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Opening Your Own School - Part Four


Welcome to the Neighborhood!

Your school needs to be fully outfitted and inspected before you can change your provisional license to a full school license, which then allows you to teach legally and, no less important, collect money. Your Chinese partner should coordinate all of those things.

Once you open your doors, you will get a slew of visitors. I said visitors, not customers. They will generally fall within three groups: government officials, scammers/salespeople, and spies.

Government officials, comprising fire and signage inspectors, tax collectors, and the like will be drawn to your school like bees to honey. Their job is to ensure that you are fully aware of the local regulations and also to check for any deficiencies. Your Chinese partner will handle them, but you should be briefed on the regulations so you can ensure continued compliance.

I was amazed to discover that we had no less than three building cleaners come by to collect for cleaning services our first few days. Alas, none of them was the real cleaning lady whom I met later. Luckily, I had a sharp partner who sent them all away empty-handed. Salespeople will drop by unannounced and offer to sell you anything and everything.

Don’t waste time meeting with the hordes of intruders who will come to you with business or partnership “opportunities” of every kind. Our managers are trained to filter all those who offer “opportunities” with this question: “How many paying students will your opportunity bring to this school in the next month?”

Your competition will send countless “spies” to check out your school. They’re not hard to spot—just look for the “parent” carrying a video recorder and a notebook, asking “Can you show me your school licenses, your teachers’ diplomas, and provide me with a copy of your curricula and lesson plans?” They will listen to a lecture from an American native-speaker of English with an Upper Midwestern dialect, walk over to the parents sitting in the waiting area and loudly declare: “He doesn’t speak real English! Terrible!” Sometimes, you just have to laugh.

Never worry about spies from your competition. There are two reasons for this advice. First, nobody can steal your English. Second, the more other schools try to copy your methods, the worse they look in comparison to your school. It’s like somebody going to a Las Vegas magic show and then coming home to perform for the neighbors. Folks who have been to Vegas won’t compare them favorably.

Give a lot of consideration to the textbooks and materials you use. Changing textbooks after you have already adopted them is the academic equivalent of a heart-lung transplant. Make sure you are going to be happy with your books for the next three to five years. There are many sources on the Internet available from publishers of commonly used TEFL books in China, the most prevalent of which is Pearson Asian Division. For another nice compilation of EFL books, we suggest you take a look at

Develop a payment collection and billing system that works for you from the start. The last thing you want to do is have to overhaul your payment system midstream. You have two choices in regard to billing systems: semester based or “gym membership style.” Semester based is dead simple to manage. Every semester (three months, six months, or whenever you choose), everybody pays.

It has the advantage of simplicity. It has the disadvantage of causing cash flow peaks and valleys, and introduces a security risk in having too much cash on the premises at one time. When you open, customers will only want to pay at the end of the semester, regardless of how much time is remaining. That means your revenue will shrink each day until the beginning of the next semester—not a good thing for a new business.

Gym membership is open enrollment. Whenever someone signs up, he pays and he pays for a full semester starting with that very day. This has the advantage of normalizing cash flow. It has the disadvantage of being potentially complicated to track unless you are using a database and can issue payment reminders every week on the anniversary date of each student’s enrollment.

Forms, forms, forms! You’ll need a multitude of forms to manage your school. Right from the start you’ll need contracts for customers, employment contracts for foreign teachers, Chinese workers and managers. You’ll need test forms, class schedule change forms, student assessment forms, data collection and sales forms, etc.

Finally, the big day arrives and students show up for your first demo class. Both of them. Only two students! You cringe.

Don’t be discouraged. Do a good job and they’ll be back with their classmates and neighbors. Word will spread and soon you’ll be opening more classes and hiring more teachers. After that, you’ll be opening branches.

Needless to say, a book could have been written just about opening a school. Yet another could be written about managing and operating a school.

For those of you contemplating opening a school of your own, I hope these articles have been of some service.


# RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourDave 2010-02-19 06:25
Hi can you give me some of the ideas on what are the various marketing stratergies available for newly started schools. I have been an esl teacher for 3 years now. I have rented a room with language training school and started to operate an school.
I will not say that my school is 100% legal but i want to promote it so that I can have atleast decent business initially before proceeding to make it legal.
# RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourKen 2010-02-19 06:26
Doubtlessly you have perhaps passed out a few flyers to seed your student population. Anything beyond that will put you head to head competing against better funded players.

I would advise forgetting about external marketing and focus only on delivering an excellent product. If you do that, you will grow only by word-of-mouth, which is the strongest and best sales method possible.

You can build a sizable school rather quickly based on word of mouth. The other marketing methods, (shows, English Corners, advertisements, etc). are something I feel drains resources and delivers little, if anything, for the effort.
# RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourSridhar Ramasami 2010-02-19 06:26

Thank you very much for writing this article. We are in the process of opening a school in Lanzhou, Gansu and are finding the info to be extremely useful and accurate.
# RE: RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourKen 2010-02-19 06:26
I’m glad you find it of use. I wish you success.

# RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourSridhar Ramasami 2010-02-19 06:27
Hi Dave,

I am also starting a school. Perhaps we can exchange our experiences over email? I think it would be good support and source of knowledge for each other. If you agree, we could try requesting Ken to supply each other with our emails.


# RE: RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourDave 2010-02-19 06:27
Hi Sridhar

Are there many instances of English-style Sixth Forms opening in China teaching A-Levels?


# Opening your Own School in Chinasachdev 2010-03-17 14:23
Hi Ken,

Thanks for the article. I have a school in Bangkok, Thailand and we are now in the midst of opening another branch in China. It's only been 3 months since we took over, and you are right, the red-tape is never ending.

I hope I can keep an open communication line with yourself, Dave and Sridhar. We can share our experiences (good and bad).

I can be contacted via email at either
.th or

Best Regards

# RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourHeadmaster Ken 2010-03-17 15:09
JS and David, I wish you both the best.

These are challenging times for many schools. If you can survive these days, you'll thrive as the economy picks up.

Wishing you both success.

# RE: Opening Your Own School - Part FourAmarach 2010-05-24 01:25

I loved your article, and would enjoy the chance to get in contact with you. I am at the beginning stages of the process of opening a school, and I would truly appreciate some much needed guidance. If you are free and willing, could you please contact me at dragongodli@gma It would be great to pick your brain and get some advice.


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