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A couple of months ago, Mia played tennis for the first time.
She had just turned 3 and a half and I thought let’s see if she enjoys tennis.
I saw an advert for a local tennis class which caters for children from ages 3-8, so I thought why not?
Let’s give it a go.
It was really good.
Mia managed around an hour of running around, picking up and putting down cones, exercises to improve hand eye coordination and having fun in the process.
Then she got tired and wanted daddy to take her home….
Fair enough. She lasted longer than I thought 🙂
It got me thinking though as this local tennis class was really buzzing, with about 30 kids taking part.
It was clearly a well run tennis academy, with fun classes for youngsters. When I was watching Mia take part I spoke to a couple of other mums and dads who had been sending their kids to this academy for a couple of years.
Great classes with good student retention rates, I’m sure it was quite a profitable operation.
So what does it take to start up and run a successful tennis academy?
How do you start a tennis academy?
Like any successful business, you need a solid foundation to build from..
…and that starts with some very detailed research.
I highly recommend creating a detailed business plan for your tennis academy.
Create a business plan
Here’s the process you can use to come up with a well-detailed business plan:
What are you going to call your tennis academy?
Can you create something catchy and memorable? Do you want to put your name to the business?
What is the target market?
This is REALLY important.
What people in your area will want tennis lessons?
Retired people? Kids? College students?
This is where so many businesses fail. They don’t think enough about who might want their product or service.
Write down your goals for the next 3 years i.e. turnover, profit and number of students on the books.
You’ll almost certainly need some capital to get started with your tennis academy. If you need a bank loan, take into account the interest you’ll need to pay back over the next few years.
Work out your profit margin.
If you’re hiring tennis coaches and a venue, how many tennis students will you need to generate a profit?
After writing down some initial thoughts and goals, it’s time to dig deeper into how to start your tennis academy properly.
Go into detail about exactly what tennis academy you want to run. Will it be run all year round, or do you want to specialise in holiday programs?
What experience do you have as a tennis player or coach? Obviously, it can be a real asset if you can attach a big name to a tennis academy. You only need to look at Rafael Nadal’s tennis academy to see how successful a business in this industry can become.
What makes you different from the competition? Write down your USP (Unique Selling Point).
If you have a competing tennis academy which is for intermediate/advanced students, maybe your one could be geared to fun and the social side of playing tennis?
Your target market
Spend time going into a lot of detail in this part of the business plan.
Who will want tennis lessons at your academy? What’s in it for them?
Retired people often have time and money, and you’ve got the health angle to approach too as it’s good to be fit and healthy. For school pupils, can you find out how many kids are playing tennis on a weekly basis?
Dig deeper and find out some specific demographics for your town. You can find this out online through various websites. What is the average household income of households in your town? What is the education level and where do most people work?
You’ll need a unique marketing angle to approach different sets of people who might want tennis lessons.
After doing some research on your target market, how many people in your local area do you think will want tennis lessons?
What can you charge for individual and group lessons?
What are the future trends? If you know someone who runs in a tennis academy in another town, how are they doing business wise? Are there numbers up or down compared to 2 years ago?
Although there are a lot of factors which can determine how well a business is performing, which you often won’t know about, seeing how another tennis academy is doing can give a little insight into what the market looks like for tennis lessons.
You can also do an online search using Google Trends and see whether more or less people are interested in tennis lessons compared to one or two years ago.
It’s easy to be scared off by competition.
On the plus side, it means there is a market for tennis lessons if you know of at least one successful tennis academy in your town.
Competition is mainly dangerous when you try to compete on price, and then it’s a race to the bottom.
It’s far better to have a unique USP and offer something different to what everyone else is doing.
Do some research on what the competition are doing to promote themselves.
Are they using Facebook ads, Adwords for online advertising? Are they using posters and flyers?
You might be able to find an advertising method to target people which your competition isn’t using.
Find a venue
This is likely to be one of the trickier elements of getting started.
Where are there tennis courts in your local area? If you want to offer week long holiday programs, some schools or colleges might be a good option during the school holidays if they have some courts available. You can always offer evening classes too, but unless the venue has floodlights, it’s going to be a seasonal business for you.
If you have a very large budget, you can always build some courts yourself if you can purchase some land.
You can try local tennis clubs too.
If they have space, they might love to work with a new tennis academy.
But at the end of the day, you’ll need access to at least a few courts.
Lessons won’t be fun for students if you’re limited to one court and there are 20 people on it trying to improve their game. Your student retention rate will be very poor.
Unless you’re planning on running a very small operation with you doing all the coaching and running the business, you’ll need to hire some coaches.
This can be a big step to take for business owners, as it’s tempting to try and do everything yourself in the beginning.
But you can burn out very quickly if you don’t have any help.
Obviously the coaches you employ need to be good players who know their stuff, but they need to have people skills too. They need to engage with your students and make sure clients look forward to their lesson every time.
You need to hire reliable coaches too.
You’ll be in an awful mess if 10 students are hanging outside a tennis court waiting for their lesson to start with no coach in sight!
It’ll reflect really badly on your business, and negative feedback can spread like wildfire, especially if you live in a small town.
Purchase equipment and insurance
You’ll need tennis balls, tennis rackets, grips, vibration dampeners, a ball machine (possibly, if you have the budget) cones and other pieces of equipment. Tennis balls can wear out very quickly, so some coaches use pressureless balls, which are ok for running drills and learning new techniques, but they do feel strange to hit with!
You’ll need public liability insurance too, and you’ll likely have other costs aswell when you’re hiring a venue.
