It takes a lot of guts, a lot of patience, and a whole lot of time to get a new academy up and running. There are certain areas which you must get it right in order for a project to fly.
The 3 main reasons language schools fail are:
- Lack of market research.
- Failure to differentiate a place for themselves to stand out.
- Lack of sufficient funds.
Now we will look at what you can do to avoid these pitfalls.
1. Local Considerations.
There are a wide range of local factors that will be different from one country to another that we cannot cover here. They will require you to do your own local based research on items such as legal entities, business registers, building consents and regulations and employment laws.
2. Profit is not a dirty word.
If you are not making a profit, how are you going to make improvements to your school or pay for teachers’ professional development? So, a business plan is going to be needed to check the viability of your financial forecasts and see if your idea will fly before you start. It will force you to think about tough questions such as “Do I have enough capital available or do I need outside help?” and “Are my assumptions about profit going to cover my costs?”
To help you, look for a good accountant preferably one running their own firm as their own experiences will be more closely related to yours. They are also more likely to be understanding about keeping start-up costs to a minimum. They may even help you on the understanding that they will do your accounting once you are up and running.
3. Have a VISION
It’s wise to have a medium-term development plan. Think where you would like your school to be in the next 3 or 5 years and then reverse engineer your plan so you can see what steps need to be taken to get there. It’s also beneficial as it will keep you focused on your priorities and allow you to see where you are on your road map. But bear in mind demographics and the teaching market can change over time so plans need to be flexible.
4. BRAND Your School
Nowadays, to succeed in the educational industry you need a strong personal or corporate brand. Therefore, an interesting and coherent image is important so customers are aware of what you do and who you are! Website, Landing pages, Social media, Logo, Slogan etc., will all need to be created and given regular care to maintain the image so that your brand and presence get stronger.
If you want to be the next big chain school, then work on your corporate brand. If you want to be a small local language school owner, then work on your “personal online” brand, your physical presence in your area and develop strong community links.
5. Decide on a MARKET POSITION – Too Many irons in the fire
Do not stretch yourself too far. Study the market and aim for a part of the market that you know you can bring something to, something that is new or, if it is already there, that you can do better or differently and create a valuable position in that market for yourself. This will obviously be based on the demographics and demand in your area. Trying to be a school that wants to be “everything to everyone” will stretch your resources and waste energy on areas that will bring hardly any benefit. It is worthwhile identifying the areas that yield the greatest profits and focus on them.
6. Be aware of your CUSTOMER NEEDS.
It can be a mistake to blindly rush out and offer what you assume that customers want on the basis of “this is what all schools sell”. It is important to be aware of what their needs are by paying attention to customers’ motivation. The last few years have seen huge changes in the language teaching market, for example after the last recession many adults in Italy, Spain and Greece started to learn German as they were moving there to find work. Government grants become available to help the unemployed become more employable. Consciously shape offers and promotions to match market needs.
7. Recruit, train and organise GOOD PEOPLE
Recruitment and training are vital aspects of keeping your school competitive. What is language school without qualified teachers and knowledgeable office staff? Many school owners let themselves down as they see management is not their “thing”, but you owe it to your staff to train them, otherwise it means your school will be operating at the lowest skill level of the lowest employee.
Create a strong team and check that each member is trained and understands how vital their responsibilities are to the success of the school and how they connect to the other employees’ tasks. Make sure that your expectations are being met by providing feedback and six-monthly employee reviews.
Run role plays so people see how it all fits together and look for bottlenecks and grey areas. Encourage independence of thinking and initiative taking. Hold brainstorming sessions with all employees and ask for ideas to improve what you do and offer students.
For less experienced teachers you can encourage them to observe other teachers. Your DoS can talk through their lesson plans and observe and provide feedback. You may also want to run some professional development courses: teaching exams, typical problems of local language learners – and solutions!
Hiring well-qualified staff is a win-win situation: your students get the highest quality education, and the reputation of your school improves.
8. Contribute to THE GROWTH OF THE INDUSTRY, don’t kill it!
Don`t use price as a sales point in your school, offer greater value. Competing with aggressive pricing can be tricky as once you have lowered prices it can be difficult to raise them. Low prices can scare customers away as many potential students will wonder whether this is reflected in the quality of the teaching – low teacher pay, low moral, high staff turnover and high student numbers per class.
Discounts may attract new students – early enrolment, returning student etc., – but if they do not make sound commercial sense then no one will be willing to pay your regular rates and your financial forecasts will be shot away. A school that attracts students who are interested more in discounts than quality will be lost immediately the next discount school opens its doors.
This is the age of “person to person” communication. Social media has made it easier than it has ever been. Choose 2 or 3 appropriate platforms for your school and aim to dominate them in your area – (Facebook for adults, Snapchat for teenagers?). Post, post, and post again. Messages can just be one or two sentences long: idiom of the day, first 10 people to like our page, etc., Encourage your students to post about their language school on social media.
Whatever you do get your school out there and raise your profile. Open your school’s doors to visitors. Hosting an open house is an incredibly effective way to establish relationships and to promote your profile and raise awareness of your school.
Also, surveys can be sent in SchoolMate to gather anonymous feedback from your teachers, students and parents so you can get some real feedback to work on.
10. Keep your eye on the ball
Competition is not necessarily a bad thing. Watch your competitors and use them as a source of motivation and to see what works; then improve and add value. Pay attention to new ideas, players and technology in the market. And most importantly of all do not stand still because if you stop developing you are stagnating and you will be outpaced by rivals.
Starting up and running your own language school can have many advantages: independence, financial rewards and personal satisfaction. There are some downsides: financial risks, stress and time commitment; so, the more work you can do early on will hopefully increase your chances of success.