Starting You're Own Teaching Business featuring Justin Waffle Golf

November 30, 2009

After much thought, I couldn't think of a better concept for the first article for the Instruction section, than a real life story of how to start a teaching business. There were a few people I could have based this article on, but I chose a good friend of mine because his situation serves as the perfect example of taking a risk and challenging yourself with the talent and confidence you have. If your passion is in teaching and you are considering starting your own teaching business, hopefully this story will aid you in your thought process.

Who is Justin Waffle?

Justin Waffle’s passion for teaching golf started at an early age in Rochester, New York. He spent his free time playing and learning from PGA Professionals at his home club. During these ripe years of growth, Justin became an assistant instructor with various youth groups. His evolving passion led him to enroll into Penn State University’s Professional Golf Management Program where he graduated in 2006, ahead of schedule. Justin has learned from some of the leading golf instructors in the country and completed assistant professional internships at some of the finest clubs on the east coast.

Somewhere along the way, Justin found out that wearing all of the hats as a traditional golf professional didn’t compare to the passion he had for teaching. His last season as an assistant professional was 2006 and after that season, Justin put all of his focus on teaching. He settled down just outside Philadelphia and earned a position teaching for an indoor facility, a place where he could hone his passion all year around. After three years, Justin felt like he was ready for a change. He felt like he was prepared to take his passion to the next level and challenge the confidence he had in his ability. He resigned from his position and moved south to Hilton Head, South Carolina without a clue, but with a plan. His plan was to start his own teaching academy from scratch.

Stage 1: Finding a Facility

Justin knew he had a daunting set of tasks ahead of him. He also knew the only way he was going to be successful was to break the process down into manageable tasks. The first thing he wanted to do was procure the facility. Before he made the move to Hilton Head, he had already begun the process. He did market research of the Hilton Head area relative to the golf business in order to get a feel for the facility landscape. He made phone calls and sent emails to all of the clubs, and scheduled appointments and set up interviews with them by the time he was moved.

Justin was aware of the situation at hand. The economy was and is still fragile and many clubs aren’t willing to bring someone in with open arms. “I couldn’t be picky with where I wanted to go. The most important thing was just getting into Hilton Head and setting up shop. Procuring a facility is the most important thing and at the end of the day, I needed a patch of grass, a bucket, and some balls." When all was said and done and the options kept narrowing down, Justin’s options came down to two very different facilities. One was a new 18-hole real estate-driven property. The downside to this club was that the contract was not guaranteed for longer than 6 months. Additionally, the club is just three years old and is not getting very much play and the community is not developing as expected due to the economy.

Justin was also offered to go to Island West Golf Club for a six month contract, but even though the contract wasn't guaranteed, there was plenty of indication from the General Manager that a renegotiation was likely. Justin felt comfortable with Island West Golf Club. He had a positive outlook on the terms of the contract in which he negotiated to distribute 10% of his earnings to the club, with the stipulation that it would increase after six months. In Justin’s eyes, Island West is a blessing in disguise because the golf club and its surrounding community are 20+ years old and is firmly rooted in the Hilton Head area. Island West is a club that is alive and well while boasting a great Fuzzy Zoeller designed golf course.

Business Plan

To procure the facility, Justin says, “Your business plan becomes your most vital ally. It will be a reflection of how serious you are and how organized you are, not to mention a representation of what is to come in the eyes of the facility operator.” Justin graduated from the Penn State University Professional Golf Management Program in 2006 and absorbed extensive knowledge regarding the creation of business plans from his business courses. In speaking with the Island West General Manager, he partially attributes his final decision to bring Justin in due to his business plan. Justin’s business plan was everything that would be expected in a business plan of this nature. The business plan consisted of his teaching philosophy, resume, goals, 6, 12, 18, and 24 month revenue projections, and fundamental advantages to the club. In the business plan, Justin gave the Island West General Manager everything he could possibly give, to present to him a visualization of what it would be like to have “Justin Waffle Golf” at Island West.

Stage 2: Business Permits & Licenses

When the facility terms and contract were agreed and signed, the second stage of Justin’s plan was to acquire all necessary business permits and licenses. Since Justin is running his business out of his home, which is in a different county than the golf club, he had to obtain licenses to do business in both Beaufort County and Bluffton County. The costs for such necessities was not as expensive as he had anticipated – Roughly $150.00.

Stage 3: Marketing Plan

The third stage of Justin’s attack revolved around what would be the basis of his marketing campaign – Before contracting out the web services, Justin first researched all of the companies in the Hilton Head area and received price quotes from each of them. Because of how important a website can be as a tool for marketing, Justin had a relatively open budget for it however he wanted to make sure he got value without overspending. The prices ranged from $2,000 to $10,000 and they all included different packages and add-on features thus raising the price. Justin went with one of the less expensive quotes, $2,500. “I went with the company because their package was more in the ballpark of what I was looking for. Also included in the package was the development and creation of a logo, as well as the conceptualization and development of the website, for a flat rate. I’m happy with the final product and I believe the logo is clean looking and timeless as I plan to be around for a long time."

Stage 4: Teaching Tools

The fourth stage was the acquisition of what would be one of his primary draws – video analysis equipment. Justin has had extensive experience with all forms of software including everything from JC Video and V1 software, to Taylor Made’s Motion Analysis Technology. Justin’s ultimate decision to go with JC Video was based on a few factors – his extensive familiarity with the program from where he previously worked, and the overall quality and quantity of the package. Included in the $4,500 expense was a camera, tripod, JC laptop, and a series of motion sensors. Justin also acquired his training aids from a commonly used website by instructors, Golf Around The World. Founded by Master PGA Professional Dr. Gary Wiren, all products on the website have passed extensive selection criteria. Because of Justin’s creativity in teaching, he has also managed to design a few of his own training aids to teach with.

