Is running your business stressing you out? Do you feel like you are trapped by the amount of work you have to do?
You will also discover how she was able to encourage her employees to come up with possible solutions to the problems they ran into, how she uses self-evaluation forms to ensure that her employees are on track, and how she was able to create a culture where her employees contribute to the team and feel appreciated.
OWEN: My guest today is Stephanie Spaan. And she is the president and CEO at the Excel Achievement Center. Stephanie, welcome to the show.
STEPHANIE: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really super excited.
OWEN: Awesome. This interview is all about getting guests in here who have been able to systematize their business so that our audience can learn how exactly you did that. And so before we even talk about the actual meat per se that pertains to the content today I want to give the listeners an understanding of what are some mind blowing results that you now currently experience as result of going through that process of systematizing and automating your business.
STEPHANIE: My goodness, there are so many of them. Of course the biggest one is that I don’t have to be here all the time. I’m a single mother. I had some health issues that I’ve gone. I’ve gotten to go on vacations even to far away countries, like I’ve been to France. And my company, there’s not even a glitch in the system. So that’s one of the great big ones. The other huge one is that everyone in my company feels empowered, feels a part of it, and it’s not just Stephanie’s company but it is definitely Excel Achievement, the people. So I would say those are the two huge benefits.
OWEN: How will you say your company has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
STEPHANIE: It’s far less top down. I think as a new business owner I definitely wanted to be in control, wanted everything my way and that’s great. I think when you’re first starting off and ensure that it does go according to the mission or your business plan. But then when you start to pull in other people’s point of view you realize that you can brighten and even make better based on other people’s gifts and strengths. And so therefore as I started to put systems in it empowered my employees then to be able to take more ownership and add their own strengths and capabilities.
OWEN: You mentioned during the pre-interview that now it’s gotten less top down and is more team-oriented, right?
STEPHANIE: Definitely less top down. It used to be very much so top down. It’s definitely much more team-oriented, you betcha.
OWEN: Awesome. How do you see your personal life has been transformed as a result of systematizing your business?
STEPHANIE: First of all as a mom, I’m a single mom of two boys and one of them is 20 and now in college, the other one’s 14 though. So he plays hockey and needs me to be around. So in my personal life my boys know that I’m there for them. The more I systematized it the more I could go to their school plays, or their different activities during the day, or I could volunteer in the school so that was nice. But I just recently, back in April diagnosed with breast cancer and had to leave quite a bit.
OWEN: I’m sorry to hear that.
STEPHANIE: It’s actually all good now. I’m on the way positive side now. I was lucky I was in a really lucky case. But something that traumatizing happen to you and you don’t have your business systematized you’re in trouble because you’re gone a lot. Personally, my recovery, they said I’m way ahead of the game. A lot of business owners are under a ton of stress, but I think by systematizing my business that removed from me. We’re being so grateful that I did not have that. And my business was only 11 years old. I’m really fortunate, and I think systematizing is what really made all the difference.
OWEN: Awesome. We’ll go into the details of how you actually systematized and then go back to even before it was systematized. But I’m wondering, now that you have the systems in place and it allows your business to run without you, what will you say is the longest time you’ve been away from the business?
STEPHANIE: I would say recently with this full surgery thing I think I was gone for about 5 weeks. And not a glitch, seriously, not a glitch in the system. I’m so proud of everyone. And honestly, we also just added a second center. So they have two learning centers.
OWEN: Without you being there.
STEPHANIE: Without being there and being in a hospital situation. I didn’t really even have a lot of access to contacting them. It really speaks a lot for systems and how well they work.
OWEN: That is awesome. Because the listeners are wondering and they’re probably excited like I am, I’m trying to understand what exactly is your business all about? What exactly does your company do and what big pain or problem do you solve for your customers?
STEPHANIE: Okay. Excel Achievement Center, what we do is we really focus on helping all kids ages four through adulthood figure the genius within themselves. My oldest customer is about 65 years old. What we do is whether it’s reading, writing, spelling, math, ACT prep, Study skills, we really work with kids on a one-on-one basis to empower them first to find out what their strengths and gifts are and then to utilize those to get them to maybe something that they’re struggling with, or maybe they’re doing really well and they just need enrichment. So that’s really what we do. And we found that just because you struggle in one area it doesn’t mean you can’t learn, it doesn’t mean you have a low IQ. It just means you need to figure out how exactly you learn the information.
