During the years' 60 and early '70s, there was a barrage of innovative schools. The movement of the "free school" was under way, dragged by a strong anti-establishment current during the era of the Vietnam War era. The modern homeschooling movement was born, born first from the "hippie" countercultural liberals before growing rapidly within the religious conservative sphere.
When social protests faded and the counter-cultural flow dried up, most of the "free schools" also disappeared. The domestic school, with its agility, hyper-personalization and rootedness in the family unit, expanded and flourished, eventually becoming a bipartisan movement that today educates over two million children in the United States.
But most of the "free schools" and similar and small schools of the counter-cultural were gone. Ron Miller writes in Free schools, free people that
when, in the 1970s, American politics stabilized and hippie fashions, rock music, natural foods and other counterculture symbols were transformed into commercial goods, the tension between conscience and politics, between personal integrity and change social, it turned into a division, and radical pedagogy was largely divided into its constituent elements.
Some lucky schools have remained, like the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary and serves as a beacon for edutreniurs seeking to launch Sudbury-style autodirect schools. Most of the previous edupreneurs were not so lucky, and one of the main reasons could be that they launched schools based on a mission mentality over the entrepreneurial one.
This continues to be a problem today. Small and innovative schools and self-directed learning centers often fail or are constantly on the verge of collapse, often because they are driven by ideology and not by business experts.
A clear and persuasive mission is an essential starting point, but if you stop there, you will fail.
Some of these edupreneurs openly declare they do not want to embrace solid business practices, mistakenly associating successful entrepreneurship and greed. They can run their school as a nonprofit, arguing that it is not about maximizing revenue but offering immeasurable value through positive relationships and experiences.
Newsflash: Whether you are managing the XYZ or Nike learning center, you are creating a value proposition for your clients based on positive and relationship experiences. Relationships and positivity are not exclusive to non-profit edupreneurs. Customers are paying you for a product. This is a free market exchange.
Successful edupreneurs, whether for profit or non-profit, recognize that a clear and persuasive mission is an essential starting point, but if you stop there, you will fail. The ideology can only make you get so far. The generation of revenue, either through lectures or donors or venture capital funds, is the key to a lasting business. So here are four tips for starting and supporting a successful school or learning center:
1. Go beyond the mission to value
By all means, start with a clear and powerful mission statement, but quickly move on to your value proposition. What do you offer your competitors do not? Why should customers pay for your service? Why is this service special? What do you offer your competitors do not? When I launched my pre-parent company training company, I saw a specific need that was not met by my competitors and focused exclusively on a niche market. I created value for customers and built a highly profitable company with paid employees. You can do it too.
2. Revenue should be the goal
Some non-profit edupreneurs flock to words like "revenue" and "profit", but unless you have a rich uncle who finances your business, you need money. From time to time, I heard from edupreneurs who tried to launch learning centers or schools and failed because they could no longer work for free. The construction of a company may require the renunciation of initial income and security, but it should be temporary. Revenue should be your goal.
3. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur
Even if you are a non-profit social entrepreneur, you are in the raw materials sector.
What is the opportunity? Where do your competitors fail? Where are the gaps? Successful entrepreneurs capture this gap. They create a product or service that is new and necessary. They talk to their customers and their potential customers and then work indefinitely to offer a product that is not currently offered or not offered well.
And yes, you're selling a commodity. Even if you are a non-profit social entrepreneur, you are in the raw materials sector. Unless you're bartering, customers pay you for a service. They are giving you money in exchange for something of value. Your job is to sell them on that value.
4. Refine your professional skills
One of the main reasons why the schools led by the mission of the 60s and 70s failed, and because the new ones continue to fail today, is that the founders focused on the principles and neglected the practice. Adopt an entrepreneur's mindset and embrace sound business practices. Do not do it. The edupreneurs realized know how good companies work, even non-profit ones. Include revenue and expenses. They know the difference between fixed and variable costs. They recognize how sales and marketing work and why they are so important. Do you know what a budget is? If not, start from there before starting your own company.
You can avoid the fate of previous edupreneurs whose adventures ran out when their ideology failed to sustain them long enough to pay their bills. Starting a school or a center is a business. You are an entrepreneur. Your customers are the key to your success. You are selling a commodity.
Before you adopt the mentality of an entrepreneur and you adopt good business practices, the better will be to create and grow the school or the center of their dreams.
This article has been reprinted with the permission of Whole Family Learning.