10 years as a driving instructor!

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…

What’s the difference between a pint of Peroni and a driving instructor?

It’s been said many times that if you were to line up 5 driving instructors and ask a learner to choose, how would they know the difference between them? In the end, we all do the same job. We take a nervous 17 year old who has limited driving knowledge and experience, and we train/instruct/coach them to be a competent driver who we hope will be safe on our roads. How the heck are they supposed to choose and know the difference between us?

What’s normally the first question you get when you answer the phone with an enquiry about driving lessons? – How much are the lessons? – If you’re charging above the average rate, I can hear your sighs now. For those who are charging the industry bottom prices (I heard of someone recently charging £14 for a driving lesson!) you’ll be rubbing your hands together when the price question rears its head – yeah well done, you got them. You won them over by being cheaper than everybody else – well done you – how many hundred hours a week do you work?

For those of us that charge a higher rate, you know the phone call is generally only going one way.

So how do you go about justifying charging more for driving lessons?

Now, this might sound like an odd analogy, but it came to me one night whilst in a hotel, the night before going on holiday. A driving instructor is like a pint of beer – told you it was an odd analogy! I enjoy a beer, a lager to be more precise, and I’m quite picky, I like a nice quality lager. At my local pub I often enjoy a nice cold pint of Peroni, it’s pricey at £4.20 a pint, but I enjoy it, and I enjoy the atmosphere of the pub. I’m sure I could get it cheaper at the local Weatherspoons, but it doesn’t have the ambience I’m looking for, and certainly isn’t a place I’d go to for a nice drink with my family. Last night, in the hotel bar, I was pleased to see they served Peroni, so I went ahead and ordered one. The Peroni there cost £5.10, roughly 20% more than I’d pay in my local pub.

So why does it cost more?

It’s still the same amber liquid I could purchase from many establishments across the UK. The difference is the package. At my local, my Peroni would sometimes come in the custom glass the brewery made for the drink. Sometimes, if all the good ones had been stolen, I’d get it served in a generic glass, which although it still tastes the same, it’s just nicer in a proper glass. Sometimes I’d be served by the landlord who’s quite chatty, other times it might be the new girl who couldn’t care less. At the hotel, the barmaid was professional and courteous, the hotel bar was spotless, there were free nuts poured fresh if you wanted them (not the same pot everyone’s had their dirty hands in), and the furnishing was comfortable and modern as you’d expect from a nice hotel.

So what’s my point? If you put a pint of Peroni from Weatherspoons, my local, and a nice hotel all side by side, they’d all look and taste the same. The reason the prices are different is because of the service that is offered around the pint. As a driving instructor you are the pint of beer, to the untrained eye you’re no different from the rest of us. The potential learner generally doesn’t know about the ADI grading system. Your driving school is the establishment – your package – and this is the key to unlocking your earning potential. Do you want to be Weatherspoon’s School of Motoring charging £14 an hour, or do you want to be the Nice Hotel School of Motoring charging £30+ an hour?

I know which one I’d prefer to be, and I’m working hard to achieve it so that I, and the other instructors that are with my franchise can earn a decent living. How you go about becoming the top class school is entirely up to you, but think outside the box, think about how you can add value to your lessons, and about how you can exceed your learners expectations – give them an experience they can’t forget!

I wish you all the best with your business, but I challenge you to be the best!

Dave Shannon

Fresh Plans …bringing balls to your business!

Whether you do it now or later, I strongly recommend you watch this 15 minute TED video – it’s not about the profanity shouting teddy bear, but if you want to succeed in business it’s just as entertaining http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career

I’m pretty sure all of you can relate to what Larry Smith talks about in this video. How many times have you been to a meeting or conference, felt utterly inspired, but within a couple of days (a week at most), you have taken not followed up all the things you said you were going to do? Within less than a couple of weeks you’ve probably forgotten you even attended the event. As Larry Smith says, this is why you WON’T have a great career. You need to be passionate about what you do, if you sit on your backside all day hoping your business will look after itself you’re very much mistaken!