OWEN: I totally understand that because growing up I didn’t even know that I learned the best by listening to stuff and I would always struggle with reading which was only until I got to the university in the US that I realized that my learning was by listening on the audio is different. I totally understand the need to learn how you learn so that you can use that method for yourself. How many full time employees do you have?
STEPHANIE: Here at the center I have five full-time employees and about 40 part-time. And at the other center I have two full-time and three part-time.
OWEN: And is the company profitable? What will you say was the last year’s annual revenue and maybe what do you expect for this year?
STEPHANIE: It is about 600,000 and this year we’re projecting 650,000 or maybe even 700,000 at the new center. I’m very excited for me being just a teacher and didn’t know anything about business to be able to do that every year. So that’s nice.
OWEN: That’s awesome. Let’s go back in the story. Take us back to when the business was not systematized and automated like it is now. What was wrong with it?
STEPHANIE: What I like to tell everybody is if you want to know how to make a business mistake contact me because I feel like I’ve made just about every single one of them.
STEPHANIE: At first I rented like a classroom. I was the teacher and everyone had to follow. I was putting in about 14 hours a day including weekends. And you’re in my communication, that was probably the biggest error I made. I knew what was going on but no one else did and they really kind of follow through on what I had in my head. So then I would get frustrated with them and just do it myself which I do see a lot of business owners do. The problem with that is then you get exhausted. In my case it really did. Eventually it affected my health. I did have a really key employee say to me, “You know Steph, all of us here on board, we love the mission of Excel Achievement. We’re doing great things, you’re doing great things. But you have to be clear in your communication.” And so then instead of me running around trying to fix everything, I started thinking, “How can I duplicate this, so if I’m not hear you can run smoothly.” Then the job became, “Now she wants to systematize everything.” Because if they’d come to me with a problem I’d say, “What’s the problem and how is the system broken down here?” Now they roll their eyes and go, “Here she goes again on systems.” But they also know that if you fix the system the problem goes away and so does the stress, not just for me but for everybody else, because everybody knows what the expectation is.
OWEN: Before you even made the decision to start systematizing the business I want to understand back when the business was not systematized what will you say was the lowest point and describe how bad it got. Maybe the point where you were like, “Wow, I just have to change things around” a specific point in the story.
STEPHANIE: The lowest point was we thought we’re going out of business. We started out everything I touched turned to gold, and we went from zero students to 90 in about a year and a half. But then another a couple of other learning centers came into town and then the economy changed. And so then we dropped to 45. We just moved in to a new building. The first thing that I had to systematize was the business part of it. I needed to really know what our projections, what month typically are good months, which months are not, how can I plan ahead. I really needed to put some systems in for the business side of it. Make sure that my bookkeeper and I have systems that she knew the expectation and I knew the expectation. Then I was by nature a nurturer and wanted to have everybody to have what they really wanted, I love my teacher so much that I wanted them to… If they needed a new curriculum or whatever. And I had to start saying, “No, we can’t afford right now.” I also I had to do some basic business 101 to get everyone to understand the expectations. So that was probably the lowest point.
OWEN: You also mentioned during the pre-interview that you noted at that time that your employees were able to bring more to the table than you were. And I was wondering how does that prevent you from taking that input they’re trying to bring to you. What was up with that?
STEPHANIE: They were trying to bring more to… Say that to me again.
OWEN: Because now we’re trying to ask the lowest points and the breaking points as well. You mentioned your something that noticed your employees were bringing more to the table than sometime [Unintelligible 00:09:42] and I’m wondering how that was kind… I wanted to understand that.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. They were willing to help out but I think was trying to protect them from doing anything that was difficult. And so once I kind of opened up to them and saying, “Hey, we can’t afford this, or this is the good news.” And teachers in general, we all want to give our product away, right? We don’t want to see that kid out there struggling. I had to learn if I don’t charge what it’s worth then I’m not going to be able to pay the [Unintelligible 00:10:12], basic things like that.
OWEN: Let me see if I can explain that to the listeners and correct me if I’m wrong. They were trying to do more for business not realizing that because they can’t see behind the scenes of certain things, systems being broken. And you are telling them they couldn’t do it so they didn’t understand. But once you open the [Unintelligible 00:10:30] for them to see what’s really going on and then they could see from a system’s standpoint also from a financial standpoint what’s happening.
