In this episode Ajay discusses with Sheila Pakdaman, the Founder/CEO of iTutorU, a tutoring company focused on educational empowerment in Southern California, he has share his ideas on how to empower Social Media for own company.
Sheila: The business is a traditional tutoring company where we go into our students’ homes or meet them at libraries or coffee shops. In the past year, we’ve decided to take a different approach and make it more mobile by creating a mobile application to link up those students and parents together, and to reach a wider scope of population, because right now we’re just based in Southern California.
Ajay: When you say mobile, what do you mean by that? Is it still going to be face to face, or now it is going to be wireless?
Sheila: What I mean by that is that the business will be moved onto a mobile application, like your iPhone or android device. But you are still going to receive the tutoring in person. We do online tutoring as well, but the bulk of our clientele is in person, one-on-one tutoring.
Ajay: So it is one-on-one, but it will be through the smartphone instead of meeting in person, correct?
Sheila: No, the actual linking up, so just like how you get on your phone and you can get a car through Uber to pick you up and take you to your destination, you would get onto our mobile application and go through the welcome page, enter in what grade you are in and what subject you need tutoring in, as well as your city and then we will link you up with a tutor nearby. So it’s all geographically based.
Ajay: That’s good. When do you think this mobile application will be live?
Sheila: We hope to have it live by the end of the year. We’re almost in beta testing; we’ve been working on it hard behind the scenes and the goal is to have it out in the market by the end of 2017.
Ajay: Fantastic. I think my audience now understands what your business is and where you plan to take it, so let’s get to your questions. Do you have some specific questions? Just go ahead and ask.
Sheila: Of course. What is your best advice for spreading the word of this mobile application to my clientele; to parents and students? What marketing advice do you have for me?
Ajay: Since you are trying to spread the word for a mobile application, obviously I think that social media is going to be your best venue. Since you already have a base of both customers and tutors, you can use them as a launching pad to spread it among their friends and followers. These days, most of the social media platforms let you go to similar customers. For example, on Facebook you’re able to upload your list, and based on your list they will create a profile of other people who should be seeing your ad.
Because as you know, because it’s tutoring and I think you and I will agree that most kids need some level of tutoring, but it’s really up to the parents who decide this. Not all parents have the same focus when it comes to their children’s education. What you want to do is have your current list, and based on that you can really go and launch to what I call the similar people. Same is true for the tutors. Since you have a list of tutors, you can use that list. Of course you use social media and you ask students to talk about you on their platform, whether it’s Facebook or whatever, and announce the fact that you are looking for more tutors.
But also you can use the list of tutors to target similar profiles to recruit more tutors. That would be my best advice in the short term. I think social media is going to be your best platform.
Sheila:Okay, excellent. Thank you for that. I appreciate it. What about Instagram? Do you have any advice to give me in regards to Instagram?
Ajay: Instagram obvious has very similar features, owned by Facebook. You can try Instagram also. My advice to you is you really want to pick one platform and perfect it before you try to get on different platforms. One of the big mistakes that I see many startups or small businesses doing is it’s almost like you can see a peanut butter approach, where you throw a little bit everywhere hoping you’ll get some bites; versus what you’ll find most of the really established companies, they focus on one medium and don’t go to another one until they have dominated the first.
In my previous work, which was pre-internet, our only medium for advertising used to be TV, radio, newspaper, and direct mail. We, like other large companies never say we should have put some dollar amount in TV and some in radio. It was always what is the amount required for TV? And once we had totally saturated TV only, then we would go after the radio audience. You want to do the same thing. Yes, LinkedIn is also probably a good platform. I’m looking at the parent profile. Those parents, generally speaking professionals, are maybe more of your customer audience.
So if it makes sense, if you already know who your customers are, you can go to any social media platform and you’ll find those people. I mentioned Facebook just because you have 1.6, 2 billion people already there and in the U.S., 67 percent of the population I understand is on Facebook. So it gives you a much bigger audience where you can select an areal. You can just do [inaudible] [00:07:55] or Orange County, or just California. Then you can define who you want, and you can expect to find a lot of people there.
