ABOUT THE COMPANY
Based in Selby, Smiles and Miles is a tutoring business that was launched by Sarah Oliver, a former Primary School teacher and single mother. With a career in education that spanned 23 years, Sarah realised that with two small children and an increasingly demanding workload she wanted a better work and life balance.
Taking the skills she had acquired over the years, she decided to tutor students aged between 5 and 18 years. This would allow her to continue to meet with her passion for working with children while also earning a living to support her young family.
It was this passion that helped Sarah to shape her business idea and make it a reality.
Believing that youngsters need more than systems to pass exams, Sarah’s approach has always been to develop life-long learners by helping youngsters to become confident, happy and resilient. In turn this has a knock-on effect and allows young people to make greater academic progress.
Although fully booked, Sarah realised that as an independent tutor the business model she had in place would not allow her to earn enough to live. As such, she developed a membership model that would allow Sarah to work with additional tutors, meet with demand, reduce some of the workload and better commercialise her start up.
The business continues to grow and delivers 80 sessions a week, engaging with 20 students, with another 80 on the books.
Sarah comments: “My philosophy is to equip kids to become life-long learners, resilient to change, to want to learn and to be inquisitive. While I loved being a teacher the pressure was becoming too much with a young family. Starting my own business has allowed me to be a mum and to continue my career in a sector that I feel very passionately about.”
Sarah launched the business to provide local parents with extra educational support for their children but quickly recognised that there was more demand than she had first envisaged.
Although she had a career spanning more than two decades in teaching, Sarah had never considered starting a business or what it would entail. Realising that she needed some help, she turned to Selby District Council, Senior Business Advisor, Heidi Green and was then introduced to Lisa Whalley, AD:VENTURE Business Growth Advisor.
Working together, the objective was to help Sarah to develop the business idea and explore how her tutoring could be developed into a structured programme of educational and holistic support. Furthermore, with guidance, Sarah was able to consider how she could scale up her company and create a model that would deliver best results both for the students and for her organisation.
Supporting growth through a business to business model, creating a membership community for tutors and therapists, was found to be a viable and plausible option for Sarah and something she could quickly put into practice.
Thanks to Selby District Council and the AD:VENTURE programme, Sarah was able to access individual business mentoring, online specialist 1:1 support for website and SEO development and a range of business workshops covering relevant topics including customer relations and marketing.
Furthermore, Sarah started to attend networking cafes, providing her with access to a community of business owners and professionals that are available to offer advice and guidance when required. Thanks to this support, she is now a confident businesswoman with a successful and growing tutoring community.
Smiles and Miles has over 100 students accessing educational support and more than 10 tutors registered to the business across a wide range of subject specialisms. The business is also in the process of extending the membership offer to occupational therapists; this will see children matched with private services to help to reduce waiting times for support.
Having recently won her first tender with a third sector funder to provide education services to disadvantaged communities, Sarah is looking at further opportunities to broaden her offering and can deliver on behalf of other funding providers.
Longer-term plans are to develop a franchise model beyond Yorkshire, to become a UK wide service provider.
Sarah comments: “I didn’t know about AD:VENTURE until I met with Heidi and then Lisa. Having a business is certainly a rollercoaster and can be rocky, but with the support of a dedicated business advisor, it has been more manageable. It’s been an amazing journey.
“I’ve attended loads of courses on a range of subjects and the 1:1 mentoring has been invaluable. It has certainly helped me to realise that there are ways to overcome challenges that I would otherwise never have thought about.”
“I would not be where I am today without the help of AD:VENTURE and Selby Council. There is such a friendly business community here and everyone is so supportive, but you need to know where to go to access these networks in the first place.
“I never thought my business would become so successful so quickly and thanks to the support I’ve had I have learnt so much about how to think like an entrepreneur.
“It’s not just about being the best at what you do, in my case it was also taking responsibility for organising the tutors, becoming a parent liaison, dealing with invoicing and then thinking about marketing, it’s a completely different set of skills.
“The access to professional advice has been incredible and with so much business support out there, I can’t believe every start up isn’t tapping into what’s available!”