One of the biggest myths people tend to have about franchises is the more expensive the business costs, the more money you can make. Diane Wilson, a successful franchise owner with Tutor Doctor, joins Dru Carpenito to explain why that’s the not the case. Diane shares her journey in franchising and how she’s built her Tutor Doctor franchise in a small rural town in northern Ontario into a thriving business she’s passed down to her daughters.
Diane shares many valuable nuggets in her journey including:
- What it was like to open an education franchise without any background in education and why she decided to do it
- What it’s like to open a franchise during one of the largest recessions the world has ever experienced
- How she’s built her business through a keen focus on solving her customers’ problems and helping them
- How she overcame her fear of “sales” by shifting her mindset
- And, how she’s been able to pass the business along to her daughters who now run it.
Listen to the podcast here
How One Franchise Owner Used A Home-Based Franchise To Build A Wildly Successful Family Business That Her Daughters Now Run
With Diane Wilson, Tutor Doctor Franchise Owner
This is a special one for me because I get to talk with one of my favorite people in the world, Diane Wilson, who is a Tutor Doctor, franchise owner turned home office employee working in the franchise development world. She brings a wealth of experience and perspective to this show. Diane, welcome.
Thank you for having me. I’m super excited about being on your show. Hopefully, I can help others.
I have no doubt that you will. I’m pretty confident when I say this. As of now, you are the only guest, and you might be the only guest ever, that I have been to their house and had dinner with the family. We will tell that story. Diane and I go way back to my time at Tutor Doctor. Diane is one of the top-performing Tutor Doctor franchise owners.
She has an amazing story. We will weave into this a little bit about how she got into Tutor Doctor without a background in Education and really experience in Education other than raising two amazing daughters. We will talk about all that. Diane, we would love to hear your story in terms of how you got into franchising, what you had thinking about starting a business, and how you got into Tutor Doctor and all that good stuff. I will kick it over to you.
I would love to share that story with you. It’s kind of a Cinderella story a little bit, but it all started back when my husband and I were in our early 40s. He’s a little bit older than me, but I was in my early 40s. I was working for the insurance world. I was a broker and auto and home insurance customer service specialist. I’m in the grind every day. You know how it is, making other people successful and giving all you’ve got. I would come home always exhausted and had no time to spend with my family or bring work home.
My husband, one day, I don’t know what brought us on, I guess fate, but he said, “Diane, if you worked for yourself, if you could find a business that you could run and be in that driver’s seat, I could imagine what you would do with that business because I see what you do with other people’s businesses.” I said, “What could that be?” All I knew was insurance. For me, insurance was my world. That’s where I lived. He said, “Let’s look. If we don’t look, we are not going to find.”
I remember it was a weekend, I went online and read businesses. All of a sudden, I got a call from a franchise developer and it said, “Have you considered franchising?” I said, “I can’t afford a McDonald’s, and I don’t want one.” It’s the truth. He says, “There’s a lot more than McDonald’s out there. Maybe it’s free. We are going to bring you through the process, and you can find maybe the business that you have always been looking for.” I said, “I’m in.”
We went through this process, and he came back with four choices for the business models, and Tutor Doctor was one of them. This is, again, a very funny, true story. He says, “Tutor Doctor, and there are three other ones.” I said, “Not Tutor Doctor. That’s not my cup of tea.” He says, “Why do you think it’s not your cup of tea?” I said, “I’m not an educator. I’m not a teacher. I don’t want to go back to school. You don’t want me to teach anyone.” He goes, “No, not the roles you are going to be playing. Keep an open mind. We will bring you through the process, and if you still say no, it’s fine because you are going to gravitate toward things you like.”
Anyways, long story short, I went through the process, and Tutor Doctor was actually the one that I moved forward with. It spoke to my heart because I had a strong customer service background. Whether it’s helping people in insurance or helping students achieve their goals and stuff, to me, it was always about helping people. It was actually a good fit. No regrets there.
It sounds like you had the itch. You had the drive to figure out if there was the right business out there for you. You’ve got a little coaching to keep an open mind and take a peek at this one, and here you are. With Tutor Doctor, you are not teaching. You are matchmaking.
When you own a Tutor Doctor business, it’s a home-based business that you run from home. I love that because that gave me the opportunity to spend more time with my kids. My kids played competitive badminton back then and won a lot of tournaments that I missed. That gave me the opportunity to work from home and be able to be active in my family life back again. It’s a lifestyle type of business. It works around your schedule pretty much.
You can put in as many hours. Of course, you will always get what you put into the business, but we have two models. We’ve got a full-time model, and that’s all they do. That was me back in the day, or a part-time model. I’m not going to say semi-absentee because we don’t need a manager, but maybe it’s a business that you run while you still work or you own another business. It’s a perfect business for the right people, to be honest.
