Welcome to our second SPI community member feature! On our SPI Facebook Group, we have over 40,000 amazing entrepreneurs across all stages of business, and I wanted to start highlighting some of the amazing work the community members are doing with their businesses here on the blog.
Brendan Hufford, our Facebook Community manager, wrote this post to highlight Paul Collins, whose business focuses on teaching English as a second language.
You can also check out Brendan and his work at his blog.
And if you haven’t done so already, click here to join the Facebook Group and be a part of the community!
“Why would anybody pay for this?”
That’s a question Paul Collins asked himself as he was starting his business, English Transformation, which focuses on teaching people how to speak English as a second language.
He was launching his business in a saturated marketplace, which included powerhouse language businesses such as:
- Rosetta Stone, which is publicly traded and had $265 million in revenue in 2013
- Babbel, which raised $22 million in 2015
- Duolingo, which raised $75 million in 2017 at a $700 million valuation
How could Paul possibly compete with those businesses?
But Paul has drive and determination, two traits he developed as a child struggling with illness. According to his doctor in London, Paul suffered from the worst case of eczema in the United Kingdom from age one to twenty-four. Sometimes, he could barely walk, get dressed, or even function.
When he was 13, his eczema cleared up for a short time. However, he would later learn that the reason his symptoms cleared up was because his body was battling something else: liver cancer. Paul was told, at points, that he wouldn’t live another 48 hours. Thankfully, he survived the cancer, only to see his eczema return worse than ever.
But struggling with his health was all that Paul had ever known, so the resilience that it bred in him has always been there.
In 2004, Paul met a man that would change his life. Paul was on a boat, trying to put on two wetsuits and getting ready to scuba dive when the man asked Paul if he had a problem with his liver. Amazed that somebody could know this just by looking at him, Paul would go on a journey of discovery where he not only learned how to heal himself physically but also mentally.
This man took one look at Paul and said, “Come and see me and I’ll teach you how to breathe.” Paul thought to himself, ”OK, buddy. I’m all right, thanks. I know how to breathe just fine.”
But at this time, Paul was always carrying around an asthma inhaler to help him breathe and a tube of steroid cream for his eczema. The final decision for Paul to go see this acquaintance was when he started to have suicidal ideation–even going so far as to write a goodbye letter to his relatives. It was then he decided it was time to pull out all the stops.
The man took Paul to the beach near his home on the Gold Coast, Australia, and lead Paul through Qi Gong—a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used in the belief that it promotes health, spirituality—martial arts training, and a variety of meditations. He taught Paul his Breathe Enhancement Technique as well as The Geno-Type Diet.
He told Paul to throw away the inhaler. Paul took his advice and hasn't used one since. Within a few weeks, Paul was running around the local park doing things he’d never have been able to do. “Basically, I became ‘normal.’ I was able to do things that other people take for granted,” he says.
After that, his eczema, asthma, and cancer didn’t return. Paul was left with only half a liver due to the cancer, but he wouldn’t trade his health struggles for the world, as they shaped him into the type of entrepreneur who wades, unflinching, into the deep waters of building a business.
Despite never attending college or university due to his chronic illness, Paul was able to attain a position as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, something nearly impossible without a degree.
While teaching ESL in Australia, Paul noticed that his students were not getting the services that they expected and deserved. While working at a failing school, Paul started his own courses from his home office in the afternoons. One day, while he was looking for office space with a friend (who also taught ESL), Paul met with a group looking for International English Language Testing System (IELTS) instructors.
Six months later, after the school Paul was teaching at closed, he decided to go all-in on his own business.
Diving Into a Saturated Market
Seeing the local market opportunity, Paul and his friend (who would become his business partner) paid no attention to big players like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. “I honestly didn’t really give it too much thought. Maybe that was out of arrogance, or maybe it was stupidity,” says Paul.
While there are a lot of solutions out there to teach English, Paul specifically helps people pass the IELTS exam, a high-stakes English exam. It is an extremely challenging test for most people, including native speakers. So, they are not only teaching a language but the specifics of how to reach a particular score on a test.
Paul set himself apart with an integrated approach (which he also refers to as “blended learning”) that result in students having the highest level of IELTS and ESL knowledge. This means they integrate personal development aspect into all of our sessions as nearly all of their students suffer from anxiety, worry, and a myriad of other problems from trying to pass a constantly changing exam.
