They say that those who can, teach. But as far as Deborah Salsbury is concerned, it seems there’s very little she can’t do. Yet if you’d told the former primary school teacher a few years back that she’d be a successful entrepreneur, recognised in three Kent Women In Business Award categories, she would probably have sent you to the back of the class for telling tall tales.
Yet here she is, taking on the UK education system with her innovative and revolutionary teaching methods. Deborah is now celebrating several franchisees and schools adopting her programme to unlock the potential of struggling readers. So, how did she do it?
“Through my own experience and that of my youngest daughter, I saw the magic in unlocking the dyslexic brain,” says Deborah. “This, combined with 19 years of teaching and general life experience left me feeling empowered to work for myself, where I could make the decisions that would maximise the potential of my pupils – while also dipping my toe into the world of business – which I’d always felt I missed out on a little.
One sunny weekend in Brighton in 2012, Deborah decided to bite the bullet. Over coffee and cake with her husband Richard, she devised a plan to launch a private tuition service using the methods she explored during her time as a primary school teacher, and then a reading recovery teacher. The Reading Doctor was born.
The odds are in your favour
You’re probably thinking it’s a little late to invest in a new business in your 40s when your nest egg is potentially sitting there ready for retirement. You’d be wrong. According to a study by two MIT professors and the US Census Bureau, the average founder of the world’s most successful tech companies is 45 years old. Add to the fact that a 50-year-old entrepreneur is almost twice as likely to start a successful company than a 30 year old, and you’ve a valid reason to kick-start a new career later in life.
“I’d realised that going on to be a headteacher wasn’t the end goal I wanted,” adds Deborah. “In fact, keeping my foot in the door with teaching, so to speak, and not becoming a manager of people has given me such a wealth of experience and confidence, that I now feel I can be the kind of leader who ‘does the doing’ and leads by example. Teaching is my passion and I feel fortunate to use this passion to reignite a love of teaching in others.”
Tips for jumping in
Deborah is now flooded with enquiries on a daily basis from disengaged teachers looking for a lifeline to start their own business and leave a profession that is dangerously underfunded.
They applaud her business model, one that sees a franchisee set up a fully-branded home classroom (pre-lockdown, of course) and welcome in the region’s struggling readers.
Here, Deborah shares her tips on starting out on your own:
1. Find your passion
I don’t put up with anything that I don’t truly believe in and that helps with authenticity. I do what I do with 100% conviction. I’ve seen too many success stories as a result of The Reading Doctor methods not to wholly believe in it.
2. Surround yourself with the best people
I don’t compromise on quality and surround myself with good people, many of whom are women with their own businesses, in fact.
It has been a fantastic bonding experience for my sister and I as she has been invaluable with her creative input and so much more. My husband has also been a fantastic resource in terms of advice around marketing. It’s been a real family affair.
3. If you don’t know how to do it, find someone who does!
One more thing I’ve learned is to know who to go to when I don’t know how to do something. Having experts around you is an invaluable resource.
I now have six franchisees working with me and we’ve launched The Reading Doctor Hub in four schools. And it doesn’t stop there. I want to reach as many struggling readers as I can. It’s not a bad result for the 1970s dyslexic child hiding behind an orange hessian curtain!
Adapting to lockdown life
Managing any business during the global pandemic has been tough, but the important thing is always to adapt with the times and deliver what your audience needs.
With schools closing and parents struggling to navigate home schooling with their own new working from home routine, The Reading Doctor identified a way to help.
Deborah and her team worked night and day to build reading packs, then hand-delivered these to the doorsteps of all their pupils. They now conduct all their assessments and lessons via video call and have an army of mini Reading Doctors in their own classrooms at home.
“It’s been a learning curve for us all,” adds Deborah. “I’m so pleased that we have been able to continue and deliver what we set out to do, to help those children in need of support.”
Visit the readingdoctors.com for more on Deborah’s private tuition service, and if you work in education – how to become a franchisee.
Thinking about what I should say to her has made me stop and think about what I would say to my teenage self, if I ever could. It made me stop and think about me then, me now, and the me in between.