Alexis Avila is the founder of Prepped & Polished a tutoring, college counseling and test prep company.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Prepped & Polished is a premier educational services company founded by educators in 1999. Our mission is to provide the highest-quality customized learning experience available. We will help you achieve top grades, higher test scores and meet your college-related goals.
I am counseling students with the college application process, preparing students for the SAT's, and managing my twenty tutors. Our caring, dynamic educators graduated from some of the most elite schools in the nation, including Harvard, MIT and Princeton.
How did you come up with your business idea?
I knew tutoring was a viable option for a business, so I played around with idea of terrific tutors. I came up with the name TUTORrific Academic Services and ran with this idea for years. I recently changed the company name to Prepped & Polished because I wanted a name that reflected more of the services I provide.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Before this, I was an overnight adolescent treatment counselor for Bridge over Troubled Waters in Boston-an adolescent treatment facility for runaway and homeless adolescents.
Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?
I did write a business plan, but I didn't really use it. However, the exercise in itself became a very valuable tool for me and allowed me to become more confident when pitching my business.
Who did you hire to help you?
I hired an accountant. My brother is a lawyer so he helps me out from time to time. I also hired my college buddy to help me market my business. I recommend hiring someone to help market you.
What outside resources were helpful for you?
SCORE is extremely helpful because it's a free service and you will get a lot of good advice from proven business veterans. The chamber of commerce is good as long as you stick with it and continue to foster relationships in the community.
Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?
I still do operate my business from my home. This was challenging only when my home was too far from clients to come to me. However, I moved closer to where my clients live, so it's a plus to operate my business from my home in Wayland.
Have you hired additional staff?
I continue to hire excellent tutors. I find that there are many qualified candidates academically. The challenge is to find great tutors who can connect well with kids and teenagers.
Green business is all the rage right now. Has it really been practical for you as an entrepreneur to incorporate green business practices?
Yes, it's been practical to think about the environment while running a business. I bought a Honda with great fuel efficiency so that I don't have to leave a nasty carbon footprint when driving to my clients homes. I email my clients a lot more than I used to, so this saves a lot of paper. I think there is a lot of room for improvement though.
With the current economy in a slump, what cost saving tips would you have for a new entrepreneur?
To keep things basic and do a lot of guerilla marketing. Post fliers and call potential customers-those things don't cost a lot of money.
Finding employees to work in a new and growing business can be a challenge. How did you find your employees?
I found them at local colleges and universities. Once I hired a few tutors, it became easier to find other because my former employees would refer their cousins and friends to work for me.
Social marketing is consistently being written about in the small business space. Has it worked generating business for you?
We'll see. I recently re-branded the company, so I'm starting to do a lot of the social marketing. I set up a You Tube page and posted a few video blogs, and I already got a few positive responses to them. Social marketing will be in my future, its inevitable.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
I didn't give up. I could see where a lot of people could get impatient starting a referral based business, but the truth is client referrals take time. I envy companies that can get super popular overnight. It's taken me ten years to get going here!
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I knew that it would be challenging to run a business. But I didn't realize how much time I was wasting doing business my own way. As soon as I hired a professional marketer, I realized that I there were ways to work much, much smarter.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Ask for more help. You don't have to do everything yourself and two or three heads are much better than one.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
To get a degree in psychology so you can identify and relate well to kids, and to slowly build great relationships with clients and potential customers.
Thanks, Alexis, that was a great learning experience! Best wishes with your business.