PART 1 of 4: THE REAL REASON
WHY YOUR DRIVING SCHOOL BUSINESS
ISN’T GROWING & YOUR COMPETITION IS STARTING TO WIN
Published on March 21st, 2019. Last Updated: April 1st, 2019
by Jason Friedman
I’ve been running, growing and selling businesses for the past 20+ years – some big and some smaller, and I NEVER planned to go into the Driving School Business…
Many of my friends asked me, why are you doing this…“wasting your time” helping small, local Driving School Businesses figure out how to grow? You could (and should) be consulting with MAJOR BRANDS based on your track-record and experience, making a LOT more money…
While they are right, I COULD be doing a lot of things, I found myself very much connected to this little industry, fell in love with the people I met, and got REALLY FRUSTRATED with what I saw happening to EVERY SINGLE ONE of my new friends who are frustrated, struggling, working ridiculous hours and don’t see a clear path forward.
It’s time someone stepped in to help those who are ready to have a completely different experience with their business.
I’m that guy.
In December of 2012, I started a new business. It had a great promise, in fact, from everyone I spoke with it was going to be a “SLAM DUNK”.
The name of the business was Drive Safer. It was an “advanced driving school” that taught permit-holders and licensed drivers how to really control their car – how to handle dangerous situations and ultimately how to avoid them altogether.
We did this with licensed, high-performance driving coaches and defensive driving instructors in an “experiential” learning format. Basically, we had students attend a classroom course, and then put them behind the wheel of their own car, with one of our instructors in the car with them, and ran them through all sorts of scenarios where they would lose control, and helped them learn, through experience, why that happened, how to correct when that DID happen, and then how to not have that happen ever again!
It was AWESOME! In fact, nearly every single person who went through the program (and their parents) thanked us profusely, and then like clockwork, within a day to a few months, we’d get a letter or an email telling us how we saved their life!
IT WAS MAGICAL BEING A PART OF THIS…
…BUT THERE WAS A BIG, FAT PROBLEM
We didn’t have that many people taking the course! I mean like dozens – not hundreds or even thousands as we, and our cheerleading friends had suspected.
We were stuck. So, we had to find a way to better market our business. I had an idea, since we weren’t competing with “traditional” driving schools, I was going to ask them to refer customers to us, after they completed their initial driver training, and we’d give them a commission for the referral. Sounds simple, right? A win-win?
I met with the owners of 4 or 5 local driving schools and pitched my idea. They all thought it sounded great – but I learned something very scary that day…
NOT ONE OF THESE DRIVING SCHOOLS HAD A MARKETING SYSTEM IN PLACE.
They simply did NOT have a good way to tell their students about our business – unless they handed them a brochure during their last lesson!
So, I started digging a bit…asking LOTS and LOTS of questions…
And that’s where the learning came in.
You see, these driving schools were the TOP schools in our area. They were the biggest, had the greatest number of vehicles, instructors and student and they DID NOT have a marketing strategy. In fact, not one of them had any business training or experience at all.
They started their business for the same reasons:
- To make more money…
- To be their own boss…
- To have more freedom…
- To have a better lifestyle (take vacations, pay for college, buy some new furniture, etc…)
- To help people be safer drivers…
And while none of them was making as much as they had hoped for, the extra cash that they earned was CRITICAL for them – both for those who had this as a full-time job, and those who did this as an “after-school business”…they had come to truly depend on this income.
Well, they all confided in me that they were seeing things slowing down, lots of new driving schools were popping up in their area, AND they were feeling massive pressure to lower their prices (or keep them lower than they needed to be more profitable) to stay competitive.
And if we’re being honest, they were kinda scared about their future “hold” in the market, and…
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM TOLD ME THIS:
THE THINGS THAT USED TO WORK DON’T SEEM TO BE WORKING ANY MORE
I think they saw this opportunity with me and Drive Safer as a way to make some more money and stay profitable with something that they didn’t have to DO or ADD to their current work-day. You see, they all also told me that they had basically created one of the worst jobs for themselves that they ever had!
Instead of the freedom that they were craving, they were working endless hours, giving lessons whenever they could (it was cheaper than having one of their employees doing it), and then trying to squeeze in the “running the business” part. Answering calls, returning the dozens of voicemails for potential customers, getting the paperwork filed with motor vehicles, signing contracts, doing the eye tests, the list goes on and on…
I heard no less than 5 times in each conversation how hard it was to find good instructors who WANTED TO WORK, or who would be available enough. I heard how their good employees would eventually leave them for another school – or worse…would go out, start their own driving school and COMPETE DIRECTLY WITH THEM – after they spend all the time teaching them, and helping them learn how to do it!
Well, my offer for a referral fee seemed like the “SILVER BULLET” to them – a way to make some additional cash, without having to add ANY EXTRA WORK OR EFFORT on their part.
Now, of course, I wanted them to make money, but for me, I was afraid that they wouldn’t be able to help me get the sales I needed to keep MY business afloat…
So, I was sitting with Paul at the local Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop. Paul was the owner of the largest driving school in our area, and of course, he was perhaps the most skeptical AND incidentally, the oldest of the people I met with.
