Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.
Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.
The question is, what will you learn today?
Ludo Millar 1:03
Hello, and welcome to the 142nd episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, host of this podcast. Welcome back to our regular listeners. Welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course, a huge welcome back to today’s guest, Sumantha McMahon. Sumantha, welcome back to the podcast.
Sumantha McMahon 2:16
Thank you for having me back.
Ludo Millar 2:19
It was lovely to receive your message. And to bring you back on. Sumantha is part of a small group of individuals, a very lucky group, that have appeared on this podcast not once but twice. And we really couldn’t be more pleased because the first time Sam came on, it was a real game changer for lots of our audience. And we covered a great deal about a topic that is central to what you guys, our listeners, focus on which is building tutoring businesses, and really understanding how small business and the tutoring industry work together, which is exactly where Sumantha sits. And also because I have no fear bringing you back on, Sumantha, because your content is constantly evolving, and we’re not going to be having the same conversation as we had last time. And I know that what we’ll be hearing is fresh, it’s original, it’s very nicely aligned with where we are now, which is really the back end of 2022 and moving into 2023.
So if you haven’t heard of Sumantha, I can’t believe you haven’t, that means you haven’t listened to all our episodes, so you should. But Sumantha is the Founder of the Upgrade Project as well as The Tutors’ Mastermind, which is a suite of live workshops and collaborative discussions, training videos, mentoring and much much more all aimed at making you, making your tutoring business better. So many of our listeners and community members are part of this Mastermind and will know exactly what I’m talking about and know Sumantha very well, and it will help those of you who don’t know Sumantha yet. And it will do so over the next half an hour or so.
So, Sumantha, so, so good to have you back on. And as listeners normally know we’d ask about our guests why but Sumantha’s already answered that question in a previous episode. So I gather you were able to find a little rummage around in your lodge recently, you were able to find some old school reports. Is that right?
Sumantha McMahon 4:22
Yeah, we were looking for Christmas decorations. And my husband and I came across a few of my school reports. The common thing was that I needed to concentrate a bit more because I quite liked having a bit of a chat, and that I wasn’t reaching my potential. And actually it’s interesting in hindsight, I think the whole kind of school model was part of that for me because the minute I went to university, it changed. Everything changed. Also, something that is a bit of a running joke in my family, no one will let me forget, is that art wasn’t my strength. And we went on the school trip, I don’t know, we went to see some famous ship or something. And this is what we found recently, I’d drawn a picture of it, we had to draw a picture of it. And the teacher wrote, “Sumantha, is this what it actually looked like? Maybe try again” which, and I think I was quite thick skinned about it, and I just had another go.
So yeah, they were really my school reports, it was a little bit of a ‘must try harder’. But it was nothing too dramatic, nothing terrible or anything.
Ludo Millar 5:31
Do you think that has led you to become someone who doesn’t settle for anything less than perfect?
Sumantha McMahon 5:37
No? I’d love to be slick and say, Yes, it has. But no, it hasn’t really. I mean, I think when I was at school, I was a kid and I was a child. And I loved having a chat. And I was social. And I’m really glad I was because I actually got a great experience from my school life because of it. But when I went to university, I responded really well to the freedom of my parents not telling me to go and study and just not being told what to do worked really well for me. And I graduated with a 1st but I did awfully in my A levels. And it was actually that first that was the trigger.
Because I don’t know where or whether I got this from somewhere else in my head, but I always say ‘Success breeds success’ because the minute you experience something that feels really good, you want more of it. And I think actually, that was my turning point. That was when I thought, “I don’t really want to settle for not feeling great about what I’m doing or not producing results”. It’s not a nice feeling. And if I feel like I’m not good at something, or strong at something, I’ll try and change it.
And that applied to even professional qualifications. When I qualified as a trainer, as a business trainer, it’s professional exams, it’s a pass and it’s a fail. And I didn’t care. I didn’t want a pass, I cared about the percentage I got. It was like a personal achievement. So yeah, I would say it was probably more university that really triggered that change.
