[Podcast] Expand Your Global Reach Online with Jenn Cohen

Jenn Cohen of Launchpad Education
 

The Lead Generation features conversations with today’s entrepreneurs willing to tell the truth about what it takes to be your own boss and the transformative impact you can have on your audience.

In this episode, we’re bringing you a conversation with Jenn Cohen, the founder of LaunchPad Education.

After 2 decades in the world of in-person test-prep for high school students, Jenn decided to strike out on her own to develop an online tutoring business that serves teenagers who learn a little differently.

With her team of tutors, Jenn’s Launchpad Education provides personalized, 1-1 online SAT and ACT test prep to students with ADHD or other special learning needs.  

In this episode, she shares the story of her entrepreneurial journey, including what held her back, who pushed her forward, and how she persists in order to impact more kids around the world as they pursue their college dreams.

Top Takeaways

If you’re short on time, here are a few golden nuggets from our conversation and the resources mentioned.

  1. If you’ve developed skills at delivering a service in person, consider doing it online to a wider audience.
  2. Pay attention to the encouragement coming from your inner circle.
  3. Start building a team as your personal bandwidth diminishes, freeing up your time to do higher-leveraged activities for your business.
  4. Test new marketing ideas with list-building/interest campaigns in Leadpages
  5. Persist and prosper – probably in ways you can’t predict.

Resources Mentioned

Continue the Conversation

After enjoying this episode, what are your top takeaways from Jenn?

And what’s one lesson you learned in this episode that you’ll take action on over the next week?

Get to Know Jenn

Bob: Jenn, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for joining me.

Jenn: Thanks so much for having me. I love any opportunity to talk about what I do. So this is perfect.

Bob: And where are you calling in from today?

Jenn: I am in Dallas, Texas.

Bob: In Dallas, Texas. Perfect. So before we get into some of the real fun questions I have for you, I’d like to go to the end really, which is how are the lives of your customers transformed by what your company does?

Jenn: So, LaunchPad Education is the current form of my business which has been taking shape over a few years now. Our business is providing test prep services, typically SAT/ACT to high school students, but specifically aimed at kids with learning disabilities or learning differences of some sort or another. There’s not really that many people out there that specialize in this.

My tutors and myself all have backgrounds in psychology or special education. We can really provide specialized services to students that need it. What I get to see on a regular basis, and it’s so exciting, is how the work that I do with my students or that my tutors do with our students, we get to see that turn into college admissions and success in that realm. I actually just got a text message from a student that was, it was pretty challenging in some ways, who overcame a massive amount of anxiety. She just texted me the other day to let me know that she’d gotten into her first choice school. Those kinds of things are really affirming and make me excited to continue doing what I’m doing because I feel like I’m meeting a need and helping kids get where they want to be.

Bob: That’s amazing. As a former high school history teacher who spent many days elbows deep in IEPs and 504 plans and several parent meetings, I really appreciate what you’re doing so this is awesome. How great to be transforming the lives of these kids and their families and do so in a business where you can get paid well, right?

Jenn: Yeah, absolutely. I get to do stuff that I love every day.

Bob: That’s phenomenal.

A Business Borne out of Boredom

Bob: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get started doing this? What was the initial impetus of you doing tutoring and then scaling it into a full time business?

Jenn: It’s kind of a long story, but I guess probably most business people have a long story where they’ve launched their own business. My background is in psychology and I’ve done a lot of graduate work in psychology. I was doing something called neuropsych testing for many years, which is the diagnostic testing that people do to get a diagnosis of something like ADHD or dyslexia or something like that. So I was doing testing for a long time. I was bored with it and I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. And part of why I was not satisfied with it is that I didn’t get to see the end result with the people that came to me. I would essentially see them one day and then I would never see them again and I would have no idea what the outcome was. That was frustrating. Plus just the day to day was getting boring because to do that well, you have to do the same thing every day.

I had been doing tutoring on the side for many years. I’d started doing it back when I was in graduate school. I started teaching for one of the big test prep companies. Because I had this background in psychology and know a lot about brains and learning differences, I started getting referrals from schools here in town that had a student who had a learning difference but also needed some test prep. Because I need both of those things, it turned into a little bit of a side business. And I did that for many years, but not in any sort of serious way. It was pretty limited.