Paul was very “old school” in how he ran his business, and was interrogating me about my business, my experience, etc. – he asked all great questions, but I felt like I was on trial!
- How long have you been doing “marketing” like this?
- Do you think I can help you get referrals without working more hours? I simply don’t have any more time.
- Can you provide me with all the materials I will need to give to the students so they’ll buy? I’m not great at this “marketing” stuff.
- I’m having a pretty hard time in this competitive market already, do you think this will work?
- Would you be willing to only work with me – and not with my competitors, so I have a leg-up on them with what I’m offering?
And he went on and on…
During this “question-storming” session, my entrepreneurial brain started to churn and I had what I would call an Epiphany.
You see, this wasn’t the first business I was starting. I have started, operated and grown over 7 businesses. My largest business sold over $100,000,000 (One-hundred Million Dollars) in products and services and I sold this business in the 2008 in the mid-8 figures.
After the question-storming session was over, I asked him a question…would he be open to a little “marketing and business growth coaching” from me?
After all, over the past 25 years, I’ve invested over $1 million dollars in my own training, coaching and personal development.
I’ve built and sold five companies (my last large business which sold over $100 Million in products and services was purchased by a private equity firm in 2008 for mid 8-figures), and I’ve had two other successful 7-figure exits and one 9-figure exit as well – so I knew a thing or two about marketing and growing businesses.
I’ve also coached hundreds of incredible entrepreneurs and small business owners to take their business to the next level.
I saw a very familiar pattern here. It’s what I call:
THE CURSE OF THE
You see it’s when you don’t have any real business experience, and didn’t always have that dream of running your own business – from the early days, and now you’ve got your own business…well, that’s what I mean. It happens when you have, what Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth calls an “entrepreneurial seizure”. It’s when an entrepreneur (without any experience or business training) decides to start his or her own business.”
Every single one of the driving school owners I spoke with had this same “entrepreneurial seizure” and was now stuck in a very tough spot…and it was NOT their fault. They simply didn’t know what they didn’t know. They were all putting in hard work, hours, money, you name it, but they weren’t getting to the promised land!
So, this was my Epiphany:
I had coached business owners in nearly every industry imaginable – why don’t I offer to coach these driving school business owners so they could grow? If they started growing, and put the right “stuff” in place, then I would get more leads and grow my business too!
For me it was a no-brainer.
So, I offered this up to Paul.
I explained that I would help him grow his business. Make more money, solve his employee problems – all I wanted in exchange was for him to help refer student to my business.
He said, “I have one question for you Jason. What if I don’t want to grow? I mean, as much I’d like to make more money, and everything you’re telling me sounds amazing, it also sounds like a LOT of work! I don’t – I mean CAN’T work any more hours!”
Well, this was something I had been hearing for years from entrepreneurs in every single industry I’ve worked in. I explained the following to him very succinctly:
You are working very hard now. You’re spending tons of time and money to keep the business running. I can show you how to do MORE of the RIGHT THINGS and LESS of the WRONG THINGS, how to put the right strategy, systems and processes in place, so you can actually WORK LESS HOURS and MAKE MORE PROFIT.
You see, one thing I know to be true is this:
The more strategic I was in any of my businesses, coupled with the right systems, processes and marketing, the more MONEY we made AND the more FREEDOM I received. I WORKED way LESS — and more than 100X’ed my income.
I knew how to make this happen.
Well, after that, he put his head down and was very quiet for about 2 minutes. I was actually scared that I had upset him.
When he lifted his head, he had a huge smile on his face, shook my hand and said, “HECK YEAH! Let’s do this!”
And we were off on a pretty exciting relationship that continues to this day.
Right after that meeting, I called the others and offered them the same deal. Let me help you grow your business, and then you can refer customers to mine.
It was a no-brainer and before I knew it, I was coaching 9 Driving Schools in New Jersey to grow their businesses.
The first thing I did was sit down with each of the Owners, and get really clear on their situation…I needed to know EVERYTHING about their business. I put together a 14-page questionnaire that would help me to get to know them MUCH better.
I learned A LOT.
They all had mostly the same answers.
- They were all VERY frustrated with their progress in growing.
- They were all feeling the pain of increased competition.
- They were all struggling with finding good instructors.
- They all felt like the business was running them, more than they were running their business.
NOT ONE OF THEM WAS DOING ANYTHING STRATEGIC AT ALL.
ESPECIALLY WHEN IT CAME TO MARKETING!
Sure, they’d send out some postcards, or buy some ads in a local flyer, coupon book or for some of the local high school group ads, but not a single one of them could show me how any of these efforts was helping them grow.
In fact, they couldn’t show me ANY numbers that were meaningful at all – except the number of students trained each month. That’s it!
They needed even more help that I realized. And I was going to do it, even if it killed me.
