How to Start a School in Your State With No Previous Experience

Image source: Javier Trueba, Unsplash

If you’re passionate about education and have often thought about starting your own school, you wouldn’t be alone. With approximately 34,576 private schools in the United States serving 5.7 million PK-12 students, as reported by CAPE, you can say that “schoolpreneurship” is a popular choice for those wanting to reinvent education or offer that something a little more for future generations.

Let’s not cut any corners — starting a school is as burdensome and laborious as you would expect it to be. But as is the case for many an ardent enthusiast, no mountain is too high to climb!

It all starts with a little bit of research combined with a zealous fervor for wanting to challenge the status quo. Is that you?

If so, this article will help you gain some initial grounding before you embark on your adventure and lean into your purpose as a leader in education.

How to Start a School Business

To start a school business, you will need to do an extensive amount of preparation and research. In this article, we have broken the steps down into the following eight sections:

  1. Decide your niche 
  2. Onboard qualified co-founders
  3. Plan ahead for the first few years
  4. Hone your budget
  5. Raise money
  6. Find the right staff
  7. Launch a marketing campaign
  8. Start your school

By no means an exhaustive list, this will give you some idea of what it takes to make your vision a reality. 

Decide Your Niche 

When starting a school, or indeed any business, defining your niche is the number one step in order of importance. Along with researching your target market, your niche will be the deciding factor when it comes to how successful your school is.

Depending on your budget and vision, you may not want to set out competing against the top schools just yet. Instead, focus on offering something that isn’t readily available in the area. Is there a lack of Montessori schools or high-quality private schools? A lack of space for extra-curricular and community activities? Doing something that others aren’t is a great place to begin and a sure way to generate interest.

You may need to hire a marketing firm to do the local research for you. Unless you’re well-versed in market research, it’s probably best to leave this to the professionals. Starting a school is a huge investment that impacts not only yourself but the entire community you stand to serve, so you’ll want to get it right.

If the market is judged well, your niche will be defined easily. Once you have your niche and vision crystal clear, you can then begin to work on gathering your resources to bring your dream to fruition. If your budget is restricted, start small, e.g., with an elementary school first. In time, you can figure out your expansion as business picks up and answer needs as they arise.

To recap, deciding your niche involves:

  • Market research (ideally by professionals)
  • Addressing the needs of the local community
  • Planning an initial budget and resources
  • A vision for the future

Onboard Qualified Co-Founders

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This may be one of the most challenging aspects of starting your own school. Finding qualified and interested co-founders that will serve on your Board of Directors is paramount to the success of your venture. They each need to have a good combination of hard and soft skills, with expertise in their given areas. Your board should consist of professionals with the following backgrounds:

  • Finance
  • Legal
  • Management
  • Education 
  • Architecture (if building or expanding your facility)

While it’s tempting to choose co-founders that are similar to you, it is always a good idea to think about complementary, not overlapping, skills. A broad mind and skillset across the board will ensure you are covering as many bases as possible. Of course, everyone should also be on the same page when it comes to the vision and success of the school.

Plan Ahead for the First Few Years

To set you off on the right footing, you’ll need to write out a watertight business plan. While you may have a vision that conquers every problem possible, it’s best to focus on a business plan that covers your first five years rather than a twenty-year plan.

Potential investors will want to make sure your expectations are realistic, well thought out, and manageable for the projected time ahead. There is plenty of time to adjust and set new goals for future funding if circumstances require.

Your business plan and executive summary should include:

  • Niche – the type of school chosen 
  • Market research – who the target market is and why they will want to invest in your school 
  • Marketing – how will the target market find out about your school
  • Competitors – similar offerings in your locality
  • Skillset – competencies of board members and staff 
  • Resources – acquired or needed to implement the plan

A well-written business plan will see you in good stead not only for funding but will also help you stay on track towards your goals and predict future revenue. It will also be useful in terms of spotting potential risks — allowing you to take action before problems arise.

Hone Your Budget

If you’ve had success in adding a finance board member to your team, this is where they will come in handy. Without a doubt, budgeting for your school will be a meticulous task that will have to account for your operating funds and overall capital.

According to a brief written by the American Association of School Administrators, most public and private organizations and businesses have 35 to 40% of their budgets tied to personnel and benefits.

Considering your niche and the type of school you want to open, your budget will likely consist of contributions from several entities that could include government agencies, public lenders, and venture capitalists.

The major categories you will need to budget for, are:

  1. Staff and employment perks
  2. Curriculum training
  3. Building facilities (all building-related maintenance and energy costs)
  4. Classroom supplies
  5. Health and safety, including security and medical aids
  6. Library (and other student resources)
  7. Transportation, where appropriate
  8. Canteen services
  9. Psychological support (counseling, drug abuse/anti-bullying programs, etc)

As you’ll soon find, it is imperative to have your school financials budgeted to every last cent. Having a board member with vast experience in managing budgets is an invaluable asset that will ensure your school’s success for years to come.

Raise Money

Once you have your budget laid out, it’s the right time to start your fundraising efforts. Along with your business plan and a professionally-written proposal, you’ll have a compelling presentation for various investors, beneficiaries, and philanthropic organizations. 

If your budget allows, hire a professional fundraiser to write your proposal and close deals for you.

