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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 also a 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 school business could be a profitable venture.

In this guide, we have compiled all of the financial, legal and other considerations you'll need to start a successful swim school.

What is a swim school business?

A swim school business operates by offering swimming lessons. These lessons can span from teaching children how to stay afloat to training professionals seeking to participate in competitions.

woman giving swimming lessons to kids

1. Plan your swim school business

Plan your swim school business before jumping in the deep end. This will ensure you're clear on the business objectives and whether you need to secure any qualifications before getting started.

Create a business plan

The first step to starting a business is to create a business plan. A business plan for a swim school business might contain the following:

  • Company description. A clear description of what the business will do, who its customers are and where it plans to operate.
  • Market research. Are there other companies offering swimming lessons in your area? Research what courses they offer and how much they charge. Are there any gaps in the market?
  • Financial projections. List the projected costs (i.e. renting a pool) and income streams. How much will your school charge for its swimming lessons? Do you have plans for future expansions to other regions across the country?

Get qualified

In Australia, there are two nationally recognised organisations you can train with to become a swimming instructor. These include:

  • Swim Australia™. A mixture of online theoretical and in-person practical courses on teaching others water safety and how to swim. Students have 12 months to complete the course which takes around 70-hours to complete, including the assessment. The cost of the course is around $350.
  • AUSTSWIM. An interactive course completed face-to-face over two days, followed by an online component. Students learn water safety and how to teach children and adults to swim. The cost of the course is around $400.

Both of these institutions provide nationally-recognised training courses including entry-level courses suitable for those with no prior qualifications. They also offer extension 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.

2. Decide on a business structure for your swim school

The next step is to choose the right structure for your business. This will determine who has responsibility for making big decisions, who is liable for the company's debts and your tax obligations.

There are three common business structures in Australia. Here's a quick explanation of each:

  • Sole trader. As a sole trader, you will be operating mostly on your own. You will be personally responsible for any business decisions and debts. It's a fairly straightforward structure to set up and run.
  • 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 owners and is instead governed by shareholders. A company protects its owners from some personal liability. However, it requires more ongoing costs and paperwork.

Once you've decided on a business structure, you'll need to choose a business name and register for an Australian Business Number (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).

If your annual business turnover is $75,000 or more, you're legally required to pay GST on all sales. PAYG instalments must also be made on behalf of any staff you employ.

Before attracting your first customers, you'll need to have certain legal documents in place first. These documents are important to keep your business and customers protected.

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.
  • Fitness waiver. A fitness waiver provides some protection to your business if a student is injured.
  • 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.

If you need assistance from a legal professional then you can find these services online. Alternatively, if you're looking for templates of legal documents then you can find them on our website.

Consider getting 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.

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4. Invest in equipment and software

The most significant piece of equipment you'll need to run a swim school is a pool. As these are 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.

5. Find customers

By the time you've set up your business structure and invested in equipment, you'll be ready to start marketing your business. There are various methods to attract your first customers, including:

  • Social media. Promote your swim school on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
  • Local newspapers & magazines. Whether in print or on their website, find out how much advertising space costs in your local newspaper.
  • Search engine advertising. Run advertising campaigns to be the top result when a customer enters "nearby swimming schools" into google.
  • Referral program. Incentivise your existing customers to refer your swim school to their network.

How much should I charge customers?

Rates for swimming lesson instructors vary depending on factors including location, year of experience and education. Typically, swimming lesson instructors charge an hourly rate between $15 and $30.

A good indicator of how much to charge customers is to find out what competing swimming schools are charging via their websites. When determining your pricing, you'll want to factor in all running costs including pool hire, staff wages and equipment purchases.

Accept payments from your customers in person and online with Square's card readers, payment terminals, digital invoicing and e-commerce tools.

Frequently asked questions

How do I advertise my swimming lessons business?

To attract potential students, some tools you'll want to use to spread the word about 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 they will need lessons two or more times per week. However, remember that 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 at an early age is beneficial for muscle and coordination development for babies. The earliest children typically start swimming lessons is when they are around 3 to 4 years old.

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