Sam Levingston of Albany OSHC
Carryn Hills recently caught up with long time friend Sam Levingston owner manager of Albany OSHC (Outside School Hours Care), a successful start-up business, that was borne out of a gap in the market, faith, a lucky opportunity, planning and sheer hard work. Read on to learn about the person, and the pathway that has culminated into this wonderful essential service business.
Carryn says ...
Sam and I first crossed paths when I started doing her tax returns in 2011. In waddled a very pregnant lady and as I was an equally waddling pregnant lady at the time we already found mutual ground to chat about. We further cemented that commonality by discovering that we were both relocated South Africans. Our babies were due within weeks of each other and we had a very similar sense of humour. A foundation of friendship was set.
It’s now a strange experience to interview a friend of 8 years. I would have assumed I know most of what there is to know about Sam, but as it transpired there is always more. So here is a snapshot of Sam’s story of teaching and children to start up.
Sam trained as a primary school teacher but ended up teaching as a high school English and Geography teacher in South Africa. Being employed through the Education Department of South Africa had it's drawbacks, including being unpaid, for months of time. This shortly became frustrating and, with the economic climate of South Africa changing, Sam soon started looking further afield for opportunities for herself and family.
Having an aunt already based in Margaret River singing the praises of Australia, the decision was an easy one. She arrived in 2002 to Perth with two kids aged 2 and 4. At first Sam took a year off to find her feet and get the family settled.
She soon itched to get back into her field and did some relief teaching at schools. Finding both the curriculum and behaviour management approach very different to South African schooling she remained unsettled. Looking at alternatives it was suggested she look at TAFE, and there she found the opportunity to further develop her skillset.
Starting with lecturing education assistants and soon after moving into the childcare department it wasn’t long before her managerial skills were recognised, and she moved first into a position of head of traineeship and later as a team leader of the whole childcare team. These first tastes of management made her realise that, while she loved her field of education, she really enjoyed managing people.
Sam worked in these roles at TAFE over a period of 7 years. This eventually saw her moving down to Albany where she still fulfilled her role in an online capacity as well as training at our local TAFE’s early childhood department. This continued for a further 8 years until 2017 when TAFE had a major restructure. TAFE offered her a redundancy and from that emerged a chance to look at where she wanted to go from there. She knew she wanted stay in the industry she was in connected to working with children and further use her skills of managing people but how?
The Start (Up)
Having put her children through the schooling system and being exposed to working parents over the course of those years Sam had often heard the parents lament the lack of options for after-school and vacation care here in Albany. So, the seed of an idea sprouted. All she needed was the confidence to move it forward.
Having chatted with Sam about her ideas and seeing the need for her to get the idea validated we offered Sam an extraordinary opportunity. We brought her idea to the table, so to speak, by raising it as a business planning case study for the whole of Lincolns team at a professional development training session.
If she couldn’t sell her story to a room of accountants, then when would she be able to! It was a tough crowd. We peppered her with questions. We grilled her on her assumptions, including occupancy rates. We built her cashflow projections, and did a breakeven analysis.We brainstormed other considerations including marketing, insurances, risk, and structure. What started as an idea was now taking form – and with the form the confidence grew.
Presuming that her staffing needs were going to be met with ex-students and from within her professional network, the next steps were licencing and location. The biggest determinant of breakeven was finding a location that was going to work within budget that ticked all the requirements for licencing. It was determined that schools were the best and easiest option to set it up.
After finding a location and going through the massive paper trail that was licencing and dealing with government departments Sam was finally set to go and opened on 31 January 2018. This process took about 7 months.
The commencement of the business was tougher than expected. She really felt the stress as the early booking numbers were low, and not even close where they needed to be for breakeven. A phone call from an industry acquaintance in Perth reassured Sam to be patient and persistent, so she sat it out knowing that this was common. Soon her numbers started to increase. Word of mouth and a solid reputation being built meant that by the second school vacation she was at breakeven and by the end of her first year she was nearing full capacity for most days.
The business has since been such a success that she has started the 2019 year off by offering another choice of before school care to working parents.
What she learnt
There were many early lessons and surprises.
- The adjustment to her family life was massive. There was an obvious sacrifice. Going from working school hours to the exact opposite saw Sam being present for other children, and not her own.
- Learning to let go and rely on staff to be responsible for many parts of what she was creating was difficult. But this adjustment was essential so she could maintain that important work life balance.
- She learnt fast though that while her business is in its infancy she was still very much the face of the business and therefore must be present.
- Sam says she very much underestimated how much energy was required to be present.
- Child care is now highly regulated. It requires a strong system of policies and forward planning that have allowed the centre to operate smoothly. Part of this had to be set in place for licencing to occur but Sam was surprised how much those policies became the ethos that the staff followed. They live to the words that she had put in place and the sense of reward she gets from that is great.
- Albany OSHC is a centre that wants to get children outdoors, interacting with nature and their environment. Sam believes that children learn through play. She believes that behaviour is easier to manage when kids are constantly engaged with new experiences. All the children have choices of how and what they do throughout their day (within the bounds of available activity).
- A big focus is including children with additional needs. his allows her to create an environment of inclusivity which she feels strongly about.
With the success of the start-up and now having a strong year behind her Sam is looking forward. She can now confidently visualise some new ideas. We will revisit the business plan, update the cashflow projections to determine which ideas to shelve and which to expand upon. Expansion to other locations is also a factor being explored.
We both look forward to exciting new ventures ahead.
Yakamia Primary School, Beaufort Rd, Albany WA 6330
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