When Diane and I went back because I used to work for Tutor Doctor, it’s an interesting business model because you are recruiting tutors, screening tutors, and then matching the students with the right tutor, not just based on the academics that they need. That’s a big piece of it, but it’s also the personality match and helping the student find someone that they can connect with, that can help them connect with the subject, achieve their goals, and whatnot. It’s like a matchmaking service in a way.
It is because every student learns differently. You are going to have different teaching and learning styles. You are going to have the special needs, the visual kids, the auditory, and all that. What is unique is the customer-centered approach with our students, the flexibility to work around their schedules, and the listening to what that students’ needs are. It’s having a consultation with them so that you can understand. The parents are there to give you the information needed like what’s going on with that student.
As you say, after that, it’s that matching process with your tutors. Your tutors are all vetted onboarded by the franchisees. I’m going to go back a little bit after this conversation to go back into where Tutor Doctor started and what led us to where we are now. To stay focused on this topic, it’s to match that tutor to that student. Their personalities, how they learn, and to be able to create what I called it several years ago, the magical match. As soon as I started with Tutor Doctor, I could see and sense that magic needed to happen there for the right student to be matched with the right tutor.
I’ve heard that term again. Did Tutor Doctor borrow that from you? I wonder where they got that term. Now I know.
The magical match. I remember we were on a global team call, and it just came out. I said, “You would need to create that magical match to be able to get the results we are looking for,” which is not difficult to do because it’s very consultative. Once you’ve got the information from both sides, your teams of individual tutors and your students, it’s not difficult. Plus, we have a system that actually matches location and subjects, which facilitates that even more. Now, we are in. That wasn’t the case several years ago but that’s another story.
It’s hard as a parent because there’s so much emotion too. You are in it, and it’s very hard to find the right tutor for your son or daughter who needs it. Like Will has a bunch of tutors, and it’s taken a long time to get to the point where we have the right team in place. As parents, we do the best we can but we only see what we want to see. Don’t look at it very objectively. A lot of times, having someone come in that can look at our child and understand who the tutors are on the other side and have options is a powerful and much-needed thing.
It’s not because the teachers are not doing a wonderful job at school because they are but sometimes, they can’t reach the rest of the classroom. One of my other deciding factors for joining Tutor Doctor, which I missed mentioning, is my oldest daughter, as I’m researching these models, and I come from a very small town, tutoring was probably not even part of a vocabulary back then. All of a sudden, she’s starting to have meltdowns. I’m looking at finding the right business, and she’s crying. She says, “I’m going to fail Physics.” I said, “What do you mean you are going to fail? You are going into sciences. What’s going on? Is it your teacher?” She’s like, “I don’t understand. I don’t get it.”
Fair enough, emotional. It’s like, “Don’t look at me. I can’t help you.” My husband was going, “Don’t look at me.” We all go to the school and meet with her teacher, and it’s like, “She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t apply the laws. She memorizes everything. She’s just not cut out for Physics.” I’m going, “I’m not going to take that as an answer. I’m sure we can provide her some help,” and he couldn’t provide me any help. What ended up happening was that she worked with a young engineer. Not only did she graduate high school but she graduated with two Science degrees after five years of university. It’s a crazy story.
That was another reason why Tutor Doctor resonated with me because I thought, “If I’m having this difficulty with my own child, how many other needs are there out there?” I then started talking to other parents and saying, “Have your son or daughter ever been tutored?” “Of course.” They had been tutored and were being tutored. It was a real thing. I was living under a rock there for a bit.
It’s not something that people talk about that openly because there’s a little bit of a stigma around it at dinner parties and that stuff. There are so many kids that learn, process information differently, and need someone to help them connect the dots. The teachers don’t have the bandwidth a lot of time to individualize it as much as a student might need it. It’s a special thing that Tutor Doctor does. You were franchisee number what when you came onboard with Tutor Doctor?Tutoring is not something that people talk about that openly because there's a little bit of a stigma around it. Click To Tweet
Franchisee, number three. It was something. I’m proud to be the beginning Tutor Doctor. Even though I’m going to admit I was in the trenches back then, the brand was in its infancy. There weren’t a lot of people that you could talk to about Tutor Doctor. There were still a couple of people that I could definitely speedball within stuff but it was to see this brand grow to where it is now over time. I will give you an example. When I joined Tutor Doctor, we didn’t have the multimillion-dollar system we have now.
We did have a system that we utilized to the best of its capabilities. I then saw how Tutor Doctor went from being a very traditional business, meaning we would go to students’ homes. The tutors would be either meeting them at the kitchen table, at a public or school library but we couldn’t reach those far-end students. If they lived in remote areas, they would either have to bring their kids in or they wouldn’t be able to have tutoring. The home office was ahead of that. That’s when I saw this business evolve and then, with the pandemic explodes.