In September I’ll be celebrating my 10th anniversary as a driving instructor, and I’ve run Drive Ahead School of Motoring in Stoke for the past 5 years. Although my business has grown, there’s now 6 driving instructors at Drive Ahead, with more training at the time of writing, it wasn’t until the last 12 months that I’ve started to think of myself as a businessman – I’m quite happy to admit I was winging it! For the past 9 months I’ve been working with Marc Ford and a small group of like minded professionals to improve my business and to realise my true potential as a business owner. With quarterly meetings at Fresh Plans I’ve learned so much about running a business and what it takes to succeed. In addition to this I also have fortnightly 1 to 1 Skype conversations with Marc.

For those who don’t know Marc Ford, he runs a small driving school in Worcester, he is a business coach to many, and has years of retail and business experience which he uses to help others succeed. Almost forgot, he’s also just completed one of his biggest achievements – his MBA degree!

During our fortnightly calls we discuss my business, recent progress, plans for the future, and how I’m going to achieve them. Back in April of this year I made a business plan for the next 12 months – I’ve already met and exceeded most of the targets that I set. Over the years I’ve “if’d and ah’d” at getting things done, but on many occasions let things lie or opportunities drift past me. Marc gives me the focus to set these targets and gives me the balls to get things done. Since I began work as an instructor I’ve worked 6 days a week, and even on the 7th day I’d still be doing ‘work’ things. For a long time I’ve said I’ll cut out my Saturday’s and just work Monday to Friday, allowing me a full weekend with my family. Although I’ve said it, I’ve never done it. Working with Marc, this was one of my first targets. Within a few weeks I’d done it, I’ve now had weekends off for the past 3 months, and enjoyed some great times with my loved ones – money can’t buy that. I’ve also had targets for increasing lesson prices which I’ve often put off as fear work will dry up. Following my conversations and guidance with Marc, Drive Ahead now has one of the highest lesson prices in our area with further increases planned for later in the year, and we’ve never been busier.

Im pretty sure I could’ve achieved what I have achieved over the past 12 months on my own, I’m also pretty sure it would’ve taken me much longer. Wby working with Marc, I’m going to defy Larry Smith, I’m going to have a great career, as I WILL get things done. It won’t always be easy, I will make mistakes, and things won’t always go to plan. Are you going to be the one Larry’s talking about? The person who has the great ideas but never does anything about it? Or would you like to have a great career? If you’re the latter then come and see what Fresh Plans is all about. I’m not here to sell Fresh Plans to you, I’m just sharing with you my experiences. The next quarterly meeting is https://www.facebook.com/events/370774156453829/ – Hope to see you there!

Top tips for driving in Snow

Tips for Driving in Snow
Although the snow always looks very pretty from the window, it can often produce treacherous conditions. So to try and help you out with a little bit of advice, here are Drive Ahead’s top tips for driving in snow:

– only drive if your journey is absolutely necessary. There’s no pointing risking driving in the bad conditions unless you have to.

– Make sure your WHOLE car is cleared of snow. Maybe people clear the windows then go. Leaving snow behind on the roof or bonnet is very dangerous. As your car warms up, the snow will begin to melt and could slide over your windscreen or onto the road causing dangerous conditions for any vehicle that may be following.

– Make sure you and your car are prepared. Ensure your tyres are well maintained, and your lights are all working. Put some warm clothes, a flask with a hot drink, a shovel, and some grit in your boot in case you get stuck.

– Stopping distances can be up to TEN times longer in snowy/icy conditions. Be prepared that the car will not slow down as easily as it normally would. Keep your overall speed lower, and start your braking considerably earlier than you normally would.

– If your car begins to skid from the rear, turn your wheels into the skid. Eg, if your back end is going right, steer right to counter the skid.

– Always try and drive in the highest gear you can without the car struggling. Keeping the engine revs down will reduce the chance of the wheels spinning.

– If you’re trying to get up a hill, don’t rev the engine, it’ll only encourage a skid and won’t help at all to get up the hill. Keep the acceleration to the minimum you can.

The Big Learner Relay is coming to Stoke on Trent!