Ludo Millar 7:06
Yeah, it’s funny, school reports are something that I’ve brought into this podcast, because they’re such a kind of core part of it. But actually, as you say, university, you know, I can’t remember whether you get reports at university or not really, I think that’s the problem is university is a little bit more of a free, just as you say, it doesn’t have reports, specifically, because it’s not about marking you every term or whatever. So, yeah, maybe I’ll bring in school reports, or you can talk about your university experience.
Sumantha McMahon 7:39
Yeah, well, I remember dreading report time because I knew my parents would sit me down and tell me I had to stop talking to my friends and all of this. And what I would do, knowing that it was report time, is I would I’d fix up, you know, the last couple of weeks before reports. So I kind of feel like it was a bit, it wasn’t really effective. Because instead of me-
Ludo Millar 7:59
It wasn’t you.
Sumantha McMahon 8:00
Yeh, it’s not like I implemented all those changes all year round. I just did it for the last week before parents’ evening or the report so that I’d get a decent one. So yeah, I’m not really sure how I felt. I’ve never actually even thought about it until this very moment. Interesting question.
Ludo Millar 8:18
It does bring back at least good memories. It does. So obviously, the primary focus of your professional life at the moment is tutor business coaching, business coaching in the realm of tutoring and education companies. Can you tell us a bit more about how exactly you help small business leaders? And what that coaching kind of entails?
Sumantha McMahon 8:43
Yeah, sure. Well, I think the best way I can summarise what I do, and how I do it, is probably by starting with what I don’t do. What I don’t do is formulas. I don’t believe there’s one way of doing things, or that there can be a ‘one size fits all’. And that’s not just in the education business space. I think that’s in every space. So what I do is I help people design businesses according to the nuances. So you know, I’m an English tutor, 1 out of 1000s. But how I do things is a little bit different to other people and how they do things is different to me. So there are nuances, but also according to people’s preferences and their lifestyles and commitments. Because we choose to run businesses for various reasons. And I just feel like if we get streamlined into one way of doing things and not enjoying it, we might as well work for someone [else] because it’s way less stressful, you get the benefits and all the rest of it. So I’m a really, really strong believer in helping people tailor their businesses to what they like and what they need out of it.
So in line with that, I offer different forms of support, but everything I offer is very flexible. So I work with people on a one-to-one basis for completely tailored coaching. But the maximum sessions they can book in advance is 4. Again, I don’t let people commit for longer because I don’t want them to pay for something they might not need. It’s a fluid journey. I have The Tutors’ Mastermind. And there I have a great community of really proactive education business owners. They’re not actually all tutors, but the Mastermind still works for them. And then we have group coaching sessions, extra training in the Facebook group, downloadable resources, and you know, just lots of good stuff.
And again, it’s flexible, people pay monthly, and they can cancel at any time. And my newest offering, because this was triggered by someone actually asking me for this, is what I’ve called the Training Jukebox. This is a growing hub of resources, you take, you just pick and choose what you want, and you buy it and you have lifetime access to it. I say, you take, you pick and choose, I only have one thing in there right now, because it’s quite new [LAUGHS]. I have 100 content prompts, that are tailored very much to education business owners, because so many people I meet struggle with things like marketing, because they simply don’t know what to write. And there’ll be more added to the Jukebox soon. And finally, as you kindly mentioned, I help people for free through my weekly podcast, which is called Upgrade Your Education Business.
Ludo Millar 11:18
Yeah, that is a podcast we pointed to when Sumantha last spoke in which I continue to do so, that is a really very, very helpful podcast in that sense. I love the way that you’re advocating nicely for podcasts. But also yeah, I mean, the podcast you run is a completely free way to access a little, even more than just a teaser, of what you do for education businesses. So if you’re sitting here thinking, “I’m not sure if I could pay the subscription for monthly coaching”, start with the podcast because I can guarantee if you listen to all four or five seasons of Sumantha’s podcast, then you’ll know exactly where to go next, and where Sumantha can help you.
