The Woman Who Will Make a Successful Educational Agent - How to Start - The Office and its Equipment - A Warning - An Inconsiderate Employer - Where to Start - An Unsatisfactory Combination - Prospects Offered by the Work
There are women with a wide circle of acquaintance among families who prefer private governesses for their daughters to sending them to school; or, again, women who have taught and come into personal contact with secondary schools for girls, and who, having arrived at middle-age, think there is an opportunity for them to open an educational agency.
The woman best adapted for this kind of work is one who has had teaching experience of her own, either in a family or school, and thus knows at first hand the duties expected of those who follow this calling.
Indeed, the more varied the experience she carries with her into the agency office, the better ; for she will then understand the needs and difficulties of both the would-be employers and the employed, and can estimate correctly the salary that should be attached to any particular post.
Such an agent requires to possess tact in dealing with people, capacity for organisation, and businesslike, methodical ways. The most successful agents the writer has known were cultured women who not only brought to their work these qualifications, but were also intensely human. They never seemed too busy to lend an ear to the description of the delightful post Miss A. had obtained through the agency, or the woes of Miss B. with unmanageable children in another ; nor did they regard the anxious mother in search of "a nice, clever governess" merely as a business client, but entered fully and sympathetically into the qualifications of the woman most suitable to be the girls' instructress.
All this, of course, implies interest in and memory of individuals. Since many applicants at the office will be foreigners, it is desirable that the agent should be able to converse in French and German at least sufficiently well to arrange an engagement.
A start cannot be made without some amount of capital, enough at any rate to cover a year or two's rental of the office and clerical expenses, also the advertisements which must be inserted in the daily papers and educational publications, and which form a considerable item of expenditure. If the agent herself can use the typewriter, she can save at first the expense of a typist, but as her connection grows, she will need an assistant to do correspondence and to receive callers.
At least two rooms will be wanted - a general office with plenty of chairs arranged along the wall near the door, and a table supplied with periodicals to while away the waiting minutes of clients; and there should be also a table in a corner away from the door where the agent sits at her desk and notes down requirements. An inner room, too, is necessary for interviews between intending employers and governesses. Sometimes the agent secures an additional small third room, but this is a superfluous luxury at first.
She will require a set of reference books such as " Who's Who," " Debrett," scholastic directories, and maps ; and, if she means to conduct her business methodically, will not stint expenditure on a card index cabinet for names, addresses, and particulars of clients, as well as ledgers and files for papers.
These can be purchased gradually, as they are needed. It is essential, however, that every item of information should be quickly available, and all past dealings with clients turned up at a moment's notice. Several useful hints on this matter might be gained by seeing how the indexing is done at a Labour Exchange.
Forms will have to be drawn up and printed for governess clients. These should contain pertinent questions concerning their qualifications, including degrees, diplomas, or certificates held, subjects taught, names and addresses of at least two recent employers, the nature of the engagement sought - that is, scholastic or private, resident or non-resident - and an agreement to pay a certain percentage on an engagement obtained through the agency. This may be 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of the first year's salary, or a guinea for certain temporary engagements. If an engagement is terminated before the year is completed, and another post is found through the same agency, another percentage would be due.
The form is to be signed by the applicant and sent to the agent, with copies of testimonials. A registration fee of about five shillings is usually required to cover postage and clerical expenses, and a possible advertisement in a newspaper.
A word or two of warning concerning these advertisements may not be amiss. It is a temptation to an agent when a particularly attractive post or a particularly attractive governess is "on the books" to use an advertisement for all it is worth. This is quite right so long as the post is vacant, and the governess disengaged ; the mistake is made in allowing the advertisement to be inserted when it can serve no other purpose than a bait. This is particularly exasperating to a governess who sees an advertisement of a post which appears exactly what she wants, and arrives at the office to find the vacancy filled. Moreover, her journey may have cost her something she can ill afford to lose.
In cases where certain forms of religion or sect may prove a hindrance to an engagement, the religion should be specified in the advertisement.
The public weakness for titled references is often exploited. " Lady A. recommends a bright, clever young governess " ; or " Baroness C. warmly recommends her charming governess," being evidently inserted to attract the eyes of the nouveaux riches.
Sometimes " No engagement, no fee," is added to an advertisement.
The fairest way to treat clients is to give the employer particulars of several ladies likely to suit, and to notify them all by the same post, using a printed form on which are stated the name and address of the employer, requirements, number and ages of pupils, any restriction as to age and holidays, the salary offered, a convenient hour for calling, or " apply by letter," if that is preferred.
Some agents ask to be informed whether application for the post will be made or not, and doubtless this precaution is taken as the result of experience. Moreover, the special recommendation of the agent goes a long way towards the satisfactory conclusion of an engagement.
It is unusual to charge a fee to the employer, the governess contributing this out of her salary. Arrangements are, the writer believes, sometimes made to tax the prospective salary. It is curious to note the procedure of the public in general when engaging women, whom, presumably, they consider gentlewomen worthy of educating their daughters. Very, very rarely is the cost of a journey preparatory to an interview defrayed, though now, in nine cases out of ten, the employei bears the burden of the agent's fee.
Perhaps the agent herself might do something to improve matters by suggesting the payment of fares, which a domestic servant would expect as a matter of course.
All communications must be regarded as strictly confidential, and this fact should be clearly stated on the leaflet of ' Regulations " the applicant signs. This is a right stipulation to make, yet it must have been gross carelessness, or want of consideration, on the part of a mother who set going three agencies at once, and gave to each the same hour for applicants to call. The consequences can be imagined. The large West End drawing-room became crowded with a forlorn host of women. It was a most depressing sight as they sat and alternately surveyed each other and the door. The last comers, indeed, on being ushered into the room, and seeing the state of things, at once departed. The agents were probably not responsible, but, for all that, such an incident reflects badly upon an agency.
As to the choice of locality for the agency, a shopping centre is distinctly the best, situated in a quarter of the town where well-to-do women shop. Many offices, indeed, are over shops. In London they will be found in the neighbourhood of Bond Street. If premises are chosen over a shop, a brass plate should be prominently displayed in the entry below, and the name of the agency on the windows of the main office. It is all very well to say " What's in a name ? " but certainly in the case of an agency success or failure may be in the name. Another matter is worth mentioning.
It is most unsatisfactory to endeavour to combine a domestic agency with an educational one ; and though many agents successfully combine the two branches of educational agencies - viz., private governesses and teachers in secondary private schools - yet these two branches tend to become distinct. An agent usually specialises in that one with which she has had most personal experience. Although, in saying this, the writer does not mean to imply that an agent must have taught girls herself, yet it is easy to see that if she is familiar with up-to-date methods of teaching, knows the curriculum of an average school, and the life an accomplished governess of today leads, she possesses valuable knowledge.
What are the prospects offered by conducting an, agency ? Given an agent who possesses the qualifications mentioned above, and deals fairly with all comers, it should not be long before a good clientele is secured. It must be remembered that every engagement she arranges satisfactorily will probably bring others in its train.
" How did you secure that nice governess ? " people ask of the mother.
" What agent found you that nice post ? " friends ask the governess.
And so the circle widens.
It must not be forgotten that there is a possibility in the future that Labour Exchanges will absorb the teaching as well as other professions. But that day is not yet. Meanwhile, the capable and honest agent does a beneficent work, and one that is neither excessively hard nor exacting.