Then at one point, I was working with one student and she was working on the SAT and needed some help with vocabulary. I was looking around to see what I could recommend to her that I thought would be most helpful coming from my perspective of knowing how brains work and how we learn and all those kinds of things. Didn’t find anything out there that I really liked. I decided, well, why don’t I do this myself.

I have the benefit of having a husband who’s also a serial entrepreneur. He was able to give me a lot of guidance and business advice and some technical sorts of things, too. We launched a website that was specifically for SAT vocabulary, which was moderately successful but never really turned into a whole lot. A few years ago they changed the format of the SAT so that vocabulary is not so important. That just died on the vine, died a natural death, and it wasn’t really working anymore.

“A lot of people encouraged me to try tutoring online, which made a lot of sense because I could do it from home while my daughter was sleeping.”

But I still had all of this tutoring experience and knowing how to work with kids. Six years ago when I was expecting my now six year old daughter, I decided that it was time to get out of doing testing every day because it was boring and I was just ready to move on. I needed something with a lot more flexibility.

I looked into doing tutoring and was seeing some students in person when I was able to, but I made interestingly some really good connections with other tutors around the country on Twitter. A lot of people encouraged me to try doing it online, which made a lot of sense because I could do it from home while my daughter was sleeping. I started building my business that way, and now we only see students online, including all of my local students.

It’s been a several year process of starting out really on my own and building my own client base and folks that refer students to me and getting some word of mouth going in a more serious way. In the last couple of years, we’ve gotten busy enough and there’s enough demand for what we do that I’m bringing on more people. I’ve got multiple tutors working for me and someone who is helping me with administrative stuff and also getting into some ADHD coaching, which would be another service that’s related but not exactly what I have been doing all this time that I’m really excited about that. I’m hoping to start offering some other kinds of services that are aimed at high school, maybe college level students that have learning differences.

It’s been a long story, and I never thought that I would end up here, but it’s been perfect and I feel like this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

Bob: I love that this is originally a side hustle. So many people start their businesses that way, right? They’ve got a full-time gig or they are working from home parent. They’re just trying to figure out a way to adult a little bit because otherwise it can be tough just dealing with a toddler all the time, and then it turns into something bigger. But initially, it’s really about: you have a skillset, you identify a problem, you solve that problem for people in a way that gets them talking about it and then you grow. I really love that you’re at a point right now that you didn’t imagine at the beginning. Most businesses are like that, right? They initially think of one thing that they’re going to do and they’re going to evolve.

Overcoming Traditional Assumptions About Tutoring

Bob: When you look back at the growth of your Business and company, what sticks out as either an obstacle or a challenge or frustration that you had to overcome that you did so in order to be successful?

“Parents that didn’t grow up with the Internet feel that there’s some advantage to working in person. Actually, for some students, online works even better.”

Jenn: So, I can think of a few things that might qualify in that category. One is convincing people maybe at the outset, aside from, you know, I have a few referral sources who would occasionally send me students, but convincing that working online is good, that has been a major frustration over time. I get it. I think parents that didn’t grow up with the Internet and how things work online feel that there’s some advantage to working in person, that it’s difficult to convince them that that is something that’s going to work even though I certainly have found that it works beautifully. Actually for some students, it works even better. If you have maybe a student that’s on the Asperger’s spectrum or autism spectrum, they feel uncomfortable having someone in the room with them. It actually works a little better not to be in the same room, which is an interesting thing.

But selling that side of it has been a little difficult. And I still regularly get inquiries that’s like, you know, I really don’t think this online thing is going to work, but I’m going to give you an opportunity to sell me on it. That’s a little tough, but sometimes I’m successful with it, sometimes not.

Also, I feel like a challenge has been figuring out what to focus on because I have so many ideas. I have hundreds of ideas. Of course, not all of them are going to be feasible. It’s difficult for me to focus on one thing. And maybe that’s just part of my personality that I have just have all these ideas and I want to do all of them because I think all of them are awesome.

