Diana Lamenzo, Director of Tutoring You to Excellence, LLC, founded the startup based on a need. She told Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about her experience launching her first startup, shared some startup challenges, and talked about how she plans to grow the business.
NAN PRICE: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
DIANA LAMENZO: My dad owns his own business, so I grew up with him being an entrepreneur. It made an impression on me. I always had the drive to try and do something that makes things better. I think expanding my tutoring and being able to reach more kids was the best way to do it.
In terms of the entrepreneurial drive, I feel like you either have it, or you don’t. I work all the time. It’s a day and night job with doing marketing and everything else.
NAN: Why did you start the company?
DIANA: I was tutoring for four years and the demand was there. I had many parents asking me for tutoring and I couldn’t clone myself! I created an LLC in June 2017. Then I hired independent contractors to help facilitate and work with more students than just the five or 10 I was able to reach each week. I wanted to reach more students, so I wanted to create a bigger model.
NAN: How many tutors do you have working for you?
DIANA: So far, I have two. Right now, my focus is ages 5 to 12 because I hired certified teachers with experience in kindergarten to sixth grade, but I’m also looking for middle and high school teachers.
NAN: At what point did you realize you had a marketable business?
DIANA: I saw someone else who was also a certified teacher doing a similar model. I thought: If she can do it, I can do it.
NAN: How are you marketing and developing a client base?
DIANA: Since I formed the LLC I’ve been working with business coach Gina Johnson. She connected me to a lot of resources like the West Hartford Chamber. I’ve also been to some networking meetings and I’m working on making personal connections. For example, I use social media to reach out to people who might be a good influencer for me—teachers, principals, anyone who can connect me to more students.
I’m also collaborating with Colleen Brunetti, who is an author in West Hartford. She and I are going to do some talks at local libraries. It’s a nice way of giving back to the community and seeing how we can reach more kids.
NAN: What differentiates you and your services?
DIANA: We take the time to create positive relationships. We do an interest inventory with the parent and the child, if they are old enough. And then we go back and forth with the parent to address any questions they have. It works well that way.
We create hands-on experiences for the child. And then for the parent piece, it’s all about relationships. Parents are going to work with people they know, like, and trust. So, we build those relationships and help support them, so they can work with their children at home. For example, we discuss what kinds of questions they can ask when they go to parent teacher conferences. It’s all about adding value. What can I do to support the parent and what can I do to support the child?
NAN: Tutoring and working with children obviously makes a social impact.
DIANA: Urban education is my big passion. I work with Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) Open Choice, kids who live in Hartford who go to other school districts. I work to provide equal education for everyone. Down the road I want to write grants for inner city children, so they can have the same tutoring experience. I think it’s important for everyone to have the same learning experience.
NAN: What are you most proud of that you’ve accomplished since you’ve launched this startup?
DIANA: It’s interesting because, when you are in it, you can’t see the accomplishments. But I would say being involved in the live portrait book Community: Voices Toward Equity, West Hartford Listens was very powerful. I was able to meet different people and then highlight a student’s work from years ago.
NAN: Does being in Connecticut play an important role in your business?
DIANA: That’s a good question. Yes. Right now, I am up to eight towns. Hopefully as I grow I’ll reach all of Connecticut. Then I want to move into the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts. But right now, I’m starting around the Greater Hartford area.
NAN: What’s great about this type of startup is it’s making a social impact and creating job opportunities for others. In the future do see this becoming a full-time job?
DIANA: I don’t know how that’s going to work out. It could happen—my business coach says yes! She’s able to see the big picture.
I still have my full-time teaching job and right now, I’m happy doing both. I love my daytime job as well as the tutoring. And I have the summers off, so I’m able to do the tutoring but I have more availability to network and meet people during the day. So, summer is when I’ll be getting my name out.
NAN: Any other future goals?
DIANA: Another thing my business coach is pushing me to do is giving talks at local libraries to get out into the community. The topic I speak about is Strategies for Every Learner—providing parents with useful tips they can use with their child at home, so they feel more comfortable. My business coach sees me doing a lot more talks and consultations to try to help parents and guardians with their kids at home.
NAN: Has anything surprised you in your entrepreneurial journey? Anything you wish you’d done differently?
DIANA: I think the patience piece. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of starting your own business. I want to make money, but I want to go slowly. That takes being patient and making sure it’s the right fit. Not every client is going to be a good fit, and that’s okay. I want to make sure I have the right fit client and I am the right fit tutor, then it’s going to be a long relationship.
NAN: Have you had an experience where it hasn’t been a good fit? If so, what did you do?
DIANA: I was working with one family at a very discounted rate because they had three kids. I wasn’t feeling good when I was going there. I was stressed out. I think I was making a difference in one of the child’s lives, but the parent wasn’t into it. She wanted the best deal and she didn’t see it as an investment for her child. It became babysitting services.
And sometimes it wasn’t great because the child wasn’t emotionally ready for it. There were times I had to send him home because he was so distraught. I had to put on that “social worker hat.” I learned a lot from that experience. I developed better strategies to use—again, making sure it’s the right fit. And I actually raised my prices August 1. It took me a long time to do that.
NAN: Trying to get the parent on board has got to be challenging.
DIANA: Right. The parents are tough. The biggest thing is calling 24 hours before canceling an appointment. I created a contract, which was tricky. You have parents who buy in, it’s every week and they are going to be there. And then some parents push the limits.
I think raising my prices was good, so parents became more respectful. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it’s a good investment because it’s for their children’s education, so parents were taking it more seriously.
NAN: Any other startup challenges?
DIANA: I made some mistakes with marketing in the beginning. I spent over $1,000 on a mailer. I think it was a bad decision and I was pretty upset about it.
It was one of those mistakes you make once and you’re not going to make it again. But they’re expensive mistakes. Since then, I’ve worked with the business coach, I also go to the library for different resources, and I try to go to workshops try to learn marketing techniques.
NAN: At what point did you realize you needed to bring in a business coach?
DIANA: Probably after the mailer. After the mailer was when I decided to hire someone. I found her on Facebook in one of the business groups.
NAN: Do you have any other advice for other aspiring business owners?
DIANA: Like I said, I want to go slowly. I don’t want to make the business too big. What makes us different is our passion and creating the time to develop positive relationships and hire the right people. They can either make or break your name.
Word of mouth is your best marketing tool. If people are happy and they know they can trust you, they will hire you. So that’s my biggest thing, I don’t want the business to spiral out of control. I want to go very slowly, so I do it right.
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