Going it alone: 5 things you should know
Updated: Oct 23
You may be working for other training organisations, in universities or schools and you feel like you're constantly running from one place to another and preparing lessons for 50 different kinds of students. Setting up on your own can seem tempting dream - and it is! - but there are some things you should know before you start.
I've had my own business for 5 years now. I started off as a freelance teacher, but as my company grew, I took on other teachers to work with me. Setting up your own training business is not for everyone. You have to be ok with uncertainty - you will regularly ask yourself whether you'll ever get another client again - and you can't be too much of a perfectionist.
I love having my own business. Maybe I'm just a control freak who is unmanageable! But I also enjoy being in charge of how much I earn and when I work, (even though it's very easy to let your working hours get out of control as a business owner: there's always something else you could do and you have to be purposeful in planning your timetable.) I will be honest and tell you I work much more than when I didn't have my own business, but it doesn't bother me, because the more I work, the more I see the results in my business.
So let me get to the point: here are five things that would have been really useful to know before I started out.
1. Set high enough prices When I first started out, I set a price that was higher than I was getting paid at that time, but much lower than the big training organisations were charging. Since then, I have put up my prices and they are now the same as the big training organisations. Pricing is 30% market, 70% mindset.
You need to be aware of two things when it comes to your pricing. Firstly, if your prices are low, you'll be dealing with quantity, not quality, You'll have to always have a certain number of students to pay yourself, but then what happens if you have too many? It will either be waiting list or outsourcing to other teachers and you can't outsource if your margins are too small (or maybe you will be charging enough that you can give extra work away to your teacher friends.)
Secondly, when you have your own business, you are doing a lot more than just preparation and teaching. You have to take on admin, marketing and sales, all of which can take up a lot of your time. You will also have higher overheads, even if you can't imagine it now. Pricing depends on your business model: make sure you think both of these things through at the beginning.
2. Set up your systems. I am not very good at following through with admin systems. Until I did Qualiopi, I admit that my back-office was a mess! Set up your systems from the start and they can grow with you. I now use google docs as I can easily share them with other teachers or my admin assistant (yes, you can outsource admin if you hate it!) What are the minimum systems you'll need?
Would you like help with your business model, pricing and sales? I'm soon going to open the Market your Teaching Business in France course - check out the preview here.
I think the minimum requirements are a master spreadsheet with all your students' course information on, some kind of accounting system (which can also be a spreadsheet) to keep track of your income and expenses, and a CRM (I use Crmble in Trello but a spreadsheet would do.) Automated accounting software that will create your invoices for you is a big plus. Also making yourself programme and contract templates will save you a lot of time.
If you are someone who is naturally organised and likes following through with systems, this will be no trouble for you! If you are more disorganised and follow-through is not your strong point, set yourself up for success with systems that are easy to use on a daily basis.
3. Get on board with admin and tech If you decide to go into the French training system, being able to deal with admin without losing your head is a must. Not only will you have to keep up with the paperwork, you will also need to be ready for the (many) changes that occur. I started my business before the training reform, so I cannot tell you how many times I've had to change the way I do things to be able to keep serving my customers profitably.
It also helps if you are not afraid of learning new technology: the training world is constantly evolving and there are always new e-learning and back-office systems that can help you with your business and your teaching. See my blog post here on the tools I use.
4. Put yourself out there. Unless you somehow already have a huge network of potential clients knocking on your door every day, you need to put yourself out there. How will anyone know what you do and who you do it for, and even more importantly, why you are better than Wall Street English?
There are different ways to get yourself known and most of them will cause you some discomfort at first. If you had told me a few years ago that I would be regularly putting videos on Linkedin for all the world to see, I would never have believed you! And I'm still so nervous every time I go to a networking event, but I force myself to do it because I know it pays off.
Knowing who exactly you are marketing to - defining your ideal customer or your niche - will help you immensely with this step. Next you will need to think about where you can find those people, particularly in a group, and go and put yourself in front of them. This could be online or offline, local, national or international. We talk a lot about this in the kickstart your business bootcamp - identifying your target audience and then getting in front of them.
5. Find fellow business owners. I was really lucky to be invited to join an informal business mastermind a few years ago, run by a woman business owner I really admire. That made me realise how important it is to find fellow entrepreneurs (yes, you are an entrepreneur if you are working for yourself) who are at a similar stage of business to you. Just having people around you who are sharing the same struggles, and who you can bounce ideas off, will help you enormously.
Don't be afraid to find fellow independent teachers to share business thoughts with. Yes, you are officially competitors, but we are fighting against so many huge training organisations, that joining forces is unlikely to do you any harm. In the training world, there is plenty of work.
I hope you've found these tips useful! Don't forget to check out my courses for teachers if you'd like more content like this.