A couple of years after launching the business and doing traditional tutoring, one-to-one and in person, social media is starting. That’s when the home office said, “There’s a virtual side coming here with this social media happening.” They partnered with an online tutoring platform from the United Kingdom. Like Zoom on steroids. That allowed our students to be able to now meet their tutors virtually even though they lived 45 minutes from the city limits. That opened that side of the business, which was pretty cool. Fast-tracking to what happened with the pandemic, the home office already had a leg up because probably less than 5% were using the virtual platform.
It was being used but not to the extent that it’s being used now. Once all of our tutors were trained on this virtual whiteboard platform where you can share documents and record the sessions and the visual kids can go back and rewatch, and it’s quite a nice platform, then the potential of being a Tutor Doctor franchisee went crazy. Now you could have as many students learning virtually that actually preferred, tested, and performed extremely well through it, then you could have students go back to their traditional ways after the pandemic eased off. We are the best of both worlds but this happened way back, over a decade ago, where we started doing virtual training, and I’m not super techy. When all of this happened, I was going, “Where’s the world going?”
It sounds like the pandemic, in a way, accelerated the path that was already happening, just forced it to accelerate when you didn’t have any other options and when the in-person meeting was not allowed during those couple of years but kids needed it. The kids needed to continue to learn and get help. The demand didn’t change. If anything, it got bigger.
It got bigger, more than ever, because five months might not sound like a lot to people. They are out of school from March to June but five months for these kids could mean they will never get caught up, unfortunately or it will take 3 to 5 years or longer for them to get caught up if something’s not done about it if there’s no attention. There is attention being paid to this now.
It’s definitely in the news, which we can talk about here. There are some interesting things that you are seeing. You are franchisee number three at Tutor Doctors in its infancy. How many franchise owners are there around the world?
We are now in 16 different countries with over 740 units across the world. A unit is a franchise. You are going to have franchisees that own one territory. You are going to have some that will have multiple. We are probably very close to over 750, which is in several years.
You knew that was going to happen. You saw it at the beginning. You knew Tutor Doctor was going to become a worldwide sensation with 700 plus franchise owners.
When you are at the beginning like that, you are with a shovel digging your way out. You are building the traits for everyone that’s coming after you. The bigger the network began, the more powerful we became, and we are better at numbers. We are better together. What I could see happen is that those global team calls always existed, by the way, whether we were 3, 10 or 350 people on it, just imagine the power that generates because you’ve got people with marketing backgrounds, customer service, HR, and medical sales. You’ve got all of these people sharing their success stories and their challenges, and we are all there doing the same thing together, which I could never imagine in my wildest dream that I would be part of such a team, and my daughters live it now, which we will get into.
It’s a great example of power. As a franchisee, you have access to other franchise owners to learn from, network with, share information, and share what’s working and not working. Sometimes the “corporate office” have a pulse but maybe what they think works doesn’t always work in every market or whatever it may be. Maybe there’s a little bit of improvising that has to happen but by having access to that many people in that many countries helping the same need.
The needs don’t change. It’s people finding new ways to do things. That’s where a lot of the innovation and franchise companies come from. Tutor Doctors have done a good job of keeping an ear to the ground and harnessing the ideas that the franchise owners have. Isn’t that where X-Skills came from? It was Bob Rosedale that came up with X-Skills.
They are actually revamping the X-Skills. It’s in the works. It’s being piloted with a team of franchisees but they’ve kicked this up to a whole new level. Like you say innovation, we’ve got an innovation squad, and that was formed very early into the pandemic because it was all hands on deck. Nobody could have predicted something like this happening to the world where the world stops all at once. I don’t mean to sound a bad thing sound good here in any way, and we were affected by the pandemic like the rest of the world was.
I remember my daughter telling me in May 2020, “Mom, this is the calm before the storm. You know what’s coming.” This could only mean for a Tutor Doctor franchisee that we were going to be needed on steroids now. We have been busy. Don’t kid yourself. We’ve run a pretty busy business all of those years, way before the pandemic. When this hit, this hit a whole new level of need.
What are some of the things that you are seeing in terms of the bounce back and the wave catching up to the gap that was forced upon everybody at the beginning of the pandemic?
It’s the one-on-one. I’m going to say that, not that we can’t do 1 to 3 or 1 to 4, what we started seeing, the bounce back that you are talking about, was in the early fall. In August and September of 2020, we started seeing pods happening. What’s going on? The parents are talking about the kids going back to school. They have been out of school since March 2020. Some of the school systems were on top of it. In a couple of months, they had those virtual classes going on but how attentive were those kids in a classroom, a platform with 30 other kids on mute? I’m pretty sure half of them were on their cell phones doing something else while they were lectured.
