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Entrepreneur of the Month: Kate Zhou

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The founder of Yifan Mandarin shares the secrets of her success

My business is teaching Mandarin as a second language to children (12 months up) and adults. I  opened Yifan Mandarin in Central in 2002 and in Discovery Bay in 2011. We follow an interactive teaching approach in a small group setting, and we try to keep our classes fun. We engage the children in games and activities while they learn the language. We also tailor-make the curriculum to suit the teaching needs of students.

Yifan Mandarin is a success because I love the language and I’m passionate about teaching it. As Richard Branson once said, “Entrepreneurship is about turning what excites you in life into capital, so that you can do more of it and move forward with it.”

To succeed in business, you need to be focused. The trick is to focus on one aspect of your work at a time and get better at it every day. I have a huge admiration for all those traditional craftsmen who spend a lifetime perfecting one thing.

My advice for someone looking to start up a business is to embrace change. Changes come at you every day from different directions – you need to be prepared for that and enjoy it. The greatest challenge I’ve faced in business has been surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. I faced another challenging time about a decade ago when Mandarin went from being an after-school programme to an everyday subject that’s taught in most schools. I was forced to change up our business model and we managed to pull through.

When hiring staff, I always ask them about their favourite teacher when they were a student. I ask them to explain what they particularly liked about that teacher.

The thing that interests me most about my business is working with the language that has shaped me since birth. I like teaching Mandarin to adults as well as children – it’s a joy – but, without doubt, some of my most entertaining on-the-job moments have happened with kids. One of my favourites concerns a six-year-old student, Simon [not his real name]. Simon was always picked up after class by his mum or helper but on this particular day, a man arrived to collect him, 20 minutes late. Simon refused to move and said to his teacher, in Mandarin, “I don’t know him, I cannot go with him.” The teacher then asked the man who he was, and he said he was the boy’s father. Simon’s mother confirmed this over the phone, and Simon burst out laughing and ran out. As dad followed suit he said, “It looks like I’ll have to learn Mandarin too!”

My greatest achievement is that both my children are fluent in Mandarin, even though ours is a mixed household linguistically and we speak mainly English at home. My husband is French and the kids have attended the French International School since they were three-years-old.

My plan for the future is to expand my business. I want to make the Yifan Mandarin Teaching Service available in more schools and in more areas across Hong Kong.

My personal motto is ‘What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.’ Confucius said that. Translated to my business, this means I don’t offer clients any service that I would not want to receive myself.

Find it
Contact Yifan Mandarin at 2486 9012; send an email to [email protected] or visit www.yifanmandarin.com

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