Help Please: Starting your own school, what’s your number 1 question?

The Top Tips to Start your own schoolΒ posts have been getting quite a following recently.

I’m ready to do a few more, but I’d really like your help in deciding which things to talk about next.

So ..

What’s the biggest question you’d like to ask me about starting your own school?

Let me know in the comments and I’ll try my best to help you out!

Be genki,


P.S. Β If you already own your own school, please also feel free to ask questions or indeed to write up which questions you always had when you first started.


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...

40 Responses to “Help Please: Starting your own school, what’s your number 1 question?”

  1. Matthew

    What’s the best way to get the parents to do word-of-mouth marketing for us?

  2. Margit


    And another thing, which is on one of Richard’s advice threads, as well:
    Keep you time limited; don’T offer them too many available times for lessons.
    I just had one trial lesson yesterday, I had made a little compromise of listening to their “wish” of day, and set the lessons on Wedn. 16.
    4 of 8 had another thing on Thursdays. However when they came yesterday, they suddenly said that this other thing had changed to just Wed. 16 o’clock.
    Well, I told them, I was really sorry, but I can’t change and need them to decide.
    Then one other mom from the 8 jumped in and scolded those 4, saying “You know how popular Margit is? I had to wait for 1 year with my oldest daughter. If you don’t sign up you really will regret it.”

    2 of them decided right away to cancel the PE class for my English one, and the other two are going to tell me tomorrow.

    I think this is the most important lesson I learned from Richard, I always had students choose the day and time in the beginning, but it works wonders to make yourself little available.

  3. Gumby

    For those just thinking about teaching privately, what things do you consider as far as setting up classes: divide them by age and or level, or is it OK to take them as siblings or groups of friends?

    I haven’t had the best luck with siblings a year or two apart. I wonder if others have the same observation?

  4. Stephen

    Gumby, I have found that even one year difference can be huge, especially when it comes to reading and writing. However, in saying that, the younger kids pick up things pretty fast and can progress really fast. Kind of like when you play a good team, you try harder. I have found that this can actually be an advantage. Kids love to copy older kids!!!

  5. Elvira

    Hi Gumby,I have two kids groups-one is two boys siblings of two years apart.My observation is the oldest one sometimes acts like he is the key person among them because the youngest is a little bit slow.I have always to balance between the topics I choose and their abilities and levels.The other group is three girls, two of them are sisters and the third one is the close friend of them.As far as two of them are of the same age(10) they fit each other perfectly although one girl is better in reading and writing.The older girl(she’s 14) participates in everyting whith reluctance whereas her friends come to classes willingly and love them, one of them is so creative in games.
    Well, I’m going to take a balanced approach in the future. This past year I had absolutely no choice to get my groups the right way( as I planned), because no other students came in. Of course I need at least several kids of the same level to start a good group.What do you think?

  6. Quyen

    Richard, I really want to watch the lessons which are suitable for the themes. For example: YOU and ME, My School, My Family, The World Around us, … Thanks.

  7. ponytom

    The biggest question to start its own school also depends on your school location. Here in China,my school is located at a prefecture, a town about 150,000 people in population which may be quite like a city abroad equavalence in population.What I mention this is because the situation in China is different,grads always want to find their dreams in bigger cities. Comparing with those who running school in bigger cities where is not problem for them to get teachers,my situation is totally opposite.I think this phenomenon may caused by the national developing stage,the new-born generation is tend to be fickle to find their way out.
    So,my first quetion is how to employ teachers to work for me.

  8. Matthew

    ponytom, you may have to pay them significantly more than in the more desirable locations. My school is right on the outskirts of Bangkok but just do to the fact that it’s not in a fancy shopping mall I have to pay teachers a lot more than the limitless budgeted giants in the malls.

  9. Matthew

    i meant due to the fact.. i’m tired

  10. ponytom

    Thanks,Matthew.What you said is right!I will consider this fact later and will also provide new teachers yearly training programs that seems more competitive benefits.

  11. Margit


    If you want to get away from problems and guarantee fun lessons for all, I would really recommend you : no siblings in the same class. OR if you can’t avoid it at all, go for siblings only(or family lessons), without any other kids in there.

    I used to have several classes with siblings, or even with twins, and it is very stressful for teacher, the siblings themselves and the other kids. You will spent so much energy on matters that haven’T to do with English at all.
    I made the same observation as Stephen, and in classes without siblings: YES it can be really great and a big motivation to have different ages in one class. I do have several mixed classes and they work really well.
    However if it comes up to siblings, no matter wether the taller or the smaller one is the “better” one, this will be a big deal in class and you know as a mother how annoying quarrels (even if they are unspoken) between siblings can be.

