Welcome to Saturday Business chat. Let’s say hello to Sally-Jayne Braisby, who is a freelance teacher. I know Sally-Jayne through her husband, Ian, who is a translator and tour guide (we’ll have an interview with him, soon, too!). Sally’s given us a lot of lovely detail here on her discoveries and lessons learned, and I found her point about blog posts particularly useful, and something I should hone myself.
Like me, Sally-Jayne had a bit of a mid-career change of direction, but she was brave enough to go off to University and learn a whole new set of skills – a very admirable path to take!
What’s your business called? When did you set it up?
I started working for myself in January 2009. I don’t have a limited company, so strictly speaking I don’t have a business name, but my online presence (website, Facebook and Twitter) is SJBTeaching.
What made you decide to set up your own business?
After completing my NQT year (probation year for newly qualified teachers), I decided to work freelance for a few reasons:
- I enjoy teaching, but not all the paperwork and politics that go with it. By working for myself I can have all the enjoyment of teaching, and the rewards of seeing children enthused and motivated to learn, but I don’t have to attend endless staff meetings, write reports or deal with ever-moving goal posts.
- I enjoy working 1-2-1 and with small groups, and there is more opportunity to do this as a freelancer than as a class teacher.
- I can choose my own CPD. Instead of being bored at a school INSET (teacher training) day that somebody else has chosen on behalf of all the school staff, I can book courses that really interest me. I remember one training day when I was still employed in a school when the headteacher asked a singer to come into school to teach us lots of songs. We had to spend the whole day singing. It was my worst nightmare come true! I enjoy teaching languages and working with under-achieving children, so these days I tend to book courses run by the British Dyslexia Association, attend seminars at the Education Show or Language Show, or choose relevant free courses from OpenLearn. I’m also doing a course in BSL which will enable me to work with deaf and hard-of-hearing pupils in the future.
- I thrive on variety. If I still worked in a school I would have the same classroom and the same year group for at least one year, but more likely two or three years in a row. As a freelancer I can be working with 3 year olds in a nursery one day, and with adults in a university the next.
What made you decide to go into this particular business area?
I’d been working as a project manager in the translation industry for years and I was ready for a change. I had been getting more involved with training and mentoring new staff and enjoying it much more than project management. I also qualified as a dance teacher at around the same time, and found that I was good at it. Teaching is something that had been in the back of my mind for a while, but the time never seemed right to make the change, especially as languages, which would have been my specialist subject, were in decline after the government made them non-compulsory for GCSE. Then the government announced that they had plans for primary school children to learn a foreign language, and suddenly there was a huge demand for language teachers again. I decided it was time to take the plunge and I went back to university to begin training.
Had you run your own business before?
This is my first real attempt at working for myself, although just before applying for a teacher training course I did work part time as a dance teacher, just to earn enough to allow me to volunteer in schools to gain classroom experience.
How did you do it? Did you launch full-time, start off with a part-time or full-time job to keep you going … ?
The contract I was working on came to an end, and as I knew that I didn’t want a permanent full-time classroom teacher contract, I had to just throw myself in at the deep-end and become full-time self-employed.
What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
I wish I had been told to design my business stationery to meet my needs rather than adhering to a ‘normal’ format. For example: I designed my business cards with my name, job title, address, phone number, email and website because that’s what I had on my business card when I was a project manager. However, nobody that I hand these cards to will ever need to write to me. Phone me – yes. Email me – again yes. But write to me? Never. I wish I’d saved the space I wasted on my address for showing more of the services I offer.
What would you go back and tell your newly entrepreneurial self?
If I could go back I’d tell myself that a verbal contract is only as good as the paper it’s written on. I’ve been burnt once and I won’t make that mistake again.
What do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I’d approached my website differently. It’s another case of everything being clearer with hindsight, but I had my website for quite a while without really getting any benefit. I eventually realised that although I had a lot of information on the home page, none of it included the terms that people would be searching for! I deleted some of the copy and moved some to other pages, and then did the homepage again. It now has very little content, and consists mostly of bullet points, but the information is more relevant. My site now features higher up the search engines and I have finally started getting work through it.
What are you glad you did?
I’m glad that I set up a Twitter account. I only follow a small number of people, and by most people’s standards I only have a small number of followers, but the quality of advice, help and resources I have found through Twitter is amazing. The people on there have saved me so much time when I’ve needed to lay my hands on high quality resources at short notice. It works both ways though and I’m always happy to share my resources and knowledge with others.
What’s your top business tip?
I picked up a really useful tip from a fellow freelancer. She said that some of the articles on my blog were really interesting and informative, but that I wasn’t really making the best of them. Her advice was to put a “call to action” at the end of each piece, telling people to visit my website. It’s such a simple thing to do, but I’d never thought of it. I now add something along the lines of “For more information visit www.sjbteaching.com” to the bottom of each piece, and it has really increased the traffic to my site.
How has it gone since you started? Have you grown, diversified or stayed the same?
There’s only one of me, so unless I were to decide to become an agency and start subcontracting work (which I don’t want to do), there isn’t a way for me to grow as a business. Have I diversified? In a way, yes because when I started out I worked only with children aged 7-11, but I have gained experience with other age-groups and now work from nurseries right up to universities.
Where do you see yourself and your business in a year’s time?
There are some subjects I enjoy teaching more than others. I like languages, English, maths, science, history and geography. I loathe PE and music. In a year’s time I would still like to be working with such a wide age-range as now, but I would love to be in a position where I can teach more of my favourite subjects and less of my least favourite ones. I’d also like to be doing more private tuition, as this is the most rewarding type of teaching: you can really see children growing in confidence as their understanding improves.
Thank you for such full and honest answers: there’s a lot that many people can learn from, in all areas of freelancing and business. Here’s hoping there will be more of the good subjects this time next year!
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