Design your classes
While your coaches are important for delivering effective classes, they need to provide a well-designed program which keeps the students engaged and coming back each week.
Make sure you have people of similar abilities in the same class. There’s nothing worse for a fairly good player to be lumped in with a group of beginners.
For kids classes, you can get away with varying abilities a bit more, but you need to divide classes into different age groups.
Design your website
In my opinion, people often over complicate website design.
Having a flash looking website might be good for your ego, but if you’re on a budget it’s far more important to invest in marketing so people can actually find your website online.
That being said, you should ensure you have some key features.
The most important thing is that it’s easy to navigate, and it’s clear what you’re offering.
So have a clear navigation menu at the top which includes at least the following tabs;
- Home page,
- About Page (info on you and your coaches),
- Programs (what tennis programs do you provide?)
- Testimonials (from existing clients – video ones are great, but written ones are ok too)
- Video (share some video clips of you coaching sessions so people can see what your academy is like)
- Gallery (share pictures of some of your tennis sessions)
- Contact (share your location and email address)
While you can hire a web designer to do everything for you, I honestly believe most people can build a website themselves and save money in the process.
For Dad Racket, and other websites I own, I use WordPress for designing them. It’s very functional, flexible and easy to use. It also comes with lots of useful plugins to make things easier for you. If you do decide to use WordPress, you’ll need a theme. I purchased a lifetime access account for Elegant Themes which gives me dozens of themes to choose from. I use Nexus on Dad Racket, but their most popular option is Divi, which is very powerful and an excellent choice if you don’t know much about CSS or HTML.
How do you run a successful tennis academy?
I mentioned in the previous section that you need to offer great tennis programs for people of different ages and abilities. You need to hire the right staff too, in order to deliver these classes in an effective and engaging manner.
These 2 elements are crucial in ensuring budding tennis players will return to your academy week after week.
A high student retention rate is a key aspect of running any business which relies on groups of people attending classes.
Because the long term value of each client is a lot higher.
It’s a lot harder to convince a brand new person to join your academy than someone who’s been several times and knows what to expect each week.
Think about it.
If it costs you $5 in advertising costs to bring in one person, and you offer a free first lesson followed by $10 per lesson, if the person quits after lesson one, then you’ve lost $5.
However, if they stay for a year and commit to 30 lessons, then that’s $300 extra into your business. And they may stay for several years which is even more money to you.
This brings us on to marketing.
Have an effective marketing campaign
Once your business is set up, your goal has to be to bring in students.
And this means having an effective marketing campaign.
The biggest mistake many businesses make is not advertising all year round. It can take months for marketing campaigns to yield results.
For example, if you’re promoting a summer tennis camp for kids, you should start promoting as early as possible. Parents can plan holidays and other summer-related activities for their children months in advance so you need to get in their first and get eyeballs on your adverts as soon as possible.
Contact successful local businesses
It really pays to be good at marketing to run any successful business. Over the years, things should get easier as word of mouth becomes more effective and people spread the word about your academy. But in the beginning you need a good marketing angle, and use a combination of online and offline strategies.
It might be worthwhile contacting other local business owners in your town who you know are doing well (avoid franchises and big national companies)
What do they do for marketing? You might gain some useful tips which you can apply to your academy.
Your marketing angle
Think carefully about who you are targeting.
What is the benefit of people having tennis classes with your academy?
What’s in it for them?
The key question in marketing.
For parents, some summer classes are a great way to keep their kids active and give them something to do and stop them staying inside on their Xbox all day!
For retired people, playing tennis is a great social event and a way to keep healthy.
You can focus on different marketing angles depending on which demographic you’re targeting.
Then you can think about where these people hang out, whether this is online or offline.
You can advertise in schools and school magazines to target parents. You could advertise in local newspapers to target older people (as they are more likely to read the local newspaper than busy middle-aged working professionals).
If you get the marketing message right, and advertise in the right places, you can do really well.
Don’t compete on price
Unless you’ve got very deep pockets, competing on price with a rival tennis academy is rarely a good idea. It hurts both of you, and it becomes a race to the bottom.
You’re better off offering something different which your competition doesn’t do and keep your price point at a sensible level.
Build an email list
This is a very effective strategy for 2 reasons:
Firstly, it’s a great way to keep in touch with people who have visited your tennis academy, either regularly or occasional visits, where you can mention upcoming tournaments, events, special offers etc.
Secondly, you can offer something for FREE to prospective clients (you can use Adwords and Facebook ads to target people in your local area) and entice them to join your tennis academy.
People love getting things for free.
So if you can offer a free guide on some playing tips, or a short video course, people are more likely to sign up for your academy. The advantage with video is that you could combine it with you or your tennis coaches teaching some useful tips, so potential clients can see what they can gain from having lessons with you.
Believe it or not, this is still an underused strategy by many local businesses, so it’s a great way to stand out from the competition and boost conversions as well.
For building email lists and creating newsletters, I recommend GetResponse. I’ve been using them for a number of years. They offer great support, and provide an easy to use interface to create emails and newsletters in a whole range of businesses, so fitting it around a tennis academy will be fairly straightforward. I personally love the autoresponder feature, which is where you can send an email sequence automatically over the period of a few days, weeks, months or whatever you like. GetResponse offer a FREE month trial so you can see if it’s a good fit for your tennis academy and whether it’s worth sticking with them in the long term.
So there you have it.
I think this covers most of what you need to start a tennis academy.
In a nutshell, the most important thing is to do your research thoroughly, have an effective marketing campaign, offer superb lessons and hire the right staff.
Like any business, it is a challenge, but you can make it work if you put in the effort and have the right strategy.
Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on getting started with a tennis business