When there were talks of school going back, either at a hybrid, in-person or whatever that was, the parents started panicking. They started freaking out because it was like, “My kid has been playing video games for the last several months.” We then started seeing pods. The parents would be partnering with other of their friends 3 or 4 in a group, a pod of 4 would probably be a perfect group. That started in the fall of 2020. A whole bunch of people is resuming their sessions, enrolling for sessions. They were getting their kids caught up.
Now, schools restarted their loss. They don’t know what they are doing. The school was starting where it was starting. They weren’t going to go back and reteach them what they had missed for months. It doesn’t work that way. They were starting that year’s curriculum. For the kids that weren’t on top of it were in trouble. They knew it. What’s happened since then? This started in September 2021.
In September 2021, we started seeing it across the globe like you said, it’s on the news, and people are talking about it. The state governments are now getting involved because the kids are way behind. The people are talking about a lost generation if we don’t do anything about it. The government decided to do something about it. They are funding the school systems. The kids are receiving free tutoring paid for by the government, and the parents are receiving those.
The demand and the enrollments coming in are crazy. There are waiting lists. First come, first serve is happening now because there’s an influx of tutoring requests. Unprecedented is the word I’m going to use because that’s where it’s at. Like Tutor Doctor in 2021, they saw an enrollment increase of 42% more students in a year. That’s huge.
I’m glad to hear that the states and the governments are making funds available to parents that might not have that money available to help their kids. You are seeing some of that opportunity and need flow into Tutor Doctor.
Like I said, not just in North America but around the world.
It makes a ton of sense too, because in a way, how you operate your business is a blessing to a lot of these governments that have a mass need to where they can say, “You don’t have to find a tutor on your own, call Tutor Doctor. They will help you, and they are, approved or whatever it may be.” The beauty of the business model and the service is that a lot of parents are working. It’s not easy to find a good tutor.
It’s because we have always been tied into the lessons of the classroom, we have never been competitors of theirs. If you’ve got a Tutor Doctor franchisee in a community, the schools already know about us. We’ve built partnerships and alliances with them already because we’re not competing with them. We are shadowing the classroom. We are tied into it. Whereas maybe a learning center while they have their own curriculums and practice sheets and models going on where a Tutor Doctor franchisee is not just embedded in their community, locally owned but shadowing what they are doing.
Who do they think of when something like this happens? “We need some help here.” I’m sure that there are multiple businesses contributing to catching up with the kids. We are probably one of but how big of a piece of the pie are we going to get? That’s the new factor of the franchisee. If you are proactive and diligent in building those relationships from the beginning, how can you scale this business? The ceiling is high. How high do you want the ceiling to be?If you're proactive and diligent in building those relationships from the beginning, you can scale this business as high as you want the ceiling to be. Click To Tweet
All from a home-based, relatively low investment, non-brick and mortar-based business model, which is amazing. You’ve seen a lot during your ride with Tutor Doctor. It has been a journey. No doubt about it. Your daughters are involved in the business you mentioned. How are they involved?
When things happen by accident in life, my oldest daughter went to school for 5 years, had 2 degrees in Science, and was tutored throughout all of this. My youngest daughter is business minded. That one graduates with a Business degree. We were sitting down in January 2012, and I had been in business for several years. That year, I probably said numerous times during our family dinners, “I’m going to be finding a wingman or a wing person that’s going to be helping me this year because the volume was too big for me to handle by myself.” We are in a blue-collar mining town here. It’s low-income demographics. I’m not in Beverly Hills.
When I visited Diane and Jim many years ago, I had never heard of Sudbury, Ontario. I had to take a little puddle jumper from Toronto to get there. It’s a great town but literally, it’s of its own town in Northern Ontario.
It’s the middle of nowhere.
It’s not a sprawling metropolis but this is a great example that the need is still there. The need is as much there as it is somewhere else. There are still kids that need help in school.
A family is a family, and a child is a child, a student of all ages. With us, it’s not just kids in school. We are talking about the majority of our business coming in from elementary to college level. We also have a lot of low-hanging fruits as well, where we service adults and senior citizens with technology and stuff. Not being in a big city, I built the business into a fairly large business by then. Sitting down and my daughters were saying, “What’s next for you guys who were graduating in May?” What’s exciting is that I figured my oldest daughter was going to work at a hospital lab. She wanted to find the cure to cancer and stuff.
My youngest daughter looks at me and goes, “Mom, if you can keep it together until May, I’m coming.” I said, “What do you mean you are coming?” She said, “You will have me. I would like to join the business.” I said, “Are you joking? Are you serious?” Veronique had a really sharp position at Laurentian University up here. She worked for the head of marketing and was one of their ambassadors. She would travel with the university to promote the school. I figured she was set there for life because they loved her there and everything. I said, “You are not kidding.” She said, “No. Of course, if you will have me.” I said, “Yeah.” I have nothing. I would love most to have your daughter work with me.