Raising money can be divided into three separate categories: Annual Giving, Capital Campaign, and Endowments. This table provides an at-a-glance perspective on what each category involves:

Annual Giving Publicizes your annual giving budget via a secure page on your website, allowing supporters to give at any time. Your budget’s goal should account for 20% more funds in case of unexpected events or lower giving than normal in any one month.
Capital Campaign Fundraises your one-time campaigns, e.g., building an adjacent facility, renovations, community initiatives, and other projects. 
Endowments Allows alumni to easily nominate your school in their wills for future monetary endowments.

Moving forward, hiring a full-time fundraiser once your school is on its feet will be of critical value since such activities require daily attention and engagement.

Find the Right Staff

You’ve got your Board of Directors together and worked out your business plan, budget, and fundraising campaigns. Now it’s the right time to get your school staffed and ready to go! 

This should prove much less of a challenge than the previous steps, though not of less importance. 

What you will need to do first is focus on your leadership hires. At best, you should begin your staff recruiting a year before your school opens. This will give you enough time to ensure that processes are in place and that you have selected the right people.

The skeletal organization of schools centers around the headmaster and office manager. A good headmaster will help you organize the staffing and educational logistics, while a systematic office manager will help to operate tasks efficiently.

Staffing your school is a joyful opportunity to share your vision with others and make them feel part of something new and impactful.

Launch a Marketing Campaign

Image source: Ian Schneider, Unsplash

Now that your school is staffed, funded, and ready for its first students, you will need to get the word out. Perhaps you may already have a good relationship with the marketing company that helped you to do your initial research — hire them to do your launching campaign, as they will already be familiar with your needs and spend less time (and resources) to get going.

You will need to present your school through a variety of platforms and media, such as your own website, local newspapers, radio, educational organizations, and wherever else your target market may be looking.

Online marketing, however, may give you the best step ahead. In recent decades, digital marketing has proven to be the most measurable and effective in comparison to traditional outlets, with a higher return on investment. Here are just some of the marketing activities you can do online:

  1. Build communities on social media, like Facebook and Twitter
  2. Engage with potential students, educators, and parents on LinkedIn
  3. Send out a monthly newsletter via email
  4. Create video content on YouTube and Instagram
  5. Foster good reviews on Google and other review websites
  6. Cross-reference your online and offline presence. Include your website and social media accounts when advertising in magazines, for example.
  7. Create a blog with valuable content for all stakeholders

Once your marketing outsourcers have established a framework, you can then start hiring an in-house marketing team to take over and optimize your marketing activities at the source. 

Define Your School’s Brand

Before you begin your marketing campaign, it is essential to define your school’s brand and ethos, so that the messaging remains consistent throughout. Here are some things to consider when communicating what you’re about.

Founding History When, why, and by whom it was founded. Every story needs a beginning and context of its existence.
School Mission A chosen slogan or tagline that defines your school’s ethos, culture, and aspirations.
Logo/School Colors A relevant logo and consistent school colors that will stand the test of time and stay in the minds of those that follow your brand.
Student/Teacher/Parent Satisfaction The unique offerings of your school that ensure the satisfaction of all those who attend and work there.
Future Vision What you are trying to accomplish and offer students at school and beyond. 

These elements of branding must stay the same for an extended length of time, if not the entire time your school is active. Having a consistent message and image is the cornerstone of trust as far as your target market is concerned. Spending time on getting your branding right will be one of the most essential components of your success.

Open Your School

It’s opening day, and the chance you get to rocket launch your school in all its glory!

After all your hard work setting up your school, you’ll want to make sure you’re off to a flying start, inspiring students and staff alike.

This can be done in incremental stages. You can start with open tours of the school to interested students and parents, have open recruitment days for hiring staff, and then culminate in the actual opening day of the school.

Of course, the first day will also be the day that work begins, but this can be made into a special event. You may even want to extend the festivities over the weekend or involve the wider community to make your opening ceremony and occasion to remember.

Need a little direction? Here are some ideas to help you plan your important day:

  • Personalized promotional material — Create innovative banners and posters featuring real images of staff and students
  • Custom social media filters/gifs — Engage visitors and increase online visibility
  • Go live — Livestream your opening day via your chosen social media channel and give viewers an online tour of the school
  • Interactive map — Give visitors a map of your school with little treasures they can pick up on the way
  • Theme’s the way — Create a theme to get everyone’s imagination going, e.g., giving back to the environment. Students will be able to connect what the school is doing for the environment in different classes.

Rethinking Education Starts With You

It takes many elements to create a successful school, but none would exist without the vision of just one person — you. You’re the lynchpin of this story, bringing together a community of like-minded educators to serve students, parents, and teachers, while positively impacting the coming generations ahead of us.

Rethinking education, then implementing it, is a feat for only the most determined and brave. We hope this article has given you a useful roadmap to follow as a basic starting point on your journey as a school founder.

Great schools are the foundation of our society and should move in line with socio-economic and technological advances. We commend you for taking the courageous steps necessary to facilitate much-needed change in our outdated school systems.

Aside from this article, there are many more free online tools and resources you can utilize to get where you need to be for starting your own school. Many organizations offer a holistic approach in supporting school creators and communities to do what they need to turn their innovative ideas into reality. We look forward to seeing yours!

Are you a school founder with tips to share? 

We’d love to hear from you! Write a guest blog about how you started your school and we’ll gladly share it with our network of educators and community members in multiple states. Our goal is to empower readers to take action and better their community by supporting education and rethinking its structure for a better future.

Become a contributor.