STEPHANIE: Exactly. They needed to see that there’s also a business side.
OWEN: Awesome. Now that left open they come around and say, “Now, let’s see what’s really happening and fixing the problem from a systems standpoint. What was the first step did you do to systematize your business?
STEPHANIE: The first step… Well, in our lesson planning aspect. So Excel Achievement individualizes all of our lessons. Everything’s very individualized for students. So we figured out how do you systematize that. And so we had to formulate a system to have lesson plans. A student comes here for reading. We look at many different aspects of that and figure out many different programs. So we probably have about eight different programs just for reading along. And so we had to systematize that. For example when we opened up our second center, now those buyer has those template, has those systems and be able to do exactly what we do here. She tests the student, finds out what the problems are, and then she knows which of those lesson plans to use and is getting the same results that we have here. That was probably the first thing. It took us a little bit to do that but really thrilled. She just opened up in June and now she’s already getting the same results, so we’re really happy.
OWEN: Awesome. What was the second step to systematize the business?
STEPHANIE: Scheduling is also very systematized. We have to schedule not only the [Unintelligible 00:12:08] come here but the teachers who come. We have to systematize the scheduling of the training of our tutors, there’s a definite system. I just joke with everyone and say someone gets hit by a bus, everyone has to be able to do that job. We joke about that but we have manuals and steps to everything that needs to be done in the company.
OWEN: You also mentioned something about how is this growing this thing in the middle of something. You said something about it, is the system is broken?
STEPHANIE: Right, I say that. And everyone, like I said, will roll their eyes. They get tired of me talking about it but that’s exactly what you have to look at. You have to look at, okay, if the client keeps cancelling too much, well, that’s the system. Is there a system in place, is there a terms of service for that client so that they’re not cancelling too much because that might affect the business. It affects the quality of the outcome that the students will receive. So, yes, and they see that. Again, the more systems there are, the more peace and tranquility there is around here. So it looks that way.
OWEN: I think the second point, you mentioned that because you’re a problem solver everyone comes to you. But what did you now decide to do to get in that situation where they would get involved trying to solve the problem before coming to you. What did you do with that?
STEPHANIE: Well, there’s two things. One is I’ve pretty much told everybody if you come to me with a problem I also want you to come to me with a possible solution. That’s one thing. Two, if systems are in place they no longer need to come to me because they know exactly what to do. That is why I can be gone for a month and nobody’s panicking. I’m not getting text messages or phone calls. There’s a definite system and even as far as the hierarchy of who you go to. It’s not just go to Stephanie anymore, there’s quite a few other people who can handle these things, that’s my point of view. It used to be top down now it’s more team. There’s many more people here who can answer the questions for me. They know the systems. They could point them out to somebody who doesn’t.
OWEN: I like the idea because it empowers them to start thinking on their own before they come to you. But I’m wondering is the system we can make that crystal clear to the listener. It’s like a recent example of that happening and what you told the employee and what they thought of as a solution and stuff like that.
STEPHANIE: Actually, I don’t have to tell them but I do, for example one of the systems that I put into place was back when we were struggling with making sure all of our tutors were trainers. Our teachers here have to sign a year contract because we don’t want turnover, even if it’s a full-time position. But the problem with that, let’s say they’re here a year and then they leave, most of them don’t. But let’s say they’re here a year and then leave, most of them don’t. But let’s just say they do [Unintelligible 00:14:47] someone new coming in, how are you ensuring that that new person is going to get up to snap and have everything they’re supposed to. We had training in place but what we really saw was the missing piece of having ongoing training. So then we had to form a system and having a teacher trainer. Then as we hired her to form systems so she knew needed to push the expectations that we thought she should be doing were different than her expectations. All of those things take a while but that would be an example. And when a tutor a tutor in the fore example is doing something that isn’t exactly correct or has a question about the system they can run to her. They might run into me. That would be of putting systems in place.
OWEN: Back then when you’re actually trying to systematize the business, I’m always fascinated by the decision factor that you used to make a decision as to which systems to create processes first and first and the next one after. How did you prioritize what process and systems to create first?
