Built upon a foundation of value-added service, the Parker Right Driving Academy is proof that something truly meaningful can be accomplished when you follow your instincts. I sat down with the owner of the Parker Right Driving Academy, Cara Parker, to discuss how she got started, the biggest mistakes she made in the beginning, and what people should consider if they think they are too old to leave their job to start a business. Enjoy!
What did you do prior to opening up your own business and why did you decide to take the plunge a little later in life?
Prior to any of this, I worked in a factory for 15 years. But in terms of instructing, I was at another driving school from 2009 to 2014 and we had a bit of a falling out. This suddenly put me in a pinch because I really didn’t think I wanted to open my own business, but it was a thought. I knew I could do it, I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I called my teacher, or my mentor I should say, and he said that I had to go for it. I went through everything I needed to go through, got my approval in October of 2014, and had my first class in the following month of November.
What is the biggest change you made from when you started your business to how you operate now?
I would say on the operation side of it, just trying to get things more automated. At the beginning, I was working dawn ‘til dusk, 24/7 basically, with paperwork, emails, class lists, and phone calls all night long. I’d come home from teaching in the car and then be on the phone all night. My husband would say that I give way too much information on the phone and that I should answer their question and hang-up, but that is a part of my reputation.
I am getting to the age now where we have little ones and we want to enjoy them a little more. We want to be able to enjoy the family and enjoy each other, so we have worked on automating the processes a bit more. Registration is now online and customers will get automatic messages to walk them through the process, so that helps a lot.
What does your daily routine look like?
It is getting more organized now. The automation is a big part of it, but at the beginning I was probably working 7 in the morning until midnight doing anything and everything. Obviously, daylight hours were driving, but there were phone calls all evening, e-mails, paperwork, marking, you name it. These days, I do not start before 8.
What were some of the biggest mistakes you made when first starting your business?
Sure, I made mistakes when I started, but I was a big part in running the previous driving school I was at, aside from the money end of it. It even got to the point where I would actually collect registration money from the class, hold on to the money until I could deliver it, and then hand it all to them to do the deposits.
I would say one of my biggest mistakes is that I am occasionally too nice, in that it makes me gullible. Sometimes I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place because I didn’t know how to do a lot of the technical tasks, but that meant other people had some control over my company. I like to see the best in people and sometimes I get punished for that. Now I make sure I research before saying yes to things, whether it’s web design or accounting, so I am not always saying yes to the first person or offer.
Given that you started a business a bit later in life, what advice would you give to someone that thinks they are getting too old to leave their secure job or think it isn’t possible to start their own business?
You’re never too old, but the big thing is to have support. Fortunately, I had a group of people telling me I could do it, so that got me through a lot of it. I’m not one to naturally go out on my own to try new things, so I was lucky to have a lot of that externally. If you don’t have support around you to begin with, there are lots of places to get it. There are business groups and people to talk to, but the biggest thing when you start a business is definitely having that support. If you don’t have the family support then you have to find a network that you can rely on and make sure that your accountant, banker, lawyer, or whatever else are part of that too. To me, that was the most important thing to help with the push.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My name is Patrick MacDougall and I am a licensed REALTOR® based out of Tillsonburg, Ontario. I service the Oxford, Norfolk, and Elgin County areas and work everyday to bring as much value to others as I possibly can.