How to start a swim school

Here's how you can turn your passion for the water into a successful venture.

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Swimming isn't just an enjoyable sport, it's a critical life skill, especially here in Australia where we're lucky to have beautiful weather for much of the year. If you're passionate about being in the water, launching your own swimming lessons business could be a profitable venture.

Below, we've compiled the important practical, financial and legal considerations you'll need to understand first.

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What skills, knowledge or requirements do I need to start a swimming lessons business?

Being a good swimmer is essential but don't think you need to be at Olympic levels. You'll need to be great at communication as you'll be dealing with people and having solid problem-solving skills to handle any issues that come up will help, too.

Starting a small business also calls for lots of hard work and motivation as well as an understanding of the elements that will result in it being a success, such as marketing.

What courses or qualifications do I need to complete?

woman giving swimming lessons to kids

In Australia, there are two nationally recognised organisations you can train through to become a swimming instructor: Swim Australia™ and AUSTSWIM.

Both of these institutions provide nationally-recognised training courses including entry-level courses suitable for those with no prior qualification requirements as well as extensions courses for already-accredited swimming instructors to progress their skills.

If you'll be teaching kids, you must attain a Working With Children Check (WA, VIC, NT), Working With Vulnerable People Check (ACT), Working With Children Registration (Tas) or Blue Card (QLD) depending on which state you're in.

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    Equipment and software needed to start a swimming lessons business

    The most significant thing you'll need is a pool and, as these are very expensive to construct, you'll likely want to hire one. Make enquiries with commercially-run swimming pools, school pools, hotel pools or even a suitable private domestic pool to find a venue for your new business.

    You'll also need equipment including:

    • Kickboards
    • Swim fins
    • Swim vests
    • Inflatable armbands

    Ask your students to bring their own swimming costume, towel and goggles.

    What business structures do I need to consider before starting a swimming lessons business?

    Choosing the right structure for your business is very important as it affects who has responsibility for making big decisions, who's liable for the company's debts and your tax obligations.

    As a swimming lessons business, you'll most likely want to register as a sole trader, partnership or company. Here's a quick explainer of each:

    • Sole trader. As a sole trader operating on your own, you'll be personally responsible for any business decisions and debts. It's a fairly straightforward structure to set up, all you need is an Australian Business Number (ABN).
    • Partnership. A partnership is two or more people going into business together. Partnerships can be general or limited. In a general partnership, partners manage the business together, sharing legal liability. In a limited partnership, one or more general partners have unlimited liability while the other partner/s have only limited liability.
    • Company. A company is a separate legal entity from the owner/s therefore no single-person is responsible for the company's decisions or debts. On the "cons" list, companies can be costly and complicated to set up and involve many different stakeholders.

    Once you've got your business structure, it's time to choose a name and register for an ABN. Check your business name is available using ASIC's business names register search tool.

    If you choose a company structure, you'll also be provided with an Australian Company Number (ACN). You can register a company name as well (again, first check whether it's available) but this isn't mandatory.

    It can be tricky to get your head around the legal stuff but it's critical to have all the important things in place to keep your business and clients protected. There are heaps of legal advice and services available online as well as templates and examples.

    Here are some of the main legal documents you'll want to think about:

    • Partnership agreement. If you're registering your business in a partnership, you'll need a partnership agreement between all involved parties. This outlines each person's roles and responsibilities and helps to prevent disputes later down the line.
    • Service agreement. Provide each of your clients with a service agreement outlining the services you'll be providing and the payment expected in return.
    • Employment agreement. If you hire employees, it's a legal requirement to have an employment agreement in place that covers the responsibilities of the employee and their remuneration.

    You'll also need to meet the requirements of the Australian Consumer Law while operating.

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    What other systems do I need to have in place when starting my swimming lessons business?

    • Business plan. A business plan is crucial when starting any type of business, especially if you're planning to approach a bank or investor for finance.
    • Tax accounting. If your annual business turnover is $75,000 or more, you're legally required to pay GST on all sales. PAYG installments must also be made on behalf of any staff you employ.
    • Insurance. To help protect yourself, your business and your clients from risk, it's important to have insurance policies in place. These may include professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and income protection insurance.

    How much should I charge my customers?

    Rates for swimming lesson instructors vary depending on factors including location, year of experience and education. Typically, swimming lesson instructors may charge an hourly rate between $17.32 and $28.74.

    To get a further idea, do some market research by checking rates on competing instructors' websites. When determining your pricing, you'll want to factor in all business running costs including pool hire, staff wages and equipment purchases.

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    Frequently asked questions

    How do I advertise my swimming lessons business?

    To entice potential clients, some tools you'll want to use to spread the word on your new services include a business website, social media platforms, community noticeboards, and school newsletters.

    How often should I recommend my students take lessons?

    For beginner swimmers to progress at a solid rate, ideally they will take lessons twice or more per week. However, it's important to remember it may not be possible for everyone to budget or find the time for multiple lessons each week. When you're starting out, it's a good idea to be flexible with your lesson plan offering so you can bring in more students.

    What's a good age to start swimming?

    There's no decisive answer but generally, the sooner, the better. According to the Australian Swimming Coaches & Teachers Association, being introduced to the water early is beneficial for muscle and coordination development for babies. Plus, as aquaphobia develops with age, being in the water earlier will prevent children becoming fearful of swimming. In fact, newborn babies less than a year old often take to the water more happily than older children!

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