English Schools (start your own in a foreign country)
We’ve all worked for English schools we felt could be better managed, with better books, and better conditions for teachers and students.
At first glance these things seem like no-brainer fixes don’t they?
ESL Teachers might say…
“If I owned this school… I’d do this, or I’d do that…”
If you’ve ever thought about starting your own English school alone, with a local partner, or with a spouse, then keep reading…
I’ve gathered some basic intel on HOW TO DO IT the right way, the first time…
(so you can reduce your risk of getting burned!)
Let’s get started:
There are 3 ways to start up your own English school..
The first way is to start your own school from scratch.
Name it, rent some classroom space, create a curriculum, hire some foreign teachers and local staff.
This method can be costly and time-consuming because you have to develop everything (A-Z) from scratch.
Not to mention, your school business model and curriculum are unproven in the local market.
If you go this route, would you start small and just rent one room in a building and recruit a few students, or go big and lease an entire floor of a building?
Some say it’s better to start your school as small as you can and then scale. Even if it means moving to another building as you grow your student base.
The bigger your school is more competition you’ll have…
How well do you know your academic competitors?
Remember that your competitors isn’t just the local language school down the street.
It could be an underground school, private tutors working out of cafes, or even virtual language schools.
Analyze them all and try to determine your school’s competitive advantage.
Not suggesting to run an illegal small school, but seriously consider what you’re getting into before you invest your life savings.
It’s not uncommon for them to slash their tuition fees for months just to undercut your prices until you go bankrupt.
And then there’s the ever-changing government regulations. (especially around hiring foreigners).
Or how about this one?
Corrupt public officials, or even gangsters stopping by your language academy expecting bribes to be paid.
You’ll have to pay bribes to corrupt bureaucrats in countries like Russia, Peru and Thailand, just to name a few…
Expect to allocate part of your profits towards paying bribes or suffer the consequences!
The second way is to get into the English school business is to buy into a franchisee of a global language school.
Berlitz language school could be a franchise example. Berlitz is in dozens of countries.
But, keep in mind that franchise fees can be expensive and you’ll have to comply with their franchise rules.
There also could be a lengthy waiting list and qualification process to become a school franchisee.
You’ll also need to evaluate whether this international franchise already been successful in the country where you’d like to start your school.
Does the school franchise have strong brand recognition with local language learners.?
Just because an international language school is in 25 countries and is successful in these countries, doesn’t mean it will be profitable your country of choice.
(especially if it’s the very first franchise to open there).
The third way is to invest in a local language school perhaps with several schools already in different locations.
Some local franchises in Korea might be Direct English, or Poly’s Language School
The downside of becoming a franchisee schools is that you’d lose control…
You’d have to follow your head office’s curriculum, student and teacher intake procedures along with admission and tuition pricing.
The upside, is that if it’s already a successful franchise then you’re reducing your risk of your business failing.
There are many other things to seriously consider before starting up an English language school in any country.
Consider researching online schools. Would these “virtual learning centres” be more popular with learners because of convenience and cost?
Could the start-up costs and upkeep of an online language school be a fraction of the overhead of a brick and mortal school?
The challenges of running a virtual school is driving web traffic to market it versus having walk in traffic because of a visible, physical premises.
And, the market is also pretty saturated with online language schools because the start-up costs can be lower…
However, English learners may be hesitant to sign up for a language class online without knowing the school’s brand and the teachers.
You’ll also have to be tech savvy or at least hire someone who is.
This means understanding SEO, SEM and Social Media strategies to market your online school to the right audience.
Getting ranked on page 1 of Google for keywords related to English learning in any country is very difficult.
Learning English is a highly competitive market with billions of dollars being spend each year by English crazed students.
If you’re not a techie, you can outsource your website design and maintenance to professionals. It’s not as expensive as it used to but it is work and you need to develop a working knowledge of Internet marketing. You can’t leave everything to your IT guy.
Most schools these days have a combination of online and offline learning (real classroom)
So either way, you’ll have to understand and execute with a great online learning platform in addition to your physical school.
And even if you only have a physical school, you’ll still need to do significant online marketing to attract paying students.
You’ll also need to understand the local market in which you’re planning to set up your school. Don’t just pick a country and open up there.
(This would be a catastrophic business mistake)
Should your school cater to kids or adults?
If you’re teaching business people some of them will get funding from their employers to study English.
However, company HR departments will want to see student progress reports and monthly attendance for their staff.
Be prepared to do a lot of paperwork in a format the company expects it in.
If you’re teaching adults, the teachers you hire should act and look professional at all times.
Wearing suits and neckties is typical for teachers if they’re instructing business people like executives, or CEOs at your school.
In some cases your teachers may have to visit companies to teach.
So, you’ll need to figure out travel logistics, pay for their transportation, meals and insurances.
And don’t forget, you’ll need to make sure they have the proper working visas (legal).
Immigration procedures must not be taken lightly when it comes to hiring foreigners.
Immigration departments in countries like Korea have strict rules about sending teachers off site to teach in local businesses. Technically, they are only allowed to teach at the location their visa is connected to.
