You do what!? 4 business lessons I learned from being a chess coach
Starting a business in a market that doesn't exist really brings out the sceptics. So it’s given me great pleasure over the years to prove those people wrong. Here's how I did it.
My wife and I run a chess coaching business. Yes, you heard that right! We and our enthusiastic team coach chess in and around Adelaide to over 500 school students every week.
Starting a business in a practically non-existing market was probably the toughest thing I have ever done. Here’s some business lessons learned along the way:
‘Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.’ – Les Brown.
When we moved to Australia from the Netherlands 10 years ago we realised that the chess community here is extremely small, unlike anything we are used to. We were accustomed to being surrounded by countries where chess is taught as part of the school curriculum. (The educational benefits of chess like developing strategic and forward planning capabilities as well as increasing concentration complement the regular classes.) Very quickly we saw an immense opportunity to help develop our future generations. From the very beginning we have had a very large vision – to see chess taught in every school in Australia. All we had to do now was to put this into action.
Having a clear vision and passion for the education of juniors made the work enjoyable, but we quickly found the need to re-assess by creating smaller and achievable goals which allowed us to grow the business without continually running into cash flow problems. It gave us targets to meet regularly which motivated not only us, but also our growing group of coaches.
"From the very beginning we have had a very large vision – to see chess taught in every school in Australia. "
‘People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’ – John C Maxwell
So where do you start? We found cold calling and emailing schools one of the most demotivating activities one can undertake. The ‘gate-keepers’ are absolutely fantastic at their job; the amount of requests they receive for someone to speak to the principal with a new idea must be mind-blowing.
Offering free trial classes and continually going the extra mile for our customers in the beginning made all the difference. We did not focus on the business we were trying to grow, but the ultimate benefits students and customers would receive through the service of chess coaching. Slowly the word got out about what we wanted to achieve.
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‘If you look after your staff they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.’ – Richard Branson
As we started coaching at more schools (word of mouth is truly the best piece of advertising!) we needed to hire coaches. Advertising on our website and social media quickly led to local chess players coming forward. Obviously hiring the best people for the job is already hard enough, but how do you go about this for a non-existing role? So, we followed our gut and instead of hiring the best chess players, we focussed on personality, (a decision deemed controversial in the chess community – but we figured these coaches would be dealing with seven year olds, not grandmasters!).
We did not get it right straight away but have consistently found that following our gut when it comes to staff has definitely been the best way to go about things. We also look after our staff by providing additional training every school holidays where all the coaches get to learn from each other. And we’ve also realised our coaches do not have the same passion and goals as we do (of course they don’t, it’s not their business), so we reward generously and support them every step of the way to ensure a positive work environment.
‘Success is no accident. It is hard work, studying, sacrifice and most of all, LOVE what you are doing.’ – Pele
We continue to learn by reading and listening to other business owners; locally, nationally and internationally. We’re all trying to achieve the same thing; to follow our dreams. It really doesn’t matter whether you run a mechanic repair place, a fashion house or coach chess. The process is almost the same and through supporting each other by sharing our stories we can continue to inspire and grow.
The journey has been tough so far, but by having followed my dream, this is by far the best job I have ever had!