    On the other hand, I have many many siblings, that are coming to different classes, and this seems to be very motivating for them, as parents are telling me they do their homework together (of course they get different HW at each class, meaning siblings are doing “double” online work.) and they speak during dinner at times.

    NOT siblings but mixed ages, I have 3JH1 with a 6th grade girl (this is the girl who is pulling the JH kids as she just passed the Eiken Pre 2!)
    I have six 5th graders with one 4th grader, again 4th grader pulling!
    and 3third graders with 3 second graders, which is very very balanced.

    Hope this helps, and hope that you can get some more private classes!

  12. Kinga

    I agree with those who say that name does not matter. I had exactly the same problem starting my school. In the end I chose name in my own language, not English, because I couldn’t come up with anything making sense. I think that the most important is your attitude to teaching and the way you work with students… It worked in my case… πŸ™‚ Good luck!

  13. Hava Klaiman

    My school is called “Step byStep”

  14. Arezoo

    I would name my langugae school :
    The global village πŸ™‚

  15. David Stanton

    I`m in Vietnam , teaching ,, most schools still use black and white . photocopied – boring out of date text books. also most ESL schools only worry about what goes into their bank account and not the quality of education. I have tried on many occasions to start a Genki schools as I know this system works , I have used it in China, in a public high school.All I meet here is laziness and dis-interest.

  16. Chris Hogan

    My biggest question, working in SΓ£o Paulo, is how do you get students? I’ve been working with a couple of schools, and have some freedom to teach the way I want, but it’s terrible knowing I get 1/4 of what I work for. How does a teacher get a client base?

  17. Alessandra

    It was easy for me to open a school.
    I live in a Swiss village and I’ve got tons of clients.I just needed books and a spare room!
    Everyone needs to learn a language around here.. And I teach English/French/Italian and German from 3 yrs old to 70 years old!!
    So my school’s become a local meeting point. Kids and adults
    know each other… And learning a language has become fun!
    When I had to choose the name of the school it came naturally…languages for fun..!!!!
    But we do work seriously! Learning is made in a fun way!!

    Have a nice day everyone and thanks Richard for the positive energy you are sending around the world!

  18. thichaya

    I really like Alessandra’s point. Anyway I have no time to do that. Many people around me want to learn English. So, the way to open my own school still be in my thought…I hope to start, too.

  19. George

    How does a business owner/ teacher deal with new students that want to join a class in the middle of a semester? My wife often faces this problem and with 50+ students she doesn’t have a time slot in the schedule to start a new class. She would love to have more students, but she has to place any new students on a waiting list. She has tried adding new students, but the skill levels are so different that the new student often feels uncomfortable or the pace of the class slows. Outside of hiring someone, is there another solution?

  20. Richard

    @George: Yep, waiting lists are the way to go. That way you always have new students waiting for when other classes graduated and the word of mouth marketing this brings is tremendous. After all which restaurant do you want to dine at, the one where anyone can join anytime (even part way through a course!) or the one where you can’t get in because there’s a 2 year waiting list! πŸ™‚

  21. George

    I understand and agree with your reasoning behind waiting list. It’s worked so far, so…

    Another question: What’s the best way to determine what to charge a student (I mean parent)? We checked out our competition and charge the same. I advised my wife that if we charge a little more maybe they will think our school has something more to offer. On the other hand, she is afraid that the additional charges will prevent a parent from choosing our school. She is afraid to raise the rates now that we have been charging the same rate for the past couple of years.

  22. Richard

    Hi George,

    I advised my wife that if we charge a little more maybe they will think our school has something more to offer.


    On the other hand, she is afraid that the additional charges will prevent a parent from choosing our school.


    She is afraid to raise the rates now that we have been charging the same rate for the past couple of years.

    Here’s how you do it!

  23. George

    Here’s my last Number 1 question: How do you choose a good location for a school? Rather than spending a fortune in rent for a building on the main street, we chose a location on a small side street that had ample parking and close to public schools. It takes some effort to find our business, but with the help of “word of mouth” the students seek us out. One disadvantage: Some of the parents try to keep our location a secret because they don’t want to see the classes become too large.

  24. Richard

    No worries, all good questions!

    In the beginning location shouldn’t matter too much if you have the word of mouth marketing – and it sounds like you have. Parking can sometimes become an issue, so something away from the main streets can work best.

