Setting up an online school - Part 10: Initial problems 2

In this article I will continue talking about dealing with the initial problems in setting up an online school, going through several areas such as time management, given the 24 hours expectation of the web, hiring staff and checking qualifications and work record.

Problems with time

Now, I want to expand on a potentially big problem that you will almost certainly bump up against in setting up an online school, and that is time. If you advertise on the web then it is 24/7. You can get responses at inopportune times. How quickly do you need to reply? As quickly as possible I would say. But if you are a one-person operation, that will not be possible. You need to then set a limit in the information/advertising you put out, let’s say you guarantee to reply within 24 hours. You will certainly lose some potential customers but at least that should be feasible to operate. And never set up an IM chat room unless you are willing at all times to operate it at the times specified. I would rule out an IM chatroom to be honest until you are established and have staff to operate it. If you join up with Vedamo they have their own chatroom and can answer questions about the software to potential customers. That will make you look professional from the start and it is an area you won’t have to worry about. Please bear in mind, though, that they cannot answer queries about your individual business. You have to do that yourself.

Areas that eat into your time

However, what about holidays? Nights out? Weekends? Family crises? Sickness? Keeping on other work while you setup? All of these areas impact on your ability to deliver what you promise in your advertising. So, you need a plan. If you have anyone who can act as a backup, say a spouse or possibly a fellow teacher who is willing to come on board when you get established and will help prior to that, then they can look after some of these areas. But beyond that, all I can say is welcome to the reality of setting up and running a business, customers expect you to be available to them at all times. None of the above areas should impact on your ability to deliver. Be connected 24/7 no matter what and answer as quick as you can. You are in business now and nobody has been successful by letting down customers. Teach and reply on holidays. I have had to do so. And teach and reply even if you are not feeling too well. I have done so several times. And gone back to bed immediately afterwards. The advantage of online teaching is you can’t give your students germs. They can’t even catch a computer virus! ?

Hiring staff to ease the burden

There is no doubt, however, that even one member of staff to take the burden from you is a great boon. If, for instance, you follow my advice in my last article Setting up an online school – Part 9 and transfer existing students to online and you then have an income stream straightaway, you could look at this. If money is tight, maybe a young person straight out of school, looking for experience, or a teacher who is willing to multi-task and wants to be early on board what could be a successful business and, of course, is prepared to take lesser money at the start in expectation of rewards later might be the answer.

It can feel lonely setting up a business and just having someone to discuss things helps. Plus the feeling of not being responsible for every little item that crops up. If you are sure your income steam allows it, it could be the best thing to do as you can concentrate on building up business.

Family, friends or strangers?

Hiring people can be daunting. Hiring friends or family can be a big mistake. To be honest, both options have mostly not worked out for me although there are many examples of successful family businesses and best friend operations. Just be careful. Think in terms of how well you work together and how closely aligned you are in values. If you like being punctual, and the other doesn’t, straightaway that is a source of friction.

Check qualifications and work record

If you are hiring a teacher for an ELT school, then I would strongly suggest they be properly qualified with recognized certification. Please check them out and also their work record. Contact previous employers and ask them specific questions, such as how they got on with students and fellow staff, what was their diligence like, their timekeeping, sick leave, etc. Previous employers may not wish to say bad things about former employees but if you ask specific questions they may not want to lie on their behalf i.e. if you ask what their timekeeping was like and it was bad, you may get that idea from how they answer.

Your first employee should be good as they could sink your business from the start. I spoke about branding in previous blogs and your employees are part of your brand. Your brand is people’s perception of you and their main perception may be the people they come in contact with. In my physical school when we first started we employed a young student to work part-time as a receptionist/secretary. My partner had seen him at work in a bar and was impressed with his diligence. He was excellent, popular with students and visitors, and kept everything very clean even without us asking. If you can see someone in action it is better than any interview process.

Final thoughts on initial problems

For now, I will leave initial problems, although bear in mind that there are always difficulties in business, and many times they will be the first time you have encountered such worries, so they will be initial complications to you. I will try and cover as many areas as I can over the coming weeks. Dealing with problems is an essential part of a business and successful businesspeople thrive on this. If I can help, I will be happy. And as always, I recommend Vedamo as a strong way to eliminate preliminary glitches.

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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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VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
For the past nine years we have been providing a platform purpose-built for education.