Start your own school Tip 2: Be unavailable!

Getting students can be tough at the beginning, but here’s a great tip to use!

Imagine two restaurants. One is always empty, you ring them up and they say “oh, come any time, we’re pretty free here”. The other you’ve heard is always full, you ring up and they only have one reservation slot left.

Which one do you eat at?

It’s pretty obviously the second one.

This tip comes down to scarcity and “social proof” i.e. the belief that what’s popular must be good. It might not always be true, but it is always perceived to be true by customers, and unfortunately that’s what counts!

If you are just starting out, especially if things are slow in the beginning, you might be tempted to just grab at everyone who gives you a call. “No problem, I can fit you in any time. Any time at all!”. Of course as soon as you do that, alarm bells start going off in the customers head and they find an excuse to hang up real quick!

A much better approach, and this is one that is recommend in a lot of business courses, is to simply limit your classes to just one afternoon per week, say Wednesday. Then if anyone rings you can say “Well I only have spaces available for Wednesday at either 6 or 7 PM.”

It sounds much more impressive to your customer. If the customer takes it, you fill them in. Once the whole of Wednesday is full, you open up Thursday for bookings. Don’t open a new day till the previous one is filled.

That way you always have classes booked close together, which is great if you have to travel, rent a room or even take other work on the side whilst you get started. It really concentrates your mind on filling that small quantity of slots.

If a customer says the day is not acceptable you simply take their name and number and tell them you’ll ring them back if that day becomes available. When you do open that day up, you call them back, they’ll be happy that they can finally get in!

Try it, it’s a great way to organise your time and build your student base!

More to come soon!

Richard Graham

Hello, I'm Richard Graham. And when I was a kid I found school to be sooooo boring... So I transformed my way of teaching. I listened to what the kids were really wanting to say and taught it in ways they really wanted to learn. The results were magical. So I'm sharing it all with you now...

14 Responses to “Start your own school Tip 2: Be unavailable!”

  1. Margit

    Oh yes! I think that is a major point. For many years I’ve always tried to be very kind and adjust price and time as much as I could according to students wishes. The outcome always was that for each class I started there was always someone wanting it this way. When I decided it “this way” suddenly “this” wasn’t okay anymore and it needed to be “that way”…and in the end, after me struggling pretty much it were always people like that who quit first, or even didn’t start.

    To not get into confusion anymore, I made a written contract several years ago, where everything is really clear; students have to sign .
    It’s amazing how it works.

  2. Yumiko

    What a smart way to start a school!
    I’m looking forward to reading more about this topic.

  3. Adeola

    very useful tip.Hope to read more on this.thanks.

  4. Emma

    I do the opposite. Either I open new “classes” either people don’t sign in cause they can’t.
    Since I really need students I try to be flexible. Obviously it works too. People like it that unlike big companies I try to answer their needs.
    Now that I have several groups for the same age group and level, if a kid can’t come to his session ( which happens 2-3 times a year) he can come to another session.
    Parents are quite happy cause they don’t get reimbursed anyway if the child misses one session so they’d better bring their child at every session or eventually ask me if the child can catch up with another group.
    I like it to have from time to time a kid from another group because I only have groups of 4-5-6 kids at the most and it brings something new to everyone. A good way to practise again ” What’s your name” and “How old are you” ( which is boring to review more than once in little groups)

  5. Olga Vladymyrova

    Dear Richard! I’ve owned my school for 8 years, my first school was in Egypt, the second is here, in Ukraine. I found we have with you many things in common – I do also have mini-groups (4-6 kids), to my mind that’s the best amount – you can arrange individual work, pair work, group work (groups of 2 and 3).But I liked indeed your approach – to bring 1 kis from another group, I am going to try it out one day, and then I’ll let you know what’s happened to me!
    Oh, I actually started the comment by saying “I’ve owned my school for 8 years” but I found your advices are suitable, interesting, useful even for me! So, thanks a lot.ANd pls keep in mind that we are waiting form you another serie “How to improve your own school!”

  6. Phil

    Excellent advice and great website.

    One thing I do is hold my demo classes at times when I know there will be a lot of regular students in the school. That way the new students will have much more confidence that other students, who they believe are just like themselves, have chosen to study here.

  7. Stephen

    What fantastic advice. I do the book students at busy times too. Would love to hear how this works from people six months down the track. I am doing this as of today!!!

  8. Martin

    This is probably the hardest thing (besides getting official documents, visa, etc, sorted out) when starting a school (and I see it all the time even at an “established” school). The patience and confidence in your school and lessons to let the customers come to you. As an example of giving too many options and likely not opening a class at all, the school I am currently at is planning to offer a primary aged class on either Saturday or Sunday depending on which class garners the most interest. However, I feel like instead of getting a class of 6-8 students, we will just get 2 or 3 students interested in one time and 2 or 3 students interested in the other, whereas if we eliminated the option and offered one, we’d be able to snag 5 or more kids.

    The counter-argument made when I said this was that parents and kids are busy. This is true, but what about those parents-kids that are busy at neither time on Saturday or Sunday, but just PREFER one over the other (and once you’ve made the option available they won’t be as keen to give up that preference). If they had just offered the Saturday slot, some of the parents who preferred Sunday would still have signed up as it was the only current offering.

    I suppose the bigger issue is that we aren’t really a compelling choice.

  9. Richard

    Martin, you are so going to trounce your competition when you set up on your own!! 🙂

  10. Martin

    Thanks Richard. You really are an inspiration and these articles encourage and lift my spirits and confidence.

  11. Elvira

    Yes, this is very inspirational. But what if the perspective students are very few, even one of them or they respond not as quickly as I’ve expected them to do? How long can I wait for the rest of them?

  12. Richard

    Hi Elvira, glad you like it!

    The rules still stay the same whether you have 1 or a million students (Apple still does it!)

    If they are taking time to respond then it means they didn’t understand what you were offering and why you were different. So they are probably gone forever! No problem, that just means it’s time to really polish up your reason why you are different. Why should I come to you and not the class down the street?

    (The Purple Cow book will help with this)

    Once you have that sorted in your own head, that is part one!

    Then to get that first student the best way is to ask friends and friends of friends. (When I started I actually got my first student from a card in the local supermarket, but that doesn’t work anymore so friends of friends is always the best way!)

    Then once you start doing really awesome lessons for that one student, then everyone will want to join. And that’s when you start moving on to groups of 8 and a very successful lifestyle business that is changing the world around you!

    It’s all baby steps, just one step after the next!

  13. Martin Wenzel

    Wow. I’m falling into this trap. I’m being firm, and I have a group of students who are super interested AND can’t fit into any our times right now.

    AND in the back of my head and in most of my decisions, I’ve said, “Our schedule. They need to shift their times if they REALLY want to come right now.” I also want to focus on just opening ONE class. I think we cast our net a little too wide with demos for Kindergarten through 6th grade. Now we have a scattering of interest but still not enough students for any one class to open up. (The Kindergarten class has 4 or 5 signed up, so I want to focus on opening that.)

  14. Richard Graham

    You’re doing great so far Martin!

    Ring them up and say “No promises but if we could open a new class, what would your ideal day and time be?”

    Then if several of them have similar times get back to them and say “Good news! We might be able to open a class at that time, we just need xxx more students. If you could find some friends to join the class we’d be able to open it for you”.

    Job done. Everyone happy

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