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Michelle Paster's education business has no debt, more customers than it can handle and a hands-on owner whose concern for quality requires her to do virtually everything herself.
"I strongly believe that working with kids who have learning difficulties makes a tremendous impact on their lives," says the 29-year-old former teacher.
To make an impact on as many kids as possible, Paster left her job with the public schools to start LearningWorks Inc. in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, last August. Now she devotes herself full time to teaching, training and consulting students, teachers, school districts and parents on the subject of kids with learning difficulties. "It's very rewarding," Paster says of her work. "And when you're successful with a kid, it's a great feeling."
Paster's approach to entrepreneurship is that of a Sustainer, one of five entrepreneurial types described by a nationwide study of small-business owners performed by Yankelovich Partners for Pitney Bowes Inc. Representing just 15 percent of the sample, Sustainers were the smallest group. They're characterized by their conservative style and balanced approach to work and personal life-and are also the least interested in long-term growth and the most risk-averse of the types.
LearningWorks is Paster's first foray into business, and she was curious to see if she fit a type and whether the surveyors had any recommendations to offer. So far, everything has worked out perfectly, although Paster isn't sure the model fits her quite so well. "The Sustainer does characterize me...to a point," she says. Like a true Sus-tainer, she has no debt. Also like a Sustainer, growth is not on the top of her wish list. She also feels her need to control everything that goes on at LearningWorks marks her as a Sustainer.
But Paster is no technophobe. Her start-up has a Web site, at www.learningworksinc.com. Nor is she completely growth-averse. "I would like to expand," she says. "I'd like to publish books under the name LearningWorks, and I do see more than one location."
At the moment, Paster's prospects for growth would appear excellent. Her business is fully booked and has a waiting list. But hiring employees is going to have to wait until she can find people whose ideas, philosophy and ability to relate to students match her own, she says.
Meanwhile, Paster has been able to apply some of the surveyors' recommendations in her business. For instance, she recently, reluctantly, handed over the job of preparing her one-person payroll to an outside service. "I try to let people do things," she says. "I'm not so good at it, but I'm learning, and I'm defi-nitely better than when I started."