Flying dragons, flying saucers, flying carpets, flying fish – they fly in the magical world of things unreal, things we bring to life in our imagination. Interestingly, what we get after typing the word “flying” in a search engine is “The Flying School for Women”. Okay, it pops up right after “flying hamsters”. Skeptics beware – there’s no mention of “Women on broomsticks”. Curious ones please take our advice and “Come In!”.
Just one click on the START button suffices to see how Agata Dutkowska, the school founder, envisions this phenomenal initiative: "It doesn’t matter whether you’ve just found about the school or known about it for a long time. You can be a tattooed hipster or a teacher with thirty years’ experience. You may have your own vineyard, you may have grandkids or be a PhD holder. If you want to make money doing what you love or you already do it, you are one of us". She also mysteriously alludes to ZLOT organized by the school, but let’s leave it for now.
In the Flying School, women take part in a 3-month course during which they acquire knowledge that will help them start their own businesses or make the already-functioning ones more fulfilling and profitable. Even though it reminds of an American path from rags to riches, it is the path Agata had followed before she began showing it to other women. The school program is Agata’s own creation that blends the knowledge of modern, non-aggressive marketing with that of effective web tools. In other words, it’s about a practical know-how and a creative power of cooperation. Women who decide to take such a course attend workshops with various female specialists: graphic designers, copywriters, photographers, PR specialists and coaches, who offer their services at a price affordable to small, newly-opened businesses.
"I founded the Flying School in 2011 with an aim to acquaint women with the idea of earning money from what you love doing most", said Agata in one of the interviews. She also added that "what really matters is a creative approach. It’s the relations with other and a web of contacts that counts. The quality always wins, but whatever we do, it has to correspond with what we feel". Even though it’s been five years since she opened the school, Agata still believes that modern times invite small, unusual businesses, but most of all, that modern times are the times of creative women.
Agata’s life experience is so rich she could easily share it with others. She studied at the Jagiellonian University, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and at the University of Arts in Poznan. She worked as a trainer at the Theodor-Heuss-Kolleg, a program of the Robert Bosch Stiftung Foundation focused on promoting a culture of active citizens in the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. She’s written a guidebook Women of Krakow (Polish: Kraków Kobiet), which presents the chosen silhouettes of forgotten women in the history of the city. Besides, she completed a one-year course in integral leadership and project management at Metaintegral Academy in the US. She led workshops in project management in Georgia and gender courses in eastern Turkey. Passionate about Krakow, Agata used to give tours not only to tourists, but to locals as well. She is the founder of the Flying School for Women with Flying Circles across the country. Nowadays, she’s been working on a project to send entrepreneurial women from Poland on study tours to California. Sounds fairly well, doesn’t it?
PURO: What did you do before opening the school?
Agata Dutkowska: I was the queen of odd jobs. I never worked full-time. Instead, I spent my time doing all these unprofitable things, I “patchworked” my time trying to earn myself a living. When I think of it, I could describe myself as being a distracted freelancer at that time, certainly not someone who decided to finally quit their job in a corporation. I’ve always tried my best to do what I love. I still do it, but now I work consciously and help others enter the same path.
PURO: Was this urge to help others the reason behind the creation of the Flying School?
AD: The school is “flying” because, initially, I assumed I wouldn’t have a registered office of any kind for I simply couldn’t afford it. I wanted to be mobile, to appear in different places and organize classes taught by various teachers. I drew on the Polish tradition of informal education and “flying universities” and connected it with the contemporary trend of online teaching and learning. I dedicated my business to women because I made an observation that a lot of my female friends, despite having enormous creative potential and spirit, couldn’t make it financially. I wondered that if they had more money they would spend it more reasonably. That’s when I decided I wanted to help them. There were lots of fashionable personality development courses available at that time, but there weren’t any that would teach how to build a financial base.
PURO: You weren’t the only teacher, were you?
AD: At the beginning I offered a one-day course entitled “I make money doing what I love” and I taught it in my workshop in Zabłocie. The course aim was to find a business idea or to transform an already-existing business into a profitable enterprise. Fees (20 zlotys each) were donated to a dog shelter. Everything’s changed after I was invited to give a speech at PROGRESSTERON festival. The incredibly positive energy at the festival gathered a group of women eager to meet and work together. That’s how Flying Circles came to life. These are free meetings of women who successfully run their own small-scale businesses and want to share their knowledge and experience. On the one hand, circles enrich my course offerings and on the other, they promote my undertaking and create multiple possibilities of meeting interesting women, starting cooperation, and even getting commissions. Circles also foster word-of-mouth marketing, which relies on individuals spreading news about various products and initiatives with one another.
PURO: Have circles turned out useful?
AD: Of course they have! I share the so-called “Flying Circle Recipe” copyright-free. I wish meetings like these were organized in the entire country. So far, we’ve been contacted by women willing to organize circles in Krakow, Tricity, Warsaw, Silesia, Tarnow, Poznan and several smaller towns.
PURO: The first woman to teach at the Flying School was…
AD: Ania Piwowarska. She worked as a copywriter for a large advertising agency. However, she was one of the few people who understood that the needs of small businesses are totally different, she knew the value of authenticity and a well-told story. But most of all, she knew that a tight budget wouldn’t allow any spectacular advertising campaigns. That’s why she was the one to manage marketing initiatives for emerging small businesses. After her came the PR girl, Justyna Kozioł. She was perfect at giving advice and thanks to her a lot of our girls appeared in the media. You know, someone who gives an interview for, let’s say, one of the most popular radio stations in the country gets a completely new perspective on life. It’s a great news to be put on a website or Facebook.