So yeah, I mean, the number of people who listen to this podcast I know in our community who worked with you, Sumantha, is awesome. I think that’s testament to how much you are helping those businesses. And some of the testimonials you get Sumantha are pretty amazing. Great work.
Sumantha McMahon 12:19
Ludo Millar 12:21
But for those that – even for those people who do the work with you, but even for those who don’t – it’s the start of 2023, you know, just coming off the back of 2022, what are some of the challenges that a founder faces in setting up their tutoring business today at this time?
Sumantha McMahon 12:48
Really good question. I’m glad you specifically mentioned at this time, because I think that that in itself is a challenge. You might be on a Facebook group and you say, ‘Oh can someone help me with X, Y, and Z?” and a lot of the advice will be what someone has done, but like what I did when I set up the business in 2017, we’ve had a pandemic since then, which changed the face, the landscape. So I think what you’ve just said is actually really important. But from the people I’ve met, I think there are 3 things that really, really flag up for me. I think the first one is a scarcity mindset, where people feel like they’re entering a really crowded market, they feel scared, they’re not going to be able to compete, they’re not gonna be able to attract students. And this can lead to some bad decisions, like offering too much for free or going into the market really cheap. And I say they’re bad decisions, because while they seem like quick ways to get your business going – and honestly, my very first business which I set up when I was 22, that’s exactly what I did. It’s a really logical and intuitive way to do it – but what ends up happening is you have to then remedy it later. And I work with so many tutors, where we are remedying that because they’re now at a stage where they feel like they’re working loads of hours, but they’re not earning enough. When they add it up, all the hours they’re working in their business, they’re kind of on minimum wage. And it’s really difficult to have those conversations with parents to say, “My prices are going up”. So I think that that scarcity mindset can often drive that. And I would encourage anybody to really future proof and to think about tomorrow instead of just today, but also not to undervalue the experience and value they’re bringing to the table. Yes, you might be a new tuition business, but you’re not a new educator, you still have years of experience that’s underpinning that. That’s worth something. And money is a communication tool. It’s not about the bottom line. You’re communicating that value proposition of what you’re putting forward. So I think that that’s one thing that can be tricky.
I think a second challenge is just not knowing where to start. Do my terms and conditions or website or logo and this and that and tradition – that’s where people start, they start by creating a logo and a website, then they announce, “I have a new business”. But I’m gonna go against that a little bit. I know that’s really common practice. Again, I’ve done that. But unless your business really relies on it, I’m going to say you don’t need a logo and a website, you just need to get started. And to get started, you can choose the one thing that’s going to attract paid clients. Now I’ve put my money where my mouth is, when I launched Upgrade Your Education Business, I did this, I did not have a website, I launched without it. And I’ve advised some clients to do this as well. And something any new tutor might be interested in is, I worked with a client in 2020, he set up his brand new business, he wasn’t even a tutor. He had been a teacher a while ago. So he wasn’t really in the space or networking at all. And he set up during lockdown. He didn’t have- he just had a Facebook group, actually. And you know, what I would advise would vary person to person, but he had a group. He didn’t have a website. His books were full within 6 months, he started developing waiting lists. And now we’re now in 2022 – yes? Okay, I lost track of time, we’re in 2022 – and he still doesn’t have a website because he doesn’t feel the need to have one.
So this whole traditional route of logo, website, this, that, I think the most important thing is to get started, is to get clients through the door. Because then once you start getting paid, well, that money can pay for your website, it can pay for hosting, or whatever it might be. So I think at the moment, we can be really flexible about how we put our name out there. We don’t have to go with tradition. Because social media is a huge, it’s a big part of where people, consumers go shopping.
And the third thing is that I think it’s just making key decisions, like how much do I charge? I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never struggled with this or that I don’t struggle with this, I still do. But there are ways to navigate it. And I think it’s important to come up with a structure that works for you, and connects with the kind of clients that you want to work with. Again, it’s a communication tool more than, “Well, if I work X amount of hours, how much will I earn?”. That’s part of the equation, but part of it has to be, “Well, what kind of impression do I want to put across? And who do I want to attract?”.