My oldest daughter was sitting there. She doesn’t say much, and about a week later, she walks over to me. She walks into my office. She says, “Mom, can I talk to you?” I said, “Yeah.” She says, “Would you have room for me?” I said, “You are kidding. For real? Seriously?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Tiffany, why?” She says, “Mom, I have been tutored, and I know how important this is to other people. This changed my life. I see how many lives you’ve changed, and the testimonials you get excite me. Science is great but I would have more fun working with the family business than working in a hospital lab.” It was like, “We will make room for you.” We made room. We grew. Not only did I make room for them but they joined the business in May 2012. They celebrated their tenth year with me.
They have fully run and operated it since 2017. I love working on this side now, where I help other people like myself that were in that space several years ago find their next chapter in life. I talk to people sometimes that say, “I want to know what I’m going to be when I grow up.” These people are in their 40s. I can relate because I have been there. That’s why I love what I do on this side as well because I’m not only helping students. We are helping people like me that were in a place where I would literally go to bed at night, sometimes weeping, not wanting to get up in the morning to go to work. That was not a good feeling.
Now you’ve built a family business. It’s so cool that your daughters were able to see another path too in life relatively at a young age that they didn’t have to go the traditional route and work for somebody else, maybe not feel as fulfilled as most people do because we aren’t exposed. Many people aren’t exposed to alternative careers of starting your own business or running a family business. What you’ve done in exposing them and them self-selecting into the family business might be the best part about it.
As I said, it’s a little bit of a Cinderella story. They had worked for other people. Veronique work for the university. My daughter worked at a pharmacy. She worked up for a couple of different pharmacies. For me, if I go back in the past, some people say, “Were you scared of making that decision?” I’m not even going to use the word scared. I’m going to use the word petrified. If people remember what was happening in 2008. We were probably going through one of the worst recessions we’ve gone through. That’s the time Diane is looking to find her next chapter.
You talk about fear when people say, “This is scary.” You talk about being scary but that’s where it becomes important to have the support of someone, a spouse or somebody that supports you during that fear. I don’t know how many times Jim walked me off the ledge. I lose count. I would talk my way out of it and say, “I can’t do it.” He would say, “What is it that makes you think you can’t do it?” “It was always the fear of the unknown. The fear of what if I don’t make it? What if I don’t do well?” He would remind me who I was, even though I knew who I was to begin with.
With that confidence level, when you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s very tempting to look at a glass half empty as opposed to a glass half full. I remember what triggered me. He says, “Diane, you do it for other people all day long. You make Mr. Smith successful all day with your skills. What makes you think you are not going to put the effort and do it for yourself? What is it that you don’t think maybe you are not going to work as hard? Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t but at the end of the day, it’s going to be for you. It’s going to be for us as opposed to making other people successful.”
If I’m talking to an audience of people who are unsure about, “There’s talk of recession and uncertainty and all of that,” there’s never a bad time to go into business. You need the right business that speaks to you. If you can find that business, it’s going to be scary, petrifying probably but you need to have confidence in yourself that, at the end of the day, you will be in that driver’s seat. You do not have people tell you what to do. You are keeping yourself accountable for what you want to do while you are raising a family and all of that. My daughters can talk about that. They started having kids. They got married afterward. These kids were barely 20 and 23 when this all happened. They met their husbands and had kids. Through all this, they were running a Tutor Doctor business, which is pretty cool.
That is amazing advice because you are never going to know for certain that whatever business, franchise career-changing decision or life decision. Whenever you are face to face with a big decision, you are never going to know that a hundred percent certainty is going to be the right thing. If you believe in yourself and have a supportive family and spouse that believe in you, that’s the equation that can help you get there over the ledge. You are an amazing person that has a drive and a work ethic like very few people I’ve ever met, and whatever business it was, whether it was Tutor Doctor or anything, I’m sure that you would have been wildly successful and built the wildly successful business that you have with Tutor Doctor.
It’s keeping yourself accountable. Play hard, work hard. For me, I could now play hard. I could watch my kids. I could take time off to run errands. I could do all that but when I was at work, I was at work. If I was talking to or doing consultations, I was talking to that parent. I was listening. It’s very consultative with us. To be a good Tutor Doctor franchisee and a good successful franchisee, you need to care. That’s it. It’s not more complicated than that. I have no sales skills whatsoever. I didn’t need to sell the people I was talking to. They just needed to trust me. I would always tell myself, “If that was me sitting there, what kind of service would I expect for myself?” That’s always the service I provided to people.
