Sara Lou-Ann Jones is the founder of Centre of Excellence, a leading global e-learning platform which offers a range of online transformative training courses that are accessible to all.
Sara’s first business was selling advertising space at the age of 19 which she did for four years. After studying NLP and hypnotherapy, Sara became a teacher in those subjects and provided classroom-based programmes and training to others.
In 2013, Sara launched the Centre of Excellence initially with just the one NLP course that she was teaching already. The organisation now offers over 1,000 online courses with students in over 30 different countries. Courses cover subjects from Animal Care to Psychology and have no time limit, so customers can take a completely flexible approach with their learning.
Entirely self-funded, Sara has built Centre of Excellence into a global, multi-million-pound brand with 16 full-time staff in the UK with a turnover reaching £3 million.
Sara was profiled in “Voice & Vote“, the official Vote 100 commemorative album compiled by the History of Parliament Trust in 2018 which marks the 100th year of women gaining the right to vote in the UK. Sara is featured within the book as Vote 100’s representative for the Online Education Industry. They recognise her determination to launch and grow her business despite obstacles in her path. Pregnant with her first child and a partner who chose not to be involved, Sara nevertheless wanted to create a good life for her child.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I was born in Manchester and I started my first proper business when I was just 19 selling advertising space, so I’ve always had the entrepreneurial streak in me. When I started that business at 19 I remember my mum worrying and saying that I should just get myself a good job with a good pension etc… but I’ve always been very independent so started the business from my living room regardless which I went on to do for 3 years. I started off doing classroom-based NLP & Hypnotherapy training which I did for 4 years before starting the online business. I came out of a long-term relationship of 6 years and as we went our separate ways I found out that I was pregnant. When I told my ex-partner he decided he didn’t want to be involved in our child’s life and so I started thinking about how I could support myself and a baby on my own as I wanted to create a wonderful life for my child. At the time I had been teaching classroom-based courses and so was away from home a lot and I wanted something that I could do working from home so that I could spend as much time as possible with my baby, this is where the idea for running online courses came from and hence Centre of Excellence was born. I started off selling just the 1 course which was NLP and we now have over 1,000 online courses which we sell in 30 different countries.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Once I’d come up with the idea to sell online courses I sat down and wrote out all of my goals for the business and how I was going to achieve them. It’s really important to have goals and then to look at strategies for how you’re going to achieve them. Before then I had always been entrepreneurial but didn’t really sit down and plan my career as such.
Have you faced any particular challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Employing the right team members, though this doesn’t just affect women bosses, when I first started my company I made a few bad hire choices with a couple of people that took my kindness for weakness and tried to take advantage of the fact that their role was home based. One man that I employed I later found out had even started another job somewhere else whilst still working for me and was lying about the work that he was completing and was invoicing me for hours that he hadn’t worked. I soon learnt to be more assertive and told him that I wasn’t a pushover to which he apologised and tried to send me a revised invoice, needless to say I didn’t work with him again! I then put more stringent systems and processes in place to track productivity for staff members. It’s all a learning process!
When I first started my business, I didn’t have any help with childcare. I remember when I first started out answering the phone to a customer while breast feeding the baby on one breast and expressing milk on another – a real working mum! When my son was very young I would set up a mini baby assault course round the room including things like a baby gym and a swing, and different toys that would keep him entertained. I would move him round every 20 minutes on to the different baby entertainment mats to keep him occupied while I worked on the settee next to him.
If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?
I would say to be seen more as an equal to men. Regardless of how far we have come in business and in life in general, some men do still treat women as the underdog when it comes to business.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I’ve mentored quite a few people and love seeing others go on to achieve great things. I think it’s great to have a mentor if you can find someone who has achieved what you want to achieve and to learn off them. I don’t currently have a mentor and haven’t had one so far but as I’m looking to take my business to the next level I would really like to get one. The trick is to find someone that has been there and done it and can really share what works and what doesn’t as there are lots of mentors and coaches out there looking for work that haven’t achieved the results that you’re aiming for so choose wisely.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Aside from my 3 beautiful children, my biggest achievement in my business is growing it to a £3million turnover whilst having 3 children working from home and our courses helping so many people worldwide. We recently launched some awards to celebrate how our learners have gone on to use their courses and I am always blown away with the video entries from all over the world with how people have gone on to either set up a new business or to improve their lives in some way.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future?
My main goal is to get to £1million a month turnover, we are currently hitting £250k a month so it’s a huge goal but I do love a challenge. When I first started my business, my aim was to make £3,000 per month which at the time was a lot of money to me so its great to see just how far we have come. We have lost of new projects in the pipeline that we are looking to launch later this year that will bring in additional revenue streams such as a membership site and lots of new products.