Phrase of the day: bite off more than you can chew

About a year ago, after a chance meeting with a friend of a friend, who had a beautiful Grade II listed building in Bloomsbury, a historic part of central London, we rashly decided that it would be a great idea to start a language school. To give you some idea of quite how poorly prepared we were for the journey we were about to embark on, this was at around the same time as we were just getting started on a new book – the Upper-Intermediate level of a high-school book based loosely around TED talks. Anyone who’s ever done any serious professional writing will tell you quite how time-consuming it can be! Anyway, we set off on our journey full of hope and idealism, certain that with our connections in the world of English Language teaching, it was only a matter of time before we were running a thriving school that would offer a real alternative to the big boys of the sector like International House and EC!

It took us a few months before we came to the realisation that we’d bitten off more than we could chew. In other words, we slowly came to see that we were trying to do something that was simply too difficult for the two of us. There were obstacles at every turn. We learned, for instance, that most of the students who come and study in the UK come through local agents, and that these agents were clearly the key to success. However, meeting agents proved harder than you’d imagine. To sit and talk to them, you needed to shell out a small fortune and book a table at a vast two-day conference designed to out schools and agents together. You then realise that (a) most agents won’t even talk to you until you’re British Council accredited and (b) even if they will, they’ll soon tell you they already have schools in London they deal with and aren’t really looking for more. We found ourselves trapped in a Catch-22 situation: we couldn’t get agents to send us students until we were accredited, but we couldn’t get accredited until we had students!

That’s just one example among many of the kinds of problems we came up against. In the end, we came to feel that the whole system was stacked against the little guy, and designed to ensure you’d fail unless you came into the game with a seriously large amount of investment. Having sweated blood (and tears) for the best part of twelve months, we finally reached a point where we both felt that enough was enough and, with heavy hearts, we decided to cut our losses and call it a day.

That, in case you were wondering, is why you’re now reading our WORD OF THE DAY posts over here on this site. We’ll be changing things around here in the coming weeks – and announcing new plans we’re very excited about. If you’d like to know more, please contact us – – and we’ll add you to our mailing list.

  • Have you ever realised you’d bitten off more than you could chew? When? What happened?
  • Can you think of any other times when the system is stacked against the little guy – and in favour of the big boys?
  • Do you think it’s better for people who’ve started businesses to cut their losses and call it a day while they can – or to carry on and keep trying?
  • Have you ever had to shell out a small fortune on something you didn’t really want to pay for? When? Why?
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