One Type of Self-Employment You Might Not Have Considered

Kelly Page
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You abhor bosses, can’t stand cubicles, and the idea of water cooler small talk makes you break out in hives… but you’re not quite ready to create a brand-new business from scratch. If you’re nodding your head in agreement, you might want to consider setting up a business as a franchisee.

What exactly does that mean? It can vary depending on the company, but in general, it means you pay for the rights to use a company’s brand name and business model, but you are actually responsible for running a branch (or multiple branches). You get the prestige and recognition of the name and an overall blueprint for how to run things, but a lot of the details and decisions are left up to you.

Kelly Page is a Franchisee and Center Director at Sylvan Learning Centers in San Francisco and San Rafael. Sylvan Learning offers tutoring for children and adults in academic and college prep subjects.

We chat with Kelly about some of the challenges and benefits of being a franchisee, how she’s putting her Elementary Education major to use, and what she’d do differently if she could start all over again.

What is your current company name and job title? If you’ve changed titles since you started at your company, what was your job title when you started?

I’m a Franchisee of Sylvan Learning. I started at Sylvan as a part-time instructor (tutor) and have pretty much held every role since: Director of Education, Center Director, Regional Trainer and Operations Manager, District Educational Manager, District Manager, and now Franchisee. I am also currently acting as Center Director of our Sylvan Learning–West Portal in San Francisco.

How does the franchisee system work at Sylvan?  

We pay Sylvan a monthly percentage for royalties and national advertising. In exchange, we get constantly updated/improved testing and curriculum and national advertising (web and TV mostly) and they maintain the corporate website.

What types of students do you teach at Sylvan? Which topics do you cover?

We teach pre-K through 12th grade primarily, but we also teach adult students. Most of our teachers are credentialed, and minimally all of our teachers have a Bachelor’s degree. We teach reading, math, writing, study skills, and high school as well as college prep (SAT/ACT).

We also do homework support for students who just need a little help but are already skilled readers/math students. Academics are highly competitive in the Bay Area and we can help students across the board! Feel free to check out our local website to learn more.

What’s a typical day on the job like for you?

Every day is a little different, but my main tasks include enrollment conferences (meeting with parents to enroll their children), teacher/principal outreach (I LOVE reaching out to teachers to see how we can best support students in their own classrooms and beyond!), and managing my team to success! Our days are more focused on operations, outreach, and marketing, but at 3:30, it’s go time—that’s when our students begin to arrive.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? What are the things you would change if you could?

My favorite part of the day is working with kids and their families. My students either love me because I’m fun (and always have hula hoops in my office for a bit of play) or fear me, because they think I’m the “principal.” I absolutely love getting the students to “buy in” to their programs and their success at school. I also get to help parents strengthen their relationship with their child(ren) by taking the burden of tutoring/homework support off their plates.

What would I change? Becoming a franchisee was a BIG decision and I thought it would be so much easier than it turned out to be. My business partner and I were confident going into the purchase that we were going to rock the one Center we purchased (San Rafael) and were overly confident buying our “big” Center in San Francisco—six weeks before the market collapsed. It’s certainly been a journey! The pieces I would happily give up? Dealing with taxes, monthly bills, etc. That’s not helping me drive my business; it’s slowing me down, but it has to be done!

What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?

I received my B.A. in Elementary Education and taught 5th grade in Chicago for three years before finding Sylvan when I moved home to Northern California. I’ve always seen myself as an educator first and businesswoman second and now I see how those two paths converge nicely. While teaching, I always heard from our principal that we were accountable, but I didn’t really see that we were. No matter how students performed, how strong/poor our classroom teachers performed, etc., our school was still funded.

Because Sylvan is parent pay, we are absolutely accountable and I love that. Our team takes ownership of our successes and the challenges we experience along the way. Customer satisfaction is a significant focus of how we run our Centers—we want our families and the schools we work with to have an outstanding experience while working with us!

What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?

Research your competition well! Make sure you understand the trends in your field and where those trends are likely to lead over time. Education and tutoring have changed dramatically in the almost 17 years I’ve been with Sylvan and the last few years especially have seen significant changes to the way curriculum is being delivered with the use of technology.

When we purchased our Centers, we thought one large tutoring company was our major competition, but in the community where we invested, it turned out the private tutors were our biggest challenge. Make sure to map out a plan and be prepared to change that plan accordingly (sometimes often) and be as well capitalized as possible!! Also, make sure to schedule yourself for something you enjoy doing at least once a week—maybe a dance class, a movie night, the gym, etc.—no exceptions!

Did you consider opening an independent tutoring center? What were your primary motivations for choosing to become a franchisee?

I never considered opening an independent tutoring center because I had already worked for other franchisees and Sylvan Corporate for 10 years and was impressed/proud of the Sylvan product. My primary motivations were to own my own business and have the freedom of being self-employed. And I knew we could run a Center so well!

What do you wish you had known about owning a business before you got started?

I’ve been joking a lot lately about there being some type of quiz or aptitude test for people who think they want to become a franchisee or business owner. It is way more challenging than I originally anticipated and while I love (in theory) the idea of a flexible schedule, most business owners I’ve met in recent years admit they are ALWAYS working, even if they are not in the office. That is a lot to take on.

I’ve always considered myself a workaholic, and I love to work, but… it’s nice to have a true break once in a while, which is rare. I wish I had reached out to several other franchisees (not just the ones I already knew) to find out more about what they loved/found challenging about their business(es).

Homework time! Do you like the idea of working for yourself or running your own business? Check out our post on career options for the commitment-phobe and our entrepreneur series to learn more about unconventional career paths.

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