Accidental entrepreneur learns ABCs of success with tutoring business

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 19, 2010; 5:53 PM

Ann Dolin became an entrepreneur when her husband put her on an allowance.

It was 1998, and the former Fairfax County public school teacher had just given birth to her first son. She was 29, ambitious and not crazy about living on a $500-a-month handout from her husband for groceries, lunches, diapers, formula and everything else she needed to run a household - including her own discretionary spending.

"That wasn't going to cut it," she said. "I knew I could bring in money through tutoring, and it was something I truly loved."

Dolin, now 41, has a robust tutoring business called Educational Connections that is on pace to gross $1.45 million this year. The Fairfax businesswoman owns an office condominium, employs six staffers and an army of 150 part-time tutors, and has helped 4,000 young people in 11 years.

Dolin pays herself $150,000 a year, but that can grow significantly, depending on profits. Dolin drives a company car, recently published a book called "Homework Made Simple" and earns all the money she needs. Her husband is a salesman for Dell.

"Life is good," said the accidental entrepreneur.

EC serves students throughout Northern Virginia, all of Montgomery County, D.C. and Baltimore, although most are in the Vienna/McLean/Great Falls corridor. The students get help with everything from basic reading to Advanced Placement calculus. Tutoring and helping students develop study skills is 85 percent of Dolin's business. The rest is test preparation and her own consulting.

Students run the gamut, attending such big public high schools as Yorktown High School in Arlington and high-end private schools such as Georgetown Day in the District. A small fraction are college students.

Most of her clients pay $75 an hour, although she recently raised rates for new clients to $80. Dolin's business keeps just over half that amount, and the tutors get the rest.

Dolin has wanted to be a tutor since she was 10, when she started teaching English to a pair of young Korean girls who lived across the street.

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