A Hunch and a Messy Road Map - The makings of a business
Sara Caba is the Founder and Director of Battersea Spanish, a Spanish language school and cultural center located in London, England. She and her husband, Ben Hope, have grown an amazing business from a few students in their home to an award-winning cultural center that brings the community together.
What prompted you to start your own business? What were your initial expectations?
The way my business was born was not “businessy” at all. I was trying to get some casual income in London. I applied to many Spanish schools and was only accepted at one because I didn't have a long list of papers and stamps.
I love learning and have always been committed to it but I hate bureaucracy and paperwork. I loved the experience of teaching my language but I disliked the lack of warmth and imagination in teaching materials, and I felt that the surroundings and experience were uninspiring. I decided to build my own website/blog and I cycled all around my neighborhood announcing a free trial. My first Battersea Spanish course had four students. The rest is history.
How did you manage business growth as a new entrepreneur?
The business grew out of intense determination and passion. I was shameless: bombarding Facebook pages, posting flyers, and feverishly sending emails for hours on end. Looking back, I don't regret my intensity. For a foreign women starting a business alone in a city like London, my pitch needed to be intoxicatingly enthusiastic---and it was.
The business grew quickly from four students to forty and I realized that we could no longer work out of my living room. I needed a dedicated space, sales power, and most importantly, a lot of coffee---starting a small business meant hours upon hours of work.
With the growth of Battersea Spanish, how did you learn to build a team of employees?
I was doing the work of an entire team all by myself---from teaching, to designing materials, social media, curriculum, and basically anything and everything else involved in running a business. I was making good money with very little overhead, but I had this vision of a cultural center and I knew I couldn’t achieve this on my own.
Finding the right people to join the organization has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. I started this business with a hunch and a pretty messy road map, so I needed time to understand the ethos of what I was building before I could bring others into it.
What does it mean to be a good leader?
Leaders don’t always have to be the boss, but bosses must always be leaders. When I started off and the business was young, I needed students and staff to make me feel valued and I craved admiration for all of my hard work. This mindset didn’t truly benefit the overall health of the business.
The continued challenge for me is how to be a good boss - how to step off a pedestal, be vulnerable, and willing to change. I dug deep and looked inward to find a balance between leadership and power, acceptance and respect. When I shifted my perspective and came from a place of strength to my clients and the staff, the organization was able to shine.
What advice do you have for readers who are contemplating starting a business, but feel they don't have all the experience they think they need to take the next steps?
For me, the most important piece to being an entrepreneur is generating change, and that takes a lot of time and patience. I have this dream and I can see it all play out, but I need that patience to take things step by step, and respect the process. Working toward change and becoming a mature business person is all consuming, so you better love what you are working to achieve.
I often ask myself, especially at moments of deep exhaustion---would I rather be doing something else? The answer has always been “no.” I know It is totally worth it. Knowledge can be paralyzing. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you need to know it all before you even start. You will never know it all, and a true entrepreneur shouldn’t let this fear stop them.
What is the future of Battersea Spanish that we can look forward to?
Here is a little sneak preview: a cultural home with a café in the center of it all where people will paint, dance, talk, write, share, and cook - all inspired by the wonderful cultures of Latin America and Spain. Stay tuned, or even better - come visit! https://batterseaspanish.com/