The accidental story of how I became an academic coach

Recently, one of the members of The Extraordinaries Club asked me how I became an academic coach and if I could write a blog post and publish a podcast episode about it.

I thought as it's Christmas week, you might quite like a story rather than a ‘how-to'. It's not a straightforward story and I think you might be surprised by the accidental nature of how I ended up becoming an academic coach.

Here we go…

The accidental story of how I became an academic coach

I left teaching in 2010. I was on maternity leave with my first child, my daughter, when we decided to move from Newbury in West Berkshire back to Northamptonshire so that we could be nearer to both sets of grandparents.

At the time, I didn't realise that I was leaving teaching, I thought I was just leaving that particular teaching job, and I would find another teaching role when the family was ready.

I did tentatively look for teaching roles and I even applied for a maternity cover, which I was offered, but for several different reasons, it wasn't going to fit well with the family so I said no. It was lucky that I did because few days later I found out I was expecting my second child – and I don't ‘do' pregnancy very well. The first time round I was anaemic and had to have a lot of time off. The second time, I just couldn't stop sleeping and I really don't see how I could have coped with a teaching job the way that I was.

Stay at home mum plus an Etsy shop

So, I ended up as a stay at home mum. But, with the nesting instinct that often goes alongside pregnancy and childbirth I'd rediscovered my love of sewing. I made all sorts of things for my babies but was soon producing way too much for our household. I wondered if it was possible to sell things online and with a quick search discovered first, Folksy and then Etsy which are online market places for handmade items.

I quickly put together an online shop and started selling my offerings.

Solving the puzzle of how to sell

Never having run a business before I had a lot to learn about how to create a product that people wanted to buy, and how to get my things in front of people. Sales did trickle in but I soon found myself wanting more (that's the ambition in me, and it was like a new puzzle or problem to solve).

I came across a few blogs written by people who helped others grow their handmade businesses and when my son was about a year old I signed up for my first online course that was all about how to make more sales from your Etsy shop.

Re-engaging with learning

Once I'd discovered online courses, blogs and podcasts, I became a bit of an addict. In retrospect, what I really loved was learning a whole new thing – how to run an online business – rather than the business itself. I just lapped up any new information I could find – eventually setting up a blog to go with my handmade business.

Falling in love with writing

I really loved writing my blogs. I also discovered that the bit of my handmade shop I liked best, and was actually best at, was writing the item descriptions. I had found something that I was really good at and I loved: writing.

The online course that changed my life

I signed up for a few courses taught by April Bowles-Olin on the CreativeLive platform. The first was about blogging, but then she did one about how to create a digital product that sells while you sleep.

I signed up intending to make digital patterns of the children's personalised cushions that I sold in my handmade business.

But, in her course, April said something that would change the course of my life:

“Teach what you're best at in the whole world.”

This got me thinking. I realised that there was no way I was best at making children's personalised cushions and other nursery wares – what I was actually best at (or at least better at than the vast majority of people) was taking exams.

My book is born

The next morning I was going through the hustle and bustle of getting a four-year-old and a two-year-old out of the door for school and pre-school. I was doing the washing up with April's words and the idea that I was best at taking exams going round and round in my head when I had the idea for my book.

I would write a guide to getting the top grades in exams.

By the time I'd dropped the children off at school I had the title in my head (The Ten Step Guide to Acing Every Exam You Ever Take) as well as the chapter outline.

By lunchtime, when I had to pick up my son from pre-school, I had written two chapters. The book was finished ten days later.

Launching Life More Extraordinary

I now had a book, a digital product that I knew could help many, many people. But, I had no way of getting it in front of those people (the people who were buying handmade nursery products from my Etsy shop weren't going to want this book – I'd learned enough about business by now to understand this).

So, I set up my website, and started running Facebook ads to build an email list so that I had some people who would realistically want to buy my digital book.

My first blog post was The Weekly Routine of a Straight-A Student and I wrote nine posts before I launched my book. I was against the clock because all this happened it was the spring and I knew that students would need my book as soon as possible if it was seriously going to help them with that year's exams.

I sold fourteen copies of my book at launch. Not massive, but as a brand new business with no history or long-term relationship with my customers it was pretty good.

What next?

From here, I blogged every week, trying to sell more copies of my book, and learning more and more about online business. Every time I sold a copy of my book, the family would dance around the kitchen singing, “Mummy sold a book! Mummy sold a book!” – it was that much of a rare occurrence.

