Balancing work and family is a constant challenge for a parent who is also an entrepreneur. Tired of compromising, Chris Lien decided that he wanted to reset his career priorities to align with his family priorities. As a Tutor Doctor franchisee, Lien and his wife have both a flexible schedule and access to professional tutoring for their three kids. In honor of Father's Day, here are some tips from this fatherpreneur.
Name: Chris Lien
Franchise owned: Tutor Doctor in San Diego County, Calif.
How long have you owned a franchise?
I’ve been a franchise owner since September, 2011. The business is now approaching three years.
I wasn’t looking for a franchise when I found Tutor Doctor. My wife and I wanted to start an education-based business to help the many families we knew who faced academic struggles. In 2006-7, we wanted to leverage Tiffany’s teaching background, our classroom volunteering experience, and my business management experience to launch a partial or full-time venture as “edupreneurs”. We surveyed several large, well-known learning centers and boutiques but didn’t engage them due to mixed customer feedback and the impending macroeconomic decline.
I came across Tutor Doctor in 2011 when considering a career change, and as part of our due diligence process, we discovered the many benefits of a franchise operation and backing network. After years of 55-65 hour workweeks in the corporate environment, I wanted to reset career priorities to align with my family priorities, rather than attempt some sort of balance, which often results in competing rather than complementary activities.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Before becoming a franchise owner, I was looking to either advance in my career in the electronics industry or start my own venture, which had been a long-term goal of mine since earning my MBA in 1996.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
My experience with Tutor Doctor has been excellent and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. From my first conversation with Tutor Doctor’s franchise director, through my extensive research, and up to today, Tutor Doctor has been extremely committed to our success. When we started, Tutor Doctor had been a franchise for a handful of years, so business structure and systems were already in place; yet, they’ve remained open to changes and adaptations as new recommendations and market opportunities have surfaced. Other companies seemed to be rigid and less open to suggestions, or the core business systems and backing were lacking. Another big plus has been Tutor Doctor’s ongoing training in both education and business topics, which occurs weekly, monthly, quarterly, and during very well-organized annual franchisees’ convention.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Approximately $104,000 as detailed below:
- $95,000 for three territories, start-up marketing kit, and initial training
- $3,900 for franchise capitalization, incorporation, and registration logistics
- $1,500 for attorney’s & CPAs fees
- $1,500 for business insurance
- $900 for website development & online advertising services
- $600 for equipment, communications services, and PO Box (already had a home office so minimal expenses were incurred)
- $100 for tutor recruitment
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
We did our due diligence for about two months before engaging with Tutor Doctor. We spoke with nine existing franchise owners who provided very honest and positive information about their experiences. This helped alleviate our concerns about investment of finances and time, especially since we have three young children. Before signing with Tutor Doctor, we researched education market reports and blogs, and had considered other education companies including smaller local and national tutoring companies. We quickly found that Tutor Doctor offered strong advantages in each of the areas where these other companies had weaknesses. We also received advice from our CPA and a trusted franchise business attorney with over 30 years of experience.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
Our biggest initial and continuing challenge is to make sufficient time for market research and the extremely broad range of educational support needs. We serve students from nearly every school district and private school in our county, which represents an extremely wide range of curricula, demographics, and geography. Each student and family has a unique set of circumstances which must be met within their schedule and resource limitations. Serving the top-of-the-class student is greatly different from serving the student whose struggling to earn passing grades, and parents may also struggle with the cost of obtaining tutoring. We strive to make quality educational support as available and affordable for families as we can.
Another challenge has been the evolution in education. The phase-in of Common Core has generated confusion and anxiety for students, parents and some members of the education community. The amount of time and effort required to research and adapt our approach has greatly increased.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
A franchise business like Tutor Doctor provides owners with an excellent structure, operational guidelines, training, communication, camaraderie with fellow franchisees, and many other advantages compared to sole proprietorship. Several individual elements are essential: Having a passion to persevere and a thorough understanding of the costs (finances, time, commitment, drive, and energy), being able to assess your existing commitments and priorities to ensure alignment with the demands of your franchise business, and being humble and constantly open to new ideas and recommendations for improvement. A franchise business is not a “business in a box”, and there is no substitute for individual planning, execution, and persistence. The owner, especially in initial stages, cannot be detached or treat it as a hobby or it is likely to fail.
What’s next for you and your business?
We want to become the go-to supplemental education company in San Diego County by expanding our range of services, growing our recruitment of teachers and very experienced tutors, and becoming increasingly linked with the schools and the communities we serve. Our goal is to exceed each family’s expectations to ultimately earn the vaunted “3 R’s” – Renewal, Referral, and Review.