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 ESL.net.
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.