Coronavirus - coming out from the other side
Advance Training. Are you part of its future?
If you are no longer in the police and are now stuck at home trying to fill your time then your thoughts might be turning to what is going to happen once we are out of this and how you could put the lockdown to good use. Maybe you could be thinking of starting your own business, maybe you are wondering whether your police experience can actually bring you something outside of The Job. If so then you might want to spend 5 minutes reading this.
Last year I closed Advance Training. My life had moved on. I had been doing it for over 20 years. But there is a huge database of multiple choice questions, answers and detailed explanations available along with a wealth of background material and experience.
How did we get to where we are now?
Nothing stands still in life. One of the issues that always exists around computer software is how do you develop it? Do you modify your existing code or do you throw it all out and start again.
When I started Advance Training in 1996 Windows 3.1 was still the dominant operating system, Windows 95 was only just coming on stream and the Apple Mac was really an expensive computer which had cornered the graphics/printing sector. Our first software was written solely for Windows - first 16 bit and then 32 bit. The software was distributed on floppy disks which were quite frequently made unreadable by the postal system because of magnetic fields in the Sorting Offices. We modified the software for a number of years but then Windows and computer display technology moved on so much that we did a total rewrite around 2004. That was not cheap.
Move on another 6 years and the Apple Mac was a little more mainstream than it was in 1996 and so once again we did a complete rewrite using a new language - Adobe Air - which fulfilled the holy grail of software developers as it would work on both Windows and Mac OS X. But then Apple brought out the iPad and so we developed an app that worked on the iPad before extending it to work on the iPhone and then developed an app for Android.
And that is how it continued until a few years ago when I realised that I had run out of steam and wanted to change my life direction. I went back to university to do a full time Masters and for the last 4.5 years I have worked in my first love, engineering (I now work here, if you are interested).
Effectively I created Advance Training and then recreated it twice again during 23 years. It now needs another re-creation. All the questions are still there, most of them are still legally accurate. If someone has the vision to recreate Advance Training once more (either using that name, or using their own name) then now is a brilliant opportunity to do so. Why?
Why now is a good time to take this opportunity?
Change of government - more police officers
It didn’t really matter who won the last election, all the mainstream political parties were promising a sizeable increase in police officer numbers. All these will need to go through the probation system and then they will want to go for promotion or join CID. Although Advance Training started with a focus on the promotion exams it was quite easy to branch out into supporting probationer police officers, as well as supporting those going for the national quarterly exams to move into CID. And don’t forget that before the financial crisis we sold our software into more than half of all the UK police forces where we not only provided on-line learning but actually produced and managed the probationer assessments for some of those forces. The opportunities look promising.
The law hasn’t changed much
Every year we purchased the latest copy of the Blackstone’s Manuals and had to compare them with the previous year’s to see where more questions needed writing or existing questions needed modifying. Take it from me, there really hasn’t been much change in criminal law over the past few years because all the focus was on Brexit and now the focus has moved to coronavirus I doubt there will me much more in the way of significant legal changes for some time. Consequently our questions database will need very little work to get it back up to date.
Now is the opportunity to focus on creating something new
Lockdown has affected all our lives. Personally I have been working at home for over 4 weeks. My new life involves managing practical research project teams. We have managed to continue some of our projects remotely but other projects need access to our facilities so they are on hold. Organisationally we are trying to take advantage of this situation to undertake some company-wide improvements that we have been discussing for some time but did not have the resources to undertake. Until now.
So what is needed?
There are four key roles needed to develop your police online training business. You might have more than one of them.
Legal expert and question writer
Or really to put it more accurately, ‘police legal expert and question writer’. Question scenarios need to be appropriate to everyday policing and someone who does not have at least some front line experience will probably find it difficult to create scenarios that make some sense to serving police officers - no matter what their length of service. If that person has been trained by the College of Policing as a multiple-choice exam question writer then all the better but it is not vital. It can be learned.
Computer software expert
The level of your computer software understanding depends to a great extent on what software delivery mechanism you intend to use. There are a wide range of companies that offer digital delivery training platforms but don’t want to be involved in the generation and maintenance of the training material. Basically they take all the technological worry away from you, both in the delivery mechanism and the taking of payments. If you were to go down this route then I can provide all the help you need to transfer the questions database onto your chosen system. Also, if you identify a number of candidate platforms I can investigate them from a technical perspective and advise you on the pros and cons of each candidate.
At the other end of the extreme is for you to write (and therefore control) your own software - or like I did, specify how you want the software to work and then engage contract software programmers to write it for you. If you went down the latter route then I have all the source code from our latest software (Windows, OS X, iOS and Android - with PHP and MySQL scripts) which will help you to easily understand the functionality of the system. Trust me, it is more complex than many people first think - hence the suggestion that investigating a commercial training delivery platform may be a better business model. But conversely, if you or one of your partners is a skilled programmer who is furloughed then this could be a good use of this quiet time.
‘Marketing’ does not mean the same as ‘sales’. Without an understanding of how to identify and engage with potential prospects and turn them into paying customers then your business will not succeed. And at the end of the day you are running a business, you need to make a profit. Is Facebook the way to go to market your business? Is a monthly subscription model better than a one-off payment? The psychology of marketing is far from straight-forward but get it right and you will do very well.
There are only two types of business, ones that make profits and ones that make losses. There is no such thing as ‘break even’. If you want to run your business at a loss then you are effectively a charity subsidising police training. Run it as a serious profit-making business and you could do very well - we live in a very nice house in a desirable part of Sheffield because of Advance Training. We did well and so did our customers whose pass rate was always 2 to 3 times the national average over the 23 years we ran the business. Win-win.
How do I go from here?
What skills do you have to bring to the party? How will you get the other skills you need? Will you enter into a formal business partnership, create a limited company or work on your own and pay contractors up front for the bits you cannot do? Technically I did the latter. I borrowed money, paid contractors and then when it really took off I reaped the plentiful rewards, nobody else had a share of my profits - except my wife of course. But you might find that the way you need the business to work is to create a limited company with shareholders who each take a share of the profits because they have contributed to the creation of the company without receiving payment up front which helps your cashflow - maybe they can write software, maybe a social media marketing ninja - and are prepared to share the pain with a view to the potential gain. In a previous life I was actually a business adviser with the Princes Youth Business Trust, even while I was a police officer, so I can advise you on the pros and cons of the various approaches. Everything you do has to make business sense or you (and your potential partners) are going to waste a lot of time or money - or both.
Want to know more?