So, you’re finally going to have to do it. For years you’ve been dreading this was going to happen, and now it has. You feel like crying because you’re the one running the school and it’s supposed to be one of your responsibilities.
You’ve done everything you can think of to try to solve this problem; talking to parents, listening to teachers, brainstorming ideas to the point of ripping your hair out. Sitting at your desk, with your head in your hands, you pray to God that there will be a way out of this mess, but the school’s board has given you the decree you’ve been dreading.
You’re frustrated and you just don’t get it. The school has an excellent reputation, the curriculum is sound, and the kids genuinely enjoy being there.
However, the number of students have dropped in the last couple of years and money has gotten much tighter. The economy has tanked and gas prices have risen. Not only that, but families have been moving more, and public schools have so much more to offer.
There are a million reasons why this has happened, but you still have to go down the hall, deliver the bad news to Mrs. Hoffman, and watch her cry. It’s tearing you up inside, and you just can’t stand it.
Not only are you going to have to lay her off, but you’re going to have to tell another teacher that you’re merging two classes next year.
Then you get a real punch to the stomach. The private school down the street just increased their enrollment for the third year in a row, and their tuition is three times higher than yours.
Does this tale bother you?
Most of us are reactive instead of proactive. In other words, we’ll wait until a problem arrives before we do a thing about it. By the time the junk hits the fan, it’s usually way too late.
The school has to downsize, place all sorts of restrictions on the budget, and make drastic decisions.
Unfortunately with private schools, it’s a common and tragic story. And I’m not just talking about small, private schools either.
Technically, it’s not your fault. You work long hours attending extra events, planning the school year, and putting out administrative fires with parents, vendors, teachers, students and everyone else involved.
And it’s not the fault of your teachers either. They are also working long hours planning classwork, creating extracurricular events, being surrogate parents during regular school days.
Everyone is working their tails off, so, what’s the problem? Where are you going wrong?
The good news is ― it can be fixed. Things can change, and your school can magnetically attract more and better qualified students.
Not only that, but you can turn things around and achieve superstar status that’ll make you a linchpin and an authority figure at your school in a relatively short period of time.
Don’t believe me? Read on!
What you don’t know can kill your school
Unless you’re living in a cave, you’ve probably heard that ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately, for most people that are involved in any type of business, ignorance can also kill you.
As a science teacher I work with likes to say, “A little learnin’ is a dangerous thing.”
So, as you can see, knowledge is important.
However, once you have the knowledge you’re also going to need another element ― action!
But, before we get to the solutions, let’s think for a second about the conditions that got us here.
Consider these questions, and please, take this opportunity to be brutally honest with yourself: (Don’t you just love how polite I am?)
Here we go…
- Does your school have a marketing plan?
- How big is your school’s marketing budget?
- Have you been tracking the results of this plan?
- When was the last time you read a marketing book?
- Does your school give out surveys to parents at the end of the year?
- What type of sales funnel do you use to bring prospective students to your door?
- Do you have a data base of past and present students and their parents?
- When was the last time you contacted them?
- When was the last time you read a private school marketing survey?
- What are the three biggest benefits private schools and institutions provide?
- Who are your competitors?
- What are they doing that you’re not?
I could go on and on, especially since I haven’t even mentioned marketing vehicles that you probably haven’t tried yet like:
- Social media
- Your website
- Direct mail
- email marketing
- Video sales letters
- Magazine ads
- Yellow page ads
- Pod casts
As I said before, I could go on and on…
While I do realize all of this would take a considerable amount of effort and time, you have to understand that your competition is depending, hoping and praying that you won’t learn or do any of this.
Side Note: Please don’t waste my time telling me that you feel guilty taking away business from another Christian school. I can guarantee you that there’s competition for your school that clearly understands that the real game is not on the basketball court or the soccer field.
They know that the real game is on the field of the free market and it’s totally legit, fair and American, so get over it.
If you start acting on any of this and begin taking action, they’ll be the ones trying to stay in the game, not you, and that’ll feel a heck of a lot better than being on the short end of the stick.
You’ve got to get fired up!
Before I spill the beans, crack open the fortune cookie, or rub the genie’s lamp and tell you what you need to do, you’ve got to get fired up.
If you haven’t thought much about marketing your school, you’re going to get an education.
