In 2008, alongside his partner Malachy Guinness, Woody Webster founded Bright Young Things, a top tier tuition agency specialising in helping students gain places at some of the UK’s most prestigious universities including Oxford and Cambridge.
As a way of introducing Woody to our EDUKWEST audience, we invited him to tell us first-hand, how he grew his agency from being a self-employed tutor himself.
Kirsten Winkler: Take us back to the beginning of Bright Young Things. When / what was the moment that Malachy and you knew that it was time to start your own tutoring agency. Was there a particular catalyst or moment that led to the decision, or do you reckon any ambitious tutor, sooner or later, will come to a point where they want to start their own business?
Woody Webster: The moment that we knew we had to build something bigger was when I could no longer keep up with the number of phone calls I was receiving – my phone was ringing constantly. As we helped more and more students, word started to spread among parents about our service. I realised that there was clearly a pent up demand that needed to be met. Together with Malachy, who was also a very popular tutor, we decided that we needed to build a business to satisfy the demand.
I think every tutor has different ambitions. I believe that if it’s a tutor’s goal to grow their business into an agency, then there’s nothing stopping them from achieving it – especially given the current demand for tuition in the UK.
KW: How much planning was involved in transitioning from individual tutor to agency? Did you start with a website; recruiting other tutors, incorporating etc., and what was the initial cost involved in setting up Bright Young Things.
WW: The whole process was very organic. There was a natural process of developing relationships with parents, pupils and teachers which made it quite straight forward. We developed a website and as demand for our services grew, we started hiring more tutors. In terms of cost, we didn’t go looking for investment from loan companies or banks or any other ways that would put us in debt before we began. Everything that we invested was from our own earnings while working as private tutors.
KW: What was the biggest challenge you faced in establishing your agency?
WW: Building our brand and constantly working to overcome the large amounts of administration which comes with running a tutorial business. However, we managed to overcome this by developing our own software to keep track of the daily administration associated with running an agency. TutorCruncher was designed to take care of tasks such as lesson scheduling, managing tutor and student records, payroll, billing and accounting.
KW: From what you know today is there anything in the process you wish you had done differently?
WW: I wish we had focused on building systems which allow for growth earlier on so we spent more time building relationships with clients and less time shuffling paper.
KW: What financial advice would you give to tutors looking to start their own independent agency?
WW: Take one client at a time and take the long term view!
KW: How would you suggest tutors begin to market their agency?
WW: Make sure most of your time is spent working on your clients and giving them what they need. In the tuition industry, word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool there is. I’d suggest keeping administration time to a minimum as we found that a lot of what we ended up doing was unnecessary.
KW: What other advice do you have for tutors who want to start their own agency?
WW: It’s a very worthwhile career move and can bring you an enormous amount of satisfaction but don’t forget the challenges of running a business are different from the challenges of teaching.
KW: I assume that few tutors look into the option to join a franchise versus being independent. What’s your take on this?
WW: I think this is a good thing. Running a franchise essentially means working for someone else. Even though you’re in charge, you still have the franchise owners to answer to. With an independent agency, you’re able to personalise your student’s learning as you see fit and you’re in control of managing your time. With independent agencies, students tend to receive a more personalised education.