Obviously, this is not the case in every country, but the immigration laws, before you start.
It’s also important to run criminal back ground checks on teachers and vet them accordingly.
If your teachers are visiting companies they will have access to confidential company information and certain offices.
As profitable as teaching English to businesspeople might be for your school, recessions every few years are inevitable.
If the company isn’t doing well financially, fringe benefits like English programs for employees are one of the first things that gets cut from budgets.
If you decide to teach kids at your school, then you’ll be relying on their parents to be your source of funding to keep your school running.
Parents CAN be demanding and will be impatient and want their kids to improve quickly so they can score well in school tests.
Know in advance what they expect, what their questions will be, and what their objections will be to signing up their kids at your school.
Leave no stone unturned here as the parents are your customers (not their kids)
Also be aware that your competition (schools who don’t hire foreign teachers) will tell parents that the foreigners at your school DO NOT know how to prepare their children for exams, they don’t know how to teach grammar, and cannot explain language concepts like a local teacher could.
These are 3 very important things to the parents, of the children you’ll be teaching, so train your educational consultant (salesperson) at your school to handle these objections.
Getting Your School Started
First off, research what educational, immigration and financial requirements are in place around starting an English school in a foreign country.
Some countries like Korea have very strict educational licensing, classroom size requirements, as well as teacher qualifications, etc.
Make sure you have a solid understanding of these rules and regulations before you invest even one dollar in a language school overseas.
If you’re clear and confident in the above then start thinking about the following:
Decide on the name of your school.
Determine price of lessons. An hourly fee or monthly fee?
To be competitive with other language schools you’ll need to check their pricing and offer the same or cheaper pricing.
If your school isn’t established with a brand, then you certainly can’t charge students more than your competitors.
If you do have a strong local brand because you bought into a school franchise, by all means charge more.
Students do price comparisons, so you need to be delivering added value in order to justify a higher tuition fee.
Value could be in the form of more qualified teachers, a stronger offline/online learning component.
More classes per month or more face time with native teachers.
There are many ways to add value to your school, but be sure to price your educational service competitively or your school will be empty.
More questions to ask yourself:
Will you charge students in advance?
Will you charge for the actual class hours, books, and an online learning component separately, or will you bundle everything together?
What will be your student cancellation policy? Will you even have one?
What days and hours will your school be open for classes?
How many teachers will you need to hire to support X number of students?
What are the visa requirements for foreign teachers in the country where you’ll be opening your school?
Will you use English teacher recruiters, or will you do the recruiting yourself?
Will you provide a paid or subsidized apartment, flights, insurance, pension and contract bonuses to teachers?
Look at current job ads for teachers. Costs for hiring foreign teachers can add up.
What if a teacher quits before the end of their 12 month contract? How soon can you replace a teacher?
Will you teach the departing teacher’s classes until you can find a replacement?
What other staff will you require?
You’ll need a front desk person to greet prospective students and locals who can work as educational consultants to greet, explain, and sell programs to prospective students?
Who will clean your school and make sure you have enough books, and that whiteboards and audio-visual equipment and computers are functioning?
And don’t forget air conditioners in every classroom and a TV in the reception area for parents who are waiting for their kids (if you teach kids)
How to advertise your school:
Make sure your English school is in a high traffic area. If you’re teaching kids, then nearby an elementary, middle or high school or university.
If you’re teaching business people, then your school should be in a business district (or nearby). Rent is not cheap in these areas, I’ll warn you.
Also, make sure your English school is close to a subway, or bus station.
You can print and hand out flyers near these transit points, or hire a part timer to do it for you.
Set up a Facebook for Business Page.
This way you can not only promote your school to your followers on Facebook, but you can target students according to their likes, interests and demographics in their Facebook profiles.
With over a billion people on Facebook around the world it’s a smart advertising investment in any country.
Try to leverage as much free advertising online as possible.
Don’t expect to fill your school with students in the first month. It’s a slow, steady slog to growing a thriving English school.
Be patient and keep your school costs as low as possible, because it could take 1-3 years or even longer to break even.
One tip is to test the market with advertising before you spend a dime on opening a school.
Run some Facebook ads or ads in a popular local paper.
If you don’t get any responses, then either your advertising sucks or there isn’t a big enough demand for another school.
You might spend $500-$1,000 on ads for a month, but it’s smarter to really test the market than blow up your life savings on setting up a school, getting licensed, hiring teachers and watching the whole thing implode on you!
If your advertising IS effective and you decide to open your school, just keep the names and contact information of your potential students so you can re-market to them once your school actually opens.
Once you get prospective students in the door of your school you may want to let them attend a group or private class for free, before they make a financial commitment.
Not all schools do this, but it could help close the sale (or destroy it). It all depends on how good your teachers are of course!
Want to Learn More?
Here’s a link to a free e-book on starting your own English school http://www.teyl.com/ebook.html
The e-book provides a checklist of all the things you’ll need to do before deciding to open your school.
For serious English school enthusiasts… here’s a good book to read: The Educated Franchise
If you have more questions about starting a language school I’d be happy to research them for you.
If you already run your own language school your ideas and suggestions would be appreciated.