Setting up an online school – Part 9: Initial obstacles

This time I will talk about the initial problems you will encounter in setting up or making the transition to online teaching.

Last time “Setting up an online school – Part 8“, I talked about marketing and what to expect at the start with a concentration on a one-person operation or a small setup. Today I will focus on what can go wrong initially. I have mentioned in previous articles the importance of internet reliability and speed, the difficulties of getting people to pay, choosing the right country to start, dealing with marketing companies, and getting more students than you can handle.

Plan properly

This leads me on to proper planning. You have to think of the best and worst scenarios and plan for both. Bizarrely, both ends of the spectrum could sink your business at the start. Not getting enough work, meaning at some point you have to close because you are losing money, is just as bad as getting too much work and not being able to cope and disappointing people. One thing I truly believe is that if you are good at your work, then the work will come.

Be patient. When I set up my first (and only physical) school, it took 2 years to get into profit. Everything was a learning curve and I mostly wanted to teach and not have to worry about all the other stuff. However, that had its blessing as my concentration on teaching meant that work eventually started to come in and word of mouth was working for me. I had a part time job at a university so I could survive the lean times. If you can hang on to some current work while you setup life can be easier.

Deliver what you promise

I want to make one thing clear, though. Whatever you advertise, you have to deliver. So if you go chasing work through an ad campaign, then you have to be prepared for the possibility of work coming in. Can you handle it? It may mean hiring teachers and support staff to sit around doing nothing and that is very expensive.

If you don’t have lots of money, I would suggest that, until you have your business up and running, you make it clear that you are a one person operation in your advertising. Do not spend a lot of money trying to get students that you cannot cope with.

Now, at this point, I should emphasise that it is very unlikely that you will have a big rush of applicants, unless, of course, you make my mistake of offering a free trial. See Setting up an online school part 8 Link here If you have free anywhere on your site, it is all people see. Assuming you don’t do that, though, my experience is that fee paying students are like gold dust. You will probably be frustrated with spending money and getting no useful returns. I certainly was.

Get existing students to switch

One way around the initial difficulty of getting new students is trying to get any existing students to switch to online. It is far easier to persuade students who know you are a good teacher and trust that you can deliver to be your customers than trying to get complete strangers to risk paying you money over the web. I was quite successful at this for both companies and individuals. If you offer a discount, and underline that there is no travelling involved, and that everything can continue as before then this can be a way to get up and running. If you are paying rent on a premises then you can save money if you get them all to switch. I must stress that employing a top-class service such as Vedamo will be a great boon in this regard. Because you can continue to use whatever textbooks you were using, and continue the same coursework with Vedamo as everything can be done online with their top class platform.

Intellectual property

I want to talk for a second about copyright here, although it is a subject I will return to in detail in a later blog. If you use textbooks which both you and your students have paid for, then you shouldn’t have any issues with intellectual property (IP). If you scan and use textbooks without the students having paid you could easily run into IP difficulties. Far easier to get them to buy their own and I had students in many countries who purchased the book in their own country and we continued as in a physical school. Otherwise you have to produce all your own material and that is a daunting task. I will return to this as I have produced a lot of my own material and can give you lots of advice if you wish to do this. However, there are ELT books from all the main publishers in most countries so if you get the students to buy your preferred one then that is the simplest route.

To be safer, If you keep all receipts and get your students to scan over their receipts to you then you have evidence that you are an asset to the respective publisher and shouldn’t have any problems. The internet is a legal minefield, though, and definitive answers are hard to find.

Never try to pretend, though, that you are the author of material for which you aren’t. Give credit to the producer at all times. I contacted video producers and various publishers when I wished to use their stuff and in most cases they were happy for it to be used in this context as long as their brand is clearly represented as the author.

I will continue about initial problems 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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