Cathy Thompson is an Elite+ Mompreneur member based out of Burlington, Ontario. She is the Founder of Beyond the Classroom, where highly trained and hand-selected tutors work with families to customize tutoring sessions for their children – providing exactly what the child needs. The sessions take place in the students’ home in order to meet the comfort level of the child and to give parents a much-needed break from the constant shuffling around to activities.
Beyond the Classroom tutors work with students in grades JK to 12, and are Ontario Certified Teachers (OCT) or degreed professionals with teaching experience. As the only tutoring organization focused on the whole child, Beyond the Classroom tutors know academic struggles do not happen in isolation – the student might be experiencing additional challenges – anxiety, depression, sleep issues, along with different learning styles & abilities. With access to several professionals, along with expert tutors, Beyond the Classroom has 8 franchise locations in southern Ontario to help students and families feel great about school, and continues to engage with new franchise partners to help even more students with their academics. We are thrilled to share Cathy’s Success Story!
What is your “WHY” behind your business/being an entrepreneur?
In 1991, I was offered the opportunity at my high school to take a tutoring course, on the recommendation of a teacher. Within this class, I worked with two Grade 9 students, tutoring them in their Math and English courses. I truly found my love for working with students. I realized I had a natural way that I could connect with and teach them concepts that made sense to them. That was the start of Beyond the Classroom, which was officially started as an organization when I hired my first tutor in 1998. After being an entrepreneur for over 20 years, I truly love it! It offers me flexibility with my schedule, opportunities to be creative, freedom in decision making and most importantly, more time for my family. Having more moments with family and friends is my “why”.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
In 1977, when I was 4 years old, I had my first experience as an entrepreneur. I gathered dandelions, tied them with twist ties and sold them door to door! I feel like being an entrepreneur is a calling that I was born with. After graduating university, a good friend of mine, who was tutoring with me (before it was an official business) suggested I start a company and profit from the tutoring. My response was, “no way, I don’t want to own a company!”. In retrospect it was fear talking. I didn’t have any role models who were business owners and I had no clue where to start. But I saw that more kids needed help with school and by figuring out how to run a company I could help them. I trusted my gut, made mistakes, had successes and that’s what has kept me going. Doing things that make sense in business, rather than doing it the way it’s always been done.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
For me the best part of owning a business is being able to use my creativity every day to overcome challenges, problem solve and strategically plan for what’s next. I also love setting my own schedule; having the time to exercise along with helping my own kids with homework and other extracurricular activities.
Describe people and/or experiences that have been instrumental to you along your journey to entrepreneurship – what impact did they have on you, and how did they help you get to where you are in your business today?
There are so many people who have been instrumental on my entrepreneurial journey, pretty much everyone I know! When I think about what has kept me going for over 20 years, it is the support of those around me. My family, friends, colleagues – they have all been incredibly supportive and non-judgmental or critical. I feel that they truly believe in me and what Beyond the Classroom can do for families and students. I know that I can do anything and dream bigger because I have people who will lend an ear, offer advice, give me a hug, and inspire me.
Deciding to become a franchisor is one of the most impactful decisions I have made and my biggest professional achievement. It took me 5 years of research and consultation to finally take the (HUGE) leap to franchise Beyond the Classroom. I had no franchisees on the horizon, no mentor/guide as to what a franchisor role was, or if the model would even work. But I closed my eyes tight and leaped with no net. I had nothing to rely on except my tenacity and gut instinct (and a business model I knew was successful and could be replicated). It was the BEST decision I could have made. I have grown enormously both personally and professionally because of the care and support I receive from the franchise owners at Beyond the Classroom. I learn from them just as much as they learn from me, and I truly cherish the connection we have.
What values do you believe in and live by, and how do they shine through when it comes to your role as a business owner?
My core values are emulated in the core values at Beyond the Classroom. The first is connection; with relationships with family, colleagues and friends. I am at my best when I feel supported and connected to those in my life who are important to me. I make time for cultivating my friendships, even when it means being behind at work. I am very connected to my franchise partners (owners of Beyond the Classroom franchises) and continually look for ways for us to get together, share and create new ways to support students and one another. One of my other values is fairness. Decisions I make at home and in my business relate to fairness among the parties involved. I strive to have a win-win situation in the work that I do. I also value authenticity. When I show up in life, I’m my authentic self, problems and all! People who I work with and am connected to personally know me well – the good & the bad! I speak from the heart and I believe this makes a big difference in my life.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your business/being an entrepreneur?
I am most proud of following my instincts in business. Beyond the Classroom would not be where it is today without trusting my decisions. As an entrepreneur, it can be a very solitary role and with that comes making decisions without anyone else to talk to or to shoulder the weight. I am proud of my tenacity and how much I have grown into the role as franchisor of the company I started so many years ago. I love being a business owner, entrepreneur and mentor.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Beyond the Classroom will continue to attract the best franchise partners to bring this amazing service to more communities to help kids feel amazing about school. Our team will continue to grow, support one another and the families we work with. I know Beyond the Classroom will be a part of many student’s journeys for years to come. For me personally, I will be moving into the franchisor role and selling my existing 2 franchise locations to other franchise partners. I covet my role as a business coach, mentor and trainer at Beyond the Classroom and would love nothing more than to continue in this field, motivating and inspiring new business owners to be successful in a business I know well.
Any tips for other women thinking of starting a business?
Do it! If you have a great idea that solves an issue that you are personally connected to, don’t let fear guide your decision making. Fear is the number one thing that stands between you and the freedom you can have as an entrepreneur. It is not easy, but it can be a lot of fun! Today, there are an incredible number of supports available to new and emerging entrepreneurs which make starting a business very accessible.