In talking with some language school owners one thing that has always baffled me is the tendency to want to hide what one is doing from other owners. There seems to be a fear of competition among many of us that keeps us from reaching out to other owners–especially those in our area. Some owners act almost as if they have an R&D department developing the best teaching methods and that their survival depends on keeping those methods secret. They seem afraid of somehow being weakened by interacting with others in the industry.
In building a quality language school for me, however, probably the factor that has had the greatest impact has been making connections with other owners and learning from my interactions with them. My wife and I took over MY English School in 2008, but as early as 2004 I had joined the ETJ Owners’ Group on Yahoo Groups and was reading as much as I could about what others were doing. This allowed me to already have a strategy in place when the opportunity to take over our school arose.
Other invaluable sources for connections have been the JALT International Conference and the ETJ Expos. The Expos are finished for this year and the next JALT conference isn’t until November, but this past fall and winter I have attended JALT in Nagoya as well as the ETJ Expos in Tohoku, Chubu, and Kansai. Chubu and Kansai especially have many owners who gather and I always come away with new ideas and perspectives and I am personally involved in the planning of the Tohoku Expo.
In fact, my belief in the value of learning from other school owners is the reason I volunteered as coordinator of the JALT School Owners’ SIG (SO SIG). It is growing into a very strong source of information and connections for school owners. There is no guarantee that the other owners who join the SO SIG are not from my area–and therefore not “direct competition”–and I don’t care. If I have to shut myself off from possibly beneficial connections in order to “compete” then there is a problem with my business plan and my school.
One of the things that has benefited me the most, however, is visiting other schools and having visits from other school owners. In the past I have visited schools in many parts of Japan and would like to visit many more. This past January Doris Wong, who recently started her own school in Tokyo, came up to Yamagata to visit. She attended one of our teacher training days as well participated in a full day of lessons. Her comments on what we are doing were extremely helpful.
I am looking for more opportunities to meet with other school owners and more schools to visit. I know we as school owners are busy and travel in Japan isn’t cheap, but there are few activities in my opinion more beneficial than meeting other school owners and learning from what they are doing–or learning from their comments on what you are doing. Please feel free to contact me if you are at all interested in coming up to Yamagata. Am also more than interested in visiting others. It is a very good use of our time.