August 6, 2020

How to Start a Swim School

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There's high demand for a quality swim school in every community. To start your own, check out this step-by-step guide.

Ever been told you swim like a fish?

If you have a passion for swimming, starting a swim school could be a great way to make a living.

Plus, it's incredibly rewarding.

Our checklist will help you take the first steps to launching your swim school. Keep reading for tips, info on small business loans, and more.

1. Do some preliminary research

Before starting your own business, it's important to get familiar with the market. Here are some important questions to research:

How much can you charge as a swim school business? Pricing will depend on your market demographic, business model, overhead costs, and competitors. Typically, a group lesson costs $50 per person, compared to $100 for a private lesson.

Where will your business operate from? You can either rent pool time from a larger pool, or you can purchase your own pool and operate from there. In most cases, it's more cost-efficient to rent pool time from an existing pool.

How might your swim school grow? Consider using modern and traditional marketing methods to attract new clients; you can offer special deals to draw in new clients or packages for new classes. Once demand grows, begin hiring more teachers.

What are your goals for your business?
Being an entrepreneur has many long-term benefits:
  1. Have flexibility in your schedule
  2. Be your own boss
  3. Pursue your passion
  4. Build a multi-generational business
  5. Achieve financial freedom

2. Settle the upfront and ongoing costs

Starting a swim school involves little upfront costs and a select amount of ongoing costs. In addition, unlike other businesses, you can build some of your ongoing costs into the price you charge to students.

Once your business gets started, expect to make 20 to 30% in profits. Here are some of the upfront and ongoing costs you can expect:

Upfront Expenses

Upfront ExpenseRented Pool (CA)Pool that You Own (CA)
Business Permits$94.00$94.00
Phone, Internet Deposit$50.00$50.00
Legal$500.00$500.00
Instructor Training (2)$458.00$458.00
Safety Training$50.00$50.00
Instructing Gear$500.00$500.00
Total Upfront Costs$1,402.00$1,402.00

Ongoing Expenses

Ongoing ExpenseRented Pool (CA)Pool that You Own (CA)
Salary and Benefits$61,042.00$61,042.00
Annual business permit fee$26.00$26.00
Marketing and Advertising$10,800.00$10,800.00
Insurance$450.00$450.00
Total Ongoing Annual Costs$75,883.00$133,638.00

These expenses are based on two hypothetical swim schools in California: one using a rented pool and one using a pool that is owned by the swim school. Both schools utilize a 75ft pool with 6 lanes, have 2 instructors, and 6 students. Swim sessions are 30 minutes each, for 4 hours every day, 6 days a week, and 50 weeks per year.

3. Finalize your business plan

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A business plan is essential to the growth of your swim school, and should include:

  • Your company goals
  • The organization of your management team
  • Finances and revenue projections
  • Market research and target audience(s)

Take into account any start-up costs, as well as fixed, ongoing costs, and how long it may take you to break even.

How long until a swim school is profitable?
Once it gets off the ground, a swim school can make 20 to 30 percent in profit. Depending on how fast you can get your business running, you can potentially earn profit in the first year of your business's life.

4. Name your business and secure your domain

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The name of your business serves as the customers' first impression of your business. Ask yourself these questions when thinking of a name:

  • Is it unique, or meaningful to you?
  • Is it easy to say and read?
  • Is it already registered to any high-profile business?

Once you've chosen, be sure to secure a website domain with the same name (consistency is key for branding).

Don't forget: A professional email address ties your branding together and boosts credibility. Here's how to get yours set up.

5. Choose your business structure

Establishing your business as a legal entity allows you certain perks, like protecting your personal assets, the ability to build business credit, and access to tax benefits.

Not sure which business entity to adopt? Here are the main differences:

Corporation: Legal entity meant to conduct business; no personal liability, but detailed record-keeping required.

Limited Liability Company: Hybrid of corporation and partnership; profits can be passed tax-free to owners with no personal liability

Partnership: Business involves two or more people who agree to share in profits

Sole Proprietorship: No employees; owner is personally liable for the business's finances

DBA: aka "Doing Business As"; needed if you're an unregistered business operating under a name that is not your own legal name

What to consider when choosing a business structure…
Take these factors into consideration:
  • Liability: Pick an LLC or corporation for personal liability protection.
  • Business Taxes: Do you prefer to be taxed as a business or on the personal level?
  • Your Industry: Companies that carry a higher risk tend to form LLCs, while industries needing flexibility may form partnerships.

6. Get necessary permits, licenses, and insurance

Without the proper permits and licenses, your business could face heavy fines or even be shut down.

Be sure to secure the following licenses before you being operating as a swim school business:

State and Local Licenses: Check with your city clerk's office about the licenses you need. Then, consult the Small Business Association (SBA) to obtain necessary licenses for your type of business.

Liability Release Form: Most practices require swimmers to sign liability release forms to decrease legal responsibilities. You can have a lawyer draft one, or use a service like Rocket Lawyer.

Insurance: Every business should have insurance, but not every insurance company will work with swim schools. If you hire employees, determine whether workers' compensation is legally required in your state.

