Running an RTO—one big puzzle

Running any business is like one big puzzle—there are multiple moving pieces, each fitting together to create a cohesive whole.

These pieces can include a marketing and sales piece, a systems and processes piece, a people piece and a finance piece, just to name a few. Somewhere in there, is inevitably a corporate governance and compliance piece—the stuff we simply have to do to ensure we run a legal and ethical business.

RTOs are no different! We can never forget that first and foremost, an RTO is a business and compliance is not the goal.

Every RTO needs to arrange all their puzzle pieces to make their business function. However,  RTOs have one critical piece that’s often a lot larger in comparison to any non-RTO business, and that’s a compliance piece. Without it, an RTO simply becomes a ‘TO’.

In my work, I regularly come across various types of RTO owners. They range from the tradie who wants to train others, the business owner / entrepreneur who sees an RTO as a money-printing press and the RTO owner who is so focused on compliance, they forget they are a business. Each type of owner will encounter their own range of challenges, often preferring to focus on the puzzle piece they know and understand the best.

In relation to the above, I can summarise my observations into a few very general statements:

  • ‘Tradies’ who start an RTO, love their trade and will often build their RTO by training the way ‘they were taught’. They often don’t understand or choose not to understand compliance, and some don’t understand their role as a business owner.
  • The business owner / entrepreneur who starts an RTO will generally be an expert at business growth and development, but often lacks the level of detail needed to manage the compliance requirements. They will often engage experts, but choose not to understand the finer details.
  • The ‘I love compliance’ owner will try to do everything to the standards, and often does it well, but can forget one critical thing…RTOs must make money.

Each of these three RTO owner types has the same puzzle pieces and while they will all experience different journeys, they share one critical thing—their businesses must make money to survive.

So while the ultimate end goal is different for each person, it will usually be something like the following:

  • Running a successful business that makes some decent money
  • Adding value to their students’ experiences through quality education
  • Building a better community.

To do this, CEOs must manage the puzzle to ensure each piece receives the appropriate care and attention. If we focus too much on compliance, we often neglect growth. If we only focus on sales and growth, we may find the RTO crippled by non-compliances and facing deregistration. (Just look in the recent media for a number of examples of this).

Lastly, focusing just on training, without the skills needed to manage growth and compliance is a pathway to disaster. I see these businesses often and while the CEOs have great intentions, success is a long way from intent.

So for a sustainable business, CEOs must give attention to each piece of the puzzle without focusing on any one at the complete expense of others. Getting help from the relevant experts is critical to business success. I learnt this the hard way and now follow a very clear mantra: “Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest.”

Build your team of experts around you. These might be internal or external—it doesn’t really mater if you can hire people who can manage each piece of the puzzle better than you.

Remember, a puzzle isn’t successful if it has gaping holes—we want the whole picture!

Maciek FibrichMaciek Fibrich is Director and Principal Consultant of RTO Consultancy Group providing an end-to-end solution for organisations wishing to establish or build a successful, prosperous and reputable RTO.