What types of business are cheap and easy to start, and can make you money? In this series of articles, we’ll look at various possible ventures that aren’t complicated to set up. And since most businesses listed here require low investment, there is also a lower financial risk involved.

Education business opportunities.

Some say the education business is recession-proof. They believe that no matter how bad the economy is, parents will still prioritise their children’s development over everything else. From my personal experience (I had started and operated an enrichment centre in Singapore), I can tell you that there are some truths in this argument. In Asia, where academic achievement is valued well above other achievements or interests, the education industry is indeed attractive to aspiring entrepreneurs and freelancers.

Within the education business spans many different types of business opportunities. Here, I’ve listed several possibilities and highlighted their characteristics, pros and cons, risks and costs involved for your consideration.

(A) TUITION

With the tuition industry worth about 1.4 billion dollars annually in Singapore, we can safely say that this is no child’s play. BBC reported that about 70% of parents in Singapore send their children for extra classes. The industry is largely unregulated, and providers can range from personal tutors (part-time and full-time), individual tuition centres, large chains to online services. There is always a demand for one-on-one tuition, although competition amongst tutors is just as strong.

What’s Hot?

A small number of highly successful tutors – branded as super tutors – are the echelons of this sector, and it has been reported that they can earn over a million dollars a year. See who they are and what they charge for their lessons in these reports on Singapore’s super tutors and Asia’s super tutors.

What’s Good & Bad About This Business?

Good: If you’re proficient in certain subjects, it’s not difficult to enter this industry. To gain experience and some credentials, you could start tutoring your relatives, friends or neighbour’s children first. There are also plenty of tuition agencies you could approach for referrals. While they do charge a comission, it’s an excellent place to start building your credentials. You probably need to brush up on the subjects that you’re planning to teach and get familiarised with the MOE (Ministry of Education) curriculum.

Bad: Ask yourself honestly if you have a knack for teaching and whether you like or are good with kids. Getting to the super tutor level would, of course, require a whole lot of sweat, tears and anxiety. Frustrations can come not just from teaching but handling the expectations of parents as well.

What’s The Risk Involved?

If you start as a personal tutor, you practically have no financial risk involved, except the time spent and the opportunity cost of trying out this venture.

If you intend to run a full-fledged tuition centre as a business and hire tutors as your staff, there is some financial risk. Do refer to the estimated start-up and monthly operating costs below to access your financial risk.

How Much Does It Cost To Set Up?

For personal tutors, there is little to no cost involved. Possible expenses include printing of worksheets and transportation.

For tuition centres, the start-up cost can range from $20,000 to $50,000. This includes business registration, rental deposit, renovation, furniture, insurance, advertising, etc. Your key monthly operating expenditure for each centre includes rent ($2,000 to $3,000 for HDB units), utilities ($300 to $400), printing ($400 to $500) and tutors’ salary (this depends on how many you intend to hire).

(B) ENRICHMENT PROGRAMMES FOR KIDS

From music and dance lessons, drama workshops, abacus, golf to programming, children these days are running amok with activities. Parents who wish to give their kids an edge over the rest are signing up all sorts of classes as long as they can squeeze them into their kids’ busy schedule. Since we’re not limiting ourselves to just academic programmes, there are a lot more business opportunities for you to pick here.

What’s Hot?

Since the announcement by Singapore’s Ministry of Education to introduce coding enrichment classes from 2020 to all upper primary students, there has been a growing interest among parents to send their kids to robotic and coding enrichment programmes, which introduce computational and programming skills to kids at a young age.

What’s Good & Bad About This Business?

Good: Parents will always be interested to send their kids for some form of enrichment as long as they see the benefits of doing so. For some programmes like music, yoga and golf, you can always test the waters by offering personal one-on-one coaching first. This way, you don’t need to fork out a huge start-up cost.

Bad: Like tutoring, you need to decide if teaching kids and handling parents are your cup of tea. Certain enrichment programmes like abacus can be rather faddish, and as interest wanes, you might end up with dwindling enrolments.

What’s The Risk Involved?

It’s quite similar to tuition. If you start as a personal coach, you practically have no financial risk.

If you intend to run a full-fledged enrichment centre as a business and hire coaches as your staff, there is some financial risk. Do refer to the estimated start-up and monthly operating costs below to access your financial risk.

How Much Does It Cost To Set Up?

For personal coaches, there is little to no cost involved, except maybe transportation.

Like tuition centres, an enrichment centre’s start-up cost can range from $20,000 to $50,000. This includes business registration, rental deposit, renovation, furniture, insurance, advertising, etc. An SEO-powered website goes a long way to help you reach out to parents. If you’re web-savvy, you can create one on your own. To find out how to set up a website and power it with SEO, please read our article How To Build A Small Business Website On My Own? and DIY SEO Tips For Small Business Owners.

