Today we are joined by a terrific guest, Tina Tower! Founder of Begin Bright, mother of two kids and 2014 Businesswoman of the Year, today she tells us about how she created her franchise business built on happiness in the face of adversity.
Hi Tina! So you’re doing something really cool. Tell us a little bit about Begin Bright.
Hey! Begin Bright is a school readiness and primary tutoring franchise. I started my first tutoring centre when I was 20 and then decided that I wanted to scale that up so we could reach as many children as possible and make them all feel happy, smart and confident. Now we have 30 centres around the country teaching children!
You started your first tutoring centre at age 20! How did you turn that into Begin Bright’s 30 centres?
Slowly! (Laughs). A lot of the time when you hit the ‘success’ level it looks like it all happened quickly, but it has been 12 years for me now. It wasn’t like I started my first business with these grand plans of scalability, I started because I saw a need and I felt the passion for what I did and I wanted to start. As I started learning about business while going through the journey and as I started doing those little things that you do every day to make yourself better, every win I got gave me the confidence to then stretch a little bit further and try something else. It was only in 2011 that we decided to franchise. That’s kind of when we made the grand plan and decided to really do this thing and let’s do this thing big.
It sounds like rather than setting out to start a business you set out to do something meaningful. Was it hard to learn those business skills along the way?
Yes and no, we’re really lucky being in business in Australia because we have so many resources available to us, especially when we’re young. Although there are certainly downsides to being young and starting a business, I had a lot of trouble getting accounts when I first started. I had to get wholesale accounts with large companies and I would have my bright and shiny voice on, but when they came to meet me I just looked like a baby! They were hesitant to give me $50,000 accounts, so there was a lot of hard things to get over in that regard and I had to prove myself a lot more for people to take me seriously.
But then on the flip side, the access that you have to mentors is huge. People who’ve been successful in the pass often see themselves in young entrepreneurs, and they are usually willing to help you. Our government also runs amazing courses and gives so many resources that you can learn from which is just awesome.
At the end of the day though if you want to make it happen, you have to make it happen for yourself. No-one should expect a hand out to get started, you’ve got to take it upon yourself to access all of those resources and make it happen.
"If you want to make something happen, you have to make it happen for yourself."
Were there some times that were so hard you wanted to give up? And how did you overcome that?
Totally! It’s been 12 years now and I couldn’t tell you all of the challenges that I’ve had because they’ve probably happened at least on a monthly basis! It’s extremely frequent. I had a team meeting this week because we had a massive challenge last week, and I thought this is really good that it happened now because 5 years ago I would’ve just cried! I would’ve just gone in to the corner, rocked back and forth and cried! (Laughs).
One lesson I learned when I was about 8 years in was that I used to think ‘When I overcome this problem, it will all be okay after that. I’ll have more money and more options, it will be fine’. But it wasn't until then that I discovered that the universe has this sick and twisted way, that as soon as you master your level of problems, it rewards you by giving you a new and even bigger set of problems! As frustrating as that is, that’s what keeps us alive as business owners. We love to problem solve, we love to tackle those things and think ‘I can fix that, if someone needs to do that, I am the person for that job!’.
So there are advantages to building your resilience up, but the only way you build up that mental toughness is by going through really sucky stuff that you just have to build from. I get asked a lot ‘How did you become successful’ and there’s no real secret I don’t think, other than through all of those times when I was in the middle of the floor balling my eyes out wondering what the hell I was thinking but never giving up. I never thought ‘This is too hard maybe I should go get a job’ haha. And that’s just what it is, you have to be so committed to your dream and to your passion. If you don’t give up you will eventually get there. It will always take longer than planned, it will always cost more than planned and it will always be harder than planned, but you will always get there.
"You have to be so committed to your dream and to your passion. If you don’t give up you will eventually get there."
Would you say persistence combined with your passion for what you’re doing was the biggest contributor to your success?
Yeah, there’s an inner strength that you need to make yourself successful because it is not easy. There’s so many wonderful parts to it obviously (otherwise we wouldn’t do it!) for example the freedom and flexibility that you get from business ownership is like nothing else. There’s also the financial independence, the sky’s the limit approach and realising your dreams is all awesome, but you definitely need to love what you’re doing enough so that when the challenges come, you can keep that fire in your belly. Otherwise you’re just going to chuck in the towel which is what so many people do, I mean look at the business failure rates in Australia - it’s pretty high! Because when people hit those inevitable stumbling blocks they just give up.
Have you ever had a ‘real’ job?
I actually never have! Out of high school I went to uni for a business degree, and then at the end of the first year my lecturer told me I should think of a different profession because I wasn’t very good at business. So then I went into what all bright, happy, bubbly girls go into which was primary teaching, and ended up starting a business in my second year of teaching and never really went and got a job. It was a roundabout way of getting there, but I couldn’t imagine life any differently.