I always was thinking about, “This is me. This is my son. This is my daughter.” It’s not difficult to do. You have to be present. You’ve got to be present in the job that you are doing and know that at the end of the day if you do your job well, the money will follow. You don’t need to worry about, “Am I going to make any money with this?” When people say, “I want to make a load of money,” it’s the you factor, “What are you going to do with it?”You've got to be present in the job that you're doing and know that, at the end of the day, if you do your job well, the money will follow. Click To Tweet
When I left the home office with training, I remember wanting to quit my job badly. I remember leaving training and saying, “Now I’m trained. I’ve got the tools, the resources, the knowledge, everything. When can I quit my job?” They said, “Diane, we don’t know that but you will.” You will make that decision when you are ready to walk away. It took me 22 days, to be exact.
How did you know when it was time to leave your job?
Number one, the income I started making. The number of students I started servicing and word of mouth of people started to refer people and me. My first week in business, I remember older people like young people would, and the older ones would say, “Where were you when I needed you? Where were you ten years ago?” We would laugh about it. “I’m here now.” You would have the younger families with kids, nieces, and nephews that would say, “We’ve got a Tutor Doctor in town. Can you help?” I’m telling you, Dru, I lived under a rock because I never knew there was that much of a demand out there. It’s a needed service. 3 out of 5 kids back then was the ratio of the kids being tutored. I can imagine what it is now. When you see a 42% increase in enrollments, that sends a message.
You’ve built a very sizable business. I can’t talk numbers, and I hope you don’t mind me saying this but I remember at one point, you were curious, “What can I get for this thing if I ever wanted to sell it?” We talked through some options, and you wouldn’t let us advertise your business because you didn’t want anyone in town to know how much money you were making. That made it a little difficult, if that’s any indication of the size of the business that you’ve built, which is amazing.
You mentioned that care, caring about the customers, providing amazing customer service, and helping these parents find a path for their kids. For folks that might be out there that are early on in their franchise journey or getting the business started, are there any other things that stood out to you as you think back through how you built this successful business and the things that you did that made a big difference in your success?
As introverted as I was, and people are going to say you’re lying but I’m not. Anybody at Tutor Doctor will tell you the truth, “Diane is an introvert.” I sat behind a desk all day, and people used to come to me. When I went to training, there was a component of tying into your community. Obviously, I wasn’t naturally drawn to that but I have seen the importance of it. Nobody knew who I was up here. We relocated to Sudbury back in 2005, and I decided to make this move in 2008. Aside from the people I serviced on the insurance side, nobody knew who Diane was.
Something that is important for a new Tutor Doctor franchisee in their community was locally embedded in there, and what does that mean? It means that you are tying into your community. The first place I went, there was a farmer’s market going up. Sudbury is not a big place. We might have had 4 or 5 different festivals going on during the summer that I had missed. I had heard very clearly in training that you need to be present in your community. People need to know that you are there. You don’t have the cost of a big storefront that people can walk off the street but you have a very much in-demand service unless they know that you are there, they are not going to find you.
What I did well back then was that I followed the system. I followed what they said, and it was, “Be present in your community as little as that can seem to you,” such as a farmer’s market, which cost me $50 to be there. I was there for four hours on a Saturday morning. I recruited tutors there. I recruited clients there, clients that have been with me since the beginning. Another part that people don’t realize is that the students we help and service will stay with you for as long as they need you. I still have clients from 2008 and 2009 who, to this day, are still with their siblings or us. That’s a long time.
They might have been in grade 1 or grade 2. Now we are helping them in their first years of university or their brothers and sisters. When I say that the servicing part of our business is important, the customer side of it because again, people will deal with people they like and trust. When you offer that white glove service, which is exactly what Tutor Doctor offers, it’s not just a learning center, practice sheets, one-to-many type of deal, even though they have their space in our community, ours is more of a white glove. It’s more of very customized to the student’s needs. A lot of the parents are looking for exactly that.
They don’t know it exists until you help them know that you are even out there and can even be an option for the struggles that they might be going through with one of their children or all their children.
It could be festivals, any type of activities that are going up or sponsoring a school. I remember schools looking at me like I had three heads because they had never experienced having somebody come in and say, “We are here to help you after school hours. We know that you don’t have the bandwidth to be able to connect with the 30 kids in your classroom and then share those flyers with some of the educators and guidance counselors, introduce me to other guidance counselors, and then be invited to their needing.
It was a snowball effect like social workers, and these were moms that we were enrolling their kids and them coming to me and saying, “Do you know what I do for a living?” I would say, “No, tell me about what you do.” “I work with foster parent kids and stuff like that. Do you know how much help these kids might need?” These were all alliances and relationships that I built through time. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen the week after I launched the business but all of these relationships, the snowball effect, is what I’m going to call it. Those relationships last forever.