So I think they’re the three main [ones]. I’m sure there are more, but I think there are three main challenges. And the one thing I would say to anybody who’s trying anything new, not just setting up their business, and I remind myself of this as well is that I think there are three stages to anything. The first stage is just to get started, you don’t have to focus on getting it perfect, just get started. The second stages to get good. And then the third stage is to get intentional, you can’t have one stage without another. And whenever I look at new things through this lens, it just makes me feel safer, and it alleviates pressure. When I started the podcast, oh my goodness, like my first few podcast episodes were awful. Like the quality everything. Now I’m focusing on trying to make them better. And you know, as time goes on, they’ll just get better and better. But I can still see people are listening to the early episodes. So you know, you can still be successful without worrying about being strategic and getting everything polished and perfect.
Ludo Millar 18:21
Wasn’t I one of the first few podcast episodes?
Sumantha McMahon 18:25
Yeah, but yours was really good [LAUGHS]. I mean, my solo ones. I remember my first one – weirdly, it’s the most popular one, maybe just because of time, it was 14 minutes long, and now I average on about 15 minutes, let’s say because that’s about right, I’ve realised that’s what people like. It’s really manageable for me. But I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t invest in a microphone. At the time I was speaking through my webcam’s microphone. You know, there was so many things about the quality, but it’s fine. It just got my podcast started. And it’s the same with tuition business, okay, you don’t have a slick onboarding and invoicing system. That’s fine. Just start teaching, start teaching, just do the basics, get basic terms and conditions out there, so you’re protected, and start getting those testimonials and the experience and getting your name out there. And then it’s the snowball effect. Things can build upon that. If I had a motto, it would be ‘Do it your way’. Just do things your way on your terms.
And whether I’m speaking to someone who’s launching or growing or scaling, or not a tutor, but working in the education business space, the advice is still the same, and my aim is still the same. So someone might come to me and say, “Right, I’m fully booked with one-to-one, I want to set up group classes”. I won’t just show them how to set up group classes. I’ll ask them, “Why do you want group classes?”. It starts with that question of, ‘Shall we just check this is definitely the direction you want to take your business in? Because if you want to make more per hour, there are loads of ways to do it. This isn’t the only way”.
So you know, I would say the thing that drives everything that I do is that we have to make our businesses something that we love, that we enjoy. We’re not going to love it every single moment of every day. But it’s got to give us what we need out of it. Otherwise, it feels pointless if we’re just doing a routine, and we’re not enjoying it, and we don’t feel fulfilled. And we’re being forced to post every single day at 5 o’clock on LinkedIn, because that’s what- you’ve got to do what works for you. Yeah, it’s got to be sustainable.
Ludo Millar 20:30
I love that. I’ve heard before people saying that business coaches can often act like a bit of a co-founder, you know, you are there being a sounding board. That’s when they come up with ideas, because people who start tutoring businesses, you know, lots of them are tutors, they’ve got great ideas. They’re very clever, they understand how to work with people, but they, like many tutors, don’t have someone else to bounce those ideas off. And you are in that perfect position of being a high-trust environment, which is professional, but also being very close to understanding the business very, very well, you know, asking them questions like, “Do you think that really the right way for your business to go? Maybe something more like this”, or “Here’s an idea for this”. I think that get started, get good, get intentional. Beautiful, beautiful, I think that’s easy peasy.
Sumantha McMahon 21:21
It’s been a real life saver for me, actually, because I started a YouTube channel earlier this year, it’s growing extremely slowly. And I cringe when I watch some of the videos, but I’m keeping it up there. I’m going to keep it there. Because I’m just experimenting, you know, I’m just getting started. And when I’ve divided it into those phases, the reason why it helps me and why I share it with other people is because I know it’s fine. I don’t need to be good right now. It takes that pressure off. I know that’s coming next. That’s exciting. It will be really good at some point. But right now I’m just getting started. And that’s okay. And I think it just takes the pressure off because we often expect to go from 0 to 100 straight away to expect whatever we’re launching, it has to be ready. It has to be perfect. The Tutors’ Mastermind I launched in three phases. The form it’s in right now wasn’t the form it started in back in March. Again, it’s evolving, it’s still changing, it’s still getting better. And I think that’s all right.
