I believe very strongly in language preservation as well as language learning. I believe we can have that balance and not have to give up our native language to speak another.
Tressa Sanders is the founder, senior English trainer and Ruby on Rails developer at Stack English, Inc., offering one-on-one Technical and Business English lessons to IT professionals learning English as a foreign language.
Prior to launching Stack English, Inc., Tressa worked in the Information Technology industry and had done so for over 20 years. She has worked in the IT departments of some of the largest companies in the United States such as JP Morgan Chase, Hewlett Packard, Raymond James Financial, Bank of America, IBM, AT&T Wireless and Sprint.
Now, she helps other IT professionals improve their English so they can take advantage of more career and business opportunities.
When not teaching English or building web apps, she is writing fiction novels and traveling the world. Her favorite way to travel is by cargo ship where there are few passengers, good food and plenty of fresh air on the open sea.
Where did the idea for Stack English come from?
I was teaching English for another company and I was very disappointed with the quality of the lesson materials. I taught many students who were hungry to learn English and many who needed it to keep their jobs and they were all struggling to improve.
I was equally disappointed in the way the teachers were treated and the amount of pay being offered. It was hard to stay motivated when you are being paid very little and penalized for things that are out of your control such as server issues and students who do not show up for a booked lesson.
So I decided to start my own language learning company that would service a market for which I had the most experience. Having worked in the Information Technology industry for over 20 years, it made sense for me to offer Technical and Business English lessons to IT professionals learning English as a foreign language.
English lessons based on each client’s learning goals is the foundation of Stack English. With this method, clients see immediate improvements in their language skills and confidence.
I could also pay teachers what is necessary for them to live and maintain their enthusiasm for the job. The teachers would also be able to create their own lessons according to the needs of their clients and feel more like business owners than employees.
So, Stack English was born out of the desire to be more helpful to English learners and the need for better employment for skilled English teachers.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
When I wake up in the morning, I think about what I would like to focus on for the day. I spent my entire adult life on a schedule while working for others, I opt not to do it now that I work for myself.
If I have unfinished work from the day before, I continue working on it. Otherwise, I start teaching very early in the morning and usually stop at or before noon. Then I spend about 30 minutes submitting pitches to journalists using HARO (Help A Reporter Out). I’m am also a Ruby on Rails developer and built the booking platform for Stack English. Every day I check my list of action items on Bitbucket and tackle the most critical tasks there.
Throughout the day I check my email and send out replies and there are some days that I work on content in monthly batches such as articles and videos for the website.
One thing is for sure, I don’t force anything any more. When you do, you just end up with poor quality work.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas come to me and I act on them. For example, if I get an idea for a new business, I will start searching for more information about it and try to decide if there is a good market for it. If I feel like there would be, I come up with a domain name and check to see if it’s available. If it is, I buy it. Then, if the business is a web app only, I come up with a diagram of how the web app will work. If it’s a business dealing with a physical product that will be sold online, I work on creating relationships with suppliers and then I create a diagram of how the online store will work. Then I build non-stop until the first production-ready version is ready to deploy. I deploy it and then focus on the marketing. These actions begin just after I come up with the idea. There is no delay or procrastination.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The current trend of Language exchanges excites me. Now more than ever, there is a large movement of people learning multiple languages while at the same time, preserving their own. I believe very strongly in language preservation as well as language learning. I believe we can have that balance and not have to give up our native language to speak another.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I create a quiet and peaceful environment to work in. There are times when I have very soft music playing low in the background similar to what you would listen to while getting a message or acupuncture. But usually, I prefer a quiet place to work. My attention and focus is incredible when I have this kind of environment and I get a lot accomplished.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to start learning to code early, master system maintenance and write as many fiction books as you can. It would be a great balance between work and pleasure earlier in life.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Noise pollution is just as harmful as any other type of pollution. It has a serious negative impact on your body and mood. Just as carefully chosen noise or music can improve your mental and physical state, too much noise or noise of a specific type or frequency can also be highly disruptive to your mental state and damaging to your ears and other systems of the body.
Show people a weapon in a sci-fi movie that can kill using sound and they will believe it’s possible. Tell them that noise pollution is injuring them as well and they won’t believe you. It’s an interesting disconnect.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I would recommend that you keep learning and building. I went from cheesy websites written purely in HTML that I had to manually update to building Enterprise-level web applications on my own. Because I’ve tried and learned so much, I don’t have to rely on someone else to build and manage my websites or create my marketing materials, etc. When I have a business idea, I can put it in motion right away with little or no money.
If you are compelled to keep learning new skills and building new businesses because you enjoy it, then do it. It’s worth it.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
One strategy that has helped me grow my business is helping English learners without expecting compensation. This doesn’t mean I’m giving free lessons, it just means, I’m offering them knowledge in other ways that can be very useful to them. For example, I don’t mind taking the time to create free videos to teach them how to effectively respond to job interviews in English. There is always an opportunity to be helpful and it pays off for both sides in the end.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One failure that I have had (on a few occasions) is choosing terrible names and domain names for my businesses. It matters. The most obvious ones have been names that are too long. Long business names make for awful domain names which increases the chance of spelling mistakes which keeps people from finding your business on the web. Short and easy is the way to go. It took longer than I would like to admit to figure that out.
To overcome the issue, I embraced the concept of re-branding. I even had to re-brand a business that I’d put over 10 years into while trying to make the awful name stick. It was tough to consider renaming it after all I had already put into it. But it had to be done if I wanted it to be successful. It went from being a 6 syllable name (outrageous I know) to a powerful 3 syllable name. Three syllables is still pushing it but it works.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think a good business would be automated shipments of toothbrushes to consumers on a subscription using a replacement schedule recommended by dentists. Customers won’t ever have to worry about when to replace their toothbrushes (this is particularly useful to large families). There is also a potential for business to business relationships as well if you consider group homes and shelters, etc. You can use a wholesaler with drop-shipping for this or you can build a relationship with a manufacturer and setup shipping yourself. The key to success from an operational standpoint will be automation. You want the order process and the shipping process to be completely automated. Then you can focus on customer service and marketing.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I have spent recently has been for domain names to re-brand poorly named businesses that I have been neglecting. That hundred dollars will help me transform businesses that were performing poorly because of names that were too long and hard to remember or spell.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Bitbucket is the one online service that helps me be productive. It is a code repository. Without it, I would not be able to keep track of all of the features I need to build or the ones I’ve already completed. The account comes with an issue tracker and allows me to create different categories and version/release numbers for issues and tasks. Then I can add tasks and issues based on the release version. So for example, if I want to add two new features and fix four problems, I can add those items to the list and select the next release number or one in the future if they aren’t that critical.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Podcast Launch: A Step-By-Step Guide of “How To Launch Your Podcast ”— by John Lee Dumas
A Podcast is a very effective marketing tool for your business. This book offers a great plan to help you start and launch a podcast for your business. John Lee Dumas has one the most popular podcasts online, Entrepreneur On Fire.
What is your favorite quote?
“Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- Create a tranquil environment for working. If you prefer not to have total silence, choose relaxing music and keep the volume low.
- Work on the most critical task first each work day when you are fresh and alert.
- Pay attention to your mood. It matters. You want to work on the most important tasks when you are feeling productive.
- You must quit when your mind and body says so and you must give yourself breaks when you are feeling fatigued.
- Learn essential business and technical skills if you can do it in a reasonable time. It will save you money.
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