    Having said that, once you get to a full schedule then the next step, as soon as possible, is to get your own school building. The classrooms are on the ground floor, you live on the penthouse on the top floor and you rent out the apartments in the middle floors. This way you get free rent for your school and home (because the income from the rentals pays the mortgage) and at the end of the day you have a paid off asset which becomes your pension, either by selling it off (in most countries) or keeping renting it out (check on the tax liabilities where you are.) That’s how the big businesses (e.g. McDonalds) do it, and everyone spouse loves when you get free rent! πŸ™‚


  25. George

    Thank you, Richard. Buying a location is a big step especially in a foreign country. We’ll need a few more students before we take that leap.

  26. Richard

    Yep, but keep it in mind and keep it as the goal! πŸ™‚

  27. deepak vj

    initial investments it does not mean air conditioned class rooms but minimum standards we need to maintain neat and clean class rooms recreation facilties and quality ground i prefer more importance to sports from where they learn team work enthusiasam and eagerness to win and of-course fitness. Second qualified and dedicated teachers

  28. Del

    Very simple question: in which E. Asian countries can a foreign national legally open a business (typically an EFL school, natch) WITHOUT being married to a local national?


  29. Richard Graham

    Hi Del, pretty much all of them! In some countries you might need local partners to satisfy ownership criteria, but you usually don’t need to be married to them πŸ™‚

  30. Martin

    However, I haven’t been able to figure out how to own a business in China and remain in China to work at said business. The only way to work in China is to be under a work visa (even if you are married to a Chinese citizen, you can’t work in China with a work visa…you can get a family visa to STAY in China but can’t work without getting work visa through your employer). If you are self-employed running your own school I don’t see how you could do it!

    One could get a work visa and work at a regular school and then run their own school on the side, but this would be illegal as you can only work at the place your visa is for. Provide a work visa for yourself through your business? The hurdles are incredibly high for foreigners in China.

    So that is my question. How to own and work your own school in China? Does anyone have any knowledge about this beyond what I know or think I know?

  31. Richard Graham

    Hi Martin, we’ve got to get you started soon! πŸ™‚ The easiest way, assuming you don’t have the funds to get investor status, is to partner with a local you trust. Set out the ground rules firmly before hand and it certainly can work out!

    Or …. just go virtual work online! πŸ™‚

  32. Martin

    I’m hesitant to do virtual online work because the internet is so unreliable here.

    This local would have to be able to get me a work visa. Sadly, my fiance can’t.

  33. Richard Graham

    Unless she’s really into, Fiancee might not be the best bet anyway πŸ™‚ Get out and start networking, local business lunches, breakfasts, it’s *all* about the professional network in China. And somewhere along there you’ll find an awesome partner who you trust who can make things happen!

  34. Martin

    Well we want to start the school together.

  35. Richard Graham

    Cool, now get it done πŸ™‚

    P.S. The hurdles seem high, but compared with other businesses in China it is totally doable to set up a school. Just imagine setting up a factory or an airline or newspaper, it’s all in the perspective!

  36. Alistair

    My main question includes where TO LIVE? We simply cannot decide where in Japan we want to live. My wife is from Kyoto but neither of us really wants to live there and Okayama, where we are now is not proving to be as great a place as we had hoped. Finding the exact spot where we want to live AND set up our school is the main problem that we face at the moment.

  37. Richard Graham

    I think you’re probably asking the very worst possible person here Alistair, I’ve been location free for 20 years!

    The key is always “lifestyle” first. So find the place you ideally want to live first. And then it’s easy to set up a school anywhere. Literally anywhere from the biggest cities to the tiniest islands there is demand. Kyoto is nice if you can get out into the country, Okinawa is warm, and you can’t beat Tokyo for the cultural side of things.

    Or you could go virtual and live in Japan in the Spring/Autumn with the nice weather and then live in Thailand or anywhere else when it’s too hot/cold in Japan.

  38. Ken B

    Starting off in a community center(Japan) what hurdles should I expect. I plan on starting small and eventually renting a place and starting an official school. So I register at city hall ? I have little to no help, other than I can speak Japanese. Thank you for your time.

  39. Richard Graham

    Hi Ken,

    Congratulations – sounds like a plan! πŸ™‚

    Hurdles wise, just make sure the community centre is one where they let you do commercial activities. Some do, some don’t so ask around.

    Then just make sure you have awesome lessons so everyone talks about them and spreads the word. And of course with Genki English you’ll have no worries on that score.

    As far as registering, I can’t give legal or accounting advice so my recommendation would be to pop down to city hall and have a chat and then speak to a local lawyer and accountant. You’ll need them anyway and they’ll be able to get you up and running!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *