Updated: Jul 1
By Candace Lehenbauer
In just a few short days, my microschool that I created from scratch, will be 5 years old! It seems only fitting that I would be writing this article to help other educational entrepreneurs in beginning their journey. I’d love to share how I got started, so that you can do the same.
Once I learned about microschools, I couldn’t think of anything else! It was the topic of every conversation with my family, friends, and date time with my husband. Looking back, I am a little embarrassed at how single minded I was, but I realize that it was all part of the journey. I was creating something new. It was exciting, scary, and thrilling all at the same time. As a five year old business now, I realize that I still don’t know everything, but I have learned so much. It is a journey. Don’t wait until you know everything before you get started. You learn as you go. Enjoy the ride!
What Kind of Microschool? Microschools are becoming more popular as time goes on. When I created my microschool in 2018, I had to search internet articles, and reach out and call or email founders to learn how they did it. You have more resources now to join cohorts and network with other microschool owners. Microschool Florida is becoming one of those resources as well. Today, you can invent your own microschool, or you can join a corporate partnership. Having gone through two options, in the independent, and the corporate partnership, I’d say the partnership is way easier. It does cost more money, but perhaps you save money by having a clearer direction. . Examples of corporate partnerships are Acton Academy, Prenda, Wildflower and Kaipod. In South Florida, Colossal Academy and Kind Academy are also working to become corporate partnerships, having received grants to expand. How exciting!
You do not need to be a certified teacher or have teaching experience to start a microschool. Many highly qualified parents and adults have the desire to create something amazing for children. Utilizing online programs and community resources, including certified teachers, you can create learning opportunities for families.
Write Out a Business Plan
The more questions you can answer now, the better you will be able to “paint the picture” to future student families and investors. Utilize resources from the US Small Business Association. I found that applying for Educational Philanthropies like the Drexel Fund, or the Vela Fund were a great way to figure out my “why.” Answer questions about your motivation, your mission and vision, your leadership statement and management approach. What entrepreneurship experience have you had, and what is your philosophy? What is your school's purpose statement? Describe the community you will be serving, and describe how you overcame trials in the past. All these points are essential in helping figure out your direction as a microschool and how to describe what you offer.
Funding Your Dream
Personal savings, private tuition, and funds from friends and family are the top 3 ways to start up a microschool. This is true even among people who make less than $50,000/year, according to the International School Choice Conference held in January 2023. Philanthropic funding, start-up grants, and earned revenue come next. Experts advise to not take out a loan to start a business. Begin small, and use the resources you already have.
For–Profit vs. Not–For–Profit
First, to create your business, you’ll need to find a business lawyer to help you figure out if you would like to be a For-Profit, or Not-For-Profit business. To tell you the truth, I struggled with this decision for years even after creating my For-Profit business. I will go into some of my reasons for choosing that later in this section. I recently spoke with another microschool owner in Tampa, however, and her insight made me stop and think. She started her microschool as a Not-for-Profit because they were hosting it in a church. As she stated, there are “So many extra hoops to accomplish the same thing.” Of course, those extra hoops (as a Non-Profit) can mean qualifying for more grants, tax-deductible donations, and locations like churches and community centers that have green grass nearby for kids to play in.. Carol Topp, a well-known homeschool C.P.A. suggests that every homeschool Co-Op should be a Not-For-Profit. Do your research, and figure out what avenue you'll pursue.
My reason for keeping my microschool For Profit was that it was easier to do, and there were fewer people to be involved with the decisions. I wanted to have complete control over the business I was creating, and I couldn’t think of 3 people that were as passionate about my idea that I trusted completely to start a Not-For-Profit. I had never owned a business before, so I co-founded it with my husband. I hold 51%, and he holds 49% of the business. I wanted to split it 50/50, because that’s how we do everything, but having the scales tipped just a little allowed us to qualify as a woman-owned business, which opens doors, so I’m told. Over the years, I really wish that I had his MBA background so that I could just know the answers, but I have gained many of those skills on my own through trial and error, lots of research, and networking with others. I like to think of those starter years as my Masters Degree. I was investing in myself and in my business. I still am.
Find a Business Lawyer
When you're first setting up, this is crucial. I reached out to my homeschooling community and friends to ask for referrals. The first quote I got was ridiculously expensive, and they were a homeschooling family themselves. Not what I thought was going to happen. Get three quotes, and my vote is to go with the one in the middle. Not too expensive, and not too cheap. If someone says they’ll do it for free, that usually is an indication that they don’t want to be held liable for it. Find someone who trusts their own information enough to charge you for it.
Find an Accountant Initially, this is a good idea as well. I used information gathered from my lawyer and accountant in first setting up the business. They know more about which type of business you will create (LLC, S Corp, etc.). You can choose to continue and have the accountant help you with taxes later on, which is very helpful, especially at first when you’re learning everything new, or you can do taxes on your own.
Location, Location, Location
For non-traditional education, where you physically hold your business can be flexible, and challenging at times. Be sure to know about your local laws governing what you can and cannot do. Sharing space with an existing after-school tutoring business, karate dojo, dance studio, or movie theater lobby are all great ways to cut costs. Check with the health department and zoning department as well. You can also set up a mobile tutoring business that can give you the flexibility to change locations as needed while you figure out the logistics of your program. If your background is not in teaching, then hire someone with a teaching certificate to work for you. Utilize the amazing community around you. We now have so many options out there to weave together a great network.
Set Your Pricing
If it’s too inexpensive, no one will believe you can do it. If it’s too expensive, no one will come. This is a dance that every entrepreneur will do. I found that when I first began, I had to do short pilot programs to transition myself from “Free-Homeschool-Co-Op-Planner” to “Microschool-Owner-Who-Charges-Tuition.” I did 6-8 week programs offering different subjects like architecture/design, crime-scene investigation, or maker-projects. Anything that was around $100 people were willing to invest in me, even if they didn't know me. I posted in homeschool Facebook groups frequently, and built up a reputation that I could be trusted to organize quality classes that were worth the money. After I was established, I went off of the Low-Income Scholarship reimbursement amounts for the type of program I was offering. I also did a cost analysis of every private school near me, including homeschool programs and microschool programs. Know what is going on in your area.
Connect with Local Leaders
Many laws and regulations are needing to be reformed, as education is shifting from large one-size-fits-all organizations to more catered and individual options. Connecting with local government officials at city-sponsored events and activities helps open doors in the future. Be visible in the community. Volunteer and bring your students to local events. Share your vision of education with leaders and be a leader yourself.
Favorite Resources for Starting a Microschool
Florida Department of Education Opening a Private School Register your business in Florida Sunbiz.org Register your business in your City AND County as well.
Create a Business plan, and project financial needs.
Join groups specific to South, Central, or North Florida.
Disclaimer: Business coaching and strategy provided is for educational purposes only. I am not an attorney, lawyer or financial advisor. No information given is to be taken as legal or financial advice. www.microschoolflorida.com