I also started working as a tutor – I had one client who was doing geography A-Level who lived a half-hour drive away. I would leave my husband putting the children to bed on Wednesday nights and drive over there, listening to business podcasts. Next day, I'd take the £40 cash that I was paid each week for my tutoring (a pittance when you consider the planning and driving time as well as the hour I spend with my client) and put it into the bank through my local post office, saving up for the next course or investment in the business.

My first client

At this stage, I won a place through an Instagram contest on an online course worth $1000. I turned up religiously to the coaching calls. The course was about teaching you how to get 1:1 clients. I came up with a concept for a coaching session, I called it ‘Get Motivated' and offered my email subscribers (who were mostly female GCSE and A-Level students at the time) three sessions for free.

One of the girls who took up my offer of a free session was incredibly keen and I could also see exactly how I could help her. The coach on the course I'd won encouraged me to go back to her family and suggest 1:1 coaching. They said yes and I was thrilled and delighted and start working with her.

Getting a publishing deal

In the meantime, I found another couple of clients. But, I was also approached by the publisher, John Catt, who wanted to properly publish my book – which I was still selling as a PDF download. They literally emailed me, after downloading the free chapter one evening, offering to publish my book.

We negotiated terms, and signed a contract. There was a lot that I wanted to change about the original book, and they wanted it to be 30,000 words rather than the original 14,000. I said I couldn't do the re-write until my son started school in September, but that I'd have the manuscript with them by October half-term.

Re-writing the book

The day my son started school I dropped him off, and instead of crying because my youngest child had just started school (which seemed to be what you were meant to do) I came straight home, turned the computer on and started re-writing the book.

I had to pick my son up at lunchtime every day for the six weeks in which I had to write the book. I worked out that if I spent 1-2 hours every morning on the re-write, I had 3 days for each chapter which would leave me two weeks to do edits before handing it over to the publisher at October half-term.

If you know me at all, you'll know that I handed the completed manuscript of that book in on the exact day I had promised, and was thrilled with the feedback from my editor that it was virtually perfect.

Preparing for publication

The book was set to be published on 14th February so I had a few months to get ready. I set about several projects:

  • Rebuilding and redesigning my website
  • Growing my social media following
  • Learning how to get press coverage

Everything came together for the book launch. A few weeks beforehand, with the help of Janet Murray who, at the time, taught small business owners how to get press coverage, I had an article published in The TelegraphThis article was the making of the book launch – very briefly, the book was the 106th best seller on Amazon, outranking many celebrities. And, I had a sudden influx of enquiries about my coaching.

Fully booked

From February half-term of 2017 I was fully booked with academic coaching clients – working three evenings per week (I couldn't manage any more as the main childcarer in my family).

Onwards and upwards

In September 2017, in an effort to be able to help more people, I launched my first online course, The Exam Success Formula. I ran the course twice that academic year, but realised from the feedback that people wanted support beyond the eight weeks the course ran for.

Driving back from a speaking engagement in school I had the idea for The Extraordinaries Club, which now houses the course (now ten weeks long) as well as offering ongoing support in the form of weekly coaching calls and masterclasses to families in the GCSE and A-Level years.

And, here we are

That brings us to today. I've been building and growing The Extraordinaries Club for over two years now. It has meant that I've had to take a step back from 1:1 coaching – but I now have a team of brilliant people who do the 1:1 coaching for me.

The accidental story of how I became an academic coach

So, as you will have seen, I didn't become an academic coach on purpose. The idea for my book was a happy accident, or a moment of insight prompted by a good teacher, and the academic coaching, as well as the rest of the business, grew organically from that.

However, when I look back I can see the seeds of what I'm doing now in my whole life leading to this point.

  • I come from a family of small business owners – mainly farmers, but my maternal grandfather ran a very successful printing business
  • I've always loved to write and had the ambition of being a writing
  • Education has always mattered deeply to me
  • My first job out of university was with – so the seeds of internet business were set early
  • I had a passion for helping ambitious young people, like myself, to succeed

So, while it looks like an accident, in some ways it feels like my whole life was leading to this point.

What can young people learn from my experience?

Follow your interests, notice what you're drawn to and learn everything you can. Pursue the projects you're passionate about and don't do things just because you're expected to. It might well take you somewhere unexpected, but it might just be where you were always meant to be.

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