I’ll share more of the story in a second — because this is an EPIDEMIC, and it’s time for this to STOP — but this isn’t just a problem for Driving Schools…
I’m about to tell you why Small Businesses are struggling and how you can bulletproof your business against this market shift (or, you can * sigh * and do nothing as you watch yourself get crushed by your competition).
But first, we need a solid dose of context.
Because there’s ONE THING at the core of this mess, and I’m taking the bull by the horns to help solve it — once and for all.
LET’S TURN BACK THE CLOCK FOR A SECOND.
A few years ago, these same “sleepless nights” (at least for driving schools), didn’t exist. From 2000 – 2010, running and growing a successful driving school was much easier! A cash cow. Like buying a scratch-off lottery ticket and winning every time.
A phys-ed teacher could get her license, purchase a used car, add a brake, and get all of her students to hire her to learn to drive. Maybe, if she wanted to grow even more, she’d put an ad in the ol’ Yellow Pages. In fact, she could hire all of her fellow teachers to teach too, and voila – an “overnight success”.
The best teachers in each city had a booming business, made thousands and thousands of dollars, and spread their businesses from town to town.
THE RISE OF
“THE EXPERIENCE REVOLUTION”
Then, throughout the late 2000’s through 2012, something shifted – DRAMATICALLY and forever changed our customers, our businesses and the way we need to approach business in general.
Honestly, this had always been happening, but it was not as OBVIOUS until the Internet connected everyone in the world (and everyone in our neighborhood) together. Where you could simply type a few words into Google, and find more information than you could possibly ever look at.
The Internet fundamentally changed the way CUSTOMERS behave – and the way that BUSINESSES need to behave.
Today, people have more access to information than ever before. They have the ability to find your competitor with a single click of the mouse. This wasn’t true before, and it’s becoming truer and truer every single day.
We don’t plan as much in advance. We don’t make reservations for our favorite restaurant days before, because we feel like we can simply hop on our mobile phone, tap…tap…tap…and we’re in!
This is true with Driving Schools too!
So, with all of this information, all of this clutter, it’s more important than ever before to differentiate YOUR business – to be WHERE YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE – and to do this STRATEGICALLY and COST EFFECTIVELY.
THE BOTTOM LINE: YOU NEED TO OPERATE AND GROW YOUR BUSINESS – STRATEGICALLY
And there’s a way to do this, that is known (and used) by the big brands AND other small businesses that have invested the time to learn how.
Those who don’t do this:
- Struggle to get more clients
- Are on the roller coaster of “too many” or “too few” clients and it’s feast or famine
- Have to keep reducing their fees to compete with their local competition
- Can’t find “good instructors” they trust to work for their business
- Spend thousands of dollars on posters, flyers and school ads that don’t bring them new customers
- Are missing out on understanding how to sell more to their existing customers (yeah, I know they only need to learn to drive once…but there’s a few techniques to sell them more VALUABLE SERVICES that they both WANT and NEED)
- Try to copy what their competition is doing, and getting the same LOUSY RESULTS!
NOW, THIS IS A CRITICAL POINT…
If this is you, it doesn’t make you a bad business owner. And it certainly doesn’t make you a bad person.
It’s just more evidence that we’ve all learned from doing and watching our peers and how they are doing things…(and possibly before now, you didn’t know that there was a better way to succeed).
This isn’t just a small problem, though.
This is a much more URGENT PROBLEM:
IF YOU DON’T IMPROVE YOUR MARKETING APPROACH AND FOCUS ON GROWING YOUR BUSINESS NOW, IT MAY BE TOO LATE TO CATCH UP.
We’re about to go much deeper, but for now, here’s what you need to know:
It’s NOT your fault your Driving School Business isn’t growing.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The current system quite literally sets you up for failure.
And after seeing the “inside” of many driving schools (and watching several explode with growth, while others are failing miserably), I’m rolling up my sleeves to help.
Because if one more GOOD DRIVING SCHOOL shuts down – instead of helping to stop the number 1 killer of teens (car crashes) it’s one person too many and way too many teens that could be hurt.
Especially when the solution is so simple.
You’re probably just too close to your business to see it, and maybe didn’t have access to the strategies, tactics and formulas to make it happen.
And when you don’t have the context and guidance to a better path…well, you would NOT have a different approach, or even know there is one.
So, even if your current business is positive and stable, the competition is so fierce and our customers and the market are changing so fast that you won’t be immune for long.
The old way of running your business is crumbling—whether you agree with me or not.
- Running a business today is DIFFERENT than it was 5 years ago, and EVEN MORE DIFFERENT than it was 20 years ago, and it continues to change.
- Today’s consumer has changed and wants DIFFERENT THINGS than they used to want and this requires us to build our BUSINESS STRATEGY and our MARKETING from the outside in.
- The operating model that you have been using is outdated and you have to do something differently.
- The Internet has changed the way people BUY PRODUCTS AND SERVICES and we need to learn how to LEVERAGE the Internet to GROW our business.
- If we don’t improve our marketing approach and focus on growing our business now, it may be too late to catch up.