PURO: So, it isn’t really an “underground of cotton pads”
AD: I used this description after reading "The Athena Doctrine". The book describes a change of values in global business and leadership. Having examined thousands of cases around the world, scientists concluded that values such as cooperation, knowledge sharing and mutual support – traditionally perceived as feminine – become the key leader values and dominating business strategies.
PURO: Where is the School now and where are you in it?
AD: What I’m going to say will probably sound weird. I would like to turn away from the whole business side of it. Back in time when I started organizing workshops, I was the first one to do it. Now, there’s a plenty of initiatives for women, created to teach them how to start a business online. For me, I feel l did what I was supposed to do and don’t want to go deeper. I’d like to become engaged in the field of women empowerment, to support women who not only run small businesses, but also want to exert an influence on reality. Ewa Langner is a great example – she organizes music camps for women of all ages (Ladies Rock Camp, we write about it in our article on unusual Christmas gifts - editor's note). It doesn’t matter whether you run an association, a foundation or a business. What matters is influence. I want to continue developing Flying Circles, during which women share their stories. They are organized by Polish women in places such as Dublin or Cape Verde! I do encourage everyone to gather in small circles, not necessarily the city ones. I have put forward this idea that we should meet more often, more regularly, in groups of four where everyone knows one another, where women motivate themselves to act and solve problems together.
PURO: ZLOT begins in a few days.
AD: I’ve created a kind of community and I want to nurture it. ZLOT is a perfect place to make contacts and search for inspiration. The first edition took place last year. Before that, I’d organized small-scale meetings during which we would sum up yearly activities. School graduates had a few minutes to summarize their projects, there were friends and family members. Right now, ZLOT is a three-day celebration of not only graduates, but also women who change the world, inspire and empower others. It’s also a perfect occasion for debuts, informal meetings and the exchange of experiences.
PURO: What will this year’s ZLOT look like?
AD: It will be rich and diverse. For example, during ZLOT we organize workshops (debuts) hosted by the members of our community. Women decide for themselves whether they want to host a workshop and choose a topic. It can be a success or a failure, but that’s the way it should be. We have to learn that not everything has to be perfect. A lot of women are tormented by the feeling that if something does not go as smoothly as planned, it means something is wrong with them.
PURO: Could you tell us something about the school graduates?
AD: These are women who work in different fields: managers, psychologists, architects, actresses, linguists and painters. Practically all of them run their own businesses as we speak. Anna Hojwa specializes in bike trips around Krakow and runs a blog Vintage Krakow, Anna Królikowska organizes creative workshops and trainings in personal development (www.bajla.pl), Maria Rauch is an interior designer (www.mariarauch.pl), Izabela Skrypuch organizes voice production courses, Justyna Kozioł has created her own brand Pani od PR, which aims to help small businesses build their image, Aleksandra Budzyńska teaches time management skills (www.paniswojegoczasu.pl) and that’s one spectacular career.
On the website of the Flying School Agata writes that everything she knows about running a business she’s either learned from websites of Danielle Laporte and Marie Forleo (and hundreds more) and tested by herself, or found out by herself and tested whether and how it worked with others. We couldn’t imagine a better recommendation.
When I asked Agata which of the graduates’ careers she thought was the most spectacular, she unhesitatingly answered: Aleksandra’s career. Aleksandra, Pani Swojego Czasu (The Master of My Time), a woman of incredible personality, wakes up at 4.30 a.m. to check her diabetic son’s blood sugar levels, attends Flying Circle meetings once a week, runs online courses (14 webinars, in which 4000 women have taken part so far) and three blogs, finds time for herself, makes decent money and works 6 hours a day. How does she do it?
PURO: Who were you when you enrolled in the Flying School?
Aleksandra Budzyńska: In the questionnaire I wrote I was a woman who wanted to find her aim in life. At that time I thought I was getting close to actually finding it (I wanted to run a governess agency). Pani Swojego Czasu did not exist back then. I am a curious case of a spectacular online business success; the business I started thanks to the support of a Summer Circle.
PURO: So now you’re the master of your time...
AB: I came up with the idea behind Pani Swojego Czasu when my son was diagnosed with diabetes. It was vacation, the Flying School held Summer Support Circles. I realized that by reorganizing my entire life I became the master of my time. I went to the Circle’s meeting and shared my knowledge of time management skills with other women. They were thrilled and encouraged me to do something more with it. The very same day I created a fan page and a website. I thought: “Why shouldn’t I teach other women how to manage time?”. The business idea simply came to me. And the Flying School? Thanks to meetings with Agata and women who attended Circles I’ve got to know the power of women’s society – without the Flying School experience my business wouldn’t look the way it does.
PURO: What do you teach?
AB: I teach how to focus on your aims and priorities. I teach how to rest and chill out because I know that perfectly organized women do not have time for rest or simply cannot plan it.
PURO: What’s the most important thing you learned at the School?
AB: I discovered online business opportunities! I discovered the possibility of organizing and running online courses! Right now, I can say I know what it’s all about – running an online business is what I do. Another discovery was Ania Piwowarska and her idea of authentic copywriting. I felt like, until I met her, I’d been using a language strange even to myself while running my business. That’s the reason why, running Pani Swojego Czasu, I speak in my own language. I am true to myself and my principles. Now I can speak and write about myself in an authentic way.
PURO: If you could make a road sign, what would it be?
AB: It would say: “KEEP thinking of what you want to do”. It certainly wouldn’t say “Think of…”, because we have to KEEP making choices over and over again.
Text: Kasia Pilitowska
Photos: Latająca Szkoła