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Ludo Millar 15:28
Thanks to episode sponsors, The Tutor Index.
Chris Nicholson 15:34
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Ludo Millar 23:05
Now, I want to shift the conversation just slightly, we’re just coming towards a bit of a close here. Just a couple of questions I want to ask next. And we’re saying that, often, tutoring business leaders have been tutors, and a lot of the time they’ve been teachers as well, they might even still be teachers while they’re setting up their tutoring business. And I wanted to know what your thoughts were on this because you’ve worked with lots of tutoring business leaders, I wonder if the skillset of a teacher, an ex-teacher, can make for a good tutoring business leader? And if so, why that might be?
Sumantha McMahon 23:42
I think in most ways, absolutely yes. Because I think teachers, I mean, I remember this from the classroom where, you know, we have skills without really realising we have them because we just use them every single day, you know, split-second decisions and fast moving. And people outside of the profession, spend 1000s of hours on learning some of those skills. For instance, how many schemes of work have we created, you know, if you’ve been a teacher you have created, you can do it standing on your head. But people spend loads learning how to write a course, how to create a course. We know how to do that. We can navigate difficult conversations with parents and students. That translates to some of the challenges that people in other industries might face as business leaders. You know, we multitask, we can’t be a teacher without the ability to do that. So there are just a couple of examples, but I think there are so many more.
I think the area that maybe lets us down as ex-teachers is really mindset more than anything, especially around things like money or being salesy so to speak, which is something I’ve actually been focusing on in the Masterminds, and I’m sure we’ll return to it because it’s a huge thing. “I don’t want to sell, I feel pushy, I find it kind of uncomfortable”. And I think that I certainly found, when I left teaching, there was this big period of time where I needed to decompress and de-institutionalise, because as a teacher, you do get used to overworking and going beyond because it’s for the kids, it’s for the kids. That’s the driving force. This emotive thing. And so when you then put your business hat on, well, you can’t just be driven with ‘but it’s for the kids, but it’s for the kids’. And ‘let me offer everything for free’. And ‘let me do this’, and ‘I don’t want to charge too much’. Because the thing is that that’s not going to pay the bills.
That’s the very practical reality of it. When you’re a teacher, you get paid a salary. So you know, it can be for the kids. And you don’t have to think quite so – what’s the word – quite so, I don’t know, formulaic-ly should I say. But I think that transition to picking the best bits of being an educator, and just tweaking those areas that make you a really strong business leader, I think teachers make for great business owners, and not just tutoring business leaders, but any business leader. And the thing that I will say, just as a caveat to those weaknesses potentially, is that being a teacher, you get very used to reflection, self-reflection all the time and CPD. And so we’re not actually afraid of learning new things. We’re not afraid of saying ‘I could do this better, so let me try. Let me learn this and fix this’. We’re very, very used to it. We’re arguably, sometimes, a bit more thick skinned. I know, I had to be working in secondary school. So overall, yeah, I think teachers make amazing, amazing business people. One of the reasons I love working in this space.
Ludo Millar 26:42
Yeah. And we’ve seen lots of teachers leaving the profession, you know, unfortunately, or fortunately, and I think tutoring was, tutoring is, one of the key avenues they explore. And I think it’s important to speak to them and to provide as much information on that because as we know, as Qualified Tutor, the Love Tutoring Community, is that a lot of ex-teachers who’ve been in the system for 15, 20, 30 years, there is that sense of, “Wait, hang on, what do I do now? I, myself, have that lack of confidence”, I think misplaced often that lack of confidence of how to represent themselves as a business just kind of, I don’t want to charge people. I’m happy to work overtime, we see that the whole time in our community, and people going above and beyond for their fellow tutors. And I think that comes from the classroom environment.
