Name: Karina Gafford

Business Name/Occupation: Tutors By Base


Tell us about your business! My husband and I have a tutoring company that hires military spouses, veterans and dependents to tutor both on and around military installations. We offer classes at several military installations through the Child, Youth, and School Services programs, and we just expanded to offer an online test prep platform for the SAT, ACT, and GRE.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship? As an immigrant, I see the US as a land of boundless opportunity. My family moved to the US from Ireland when I was a teenager to open a business, and I had the good fortune to witness entrepreneurship and small business building from that early age. I began in hospitality management and then education management in my early 20's, but always had the desire to eventually embark on the adventure of the real American Dream--entrepreneurship--for myself. 
Honestly, I chose to venture into entrepreneurship in the education space for multiple reasons. First, I truly believe that we are on the cusp of profound changes in education, and I want to do more than simply bear witness to this great transition; I want to help make the difficult and better changes for our children. Second, I began in tutoring because I couldn't find anyone else providing the service that I was looking for--a referral service within the military community of trusted, well-credentialed, and trained tutors. I saw the need, and--with a lot of support--moved to fill that need. Whether I was recruiting tutors for other companies or trying to find private tutors who provided the tutoring services that I did not for my current clients, I always looked first within my network of fellow military spouses. Without having a credential-specific searchable list of spouses with transcripts and resumes, though, helping to make a tutor match took an inordinately long time and yielded little positive results. Now when someone asks me if I can refer a tutor that fits their exact needs, I can answer a resounding "yes" about 99% of the time, and that feels great!

Why do military spouses make great entrepreneurs? Military spouses make great entrepreneurs because they've already tackled some of the biggest challenges that entrepreneurs face: Uncertainty, financial instability (hello, goodbye, new job; it's time for a PCS!), networking (spouse's groups, anyone?), risk taking (you're seriously buying a house that you'll only live in for 2 years?!), and loneliness. TDYs, deployments, and separation from your traditional support groups of family and friends help prepare military spouses for the lonely venture of striking out by yourself. The great part about being a military spouse entrepreneur today, though, is that there are so many opportunities for us to network and share advice with one another through online forums and local groups.

What is a "blocker" for you in business. What holds you back? One major blocker for me is wanting to do too many things at once. When I get caught in a cycle of attempting multiple projects at time, I wind up not completing any of them as well as I would want to. A game changing moment for me came earlier this year at a conference in Nashville called GrowCo. Inc. Magazine sponsored about 30 military entrepreneurs to attend this event to help us learn about how to grow our business effectively, and the biggest takeaway I had from every single success story there--including AirBnB and the Honest Company--was to focus on ONE thing at a time and do it well. That's so tough to hear as both a female and a military spouse; I'm constantly multi-tasking. At any given time, I'm responding to work emails, on the phone with a real estate agent regarding an upcoming PCS, scanning my never-ending to do list, watching the timer on the oven, and maybe feeding the baby, too. It's tough to make the transition to focus on one thing single-mindedly, but when I do, I find that I make the most progress. This has meant that I've moved several projects that I'd like to be working on right now forward in my planner, but that's okay.

How has being a military spouse changed your for the better? I've learned so much more about the world, other people, and myself than if I had simply stayed in my adopted home state. I've been forced to step way outside my comfort zone on so many occasions in social situations that it has ultimately helped me grow in the confidence to do better in my professional life.

What strengths do you possess, that you did not know you had, until you became an entrepreneur? I'm a much better problem solver than I thought I was, and I have leadership skills I never even knew existed. Those are still a work in progress, but I've been borrowing my husband's leadership books to help myself out!

What would you tell a milspo entrepreneur who is feeling discouraged? Generally I've found that discourage milspo entrepreneurs believe one of two things 1) That they can't achieve their goals, and 2) They're overwhelmed. I've believed both of these things, too. If it's the first, I share a quote from Henry Ford: "He who thinks he can and he who thinks he can't are generally both right." If it's the second, it's usually because of overcommitment, and what milspo isn't guilty of that at some time? I try to help make those spouses understand that they are available to their clients, their friends, and their family, but they're not on tap; when you're building a business and creating the life you want, you have to own your time.

What are your five favorite things that you can not live without as a milspo entrepreneur?

  1. Coffee - does everyone write this one down? Green juice is great, but it can only get me so far in the day. 
  2. A workout - I have to take care of me first or I won't be any use to anyone else in the future.
  3. My fellow military spouses - I wouldn't have had the confidence to even begin my business without them.
  4. My family - They hear all the ups and downs; it's important to have people to support you when you're down and celebrate with you when there's good news.
  5. My planner - Nothing happens without it. We're in multiple time zones now, and I am completely lost without having an hour-by-hour breakdown of the day to make sure that I'm calling people at the right time!

What is the most amazing thing you have experienced in your business thus far? I was really excited when we got our first one-on-one tutoring client and then our first contract with a military installation, but the most amazing thing I've experienced is the support that we've received within the military community. I truly appreciate every single share of a social media post, every sign-up for our newsletter, every tutor who applies to help our students, and every piece of advice I receive to help us improve (and I get a lot!).

How do you want to be remembered? I'd like Tutors By Base to be known throughout the military as a great resource for both education and employment. As for me, I want my family and friends to remember me as someone who loved them and made them laugh.

Twitter: tutorsbybase

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