In the first of a series of articles to celebrate our 20th year of operation, Lana Foster, Founder and Managing Director, reflects on how communications in our job and at Bright World have changed over the years.
In the early days of Bright World, my office was my spare room and the most important machine in it was the fax machine. That was all I needed really. While I was asleep at night, pages and pages of students' school reports would be arriving on my fax machine. The trail of paper across the floor every morning would offer me peace of mind that my business idea had been a good one.
The trail of reports belonged to students who wanted to study in the UK. My next job was to separate all the reports into different students and type a fax; one for each of the UK boarding schools they wanted to apply to and then fax the reports onto each school individually.
All further correspondence with overseas parents or agents would be done by fax and, when I needed a quicker response, by phone, right through until the student confirmed their place, usually by bankers draft, that would arrive in the post. My telephone bill was one of my biggest expenses.
(The photo shows me, in my spare room office, with my very first fax machine in the background that was upgraded to the bigger one in the foreground - I really felt I had made it).
Brochures were the main point of reference for information in those days, so I would have to print and post out my brochures for boarding school placements and for my UK guardianship services. In turn, I relied on school prospectuses for fees and general information when counselling my overseas students. Each year I would replace old brochures with new and resend them around the world.
The guardianship of international students was fast becoming my biggest programme, and with very few other guardianship companies operating in the UK, there was much demand for my services. All arrangements for host family placements and airport transfers were made either by telephone or by post.
Postal charges were also one of my biggest costs. It was a company milestone for me when I finally invested in a franking machine, having become fed up with the walk to the local post office, and the inevitable queuing once there.
19 years ago email was a luxury for me. I had a dial-up connection and would log on twice daily; once to download the three or four emails I had received, and once again to send my responses.
Now, sorting out the education and guardianship of students is so much easier in terms of communication.
Bright World has a web-based portal called Blink. Online forms replace email and allow our Admissions and Guardianship Care teams to receive school reports and student flight arrival details directly into our online system, saving valuable time for our team at head office. Blink is also much more convenient for our parents and agents, who can view and upload information about their child's guardianship 24 hours a day.
Parents have access to our Host Family Selection Tool so they can now help us choose their child's host family by browsing our database, filtering by certain criteria such as distance from school.
Application forms, brochures, policies and handbooks are all available online in our Digital Information Centre. Yes! - we have gone paperless in an attempt to reduce our carbon footprint.
The fax machine is gathering dust in the corner and the franking machine is rarely used these days. Our previous 24 hour response target, of which we were so proud, has been replaced by a 'within the hour' response promise. These days, international students studying here under our guardianship, cannot imagine life without our regular emails, embedding links to their host family and driver profiles.
Internet costs are now one of our lowest outgoings and we have super fast broadband at the office. Our biggest overhead now is our cloud-based operating system and our Blink portal, which we are constantly upgrading and developing. With everything it is doing for us it is well worth the expense.
How things have changed. The pace of life is a lot faster and we communicate more frequently than we used to, but I think it is all for the better. I feel like I am working harder than ever but I am enjoying my work more and more every day.
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