Inger Stapleton is the entrepreneur behind Inga’s Lingua, a company that offers online Spanish classes for folks whose busy corporate schedules tend to get in the way of higher learning. I recently had a chance to speak to Inger about her journey from her own corporate career to the exciting life of an entrepreneur, and all of the lessons she learned along the way. Some of her points will be familiar to anybody who has dipped their toes in the entrepreneur pool, while others might just surprise you.
Click play below to listen to our full interview, and below see what lessons Inger learned from becoming an entrepreneur.
3 Lessons Learned About Becoming an Entrepreneur
Find Your Home Away From Home
One of the surprises that came during my talk with Inger was the biggest lesson she’s learned during her time as a small-business owner. It had to do with making a clean transition from corporate life to a sole proprietorship.
As she was making that pivot, she made the decision to work from her apartment as she built her business, found expert educators to work with and learned to target clients. She had something to say about working from the literal and metaphorical comfort zone of one’s own home.
“I wish I had budgeted in office space” early on, she told me. This might come as a shock to those of us who want nothing more than to turn our daily commute into a pajama-clad shuffle from our bedroom to our home office. For Inger, however, the notion of a comfort zone was a powerful one – and she feels that comfort may have held her back.
The ultimate message here is one of discipline and motivation, which come more naturally to some folks than to others. For Inger’s part, she wishes she’d made a dedicated workspace – some place to go to for full immersion in the entrepreneur lifestyle.
I thought that was a really smart lesson to impart here, this idea that buckling down to do the hard work requires not just a certain mindset, but also, in some cases, a certain physical location.
Your needs may vary. See what works best for you. As you’re carving out your place in the larger world of business ownership, make sure you feel at home while you’re doing it – just not too at home!
Setting the Right Goals
Another of the inevitable challenges Inger faced along her journey had to do with realizing she’d set the wrong goals for herself and for her fledgling company. That was lesson No 2.
“I’m a very ambitious person,” she told me, before explaining that, in her early days as an entrepreneur, she set huge goals for herself – and some of them were just a little too huge. She learned early on to break down her goals into more manageable chunks, so as not to get overwhelmed.
It’s a good thing she did, too, because before long, Inger saw a huge opportunity knocking; the idea that she could shift from individual clients toward larger ones. In true out-of-the-box thinking, she began targeting – and even infiltrating, in her words – hospitals whose budgets got in the way of their ability to effectively serve their Spanish-speaking clients.
The result was a dramatic transformation of her business model. She became less a tutor and more a classroom facilitator. She managed to scale her business in a smart way and do something pro-social at the same time. Hospitals obviously value the experience of all their customers, but their nurses and customer service lines are frequently not up to the task. That’s the niche Inger now finds herself in, and she hasn’t yet looked back.
Learning to Learn
Beyond all that, I came away really impressed with Inger’s commitment to making her company and its offerings really stand out from what’s become a pretty competitive market. She’s got the nonprofit angle going, but she also has something else; a lifetime of learning.
Some hospitals she’s worked with already offer some English-Spanish classes, but a majority of them are two- to three-hour classes that take place right after work, when nurses and doctors just want to get home and have a long soak in the tub. Instead, Inger has built an education system that people can immerse themselves in during their lunch break, or whenever they have some time alone. Instead of nodding off in a classroom and potentially never speaking a word of Spanish aloud, she offers a learning experience that conforms to our lives, rather than the other way around.
Are there going to be further growing pains? Almost certainly. As her business grows, so will her technology needs. For the time being, however, Inger’s answer to this challenge serves as our final lesson today; take advantage of all the free and low-cost options you can. She uses Google Docs to schedule classes and MailChimp to keep in touch with her clients. She didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel – instead, she did her homework and found the very best tools for her needs that wouldn’t impact her bottom line.
As a lifelong learner, I get the sense that Inger is always looking to the next challenge. That’s a great quality in an entrepreneur – and one that should continue to serve her well. Less