Big Learner Relay
On the 14th November 2014, the Children in Need Big Learner Relay comes to Stoke on Trent. It’s journey began in Northern Ireland on 30th October and is travelling the length and breadth of the country with driving instructors passing a roof top box from one car to the next after taking a learner on a driving lesson. On the 14th November the roof top box will arrive on a driving lesson from Macclesfield, and will meet the Stoke on Trent team at Asda in Tunstall at around 9.45am. After lots of photos and celebrations, Drive Ahead School of Motoring will be leading a convoy of driving lessons from Stoke on Trent to Asda in Stafford where the roof box will be passed on again to continue it’s journey. The Big Learner Relay will come to an end in Birmingham on the evening of 14th November.

How did the learner relay come about?

During the 2013 coverage of Children in Need, Louise Walsh, a driving instructor from the New Forest, was watching with her driving instructor husband. While she was watching she wondered that, surely as an industry, we could all do something to raise funds for Children in Need. This is when the Big Learner Relay was born. Following months and months of planning by Louise and the Learner Relay committee, the Big Learner Relay came to fruition, and the first car left Northern Ireland on the 30th October 2014. Over the duration of the relay, 147 driving instructors will lead a leg of the relay covering over 2,500 miles, and raising thousands of pounds for Children in Need. At the time of writing the relay has already made over £20,000 with 8 days still to go!

How can you get involved?

The Stoke on Trent leg will leave Asda in Tunstall at 10am on Friday 14th November. Cars will be arriving from around 9.30 and we’ll be parked up in a prime position outside the front of the store. Please come along and cheers us on, take photos, and make donations. In the meantime you can donate by texting PASS52 £5 to 70070 (for a different amount just change the £5 to your desired amount) or you can go to our Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/BigLearnerRelayStoke/

Show Me Tell Me Questions

At the start of your driving test you will be asked 2 questions known as Show Me Tell Me Questions. These questions test your knowledge of basic car maintenance, safety checks, and the operation of certain controls inside the car. If you can’t answer a question or get a question wrong you will receive 1 driving fault per incorrect question.

Q1 – Open the bonnet, identify where you would check the engine oil level and tell me how you would check that the engine has enough oil.
A – Identify the dipstick, pull it out and check the oil level against the min/max markings.

Q2 -Show me/explain how you would check that the power assisted steering is working before starting a journey.
A – If the steering becomes heavy the steering may be faulty. Before starting a journey two simple checks can be made. 1) Gentle pressure on the steering wheel, maintained whilst the engine is started, should result in slight but noticeable movement as the system begins to operate. 2) Turning the steering wheel after just moving off will give an immediate indication that the power assisted steering is functioning correctly.

Q3 – Open the bonnet, identify where you would check the engine coolant level and tell me how you would check the engine has the correct level.
A – Identify the engine coolant tank and check the min/max markings. If the coolant is below the min mark then more coolant will need to be added. To do this, unscrew the cap and pour in coolant until the max mark is reached.

Q4 – Show me how you would check the parking brake for excessive wear; make sure you keep safe control of the vehicle.
A – Apply the parking brake firmly. Demonstrate by applying parking brake so that when it is fully applied it secures itself, and is not at the end of the working travel.

Q4 – Show me how you would check that the horn is working (off road only).
A – Press the horn and listen (turn on ignition if necessary).

Q5 – Open the bonnet, identify where the Windscreen Washer reservoir is and tell me how you check the level?
A – Identify reservoir, lift off cap and make a visual check of level as there are no external markings on reservoir.

Q6 – Show me how you would check the parking brake for excessive wear; make sure you keep safe control of the vehicle.
A – Apply the parking brake firmly. Demonstrate by applying parking brake so that when it is fully applied it secures itself, and is not at the end of the working travel.

Q7 – Open the bonnet, identify where the brake fluid reservoir is and tell me how you would check that you have a safe level of hydraulic brake fluid.
show me tell me, identify brake fluid.
A – Identify the brake fluid reservoir and check the fluid level against the min/max levels.

Q8 – Show me how you would check that the direction indicators are working correctly.
A – Activate the indicators or hazard warning lights and walk around the car to see if all the indicators are working correctly.

Q9 – Show me how you would check that the brake lights are working on this car. (I can assist you, if you need to switch the ignition on, please don’t start the engine).
A – Operate brake pedal, make use of reflections in windows, garage doors, etc, or ask someone to help. (may need to switch ignition on, prompt not to start engine)

Q10 – Tell me how you would check that the brakes are working before starting a journey.
A – As you move off check the brakes. They should not feel spongy and the car should not pull to one side.

