Each week we ask small businesses key questions. Here we speak to Karen Simpson, owner of Inverness-based My Primary Tutor
Q. How and why did you start in business?
A. Inverness born and raised, I became a fully registered primary teacher in 2005 and had my first child in 2012. After the birth of my second in 2015 I decided to take a career break, during which a friend asked me to do some private tutoring. Thinking it would be a good way of maintaining my teaching skills I agreed, and started working both one-to-one and with small groups. I saw children’s confidence soar as they made connections in their learning, and soon parents started recommending me to others. There was clearly a gap in the market for primary tutoring, so in 2017 I established My Primary Tutor.
Q. How did you get to where you are today?
A. Initially I tutored in-person from the summer house in my garden, advertising holiday sessions for children on Facebook, and the business grew steadily. I took on another teacher to help me and moved the in-person sessions to a local secondary school. Then, very importantly, I attended Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s excellent Pathfinder accelerator course in 2019. This transformed my business and helped me deliver sessions online, too. My team increased to five, and when Covid struck last March business rocketed. I now have a team of 15 tutors supporting pupils aged five to 14 in maths, reading, spelling, writing, phonics and Spanish, around the UK and overseas.
Q. Who helped you?
A. My family has been amazing. My dad ran his own very successful business for many years, and both his and my mum’s advice is invaluable. My husband, Jared, is a constant support, allowing me to focus on growing the business. I’ve joined a number of organisations, including the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), and the connections I’ve made as a result have really helped my business grow.
Q. What has been your biggest mistake?
A. Trying to do everything myself. I took on a virtual personal assistant recently and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Running your own business can be overwhelming at times, and Katie has given me the breathing space I need to focus on what matters and get things done.
Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. Receiving fantastic feedback from pupils and parents. There’s nothing better than boosting children’s confidence and helping them achieve success. On another level, winning two awards in 2020 was amazing. We won both new business of the year at the Highland Business Women Awards and the Scottish self-employed/sole trader of the year title at the FSB Awards. Winning them was a real surprise and a great confidence booster.
Q. If you were in power in government, what would you change?
A. The ability to hold politicians to account for their actions and pledges. Too many make fine promises during their campaigns but forget all about them once elected, and this must end.
Q. What do you still hope to achieve?
A. I’m training to become a specialist dyscalculia (sometimes called number dyslexia) teacher and assessor, and will soon be able to offer support to the 3-5% of pupils and adults that have a very specific difficulty with maths.
Q. What do you do to relax?
A. A glass of wine and some dark chocolate in front of the fire, while watching a good film, is the perfect way to unwind.
Q. What are you currently reading, listening to or glued to on the TV?
A. Barack Obama is fascinating and I admire all he’s accomplished, and I’m reading his new book, A Promised Land. My box set of choice is The Crown. Some elements may have been embellished, but I think it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the monarchy.
Q. What do you waste your money on?
A. I’m a runner, so trainers. I thought running was cheaper than a gym membership, but little did I know. I’ve spent a fortune on sports clothing, fancy watches and race entry costs. I love it though, and I get my best ideas when running long distances.
Q. How would your friends describe you?
A. Chatty and fun – I love a good blether. Super-organised too, I hope.
Q. What would your enemies say about you?
A. I don’t have any, but if I did probably that I’m headstrong, determined and not easily swayed.
Q. What do you drive and dream of driving?
A. I drive a practical, family friendly car but in my dreams it would be the opposite – something sporty, fast and fun. A Ferrari perhaps.