In 2008, my husband (at the time) and long-term business partner, with our three kids aged nine, seven and two, decided to pack up our home in West Yorkshire, move North to Ross-shire, where I’m originally from and set up a new business training people to teach English as a Foreign Language.
We had met 12 years previously while teaching English in a town in the mountains of the Peloponnese in Greece and had moved on to France and latterly Leeds while remaining within the TEFL industry for much of this period.
We started with the aim of providing a service solely dedicated to offering TEFL courses, using our expertise and experience in the area. We’d both taught in several countries; Joe had worked for a competitor in both training and ecommerce/digital marketing in Leeds and I’d been a manager in the Civil Service. We knew our market and were really keen to give a better offering to people looking to live and teach abroad; better courses, better customer service, and better tutors. Our focus was Scotland, thinking even covering all of Scotland could be difficult from the Highlands! ‘TEFL Scotland’ was launched.
We were lucky and worked hard, building up a small team. TEFL Scotland was followed by TEFL England, TEFL Wales and TEFL Courses Ireland, each with their own branding and website – and too much work to maintain. We rebranded pulling all the websites and brands under one banner, TEFL Org UK in 2013. Up to this point Joe and I had shared management of the business to a large extent but around this time I became official Managing Director allowing Joe to concentrate on his strengths and me, mine. My youngest was also now in full-time education which allowed me to concentrate on the business, though I generally finished in the office in time to pick her up from school. The working day would then either continue in the kitchen at home before dinner or, more often than not after 7pm when the youngest had gone to bed.
The business was still growing, and I had a bout of ‘imposter syndrome’ (one of many!). I realized the way to fix this was to learn more about being an ‘entrepreneur’, a title I was not comfortable wearing. I signed up to the inaugural Growth Advantage Programme (GAP) being run by Strathclyde Business School at the University of Strathclyde and spent nine months working through this, visiting Glasgow every six weeks or so for a couple of days at a time and meeting with those facing similar trials, tribulations and fears. Meeting a peer group in similar situations, if very different companies, really gave me the confidence and support to grow the company further.
Out of taking part in GAP, came my determination to launch in the US. We did this in late 2017 with brand new courses in ‘American English’ for the US market, running our first classroom courses in January 2018. This last 12 months has seen growth of over 300% in the US. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, we stopped the classroom courses at the end of 2018 and closed down the costly US entity we had created when launching in the United States as it was something we believed we needed to have. Turns out it wasn’t, so that was a waste of several thousand pounds! Unfortunately, costly mistakes can happen. However, stopping the classroom courses, integrating TEFL org UK and TEFL Org USA into one brand The TEFL org, having one website, and focusing on the online courses only, meant margins were far better and with the right focus on PPC/SEO we have turned the US arm of the business around with great year on year growth every year currently.
It’s very exciting to be running a company selling and growing internationally from somewhere in the country that many see as remote never mind what the rest of the world thinks! The internet, and our connectivity to the rest of the world through it, has made it possible to run a successful international Scottish company from the Highlands.
My biggest challenge was
My biggest challenge was probably taking over control of the company from my then husband and managing the attitudes of external partners (seeing a man’s name as one of the directors would nine times out of ten lead to the presumption that he was senior partner) the and also making a success of our relationship while working together in quite a fraught, stressful situation.