This is a follow up story for SoFlo SAT Tutoring. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey! I'm Adam Shlomi, founder of SoFlo SAT Tutoring. I went to Georgetown University, scored 1570/1600 on the SAT, and now SoFlo annually brings in 6 figures in income.
At SoFlo we offer online SAT/ACT prep to students around the world and now have 100 tutors on our team, but I founded SoFlo a little more than two years ago in my room, where I was bedridden and recovering from ankle surgery with doctors saying I may never walk again.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
SoFlo has grown in both revenue and profit by 600% during 2020. For us, we have always been focused on being the best online SAT and ACT tutoring company. The Internet is our home turf, so when COVID-19 hit and everyone had to adapt to the digital world, we had already laid the groundwork and built a system to handle thousands of students who wanted online SAT prep. While students transitioned to online life, we were able to catch the wave of demand for tutoring services and grow from there.
Knowing what is worth expending energy into is also a valuable lesson that I’ve learned along the process of testing all of my different ideas.
Initially, I had concerns because the market was in trouble precisely due to the pandemic itself. Many colleges waived SAT and ACT requirements as COVID-19 began to open up discussions about standardized tests. Year-over-year demand for SAT and ACT prep is down by 30%, but SoFlo is still growing. I was also originally worried that other competitors would also switch online and make the move more permanent, diminishing our competitive advantage. Even though interest in test prep is lower and other tutoring companies did make the switch to digitalize, SoFlo was better prepared to thrive online and we had first mover’s advantage. We haven’t stepped off the gas, even with the huge growth we saw in 2020, and are focused on aggressively pursuing new projects — we’re aiming to triple our growth in 2021.
Beyond the goals of expanding SoFlo, we’re focused on improving learning outcomes. I want SoFlo students to reach their highest potential and achieve the most score improvement possible. We can only get so far with marketing: being the first to reach clients is important to generate signups, but we also have to be the best tutoring company ever to generate more organic growth. We’re investing in the curriculum with Reading presentations breaking down each exam, Writing exercises to teach grammar rules, and detailed Math videos to break down concepts. SoFlo is also dedicated to investing in training our tutors with training courses and 1-on-1 mentorship during the onboarding process. Creating a strong support system for both our tutors and our students is one of our top priorities to keep the company running smoothly and at the best quality possible.
We also value investing in the hiring process and making sure we find the best tutors for our students and culture. With three separate rounds of screening and interviewing, SoFlo is focused on hiring the right people to help our students. The first round is a three-question email to gauge interest and qualifications. Our second round happens on the phone, during which we get a feel for each candidate’s personality. We want fun, dynamic tutors who can build connections with their students and keep their motivation up. Since students are more likely to work harder if they like their tutor, we take extra steps to match students with a tutor based on shared interests or similar locations. Finally, our third round interview takes place on Zoom, where we go through our diagnostic SAT test together to measure the potential hire’s teaching ability and grasp of the SAT/ACT curriculum. During the Zoom call, we can get a better feel for whether or not the candidate would be a good match with SoFlo and could build that valuable relationship with their future students. SAT and ACT prep can get stressful for these high schoolers, which is why SoFlo is dedicated to hiring tutors who understand and know how to lead their students through the pressure of standardized testing.
Over the past year, we’ve solidified some of our processes. Sales calls are down to an exact science now with scripts that we can easily train new hires with. Understanding what is necessary to generate more sign-ups is concisely and efficiently contained within a formula that we can easily look to when needed. Not only do we have our sales script down to the word, but we also ensure that training for the newly-hired tutors is systemized to make sure the process goes smoothly every time. We also emphasize the importance of aggressive documentation, which makes it easier to plug people into the equation and let them play out their roles. I’ve found that building up an effective system, refining it, and then letting others work within it is most efficient and well-functioning. It also opens a whole realm of possibility with experimentation to find the best way to organize operations, helping the company maintain a flow of functionality.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Learning to delegate has been an immensely valuable lesson from 2020. The best decision I’ve made in the last year was hiring a full-time Operations Manager to handle sales, customer service, and manage our growing team of tutors. For example, hiring an Operations Manager gave me the time to find, vet, and support a freelancer as they work on redesigning our website blog. Before it was more difficult to handle growth projects when I would wake up to 50 notifications from students, tutors, and leads, all of whom needed a personalized response. I’ve also delegated other tasks like blog writing, video creation, billing, payroll, and website design. Rather than doing all of these things at 100% efficiency, I’m finding people who can do them at 70% efficiency, training them to reach 80%, and then living with the results so SoFlo can continue to scale.