Those relationships probably wouldn’t have ever happened if you were sitting back, waiting on pay-per-click advertising or buying leads, you made yourself present in the community and chose a business that you were passionate about and believed in. You are not selling something that you don’t necessarily believe in. It’s the simple things. You got out there, were present, and connected the dots. You then used each dot. It sounds like you forged through the community marketing, and that snowballed, as you said, into other relationships, and it kept going from there.
It’s a lot of fun as introverted as I was, who doesn’t like to see a smile on a child’s face that you are going to hand a balloon? That balloon cost me a penny. It was a balloon that sometimes would go home, would land into an enrollment. It was a happy place. It was as scary as it might have sounded when I wasn’t training and said, “You need to tie into your community and go, “Am I going to door knock? Are you asking me to cold call?” It was nothing like that.
It was good old-fashioned and talked to people. Have conversations and be in areas where there are going to be families there. Whatever goes on in your community, try to be there, especially in your first year. The first year is where you are setting the foundation of your business. The second year is a whole new level. That’s when things hit the ground hard.
It’s a little bit of delayed gratification, which is a little bit of a theme that we’ve uncovered here on this show with a lot of successful entrepreneurs is that it’s not going to happen overnight, and you have to make it happen. Once you know the path and the things that can help you to lead it to make it happen, you just go do. You said you are an introvert but you seem when you are belly to belly or one-on-one and talking about something that you believe in, personality assessment told you that stuff goes out the table. You found your zone, put it that way.
I’ve definitely grown a lot on that side but one-to-one, what saved me is that I knew that this business was always going to be one-to-one. It was going to be one with the parent, one with the tutor, and one with the student that I was talking to. The insurance was always one-to-one, a couple or one person. Groups, I’m still not great at. Again, I’ve improved but still not super comfortable doing it. You don’t need to be an out-there person to run and operate a business like this. I’m going to go back to care. That’s all.
For me, When I talk to candidates that are looking for their business, that’s going to make them happy, make them smile. What really makes people smile? What is it that they see themselves do at the end of the day that they are going to go to bed at night and saying, “I can see myself doing this.” I woke up in the morning thinking, “I’m going to help people of all ages.” My youngest student was a year and a half. My oldest was 72. The 72-year-old was learning technology and couldn’t turn on a computer. It was actually an enrollment that their 50-year-old daughter had gotten them because, apparently, it’s driving them crazy, “How do you turn on the computer? What do I do next?”
“We want to see you. We want to talk to you.”
In the year and a half weren’t even in school yet. She was learning another language. I knew that this was a business that was going to change lives, and to me, that was important. I wanted to do something bigger than explain insurance policies all day. Not that I wasn’t making a difference. I’m sure I did. I was, but not like this.
It wasn’t on your terms. It wasn’t for yourself. This is for yourself and your family.
That was the ice cream on the cake.
I would love to ask you a couple of stories that stand out to you from families that you have been able to impact over your time in helping so many people in your community. Are there 1 or 2 stories that stand out to you of kids or anybody?
I write a few novels on those. I could have a few but I’m going to go with the ones that were dear to my heart. I remember this boy, and the mom was a single mom, and he would have given up on school, given up completely, and playing video games. This was early into my first year in business. The mom called me, and she was in tears and was like, “Can you help?” I said, “As long as junior wants to put the effort in, I’m here to help.” She explained to me the situation. He’s very closed. He’s discouraged. He won’t listen to her. She says, “Can you come over?” I said, “Yes, I will go over.” Now a lot of our consultations like this are virtual but back in the day, it was pretty traditional.
I said, “Do me a favor. He’s pretty closed, you said.” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “I’m going to have a portfolio with me. If I close my portfolio, don’t do it unless I can get Junior to accept that he needs help and is willing to put the effort in. I know you are a single mom, and I want you to get everything that you deserve out of this enrollment. Let’s have a deal on the side.” She goes, “That sounds good.” I meet with them. He’s sitting down, the cap on the side, and his arms are crossed. He’s leaning down. Anyways, he doesn’t want me there, long story short. I started talking and I said, “Talk to me, Junior. What’s going on? Your Mom called me. She’s concerned. I’m not here to sell you anything or to make you do anything you don’t want to do. I’m here to help if you will accept our help. Tell me what’s happening.”
He tells me what’s happening. He’s lost and doesn’t think he can graduate. He’s failing and all of that. I said, “If I was to provide you with a tutor, with someone that you relate with, that can get you to the end of your school year, would you be open to that?” “Yeah.” I said, “I’m looking at mom here. Your mom is working hard to take care of you. If you are open to it, we are going to make a deal. I’m going to check up on you in three weeks to see how you are doing but you got to do the work. The tutor is not going to write the exam for you. In the end, you’ve got to put the work in. The tutor is going to work with your teacher at school. We are going to work together, and this is going to be a group effort to get you there.”
