The school is not incorporated, but you are considering registering yourself officially as self-employed.

Up to now, you have taught in a spare room in your house, but you wish to separate your home and your working life. This is very sensible, and in fact you should completely separate it all right now, but you’re probably not thinking that far ahead.

Your market research has indicated there is room for an English school in your location, and you have rented premises.

You have one classroom which you use for all classes. This is not ideal, but it’s a good jumping off point, and within your budget.

You have decided that under the shareholders you need these positions: CEO, CFO, COO and CDO. The CEO appoints the other three and manages them.

(NB: the following may not actually perform all these tasks themselves.)

The CFO is responsible for all things financial. Ensuring invoices are issued, payments are made and received, bookkeeping is done, and creating the budget.

The COO is responsible for the day-to-day running of the business. This includes daily operations, making sure the premises are open on time, clean, everything is in the correct position and ready to be used when the staff and customers arrive.

Under the COO is the DoS, the Director of Studies, who is responsible for finding or creating courses to teach to the needs of the students that arose from the market research, hiring, training and professionally developing staff to carry out those courses, and training them in the implementation of the system to liaise with support staff to provide feedback to counsel students and their parents. The DoS is either head of both adults and young learners curricular or appoint heads to those positions.

Also under the COO is the office manager, responsible for recruiting, training, retaining and professionally developing the reception, admin staff and counsellors.

This is probably the trickiest part of the organisation. In many cases, these are local staff who speak the students’ L1 – for us here in Japan, Japanese – who must also speak English and be able to juggle arising language and cultural issues. They have to counsel the students (and more often, their parents) to have realistic expectations, and sometimes have to deal with teachers who don’t speak the local language, and in fact sometimes don’t speak any language other than their own. (How they managed to become language teachers in the first place is a subject worthy of at least one other article.)

Essentially, you’ll be doing something very bold: running a multilingual, multicultural team. This is very difficult. When it goes well, it can be fantastic. If it goes badly, it can be riven with misunderstanding, doubt, mistrust, gossip, bad information flow and general ill will.

Under the CDO are the customer relations, market research and development, and sales and advertising departments. CRM is a crucial part of this. You need to be collecting customer data.

So how does all this tie together in one easy system?

It doesn’t.

There are multiple, inter-linked systems bringing the whole operation together and many people carry out many roles within a particular system (or one TOO wears too many hats), and communicate with other people and other systems.

Let’s return to the whiteboard and look at a sales system we use.

Market research has told us the best times to recruit new students are for the spring and autumn intake. We run campaigns around those times when we reduce our signup fee to zero.

The data has shown us this is an effective way of grouping our new student intake into two specific times of the year. This concentrates everybody’s minds, gives the opportunity for people to sign up feeling they’re getting something for nothing, and is a call to action.

We have a calendar of regularly scheduled tasks. This automatically informs the staff new marketing materials need to be prepared. The staff consult with the marketing manager, who makes the decision on the form of the campaign. Often, it’s a reworking of a similar previous campaign, although the copy and the images used will change.

The marketing manager is responsible for ensuring the brief is sent to the artist and copywriter, received, reviewed until finished, and is then sent to the printer and digital marketing manager.

The printer prints flyers, fans, hand-warmers – whatever has been deemed appropriate for this campaign – and the digital marketing manager uses copy and images as channel appropriate. The CFO advises on the budget.

This all goes very smoothly and all the materials – digital and physical – are ready to be distributed when the campaign begins.

We then start to get enquiries. Enquiries go through a pipeline process until they take a free trial, after which they join and become a student (a customer) or stay in the database for later re-targeting.

The adults’ free trial (FT) system goes as follows:

In classroom:

R counsels S
R leaves room
R reports to T

T enters
T does opening routine and explanation

T does level check, takes notes and give appropriate feedback
T stops at the appropriate place
T records result

T does demo lesson based on FT result
T elicits response for S to produce specific TL
S produces specific TL

T wraps up, including sales closing information
T leaves the room

T reports to R
R re-enters

R counsels S and closes the sale
S joins and is scheduled
OR S is noted in database as Waiting and follow-up is scheduled

Invariably (and we know this because we have recorded ALL free trial results since May 1st, 1998) most of them join. We have an 80% sign-up rate. Half of the those that don’t join, can’t join can’t because of scheduling issues. This actually creates expectation and a feeling of missing out, which is good marketing.

The remaining 10% don’t join for a variety of reasons. We don’t get to learn all of these reasons, but sometimes people say they feel it’s too expensive. This pleases me. I do not want a reputation for being cheap. And I don’t want people who don’t recognise the value our services and are not prepared to pay for them. We are very reasonably priced.

I’m very happy with the 80% sign up rate. Arguably it is a 100% sign up rate. We sign up 100% of the people able and willing to join us.

Part of the information exchanged is recorded in a specific part of the whiteboard. The teacher also instructs the student to make a note of this. The receptionist uses this and other information gleaned from the teacher during the counselling and sales process.

All of the above is broken down into much more detail in our operations manual. None of it is difficult, and it can be performed by any qualified, trained person. We have signed up thousands of students and employed dozens if not hundreds of staff and teachers, who have performed these roles all over the country, and now internationally.

Upon these systems we build our business.


We now offer a consultancy service with a no-obligation first contact.

If you would like help systemising your business or anything else, please get in touch.