STEPHANIE: For me business is a living, breathing thing and it has presented things to me and I think that’s really important for business to stay current and make sure that you are staying with the times, and you’re developing systems first of all with the times. It would just depend on what was going on. So like I said before, plans were cancelled, too many appointments, we came up with systems to prevent that from happening. As we’re opening the second center and she has all these systems I am so jealous because she has not had to develop any of these systems and she’s not run into any problems. She calls me and questions on systems maybe that she hasn’t learned or understood yet. But we’ve been doing this stuff for a while, so all of these systems kind of falling into place.
OWEN: What I get from that is the way you handled how to [Unintelligible 00:16:49] and was basically the demand. If you felt that there’s this problem happening over and over again, representing the most demand. Then just jump, roll up your sleeves, and just fix that problem while creating systems where the next one that comes that’s kind of the way you went about it.
STEPHANIE: Exactly. But the key is what you saw there, is you just don’t fix the problem but you create the system for it. And then not only do you create the system for it but you have to communicate that system to everybody. That’s really the key, is making sure that not only do you fix it but there’s a system created and that everyone knows that and everyone can apply. Because if you just fix it then we’re back to where it was in the beginning, when I was running around fixing. So by nature I’m a really good problem solving but that’s exhausting if I’m the only one doing it.
OWEN: Back when you were actually creating the system, I wonder how did you… Because the business has been automated and then those days you leave the employee to work on because you want to have that very predictable experience, then you have to document procedures as well as processes for it. I’m wondering how exactly back then did you even document procedures and processes for your business and what tools did you use?
STEPHANIE: We used, some were tools. First of all we’re nationally accredited so that kind of drives how we document things.
OWEN: How so?
STEPHANIE: We’re credited by Advanced Ed which is what…
OWEN: Advanced Education?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. And that’s when most schools are actually accredited by as well. We have to have, obviously, proof of being financially stable, and we have to have proof that our system works. We keep statistics actually here of every student that goes through and it’s plugged in to a database. So we use more of a database to enter the results that Excel has here to prove that we are getting kids to grade level. Our niche base is we work with children with dyslexia to prove that we love that. I love having somebody look over our shoulders to make sure we’re doing what we say. We use a database. We also have different things on our shared drive live new news or scheduling for our teachers and our students. But everything here’s electronic. I don’t let anyone do anything on paper and pencil because they can get lost. Everything we do is electronic, even the lesson plans are electronic. Policies and everything else are in specific folders in our database. Everything is accessible via the internet and of course we have it backed up off site, and all kinds of things like that.
OWEN: At that time when you were working on systematizing and automating the business what books or even mentors had the most influence on you and why?
STEPHANIE: The very first book that I enjoyed was called the Secrets of Six-Figure Women by Barbara Stanny and this was the first one that gave me the psychological component to believe that I could do it. I realized since I read that book that there were plenty of women that lack confidence but they just had an idea and they talked about faking it until you make it or how they problem solved through things. So I think that just built a fire under me and I really got excited about that. Of course Martha Stewart’s 10 Rules for Starting a Business, talking about using about different lenses. For example she talks about having a focused lens some days exactly in doing what we’re talking about here, setting up systems, or a wide spread lens to kind of look over the operations. And then of course you have to have a future lens in there to really look ahead and be a visionary for your business. I like that. There’s Mary Kay and her general philosophy, the same with Sam Walton. Customer service oriented excel, we talk about having a service heart. And we listen to what the customer has to say, and then of course anything Oprah says. I believe and I do, I guess those are main ones.
OWEN: Awesome. I’m curious to know if you only talk about the things you did and nothing about the challenges you kind of faced while you’re trying to systemize the business. I feel like we’re not doing a well-rounded interview.
OWEN: Because obviously there had to be challenges. What will you say was the biggest challenge that you experienced when you were initially trying to systematize the business and how did you solve it?
STEPHANIE: Probably the biggest challenge was incorporating all of the details.
OWEN: How so?