I would also do one more caution for you if you are thinking about going there. Focus on your target audience of 25,000 to 200,000 in the beginning. Because what you don’t want is to spend a lot of money to find out this was not working since you pay by click. If you limit your target and you say I want this ad to be targeted to 25,000 of my target customer, then you know that you have a limited exposure and you’ll be able to calculate the return on investment.
Sheila: Got it. Thank you so much. That’s really valuable advice. My next question for you is what’s the best approach to a work/life balance when you’re in a new business venture like I am right now?
Ajay: As someone who also started my life as an entrepreneur after being in corporate for a long time, and in the corporation I was one of the fortunate ones to move up very quickly and got into a leadership role very early in my career; I will tell you that even in corporations, people who are vice presidents and higher, the work/life balance is a very tough one. So in the business, I will say the best approach to doing that is you have to decide at a very early stage what function you want to focus on, and where you want to, for example, hire someone or outsource, or whatever you want to do. The approach that I will suggest to you is you should sit down and create an org chart for your business.
Assuming that everything was running on all cylinders, what kind of org chart do you need? Generally speaking, you have a CEO, you have a chief operating officer, you have marketing, you have sales, and you have finance. When we started as entrepreneurs, we did everything. So at some point you want to see where you have the biggest impact. For example, you may be doing all the financing – and I’m just using an example; I’m to saying that you are doing that. But you may have learned Quickbooks and you’re entering all the information in there. Say you’re spending five or ten hours a month on that aspect of the business.
What you are doing, generally speaking, the activity of inputting information is not giving you any return. But it is urgent and you need to do that. But something like that, you can outsource it; you can hire a part time bookkeeper. It may cost you a couple hundred dollars a month, and all of a sudden that frees up your time. My advice to you is first create the org chart and see where you are the best fit, so at least you know that going forward, when you decide to outsource or when you are able to do that, you’ll know which areas you want to do it first; where to get the expert or not.
Secondly, break down the time you are spending. It will take a couple of weeks. You’ll be able to take five minutes every four hours or so and go back and say okay, what did I do, and how much time did I spend on it? You don’t have to be exact. I’m not saying you need a stopwatch to judge it. But you say okay, 30 minutes I talked to this customer, 15 minutes I did this. So have that, and after a couple of weeks if you compile that information, you’ll know where you’re spending your time in running your operation. Just trust me that unless you do this particular work, it’s very hard to understand what you are doing.
I’m telling you based on what I did for myself, because I was also going crazy and I felt like I was just running like a chicken without a head every day in the business until I took a step back and said why the heck am I doing this? This is going to cost me $100.00 and will save me X hours; or maybe I don’t need this client because I’m spending 10 percent of my time with this client and still can’t keep him happy. There was a time when I went out and fired almost 30 percent of my clients, just because they were sucking up too much of my time.
So you really have to be very deliberate, see where your hours are going. And you want to make sure you’re spending your time on the things that will make the biggest impact for your business. Generally speaking, Sheila, that is not going to be your what I call urgent issues. So every day when we start our work, we walk in and have maybe five urgent things; five important things you want to do. The urgent stuff is what I call [inaudible] [00:14:00] band-aids. So it’s like it’s bleeding; I better go and put a band-aid there; otherwise there will be infection. I want a happy customer; he’s yelling and I have to go and take care of him.
The important things are what you have to do; like in your case for example, making sure the app is done right. So the important things don’t have a short term impact, but that’s the most important you thing you do for the long term success of your business. So you have to become very deliberate. It may mean there are some initiatives you don’t want to do right now to maintain a work/life balance. But the idea is to break it down and see where you should be putting most of your time; where you are creating the most value for your business, and where it may make sense to either not do it or go and get some help.
Many of the thing you do, like I was doing when I started, is really low value work. If you can pay someone $10.00 an hour to do something, why would you do that on your own? Because then you are paying yourself $10.00 an hour.
Sheila: You’re right. It requires a lot of thinking and perspective changes.
Ajay: Did that answer your question?
