A good location can help a school really take off; a bad one can sink it without trace, very quickly. Not only is the general area important, but the exact location within that area. What is right for your target market? If you are concentrating only on B2B and diplomatic outsourcing contracts, you will most likely not want to be in the suburbs. A downtown office with access to company HQs, embassies and the like would be essential. Conversely, if you are concentrating on the YL market, the suburbs are probably where you want to be, right next to elementary schools, preferably with a lot of expensive, foreign cars parked nearby. Local government offices are great sources of information on demographics, average income and rent. You should do your research carefully, not just open on a whim, and always, always go where the money is.
What is the visible local competition? Internet searches are great, but don’t overlook the local magazine, the phone book, and getting out and about looking around. Doubtless there will also be competition not immediately visible – the guy round the corner that teaches all the local kids free. Get out and talk to people: Where would you go if you wanted to study English? How would you look? How much would you pay?
The next step is to find a real estate agent who can take you round the premises available. Be sure to look at several and do not make a snap decision. Make sure you revisit your favourites at different times of day. How would a young mother and her children, or a young woman on her own, feel about walking to the premises alone at night? Can parents get easy access with push-chairs? Will singing and screaming children bother the neighbours?
When you get round to signing the lease, you should drive as hard a bargain as you can. Do not make a long-term commitment or agree to renewal fees. Try and get a month’s notice to quit. Be sure there is nothing that could hamper your ability to do business. Have a lawyer look at the lease before you sign and hand over the deposit.
All signed and sealed, you now have empty premises. They may need decorating, or even renovating. Do not scrimp. Your potential new students only get one first look at your new school, and it has to look good. Take all the advice you can about how to configure the school – a good teacher you may be, an interior designer you probably are not. Use your network and visit other schools. Speak to staff and owners: What works and what doesn’t? What mistakes did you make? What would you have done differently? There is also a good chance you know other teachers. Think about your dream team – salary concerns aside, what would the teachers you admire the most want to have in the schools where they worked?
Paying the deposits on and refurbishing premises can be very expensive, and it requires a commitment of time and money. With no students signed up, this then puts you in the red until you can recruit enough to break even. This should be given careful thought. Conversely, local civic halls are often available to rent very cheaply, if not free, and this can be a good way to build your ‘school’ before you actually move it into one.
Coming soon: Sign them up!