STEPHANIE: Well, when the detail wasn’t followed through. For example maybe we set-up a policy for parents when they come in we said, “We need you to cancel.” But then we still ran into it. Then we learned we need to give your parents an end date, you need to finish your program by X amount of time. So then you know if you’re going to cancel one or two this week, you better make amend next week. So that would be one example. A lot of details as far as employees knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do and one way to solve that is by having employees, I would give them myself evaluation that would list pretty much my expectations of them and we’ll let them rates themselves in a scale of 1-10. Sometimes it was amazing to me when I would meet with them, because then they’d say, “Oh, I didn’t even realize this was an expectation.” And then I would say, “That’s why we do this because I need to see where am I clear, where am I not clear.” Obviously, if you didn’t know what you’re supposed that’s certainly not your fault. And now you do and how can implement best implement this, and how could I better communicate…
OWEN: Put it into a system.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, exactly, better put it into the system. That was probably the biggest thing that happened a lot in the job description.
OWEN: So completing the details… So what will you say was the second biggest challenge that you experienced initially too as well? You said during the interview you mentioned something about communication.
STEPHANIE: Correct. Communication is really a key. And I’d say that I fixed the detail and it’s still not being implemented. Sometimes you’re dealing with personality and communication. Personality is huge.
OWEN: Your personality or the other person’s personality?
STEPHANIE: I think both. I’m a very direct, bullet point kind of person. If I’m working and a co-worker, one of my employees comes in and said, “Hey Steph, let’s do it this way.” I love that. Everybody knows that. I don’t like a lot of fuss. Just come in and tell me or email me directly. But I’ve learned that the majority of people are not that way. They need a little bit more kind of an around the bend approach. And so…
OWEN: I totally understand that, the other guy [Unintelligible 00:23:32]. The person was like, “I’m just going straight to the point” and it turns out he wanted a lot of fluff or whatever before the home run. But I’m just going straight to the point and you thought I was reprimanding.
OWEN: Back to your point, sorry about that.
STEPHANIE: I am exactly like you, so that worked well for me. And I think in business especially among [Unintelligible 00:23:52] there’s a lot of it or that way. Because we don’t have a lot of time. We’re just getting to the point, we’ve got a lot to do in a day. Okay, now I’ve learned that about myself. I’m not the best person, so I have to create a system and that will make me not the person to go for that. So then I can hire someone to do it. For example we have a dyslexia institute every year. And my whole way of teaching, because I catch on really quickly to things is to go through it way too fast. So I hired a teacher trainer who loves the details. Teacher love the details and it worked so much better and everyone’s calmer and everyone’s happier. That’s just one example of me moving my personality so that the system can work for itself.
OWEN: What I get from that, I’m going to reflect that to the employee now. So if you find out it’s a situation where the way you complicate it is now right and maybe getting somebody who is going to be able to go into more of the details and get to that level where they explain what’s going on in more depth for that employee.
STEPHANIE: Correct, exactly.
OWEN: What other challenges did you experience? I’m curious. Were there other challenges besides the two we talked about so far?
STEPHANIE: The most recent one last time that I had was I really wanted to create an atmosphere that was a little bit more chill. I’m highly driven and I just said this year is going to be the year of peace and tranquility, and at that time I didn’t know how much all that stress was affecting my health and later find out. So I’m really, really glad that I made this decision because I said, I want everybody comfortable. I knew my clients were comfortable. I was so to the point to making sure my clients were comfortable, that I was almost too driven with my employees. I want my students to be happy, I wanted the parents to be happy which was great. But U also need my employees to be… They were happy because we were also driven by the mission. And I have great people that love these kids just as much as I do but I sensed that, “You know what guys, let’s not eat lunch at our desk.” We have a break now and people can eat lunch if they want to. People are definitely not as stressed out. They’re leaving on time. And this is how we’re having to work late. Yet I know that they will come in and work weekends if they want to but it’s just not stressed out and they’re not having to get anything 20 things done in a span really they should only do 10, because that’s really how I run it. While I did back then, for the first part of the business it was nice to really push but like I said to you in my new center that we just set-up where all the systems are in place they’re able to have all that stamped in. They’re starting out more relaxed and they’re successful. They’re a smaller center. Their goal is to have 25 students. They opened up June 8 and they already have 13. So we’re halfway there in a tiny, little community. I’m just thrilled and I knew, it’s because they have all those systems in place.