Bob: I think that’s just called an entrepreneur.

Jenn: I think so too. I think it goes along with the personality part of it. Although I never really imagined myself as an entrepreneur and it amazes me that this is where I am. If I thought about this when I was in college, I never, never in a million years I would’ve seen myself here.

Finding something to focus on has been extremely difficult. I’m lucky in that I have some great support around me. Both my husband who provides a lot of advice and then a friend who’s also working with me helps keep me on track and try and make me focus on one thing at a time.

Who’s In Your Corner?

Bob: Cool. So you have your friend, you have your husband. I’m going to ask you this question then maybe you can expand on the role that they’ve played. Who’s been your biggest champion for your business? Because obviously starting this over the length of time that you’ve done, you’ve probably hit some roadblocks and needed that extra support in your corner.

Jenn: Yeah, yeah. I would say both my friend and my husband are probably equal, or maybe in terms of the big picture are equal, but at different phases, one was more important than the other. Certainly initially, my husband who has just been amazing with all of it and he tolerates a lot. He has this background of being an entrepreneur and starting a number of different businesses that he’s been in and out of. So he’s had this experience and he most definitely since well before I knew him really has had this entrepreneurial mindset. He thinks big and shoots for the moon with some of his ideas.

I, on the other hand, my natural personality is to be a lot more conservative, that I was really nervous about going out on my own and not receiving the regular paycheck and having a regular job that you’re supposed to go to. There is absolutely no way I think that I would have my own business at this point if it were not for him pushing me, encouraging me, saying, you know, you’re on to something. There is demand for this, I know there is, and you’re really good at it. Reminding me of that along the way too, that has been immensely important. Because he’s an attorney, he does all of my legal work which is really nice.

Aside from the business kinds of things, he does so much to help take care of our daughter to take pressure off of me. There’s lots of obligations that he has to handle with her because I’m not available because my tutoring hours are evenings and weekends mostly. He is having to take over a lot, and oh, I just love him so much for it, I couldn’t have done it without him.

My friend is also amazing. We have known each other about 20 years. She also has a background in psychology. We see things similarly in some ways and she is much more organized than I am, and she is able to help me again, stay on track and get things going in the right direction but also helping take on some of my burdens along the way and making more time and space for me to not only do tutoring but working on other projects, which is what I’m into right now. She’s definitely my cheerleader too. She’s always telling me how great things are going, which is not necessarily how I think at all. I’m the negative Nancy all the time. So, it’s good to have someone who reminds you that no, actually things are really awesome and going well.

Bob: That’s really good. So you get a little bit of accountability from her, you get a little bit of refocusing and that pat on the back, that it’s hard to reach around there sometimes.

Jenn: Yeah, exactly. I don’t even think about it, it’s just what I do. But it’s nice to have, I don’t always get the positive feedback from my students, that’s just not what teenagers do. So, it’s nice to have it from someone that I trust and respect.

Bob: Very good.

Trust Yourself to Make the Leap Earlier Than What’s Comfortable

Bob: You’ve been doing this for a little while and you’ve seen different stages of your business growth. If you had a time machine and you could go back to your earlier self as you were starting things out, what advice would you give yourself as you’re starting out?

Jenn: Get out of the day job faster. I mean, seriously. I kick myself all the time for why didn’t I do this sooner? It was really just out of fear. That’s really all that it was, was just fear. Am I going to be able to earn a living doing this? Is it going to be successful enough that I can afford not to have a regular day job? If this doesn’t work out, what am I going to do? And it was really stressful making the decision to do it. I’m not sure if I would have if I had not been expecting my daughter and there being this major change in my life situation. I think those things really pushed me to doing it. I really wish it had happened sooner because I feel like I’ve missed a bunch of years that I could have been growing this business and doing something that I really enjoyed a lot more, found a lot more meaning in than what I was doing before. And that makes me sad.

But at the same time, better late than never. I know I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me still with growing the business and who knows where it’s all going to lead. I’m excited about what’s coming with technology and how that might change our business down the line. Who knows what’s going to be available then out in the future. I think too, just getting the word out more about what we do is really exciting because I think people don’t naturally think now, oh, I have a kid that needs test prep, I’m going to Google it. It’s like they ask their friends and teachers and so on. I’m really excited about the possibilities.

