Planning for your new school
Your business plan and budget are important tools for two reasons:
First, before you invest your time, energy and money in opening a school, it is important that you have a plan for yourself that you can believe in. Opening any business is hard work and carries risk - schools are no exception! Having a plan can allow you to move forward with confidence.
Second, your plan can be helpful to help others understand how you expect to turn you vision from dream to reality. From recruiting staff to recruiting financial backing, a solid plan allows you to build confidence in others, too.
In this section we look at the fundamentals for school business plans and budgets, and how these are derived from your vision and objectives.
As Lewis Carroll so playfully points out: you need to first know where you want to go, and then you can build a plan to get there.
If you’ve not already started with the work outlined in the school identity section of this guide, now is a great time to review the topics on core values and mission. Once your core values and mission are clear, you can begin to set objectives by examining questions such as:
Who are the students and families you want to serve? There are any number of ways you might think about this: are you intending to provide services for an underserved population or a group with particular needs that aren’t being met in your community? Are you wanting to bring together families with a common interest or ideology, whether that is an academic focus, religious conviction, academic philosophy, or opportunity for particular experiences?
What is the ideal size for your program? Even knowing you won’t get there right away, do you ultimately want to remain a small community of 18 or 24, or does your objective require a population of 300 or 500 or 1000 students to support the diversity of programming, staff expertise and varies programs you’d like to offer?
What role do you want to create for yourself? This can be a particularly tricky question, but it is crucial to step back and consider as part of your plan. If your first love is working in the classroom, you should have a plan that allows you classroom time. That may mean splitting time between administrative tasks and a small class workload, or it could mean having a large enough enrollment to bring in a full-time administrator. If you are excited by strategy and operations, and enjoy building a team, recruiting parents, and overseeing the day-to-day running of the school, keep yourself in an administrative role. There are dozens of roles you might choose to play: why not use this opportunity to ensure you put yourself in your dream job?
Once you’ve worked through your objectives (and written them down!) you’re ready to move on and begin planning.
Empower your new school
Attract students, satisfy parents & grow your school
A common misconception is that a well-defined and detailed budget is essentially the same as a business plan. While a solid budget is an important component of a business plan, a true business plan looks beyond just the projected income and expenses to answer questions about both strategy and tactics.
The role of a business plan
Business plans can seem daunting if you’ve never had to write one before. It is a must-have document, though, as it serves as a road map for your new school. Although there are many things that are going to be a part of the business plan, it is there to explain what you hope to accomplish with your school and how you are going to accomplish it. Additionally, business plans serve as important documentation for financial institutions or investors to see whether your school is worth investing in.
The role of a budget
Budgets, on the other hand, are primarily internal documents you’ll use to track your income and expenses and determine where your spending should take place. If you need new textbooks or want to give someone a raise, your budget will guide you through your decisions and help you determine if you have the money to do so, or what you need to accomplish to make it happen.
Creating a business plan can take time, but the good thing is that they tend to follow a consistent format – so you can basically work from a template to create yours. There are two common approaches used today:
Traditional “full” business plan
A traditional, full business plan tends to be comprehensive and detailed. Creation of a full business plan can be time consuming but going through the process will help identify areas of planning that you may not have considered, and the resulting plan should provide sufficient details to be used when talking with banks or investors. For full business plans, the US Small Business Administration has a great step-by-step guide that walks you through each section of your business plan, along with some examples to look at.
Start-up “lean” business plan
An alternate approach is the lean start-up plan, which is faster to write and focuses more on high-level plans and a few key elements. Lean plans can be a good place to start, with the assumption you will update and revise the plan frequently. Particularly if soliciting funding, you may require additional time and detail later. Tim Berry, one of the leading experts on lean business plans, provides a good overview in his What's a Lean Business Plan article.
There are lots of options for online business plan templates and most share a lot of common characteristics. There’s nothing wrong with picking one based on personal taste. Any of the following are excellent options as a starting point:
General business consultants
Many of the same companies that provide the business plan templates we highlighted are business consultants, not just business plan writers. Consultants can help you in your overall plans, particularly in areas where you may need guidance.
Professional organizations and associations for private schools, as well as your local chamber of commerce are also great resources for finding business consultants to assist you in creating your business plan and beyond.
Business plan professionals
That there are many internet-based companies that offer business plan writing or editing, specifically. Here are just a few that you might want to check out:
Understanding your costs
The costs you’ll incur as a new school are really dependent on the choices you make in facilities and staffing. You’ll find a lot of useful information in those sections of this guide and they will help you get a clearer picture of the various expenses you’re going to face as you open up your school.
One of the great things about a budget is that, as long as you can easily read and understand it, the format isn’t going to make or break you. That said, staying organized and keeping track of everything takes a good system. One of the most popular methods is using a spreadsheet or system of spreadsheets to plan your income and expenses. Smartsheet has an excellent business budget template that you can modify to meet the needs of your school.
Once you are up and running, insight into actual income and expenses can be generated by your accounting software. Some accounting packages include budgeting tools as well, easing the work of comparing your plan to your actual numbers.
Tools to assist with budget creation
Several excellent resources exist that can help you develop a budget, including:
The American Association of School Administrators has put together a School Budgets 101 document that outlines common expenses and budgetary considerations for schools
The National Business Officers Association has made available their Practical Guidance for Independent School Business Operations guide, establishing recommendations and benchmarks for budgeting as well as other operational concerns.
The Guardian published A beginner's guide to planning and managing school budgets in 2016, which explains several important budgeting principals.