(C) TUITION AGENCY

Suppose you don’t have what it takes to be a teacher but are attracted to this industry, there is always the option of operating a tuition agency. Unlike tuition centres, tuition agencies don’t offer classes and programmes. Instead, they provide a matching service. Much like a dating service, a tuition agency registers and screens through tutors and recommend suitable ones to the parents or students who are looking for someone of a particular calibre or excel in a certain subject. This is done either offline (phone or face-to-face) or entirely online.

As an agent, you earn a commission from the tutor for every successful match.

What’s Hot?

With more tuition agency mobile application available, parents can now look for tutors – and similarly, tutors can now seek assignments – with a flick of their fingertips. The convenience that it brings includes instant chat, weekly job notifications, etc.

What’s Good & Bad About This Business?

Good: You can still partake in this industry even if teaching is not your forte. It is also relatively easy and cheap to set up and operate a tuition agency since the industry has low barriers to entry and doesn’t need a lot of skilled workers to run the business. In fact, some agencies manage their business with mostly part-time staff, including students.

Bad: There hasn’t been much innovation for a while except bringing the communication platform online. Because the industry is easy to enter, the competition is intense. Peak hours are usually in the evenings or during weekends when parents are free to attend to such tasks, and thus, you and your staff need to be willing to work long hours and sacrifice your weekends. Also, really good tutors with strong credentials are hard to get as they would very likely have been fully booked well in advance.

What’s The Risk Involved?

Starting and operating a tuition agency requires low costs. You’d only need office furniture and equipment like desks, chairs, computers and phone lines. The job of your staff is mainly to handle enquiries from tutors and parents as well as screening of tutors and matching them to students.

However, because of the strong competition and quite a few incumbents, it might not be easy to carve out a stake in the fragmented market.

How Much Does It Cost To Set Up?

As mentioned, you only need basic office furniture and equipment to get started. You can either rent a small office space or even work from your home, so your start-up cost is low. However, a bigger budget might have to be allocated to the marketing of your services. If you’re web-savvy, you might be able to save some money by building your own website. To find out how to set up a website and power it with SEO, please read our article How To Build A Small Business Website On My Own? and DIY SEO Tips For Small Business Owners.

(D) ENRICHMENT PROGRAMMES FOR ADULTS

Enrichment classes need not be confined to just the kiddy stuff. Adults these days are seeking personal development too. It’s not unusual for us to want to learn a new skill or nurture a hobby or interest that we didn’t have the opportunity to pursue when we were younger. And with the silver tsunami crashing onto Singapore as well as other developed countries, there is a growing market for programmes to keep adult learners physically and mentally active.

To this end, we see more enrichment courses, workout classes and mental health programmes such as yoga and mindfulness. From crafting, painting, photography, cooking, gardening to dancing, you can take your pick on the types of enrichment programmes to offer.

What’s Hot?

Many adults, especially working ones, have little patience to wait for new courses to begin. Coupled with the new normal that we’ve all adjusted to due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of adult learning courses is now based on on-demand learning or rolling enrolments, for example, courses offered on Udemy and Fiverr Learn.

What’s Good & Bad About This Business?

Good: The sky is your limit when it comes to the types of enrichment course you can offer. Here’s just a taste of the possibilities:

  • Make-up & cosmetics
  • Organic shampoo and soap-making
  • Infant massaging
  • Basic Chinese massage
  • Cooking & baking
  • Wine-tasting
  • Dance (adult ballet, salsa, Latin, ballroom dancing, k-pop, jazz, etc.)
  • Music (piano, guitar, drums, violin, ukelele, saxophone, singing, etc.)
  • Crafts (flower arrangement, glass making, jewellery making, leathercraft, pottery, sewing, knitting, terrarium, etc.)
  • Arts (calligraphy, painting, photography & videography, etc.)
  • Fitness (Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Dance-fitness, etc.)
  • Mental wellness (mindfulness, personal development, etc.)
  • Languages

Bad: There are plenty of subsidised courses offered by community centres and governmental institutions, so you may not want to compete with them on price. Getting and keeping skilled teachers or coaches may be difficult too.

What’s The Risk Involved?

It’s quite the same as tuition or enrichment programmes for children. Similarly, you can always test the waters by offering personal one-on-one or small group coaching first to reduce your risk.

If you intend to run an enrichment centre as a business and hire teachers as your staff, there is some financial risk involved. Your fixed costs are mainly rent, utility and salary.

How Much Does It Cost To Set Up?

Like tuition centres, an enrichment centre’s start-up cost can range from $20,000 to $50,000. You might need more if the courses offered require specialised equipment.

To set up a business, you first need to decide on the type of business structure and then register your business (if you’re doing this in Singapore, the agency to register your business with is ACRA). For more information about the types of business structure and how to register a company in Singapore, please read our article here.

About the Writer:

Judy Tham is a writer and founder of One Elephant, a copywriting firm in Singapore. She co-authored Are You Brand Dead?, one of the few books on branding in Asia that focuses on SMEs.