How to stay busy during quiet times

Quieter times of the year – how to prepare

As a self-employed ADI with a driving school franchise, you are basically your own boss. As you know, every business has some quieter times of the year. If you have been an instructor for a long time, you may already know the traditionally quiet times of the year for being a driving instructor.

Here are some rules and advice to follow, written by Anthony Johnson, owner of driveJohnson’s and Grade A 51/51 Instructor, to help keep you busy during the quiet times of the year.

Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

If you apply the 6P formulae (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance), then you should rarely be affected by seasonal quieter times.

I started the driving school in 2005, just myself and my car and it was extremely tough being independent starting out. My dad was an instructor and run his own business (Giffard Park Driving School) and he used to throw me a few scrappy pupils here and there to help me out when he could. What he did teach me quite early on was how to survive, how to encourage pupils into taking more lessons, how to fill gaps in the diary and how to prepare for the quiet times so I wasn’t quiet. As a self-employed driving instructor, I believe that if you follow the advice below you will be in a good place and shouldn’t be quiet.

Typically the quieter times of the year are:

  • A-Level Exams in June, for approximately 4 weeks
  • Going back to university in September, typically lasting 3-4 weeks, slightly varying based on location
  • Christmas (the biggest one) – usually starting around 10th December and then it’s extremely busy in January (weather permitting)

I will give the following advice on how to stay busy around Christmas, though the rules and advice below can be applied for any time of the year.

Encourage your pupils to book a driving test around the quieter times

As you know, the waiting time for a driving test is often 2-3 months in many areas. Around October time, start looking at your pupil list for pupils you realistically think could be ready for a driving test around December.

Try to encourage 4-5 good paying pupils to book their driving test in December. They may not be ready in October but it will give them a goal to be ready for the test in December.

Aim to book 3 pupils in for their driving test around 15th December to 22nd December, making sure one pupil is booked in for around 22nd December. Then try and book 1-2 pupils in for their test around 27th/28th/29th December.

Inevitably these pupils who have a test around Christmas will want more lessons leading up to their test. So where you may lose a few pupils over Christmas these extra lessons from pupils with their test coming up will bridge that financial gap for you and take you through to January when the phones are off the hook and everyone wants to learn to drive again.

As we all know, test centres are always incredibly busy, and pupils are often forced to book their test months in advance. Many large cities have several different test centres, so if there is no availability for your pupils until the new year, encourage them to look further afar to others nearby. For example, if you’re an instructor teaching driving lessons in Leeds, you have Horsforth test centre and Harehills test centre just 20 minutes away from each other. If you do encourage any pupils to book into a different test centre, you must make sure you can accommodate lessons in that area.

Don’t give pupils an excuse to cancel

Many instructors are extremely reliable and never cancel or reschedule lessons with their pupils. Others have a more relaxed approach with their students where it’s a reciprocal relationship to cancel or reschedule lessons.

If you are the latter, then you will inevitably suffer financially from this approach in December. My advice would be to draw a line under the flexible approach. Become more reliable now and in December you can better enforce the cancellation policy.

Ask your pupils to read, understand and sign the terms and conditions on the progress cards we offer

Many pupils don’t understand that if you are not working, you are not earning. If you don’t help them understand this, then they will think you get paid regardless like a doctor would do if you cancelled an appointment or a BT engineer etc.

You don’t have to read them the riot act, but spending 2-3 minutes explaining the terms and conditions and asking them to sign shows they have agreed to them.

After they have signed the terms and conditions, you can also send them a text explaining they have signed the terms and conditions and understand them.

Here’s a generic version which you can copy and send to each pupil after they have signed the terms and conditions (feel free to edit it slightly to your liking):

“Congratulations [Pupil Name] on completing your first lesson with myself.
You had a very good first lesson today. I hope you enjoyed it!
You have signed the terms and conditions on the progress card, which I have sent to the driveJohnson’s office now.
Please remember the cancellation policy is 24 hours notice to avoid charge.
If you need to cancel a lesson with myself, please contact me directly on this phone number to avoid confusion and to avoid being charged.

Your next lesson is booked for [Time & Date].

I look forward to seeing you then and helping you pass your driving test as quickly AND SAFELY as possible :-)

[Instructor Name]
Approved Driving Instructor @ driveJohnson’s”

Work a few more hours going into November and early December

Most established diving instructors know that trying to get the magic number of working hours per week isn’t easy and rarely happens. But, have you worked out your minimum hours to survive? The hours you need to be comfortable and happy? The hours that mean you’re working too much and it’s a financially rewarding but a strain on family life or not being able to do the things you enjoy in your spare time?

For example, when I was teaching full time, these were my budget limit points:

30 hours a week – Struggle to pay my mortgage
45 hours a week – Happy
55 hours a week – Too much but financially rewarding

Everyone’s got their own perception of busy. Many instructors see 25-30 hours a week as busy and good for them, these instructors should live longer than those instructors working 55 hours a week.

This is why you have probably chosen to become a driving instructor – to be your own boss and work the hours you want, when you want! Nothing is perfect in life, you probably didn’t like it when you were employed and told to work 9am-6pm in the past and it’s not easy getting the magic number of driving tuition hours right either. Hopefully, the above points will help you throughout the year when approaching some of those standard seasonal quieter times.

All I would say is that going into December, consider increasing your hours to the ‘too much but financially rewarding limit point’.

How to increase your hours in anticipation for a quieter December

  • Let the driveJohnson’s office know at the beginning/middle of November rather than the middle of December when it’s too late or very difficult for the office to help you.
  • Don’t give your pupils an excuse to cancel. Start this now – not in December when it only suits you!
  • Ask your pupils to read, understand and sign the terms and conditions on the progress cards we offer.
  • Encourage your pupils to book their driving test in December so they have something to aim for. It suits you and guess what? It will suit the pupil too. They now have a target and can also budget for extra lessons in December by asking for early Christmas presents from the parents, friends and family.

What does driveJohnson’s do to keep their mighty instructors busy in December?

Last year (2017), we spent 6 times the budget we normally spend on each month. This enabled our instructors to remain steadily busy. During November and December, we never take on new instructors in areas where we have existing instructors.

We sold over £80,000 of pre-paid gift vouchers in December 2017 alone. This meant that January was exceptionally busy for all of the instructors.

We did a lot of other things as well, but we can’t disclose these tactics and marketing strategies publicly as our competitors may try to copy us ;-)

Rest assured, driveJohnson’s is a step ahead of our competitors the majority of the time, especially around Christmas.

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