Editor’s note: In the coming weeks and months, Worcester Sun will chronicle the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Sun contributor — and aspiring small business owner — Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. This is the second in an occasional series in which we plan to illuminate the acute struggles of families with limited resources, and how families and entrepreneurs alike can navigate the political landmines and red tape to start their own business — and make a difference.
How hard can it be, I thought?
Businesses are opened every day across the globe, each one catering to a specific market and supplying a product or service that fills a void. To me, the concept of starting a tutoring service was simply a logical next step.
I had not only identified the void in the Worcester Public Schools system but I’d also experienced this void first-hand. This should be a walk in the park, I mumbled to myself as I started to gather notebooks to document my journey.
If you remember from last week, my devotion to my daughter’s education has sent me on a spiraling journey of unpredictability as I attempt to launch a tutoring service. Not a new business concept, to be sure, but a concept nonetheless that is scarcely accessible to folks of limited means in the city of Worcester.
As anyone building a business would do, I started my research.
Here I am on Week 2 of conceptualizing my business and all I have is a list of personal experiences, current tutoring rates in the city — a whopping $55 hourly average — and a notebook filled with one page of thoughts: a nice, large question mark drawn on the first page of the leather notebook, attempting to remind me of my reasons for embarking on this obscure path of entrepreneurship.
Again, I did what most anyone would do: I Googled it.
I opened my laptop and started to research the different types of business ownerships and the involvement of the city in new business development. Along the edge of the city’s webpage there stood a link to the economic development department.
For those unfamiliar with this department, it is in charge of pointing potential business owners in the right direction to start. They give you the ABCs of business startups in the city. The message was clear to me: If you want to start a business in Worcester, then the best place to start is in the economic development office.
So, I placed a call and scheduled an appointment to meet with business programs manager Peter Dunn.
Standing in front of City Hall with my ipad, my notebook and a letter showcasing my business concept, I hoped to get Dunn’s attention.
When we met, Dunn was open to my idea and agreed that the city was in need of supportive educational services to complement the teaching at WPS. I explained how my model would differ from those of Kumon, Sylvan Learning Center and Knowledge Quest — three top tutoring establishments — in the sense that my mission is to cater to the low-income families struggling with language barriers and financial hardship.
“My concept,” I told Dunn, “will offer tutoring for kids in the grades between kindergarten and 6th grade, in an effort to close the learning gap earlier on in the students’ academic life cycle.”
He understood my mission and began to address the steps needed to take on the role of small business owner.
“We start off every business with the essential outline to start a business in the city,” Dunn says as he hands me a brochure titled “Business Start-Up Guide.” The booklet lists the 10 steps, in chronological order, to successfully getting started.
Dunn and I spoke for 30 minutes or so while he jotted down some names and highlighted for me certain key aspects of starting a business in the city.
One of my main concerns in opening the tutoring service is the availability of commercial space.
Dunn explained that Edgar Luna, business development manager, would be the best source for looking into commercial spaces that fit my criteria. I was in search of a space with a cost of approximately $500 a month — a reasonable price, I thought, considering the city of Worcester is infamous for its available commercial real estate. This would be the best place to find a commercial space that fit my needs.
I left the meeting with a better self-awareness of my mission, my business concept and the resources available.
I went on social media to notify everyone of my decision to embark on this new venture. The support came pouring in from parents in the Worcester area that have been in search of a tutoring service they could afford.
One parent wrote to me, “Giselle, I hope you continue and see your business to the end because I have been searching for a long time for a place my son can attend that is affordable and yet gives him access to the same education and advantages as everyone else. Some of the programs in the city that are offered through small organizations have a long wait-list because these programs are free and do not have the support to take on many students at a time.”
Her words resonated with me because I was realizing the positive impact my services could have on countless families in the city.
Support continued to flow, with families asking about when the services would be available and about how they can participate or volunteer in making this happen. The feedback was copious and immensely gratifying, and the mission became clearer than ever.
I have to find a way to get this business off the ground and establish it as soon as possible.
After a little bit of social media — well, socializing — and feedback, I sat down to read the “Business Start-Up Guide,” the brochure given to me earlier in the day by Dunn.
“Step 1: research what is involved in starting a business by contacting: City of Worcester – Business and Community Development Division, the Small Business Administration in Boston and gathering resources through the Worcester Public Library.”
As I checked off step 1, I moved on to step 2, titled, “Create a Business Plan,” and this is where the real work started.
With verbal support from Worcester families and the evident need in the city, I started to map out my business plan.
Creating a business idea and envisioning it is easy, but putting it on paper — well, that can be a daunting task.
Read the first installment here
Read the third installment of the Sun’s first serial, A Mother’s Journey, with Giselle Rivera-Flores, in the Oct. 11-17 edition.