Bob: Yeah. It’s really cool that we live in an age where you can market your tutoring beyond your ZIP code.

#SquadGoals

Bob: I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening who have varying industries that they’re in. I imagine we might have a few tutors that are listening right now thinking, holy smokes, I could actually scale this, bring on some extra tutors and really have a significant increase in the way that I run my business and the way of life that I have. What was that change like for you? How did you decide that you needed a team or you needed to network and have this cluster of tutors that are growing instead of just doing it all yourself?

Jenn: There was a summer a couple of years ago, and summer is one of my busiest times. I really like for students to do some preparation over the summer when they don’t have other things hanging over their heads because our student population in particular, just getting homework done can be really exhausting during the regular school year and if you add test prep on top of that, it can be a little overwhelming. I try and push students to at least do some work during the summer. So it’s one of my busiest times of year. I had a period where I was seeing I think six hours of students a day pretty much back to back, rarely having a break, and still getting inquiries all the time that I was having to make time to talk to families and then having to turn business away because I just physically did not have the bandwidth to do anymore.

It became a necessity that I have some help. That initially started with just some administrative sorts of things: dealing with inquiries, talking to parents, logistics, and keeping things organized. That also turned into, okay, well, I have a little bit more time for tutoring now that I’m not dealing with this other thing. The business just kept coming in and it then became, oh, wow, yeah, I’m going to have to really hire some more people. But finding those people has been extremely challenging.

I am really, really grateful for the internet side of it because the people that I now have working for me are amazing but they are not in Dallas. So, it is wonderful to be able to hire like I have one tutor in Oregon right now and one tutor in Wisconsin right now and it’s wonderful that I can access those people, once I find them, and it makes them difference where they are and it makes no difference where the students are either. That has been really wonderful. But finding those people has been really challenging. I’ve had some misses along the way, but I mean, that’s going to happen. I don’t think there’s any way to prevent that. I feel like the team I have right now is really, really solid.

Bob: That’s good. I often adhere to the policy of the hire slow and fire quick. Are you seeing the same thing in the way that you’ve grown your team?

Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. There have been some people along the way that on paper should have been a really good fit and have the right skill set. When it came to actually doing the work, they were not comfortable enough with the lack of structure that this naturally has because I am not interested in micromanaging my tutors. I don’t have time for that. I’m hiring students and compensating them very well for the fact that they know what they’re doing, they know how to work with this population, they have previous experience with tutoring. My expectation is that they’re going to be able to handle this without a lot of handholding.

I have hired some people that that was not the case and it doesn’t mean that they’re bad people or not competent, but the lack of structure just didn’t suit their personality or the way that they like to work. I couldn’t fix that so it just didn’t work out. You keep trying, you keep looking for people that are going to work. I really do feel like right now we’re in a good spot. The folks that are working for me now really get it and are exactly what I need.

Bob: That’s awesome.

Testing What’s Next with Leadpages

Bob: Well, I’ve got two last questions for you. So one of them is, you know, as you’re growing your business and getting the word out more, you’re using Leadpages to do so. What are some ways that you’re doing it so that you have to spend as much time maybe on the phone prospecting, you’re utilizing the internet to leverage things. How are you using Leadpages to do so?

Jenn: So, I’m using Leadpages for a completely new project that I am building and which is not completed yet, but I wanted to get started with Leadpages to start driving traffic, building a list that’s interested in what I have to sell. I’m working on an online study skills course aimed at kids with learning differences because I find as a matter of course, I mean, it is 99% of my students, they have no idea how to study, like none. Part of why they are struggling often with the ACT or SAT by the time they get to us is the fact that their study routine has been crammed the night before the exam, get through the exam and then forget all of it. That’s just not how brains learn things for the long term.

I’m always fearful and I hear from students who have moved on to college that are struggling, or I see my students currently that are struggling that they’re going to go on to college and the workload is just going to blow them away because they are not in a routine that’s going to work.

