Welcome to another Small Business Update – this time with Sally-Jayne Braisby of SJB Teaching. We first met Sally-Jayne in August 2012, and revisited her in September 2013. At that point, here was where she wanted to be in a year’s time: “If I’m still in exactly the position I’m in now, I’ll be happy. If I could change anything I’d like to do more language teaching in universities, and more work training primary school teachers ready for languages to appear back on the curriculum in 2014. That is all dependent on me finding time to get in touch with primary head teachers and university MFL departments, letting them know what I can do though!” Sadly, tragedy struck Sally-Jayne’s family soon afterwards, and the year has been one of coping and coming to terms.
Now, as you’ll realise as you read it, this was a difficult response for Sally-Jayne to write, and I respect and admire her enormously for having the courage to share it with us. I’m honoured, too, as it’s been such a hard year, but the honesty with which she shares her story will undoubtedly help anyone else who finds themselves in a similar situation.
Hello, Sally-Jayne. I already know you’re not where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago. Can you tell us what happened?
It’s actually been a really difficult year. Two days after you published my update last year, my mom died really suddenly and unexpectedly. It knocked me for six, and I’ve only been able to focus on one day at a time. A lot of the plans I had made got shelved until I felt able to start thinking ahead again. Luckily all my clients were really supportive about me taking some time out, and were happy to wait for me to return to work.
Work is now busier than ever. I’m being booked by schools well in advance and I’ve had to start another tuition waiting list. Last time I updated I had cleared the list, but I’m getting so many recommendations now that I just can’t take anybody else on at the moment.
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
I’m now teaching only the subjects I enjoy. Last year I had managed to ditch music, and this year PE went the same way.
I’ve been teaching more languages than ever – I’ve been invited back again to the university I was teaching at, I have a long-term contract at a primary school in Birmingham to teach French and Spanish, and I’m teaching French privately to a family who are considering a move to France at some point in the future.
I’m also in the process of expanding my language skills. At the end of the summer term, I took some time out to begin learning Chinese. The Confucius Institute organised an intensive 3-day kick-start training session, and then we’ve had to follow an online course over the last few weeks before a top-up session next November. At the end of it I should be able to teach some Chinese in primary schools. While my Chinese will never be as good as my French or Spanish, it’s useful to have another language to offer and I’ve already started teaching some in a lunchtime club. I’ve also dusted down my Latin and Ancient Greek books from school days and started refreshing my memory of those languages so if any schools are feeling more adventurous – I’m ready for them!
I’ve also been doing a lot more of the intervention work that I love, and this year the school I’ve been working at achieved its best ever SATs results, so I’m really proud to have been a part of that.
Last year I said I was looking at the maths and English curricula for secondary schools so that I could continue working with my private tuition pupils beyond year 7 if they wanted me to. I am now able to offer English to the end of year 8, and I have kept some of my pupils on for this.
I have also started offering maths and English tuition to PGCE students to help them through their professional skills tests. I haven’t yet updated my website yet to reflect this new service – again because I’ve been too busy. At the moment it’s just word of mouth, but I shall probably update the website next summer when I am in a position to start taking on new clients.
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
This is a difficult one to answer. I haven’t learned much from a business perspective this year because it’s been such a difficult time on a personal level. The understanding my clients showed me has reminded me that they value me, which has been good for my confidence.
Any more hints and tips for people?
Be prepared! During holiday times I write a few blog posts on a general theme so that when work gets extra busy I can use a pre-written one and don’t have the worry of trying to find time to write something new. This has turned out to be a real help this year because it meant that during those first few weeks after mom died, when I was really struggling, I was able to continue adding new content to my website without any extra pressure. Thanks to this I maintained my place in the search engine rankings and have continued to receive enquiries via the website.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
To be honest, I’m still taking things one day at a time so I’m not making any future plans for the time being. I’m just going to see where life and work takes me over the next few months, and then when I feel ready I shall reassess where I am and where I want to be.
I’d like to thank Sally-Jayne again for this very honest and helpful set of answers. I think that the way in which her clients responded to her difficult time with generosity and kindness really shows the relationship she’s built with them. I know that my clients have been great during the odd personal struggle that I’ve had, and it’s really testament to the way you relate to your customers if they come through for you like this when times are tough. I’m glad that Sally-Jayne has still been able to build some positives into the year, achieving her aim of only working with subjects she wants to work with, and even starting learning a new language, and I’m sure we all wish her well for the upcoming year.
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.