OWEN: I’m glad you mentioned this thing about making sure that the environment that your employees work, it’s actually a comfortable environment. Because a lot of times we as the executives, we always think about the customer but not realizing that you cannot automate everything so you definitely need employees to handle certain things. Taking the time to think about how the employees feel when they’re working is very important. I was reading this other book the other day where they said, “You make sure that your employees are comfortable, that they’re working in a place that you would even want to work as an employee because that also builds bottom line because they would take care of your customers. And your if your employees are happy, your customers are happy, and if your customers are happy you’re profitable. So it all boils together.
STEPHANIE: Exactly. And I found it’s really taking some time to have gratitude and just to be so grateful for what they do. Right now, at this center… The other one has only 25, we have 120 students that we’re working with at any given time. So there’s a lot of kids, but there’s a lot of employees. And for me to just to sit back and realize these systems are working because wonderful people are implementing them and care about the mission [Unintelligible 00:28:00]. And so having an attitude of gratitude, also people feel appreciated. And also they feel like they can protect me now, where I think before they just thought who’s this crazy blonde woman running around? Now they’re like, “Okay, she’s chill. We can be chill. It’s okay.” It’s definitely better.
OWEN: Even though these challenges that you mentioned earlier I’m always intrigued to know in your case why did you stay committed to the goal of systematizing your business?
STEPHANIE: I feel like as I watch others who have businesses that don’t systematize, it’s such constant drama. And nothing gets fixed, and the same problem keeps happening over and over again. Or they’re constantly going out because they’re trying to do everything themselves. So I think systems are an excellent way to prevent drama in the workplace and it also allows for more consistency like your employees and their plans. That’s what I feel about it.
OWEN: Awesome. At what point, at the time, we’re going back in the story and now we’re coming back to more recent times. But I’m wondering, at what point in time, because we’re going back to the story now. We’re coming to more recent times. I’m wondering, at what point in time where you feel like you’ve systematized the entire business and it could actually run without you successfully?
STEPHANIE: That’s always going to be a work in progress. We have definitely less conversations now about systems than we used to. This year is probably been the best that’s ever been and really the true test since when I had two centers running, and then I was gone for so long in the hospital. Probably as far as the earliest stage that I could leave without having to have to worry about things was probably about three years ago. But now it’s really, really solid. So I guess I wouldn’t think twice about it at all.
OWEN: Awesome. And so, now that we’re in the place and time, I always want to give my listeners a behind the scenes of how a business works, in your case how your business works. Let’s imagine that on one end is, because I’m assuming that it’s always the parents who are signing up their children for your school, your program. Let’s just say on one hand the parent has a kid that they feel needs some help with their learning. And on the other end of that conveyor belt is that same… First of all, he’s doing way better and then the mom is telling the other mom’s out there. Your school is the best place to reach out. You’ve transformed their student inside the conveyor belt. But behind the scenes are different parts of your business working ahead to make that happen. Give us a workflow. And you can feel free to start from even the marketing side of this conveyor belt.
STEPHANIE: Sure. The marketing side, anymore a lot of it is word of mouth, of course our website, excelachievement.com is a big tool. I guess that’s the huge part of it. But anymore, we got referrals from teachers, pediatricians, counselors to here. It starts there. The parent will say, “I’m coming here because I’ve heard so much about you. My child is struggling with reading, or math, or maybe gifted and just bored and needs some enrichment. What can we do?” Behind the scenes is they meet with somebody that just explains the program to them. We always say we’re not a high pressure sales place. We really want people to feel comfortable, first with the staff person, and then we do an assessment. So somebody’s testing them. And all the testing is entered into a database. So that would be some systems I’ve seen, okay, exactly which… Which system in the studio isn’t working because there’s really only three systems that go into their name and might not have to go into those and there’s three of them and we love to see which one perhaps isn’t looking as well as it should be. And then we report that to the parents. And then the next step in the system is getting that student schedule so that they can come one on one with the tutor that has the right personality for them as well as the right expertise. Because again, now I’ve got to schedule, for example a fourth grade reader is going to be very different than scheduling a high school reader. So you have that system to know which teachers do what, whose personality matches with what type of student, and so then there’s that part of the system. Then you have the education director whose writing the lesson plans and individualizing this program. And she gets those assessment scores, so it gets passed down the conveyor belt to here. There’s actually three different people that work with that. And their job, because they know if the student doesn’t get to grade level they’re the ones who are the ones who’s accountable. It’s never the student’s fault, we always say it’s ours. They have to really make sure it’s individualized and we have all these different lesson plan formats that they can choose from to see if it’s working. Then they’re down the conveyor belt now, they’ve got a tutor working one on one. So the tutor follows this lesson plan, takes notes on it, let’s the director know is this the right sized plan? Is it too easy or too difficult, or did you have to deviate from the plan because you’re the one right there looking at the student and the whites of their eyes. So then that tutor puts those notes down and then it goes back to the education director who tweaks the next day’s plans based on that. Then every six weeks we’re have an administrator who’s on the floor at all the times who knows all the tutors. If I’m an administrator on Monday and all my tutors on Monday night, and all my kids from Monday night, and I’m in charge of all their parents. So then we have that person who’s meeting with the parents and communicating. Letting the parents know how they’re doing, and also communicating with the schools. Letting the classroom teacher know so that we’re on the same page with the schools. And then again, we assess them halfway through and at the end, so that at the very end the parents not only have met with somebody but they also have an actual concrete data saying your child was a fourth grader maybe reading at a first grade level. Now they’re reading at grade four, grade five, and that’s confirmed because we’ve communicated with the school. So we know that they’re applying it in the school. So we know that. That’s how the conveyor belt rolls.
