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Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 18 May 2015, 21:24
by pena5241
Hello everyone,

I'm thinking on opening an English school in either Costa Rica or Panama, I have done some research and I have the following choices:
1) To buy a local franchise - Problem: There are just a few so the choice is very limited
2) To buy an international franchise - Problem: They are very expensive, have no knowledge of the local market and most probably they are not known by the locals.
3) To start the school on my own, probably paying for advise to someone already running a successful local school.

As additional information about me, (I think) I speak English fluently, I'm passionate about education, my mother tongue is Spanish but I'm not from any of those countries.

Thank you for your kind advice. :)

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 23 May 2015, 20:44
by niserin

This is something I've been wondering about for a long time. I'm planning to start an ELT school too.

How about trying some foreign language mentoring first?
Just to get to grips with the local the market.

kind regards

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 24 May 2015, 16:13
by pena5241
Hi Niserin,

This is a good idea, unfortunately getting to grips with the local market is not an option for me because I live in Belgium at the moment but want to open the school in either Costa Rica or Panama. However, trying some mentoring here can at least give me some teaching experience. I'm not thinking of opening the school here in Belgium because I think there's very tough competition from schools subsidized by the government plus the investment here would be a lot higher since everything is more expensive in Europe.
During the last few days I have been thinking about a ELT website rather than a typical school. I found a thesis with a business plan to open an English school and according to the introduction more and more people are searching for online education nowadays, which I believe it's true, what do you think?

Thank you

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 02 Jun 2015, 20:20
by niserin
Hi there Pena5241,

Long time no hear from me ;)
Well, online language courses seem to be all the rage right now. I also considered that and it seems that there's very little obstacles involved.
The only thing is - getting your idea across to the students. Or to put it another way - reaching out to them. Don't forget there are lots and lots of ELT websites floating freely all around the Net these days.

And not to discourage you any further - unless you are really into the web design and stuff, creating your own website can add up many expenses.

On the other hand - don't you feel that entering the market that you don't really know is too much of a risky business? I mean, I don't want to be nosy but investing in a language school franchise if you do not know the country, can be risky.

I was planning to do that myself. For a couple of years, I worked for a Poland-based franchise ( During that period they opened up their franchises all across East Europe (Russia and Ukraine in particular). This is what is pushing me to explore this matter further.

My idea is - how about your finding a language school of that sort in Costa Rica? Then talk to them about the expenses/risk etc. I learned a lot just by talking to my ex-bosses from the aforementioned language school. But I can't assure you that South American language teahcing market can be anywhere similar to what's going on here! :)

Wow, sorry for such a long write-up. In case you got any questions, feel free to PM me as I already know few things about franchising. Not enough, though ;)

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 05 Jun 2015, 21:35
by pena5241
Hi Niserin,

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I agree there's less obstacles when starting an online business and it's also cheaper and therefore less risky.
A website developed with good search engine optimization techniques is supposed to be easily reachable and unlike a school, you can reach people from many countries.
One business model that seems to have success is a combination of self-learning and tutor-lead practice.
Yes, there's a lot of ELT websites but there's also a lot of demand for English courses and it's growing.
Web design is not very costly nowadays since you can hire freelance programmers from Asia or the Philippines whose services are a lot cheaper.
I agree with you that it's very risky to move to another country and start a business and even riskier to do it without a franchise since I'd have to do everything from scratch so if I decide to do it this way I'd have to do it through a franchise, unfortunately there's very few choices.
Your idea of buying a franchise you know and in a market you know makes perfect sense to me. I recommend to you to talk to some Speakup franchisees, they are you best source of information about the franchise.
One book that I can recommend to you is The Educated Franchisee by Rick Bisio.

In the following weeks I'll focus on finishing some Microsoft Office online courses that I have been preparing and then I'll continue my research on the English website/school alternative.

Let's keep in touch.

Best regards.

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 26 Aug 2015, 22:43
by John V55
I hate to be a ‘wet blanket’ on this, but in the middle of the biggest and continuing recession in living memory (and it’s not getting any better), all the private schools I know in Thailand and China are either struggling or have already gone bankrupt. Most people simply don’t have the money to pay anymore – I’d consider it very carefully!

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 28 Aug 2015, 20:00
by pena5241
Hi John,

Thank you for your advice.

Kind regards,
M. Pena

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 01 Jul 2017, 11:20
by damosch
Hi! I have the same question.. what`s the best way to start an english school.
I live in Easter Island for some years now, and I finally have some money to start a business. My first idea was to start a touristic business, since that`s basically the main income here, but after alot of thought, I`m thinking of a way to give back to the community. Since I`ve been here, I`ve had tons of jobs, just because I speak english, so, since everything here is tourism, I feel that everyone should learn english and that way they can manage their own hotels, restaurants, etc.. without the need of foreign people to do so.
There is no competition, people here have money, and its something they are willing to invest in.
What`s the best way to start up some sort of english institute? Franchise? Private/self owned? Any ideas?

Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 16 Apr 2019, 07:46
by nishichopra
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Re: Buying a franchise or starting an English school on my own

Posted: 20 Jul 2019, 23:39
by Mexipro
:roll: I opened my first school in 2003 in Latin America . I had a Tefl certification from a good school in Thailand. That really helped on the teaching side of things and designing my own curriculum. Build your own program and perfect it based on the issues students have locally. Generic books are boring. You will have to balance learning with dynamic classes to keep students in their seats. If you do nothing but grammar all day, they will leave because they can do that in local schools with teachers that can't pronounce the words. High focus on speaking and pronunciation is popular in Latin America, especially with native speakers.

The business side I had no idea what I was doing, here's a few tips I learned:

-Start small with low overhead. One room classroom with small reception area. You can always grow into a bigger school. But it will help while you build your reputation and word of mouth.

-Tourist towns are not ideal because the economy fluctuates with high and low seasons (probably already has 50 schools) . Transient population that tends to be more flaky students. Many only work during the high tourist season then go home for low season. Yes, they are pretty and what probably drew you to the country initially but they have always underperformed compared to my other schools and prices are higher. Down the road, you will appreciate not living there as you fully immerse into the "real" culture.

-Look for a strong local economy which can vary town to town (ie. Tech. International Corp.,agriculture, or within an hour or two of a major tourist area etc..). Or simply follow Wal-Mart (major company) that used a team of professionals to do the social economic data for you.

-If you're not a native speaker consider contracting teachers as it is much more desirable and sets you apart.

-Check local law for taxes, business licenses, visas, and being affiliated with local education dept.

-Be prepared to advertise online, flyers, and/or a radio ad blitz on a popular station.

-Look at local schools to see how they charge to save on printing for books, shop around and make a deal with a local school supply store. Copies are never ending. Ie. Inscripciones to pay for books.

-Find out high times to open. For example one country every August, January, and June tons of new students sign up. In between that, a trickle. So if you have your school open for business prior to the high sign-up, you may make enough to not only support the school but yourself comfortably the first year. Expect a good 3 years before you have a reputation strong enough, that you don't need to advertise anymore unless you're running a summer deal or during high sign-up times.

-Be prepared to screw up and make mistakes, run into licensing, immigration, tax issues. Competitors can get very petty and/jealous as you grow.

-Teachers can be very flaky. Many are there to learn the language and travel. Teaching is secondary, but they will never admit it. Some simply can't handle the cultural change for a sustainable amount of time.

There's a lot more, but enjoy the ride of learning, living, and owning your own business in another country.