Most people that I know that have their own businesses work far more than people that are employed, but it’s not the same work. You get to decide when, where, with who, how you do it, it’s all on your own terms, you can create whatever you want to! If you can dream if you can achieve it - how’s that for a corny line! (Laughs). But it’s so true, what a lucky life we lead to be able to imagine something and then actually make it happen and see it materialise. Also I had my first child at 24 and my second at 25, and I’ve been able to build my business while having my babies. There’s no other job where I would’ve been able to do that.
"What a lucky life we lead to be
able to imagine something and then actually make it happen and see it materialise."
Culture is important in every company - How does your business reflect you as a person?
I try not to let it reflect me too much because I want it to be bigger than me, which was something that was very difficult as we morphed into a franchise system. There was a lot of thought and planning that went into trying to extract me so that it wasn’t all based on my personality. But it’s totally inevitable that great businesses are run by great founders that start them up, and that culture is imbedded throughout it. Begin Bright has a really happy and fun culture, with a strict no asshole policy for franchisees and the teachers that work there. Everyone just has to have that lovely warmth and love for what they do. That definitely permeates throughout everything.
Core values don’t come straight away you have to work hard to define them, and then it’s just a matter of employing people that embody that naturally.
You have an impressive history so far. How do you define success?
Good question! Many different ways. Living life on my own terms is success to me. We struggled financially a lot building the business, so there’s a certain financial aspect that gives you that feeling of success. Then there’s the cap to that, once you have the money you need to survive, the money really doesn’t make any difference to your level of happiness and how successful you feel. To me it’s more about being able to have the freedom to create whatever we want in our business and our community. When I can do that and see it materialise, when I walk into a Begin Bright centre and I see a child walking out with a beaming smile on their face, that’s success to me.
"When I walk into a Begin Bright centre and I see a child walking out with a beaming smile on their face, that’s success to me."
Most of the time you do need money to create those things because when you’re broke, there’s nothing fun about it. We were on a shoe string budget for a very long time and there’s no way around it - it sucks. But once you’ve got on your feet, it’s fun! You can play it like a game, make the right moves and make things happen. I love it.
If you could travel back in time to the first day of your business, what would you tell yourself?
That it’s gonna be awesome! There’s nothing I would do differently. You read that all the time and people say ‘It was great because it taught me a lesson’, and even if it sounds cliche, it really is true. There’s things that I deal with now on a daily basis, and if I hadn’t gone through those tricky things at the start, I wouldn’t have the mental capacity or emotional resilience to be able to deal with it. It would’ve just crushed me.
So in summary - hang on for the ride! Look we are all going to die one day, there’s no point in hating what you’re doing every day. I have no time or patience for people that complain about what they do. WE decide what we do every day, if you don’t like it then go find something else.
"WE decide what we do every day, if you don’t like it then go find something else."
What would you tell to your 20 year old self?
I would say, totally back yourself. There’s so much self doubt that comes through the twenties, and now as a very wise 32 year old I can say that! (Laughs). It’s nice to hit that late twenties / early thirties phase when you become more confident and self assured and not so worried about people judging you. In my twenties I was very concerned about judgement, and every time I would do something I would think that other people would think ‘what right does she have to say that, she’s just young and dumb!’. So there’s a lot of self doubt in there, there’s nothing you can really change because it is what it is, but if you can back yourself, just do everything you can that you feel is right with the knowledge that you have, and you'll get there much faster.
Who inspires you?
This might sound wanky, but myself. I say that because at the end of the day, the only person you can believe in is yourself. Nobody else is going to do it for you. If you get validation anywhere outside of yourself, it won’t be sustainable. You have to look within yourself to realise that if anybody is going to inspire you, it has to be you. In the same way that you run your business, you can get inspiration from amazing people which is awesome, but you need to interpret that and then put that into your own style. You need to follow your heart and do what you want to do.
When I started a franchise company I tried to be like every other franchisor that I read about, which had this really autocratic style of running businesses, which obviously just didn’t sit well with me. It took a while to actually embrace my own style and that’s the only one that’s going to work with me. In terms of other inspirational people there’s so many in Australia, and then the traditional ones like Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Robin Sharma, Naomi Simpson, there’s heaps!
Begin Bright has just been acquired!
As of this writing, Tina has now had a dream realised that many entrepreneurs have, and leading international education company, Cognition Education has just acquired Begin Bright! A big congratulations to Tina and her team. Exciting times!
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It's so good to be able to hear from inspirational people like this! A big thank you to Tina for her time, keep up with her and Begin Bright on their website, and keep an eye out for all the wonderful things Tina and her team get up to. Don't forget you can join The Exceptions Facebook forum any time to chime in with the conversation. Enjoy!