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As a business owner, each of us is not only passionate about our industry, but an expert within it. But being an expert in your business is very different than being an expert in business. Many of us dive in with little understanding of how to run—let alone grow—a successful company.

This was definitely the case for me. Having dreamed of being a teacher my whole life, I was surprised when my expectations didn’t match the reality of the school system. I knew what kind of environment children could thrive in, and when I couldn’t find that in a school, I launched my own. That’s how CEFA Early Learning Schools was born. What I didn’t realize was that owning a school was very different than teaching at one.

The next 15 years of my entrepreneurial journey proceeded by trial-and-error. From HR to marketing to construction to day-to-day management, I thought I had it all figured out. Business was thriving and the awards and accolades were rolling in.

Right around the time I accepted a Top 40 Under 40 Entrepreneur of the Year award, I was invited to join the Vancouver chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), a group of my entrepreneurial peers. I was resistant. What could I learn that I hadn’t already figured out for myself? A lot, as it turned out.

Here are a couple of key lessons I’ve learned during my entrepreneurial career.

Success Doesn’t Mean You’re Doing it Right

My goal was to build a better kind of school where I could provide children with the type of education that I believed was critical for early learning development. I developed a product that parents wanted—some drove over an hour each way to bring their children to the first CEFA location. But Parents wanted schools closer to where they lived and teachers wanted an opportunity to run their own CEFA schools. Quickly, my one school snowballed into a franchise model.

My business was succeeding, but I was completely on my own with no entrepreneurial friends in my inner circle. Every business roadblock was a problem that I had to solve on my own. When I began to share my story with other entrepreneurs I was amazed at how similar my experiences were to theirs. They had run into the same challenges and had discovered systems that were often far better than mine to resolve them.

You Need to Know About Business

The more I learned the more I realized how little I knew. I knew how to talk to parents, and structure a curriculum but despite almost two decades in business, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t even know how to read a financial statement.

Knowing the business you’re in is key to developing a product or service that people want. But growing and operating a business requires an entirely different education. I began attending business lectures and reading the books recommended by my peers. I even attended a three-year Masters program in Entrepreneurial Studies.

Dedicating myself to becoming a pupil of business, I quickly realized the importance of every area of my company. With a newfound understanding, I grew the business enough to be able to hire experts for every field: marketing, operations and finance.

As my business understanding grew, so too did my bottom-line. Since joining EO my schools and franchise company have grown by at least 45% each year, hitting 70% growth this past fiscal year alone.

I went from teacher to student, and dedicated myself to understanding how to run a business. With the tools and the team I now have in place, I can go back to the role I am most passionate about: educator.

Natacha Beim is the Founder of CEFA Early Learning Schools and an internationally recognized educational leader, author, speaker and parenting expert. She is the president-elect of the Vancouver chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization.


What have you learned about running your business that you wish you’d known at startup? Let us know using the comments section below.

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