Stage 5: Branding & Advertising

To continue to brand his service and product, Justin had the backing of the local Nike sales representative. Justin was fortunate to be able to acquire a 10x10 Nike Golf tent, as well as a comprehensive package of Nike Golf apparel. “They say image is everything and I do think it is important to project yourself to your students in clean and professional looking apparel and I am a big fan of the Nike apparel brand and what they have to offer. The tent also does a great job of presenting my teaching area in a professional manner."

Regarding advertising, Justin has been aggressive and has literally assaulted the Hilton Head area with fliers and brochures to hand out to local businesses. Justin contacted all of the Hilton Head area newspapers and magazines and acquired quarter-page and half-page spots as well as cutting a deal with his marketing company to film 15-second spots on the local ESPN and Golf Channel affiliate networks. “The advertising is vital and I am trying to keep it consistent rather than popping up in a magazine for a month and then disappearing for a month. What ever it is you’re advertising, you have to keep pounding it into the public psyche. Make marketing as inexpensive as possible but understand you’re going to have to spend some money." You have to spend money to make money, and Justin thoroughly understands that, “I have no problem spending money. Also, get creative with your marketing; I try to find every free source of marketing possible."

Opening Day

Justin finally opened his academy on July 4, 2009 and it was a relative success. His name and business are spreading like wild fire. He has involved himself with organizations such as The Professional Golfers Career College in which he teaches the video analysis classes. Justin also continues to fine-tune his teaching skills by observing the best teachers the Hilton Head area has to offer. He has even already broken into the mini-tour spot in which he is instructing young players with aspirations of success on the eGolf Professional Tour, the Hooters Tour, and ultimately the PGA Tour.

Throttling Back

As driven as Justin is, he understands that he has to put a cap on what he can do. "You want to have as many opportunities for game improvement as possible, i.e. video equipment, a club fitting system, and training aids, but at the same time, if you’re on your own and you’re the only instructor, then you want to cover only what you can cover by yourself. Don’t try and do so much that you can barely handle it, because people will notice." Right now, Justin is focusing on the local base, because he knows that by himself he won’t be able to cover any more than that. As he evolves with time, the second stage of his plan is to do golf schools from regional distances in which he will need another instructor or two. The third stage is a national junior academy. By this time, Justin plans on having four or more instructors.

Running a Business Out of His Home

When broached about the angle of running his business out of his home, Justin understands the advantages and disadvantages. “I run the business out of the home. Because of this, to a degree it feels like I am always working because when home, I’m checking and exchanging emails and fielding marketing inquiries. But the way I see it, this is just a part of the dues I know I’m going to have to pay for a few years or more, before the business really gets going. With patience and discipline, I’ll get where I want to be."

Justin’s Philosophies

We asked Justin to spill his guts about his philosophies on teaching, running a business, and advice he would give to those looking to follow a path similar to him, and we got some interesting points from him. “Confidence in your ability to teach is crucial. You have to have the confidence in your ability to teach if you’re going to invest large quantities of money in your business. Don’t forget, you aren’t just a teacher, you’re an entrepreneur, and you are taking a risk in what you are doing. THINKING you can succeed is not enough, you have to KNOW that you will be able to produce results consistently."

“If you can’t teach well, a beginner student doesn’t know better, but a better student will see right through you. You have to be able to connect with your students in different ways, especially with your personality. If you can teach but don’t have a great personality, then you won’t maximize repeat business. Bottom line is though, if you can get someone to improve than you’ve accomplished what they came for. At the end of the day, your personality and your ability to teach will speak for themselves – they will be your true marketing tools and they are free to you."

Key To Entrepreneurship

When asked about a key to his business venture, Justin
says, “Entreprenuership is all about patience. The day-to-day running of your teaching business may be the area that patience is needed the most. The thrill of getting started is wearing off. The actual work has begun. It seems that nothing is happening. Day after day, week after week goes by. You start thinking, ‘I knew this wouldn't work’, but then it happens. Someone joins your clinic program or you book a series of lessons and the thrill is back! You are rejuvenated! Life is good. This is the feeling that you need to hang on to even when things don't seem to be moving. This should be your focus even when that little voice is telling you that you can't do it or that you should give up or when patience is wearing thin. It may not happen overnight but you can be a success. But remember, anything worth having is worth working for.”

Other Lessons Learned

So far so good for Justin Waffle Golf, he has learned a great deal and he can’t imagine what he’ll learn next. “I have to be in tune with the pulse of the club, I have to be very aware of club events ahead of time so I can plan for them and promote my business. I’ve also learned how gracious people can be. Many people have gone out of their way to help me promote my business and put a good word in for me. I’ve learned a lot about branding myself and thinking outside of the box in that regard.”

Justin has accomplished quite a bit since he picked up and moved to Hilton Head, South Carolina with nothing but his savings account. He doesn’t know where he’ll be in five, ten, or fifteen years. But his determination gives him a hint. Justin says with a smile on his face, “Like any other passionate teacher, I would ideally like to be on the top 50 and top 100 lists. I love teaching and to be able to share a page with those teachers out there would not only be an honor, but it would expand my business and brand as well."

The sky is the limit.