Meaningful Relationships the Key to Building an Empire
Media outlets have dubbed Anthony Fok a “super tutor”. From his inaugural class of six students, today he teaches a 300-strong cohort every year, with his tutoring empire generating a yearly revenue to the tune of a million dollars. What is the secret to his success? Canon sat down with the economics tutor to learn about his motivations and business tips.
Anthony sips his beloved iced milo, his sustenance that fuels him for an entire day of lessons. Three times a week, he conducts lessons at his tuition agencies nestled in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and along Tampines Street. Storytelling is his penchant, and so he regales his students with anecdotes about the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and his two-dollar Certificate of Entitlement (COE) bid. He ties these anecdotes back to topics on Singapore’s economy and negative externalities.
This has been his routine since 2012, a cadence of life he has developed for himself. But life was not always a bed of roses for the 33-year-old self-made entrepreneur. His earlier business ventures rang up about S$100,000 in debt; his then landlord even issued a demand letter chasing for the overdue rental payments. To clear his debt, Anthony had to take on multiple part-time jobs. The entire experience, he recalls, was a nightmare.
“I was 22, young and impulsive,” Anthony quips. He attributes not having an exit strategy and knowing when to cut his losses as his mistakes. “A failing business will keep an entrepreneur busy as he has to put out many fires — to the point he doesn’t have the time to sit down and review what went wrong. Many entrepreneurs in this situation think that with perseverance, they will eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I’ve learnt that this is not true. Sometimes, it’s better to cease the business altogether.”
Once you see a negative balance in your bank account, it is time to rethink, re-strategise and rebuild your business.
Starting with a clean slate but also emerging wiser from his experience, Anthony launched his next venture: JCEconomics.com. Finding what is unique about his business is key to his success. “It is what compels a customer to pay you the additional dollar, even when your offerings are priced more expensive than your competitors’.” Penning more than 15 guidebooks and authoring the Ten Year Series Economics books have given him an authoritative voice that garners industry respect. “These accolades are what differentiate me from other tutors.”
Also, overpromising and underdelivering are big no-nos to Anthony. He readily admits his lessons are not magical formulas that guarantee a distinction; instead, they are a tool that renews a student’s interest in the subject.
“Be honest about the product or service you’re selling. The best litmus test is to ask yourself: ‘Would I use it?’; and ‘Would I let my loved ones use it?’. If the answers are a resounding ‘yes’, you have already won half the battle.”
In business, your reputation is everything. You may fool one or two persons with an inferior offering, but you cannot fool the world. Never compromise your integrity.
To maintain his hard-won business reputation, Anthony insists on teaching the lessons himself. A burnout, at times, inevitably follows. His remedy? Taking a photograph together with every student of his. He has since collected thousands of such photographs, and he sifts through them whenever he experiences fatigue. Knowing that his ex-students are enjoying success rejuvenates his passion for teaching. “I urge entrepreneurs to find what gives them job satisfaction, and hold on to the beautiful memories whenever the going gets tough.”
Standing out in a saturated milieu
In a business context, Anthony’s students are his customers yet he bucks the trend of keeping his relationships strictly transactional. When he is not in class, Anthony spends his time meeting students for one-on-one consultations at no extra charges and even writes letters of recommendation for their university applications. “To me, a tutor has to do more than deliver knowledge. To be a tutor is to be a life coach. Every Chinese New Year and Christmas, I keep in touch with my ex-students via text messages and lend them moral support in times of need such as being present at the wakes of their grandparents. The personal stories that I tell in class, as well as these gestures, help cultivate trust.”
Many entrepreneurs start out by thinking about the monetary rewards. They count every dollar and cent. But profit comes only as a product of the efforts one puts in.
Anthony’s passion, dovetailed with dedication, has earned him national recognition. Word-of-mouth recommendations also underpin his business’s exponential growth. “Go the extra mile for your clients, whether they are big names or not. Even if they do not achieve their eventual goals, they know you have done your very best for them.”