Franchise vs Independent: The 4 Most Important Things to Consider for Driving Instructors

In this week’s article, Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI talks us through the pros and cons of going independent or joining an existing school on a franchise basis.

Here at DTE-Elite, we see a lot of talk about how being independent is the best way to go as a driving instructor.

Well is it?

driving school franchise or independent?

First let me declare my interests here.

I am a driving school owner and I do offer franchises, so I do have a commercial interest in providing franchises.

But, I also have my masters degree and I know how to look at things objectively from both sides of the fence, so to speak.

And, there is a reason why I set up my driving school and that was to help the many driving instructors who I saw were struggling. These were the ones who were great instructors, but needed help running the business side of the operation, freeing them up to do what they did best, delivering the driving lessons and sleeping better at night.

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So lets look at the comparisons

First, let’s look at a couple of facts.

  1. When I was with the Driving Instructor’s Association, I was told that 4 out of 5 driving instructors will go bust within the first 4 years. In fact, near the end they were actually saying 2 years. 
  2. Most driving instructors will start off with a franchise and then within 1 to 2 years will look to go independent.

So are these two facts connected? Let’s look deeper.

When working for a franchise, the biggest cost is usually the franchise fee. Ranging from £60 a week to £300+ a week although the higher franchises will usually come with a car. Going independent would be cheaper, but what do you get for your money? 

It’s all about pupils

Well not really, but they are certainly important – without them you will go bust. Many independent driving instructors talk about how they are doing 40-60 lessons a week but even the most experienced and honest will tell you how this might be true in some weeks, but in others it goes down to the 20 hours per week. It’s all about averages, really. There is a reason why they spend so much time on Facebook telling people how busy they are. 😉

A franchise is more likely to keep that pupil supply higher. From our own experience as a school, we turn away 5-20 pupils a day. Albeit not always in the areas covered or times instructors can do, but when my instructors open their diaries for work, they generally fill up fast. 

1. Marketing

The established ADIs on the forums will tell you that you can survive on word of mouth or Facebook referrals. A businessman will tell you to never rely on one form of marketing. Referrals are great to have, but only a small percentage of your pupils will refer and even those can be limited.

driving lessons google ad
One of the most effective forms of advertising for pupils is through Google

Occasionally you’ll get a referral from years ago, but they are rare. Many businesses have fallen foul of using just one type of marketing and when it dries up or goes wrong, your business can fold overnight. As with all business, the market has peaks and troughs and you need an experienced hand to watch these trends and prepare for them.

As an independent driving instructor, you’re unlikely to be able to devote time to this. A franchising school will have many avenues of marketing. Schools will almost always employ a dedicated website, as well as using Facebook, Twitter, Google Ads and Bing Ads to draw in pupils. Schools will have far more experience and resources to manage the peaks and troughs.

A franchise will be able to turn on additional marketing like Google or Bing Ads and will be able to monitor the competition. While price is important, other issues are too, and you need to be able to monitor what the competition is doing.

What would the cost of marketing be to you over a month? (Enter in Box A)

2. The Website

Often the biggest part of marketing is the website. Diverting adverts to specific landing pages or sales letters on the website has a great marketing edge. So many instructors on the forums will have you hear about how their website does not work. This is because running a website is a full time job. The building of a website can be done in a matter of days, but to get it on the first page of Google and the other search engines takes a lot of hard work.

driving school website
Your website will have a big effect on whether people choose you or not

I’ve seen so many people spend £250 on a website or even try to build one themselves and expect it to hit number one on Google automatically. If you analysed any of the websites at position one, you’d see they have spent hundreds of hours developing the site, you’d notice that they have hundreds (if not thousands) of good quality back-links and they have many pages of quality content that is all searchable and makes their website rank higher on Google. They will have internal and external links to the site and the content is written in a search-engine friendly way for each and every search term they want to be found for. Content is written and re-written and must be kept up to date. I used to try and maintain our websites myself but now I employ someone, and it’s had a dramatic and positive effect. 

A larger website can have specific pages written for niches like advanced training or those specialist training courses for dyslexic pupils, all of which bring additional income when needed most. The more boxes your website covers in content, the more Google trusts it and the higher it climbs.

But, you can’t rest on your laurels, because someone out there has seen your website climb and they will have the resources to analyse your website and try to knock you off the pole position. It really is a different ball game. We play cat and mouse with a number of driving schools in the race for top positions in Google. Position 1 in Google gets something like 33% of the clicks to your website, position 2 something like 15% and position 3 around 9%. At least 75% of clicks go to the first page of Google. They say if you ant to lose something forever, put it on page 3 of Google!! 

Done properly, marketing for yourself can rack up costs running into four figures a year.

What would the cost of a website be to you over a month? (Enter in Box B)

3. Additional Training

Better business, Standards Tests (and countless others) are really best completed by having additional training. When I last looked at the figures, less than 7% of driving instructors took any additional training once they were qualified. It’s little wonder that forums and social media are full of instructors asking some pretty basic questions. Passing the Part Three test is just the beginning and if you really want to grow as a driving instructor, then taking additional training courses does help. Many franchises offer this a free or reduced as part of the deal. Franchises can offer further opportunities free of charge for additional income streams too, such as instructor training.

Driving instructor training
We give all our associate schools extra training

What would the cost of additional training to you over a month? (Enter in Box C)

4. Additional Support

Most driving schools do want to help their franchisees, after all it’s their income. Of course it’s true some don’t, I know. I did meet one company who really did not care about their franchisees and expected the franchisee to find their own work but overall most do care.

They will support you in building your business and helping with all those little questions. Their experience will be greater than most you can find on social media. Look at it logically, a franchise will want you to stay with them as long as possible.

There are so many things you probably haven’t thought through when you become a driving instructor. Car issues, pupils that surprise you with problems or cancellations to name only a few. Only last week, an instructor who has been with me now for over 6 years called me because he was worried about a run of test fails. Suffice to say he’s had about three passes since we spoke. But it was just a confidence chat he needed.

man on phone
Most driving school franchises are just a phone call away…

Take another instructor with a pupil struggling to drive in a straight line. A brief chat and the pupil is well on their way and driving straight to their test. I’ve even recently attended the wedding of an instructor who has been with me for over 10 years. I was one of the few close personal friends at the wedding itself. You will always have questions and need support but is it really wise to ask the competition in the forums, or someone who has your interest at heart?

A franchise will keep up with the latest legislation, rules and laws and will cascade this down to you where necessary. Recently there have been a lot of changes to driving school and instructor legislation and we know there is more to come.

What would the cost of additional support to you over a month? (Enter in Box D)

Input your estimated costs in the form below, and then your weekly franchise fee in the second form.

In reality, I doubt the difference between the two totals is much, however the amount of work between the two will be substantial. There are only so many hours in a day – did you really become a driving instructor to work more hours than ever before? If you did then great, I mean maybe you want to be the next BSM or Red and that’s fine. How can I help you? 

But if not, then before you leap into the big uncertain world of being an independent driving instructor, weigh up all the factors. I mean, it’s not like there is a recession or anything uncertain looming around the corner! Or is there…?

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