Today, 12th September 2015, marks 10 years to the day of me giving my first lesson as a driving instructor. I can’t remember the actual date that I qualified, I think it was about the 25th August 2005, but I remember both the preparation and trepidation of being ready for that first lesson. When I first started, I worked for a local school called Wheels Driver Training. Jim Rowley was the owner, and he helped me so much in those early days. From showing me local routes (my knowledge of the Stoke on Trent area was limited), to helping with questions I had about teaching, if it wasn’t for Jim I doubt I’d still be a driving instructor today. Jim was a very laid back character, much like myself, and a lot of what he did in his business has transferred to how I run mine today.
Typically car insurance gets cheaper on your 25th birthday, and I was not 25 for another 5 days, so Jim kindly let me teach in his Vauxhall Corsa for the first week so that I didn’t have to pay over the odds for my first years insurance. My first driving lesson was with a lad called Brett. The lesson went ok, I think I was as nervous as my pupil was, but we managed to get most of the things done you’d expect on a first lesson. Over the course of the week I gradually gained confidence in my teaching and started to settle in to being a driving instructor. On Saturday 17th September 2005, I was finally insured on my brand new Mini and started my lessons the following week with great excitement. The Mini was a great teaching car, and really good for business. Almost every learner that rang Wheels was asking for lessons in a Mini which helped me to have a really busy start to this new career.
After a couple of years of working 60 hour weeks, I wasn’t sure if being a driving instructor was something I wanted to do long term. So I studied from home to qualify as a mortgage advisor – just as the recession started – good timing eh! I left Wheels as I was now generating enough work to keep going on my own, alongside working part time with Butters John Bee as a mortgage and insurance advisor. Due to the recession, the time needed to make the transition into financial services a full time job after 18 months of trying, and with 2 young children, I had to make the decision to stick with being a driving instructor.
During that period my Dad had also qualified as a driving instructor and was working independently, so we decided to work together and ‘Learn with DAD’ was born. Not the greatest of names, it actually stood for ‘Learn with Dave and Dave’ (if you haven’t guessed, my Dad and I share the same name). After a couple of years we were both really busy. I made the decision that I wanted to grow the driving school and take on other instructors on a franchise basis. ‘Learn with DAD’ wasn’t going to be a name that would be attractive to the wider market so I embarked on finding a new name. I asked pupils, friends and family for suggestions and then picked a shortlist of 5 names which I asked my learners to vote on. The winner was ‘Drive Ahead School of Motoring’ which was the name my wife came up with (she still reminds me of this to this day). So in August 2010 Drive Ahead School of Motoring was born and we launched the website www.driveahead.co.uk. In the early days I wasn’t too sure as to what I was doing, I learned to code and created my initial websites from scratch which was very time consuming, but also very satisfying. I’d never run a business before so many things were guesswork. Things like advertising on Google was done by trial and error, and admittedly there was probably a lot of money wasted in those early days.
In the April of 2012 I took on my first paying franchisee, Martin Molyneux. Martin joined me from Red Driving School, and I’m pleased to say is still with Drive Ahead today. Over the next few years, the business slowly grew and I continued to learn more and more about how to run a successful business.
In February 2013 I attended the Fresh Start conference run by Marc Ford. I saw several great speakers that day, the most memorable being Dr Julia Malkin. If you ever get to meet Julia, or get the opportunity to listen to her as a speaker, then make sure you take it. The work she has done for the driving school industry is astounding, and her knowledge of learning difficulties is absolutely amazing.
Later that year, I decided I wanted to take my business to the next level so I contacted David Holland from www.resultsrulesok.com. For those that don’t know David, he’s a very successful business coach who works with multi national companies and is much too expensive for me – his words not mine. He gave me some great advice and some recommended reading to get me started, and advised that I get in touch with Marc Ford. At this point Marc had just started to hold quarterly business meetings called Fresh Plans which I began to attend. I’ve been attending these meetings ever since, and I also work with Marc on a 1 to 1 basis on all aspects of my business.
So here we are on September 12th 2015, working with Marc has made my business more profitable and I don’t work weekends anymore, so I’m not sharing my 10th anniversary with my learners. Instead I’m spending quality time with my family, which I’ve been able to do much more of lately. Drive Ahead has now grown to 6 instructors, with another currently in training, and I’m still looking for more instructors. There’s so much more to tell, so many more details in between, but I haven’t got all day to write it (and I’m sure you don’t want to spend all day reading it). I want to thank everyone who has been part of my journey so far, and I’m looking forward to the next 10 years with the exciting challenges it may bring…