OWEN: I like that. I like the fact that you went through everything. We also want to know what systems do you have in place to let your employees know exactly what they need to do. I think during the pre-interview you mentioned something about job descriptions, handbooks, and [Unintelligible 00:34:22] talk about that.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. And as I talked a little bit earlier too. So first of all, all of our interviews are scripted. So that for example. This center and my other center can ask some of my interview questions. And we know what the questions are so that would be better. And then right away at the interview we highlight of course in the job description and we say want you to take this with you, because if we hire you we want you to know exactly what you’re putting yourself into. And then you can give us a decent reply, “Yes, I want to do this. No, I do not” so that we’re not wasting any time. We also have for both full-time and part-time people we have handbooks so that they know policies and procedures, anything from [Unintelligible 00:35:05], to when I do I get paid? Who do I talk to if I have a question? All those kinds of things are there. We have financial systems, so everybody’s clear on the budget, profit and loss. There are systems that are communicating with the community with newsletter. E-newsletters and articles that we write, I also published a book. And so we use that as a system for reaching out to the community.
OWEN: You mentioned you have a trainer that’s constantly asking the tutors what the need, right?
STEPHANIE: Exactly. Our teacher trainer is consistently asking them what they need. Like I said, our whole thing is served [Unintelligible 00:35:47]. We want our tutors to feel like they’re being served and taken care of as well. You bet.
OWEN: Awesome. From the standpoint of tracking and verifying results that they deliver, is this only at that point where we’re checking to see the students greatly improved at the school level, is that how you’re doing the tracking, or is this something that’s evolved?
STEPHANIE: No, we actually have a battery of tests that are standardized. They’re not something that we created here or there. We used the same as they use at the Mayo Clinic, Reading Clinic, They’re standardized tests that we use. But on top of that we believe that even if the student is showing results on a test but they’re not seeing it in school and we don’t feel like we’re doing our job either. It’s going to transfer over. So that’s where we also [Unintelligible 00:36:34] communicating with teachers. It’s a system. We communicate… First the parents have to sign an education release then we communicate right away as soon as they enter. Then there’s [Unintelligible 00:36:46] summer. Then we do it after every single time we meet with the parents so that we can track how many times do we communicate with the school, that all communication with teachers is put into the student file. So we have it all documented, so then the parents ask, “What was that or what did you say?” We have it all documented.
OWEN: I like that because not only do you base it on the test but you also track it all the way back to school where it also is very important. That’s why they get you in the first place so that their grades in school improve. Tracking all the results altogether, I love that. Since you now have more free time which areas in your business do you focus on now and why?
STEPHANIE: We recently wrote a reading curriculum. It’s called Read It and it’s currently being distributed. And so we’re working with all these different distributors and different companies. So that’s one of the things I have freedom to, like I’ve had to travel to New York, New Jersey, and Florida to talk to these companies. And so I have not had to focus on so much of the day to day.
OWEN: I’m curious, why did you even write that reading curriculum in the first place. What’s the end goal?
