A vital trait for businesses to have, adaptability ensures that you are prepared to respond to changing circumstances. We spoke to Sophie Cooper of Read with Phonics – a website and app that teaches children how to read by using phonics – and found out how she quickly had to adapt to the realities of the educational resource market.

About us

My name is Sophie Cooper and I am an ex-primary school teacher and the founder of ReadwithPhonics.com. As a primary school teacher for year one pupils, I saw the impact that learning how to read has on a child's education and it amazed me. Reading is the most vital skill in all of education. There’s a reason why it’s the first thing you learn when you start school: you simply cannot progress without it. Yet one in seven people in England lack basic literacy skills and our methods for teaching children how to read haven't changed in years.

My website and app teaches children to read through phonics (the idea of breaking the English language down into just 44 sounds). Each sound is taught in a specific order through a series of fun games that get progressively harder. Each student has control of their own game, allowing them to learn at their own pace and in their own time. I launched the app just over two years ago and the website a little over a year ago. We recently relaunched the website under a new brand name, Read with Phonics.

Importance of adapting

Running a business is very different to running a classroom! I am often asked: what is the hardest thing about running your own business? It is a difficult question and, to be honest, my answer would change on a month-by-month, week-by-week or even day-by-day basis as we encounter new challenges! It seems that almost every day there are new obstacles to overcome. Some bigger projects take months (or even years!) to work out and generate results, while others can get done in a day. With these challenges in mind, I would say that the biggest lesson I have learnt since starting my business is the ability to adapt. (I believe it is also called 'pivoting' in the business world!).

While I have always kept the same values and reason for starting Read with Phonics at heart, it doesn't mean that I haven't had to adapt my business. How I thought we would make money at the start is not how I make money now. I have had to adapt to what my customers want, as well as what is working and what isn't. I run the company in a very results-oriented way. If certain types of videos, printable worksheets and online games are working, or 'taking off' as we say, then we make more of that kind of resource. We also listen to what teachers in the classroom say: that is the best kind of feedback we can get. They are the ones using our products day in, day out to teach up to 30 children to read. It is no small task and we want to be sure that we are providing them with the best possible product at all times.

Adapting to meet changing needs

A prominent example of us having to adapt comes from the fact that we were only an app when we first launched. In my mind, this was the future and the way that classroom teaching was going. Every school was buying tablets and new, interactive resources were the future. But it wasn't how everyone was teaching at that moment, so we struggled to generate new users. So, I had to make our whole app available to use online. Students and teachers were familiar with using  online resources through a variety of other websites, even if they were a bit outdated.

It was a huge task and one which required further funding and months of work, but it was worth it. We started getting more users and organic traffic from search engines,  although I was still keen for even more people to find out about us. In order to work towards this, I recently started to make printable phonics resources that work alongside our digital ones. I always wanted to be the 'complete classroom resource' for teaching students to learn how to read, but building up this portfolio of resources has taken a huge amount of time. I’m now also making videos and coming up with new, innovative resources like our phonics soundwall. These resources have all been inspired by the feedback we get from thousands of teachers all around the world.

Where we are now

When I think of how my business has changed over the past two years, it is really amazing. One classic example of how we have had to adapt is that when we first launched we were actually paid for by schools and free for parents. It wasn't working, so I flipped it around and we became free for schools and paid for by parents. It meant my resources were getting into schools quicker and we were generating lots of new users, while we also had the trickle down effect of parents buying the app or paying for further access to the website after receiving recommendations from their teachers. What better word of mouth can you get as an educational resource than that of your teacher?

If I had stuck to remaining solely as an app, we would not have grown as a business. The times and the way we teach children in classrooms are forever changing, with new and innovative resources constantly coming and going , and my business and I need to change along with them. So if there’s one thing I have learnt since starting my business it is to be flexible, adaptable and ready to move and change in order to survive.

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