This week’s Teacher Entrepreneur profile is Brady Smekens of Smekens Education Solutions located in Warren, Indiana. Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Brady over lunch. I met Brady over 10 years ago when we were both working for Huntington County Community Schools. I have also had the pleasure of knowing his wife Kristina for about the same amount of time. They are great entrepreneurs, outstanding educators and wonderful people. I hope you have the opportunity to take advantage of their services in the near future!
CS: What is the name of your business and where is it located?
BS: Smekens Education Solutions, Downtown Warren, Indiana
CS: How long have you been an educator and what positions have you held?
BS: 10 years. I taught Government and Journalism at the High School level, was an Assistant Principal/Athletic Director at a K-8 building and was a District Title 1 Director.
CS: Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
BS: Even before college I had a dream of owning my own business and being successful as a result of my own initiative. That didn’t always fit with education as a career, especially financially. I was always kind of frustrated by the structure of schools and the fact that those who had the most seniority were rewarded the most regardless of how effective they were as a teacher. That was a frustration. That has changed recently, at least to a degree. I had capitalist ideas early on after learning about capitalism in school. I tried several gimmicky types of businesses that were offered through other companies. They were moderately successful. Through those I learned that it was important to be passionate about what you are doing. Eventually I realized you needed to look beyond the financial rewards offered by those boxed programs and look for more intrinsic rewards.
CS: Why did you choose your particular industry?
BS: My wife and I were both interested in staff development as teachers. We had both been involved in staff development. We spent a few summers leading Journalism workshops for students. The workshops would teach kids about creating a high school yearbook beyond what they would learn in class. We both really enjoyed that and loved how we could help the students develop their potential. Now we work with teachers and we move teachers forward in their vision of the kind of teacher they can be. The vision for our business took root when we were teaching the journalism workshops to high school students.
CS: Tell me a little bit about your business?
BS: We provide training for teachers in the areas of reading and writing across the k-12 spectrum. We deliver the training through onsite school based trainings. We also hold seminars where teachers leave the building to come to the seminars. We sell educational resources to teachers. We also have an on-demand professional development service through which we offer on-line video services. Our videos cover a variety of topics. Unlike many other video PD services, our videos can be chosen ala carte. You don’t have to subscribe to the whole service. Our video PD service is call webPD. I believe the future of our company lies in webPD. www.smekenswebPD.com.
CS: What is the best business advice you have ever been given?
BS: Always be looking to learn from failure. I have lost a lot of money in failure in the course of the business in trying to learn to do things right. Always try to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them.
CS: What is the greatest challenge of being a Teacher Entrepreneur?
BS: Overcoming fear. As teachers we have become programmed to value security; job security, security of benefits, financial security. You learn many educational routines and norms as a teacher and you have to disregard those when you become an entrepreneur. You don‘t get three months off, you have to work weekends, you don’t always get lunch at the same time, etc. There are many routines and mindsets that you have as a teacher that you have to break free from when you become an Entrepreneur.
CS: What advice would you give to other Teacher Entrepreneurs?
BS: If they are looking to replace their teaching income with an entrepreneurial endeavor make sure you have a way to support yourself before you walk away from education. If you have something in place to support yourself financially before you leave education, fear becomes much less of a factor.
CS: What books or resources would you recommend to other Teacher Entrepreneurs?
BS: Entreleadership by Dave Ramsey – It really fits well with the current stage of our company. I’m really benefitting from Ramsey’s ideas right now.
The Traveller’s Gift by Andy Andrews – It is great at helping you proceed with a vision.
The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren – This book is a good precursor to starting your own business.
CS: What is your vision for your business?
BS: I want to be able to help teachers with practical literacy strategies all over the United States and the world. There are English speaking schools all over the world where teachers could benefit from our professional development. We have had teachers from outside of North America take advantage of our webPD services and it is cool to think that we are impacting Teachers in other parts of the world.
CS: How will you know when you have achieved your vision?
BS: I would like to set up a map and pinpoint all the places that our customers come from. I will know we have achieved that vision when the pins in the map touch all parts of the world.
CS: What would you do differently if you were to start another business?
BS: I would be more realistic about the rate at which the business will grow. I had the rosey idea that you can grow things more quickly than you really can. I would go into it with the understanding that it takes time. The other thing that I have learned is that you should really narrow your product offerings to specialize in something, and not to try to be all things to all people. We have had a lot more success with developing a specialty in one area and going as deep as possible with that area.
CS: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you or your business?
BS: Any business that is rooted in helping people involves a lot more intrinsic motivation and wanting to do it well. If you don’t feel you are helping people it is hard to muster up the energy to go full force with a business. I want people to know that we are about helping teachers and making their jobs more achievable.
CS: I’d like to thank Brady for taking the time to be interviewed. Brady is a classy guy and a great educator. You can contact him by phone at 888-376-0448 by email at Brady@Smekenseducation.com or check out one of their websites