stay with their peers as they progress through the grades.
Theresa gleans all the information she can from parents about what students are struggling with and whether they have any special obsessions, likes or dislikes, which she then tries to incorporate into tutoring sessions to make them more engaging for her clients.
STARTING A BUSINESS 101
So, what brought Theresa to the SmartHub when she was starting out in business?
“A friend has a desk here and he mentioned it to me. I must admit at first, I was incredibly nervous and anxious about coming into the space.
“I started off with a hot desk and then thought, well, this isn't too bad. And so, I have moved up to a monthly desk and then into the ring room, which is a permanent desk with 24/7 access, which suited me when I had Saturday clients.
“Now I'm in a little office of my own. Just for me,” she smiles.
In addition to its community of small businesses like Theresa’s, the SmartHub offers different levels of membership; some with access to offices and flexible to permanent desk space to run their business from.
Theresa has secured her own office within the SmartHub, which allows her to run her business and see clients in a confidential, professional office space, without the substantial overheads of ‘going it alone’.
“With the SmartHub membership, business owners can book the boardroom or the annex space to meet with clients, which I was doing daily, every week.
“Having this little room actually frees up those other spaces for other members and I can bring my clients directly into the office, which will be a lot easier for everyone.
“I've just ordered a recliner so Mums and Dads can sit and relax when I'm tutoring students,” she reveals.
REPORT CARD RESULTS
Theresa generally meets with students for an hour each week.
Typically, new clients will start off on a semester-by-semester basis, and historically engage Theresa over an eighteen-month period.
“If they have booked for the semester, usually by the end of the semester we see progress on the report card, which is just the most exciting part for me. I love seeing that everything has jelled with them and this happens in the sessions too.
“Once parents can see that progress in black and white on the report card, they tend to book in for the next semester too.
“The feeling is just so unreal to see students’ progress, because some children do not have the capacity to go on to university as it might be a stretch for them.
“It's getting them to where they can be the best they can be and then follow them through,” Theresa explains.
When asked if she was reluctant to go into business, Theresa admits she had a completely different business plan to what she has ended up running.
Her initial plan was to crack the home-schooling market and help those parents whose children did not fit into the education system.
“In our (Rockhampton) area, there is a lot. I found it exceedingly difficult to crack that market. The need is still there; however, the demand for the out of school appointments was just huge,” she discloses.
It has obviously worked, because as a solo business operator, unfortunately there is only one Theresa and she is having to turn potential customers away.
When starting her business, Theresa says she was not nervous; rather excited by the prospect.
“I did do a lot of relief and contract work at schools and just felt that finally, at my fourth decade of life, I found what I was meant to be doing and the affection and the understanding of children that I've always had.
“It doesn't matter who they are, what their background is. All children are adorable to me, and I just like to develop relationships with them and their families.
“I don't just look at the child, I look at the whole family, having that experience with the special needs side,” she explains.
With big plans for 2021, Theresa hopes to introduce another tutor to her business, and is searching for the right candidate.
“The only qualifications needed is passion and a heart for loving kids, for teaching kids and being as excited as I am when you see kids learn and improve their report card.
“In Queensland, you don't need to be a teacher aid or a teacher to tutor. A lot of people might get caught up on that, but you do not need to have formal qualifications, as long as you feel you can explain the concepts to students.
“Obviously, there would be training involved, too,” Theresa advises.
ASK QUESTIONS, RESEARCH, AND REACH OUT
So, what lessons has Theresa learned in her business journey she would share with others who want to turn their passion into a viable venture?
Her first suggestion is do your research.
“I did not know where to begin. How do I start a business? The first thing I did was look at what I was capable of doing.
“The fact my business had to adapt, was another lesson; you've got to be flexible,” she advises.
Theresa suggests to those who are finding the research step difficult, to reach out to people who might know.
“I've made a lot of contacts here through the SmartHub I have reached out to and picked brains and sat down and had coffee.
“People don't mind sharing their experiences and then knowledge, especially when you're trying to get off the ground.
“Contact the SmartHub. There are people here who will help you get off the ground level and just start,” she recommends.
Theresa also advocates using a system of recording the lessons, tips, and ideas for your business, in a way that works for you.
“I'm a pen and paper person, so even when I find something online, I have to write it down. I have notebooks everywhere with things in them. Save web pages, write it down, whatever you need to do so you can keep track of the information you have learned,” she urges.
Take advantage of training and education opportunities, where possible.
Through the Sarina Russo Institute’s new enterprise incentive scheme, Theresa was able to obtain a Certificate in New Small Business.
“I learned a lot through there and it cost me absolutely nothing.
“My biggest tip is research and reach out. Do not be scared to ask questions. I ask questions and I do not care if they are stupid.
“If I want to know something, I'm going to ask it. If you get a “no”, at least you know. I cannot do that but let’s try and go this way or maybe I can tweak it a different way.
“Ask questions, research and reach out,” Theresa encourages.
Theresa’s plans moving forward are remarkably busy; she is currently collaborating with a Therapist to put together what they are calling a Communications Hub for Special Needs Children.
The venture aims to connect children that have particular obsessions and likes, with like-minded peers.
“These kids might not find it so easy to make friends that have the same likes and dislikes, so we are putting together a portal for them to be able to find people.
“My son is very Sci-Fi, and he loves 80s music, 80s TV shows, even going so far as 60s TV shows. He is not into all this new stuff, new music, all these reality programs. He does not have time for that.
“He finds it difficult to find friends to discuss these with. One part of our portal will be like a forum style so they can have topics that they can all get on and type and text to communicate,” Theresa reveals.
The Communications Hub is in development and it also aims to address another challenge experienced by special needs children, particularly those who like to play by the rules.
“Some kids like to play by the rules, strictly black and white. There are no colours, no grey, nothing, and it is hard to find other kids that will play exactly that way.
“They need to be able to find like-minded people or people that other kids that will play kindly.
“By that I mean, show respect for their friends when they are playing together and not be sneaky, mean or bully others because they find it funny.
“Finding kids who play nicely and still want to learn together, is a big struggle for kids that have social issues,” Theresa explains.
Further to her Communications Hub concept, Theresa has ambitious plans for a service for the special needs’ families in the area.
“We are sadly lacking Therapists of all sorts here in Rockhampton. The waiting lists are phenomenal which makes it so hard to get support. I'm hoping to be able to bring something to the community that will cover all of that,” she says.
Theresa Homziak is the founder of AAA Tutoring Rockhampton, and a member of the SmartHub Community.
The SmartHub encourages entrepreneurs and business owners to adopt technology and modern based business practice to make the entire business journey more profitable, more enjoyable, more effective, and more efficient.
Being part of the SmartHub gives local business owners opportunities to meet with and learn from mentors, to help them learn the discipline required to succeed in business.
The SmartHub is currently offering free membership now (usually $50 a month or more depending on level of membership). If you would like to learn more about becoming part of the SmartHub, contact us via the following channels:
Phone: 07 4936 8444