Competing against seven other sole traders, 23-year-old Nicola Xanthopoulos claimed the award, something she “can’t believe” her six-year-old business, Nicola’s Tutoring, could achieve.
The Australian Small Business Champion Awards cover 47 categories, recognising national small businesses in varying industries and sizes that reach for high standards. This year’s awards were presented in Sydney on Saturday, April 21.
Xanthopoulos launched her tutoring business in 2012 out of necessity, as she struggled to find employment in education (her chosen major) as she embarked on her university studies.
“No-one wanted to hire someone with no teaching experience, so I decided to start my own business,” Xanthopoulos tells our friends at Smart Company.
“I started the business basically the second I finished my HSC. It started with just two students, but I now have 30 students a week,” she says.
With a wide range of expertise, Xanthopoulos tutors in 17 areas, from mathematics to piano and singing lessons.
So how does a humble, two-client tutoring enterprise become a nationally recognised business in six years?
Xanthopoulos believes starting the business when she was so young was a major asset to connecting with her clientele; being of a similar age, she could “relate to them”.
She was introduced to the awards by one of her students, who encouraged her to apply for the local awards last year, where she was unsuccessful.
“I applied again this year for the Australian one. I honestly didn’t think I would be considered a finalist,” she says.
Standing out from the crowd in a field like tutoring can have its difficulties, but Xanthopoulos believes building a “small community” with her students has been very effective.
“I tell the parents [that] without a relationship with the students, you can’t connect with them. I try to build a relationship with all my students,” she says.
Having been bullied in the early years of her high school life, Xanthopoulos understands that many factors can affect a student’s performance.
“[I ask] how can I help my students with all of their schooling experiences, not just their academics,” she adds.
Xanthopoulos juggles a busy lifestyle, but she makes little complaint about operating a small business, studying full-time and even undergoing four surgeries recently.
“After each of the surgeries I was out for about a week recovering. I can remember waking up and marking essays the next day in a hospital bed,” she says.
And despite the business growing a lot in six years, Xanthopoulos says money has never been a major objective.
“I’ve tried to keep my prices low. I don’t want to be really expensive because I believe that every child should have access to education,” she says.
Nicola’s Tutoring charged $30 an hour for all classes in its first three years of operation, with prices rising to $40 after she had gathered sufficient expertise in teaching and education.
“It’s not necessarily about the money. It’s not a job for me; it’s a social thing. I like to see my students and I like knowing that I have their support and they have mine,” she says.
The Australian Small Business Champion Awards have been in operation since 1999 and are run by Precedent Productions. Nicola’s Tutoring was in good company on the awards night, as a number of other successful small businesses were recognised for exemplary work from around Australia.
Children’s organic snack company, Whole Kids, was recognised as the Small Business Champion Entrepreneur for 2018. Elsewhere, Sydney based Landscape design company All In One Backyard Solutions was awarded Young Small Business Champion Entrepreneur and Canberra based consultancy firm BCT Solutions was awarded the Business Growth Award.
This is an edited version of a story that first appeared on Smart Company.