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My Primary Tutor

Discover how one Highland business owner faced the challenges brought about by COVID-19 and, by taking part in HIE’s Pathfinder Accelerator, was able to turn them into opportunities to innovate and grow.

Karen Simpson from My Primary Tutor sitting at table

Taking a traditional business model online

Karen Simpson has been teaching for over 16 years and tutoring for over six. Whilst working as a primary school teacher, she started her own business in 2017, My Primary Tutor, to help create a better work-life balance following the birth of her second child.

The business was set up as a traditional face-to-face model, running small group and individual sessions for primary aged children in Inverness. Karen had always planned to expand the business to include an online offering but believed that no existing software met the high standards she sets for her sessions.

When COVID-19 hit, parents became more involved in teaching their children and saw up close where their children needed some extra support. And as a result, Karen saw a rapid demand for her online primary-level tutoring services.

We’re all about interactivity and tailoring sessions to the individual child’s needs. In my mind, there was nothing out there that would allow us to replicate online what we were doing in a physical setting.
Karen Simpson, Director and Tutor, My Primary Tutor

Pathfinder Accelerator unlocked businesses growth potential

A couple of years into running her business, a neighbour mentioned Pathfinder Accelerator, one of HIE’s business growth programmes delivered through the Northern Innovation Hub. Pathfinder Accelerator is a six-month programme led by experienced coaches aiming to help accelerate business growth through a mix of workshops, masterclasses, remote 1-2-1 support, along with peer and self-directed learning.

Karen successfully applied and joined the programme intending to explore how she could develop a bespoke online platform. One of the core lessons of the programme is to focus on creating a minimum viable product: a version of a product or service with just enough features to satisfy the target audience. She was hesitant at first, but after a few weeks of attending Pathfinder, she agreed to trial existing conferencing software for her online tutoring sessions. And to her surprise and delight, it worked!

As well as the encouragement to be open-minded around existing online software options, Karen’s business benefited in lots of other ways from her participation in the programme. She got advice on accounting and legal practices allowing her to create proper contracts, terms and conditions as a result. Her coaches advised on pricing and helped her delve deeper into her target market and identify the best way to drive sales.

I went on it to be challenged and certainly was. I’m really glad I did, I wouldn’t have be online without it. Trialling the software was a real lightbulb moment that turned everything on its head for me and my business. I would 100% recommend Pathfinder.
Karen Simpson, Director and Tutor , My Primary Tutor

New Business of the Year award

At the time, Karen couldn’t have guessed that the successful online trial would have such a significant impact on her business. It meant that when her physical tutoring spaces were suddenly no longer available in March 2020, she could quickly move 100% online. The company has been expanding rapidly ever since and she now has tutors and students located across Scotland, not just Inverness. For the first time, Karen experienced a huge demand for tutoring sessions to continue throughout the school holidays and her business growth was recognised in September 2020 when she scooped New Business of the Year at the Highland Business Women awards.

As well as receiving ongoing support from her Pathfinder mentor, Karen is in touch with the other people who participated alongside her. The cohort of eight all helped each other in some way during the programme, exchanging skills and experience, and they still support each other now via a WhatsApp group. Karen also values the connections she made by joining HBW, explaining that the other members are quick to understand and empathise with the challenges she faces as a business owner.

She admits that she is now working more than ever, and she credits her husband for giving her the time to focus on her business. Karen says:

‘It is hard just now, but I love it. I’m excited to find out where My Primary Tutor could get to. How far could it go?”.

About the Northern Innovation Hub

Pathfinder Accelerator is a programme delivered by the Northern Innovation Hub. This is part of the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal - a joint initiative supported by £315m investment from the UK and Scottish governments, The Highland Council, HIE and University of the Highlands and Islands. This programme also receives financial support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) through the Innovation strategic intervention.