Start a local service business: teach, coach, train

Have you come up with a great idea for a business that will serve your local community?

Language lessons. Cooking lessons. Personal Training. Voice coaching.

Bring your idea to life in a big way. Start by mapping out the next year or so, your vision for what the business will look like. I have a template which can help: RSBP (Really Simple Business Plan), get yours here (free when you sign up for my monthly action plan).


Teach Groups instead of One-on-One

A great way to maximise your per hour income is to teach groups. Chatty Cafe is a great case study.

Early on I made a decision to only teach groups. It's much easier to facilitate a dynamic conversation with more people. It's also a much better use of my time. The students teach, learn from and motivate each other. I am at my peak energy-wise because I limit the number of hours that I am available.

Here are my secrets for quickly growing revenue by teaching groups.


Run your operation professionally

Minimum number rule - essentially the classes are available anytime but it's up to the students to assemble the minimum number of participants to start their own group. The minimum number is three. Four is preferred and five is allowed by prior arrangement. I occasionally help to make up the numbers if I have a floater or an interested person looking for a group to join.

I have six groups right now. They all self-assembled. 

Fixed days - each of my groups has a fixed day. The date is chosen in cooperation with the group a month before. Having just one day to choose from and a regular schedule increases loyalty and commitment from the group. I have very few no-shows and have experienced only one or two cancellations in the seven years I have been running Chatty Cafe. 

Fixed time - the classes all start at 10am and end at either 11 or 11.30am. That suits everyone and slots in nicely with their other commitments. I am strict with the start and finish times to maintain professionalism. It's one of those small details that count. 

Be clear about what is provided - my cafe classes include coffee or tea and homemade cake. I provide a relaxed environment in which to practice English. These are the non-negotiables, the minimum service. Of course I add more, but only in the all-important details.

I do not teach from a textbook or lesson plan. I do not provide out-of-hours tutoring. I do not offer a drop-in service. I seldom meet the students outside of Chatty Cafe. I maintain a professional image and keep my personal life separate (within reason).

Be prepared and on-time - As a professional who is being paid to show up - show up consciously. Be all there for the duration. Look the part! I take care with my appearance, dressing as professionally as I would for any job even though the classes are held in my home. If you're a personal trainer you would show up in your work-out gear, with the training plan and your equipment ready to start at the assigned time. My preparation includes the refreshments and making sure the space is clean and beautifully presented.

If the business is run like a business with clear guidelines and a professional attitude then the students or clients will treat it as a professional entity when it comes to cancellations, tardiness and payment. If they think it's just a casual arrangement between two buddies then their attitudes will adjust accordingly. Start as you intend to continue, from day one.


Life-time-value of each customer

Treat each new customer/client/student with respect and gratitude. Having some kind of 'welcome procedure' is important. Mine is as simple as taking the time to learn how and why they came to learn about my classes, what they hope to get out of the class, and explaining the system. I provide a simple information card with my contact details on it. I take the same information from them and I file it physically as well as mentally - nothing makes a student feel more welcome than remembering a small thing about their family or personal life.

Price fairly and make sure your service feels like value for money - I'm not the sort of person to extort large sums of money from people even if I think they can afford it. There have been times when I have thought my classes are too cheap. If you take a short-term view. On the other hand if you look at the long-term or life-time value from each customer this can add up to a significantly large amount. In my case most of my students have been with me for five, six or seven years! I save money by not having to recruit new members constantly.

Which brings me to my last point: Word-of-Mouth

I didn't have much of a promotion plan when I started the business and luckily I didn't need it.  I had a loyalty program which gave a discount after a certain number of lessons. I also ran a refer-a-friend campaign when I first launched. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful and free promotional technique. My entire business has grown through the rave reviews of existing customers telling and inviting their friends. 

When I first mentioned the Chatty Cafe idea to three of my friends, little did I know that these women are possibly what Malcom Gladwell calls Connectors or maybe mavens. At the very least they are influential people in the community. They've lived here all their lives, know a lot of people, are involved in many social and civic activities, are personable and friendly and are known as the go-to-person for advice or recommendations. They'll happily share tidbits when asked but you never feel like they are foisting opinions on you. 

To the first Chatty Cafe I invited those three friends. They immediately spread the word and I think the first class had five people in attendance. Just five months later, through their word-of-mouth only I had three regular classes in addition to the original group. It all grew from there. Ninety percent of the current students have been attending religiously for at least six years.


If you're thinking of launching a local service business then I recommend being a little strategic in the beginning.

  • Start as you intend to continue, from day one. Be professional. It is a business.
  • Have clear policies in effect from the start and try to predict the kinds of things that might come up when fielding inquiries. Being able to state your pricing and scheduling policies will add to the professional image you want to portray and enlist confidence from your buyers.
  • Cast your eye over your social circle and identify the most influential among them.
  • Get some fliers or postcards made up to share with your influencer friends but instead of handing them out randomly invite them to experience your service. They'll be more likely to share it enthusiastically and it will have more meaning if they can talk about it first-hand.
  • Make each and every customer feel special. Aim for some kind of transformation in the first session, or at least hint at the real possibility of it.
  • Encourage your clients to tell their friends. Social media might be a good way to do this but good old-fashioned face-to-face recommendations have so much more meaning. 
  • Ask your clients to recommend you! And ask them if they know anyone who would be interested in coming to your class. Ask your own friends and social circle as well. But make sure they pay you, same as everyone else, to ensure they are serious about taking part.

Let me know how you get on! If you need any help then fill out my contact form and get in touch. This is really one of my passion-areas in business. I think local businesses are the life-blood of communities.