This felt like a way for me to build some business, get into a different demographic than what we’re seeing with tutoring. Our hourly rates are pretty expensive, so we’re not going to be for everybody. With the study skills course, it’s something that I can make reasonably affordable and something that I feel like doesn’t have to be tailored individually like one on one tutoring is, and I can deliver it in a way that I know is going to work for these kids. Like I know that this is how they learn best, and so, teaching them to observe their own learning behavior a little bit and deliver the content in a way that’s going to help them learn it. Then they can apply that to all of their other courses and hopefully make the leap to college successfully without getting completely overwhelmed or not knowing what to do.

So, that’s where Leadpages is coming in right now. I’ve had an account with you for a little over a month now. So, really brand new. And I am seeing success with it. I’m still trying to figure out how to market my lead magnet. That’s really interesting and I’m doing a lot of reading and trying to learn up on that to get it in front of people in the right way so that I am collecting email addresses and so on.

I do love how Leadpages was so easy to use to get the landing page set up and all of these other options because I am not a techie person despite the fact that I spend my entire day on the computer. And maybe I’m a little more tech literate than some people, but when it comes to like designing a webpage, absolutely, that is not something I can do. I was able to do it, I think it looks pretty good actually, and I’m happy with it. So I’m looking forward to learning more about some more advanced features as we go along. I know I’m just scraping the surface.

Bob: Yeah. A lot of people do especially during that first month. So, great job so far and good to see the conversions coming in. I’m happy to of course see you on our Conversion Coaching calls that we do each Tuesday that we do for our members. That’s a different story for now.

Persist Through the Pitfalls

Bob: My final question for you today is when you’ve had the success, I’m sure you had people around you who have been like, hey Jenn, this is awesome that you’ve done this. What do you say to them is the key to success and starting up or growing a business, especially if they’re trying it as a side hustle and they’re still stuck in that soul sucking day job or whatever the situation may be. What do you tell them is the key to success in starting or growing that business?

Jenn: I would say persistence. Getting over the initial hump is really hard. Like going from having no business to a viable business or at least something that’s successful enough that you’re going to continue doing it. Getting from that point to the second point is really difficult. You have to have a belief in what you’re doing enough to continue to try talking to people, calling random people that might have some interest in your business or emailing those people, getting into social media and trying to make connections there. I’d mentioned Twitter earlier, but that has been, it was at one point in my business life really important. Not as much now, but in the day it was.

And, just keep talking. Don’t stop trying, make appointments with people once a week that you think might be able to help you in some way or another, even if it seems like it’s a long shot because you just never know. You talk to that person and then they say, oh well, maybe I’m not a good fit for what you’re doing but I know someone who is and those things have mattered a lot to me and in the last six years, I have made some really good new friends in addition to being good sources of students and that I’m really proud of and glad, I’m glad that I didn’t give up on it.

Bob: Yeah, persistence is an amazing thing. I’m for one am glad that you stuck with it. I’m sure your students are as well and obviously your husband. Jenn, thanks so much for joining me. I know people can find you over at LaunchpadEducation.com. You mentioned Twitter earlier. Is any social media channel that you love to hang out on the most?

Jenn: Right now I am much more on Facebook. So LaunchPad Education has a Facebook page. I’ve admittedly let Twitter lax a little bit, but I feel like now that I’m marketing a different product because I feel like at least for my current level of business with the tutors and myself, we’re doing pretty well in that sense. Now that I have this new product, I’m ready to start thinking about the other social networks too. So, I do have a LaunchPad Education Twitter but it’s a little vacant right now.

Bob: And I’m sure that with all the family groups and so forth on Facebook-

Jenn: Yes, that has definitely been a motivation for sticking with Facebook for sure.

Bob: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Jenn, for being on the Lead Generation with me and for representing the great success that businesses can have when they persist and solve problems that people are hungry to have solved.

Jenn: Thanks for having me, I really appreciate it. It was fun.

Bob: Absolutely.

Ready to take action?

What are your top take-aways from Jenn?

And what’s one lesson you learned in this episode that you’ll take action on over the next week?

Tell us in the comments section below!