Finding your own clients
One of the main appeals of working within a larger driving school is the potential to receive a steady flow of new clients. With this in mind, one way of assessing whether it’s time to go solo is to separate your current client list into those sent to you by the school and those you have found yourself. If the latter is longer, or around the same length, then it may be time to stop paying the franchise fee. After all, paying a fee of anywhere between £50 and £200 a week, even if you’re not working, can be a real drain on your net income.
Another factor to consider is whether your school-sourced clients tend to be further away than your own, meaning more time and fuel spent driving between franchise jobs and, as a result, making them less lucrative for you.
Whilst the number of clients needed to sustain a viable business will vary according to your income expectations you may find that, once you are fully in control of all aspects of the business, you actually need fewer clients to sustain the same level of net income.
Advertising your business
Currently, this is something done on your behalf by the driving school, whereas it will quickly become something you need to pay for and manage yourself. On the other hand, now that we live in the social media age, websites and advertising are not necessarily the essential tools they once were.
Setting up a business page on Facebook is free and, if you post shareable content such as photos of happy students passing their test (with their permission of course), it is highly likely to be shared with all their friends and family, therefore providing valuable publicity for your new business.
With no driving school operator to field and filter calls and enquiries, you will be dealing with the public directly. This may not concern you unduly, but it may not be practical to accept calls during the times when people are most likely to try contacting you.
Directly answering calls, instead of letting them go to voicemail, often works better in terms of bookings, so you may want to think about arranging for someone to answer the calls on your behalf. Professional answering services tend to start at about £10 per month and ensure the phone is always answered by a real person.
Alternatively, with many calls likely to come in during evenings and weekends, a family member may be able to help, especially in the early days when you are still getting established.
Creating your own brand
You will also need to think about a basic identity for your new venture, including a name, logo and a style which resonates with the people you wish to attract. For example, do you want to go for a fun and fresh type of feel, experienced and trusted, or somewhere in between? The decision you make could have a real impact on the type of clients you gain and how much you can charge for each lesson.
Although important, branding your business doesn’t need to be a major cost and a local design agency or online provider can help you get the look, feel and artwork prepared. You may also wish to promote your brand on your vehicle using signage, which is something we can help when taking a lease out us.
Setting the right price
If you decide to go solo, you’ll need to set your own pricing structure for lessons. This could be more, less or the same as the driving school. The key point is that it is your price, and your decision.
The average cost of driving lessons is around £24 but, as an independent, your prices don’t need to be set in stone. You may decide to tweak them up or down until you find the right balance between attractiveness to students and profitability for your new business.
However, it is poor practice to change the rate for an individual student soon after it has been agreed, so think carefully before publicising any prices.
Sourcing a dual control car
Many driving instructors use a car provided by the driving school. As an independent, the car you drive will become your responsibility entirely, along with all the costs that go with it.
You may have already considered the likely costs involved in buying a car, but it’s worth remembering that this will mean you are responsible for all the maintenance, servicing, tyres and other repairs. There’s also the issue of what it will be worth in a few years when it’s time to upgrade.
On the other hand, leasing a brand-new dual control car, with a full servicing package and tyre replacement included, could work out easier and more cost effective in the long run. This is especially true if you include a dual-control breakdown and courtesy vehicle service so that you can on working, and earning, if something happens to your vehicle.
Making the right choice of car doesn’t just impact on insurance costs, it also makes a statement about your business, attracting or deterring potential clients who need to feel comfortable and confident in the vehicle they choose to learn in. It may also be worth thinking about a dual control electric vehicle which, thanks to their lower servicing and running costs, are becoming more popular with both driving schools and independent instructors.
Making the right decision
Going independent isn’t for everyone and it will mean you need a strong business plan, together with the ability and motivation to drum up your own clients. It will also mean you are responsible for everything that happens, or needs to happen, both good and bad.
When it comes to choosing whether to go independent or not, there is no right or wrong decision to make. It all comes down to what you feel most comfortable with and how going solo fits with your plans for the future. If you do decide to take the plunge, Hitachi Capital Vehicle Solutions can provide vehicles, support and specialist services specifically designed for independent driving instructors like you.