Inspiration Learning Center provides the perfect work-life balance for millennial franchisee Cecilia Chen
By Gina Makkar
Millennials are often misunderstood, but their fresh, innovative approach is setting new standards in the business world. Curious and ambitious, millennials work with a purpose and passion that’s having a positive impact as they become the next generation of business owners.
For franchisee Cecilia Chen, Inspiration Learning Center offered an opportunity that ignited her passion for education and allowed her to be her own boss while fostering a better work-life balance.
An educated approach
Angel Kuang founded Inspiration Learning Center in Toronto, Ontario in 2003. Today, they boast 15 locations across the Greater Toronto Area, with recent openings in Mississauga and Burlington. The company offers tutoring, private school, educational consulting, and more.
With an extensive background in management and education in Canada and China, Kuang developed proprietary tutoring methods that blend eastern and western teaching styles. The method marries the eastern concepts of memory, practice, and repetition to build strong foundational skills with the western focus on creativity, critical thinking, and advanced numeracy and literacy skills. The east-meets-west style of learning was a big draw for Chen.
An ‘A’ for effort
Prior to purchasing her own franchise, Chen, who holds a degree in accounting, worked as an administrative assistant at the Markham franchise location. The job allowed her to become familiar with the Inspiration Learning concept and the Canadian education system, and to hone her customer service and communication skills. “I improved my skills a lot, and then I went on maternity leave,” says Chen.
As a young mother, the prospect of starting a career with long hours and overtime after maternity leave wasn’t appealing. Chen wanted to strike the right work-life balance by committing to her family and fulfilling her career goals at the same time. When she heard that Kuang was looking for a franchisee to take over the Thornhill location, the idea of business ownership took flight.
“I was pregnant again, and I didn’t know if I could do it at that moment, but I finally made my decision and took over the location,” she says.
Though Chen’s previous exposure to the business helped bridge the gap from employee to franchisee, taking over an existing location came with its own challenges. To build a strong customer base, Chen worked six to seven days a week, tackling marketing initiatives and spending the time to talk to tutors, parents, and students to build relationships. “I didn’t feel tired because I enjoy it and it’s what I like to do,” she explains.
Staying ahead of the curve
The company offers franchisees the opportunity to expand and grow their business with five income pillars: tutoring, private school, online learning, educational consulting, and retail. “Angel is always aware of what is new and exciting out there, and she’s always open to hearing from her franchisees about programs that will help keep us current,” says Chen. “We have the five pillars, something no other tutoring concept has.”
After purchasing a location, franchisees embark on two weeks of corporate education followed by a week of on-site training after a centre opening. Quarterly meetings help franchisees remain connected and volley challenges and new ideas. When COVID-19 hit, the company immediately moved their tutoring to an online platform and didn’t miss a beat.
Chen says that starting a business as a young woman is a challenge, but it’s also rewarding. “To me, it’s not a job or just a position anymore. It’s a sense of mission.”
Prior to starting the program, students are assessed and placed at the appropriate level. Tutoring sessions combine schoolwork with workbooks to reinforce concepts and provide additional practice, for a balance in the east-meets-west approach. As a franchisee, Chen feels that owning the business provides her a platform to promote the benefits of the tutoring service to the community.
“I’m so happy and feel rewarded when my students tell me they improved their English mark from a 73 per cent to an 89 per cent. One of my student’s math mark went from a 78 per cent to an 85, which is very impressive.”
Boasting the benefits
Chen says investing in Inspiration Learning Center offers plenty of benefits. For one, the flexible working hours are key for a young entrepreneur looking to balance a career with a personal life.
When it comes to education, Chen says that working with students and gaining a better understanding of the Canadian education system also allows her to better educate her own children.
The corporate office also provides plenty of support when facing issues. “I like that when running the business, there’s always a team behind me supporting me,” notes Chen.
The unique combination of eastern and western teaching philosophies is a springboard to student success. “In Canada, we encourage students to do critical thinking. We don’t just ask students to read and copy, but they also need more practice, and the eastern way is to keep practicing. We do this with extra workbooks and extra exercises like the Waterloo math contests.”
It’s hard to put your money where your mouth is when you’re a young entrepreneur just starting out. The reasonable start-up cost is a big benefit, as it eliminates the barrier to business ownership. Finally, the company’s membership with the Canadian Franchise Association brings credibility and resources to the table.
As a young mother of two, Chen says she can’t deny starting a business at this phase of her life was a challenge. “It was hard to balance the business and family at the same time, especially when just starting up. The good thing is that I had my husband and parents’ support, and they offered a lot of encouragement.”
Chen says in the end, the benefits far outweigh the challenges. “First, you will always be challenged. Everything that goes into the business is your responsibility, from initial concept and branding to growth and goal setting.”
Second, she says the ability to call a business her own is a wonderful feeling. “The feeling of sitting back and saying, ‘this is my company,’ and to proudly hold your head up. Being an entrepreneur takes an incredible amount of work, and those words feel so good coming out of my mouth.”
Third, as a business owner, she never feels undervalued. “If I have ideas that will make the business better, I can implement them right away. I don’t have to hope that someone will give me permission and listen to my suggestions, which is empowering.”
Finally, as an entrepreneur, Chen says you get out of a business what you put into it. “I used to work six to seven days a week, and if I am ready to work harder than anyone else, I will be rewarded accordingly. If I want to experience more growth and opportunities, I simply work harder.”
For prospective franchisees interested in an educational franchise, Chen says they should be dedicated to improving education and building a student’s confidence. “If you are ready for a full-time rewarding career and want to join a growing industry, and if you are looking for a relatively low start-up cost and looking to make a positive contribution to your community, Inspiration Learning Center is a good place to start.”
For Chen, the ability to contribute to the community and make a positive impact by introducing a successful tutoring service is the greatest reward.