When you have the opportunity to “work for yourself”, the question of why you would do it will pop up. Why would you start an English school in South Korea? The easy answer is “’cause I can.”
Most wonjangnim’s I have had the pleasure to meet seem to come into the business in a similar fashion. They establish a relationship with Korea through family ties. They start a family. Most teachers that come here have a more fleeting existence, and will not commit to a long or permanent residence, therefore see little use in becoming a full member of Korean society. The difference is very striking between people who do assimilate and those who do not.
The issue is that those who do want to raise their family in Korea are dealt with in the same manner as those who are a fleeting presence. It often entails uncertain job prospects and walking from one school to another. It becomes obvious that a more permanent income is required to sustain a family and they will experience that taking the risk in their own hands will both be more stable and lucrative. They start teaching at home.
If this first step is successful and they can maintain a steady student count, will ultimately feel that the house does not allow to grow beyond a certain limitation and that privacy becomes a problem. They decide to open a small operation outside, but in the vicinity of their initial business.
If this second step works out in their favor, dreams will become bigger and ambition will make them look for even more profitable solutions. The hagwon.
When they reach this point, they already have an established customer base, and their work speaks for themselves. The only problem is that from that point on, you need to find people who can do what you do. This issues has been discussed in many previous posts.
This organic growth is probably the single best way to develop your own school in South Korea. The only thing you need to be careful of is that your ambition is tempered by reality, and that going from one stage to the next should only be undertaken when profitability has been established, consistently.
This is the mistake I made. I went from phase 1 to phase 3. This jump took me two years of lacking in profitability, and learning the business the hard way. I would advise anyone to take it slower and keep building the basics from the ground up, rather than missing a few stages in between.
Every phase in your growth will require different skills to be developed. In your house, what matters is that you can teach, and teach well. When you take the extra step of moving your business to a more professional location, you will need to work on marketing skills and streamlining your curriculum, make it more professional. You will need to learn how to get different services from outsiders to support your growth. When you make the hagwon step, you will have to learn how to manage other people, understand the need for social networking and how to be “The boss”.
If I need to put a timeline on it, I would say that if everything works in your favor, you will be looking at a development period of about five years. It could be sped up depending on how intense your partner will be included into your operation, and how your family can support you in your endeavor.
The next step would be the franchising model. I’ve had a few phone calls from people inquiring about the possibilities of franchising, but at this point, I don’t feel that my school is ready(or will ever be?) for this kind of operation. It requires a whole new approach to the Industry and different aspects of the business that might be out of my reach, or not.
Every time you take a step, you will know you are ready or not. If you do not feel ready for the next step, don’t take it. Every step will ask you to make sacrifices you might not be willing to make.