My name is Angela Boothroyd, aka The Botanical Linguist. I’ve been self-employed, this time around, for about seven years.
Something that people might not know about me – I support the Ruhanga Bicycle Repair Initiative in the village of Ruhanga in SW Uganda. This initiative was set up to help women and girls gain practical skills they can use to generate their own income. The project has already helped by donating tools and bicycle pumps, and is now raising money to construct a permanent working station so the participants can put their skills to work.
And your business? What’s it all about?
I’m a teacher and linguist who specializes in helping non-native English speakers to speak English more fluently, and to become independent and active language learners.
The Botanical Linguist name comes from my background as a qualified linguist; and my love of plants and gardens and all things botanical – a fascination that has its roots in my family history. It also draws heavily on the metaphors for learning English where learning English is like growing a garden – the seeds are the basic elements of English and we nurture these seeds to become strong healthy plants which are the more complex language skills, and so on. I teach learners of English to become English language gardeners: active and self-directed English language learners.
There’s just me in my business and I teach mainly online at home, but I also teach one-to-one face-to-face lessons. I travel to students’ homes and teach them there. I think this makes my work even more enjoyable – I get to get out and about and actually meet people. It’s a privilege to be invited into people’s homes and to meet their families, and we even have lessons in the garden if the weather is good. We’ll also do things like go to the shops or the bank so that a student can practise their English in real-life contexts.
The Botanical Linguist is a part of a new ‘rebrand’ I’ve undertaken in 2013 and I can’t wait to develop it fully during 2014. My ambition is that it will help as many people as possible to become successful and active learners of English.
This series of interviews is designed to inspire others, mainly women, on the same path. What tips would you share with them which would short-cut their journey to happiness being their own boss?
That’s a tricky question! I think the best piece of advice I can give is, if you can afford it, hire an expert business mentor or coach (or two) to help you develop your business. I really do wish I’d done this sooner. I spent a lot of money on business books and ebooks, and huge amounts of time learning things by trial and error, but by far the best help I’ve had is with two amazing women who are experts in their fields of business and who are helping me enormously with various aspects of my business. Having a business coach who inspires you, educates you, encourages you, and keeps you motivated and accountable is invaluable – especially when you’re working alone.
What did you struggle with most in your start-up phase, and how did you crack that?
I struggled most with finding a happy medium between how much my potential clients/students are able to pay, and what I need to earn per hour. This has been a continuing problem throughout my work as an online English teacher. I cracked it by realizing that if I teach learners how to be independent English language learners – how to use freely available resources, tools and materials to improve their English, and how to have good study skills etc., – they need fewer one-to-one English lessons with me. So I can still charge what I need to charge per lesson, but individual students save money because they need fewer lessons each week or month. Everyone benefits.
What have you learned about yourself while working solo?
That selling and marketing isn’t my strong point. And that nevertheless I do have the will-power and determination to make my business successful.
Did you choose self-employment or did it choose you? Any regrets?
A little bit of both I think. My first period of self-employment came when my daughters were born but I had no close family nearby to help with childcare and I needed work that fitted in with having small children. Before I had my daughters I worked for an organization making theatre costumes for local theatre companies, and so I used the skills I’d learned from that work to set myself up as a self-employed seamstress designing and making made-to-measure items for individual clients for special occasions. Sometimes I was able to take one or both of my daughters with me on appointments, and I did most of my sewing and designing when they were asleep.
Becoming a self-employed online English teacher was a gradual process. I was working for my local county council teaching English for immigrants, but finding it difficult to 9a) get enough hours’ work and9 b) it was difficult fitting this work in anyway because I had a young son and school-age daughters. I was already a qualified teacher but I decided to get some additional qualifications as an online teacher because I could see that computers and the internet were going to become key tools in teaching English, and that online courses were going to be popular. Several years later this method of teaching and learning English has taken off more than I could possibly have imagined.
I have no regrets at all about becoming a self-employed teacher. I do sometimes wonder if life might be easier with a 9 to 5 job and a more predictable salary at the end of each month, but teaching online gives me a lot of flexibility with my working hours, and it’s also work that I love. It’s still the perfect job for me even though my daughters have both left home and I have more time.
What one encouraging thought sums it all up?
With persistence, hard work and determination it is possible, and it’s definitely worth it.
Do you feel lonely and isolated when working for yourself? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you get your social needs met? What do you recommend to others in this regard?
I definitely felt a little lonely and isolated when I first started out, but I’m very lucky to have found two groups of wonderful like-minded business owners who are excellent sources of support and advice. It’s important to find someone you can be completely open with about your progress (or lack of it!), and your good and bad days: someone you can rely on for non-judgemental mutual support, and honest constructive criticism about your ideas and plans.
As for whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert – I’d say I’m a confident introvert. I’m fairly reserved and content with my own company, but also happy in the company of others and very happy to meet new people. One of the great things about teaching adults is that many of them become life-long friends so in many ways there’s a great social element to my work anyway.
Angela, thanks so much for answering these questions here. How can we find out more about you?
My Website is BotanicalLinguist.com