Use This Guide for Starting an Eikaiwa (English School)
Learn from our successes and failures to start in the right direction.
In 2010, my contract with the JET Program in Japan came to an end. I still had a couple years left on my working visa, and I was thinking about ways that I could continue to work in Japan. Teaching English is one of the most common ways that foreigners can live and work in Japan. It’s a decent job, and a lot of teachers at some point think to themselves, “Maybe starting an eikaiwa (English conversation school) is something I could do myself.” I also considered it and decided to give it a shot.
In this article, I will talk about my experiences, which could be invaluable for someone thinking about starting an eikaiwa. While my eikaiwa is in Japan, many of the ideas and suggestions are relevant regardless of location. So, this guide is for anyone in the world who is thinking about starting their own English conversation school.
What are the startup costs, running costs, and potential revenue from starting an Eikaiwa?
The typical salary for English teachers in Japan is about 250,000 yen ($2,500 USD, $1=100yen) which sounds great at first, but considering the late hours, expensive cost of living in Japan, and the fact that your salary will probably not go up more than 3 to 5% for your entire life, it’s natural that some people start to look for more lucrative opportunities. Starting an eikaiwa is a great chance to make more money, have more control over lessons and teaching, and it lets you be the boss. There will be many difficult decisions in the process of starting and running your business. I will talk about the five tips that I picked up along the way so that others can start their companies more efficiently with a higher chance of success.
5 Things That Will Improve Your Chances of Success
1. Start Your Brand Strong With an Amazing Name
This might seem like common sense, but your conversation school’s name is one of the most important aspects of your business. It’s the way people will remember your school and your brand. In my case, I couldn’t decide which was better: a name in English or Japanese? It seems like a minor point, but considering that our customers are typically Japanese people, we went with a name that could easily be understood in both languages. Remember that even if someone can speak two languages, reading something in their native language will always have a stronger impact due to instant recognition and deeper understanding of the content.
For example, imagine an American called Bob thinking about starting an eikaiwa. He decides to choose one of the two names, “Bob’s English School” or “Bob’s Eikaiwa.” While “English School” is obvious to native English speakers and represents the business’s purpose, Bob’s customers might not instantly recognize the English and may take a few extras seconds to process the business name. Side by side with another company which has a Japanese title like “eikaiwa,” Bob’s school might lose to the competitor due to the customers familiarity with Japanese. I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other, but it’s important to take these things into consideration. Personally, I think neither are excellent choices. A great name should describe the company but also have a strong impact and be easy to remember.
Since your business name will be the initial impression of your company to your customers, it’s important to take your time and think carefully. Doing a google search for local English schools might be helpful to get some ideas and understand who you will be competing with.
2. Choose an Effective Team
When starting your English school, some important questions you must ask yourself are “What kind of school do you want to have five years from now, and how large do you want your business to grow in the long run?” The answer to these questions will determine how to initially set up your business and what resources will be necessary.
If you are just hoping to get enough students to sustain your own income, then starting with a team of one or two people is possible. This will keep your monthly expenses low since you have fewer salaries to pay. You will be doing most of the teaching, however, so there will be fewer opportunities to promote your school, develop an effective website and social media presence, and do the numerous other management tasks required outside of the classroom. Of course, this means slower growth and less potential for maximum growth due to limited resources.
If you are hoping to have numerous teachers at multiple locations in the future, then your initial planning will be much different. My school started with a team of three people: a full-time native teacher with previous teaching experience, a full-time native teacher with graphic/web design experience, and a part-time Japanese manager with experience in eikaiwa management. This was effective for many reasons: between the three of us, we could tackle all the challenging tasks that are required when staring a business. In addition, our expenses were low because the two full time teachers were willing to work for reduced salaries (both were part owners) and the part-time manager only worked as needed.
Of course, every situation will be different, but finding a team that is motivated with a diverse skill set is crucial to any new business.
3. Integrate With Your Community
One of the most important things that will help your business get off to a good start is getting your name out in the community and making your company visible to the public and potential customers. This is the main reason all companies spend such a large budget on advertising. Having a well-designed website, a strong social media presence, and effective advertising campaigns are necessary to be competitive with other language schools in your area. These can take a lot of time and money however.
4. Establish A Strong Curriculum That Meets Your Students’ Needs
Every English school needs a solid curriculum, but what kind of curriculum is best for your school? First, you should think about your students and their needs as ESL students. Are you going to focus primarily on kids or adults? Will you have group lessons or private lessons? If you try to do everything from the beginning, you might sacrifice quality, so it’s good to choose a specific target you are confident in doing. Once you have a solid foundation of students and classes with a steady source of income then you can slowly start branching out and offering new products or services.
Not everyone can design their own original curriculum and create teaching resources, but if you can, it’s a great way to give your company image a boost. Another important thing is to pay attention to your students’ needs. In the countryside of Japan, we found that many students prefer conversation-based lessons with less book work. This is because many students grow up learning how to read and write in junior high school English class, but never have enough experience to master speaking. Focusing on this weakness, we decided to create a curriculum that meets their needs and focus primarily on conversation.
The kids class curriculum we designed, BINGOBONGO, is also a solution to this problem. With this flexible curriculum, kids can learn proper pronunciation and remember natural expressions easier through repetition with music and videos. After children learn the target expressions, they can then practice reading and writing with our free worksheets and flashcards. All our songs are specifically designed with a grammar point in mind to help students master conversation before they learn to read and write. This makes sense since it’s how native speakers naturally learn language.
Whatever you choose for your curriculum, just remember that your students’ needs are first and foremost. A custom-tailored curriculum to meet their needs will be the most effective way to create fun lessons that people want to keep coming back for and tell their friends about.
5. Set Up Monthly Automatic Bank Withdrawal Payments
The last point of this guide to starting your own English conversation school is often overlooked, yet a crucial point. As a business owner and manager, you will be busy with numerous tasks including teaching, scheduling, book keeping, advertising, and more. The more time you can save in daily tasks, the more time you will have to take on new challenges and promote your school. Setting up automatic bank payments for students that pay a monthly fee will save a significant amount of time. Our school started automatic payments after about six months, and it was the single biggest time saver and headache eliminator. The stress of trying to chase down overdue payments and keep track of who has or hasn’t paid was instantly gone. Not to mention, it gives a sense of trust to your customers.
In Japan, many banks required having at least 100 transactions (customers) per month to set up an automatic withdrawal system, but the Yucho Post Office Bank Service is a little more flexible and we could start with around 30 or 40 customers. They charge 25 yen per student which is also reasonable. Depending on the country you start your English school, this may be easier or more difficult, but without a doubt, it was the best thing we could do to make management more efficient.
Until Next Time
There’s a lot more to getting your English conversation school off the ground and becoming successful, but I hope this gives you some insight on some important things to consider when preparing to start your business.
To find our more about the next big step in starting an English school, developing your curriculum check out our guide to building an effective curriculum for eikaiwa schools in Japan. Check back soon for more tips and information on starting an eikaiwa (English school) and to see all of the new free resources we keep adding for fun and awesome kids ESL classes.
Any questions? Feel free to send us a message.