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My passion for business and entrepreneurship stems from my love of reading. I started reading books written by the Shark Tank cast, and then books written by the Forbes 400. I’m currently at Charles Schwab’s How to be Your Own Stockbroker. I became fascinated with how these business magnates started their ventures and as a result, became motivated enough to start something for myself.
I decided to launch a local test prep agency. This idea was appealing as there was virtually no startup cost, and it seemed easy to market and scale. I partnered with a friend and we came up with the name Top1Tutoring. We started by creating a website, top1tutoring.com, and a flyer. In retrospect, it was ridiculous how ahead of ourselves we were during this time. One of us would have a calculator out, and the other would make up numbers so we could calculate the theoretical amount of revenue. Then, one of us would exclaim something like, “Wow, if we get x number of students, and we charged them y amount of dollars, we would make z amount of money!” We needed reality to hit us. We were blind.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it’s that anything that appears easy is usually the complete opposite. The first challenge we faced was finding a location for our classes. I quickly realized that there were many restrictions on public institutions, as our school district already had an existing test prep program, and libraries generally only leased out to non-profit groups. After contacting literally every church within a ten-mile radius, we finally found one that had a time slot for our classes. Looking back, the small things we were stressed about, such as wondering if our website looked “professional,” or if our class location was “easy to navigate” couldn’t have been more trivial. I forgot about the big challenge, which was actually building a clientele. Once I realized this, my friend and I immediately began figuring out an effective way to market. It turns out that “filling a classroom” was easier said than done. We started by placing flyers in people’s windshields and mailboxes. When we didn’t have any phone calls after having distributed what must have been a thousand flyers, it was clear that we were doing something wrong. We realized that we were never going to get clients without having some form of direct social engagement. We finally accepted the fact that we couldn’t cheat our way to a full classroom of students simply by passing out flyers or cold e-mailing parents with our local directories. And so we stopped doing all that, and we started actually putting our faces out there, such as speaking with parents face-to-face and hosting mini-seminars that would demonstrate the kind of test prep lectures we would have. We started joining adult pickup basketball games just so we could have the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations regarding their child’s studies. We began to understand the importance of forming personal connections. Three months later, we had our first class.
My friend and I always thought if we ever became profitable, the money was going to be the best reward. In reality, the best rewards are the illuminating smiles high-achieving peers have when they find out they can quit their dreaded minimum wage job and become an instructor for significantly more pay.
So what did I learn from this endeavor? I learned that being able to sell oneself to others is more important than selling the good or service. I learned that to have a chance in any kind of venture, one has to provide genuine value, something people feel they have a need for. Finally, I learned that ideas are only as good as their execution, as an idea by itself is worth nothing.
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