Setting up an online school - Part 11: Hiring staff

In this blog I will go through probably the biggest operation after setting up- hiring your first staff. I will talk about do you really need someone, how to vet them and who to hire.

Hiring staff is always a big question. It adds a whole other layer to what you are doing. At least if we are talking about a fulltime, fully taxed and insured employee. Let’s clear up a few things at the start, I am assuming you wish to do things correctly and within the law, so these are the areas to consider. First, I covered in an earlier blog the difficulties with setting up in an outside country or your own. Irrespective of which you chose, you generally have two choices, you employ someone and pay whatever taxes/ insurances are necessary or you employ someone as self-employed and they give you an invoice for their services. Be warned, though, in many countries you cannot have a fulltime employee and claim that they are self-employed.

Do you really need someone?

The first thing to consider is do you really need somebody? It all depends on various factors. Have you enough work to be able to pay somebody else? The ideal way to expand is to get more work than you can handle, take on someone else, give them most of the work and you concentrate on building up more work. When you have done that, and you have enough work, you take on another. And so on. An organic growth of business. Ah, if only life was that simple. The reality is peaks and troughs. Busy times and quiet times. Times when you are doing little and times when it is very stressful.

For teaching, often peak times are early evening when people stop work. Daytime can be difficult to get students. It is problematic getting enough work to offer someone a fulltime permanent position. So, I would suggest that for teachers, you try to employ only self employed ones at the start and give them whatever work you have. You contract them to teach per course and you only need to keep an eye on what they do. Unless you have a long term agreement for students, and that is very unusual in this business, then that is all you can realistically offer. When you build a reputation and have plenty of work coming in, it may well make sense to employ some permanent teachers.

Why? Because they are more likely to stay with the security of a permanent position. You will have and retain good teachers. That is essential for a sustainable business.

Getting the right teacher

As I touched on in the previous post, you need fully qualified teachers, with experience. Anything less is too risky unless you are aiming for the bottom end of the market. So, go through the steps outlined in the previous post.

Make sure the qualifications are real by checking with the certifying body. Check their work experience with previous employers. Ask pertinent questions. If they sent a CV and cover letter go through both for any discrepancies, like work gaps, and get them to explain them. If the cover letter is generic then that is a bad sign, they are applying everywhere and may not stay. If they show, in the cover letter, that they know exactly what position they are applying for and that it is online work, that is a good sign. If they are aware of what country you are operating from, that is a good sign. Foreigners may need a work permit to work in your country.

Check references and ask relevant questions, what were they like with students, fellow teachers, punctuality, illness, deadlines, using technology, etc.

Unsolicited job applications come all the time

I should mention at this point that once you start advertising your school, even if you are not looking for staff, you will get people looking for teaching work. Often newly qualified people looking for their first job or people looking to try different countries will send hopeful applications. However enough will come in my experience and you need to decide what to do with them. Do you reply to each one? It eats into your time and if you are not looking for anyone at the time, there is little benefit. I used to reply to all but I know from their reactions that I was unusual. It is a permanent aspect of running a school, getting unasked for job applications and it is up to you how you deal with it.

What about an aide, not a teacher?

However, that is a digression away from the topic to some extent. The other area to consider is not a teacher but a sort of person who is willing to try everything, to operate, like you are doing at the start, a bit of everything. Lots of people do not baulk at this, in fact, the diversity is what they like. And the fact that they are in a startup that might do well and they can be in at the beginning helps. Ambitious young people eager to learn could be what you need. If they have good education, maybe with finance or economics or a business related area like marketing in their background they could be glad to pitch in. That is what you need though, someone who is willing to take direction, try areas that they are unsure of and do so with a pleasant manner.

To recap, advertising for students, selling to students, marketing to students, giving technical support to some extent, dealing with teachers, organizing finances, dealing with suppliers, educational publishers, and many other things that are not springing to mind right now are what you are dealing with and someone to ease that burden could be very useful. Getting that right person probably requires a bit of luck but they are out there.

What you would need to do is advertise the position as a challenge, for someone who is ambitious, able to multitask, energetic, positive and cheerful and emphasise that the right person can go far.

To sum up, hiring staff is probably the next big step after setting up your business and nobody gets it right all the time. Taking the correct precautions is your best bet and I will return to this topic in my next blog.

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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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