Setting up an online school - Part 8

Here I will relate my experiences with marketing at the start and try to steer you in the right direction towards making your start up successful and how to avoid losing money on dead ends.

Marketing part 2

More on doing it yourself

As I emphasized in my last blog, doing your own marketing is quite possible if you wish to set up by yourself. If you are hiring staff straightaway, you will also need quite a bit of business immediately and professional marketing may be required. But my main emphasis in this blog is about those who wish to take the plunge on their own initially, and I see no real reason why you can’t do it by yourself. So, let’s take a look at your options.

First, I would like to challenge something that seems like a given, that you market an online company online. Why? Maybe you will have better success going traditional routes, newspapers, magazines, radio stations, TV, billboards, flyers, etc. After all, you will most likely have less competitors, and the advance in online advertising could well mean there are bargains out there in the traditional areas. At least take a look at it. It may be the key to being different and marketing is all about being different.

Word of mouth

Do not rule out friends and existing or past students to pass the word around and give recommendations. Word of mouth is the strongest way to build business in a school, in my experience. To be honest, it has easily been the most reliable way for me in the past 20 years. If people like what you are offering, they seem to want to help.


Virals are considered the sexy way to get attention and grow your business quickly. If you post a quirky video, a catchy ad, even a photo, that grabs the internet and sets it on fire then yes, by all means give it a go. I don’t think there is any formula, though, for virals. But hey, if you have a great idea for one, then I for sure won’t say no to you. If you have somebody talented around you, a great singer or something, then you may be able to cook up a unique video that everyone loves and gets your word spread around.


Social media, Google adwords, Twitter, etc. all need to be given serious consideration. For relatively small money you can put together some sort of a campaign and as a one man band, even 10- 20 students (depending on whether they are one to one or groups) could be enough to keep you ticking over as you build things up.

I now want to spend some time on initial possible problems.

Getting people to pay

This is the bugbear of the internet – people do not want to pay. It is a big issue as getting them to trust that if they hand over money to you, you will deliver, takes time and energy. So much is available for free, including tuition, that they immediately lose interest when they realise you are asking them to pay. However, if you are offering exclusive lessons, a replication of the classroom, where you teach, explain, coax, motivate and do all the things a good teacher should do, then you have to be paid. I doubt if it is possible to offer such a service by just taking advertising on your site.

Be careful about offering anything for free. When we started we offered free trials and had that highlighted on our site. The only word people saw was FREE and we got lots of students signing up thinking we will teach them for free and virtually all disappeared when they realized they would have to pay for any sort of serious tuition. And, as we had support staff, and were offering that 24/7, we wasted a lot of time on students who were never going to pay. Even offering free trials is problematic as, for example, if you use a dedicated service such as Vedamo to teach, then there is a learning curve for students to know how to use the software and you have to set up registration and logins all of which adds to your expense. Certainly for the one person operation, I would advise against free offers because it adds dramatically to your logistics without any definite benefits. Build your business slowly and sensibly and take the advice of Vedamo, who have the experience to help you make the right choices.

More students come than you can handle

Surprisingly, this can be a problem particularly if you only have yourself. A small amount of students can be too much if you are trying to run a business, doing the advertising yourself, trying to answer queries that can come at any time or anything else that crops up. If students start to come quickly, you may have a problem if you cannot teach them yourself. I would suggest that you have at least one or two teachers that are willing to teach if this happens. Perhaps friends who are teachers who will pitch in at the start. I cannot emphasize enough that you need to consider this and have a back-up plan. Although it is a good problem to have, it will create a sour taste for potential students if you cannot accommodate them. You need to plan for the best and the worst.

The worst being that no or few students come at the start. This is very common for those starting a new business and you need to be able to survive this. It can take years in some cases to come into profit or to breakeven in a lot of businesses. Going modest and using a professional service like Vedamo is a great way to overcome this. The fact that you don’t need office space, expensive equipment or even staff means it should not be too difficult or too long to start making money.

And as work comes in, expansion can happen. The main thing is to try to be one step ahead of any expansion. Hiring staff, for example, is a big step and I will look into these next steps 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.
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
For the past nine years we have been providing a platform purpose-built for education.
VEDAMO Virtual Classroom
For the past nine years we have been providing a platform purpose-built for education.