Tuesday, February 19, 2013

W08.02 How I Painfully Discovered The Difference Between A Back-end and Front-end Alexander Technique Business…

Once upon a time, I was carefree and footloose Alexander Technique teacher who landed in Japan in 1997, after a three-month Tibetan purification retreat in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. Did that begin all this? I’d arrived in Kyoto for a seven-week stint teaching at KAPPA, a school run by Robin Gilmore and Bruce Fertman. There I met my future wife, Jaldhara, and soon reality began weighing down my previously flighty life.

When Jaldhara announced her pregnancy, it became increasing clear that Tokyo was the place to hang up my roller skates and start raising a family and running an Alexander Technique Training school, something I had previously vowed I would never do. Life happened. Twelve people signed up, and we were away…

I Started With A Back-end Business First—Weird
Usually people don’t start by opening a teacher education school straight off the bat – in that sense I was lucky. I went through a two year process of trying to have my school certified by STAT, but in my usual style of READY-FIRE-AIM, I was asking them to approve a school that was already running. Still, they were gracious enough to consider it - I am a lot of trouble for some people, sorry. Of course they declined - I recently heard the vote was close - so then I realized I didn’t have to be a good boy and follow the rules any more. Instead I was free to ask: what kind of Alexander Technique teacher training school did I want to design?

My deepest wish was for my students (and me!) to be exposed to different models of teaching, so I put together a dream team of teachers—all of whom would have Associate Director status—to visit Japan every year. This was a challenge financially, so I got creative on the business side and started to use these teachers to promote the work in Japan. That, I realize now, was how I stumbled into creating my first Front-end business. It was out of necessity, not enlightenment.

It was also extremely weird that I started with a back-end business, then had to build a front-end one to make it survive. This is the story of my inverted learning experience…

A New Front-End Product For My Back-End Business
After a few years, my full-time trainees were leaving quicker than they were being replaced, creating a fundamental problem that was edging my school towards demise: my front-end was not doing it’s job of supplying my back-end with sustenance. As my school shrank, I began to despair and wondered what to do? Japan was defeating me…

Thinking about the market, I realized Japanese were time-challenged in a big way, so in response I developed my “Kenkyusei” system. Kenkyusei actually means post-graduate student, so it was terrible name to use too I found out later, but I didn’t care then because it was a huge hit and breathed new life into my rickety old school. This system was a first in the Alexander world as far as I know: you opened an account with us, deposited ¥100,000 (about $US1,000) and could then attend any class you liked, any time you liked, as long as you had money in your kitty. It attracted people who had previously ruled out coming to my school. It was a smart front-end product grafted on to my back-end business.

However, from a pedagogical point of view, it was a disaster. I soon became deeply dissatisfied with the Kenkyusei system, as most students boycotted my mainstay classes, instead cherry-picking special classes led by teachers visiting from overseas. They weren’t seriously interested in training, but they loved leaning deeply with the glamorous overseas teachers. Now I can see they were ambiguous front-end students jumping into my back-end business, but making a mess of my school.

Many Alexander Technique Teacher training schools today do a variation of this: for example ATI in Los Angeles offers “6 week Intensives” to join their teacher training class. But my guess is ATI-LA have only 1 or 2 of these people at any one time… I had 30 of them!

Soon I found myself with a bevy of trainees I almost never saw. This chapter lasted about 3 years, so while it steadied the boat financially - creating an opportunity to learn where none had existed before - it also raised profound new questions in terms of quality standards of my school. And that was not the only problem…

A New And Unexpected Crisis Calls For A Radical Solution…
Ideally, people were supposed to "graduate" from a Kenkyusei to full-time student. But while the numbers of Kenkyusei were getting fatter, the numbers of full-timers were still getting thinner. No-one was graduating to full-timers, and full-timers were the life-blood of my back-end business.

The Kenkyusei system as a product was so appealing, that the luster of full-time Teacher Education had dulled in comparison. I had outmaneuvered myself and nearly destroyed my back-end business! I finally understood then that I needed to end the Kenkyusei system—very difficult to do with a bunch of happy students—and instead create a whole new Front-end/Back-end system.

So I took a radical step: I shut down not only Kenkyusei system, but also weekend workshops with overseas teachers, one-time private lessons and casual group classes to the public. For the Front-end, I introduced a monthly Membership system: a simple, bold yet untried model for an Alexander Technique business. Of course I didn't invent this model, I just burrowed a tried and true formula from the Health & Fitness industry. For the back-end, I created two different 2 year Module certificate courses. I also created a third Module, but that was exclusively for Full-time students. I put all the visiting teachers into the exclusive third Module.

Finally A Business Model That Works!
One sunny Tokyo morning in the winter of 2006, BodyChance announced that if you wanted to study Alexander Technique, you had two choices: join our Basic Membership system (an annual plan for the front-end) or our Pro Membership System (minimum two year plan for the back-end). Basic membership was for people who wanted to study Alexander Technique personally, Pro Membership was Alexander Technique Teacher Training Education, or simply a way to learn deeply with experienced (overseas) teachers.

Finally, after 7 years of experimentation, it became clear – the BodyChance Basic front-end business, and BodyChance Pro back-end business. These are actually two different communities within BodyChance. Each business serves the other and together they make BodyChance sustainable. Since then there have many more discoveries, much of which is being poured into these blog posts.

However, this week’s basic discovery is this: to make real money, and to be able to retire when you want, you will need to build an Alexander Technique business that has a Front-end and Back-end structure. How you can design this will be explored  tomorrow…

TOMORROW: What Can I Make That Will Create Front-End / Back-End Business?

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