When he joined Tutor Doctor as the youngest franchisee in the network, 25-year-old Jon-Anthony Lui set an aggressive goal for his new business. “I wanted to do $400,000 in sales in my first year,” he recalls. “Everyone in my training class thought I was out to lunch.”
He finished his first year just slightly shy of that goal, but managed to exceed his sales goal the following year. In his third year, he became the first Tutor Doctor franchisee to reach $1 million in sales, earning him the company’s Top Producer Award.
Now in his eighth year as a franchisee, Lui and his wife Clarissa own 10 Tutor Doctor territories in the Greater Toronto Area. Their operation contracts with more than 350 tutors, who provide in-home tutoring services to over 1,000 students every year.
A typical day
The ambition Lui had as a new franchisee continues to drive him today. He starts each morning with a strong cup of coffee and a list of tasks he wants to complete for the day. “Things always comes up that you can’t account for, but if you ground yourself in those main four or five goals, you can be proud of yourself for that day.”
A typical day for Lui might include status meetings with his team, looking through resumes to find new talent, or working on systems and processes to move the needle on client delivery and satisfaction. His favourite part of his role is mentoring staff and experimenting with new marketing initiatives. “Whenever there’s a coaching opportunity, I take it, because life is too short,” says Lui, whose parents died when he was in his early 20s. “You have to cherish every interaction with someone because you never know what can happen.”
Lui and his wife divide their responsibilities according to their strengths. A strong communicator, Jon-Anthony is in charge of sales, hiring, and training, while Clarissa handles the administrative, HR and financial side of the business, which is how she initially came on board. “When I first started, the paperwork was piling up and she would take the initiative to help with it,” says Lui. “To me, that’s always overwhelming, and she just works right through it. We balance each other out that way. We work together as a team on everything from high level strategy right down to the nitty gritty.”
The two make sure to strike a balance between their work and home lives. “We have to set clear boundaries and say, ‘we’re not talking about work at this time,’” he says. “I see people who work a lot and burn themselves out. It affects their relationships, it affects their family life, and to me, that comes first. At the end of the day, that’s why we got into franchising. We want to work to live, not live to work.”
Lui was introduced to the concept of franchising through his father, who worked in franchise sales. After several years with an e-learning consulting firm, Lui joined Tutor Doctor as a developer. He then fell in love with the brand and the people behind it, and decided to become a franchisee. “It was easy to get attached to the brand and the work we were doing. I was hearing all the great things we were doing in the field.”
In 2009, he took over as franchisee for the city of Vaughan, an up-and-coming area outside of Toronto. He purchased a second territory six months later, and continued to grow from there. From the onset, he always knew he wanted to have multiple locations. “I wanted a business that could grow to the point that it was not dependent on me. I could take a sick day or travel and not have to worry that the business wouldn’t run.”
In addition to work-life balance, Lui loves that his business affords him the opportunity to positively influence students’ lives. “It goes beyond just the mark they get on the next test,” he explains. “You can impact someone’s life so much.” He remembers a time in his own youth when a teacher recognized his problem-solving skills in math, a subject he had always struggled with. “Just a simple comment gave me such a boost in confidence. To do that for a student over and over again is so rewarding.”
A big believer in empowering youth, Lui helped establish Tutor Doctor’s Young Entrepreneur Scholarship (YES) program, which provides start-up financing for successful tutors who want to become Tutor Doctor franchisees. “We need to invest in our future generation. We have some amazing tutors who just need to be given a chance.”
For young people interested in franchise ownership, Lui’s advice is to go for it. “It’s way more valuable than any business degree you could ever pursue because it’s hands-on, real-life education. This is my MBA,” he says of his business. “That textbook case study, I’m dealing with it right now.”
One of his biggest challenges as a young franchisee was building confidence. Then, as the youngest franchisee in the network, he often felt unsure of himself, especially when managing staff twice his age, or consulting with families about their children’s education. “It was a challenge getting over my own self-imposed limitations, thinking I was inadequate in some way, and being ashamed that people wouldn’t take me seriously.”
He says Tutor Doctor’s head office helped him through these early growing pains. “They were a huge support in every way, whether it was with business know-how or things to look out for, or just giving an encouraging word.”
In it together
Over the years, Tutor Doctor’s support has evolved to keep up with Lui’s rapidly growing business. Hitting the $1 million sales mark created some infrastructural challenges but, he says, head office stepped up to the challenge. “They never shied away from it. They always tried new things, like piloting new technology or bringing in a business consultant.” Today, he says, “there’s an overwhelming amount of support. I feel good about it because we did it in partnership.”
For anyone considering a Tutor Doctor franchise, he says to make sure your values align with the company’s. A background in education is not necessary, but you need to have a genuine interest in helping others. Most importantly, you have to follow the franchise’s proven system. “It’s all about execution. The franchise provides you with the system and as long as you execute it, your chances of failure will be minimized.”
Finally, he reminds franchisees to stay humble and take every opportunity to learn from others. “Once you get a bit of success, it’s easy to rely on yourself to make decisions, but I’ve always taken the view that I don’t know that much,” he says, adding that he currently has five or six mentors he regularly consults with. “They’re my own makeshift board of advisors.”
In addition to his mentors, he can also reach out to his fellow Tutor Doctor franchisees at any time. This, he says, is a major benefit of being part of a franchise network. “I don’t feel like I’m by myself,” he says. “It’s a family on its own. I can reach out to them whenever I need help. We have this business in common and we have common goals tied to the brand. We can pool our resources together and do things that we could never do individually.”
With his drive to succeed, his genuine passion for helping students achieve success, and a solid team supporting him, Jon-Anthony Lui is poised to continue breaking records with his Tutor Doctor franchise.