Online school – how to set it up – Part 1

Setting up an online school is not a business anyone can do. And, it can be hard if you don’t know how. This first part is preparing you for the process by assisting you to check in with yourself first and to start thinking of a business plan. You’ll see which specific questions you need to answer before you decide if you are fit for this business and ready to commit to it.

I guess we have all dreamed about it, setting up our own business, making a fortune and living the good life forever. Reality, for most, is much different but I will try and stay positive at all times in this series. I have been running my own school for many years now and a few years ago branched out into an online teaching school teaching English as a foreign language. I have spent a good chunk of my adult life being self-employed and can help to guide you through the pitfalls. This series will concentrate on the area with which I am most familiar, setting up an online English language school but the principles will be similar irrespective of what you choose to teach.

Look into yourself

The first area to look at is yourself, do you have business nous? Have you any experience of running a business? Did your family have a business? Are you good at handling people? Handling money? Handling stress? Working long hours? Being stubborn and persistent? Multi-tasking? I did say I was going to remain positive so let’s take those areas and see what we can make of them.
Even if you don’t have any direct experience of business you have been dealing with businesses all your life. You know what you want from a business and what you like and don’t like. Apply that. The simple rule of business is to give the customers what they want at a price that allows you to make a profit.

The next part, handling people is not as crucial as you might think. If you can link up with someone who is good at people to manage them, then that solves your problem. I know several successful business people who are not good with people. You need to get someone who is.
The same goes with money. Get yourself someone who is good with money if you are not yourself. I do believe you need to keep track and control yourself, though. I suspect if you are really bad with money, you are going to struggle but you don’t need to be an expert. If you are bad with money the old joke may apply: “How do you make a small fortune in business? … Start out with a large one”.

The next few areas, though, are not a question of getting someone else. Be sure that in order to successfully run a business you need to be able to handle stress well. You need to be prepared for working long hours and being available possibly 24/7 at times. If you don’t like working for a boss you may not be happy at suddenly getting lots of them because to some extent, your customers are your bosses.
You will need to be stubborn and persistent. And can not give up because you have difficulties. You will have lots of them. And people like persistence in a business. To give an example, I had my own retail business and a rep called but I was happy with my current supplier. I told him so but he kept coming every week. For a very long time I never bought off him and I used to feel sorry for him wasting his time. But one time he came and I needed his stuff straightaway. He got my business then and kept it. If you are persistent, customers know you will be there and look after them.

Multi-tasking is also necessary. Suddenly you have to have knowledge of everything. Take IT, in the modern era, you need to know your stuff. HR, you need to know about recruitment and keeping staff happy. Management and finance I have already mentioned. All the different aspects of running a business need to be learned. The good news is that as I assume you are an educator because you want to set up your own online school, you should be good at learning. Put some effort into this area. Get some practical books or maybe sign up for a “Start your own business” course. I am sure you can find them online and you will kill two birds with one stone. You will get a direct insight into how an online school is run and learn what you need to set up your own.

Finance and the business plan

I am going to finish up this first part with a short look at finance and the business plan. If you are planning a very modest start where you set up a school by yourself with you as the only teacher and you link with an online provider like Vedamo then expenses are minimal. They provide the infrastructure, your training and lots of help to get you going. If you can get students fairly quickly then you could be earning fast enough that you don’t need a lot of cash to survive the initial part.

I still feel that even a modest start-up needs a business plan of some sort. There are business plan templates and help online and they help to clarify what you need, and how to survive the early period as you are trying to establish customers.

Anything more ambitious needs a proper business plan checked or prepared by specialists. If you require funding then what you present to a bank or investors is crucial. This area is outside the scope of this series and you will need professional advice.

An honest appraisal

To sum up, first you need to take a good honest look at yourself. You are by far the most important person in all this. What are your motivations? Can you cope with the changes of moving from a monthly salary to an uncertain financial situation? Are you willing to learn new skills? If you are, and truly wish to gain the rewards of being your own boss then the rest of the series will cover all the practicalities of setting up your own online school. Areas covered will be research, positioning, branding, marketing, recruiting, training, lesson materials, operating across countries and cultures, specialisations and more.

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Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
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