Sheila: Yes, you did. Sorry; you cut out for a second. And my next question is: what is the best method to start over if something is not working in a business? For example, I hit a slump in terms of clientele, and then I would have other moments where I had too many clients and not enough tutors. And I really couldn't figure out what exactly was changing in my approach, or if it was just the climate of the season where I was required to have a lot more on my plate at the moment because of whatever reason. I couldn't really put my finger on it. So what is the best approach to starting over if I feel that my business is slowing down in some aspects?
Ajay: There are two components. Almost every business that I have worked with, and I have worked with many; in my corporate world I had five different kinds of corporations, five different kinds of businesses. And now, of course, I have my own businesses and I consult with over 50 clients right now. What I have seen is almost no matter what your business is, there is a seasonality factor. So the first thing you want to do is before you decide that something is working or not working, you have to give it time to make sure that it’s not the seasonality.
Maybe it’s summer and kids are on vacation, and that’s why you’re not getting as many tutoring hours as you did in the spring; that kind of thing. So the first part is you want to make sure it is not seasonality. If it is an external thing you can’t control, then you have to prepare for it. It’s almost like all the retail stores you know; they always hire a lot of people during the Christmas season because it’s the shopping season and they need more employees. But then in January, they will lay off those people because they know they don’t need them; they’re not going to have the same number of customers walking in. So make sure it is not seasonality.
If it is not seasonality, and say you launch a marketing campaign and one time it worked very well, and next time it did not, maybe it’s because you are going after the same customers and you already got the bigger chunk of it. That requires really total analysis, Sheila. So unless you give me a very specific situation, I won’t be able to comment. But like I said, make sure seasonality is not the reason. If January of last year was good and January of this year is not very good, then of course I would look into it to see what the heck happened.
But if January is good and February is down from January, then I don’t know if it is seasonality or not. I’m not saying that you just don’t do anything; but keep in mind it could be the seasonality. Then of course if it is the business marketing, and I’m sure you’re already doing it but any marketing that you do, you have to really analyze what is working and what is not working.
Say you are doing Facebook marketing. Then you have all the analytical data, so you go and look at all the analytics and say, why is the conversion not as good this month? Then you can start to dig deep and try to find the answer.
Sheila:That makes sense. I think I do need to utilize those tools to my advantage because it seems random at some points, but I also am very new to this business. We were founded in 2015 but we really didn’t get the ball started until the fall of 2015, so I haven’t had enough data to really look at the big picture and say I think this is when we have a down season and this is when we have an up season.
Ajay:Exactly. Those things only come with experience. Right now you are in the startup phase, and at least you know that you have already validated your business. So now you are looking at scaling; how do I scale it to the next level? Which for all of us when you start from scratch, that’s what you do. All of this analysis is required but any time you do any business activity, just plan up front what are you expecting, what are your expectations; don’t do anything random.
Also, make sure that you monitor it and you analyze it to see what kind of results you got. That’s the only way that every next thing you do will be a little bit more effective than the last thing. I always say that in business, there are very few home runs. Just incrementally you do slightly better; your batting average keeps increasing from 200 to 201 to 207, and eventually you’ll reach a stage where you know that you’re going to do this, and you’re going to get that.
Sheila: Right, it takes time. I do need to have a little bit more patience with that because it does take time.
Ajay: I you know what I'm saying know exactly what you’re saying. I’ve gone through the same thing. A podcaster was interviewing me and asked me: where you are today, is it what you expected? And my answer was no, I expected to be here ten years back. I’ve been in business for 13 years only, so of course my expectation was totally unrealistic, now when I look back. But like you’re saying, you have to shoot for the sky and you have to have those expectations. But at the same time, we all have to be realistic; otherwise you give up very quickly and say hey, this is not working.
Sheila: Absolutely; you’re correct. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Your advice has been very valuable to me.
Ajay: Wonderful, Sheila. I think that you have a really great business going. Again, congratulations again for getting nominated for Forbes 30 Under 30 and good luck to you.
Sheila: Thank you so much.
Ajay: When you go to the next level, maybe we should talk again when you have a different problem. I'd love to see when you are at the next stage and what challenges you are facing at that point and see if I can help you.
Sheila: Yes, I would look forward to that. Thank you so much.
Ajay: Alright, thank you Sheila.
Sheila: Alright, bye.