Former army man and Heavy Goods Vehicles driver turned driving instructor, Phil Jones, reveals the secrets behind the success of his driving school.
After becoming disillusioned with the franchise he was working for, Jones has gone on to create the Go Learn 2 Drive driving school based in North Wales. Here we discuss his attitude to instructing, hiring ADIs (or not in this case) – and why business must come first if you hope to survive and thrive in a competitive marketplace.
Tell us about your previous careers before becoming an ADI?
When I was at school, the only thing I ever wanted was to be was a soldier so I joined up aged 16 in 1978. I served eight years in the 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and had an exciting life. I decided though that I either needed to get out while I was still young enough to adapt to civilian life or stay in for 22 years.
I decided to leave and became a self employed motorcycle courier with the aim of funding Heavy Goods Vehicles lessons. I passed my class 1 and started a career of driving all over Europe and the UK. I did this for about 15 years but eventually thought it was about time to settle down and be at home at night instead of sleeping in a lorry for weeks at a time.
What attracted you to instructing?
I saw various articles about becoming a driving instructor and decided to give it go because I needed a change in direction and a new challenge. I passed my part 3 in May 2006 and started a franchise with a local school. However, after a couple of years, I realised that 90% of my pupils were self-generating plus the school I was with didn’t want to move with the times. So I thought “this is no good for me” and decided to go solo.
How have your experiences in HGV driving and the army informed your approach and teaching style?
My time in the army and my vast experience of driving have given me the confidence to pass my knowledge on to others. Also, the ability to think on my feet and make quick, important decisions is crucial – plus the ability to take responsibility for your actions is also important. A lot of my pupils say I’m firm but fair and like the fact that I say it as it is. I don’t believe in sugar coating!
The one thing I would change about the industry is for a national or local minimum hourly rate of, say, £26 to be set; this would put an end to all these cheap deals that are stopping instructors from earning a decent wage.”
– ADI Phil Jones on the solution to the industry’s cut price lessons issue.
What’s your favourite and least favourite part of the job?
Like most driving Instructors, the best part of the job is getting a pass; it’s priceless especially with a pupil who has special needs and has struggled. The worst part has got to be the book keeping and tax returns; thankfully, the advent of IT has made this side of things much easier.
What’s been your biggest professional learning experience?
My biggest learning experience has been going on a small business course. It doesn’t matter how good an instructor you are, if you can’t run a business, you will fail. It’s important to realise that you are a businessman first who just happens to teach people how to drive.
What was it like striking out on your own for the first time?
When I first started Go Learn 2 Drive, I had a few reservations but decided to do both manual and automatic. I very quickly had too much work for me to cope with on my own so I took another instructor on – a woman – giving me more flexibility plus attracting even more pupils. I also had a fantastic website and was able to concentrate on doing all my marketing online.
I am now expanding and am training my own instructors. I find this is a better approach than taking on an already qualified ADI as I can mould them into what I want for my business; ADIs are too set in their ways and don’t seem to like change.
What advice would you give to an ADI wanting to set up a driving school?
I would say anybody thinking about setting up on their own needs a business plan plus you need to set yourself a target and have a USP for the school. Also charge as much as you can and don’t let any pupil get away without paying; personally, we work on a pre-paid basis so if someone cancels with short notice, it doesn’t matter as I’ve already been paid!
Finally, how do you find Theory Test Pro helps your students?
It’s a great tool to have as I find pupils seem to pass the theory test a lot quicker when using it. It’s also great for part 1 training as well.