Q11 – Tell me how you would check that the headlights and tail lights are working.
A – Turn on lights (turn ignition if necessary), walk around car and check that the lights are on.

Q12 – Tell me where you would find the information for the recommended tyre pressures for this car and how tyre pressures should be checked.
A – Information will be found using the car manufacturer’s manual. Check the tyre pressures by using a reliable pressure gauge when the tyres are cold. Don’t forget the spare and remember to refit the valve caps.

Q13 – Tell me how you would check the tyres to show that they have sufficient tread depth and that their general condition is safe to use on the road.
A – A safe tyre will have no cuts or bulges. The tread depth should be at least 1.6mm across the central 3/4s of the breadth of the tyre and around the entire outer circumference.

Q14 – Show me how you would clean the windscreen using the windscreen washer and wipers.
A – Operate control to wash and wipe windscreen (turn ignition on if necessary.

Q15 – Show me how you would set the demister controls to clear all the windows effectively, this should include both front and rear screens.
A – Set all relevant controls including; fan, temperature, air direction / source and heated screen to clear windscreen and windows. Engine does not have to be started for this demonstration.

Q16 – Show me how you would switch on the rear fog light(s) and explain when you would use it/them. (No need to exit vehicle).
A – Operate switch (turn on dipped headlights and ignition if necessary). Check warning light is on. Explain use.

Q17 – Show me how you switch your headlight from dipped to main beam and explain how you would know the main beam is on whilst inside the car.
A – Operate switch (with ignition or engine on if necessary), check with main beam warning light

Q18 – Tell me how you make sure your head restraint is correctly adjusted so it provides the best protection in the event of a crash.
A – The head restraint should be adjusted so the rigid part of the head restraint is at least as high as the eye or top of the ears, and as close to the back of the head as is comfortable. N.B. Some restraints might not be adjustable.

Q19 – Tell me how you would know if there was a problem with your anti lock braking system.
A – Warning light should illuminate if there is a fault with the anti lock braking system.

Don’t get caught out when booking driving tests online!

When you’re learning to drive there will come a time when you need to book your theory test and driving test.  In this modern world, most people will choose to do this online.  The official government websites for booking the test are as follows:

To book a theory test – https://www.gov.uk/book-theory-test

To book a driving test – https://www.gov.uk/book-driving-test

These websites work really well, and the booking system is really easy to follow.  Unfortunately many people don’t use the correct website.  This tends to be down to Google.  Instead of finding the correct website, many people simply search ‘book theory test’ or ‘book driving test’ and the first results that come up are the sponsored adverts.  Within these sponsored adverts appear a number of websites that are not associated with the DVSA (the official government department for driving tests).  These websites offer promises of free retests if you fail your test, even though you will pay a premium for the privilege.

The problem with these websites is not many people read the small print.  The lure of a retest, for what seems quite a reasonable price, draws many people into just booking without giving much though into what they’re actually going to get.  I’ve looked at the small print on several sites, and the terms and conditions on all sites related to theory state that if you don’t pass because you failed the hazard perception section of your test then they will not rebook and you will lose out.  You also have to have failed the multiple choice questions by only 2 marks, if you’ve failed by more than that, then yet again they won’t rebook you test for you and you will lose out.

So, if we look at the possible outcomes of using these sites:

You pass first time – You will lose out as you’ve paid more than correct rate in the first place

You pass the multiple choice section, but fail the hazard perception – You will lose out

You fail the multiple choice section by scoring less than 41 out of 50 – You will lose out

You fail the multiple choice section by scoring either 41 or 42 out of 50 and you pass your hazard perception – You will get your free retest and will have benefited from the offer

So, taking all of these outcomes into consideration, although the initial offer looks good, it’s more than likely you’re going to lose out.  If the offer was as good as it seems then the companies making these websites wouldn’t make any money.

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail

My advice would also be to use the official sites I posted at the top of this blog, and make sure you’re prepared for your test so there’s a limited chance that you’ll fail in the first place.  There’s loads of great resources for you to use, and all of our learners get free access to Theory Test Pro.  For more information just give us a call on 01782 906010