When Tina Tower was 13, she fled home. She left her mother’s tumultuous household to live with her father.
Nine months later, she was back with mum. In her words, her dad didn’t want her either.
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It’s the sort of thing no one wants to go through, but for Tower it gave her a “whole heap of resilience”, and just as much determination to get as much as she could out of life.
Today, Tower is a millionaire businesswoman, author and mentor, having launched tutoring company Begin Bright in 2008 and selling it for a massive – but confidential – sum to international education company, Cognition Education, in 2016.
She began tutoring in university in university when she saw an advertisement for tutors paying $40 an hour, and thought it seemed a great idea.
“That's where it stemmed from, and then I got carried away and I ended up opening a tutoring centre and a birthday party place, and an educational toy store all in one,” she told Yahoo Finance.
“At the time, it didn't seem young. I did everything quite early. I started a business at 20, I got married at 21, I had my kids at 24, and at the time it seemed quite normal. Now I look at people that age and I go, oh, no wonder everyone said, 'Wow, she's really young.'”
“Now 24-year-olds look really young.”
How did she do it?
As a teenager, Tower discovered personal development seminars and programs. The idea that she could create whatever life she wanted was magic, and it stuck.
The ethic was there, but the challenges remained. Namely her age.
“I think that if you want a life less ordinary, you've got to be prepared for a little bit of a challenge. But in the early days, the first thing I came up against really was getting people to take me seriously,” she said.
“I couldn't get trade accounts, for example, because a lot of people would ask to speak to the boss. They'd see me and just think I was working for somebody at that age.
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“Or, I couldn't get accounts because I didn't have a lot of financial history. That was probably the most challenging thing at the start, just trying to work out the cash flow.”
But Tower considers herself a “doer”. The ability to just get things done was innate.
The motherhood shift
When she became a mum at 24, Tower realised that the way her business was operating had to change.
Operating seven days a week, she needed to learn how to delegate, and shift the job to one she could perform from home.
“I closed the retail store and started licensing that around the country. It grew all throughout the country with different teachers running it. I ran that for two years while I was at home, and I had one baby at 24, my next one at 25.
“It worked perfectly for having my little people with me and being able to work from home and do that.”
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Soon, people came to Tower asking for business advice.
“They didn't just want a teaching program, they knew that I was running successful tutoring centres so we started franchising in 2011. That's really when business escalated, so then my husband became a stay-at-home dad.”
Begin Bright swelled to 33 centres before she sold it in 2016.
‘As businesswomen, there are no rules’
One of the benefits of running your own business as a mother is that “there are no rules", Tower said.
She could tailor the business around the life balance she wanted to have. For her, this meant keeping her kids with her.
By her second son’s first birthday, he had been on 16 flights as he travelled with her wherever she went.
“I never really made any apologies for that. I would go into meetings with him in a baby sling, and it was just like a very normal thing for me. I'd go into the accountant, into the lawyer, whatever meetings I was doing, and they'd just come with me.
“I don't really buy into this thing that we have to separate the two. It was a big combination.”
As they grew older, she shifted to compartmentalising work and family time. This meant learning to work as productively as possible so that when she was with her family, she was completely with them.
She called it hyper-planning.
“Instead of starting the workday and looking at my to-do list and going, ‘Okay, what should I do now?’ I had 90-day plans for projects.”
These plans would be broken down into weekly goals, daily tasks and hourly jobs.
“Because if you don't plan it like that, things will crop up, people will call or things happen and then the day just disappears and you've lost it.”
It took her time to grow used to this style of working, but she found that ultimately it helped her stop getting overwhelmed.
“Having that plan and that list eliminated that overwhelm for me, because then I could have a plan with how it's all going to happen, start at the beginning, and just know that I've got all the time in the world for everything I want to get done. I'm just going to start at number one and go for it.”
Tower also credits her partner with supporting her success, but bristles at the notion that she’s ‘lucky’ to have a partner willing to be the primary carer.
“One of the most frustrating things is how many women say how lucky I am, and while it is lucky, I do think a lot of women that stay home so their husbands can take the lead don't get celebrated in the same way that their husbands do,” she said.
“I've always very much viewed our relationship as a partnership and whoever's enjoying work at the moment can take the lead with that.
“We're a team. I think that makes a really, really big difference.”
If Tower had one piece of advice, it would be that if there’s a “life you want to lead”, it’s possible.
“We're sold all this stuff all the time that you can't have it all, and don't get too big for your boots and all of these different things that kind of keep us not living the life that really brings us joy.
“I talk to people all the time that have been just sitting on an idea for years that they love, but they're like, ‘I just don't know if it's possible for me.’
“That drives me bonkers, because I want everyone that has a dream to know that they can - as corny as it sounds - actually work at it and achieve it.”
Tina Tower’s book, One Life – How to Have the Life of your Dreams, will hit bookstores nationally on Monday 2 December.
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