STEPHANIE: Because I wanted to have children all over be able to get the same results as we get here. And now children have access to come here. That was our main reason, was to be able to reach more people. And people have been asking me, teachers have been asking me for a long, long time to do that. So now that I wasn’t, like you said, dealing with all the day-in and day-out here, I had some time to put together a team and work on that. So that’s been really exciting for us.
OWEN: Congratulations. What is the next stage of growth for your business and what are you planning to achieve next, and why?
STEPHANIE: First is to finish up with the curriculum and getting out there. The second is we really want to offer this service online where a tutor would be on the other side of the screen. We actually did that for three years and it was very successful. We were getting the exact same results we get here. But the platform that we were using unfortunately started having technical difficulties. And because we’re so customer service driven we put it on hold. Once we find a platform, I guess I’d like to spend some more time on that. And of course you have to find investors that really get that appropriately, because online is just a whole different market.
OWEN: So it’s there a thing where you were using a third party tool for that online conferencing thing and it wasn’t working out?
STEPHANIE: Right. Because what we had on the left side of our screen the tutor was live, but on the right side the curriculum would come up and it was interactive. It had shared capabilities so I can click share and the student could move their mouse and click it. And then I unshare it and could move my mouse and click it. So that that student could follow it and then they could do it. But the whole time I see the student, the student sees me and we’re going through their curriculum together. It was fantastic. Unfortunately there are not a lot of platforms that have all of those…
OWEN: All of the things [Unintelligible 00:39:42]
STEPHANIE: Right. That’s what I said. It would be something I would have to take some time in and other business plan, and plan investors to do. It was nice because all of our systems are already done here at Excel. All we have to do is transfer those systems online. So it would be a pretty easy transition and we know our product works. We just need to find investors that would want to get a hold of that.
OWEN: Definitely. I’m wondering, if you can give a quick summary of what we’ve talked about so that the listener knows all the brilliant points what will you say to kind of summarize what we’ve been talking about so far.
STEPHANIE: I would say first sit down and make a list of any problems, any complaints, anything that your employees have been saying or customers are saying, or any problems that drain you. And then think about how can I get this to run on its own. If one of my employees for whatever reason can’t be here are we going to all panic? Or are we going to go, we can do this. But I would say make that list but don’t just try to rely on yourself for that. I would say invite your employees to help you with systems because they may see systems even better than you are. I guess the goal is always keep your company from getting in that drama or that crisis mode of, “Oh no, she’s helping. What are we going to do?” There’s a place to look first before you panic. I think that’s…
OWEN: There’s a better way to… I’m glad you said that.
OWEN: As we round up the interview I’m wondering though, is there a question that you wish I would’ve asked during this interview that I didn’t ask you? If so post the answer and the question. The question doesn’t have to be system specific. If you think there’s another thing that you think will bring even more depth into what we’re talking about that we’ve not talked about, let’s quickly talk about it.
STEPHANIE: Oh my goodness, I feel like this has been so thorough, you’ve asked me so many questions about systems. I don’t think so. I think that you’ve asked the questions and I think most people who come to this, most of them are going, “I think those people are tired. How can I not be so tired as a business owner? Why is this so complicated? This is 10 times more complicated than I thought it was going to be.” I think systematizing just takes the edge off. Like I said, I’m the business owner who’s made every mistake in the book and to me systematizing is the best answer to all of the mess.
OWEN: Awesome. And what is the best way for the listener to connect with you and thank you for doing the interview?
STEPHANIE: That’s a good question. I would say they can go to our website which is www.excelachievement.com and if you want to talk to me personally you can see my picture in there and right on there is my email address which is just firstname.lastname@example.org. Of course they’re more than welcome always to call the center. And that number is right on our website as well. We’re always glad to talk to people whatever the question may be.
OWEN: Awesome. Now I’m speaking to you the listener, if you’ve been enjoying this interview all the way to this point feel free to leave us your positive review on iTunes. And to do that go to sweetprocess.com/iTunes. And also if you know other entrepreneurs who will find this interview valuable please share with them so that they can also get the same value as you are. Finally, if you are at that point in your business where you’re tired of being the bottleneck and want to get everything out of your head so that your employees know what you know, well, sign-up for a free 14-day trial of SweetProcess. Stephanie, thanks for doing the interview.
STEPHANIE: Thank you so much, it was so nice to visit with you. I really appreciate the opportunity.
OWEN: And we’re done.