As close as he was, I asked him at some point, “What do you want to be?” He said he wanted to be an electrician. I said, “Do you think you can get there without your degree?” He said, “No, I can’t.” I said, “Walk me to the door,” and shook my hand as I left. I was coming back and thinking, “What does this boy need?” These are all things you are taught in training, like how to create your magical match. Probably a male tutor would relate well. I placed him with a male tutor, and in three weeks’ time, my end of the bargain was to call and see how he was doing.
I figured the mom was going to pick up, and then he picked up the phone and I said, “Junior, Diane is calling you to check it up on you. See how things are going.” The first words that come out of this boy’s mouth is, “He’s sick.” I was like, “Diane doesn’t know what sick is.” Being Sick is actually a good thing, apparently. I stopped breathing and was like, “Sick as in?” He was going, “I didn’t understand before. I get it now, and this is so much easier.” Anyways, long story short, he did pass his year and graduated. This I’m literally fist pumping while I’m talking to this boy because I’m realizing the life changing-moment.
This was for him and his mom, who didn’t think her son would amount to what he should have. This is one that is dear to my heart. Another one is I had this boy that was in a bad accident and had to relearn everything over again. We retaught him. The mom tried to help and turned emotional. They started fighting and stuff. Nobody wants to be taught by their parents. We helped him with his academics, and then he wanted to learn how to play music, his guitar.
We helped him how to do that with a music tutor and then write a book. He was later matched with the book editor on his second book. This went from academics to music. When I get a lot of, “What subjects do you all tutor?” “Everything.” Academics will take the front seat in Science, Math, Language, and anything. I’ve helped police officers and firemen pass that last math exam that they failed twice for them to transition into their careers. It’s non-ending to us. There’s nobody we cannot help, which makes it again even sweeter because it’s people of all ages that you are changing lives, and I could go on and on but I will leave it at that.
Those are amazing stories. There are many more lives that you have impacted than you probably know. What’s next for you, the business, and life?
I love what I do. I love helping people on the development side, and if Tutor Doctor resonates with them, great. I bring them through what we call a mutual evaluation. A mutual evaluation is for them to look at us to see if we are a good fit for them but also for us to look at them to see if they are going to be a good fit for us as well. This is a very thorough 4 to 5-week process. I’m not ready to retire anytime soon. My daughters love what they do and are doing a wonderful job. They are doing well.
The office is back in the house. The office was relocated to my daughter’s house, and then when the pandemic hit, it came back home. They felt more comfortable working from home. One of my daughter’s bedrooms is now an office, so they are on the other side of the wall. I get to see my grandkids every day after school. It’s always going to be about changing people’s lives, and Tutor Doctor is about changing the trajectory of students’ lives regardless of their age. I can’t see myself doing anything else. Life might throw surprises at me, but for now, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing.Tutor Doctor is about changing the trajectory of students' lives regardless of their age. Click To Tweet
Your journey and your story, you’ve obviously made it happen. Thank you for joining us and sharing your story. You gave me goosebumps about ten times during that conversation. It’s amazing to hear you have an amazing story. Thank you.
It’s a real one. I don’t know anything else but being real. It’s how life happens sometimes. You don’t know what’s ahead. You don’t know what you don’t know. When you get to a point in your life where you can think back on what you wanted to do, I tell people, “Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t wait until you are at the age of ‘I shoulda, coulda, woulda.'” It’s easy to do that. It’s easy to procrastinate and put to tomorrow what we should do today. Maybe that’s my dad’s to blame for that because we were raised with, “Don’t wait until tomorrow, what you can do today,” whether that was chores or anything at all that we were doing, it was always about living in the present.
I would strongly recommend people that are honestly thinking about whatever it is, changing jobs or going from a job to owning a business and having control of their own life and destiny. There’s never going to be a perfect time ever if they are looking for that perfect moment. I was in the middle of a bad recession. Was I scared? Yeah, it didn’t stop me, though, because I wanted it more than I was scared. I would encourage anyone to take the leap and to do what makes them smile because life’s too short for anything less than that if I had to leave you on the last note message.
Soon enough, you will be taking over this show and running it because you are amazing. I can’t say it any better myself. On that note, we will wrap it up but seriously, thank you so much for coming on.
You are welcome. It was my pleasure.
It has been a lot of fun. If people want to get in touch with you, how can they get in touch with you, Diane?
They can email BrokerLeads@TutorDoctor.com for the consultants that will be reading this. If it’s clients that are interested in learning more about our business, then it’s DWilson@TutorDoctor.org. If they want to call me, I’m at (323) 543-4117, and they will get me directly. They will be in good hands. I promise to take good care of anyone who is picking up that phone and wanting to learn more.
Thank you for joining us and sharing your story.
You are welcome. My pleasure.