Sumantha McMahon 27:37
I agree. And there’s also that phrase that I hear a lot of ‘I’m just a teacher’. And you know, a lot of people their journey has been university, teaching and then that’s it. That’s all they’ve kind of done. And I think that’s really undervaluing the number of skills that you have that are really transferable into being a business leader.
Ludo Millar 28:01
Well, I think you’re speaking to such a large proportion of the education market there, so thank you so much for coming on and for sharing all that you do basically sharing your business to some extent, so, very kind.
Ludo Millar 28:17
Now, a brief word from last week’s guest, Meera Vasudeva, whose episode you can catch after this.
Meera Vasudeva 28:30
Hi, my name is Meera Vasudeva, and I really enjoyed being on the Qualified Tutor Podcast as it gave me the opportunity to do something different and try a new experience. I also really enjoyed the chance to just discuss teaching and tutoring as I love speaking about both. With regard to what I learned about myself and my business from being on this podcast, I think it really allowed me to come out of my comfort zone and also realise that coming out of my comfort zone isn’t as scary as it initially seems. It can actually lead to really exciting opportunities. In addition to this with regard to my business, this whole experience allowed me to just pause and reflect which is something I don’t do enough and it’s so powerful to just sit back and appreciate my journey so far. Finally, one thing I’d say to a future guest is if you feel nervous, Ludo’s kind and calming presence will instantly put you at ease, try and enjoy the opportunity and the experience.
Ludo Millar 29:40
I just have one final question, which is this: it’s January 2023, what is next for you? What’s next for Sumantha McMahon?
Sumantha McMahon 29:52
What’s next for me? Well, I think what’s next for me is actually just enriching and maintaining what I’ve already set out Up, over the last couple of years, I would say, I’ve been on, I would say quite a treadmill in a way of developing new things, launching new things. And launching is pretty scary. It’s takes a lot of energy. So I just actually want to enjoy what I’ve created, if you like and continue enriching that. As a tutor, I’m really happy I work with the clients. I’ve got now all clients I’ve worked with for years and will continue working with for years, which I love, and I have some resources I’m developing for children. And on the business coaching side, I really enjoy the clients that I work with, I love being part of their businesses. And yeah, I’m just looking forward to making the Masterminds, making what I offer, better and better.
Ludo Millar 30:50
Well, look at that. It’s a journey to follow for 2023. So if you haven’t already become part of the Mastermind, then you can head to tutorsmastermind.com, is that right
Sumantha McMahon 31:03
It would be upgradeyoureducationbusiness.com. And through that, you can see everything that offer a little bit more about me, also a link to my podcast.
Ludo Millar 31:11
Awesome. So that’s the place to go upgradeyoureducationbusiness.com. And you can also connect with Sumantha on LinkedIn as well. Yeah, the link will be in the show notes as always. But Sumantha, thank you for joining us on the 146th episode. I was actually having a look back at what your last episode number was. I think it was about 102 or something, I couldn’t quite remember. But I was wondering if there was any kind of links between the two? I don’t think there were but yeah, thank you very, very much for joining us again.
Sumantha McMahon 31:42
Thank you for having me again. Thank you.
Ludo Millar 31:46
So thanks, listeners, for joining us. We will see you all again next time for the 147th episode but happy new year for those celebrating it. And we look forward to hearing from you in the Community and in our Qualified Tutor Podcast Support Group as well. So yeah, but for one final time, Sumantha, thank you very much. And see you soon.
Sumantha McMahon 32:08
See you soon. Bye bye.
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Your next step is to check out the Love Tutoring Community and in particular LTC Connect, a premium membership space which will serve all your subject-specific CPD needs alongside a friendly, professional community space that meets regularly. Visit qualifiedtutor.org/transformational-training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited, Level 2 Safeguarding and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.
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