How to Develop A Business Strategy when Starting An English School — Ben English
I never thought I’d call myself an English teacher.
Originally from London, I was a dyslexic student, and I continue to make spelling mistakes today! Let’s be honest though, the English language isn’t very forgiving either. Other languages, like Spanish, make it far easier for learners to spell!
Despite the difficulties, I persevered through and earned myself a business management degree and later the tough CELTA diploma.
I call myself Ben English but my real name is Benjamin Reilly. I go by Ben English because it’s my stage name, my personal brand. And besides, I teach English, and my father’s great-maiden name was English, hence I thought it sounded and reflected exactly who I am and what I do.
I can imagine that with that background that makes you a good language teacher. But first, can you tell us a bit more about your backstory? How did you first get started teaching English?
I started teaching after traveling solo around South East Asia and Australia where I discovered how others hit two birds with one stone: travel and English teaching. A mentor of mine suggested I do the CELTA, a prestigious English teaching qualification. After completing the challenging training (Who isn’t scared to step into a classroom for the first time as a teacher? — Plus those assignments are tough!), I picked Buenos Aires as my first destination.
In the end, BsAs wasn’t for me, so I picked my next destination: the tourism capital of S. America, Cusco, close to the famous cultural heritage site of Machu Picchu. Little did I know I would end up founding and running an ESL school for over 7 years and reaching over 200 students enrolled in courses in a single month. Despite the challenges, mainly the altitude (3,400 masl), muddled bureaucracy, and a bunch of other cultural barriers, we had had record sales in the first three-quarters of 2020, thanks also to a lucrative contract with a prestigious local transport company.
The pandemic hit and Peru shut down for six months. Schools remain closed to this day. I was forced to close the school and recently decided to liquidate to focus my efforts online. Although disappointing that the school couldn’t continue in its physical form, the experience I gained goes with me, and I’m now working on my laptop in the highlands of Peru, away from the bustle of the city, breathing fresh air, and that just feels great.
I can imagine that it was difficult to close your school. But knowing where you live now, it seems like things have worked out well for you. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing now?
I began a Youtube channel in 2014 at the same time as I started my brick-and-mortar school. Since then I’ve done about 50 videos on English training. I do it because I’m passionate about teaching and making videos — and I do it all by myself. Audiovisual marketing on social media was a big part of my success and anyone who wants to be successful selling their courses must know how to market themselves.
Audiovisual marketing on social media was a big part of my success.
Fortunately, with my business and tech background (I’m a millennial brought up on computers selling on Ebay in my teens), this transition to online was already in the making. In 2019, I started to develop my Learning Management System . I now have 8 online courses and a membership of around 15 online recurring English students. It feels like I’m starting again, yet I recognize that this is now a new period of my life, and businesses take time to grow. A big vision is important for staying motivated. My goal now is to teach every South American a basic level of English.
That’s a big goal. But from our previous conversation, I have faith in you. That’s in part because you told me that before you started working for yourself, you evaluated the market to see what opportunities existed for you. Can you talk about what you looked for and how testing was important for you
Absolutely, market research or at least a good understanding of the market is essential.
An entrepreneur essentially looks for gaps, or opportunities, in the market like. “Why don’t they have a wine bar in this city? Or “Where’s there mini golf course?”
Alternatively, you could be seeing the market as underserved because the quality is not great. An entrepreneur might ask “Can I do this better than what is currently being served?”.
Later, one has to actually connect with people and find out what they are struggling with. You can do quantitative (surveys) research or qualitative (questionnaires) research, or both. Just don’t go investing $$$ into an untested product. A big tip is to pre-sell anything. You need to validate your product or offer before you ‘take the leap’!
A big tip is to pre-sell anything. You need to validate your product or offer before you ‘take the leap’!
In the market I operated in, there was a lot of demand for English due to Machu Picchu and the tourism industry, but English really is in demand all over South America.
A classic business strategy to conduct is a SWOT analysis and I recommend doing this twice a year. SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
For example, my strengths now are my abilities to speak Spanish, to create landing pages, and all my business and teaching experience.
A weakness is that the internet in the valley is a little slow sometimes and the 3rd-party software has been causing my students problems recently (tech!).
The opportunity though is a huge demand for English and the upfront cost of getting in front of people online is easier than it was pre-2020 (as the general population has now had a crash course on online education).
Finally, my threats I could consider myself. If I fail to be organized, set goals, journal, meditate, to do the hard work and make sales, the business will not grow or survive. I have to be committed or else!
You have taken risks in your business, but it doesn’t sound like you jump with your eyes closed. How do you make decisions to take a risk or not?