I learned that, as a generalist, I should hire experts to handle most projects while I provide guidance and direction when needed. I used to spend thousands of dollars on Facebook and Google Ads and failed to generate any meaningful results, but once I started working with experts, leads began flowing in. The past year has also taught me to find those who can best add value to our operations within their area of expertise, especially if I need time to work on other projects for SoFlo.
I try to at least consult with an expert before launching a new project, but at the same time, I have to remember to trust myself and my gut instincts, because sometimes even experts can make mistakes. Occasionally, outsourcing can go poorly, whether it’s because people aren’t working hard or don’t know what they’re doing. I recently hired a web speed specialist, but he ruined the website and if I hadn’t had a backup I’d be in serious trouble. These headaches take up the attention and time I could devote to elsewhere. While I’ve learned to delegate to experts, I’m still trying to understand what is worth hiring expensive for and what is worth hiring cheap for. For the upcoming year, I plan on learning from past experiences and finding that distinction.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
SoFlo is launching Youtube advertisements in Quarter 1 of 2020, and I’m excited about Youtube’s potential — my dad, for example, spends his whole day watching dog training videos. More and more parents are exploring and spending time on Youtube, which opens up a great opportunity to reach our target market and tell our story through audio and video rather than just text. Youtube also offers high intent traffic unlike Facebook, which targets people based on interests and lookalike audiences. With Youtube, we can target customers who are searching highly specific terms like “where to find an SAT tutor” or “how to study for the ACT.” Since the video has such a high barrier to entry, very few test prep companies are on Youtube, so this is a big opportunity that I am excited for in the coming year.
We’re also working on launching and scaling paid advertisements. We initially started with Facebook because moms are our primary target audience and many spend significant time on Facebook. With Facebook, we found that leads spend less money and convert at lower percentages than any of our other sources, but Facebook leads offer scalable growth, so we are investing in optimizing our Facebook sales funnels. Optimization presents the opportunity to improve creatives with more testing, craft a remarketing strategy, and test our landing pages to find high converters.
Right now, SoFlo is focused on further growth. While we’ve already expanded a significant amount since I founded the company, I believe in continuous improvement and constantly striving to be the best. Along with different methods of reaching potential leads through new avenues, we’re continuing to devote resources to our tutors and students to foster an effective and efficient culture. Beyond offering help with SAT and ACT test prep, SoFlo is also looking to expand into the college admissions market in the future. Since students and parents seek help with standardized testing scores to help with the admissions process, I see a clear connection between the two services and am working on refining and perfecting a system to help with the college application process. Our tutors are from top universities and achieved high scores on the SAT or ACT; they’ve also been through the process themselves, meaning they could offer valuable insight for high school applicants who want advice from relatable, honest, and qualified college students.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I spend almost every second of my day thinking about growing SoFlo and supporting the people I work with, so books have become a reprieve for me to explore outside interests. Right now, I’m reading The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré. Le Carré passed away recently, and this Cold War-era novel transformed the spy genre from the good hero James Bond archetype into characters who operate in a moral gray zone, where the ends don’t always justify the means.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Testing, testing, testing.
I’ll get inspiration for an idea and test it out in the shortest time possible to explore its potential. If the idea is a winner, I decide to keep pushing the envelope and expanding the project. Constantly churning out and analyzing new experiments allows me to find a few gems in the process. Even with some victories, I can’t even begin to count the number of failures I’ve experienced, but finding those winning ideas makes the whole process worthwhile. Avoiding or dismissing potential experiments out of fear of failure would hold both me and SoFlo back — there’s always a lesson to learn from each test, especially if it goes wrong.
One of these lessons presented itself to me when SoFlo launched an Instagram meme page. We were generating a few hundred likes on each photo and amassed around 1,000 followers after two weeks, but finding content was expensive and the audience wasn’t interested in SAT Prep. I saw that our Instagram page wasn’t going to generate new customers or convert anyone from its audience. No test prep company’s main client funnel is Instagram traffic, and I couldn’t see SoFlo being the first, given the information we gathered from our page. With that knowledge, I could recognize that the Instagram page was an experiment only meant to last two weeks and not a day longer, so we shut it down. Knowing what is worth expending energy into is also a valuable lesson that I’ve learned along the process of testing all of my different ideas.
Failure is a part of life. I don’t intend to have a higher batting average than other companies, but I do intend to go up to bat three times more than anyone else in our industry, which also helps me reach and formulate innovative ideas faster.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for more tutors. Drop a resume with no cover letter required.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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