An entrepreneur at heart, Susan notes that she always knew she would own her own company. In 2008, when she moved to Connecticut for her husband’s business, she had a difficult time finding employment. Prior to the move, Susan had been a classroom teacher in the suburbs of Chicago.
“The economy wasn’t really great at that time,” she recalls. “I have two masters’ degrees and I have a lot of experience, so I was ‘expensive’ because teachers are paid on a scale.”
Susan spent a couple years spinning her wheels looking for a classroom teaching position. She notes, “I’ve always been good at working with people who have ‘executive functioning difficulties,’ which involve organization, time management, preplanning, and follow through. I decided to take that innate ability and turn it into a business.”
At that time, she says, “There was no such thing as academic coaching. I think I may have been a pioneer.”
FINDING A NICHE
Susan formed Academic Coaching Associates in 2009. The company works with middle school, high school, and college students, most of whom have some issues with executive function. Many clients have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“Our clients are very bright, but have trouble pulling themselves together and doing what they need to do to be successful in academics,” explains Susan.
Over time, Susan noticed that, as students grew older and graduated from college, they would continue to have similar issues.
“After college, some of our clients were struggling with skills that aren’t necessarily academically related, study-type competencies. But, when you’re looking for a job after graduation, you still need those executive functioning abilities—organization, time management, and motivation,” she says.
“These ‘kids,’ as we call them, needed help planning everything out, reaching out to people they didn’t know, and preparing for interviews,” Susan adds. “They needed guidance with the pre-planning aspect of the interview process—knowing the appropriate behavior and actions, up to the follow through at the end—sending the thank you notes.”
As Academic Coaching Associates evolved, the company continued to work with students after college, helping them transition into the work force.
“We’ve been quite successful at helping our students present a polished, professional look and feel for themselves that does well with employers,” notes Susan.
RECOGNIZING A MARKET NEED
Gradually, Academic Coaching Associates started to get inquiries from parents seeking coaching help for their recently graduated, job searching children.
“At some point, we realized maybe we should package this service and promote it. We weren’t doing any marketing at all and we had all these clients,” Susan recalls.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time putting together the programs,” she continues. “When we work with individuals, it’s very tailored toward that person and that person’s needs. Now we’re starting group programs, both virtual and in-person, because we found that the skills and techniques we were teaching were a broad range and didn’t need to be tailored quite so much. We realized we still get the same impact with a small group.”
The career coaching program averages eight clients a group, with two moderators. The career coaching service comprises a six-session set of modules. Each of those modules covers a portion of the job search process in the correct order. Moderators also meet with participants individually outside the modules.
Susan developed the Launch Career Coaching program with another coach, Andrea Miller, who is a certified life coach and is certified in job exploration programs.
TAPPING INTO THE MARKET
Academic Coaching Associates has been in business for eight years, so the company had a built-in clientele. In terms of marketing the new service, that was a benefit for the company.
Susan agrees, adding, “We do have a very large network of parents. Most of them know about Launch Career Coaching because they know us.”
To further spread the word, she says, “We’ve been doing a lot of social media marketing with various outlets and groups. And just talking about it to other people. We like to let them know that they can start with the group and then go on to private sessions afterward, because it’s more cost-effective way. And we have virtual groups as well as face-to-face groups, so they can be anywhere.”
Clients come from a variety of touchpoints, including referrals from therapists, people in the mental health field, guidance counselors, and parents. Academic Coaching Associates also collaborates with the local colleges and universities.
In terms of marketing, Susan says, “We kind of go in a different direction than what most marketing people would recommend. We are more responsive,” she explains. “We see what is needed and fill that need. We don’t decide what people need and then go after that. We listen to our clients, our students, and our colleagues. That’s how we decide the direction we will go.”
MAKING A SOCIAL IMPACT
Susan likes that the career coaching services are making a social impact. “We’re really helping these young adults be better prepared to enter the workforce and hopefully make a better impact on whatever they’re going to do,” she emphasizes.
“Once you are one of our clients, you are forever. We will never let you go. We keep in touch with clients we’ve worked with since middle school after they graduated. It’s really cool,” she adds.
“Parents and graduates are coming from completely different places regarding how to look for a job—this creates a lot of tension in the home,” she notes. “Launch Career Coaching gets in between these young people and their parents and takes the pressure off the parents. We essentially take their place. We ask them to take a step back and don’t ask their kids about the job search. We take care of all of that. So, their relationship improves and usually the tension in the home improves, which makes the kids more productive. Parents love that.”
KNOWING YOUR STRENGTHS
Both Academic Coaching Associates and Launch Career Coaching are very focused on their niche. “It’s important to know your strengths,” says Susan. “We’re not executive coaches. That’s not who we are. We are very specific. When we work with our students, we teach them study skills, strategies, note taking, and annotating. But we are not tutors. We don’t do subject-specific tutoring.”
She underscores, “The skills we teach are the skills you need in the work place. With our Launch program, the skills are very similar. The process is broken down into small, goal-oriented steps,” Susan explains. “We do a lot of brainstorming, researching, reviewing, and goalsetting to help our clients through their transition.”
Susan is involved in mentorship—both being a mentor and being mentored. “It’s important to help others and have them help you,” she says.
She notes that she’s never been afraid to ask questions. “If I need help, I’ll seek out the resources and try to find someone to help me who actually knows what they’re doing. I don’t pretend to know what I don’t know.”
Susan also enjoys her role as a mentor. She’s currently mentoring someone in California who is starting an academic coaching business, and she has mentored other aspiring academic coaches as well. She’s also a mentor for Untapped Potential, a local startup that provides mentoring and helps women re-enter the workforce.
WHAT DOES BEING ENTREPRENEURIAL MEAN TO YOU?
As an entrepreneur, Susan admits her mind is always going. “I’m always thinking about how a product or an experience can be improved,” she says. “A true entrepreneur really looks at things with a different lens. When other people are enjoying an experience, you’re always seeing opportunities. That’s what being entrepreneurial means to me."
Learn more about Launch Career Coaching by visiting www.launchcareercoaching.com. Visit Academic Coaching Associates at www.academiccoachingassociates.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter @AcademicCoachCT, and Instagram @academiccoachingassociates.
Find out more about women-owned businesses throughout Greater Hartford:
- Beth Bolton, Owner/Pastry Chef at A Little Something Bakery
- Debra Fountain, Founder LIFER Fitness Studio
- Candace Freedenberg, Founder and President Untapped Potential
- Latoya Gibbs, Owner of How Bazaar Fashion
- Michelle Jacobik, Entrepreneur and Budget Coach
- Tanya Maher, Managing Director Supporting Strategies|Hartford Connecticut
- Karla Medina, Owner and Founder Sudor Taino Fitness Studio
- Naranchimeg Mijid, Founder of the Connecticut Center for Innovative Entrepreneurs
- Leslie Raycraft, Founder of POSH (Personal Organization Solutions for the Home)