Today we’d like to introduce you to Brande LaHaye.
Brande, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Living in LA, the land of opportunity, can be a love hate relationship for anyone. A real sink or swim type of place. I guess I chose to swim. Feeling beat down by my lack of career, despite my hard working driven attitude, I had just had my second child. My husband and I were getting by, but I craved so much more. Before becoming a stay at home mom in 2005, my career consisted of preschool teacher and nanny. I’ve always loved working with children and it’s something that always came natural to me. While both those jobs fulfilled the “working with children” category, I felt there was something missing. I thought maybe being a stay at home mom was the answer. I had two children and stayed home for 5 years. I still felt something was missing and that there had to be more in store for me. I’ve never been afraid of hard work, I just didn’t know where to channel that energy.
When my second son was two years old I took him to swim lessons. The lessons were very expensive, but it was with this guru swim coach who was all the rage here in LA. I sat at the lesson everyday watching the teacher and watching my son scream his head off and then it hit me. I can do this, and I can do it better. That’s when iSwimin10 was born. Well not really, I wish. More like that’s when I dipped my big toe in the shallow end.
I was no stranger to the water. I had been a swimmer and water polo player back in high school. Teaching swim lessons at the YMCA was my first job at the age of 15. That, combined with my child development background, and my experience as a mother, had culminated in providing a pathway to the next chapter in my life.
Needless to say my son did not learn to swim from the guru, and that was ok because I was going to teach him. My son was 2 ½ and my first client. He quickly became such a good swimmer my friends were asking me to teach their kids. Immediately my relaxing summer turned into a somewhat lucrative side gig and more importantly I was driven! I’m not sure how or why, but I was good at teaching. My first big breakthrough moment came from a friend of mine. She had a heated pool and 3 kids of her own. In exchange for lessons she lent me her pool, 2hrs a day for two weeks. She told me I could book as many students as I wanted. The word had spread and finding clients was not a problem. I created a 2 week intensive program where the kids came every day M-F for 2 weeks. To say those 2 weeks were successful would be an understatement. I guess this is really where iSwimin10 was born.
The next summer we moved into a house with a pool that we could not afford. It was a huge financial risk and I was sick to my stomach. As fate would have it, I was booked solid 3 months in advance with lessons and tripled my business that year. The risk paid off.
Has it been a smooth road?
In terms of starting a business I would have to say it’s been a smooth road. That’s not to say it isn’t a lot of work. I started small, that’s key. Every summer I would give myself a new goal. I’m very hard on myself and can be somewhat of a perfectionist. I wanted iSwimin10 to be the best swim school in the valley. I’m a dreamer when it comes to my business but I’m also extremely cautious. I think iSwimin10 is as successful as it is because I pour my heart and soul into it. I love what I do and seeing my clients thrive is more rewarding than my net profit.
About 3 years ago is when I realized what I started was big. I knew I was good at what I did, but I didn’t know WHY I was. I prided myself on the fact that I could easily fill an entire summer with clients with doing zero advertising. It was all word of mouth. But why was I good? Did I have a technique? Should I develop a technique? That’s when I spent an entire summer developing my program. I was able to teach swim lesson, but I also needed to be able to train other teachers in what I did. This was/is by far the biggest hurdle for me.
Another big struggle for me is self-doubt. Even five years into a successful business, every March, as I’m gearing up for my season, I’ll say to my husband “What if no one comes?” He tells me I think like a lawyer, always thinking it terms of “worst case scenario” But my fear of failure kicks in and I jump feet first into another season determined to make it better than the last.
Every year I learn how to be a better business owner. How to manage my time, and my client. What works what doesn’t. I know I can’t please everyone, but I certainly try.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
One look at my YELP reviews and one word will stick out in almost every review “firm”, usually followed by “but gentle”. I am firm, I have a no nonsense way of teaching swim lessons. We get right to the point. We don’t sing, we don’t blow bubbles, and we don’t play with toys. However, the preschool teacher/mom in me is also there. I give hugs and high fives. We laugh, we joke, we talk about life (yes, 3yr olds love to talk about life).
At iSwimin10 we have a firm no parent involvement policy. Helicopter parents can take a seat on the landing pad a good 8ft away from the pool. Parents can easily watch the lesson but the only interaction is a quiet thumbs up from mom or dad. Sometimes we get parents who think this rule doesn’t apply to them. This is when being a business owner can be challenging. I had a parent get really mad at me once because I asked him to please sit down and stop interrupting the lesson. However, at the end of the 10 days he apologized and told me I was absolutely right.
I’m very clear with my clients that every child learns at a different rate and in a different way. iSwimin10 was developed to take 6 months’ worth of swim lessons at a local public pool, and fit it all into 10 days. We specialize in taking a child who is completely terrified of the water and in 10 days is completely in love with the water. I’ve literally had parents cry tears of joy over a child that had a prior traumatic swimming experience who wouldn’t even touch the water, swim on his own across my pool. My job is incredibly rewarding. I’m not only teaching a lifesaving skill, I’m teaching children to conquer fears.
iSwimin10 has become a hidden gem of Valley Village. We are not a huge facility. We take the yucky bathrooms, over chlorinated pools, over crowded classes, and inexperienced teenage teachers out of the mix and replace it with experienced knowledgeable teachers, a crystal clear pool, a shaded patio table, and a clean private bathroom. Because we are so small, our summer fills up quick and we have to turn away clients, and that’s just the way we like it!
When I think of my business, I’m most proud of the way I treat and handle my clients. I really love what I do and all of my clients can see that. While I have a basic formula that I created, I realize that every child learns differently. I’m constantly thinking outside of the box in order to reach every child that comes to iSwimin10. Just when I think I’ve got it down, a child will prove me wrong. I lose sleep over them, I research, I ponder, I don’t give up, I’m constantly learning.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Like I said, LA is the land of opportunity. It’s the perfect place for me because of our ample sun. It’s not the cheapest place to own a small business, but that’s the sunshine tax, right? I believe, as long as people have a unique talent for what they do along with passion and determination you can start a business anywhere. For me, LA is home (although I was born and raised in San Diego). I’ve laid down roots here, and have successfully created a hidden gem in Studio City and Valley Village.
- The price for 10 days (M-F) is $375
- Website: iSwimin10.com
- Phone: (818)732-9220
- Email: iSwimin10@gmail.com
- Facebook: iSwimin10
- Yelp: iSwimin10 in Valley Village