Sales Tax: As a swim school, you may be required to collect sales tax, but first check to see if your state requires it. Your local SBA can help.

Instructor Certification: Before you start teaching, make sure all your instructors are certified by the Red Cross. In addition, you should have a lifeguard certification and first aid certification.

Certificate of Occupancy: Your swim school will operate out of a physical location, so you will likely need a CO, or Certificate of Occupancy. This CO confirms that your business meets all zoning codes and regulations.

  • If you plan to lease your location, your landlord will be responsible for acquiring the CO

  • If you plan to buy the location, you will be responsible for obtaining the CO from local government officials.

7. File for an EIN

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An EIN, or employer identification number, is a unique, nine-digit number that lets the IRS identify you as a taxpayer and keep track of your business' tax reporting.

To get an EIN, you'll need to provide business information, including your official business name. You can apply online or call the IRS directly.

After filling out the form, you'll immediately be assigned your EIN.

In addition to being recognized as a taxpayer, your EIN enables you to hire employees, open a business banking account (more on this below), and even prevent identity theft.

Does my business need an EIN?
Your business needs an EIN if:
  • You have employees
  • Your business operates as a corporation or partnership
  • You file employment, excise, alcohol, firearms and tobacco taxes.
  • Your business withholds taxes on income, other than wages, paid to a non-resident alien.

8. Set up business bank accounts

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A business bank account is essential to keep track of all business expenses. It also keeps business costs separate from personal costs so any personal assets (like a car or home) are protected if you get sued.

In addition, having a business account will make filing your taxes much easier and faster. Many banks offer affordable business accounts for business owners, even with added perks and sign-up bonuses.

A business account can give your berry farm the leg up it needs to thrive. After you're done reading, explore our guide on the best banks for small businesses.

9. Hire Your Team

When you start your swim school business, you (and your other teachers) must be certified as a swim school instructor.

The cost of each swim class should be set based on your expenses and your market. When your business grows, consider hiring employees:

  • Swim Instructors: Having more licensed swim instructors can help you grow your swim school. Don't take on more employees until necessary to reduce monthly costs.

  • Business Manager: If your swim school grows larger, you can hire someone to manage scheduling and answer phones.

Tip: Multiple employees usually means you need a good payroll software. Find our round-up of payroll programs here.

10. Check the boxes on labor safety requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lays out safety standards that you'll need to comply with.

In addition, the CDC defines standards for healthy swimming water, which regular inspectors will come by to measure.

Here's what you need to be aware of:

Cleanliness: Inspectors check for signs of algae and scum marks, as well as general cleanliness. Make sure the area surrounding the pool is clean and tidy and there are non-slip marks in necessary areas.

Signage: Is the depth of the pool clearly marked? Are there proper safety signs? Make sure you have everything within view.

Hazardous Substances: Are hazardous substances like pool cleaning supplies stored separately? Make sure your substances are labeled correctly as well and that staff know how to handle them.

Management Procedures: Are you and your staff safely using all potentially hazardous equipment? In addition, make sure the pool operator must have protective equipment like chemical goggles.

11. Market your business

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Marketing is a crucial part of growing your business. From a professional website and email marketing to traditional mailers and flyers, find out what works best for your business by testing and keeping track of results:

Set up an established online presence: Most people search online for a business before purchasing anything. Build an SEO-friendly website to boost your credibility.

Consider traditional marketing methods: Flyers, mailers, and business cards increase your visibility and are a great way to reach potential customers.

Word-of-mouth marketing: Your customers can recommend you to their network, an easy way to reach potential clients. Their word to their friends is the best type of marketing.

Email marketing: This is an effective way to maintain direct communication to your clients (past and present) and to keep them updated on deals or discounts.

To build brand awareness, you should also create accounts on:
  • Yelp (specifically, a business account)
  • Google Business
  • Facebook (Facebook ads will take your business even further)
Active social media accounts and an up-to-date website will help your business appear more credible.

Essential Tips for Starting a Swim School

Before starting your swim school, consider these important tips:

  1. Figure out your target market: Will you target older or younger clients? Older clients tend to have more motivation to come week-to-week, and younger clients may need more work to stay motivated.

  2. Expand your services: Consider packages or special deals in addition to expanded services for your clients. In addition, offering special themed parties or holiday-themed events will help retain customers. In addition, consider rewards programs to allow customers to earn free lessons over time.

  3. Set a consistent swim schedule. Twice a week for multiple weeks could be a good system to encourage long-term commitment. However, not every parent can fit to that schedule. It's important to work with parents and adjust to their schedules.

Loans & Grants for Small Businesses
Small businesses can apply for a variety of grants and loans to help with ongoing expenses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several desirable loans and grants for businesses that can get you anywhere from $500 to $500,000.

In addition, you can think about looking for swim-specific funding too. The Step Into Swim funding program, for example, offers grants to people who offer swim schools.

Hear from an Expert

CreditDonkey asked Joani Maskell of Swimming Safari for her expert opinion on the unexpected challenges of running a swim school.

Here's what she had to say:

Bottom Line

Starting your swim school involves cutting through red tape and getting established in the community. However, for those who persevere, the business is fun and the profit margins can be significant.

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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