Life is a game. It’s like chess. You move pieces around the board to get what you want. You cannot get too focused on the pieces themselves, and you often need to stand back and see the whole picture.
I firmly believe in gut instinct, or business acumen. I must be aware of my internal dialogue as the mind can make you doubt yourself. If I instinctively feel pulled towards a decision, I will follow through, with the 100% certainty in my decision. The book, the 5-Second Rule, by Mel Robins, goes deeper into this topic.
Am I often wrong? Of course. Yet I stay confident in my ability to make decisions and learn from them. There is no blame game, even with yourself. The key is to get to acceptance as soon as possible. Accept there was a mistake, learn from it, and move on.
The Benjamin Franklin technique is another practical way to sum up the advantages and disadvantages of a decision. Simply put, it’s a table where you list out the pros and cons of the either decision. For example, your dilema may be choosing between two job offers. Therefore to get a bit of clarity, you simply start writing down your thoughts. You should soon enough see a trend to one or the other. If everything is even may be it’s time to flip a coin (and notice which side you want it to land on). If all else fails, just choose fast and take action because otherwise you’re stalling.
Great decision makers make great people to work with. People who say maybe are always on the fence and never get things done.
One good decision often leads to many other great decisions. Let’s say you decide to do your workout this morning, or get up before the sun rises. That decision to get up will lead to more confidence in yourself to make better decisions throughout the day.
That being said, Warren Buffet, a billionaire, says he only needs to make a few good decisions every year. So perhaps it’s more about avoiding bad decisions than making good ones.
Those are very interesting points, and I think they’re tied to my next question. You don’t talk about what your business will look like next year. You talk about what it will look like in 10 years. What do you think the value is in having a long-term vision for your business?
If you want to start your own ESL school, you have to know this isn’t a get rich quick thing. No business is. When I set up the company, I committed to 3 to 5 years. I was committed for the long term. 90% of businesses don’t even last a year, so celebrating every sale or accomplishment is extremely important.
If you want to start your own ESL school, you have to know this isn’t a get rich quick thing.
A longer-term vision is crucial to the success of a business. A goal big enough to pull me through the hardship is the only way to stay motivated. My goal now is to help all South Americans learn basic English. Only with the reward big enough, can I justify all this hard work! Would you step on glass to get 100$? No! Would you step on glass to get $1,000,000? Probably.
The point is the goal needs to be big enough to go through the struggle. A coach of mine uses deep meditation to release limiting beliefs and manifest the best version of ourselves today. Sportsmen are coached to do the same: to see the goal scored in their mind before it happens in reality.
What you think, you say. What you say, you do. What you do, becomes your long term legacy.
This is a topic that gets me very excited. I definitely want to talk with you about this more. But first, let me ask, if you could go back in time, is there anything that you wished you’d known about earlier when it comes to your language teaching career?
Knowing about the pandemic, I may have reconsidered my decision to build a brick and mortar business and instead focused on the digital school and my Youtube channel.
A commitment to quality is really an essential mindset. That action creates confidence. That you need money and time to create more money and time. That there are two types of information: good information and bad information. A great mentor or coach can help you with this and, it was only later in the career that I actually invested more into my own education than ever before since university.
Also, I love the power of journaling in the evenings. This really helps me to reflect on the mistakes I make, the lessons I learn, and to plan out my day, so I start the day knowing exactly what I need to do. It brings more awareness to the process. I only wish I did this more consistently more often.
I love the power of journaling. This really helps me to reflect on the mistakes I make.
Ultimately, I don’t regret anything or wish I’d known something. I don’t live in the past, there’s no point. I’ve learned so much, and now I’m really enjoying sharing my experience with others, continuing to serve others but with better than ever results.
Thanks for sharing those lessons learned with this. In my experience, they are good ones. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?
I’d also probably say do your due diligence. Unfortunately in many cases, you have to experience life to learn. My biggest mistakes could have been avoided with mentorship, so get help if you can.
Ultimately, despite closing the business in Peru, failure is a part of the process and I’m excited for this next chapter. Besides, to quote what my dad said about closing the business “at least you didn’t work in a call centre in your twenties”.
Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?
When I started my journey, I scoured the web for hours and hours for information on how to start an English school (ESL). I was desperate for information and guidance. I really just wanted to share ideas with. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. You’re expected to take all the big decisions alone, and you carry all the responsibility.
If you need someone to talk to, to bounce ideas around, and really have a true desire to help others, then I encourage you to contact me, reach out and get the help you need on this tough journey you’re thinking of embarking on. God speed!
Email: ben [ at ] inglessuperior [ dot ] com