“Really, we believe that the human aspect is essential to improving at a language,” says Paul. “That’s one of the main reasons why we have our online courses, and still provide face-to-face sessions, either with one of us directly or with one of our tutors. We aim to expand this with a pay-as-you-go app service. Students need the connection for clarification and correction of their work and progress. Yes, it’s more time consuming for us, but we also get to provide work for others and a better service to our clients.”
Sadly, says Paul, many other businesses in the market provide a sub-par, and in many cases incorrect, product. “It’s just wrong and doesn’t help the student,” Paul says. His students often tell him they have learned more through English Transformation in a few hours than they did in weeks or months at a traditional school or trying to learn via YouTube videos.
Staying Afloat in Rough Waters
Paul's journey hasn't been without its setbacks. In fact, one of his biggest mistakes was, ironically, over-thinking some things and not thinking others through fully.
Things that Paul should have paid attention to, like his bookkeeping (which he refers to as “the boring side of business”) actually cost him quite a bit in penalties and government fines until he brought on his wife as a bookkeeper.
For example, in deciding on a platform for their online courses, Paul caught a case of “analysis paralysis” as he fully educated himself on every single platform possible, reading multiple reviews and comparisons of each. As you might expect, Paul settled on hosting his online courses with Teachable for its mix of ease-of-use, price, and design. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, Pat receives compensation if you purchase through this link.]
Another mistake, which cost Paul dearly, was going into a deal with an international partner. They partnered with a friend of a friend to license teachers in another country and were never paid for their work. In the end, they had to pay the teachers out of their pockets and walk away. In retrospect, Paul says, “I knew it was not the right move but whether it was greed or hope or something, I went along with the idea. I did stop it sooner than others were willing to when the gut feeling got too strong, but by then it was a little late.”
Since then, they've had numerous requests to partner with others or take on investment, but Paul and his partner have learned from their mistakes and are much more wary this time around.
Navigating these rough waters was possible because he took action on what he was learning from Pat and Smart Passive Income. Some of the resources that helped Paul grow his business include:
First, simply seeing that Pat had lost his job and created a blog to teach people how to pass a test. Although his business is in a different market, Paul simply mirrored that effort and had a path to move forward.
Next, it was Pat's short video on how to start a website. Within a few minutes, Paul had his own website up and running.
Additionally, here are six podcast episodes that had a huge impact on Paul:
- Episode 25: More Online Business Success Stories from People Who Don’t Teach Others How to Make Money Online. Paul says, “It was great to hear that folks could make money without teaching people how to make money. . . I guess for all of [the guests] I liked their ‘Go For It!’ attitude. I’m still developing that as I go.”
- Episode 37: Monetizing in A Hobby Niche – Success Story, Interview Series 3. “I loved how [the guest] ran webinars and repackaged the content into information products. I also liked how the guest talked about being genuine and using her personality as is, remaining natural which is what I think people connect with. That’s what we do too.”
- Episode 38: World Domination and The $100 Start-up with Chris Guillebeau. “I listened to the audio book before I heard the podcast. What’s not to like about this? I liked how he talks about a product that people can get for free, but that they pay for out of convenience. Everyone should read Chris’ book for sure.”
- Episode 44 and Episode 45: How to Win with Your Email List Parts 1 and 2, respectively. “I loved all of the DOs and DON’Ts of email marketing, particularly where to place sign-up forms. Also, the way Pat includes the fact that he has posts with affiliate links, but emphasizes that he won’t give them in this post and doesn’t expect listeners to use the links unless they felt they gained value. In episode 45, the GOLD was what to include, when to include it and how to time your email sequence.”
- Episode 49: Being Everywhere and Building a Community Around A Product Niche with Brendan Hufford. “I liked the fact that Brendan was teaching and running this in his spare time. The real niche aspect was cool too. Another few things that I liked were the laid-back style he talked about using on the site and the business idea that came from the project. Helping others while you help yourself is super cool.”
Setting His Sails
Currently, Paul's business makes around $15k AUD per month (roughly $11k USD per month at time of publishing). This can fluctuate quite a bit month to month, but this breakthrough of income has only come recently. Much of the income has come on the back of offering online courses and a self-published book.
But for Paul, it's not just about money. Owning his own business has enabled him to live life (mostly) on his own terms. If he wants to spend the afternoon in the pool with his daughters who are two and seven, he can.
What’s next for Paul? He wants to continue to grow his business and keep telling the story of how he's been able to heal so radically from his childhood illness and go on to become a successful entrepreneur.
If you’re inspired by Paul’s story, check out Pat’s awesome free course on how to Build Your Own Brand. And be sure to join our SPI Facebook Community to get to know other entrepreneurs like Paul! Hope to see you there.