But before you do anything, you’ve got to get passionate! You need to develop a burning desire and marketing mindset that your brain runs on 24/7. Because you’re going to need to breathe, eat and sleep three things to really kill it:
- Knowledge of marketing
- Planning your marketing
- Taking Action
All three of these things require work and commitment.
Yes, it’s a lot of effort, but it’s also a lot of fun. Nothing gets my heart racing more than putting a marketing plan in place and having it work!
And a side benefit of this is ― learning how to market a school is a skill. Once you get good at this, you’ll be the go-to-guy, for sure. Nothing wakes up a board of directors faster to your new skill-set than bringing in new business through the doors of your school.
And once you get going, you can do it month after month after month.
A true tale from the crypt
I remember when my wife and I started a little venture years ago.
She had an industrial level sewing machine and I had an idea. (Good thing she liked to sew.) I was in the U. S. Army Band at the time and came up with an idea: I drew up a design for a music pouch.
Now to give you a little background, in all of the army bands the marching music measures about 5 inches by 6 inches. You clipped the music on a lyre attached to your horn while you played and marched around. However, the average military musician had to carry all of this music around with them as they went from job to job.
The problem was that the music pouches the bandsmen carried their music in were very expensive and not very popular. The pouches the government was buying were black leather, and had a strap on them. They looked just like purses. So, as you can imagine, all of the guys that were in the army band program HATED the pouches.
There’s nothing quite like seeing a soldier carrying around something that looks like a purse. Of course, all of the women could care less.
So, I designed my own pouch that was camouflaged, matched the uniforms at the time. I gave the design to my wife and had her sew up a prototype.
I took it to work and everyone in the band wanted one! They loved everything about them and gave me money in advance to get my wife to make more of them.
Then I had another idea. All army bands kept complete lists of military bands worldwide complete with addresses and phone numbers. So I asked one of the ranking sergeants in the band if I could have a copy of the list, and he gave me one.
This was back circa 1990, and I knew NOTHING about marketing or advertising copy. I had one book by guy named Dan Kennedy on how to write sales letters. So, I used some of his ideas to create my own.
I sent the letters out to all the US military bands and the response was incredible!
At the time, we were living in Alaska and we were getting phone calls at 2:00 and 3:00 AM from bands that were in Europe. We were getting orders from units stationed throughout the 50 states. It was almost overwhelming.
And we were making great money with our pouches too. We were producing and shipping the pouches for right around $200.00 and depending on the size of the order we were making anywhere from $2000 to $4000 profit per order!
You talk about getting fired up! I was hooked on business and marketing from that day forward.
The lesson from the crypt
So, what lesson can we learn from this experience? Well, totally unbeknownst to me at the time, I had done a few things very right.
- I had found a very tight niche and target market. This is key. Later on, I learned the hard way that marketing to everyone is marketing to no one.
Also, marketing to everyone is very expensive. That is a game for the big corporations, because they’re making bazillions of dollars and can afford to market to everyone that has a pulse. The average Joe Schmoe entrepreneur can’t afford that game, and will beat his or her head against the wall trying to do it.
- I had used a PROVEN sales letter. The sales letter templates (A.K.A swipe files) from Dan Kennedy’s book were designed so that you could easily edit them to suit the purpose of your business and send them out.
Because I now write advertising copy, I’ve since learned that writing copy for specific products and markets is a skill that takes years to learn. However, just like playing a musical instrument, it takes years of practice and experience to write copy well.
If you’re smart, you’ll have access to someone that is experienced in your market to write for you when you need it.
Learning to kick butt like Chuck Norris
OK, by this time you kinda-sorta get the idea that I’m pro marketing. However, if you’re going to play this game to win for your school, you’re going to have to spend time learning some marketing strategies.
Don’t panic! You don’t need to learn a ton to get started, because quite frankly, if you try to implement every trick and strategy in the book, you’ll burn out and give up. (Not to mention you’ll probably go broke.
You need to spend some time reading and strategizing before you get started. You can’t jump over this, you have got to become knowledgeable.
I remember leading my weekly bible class at church through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace course, and one of the last things he said at the end of the course was quite profound.
Mr. Ramsey pointed at his head (brain) and shouted, “Feed this thing!”
As a matter of fact, Dave also told his audience that the average millionaire reads two non-fiction books a month.
A recent survey/book by Thomas Stanley and William Danko, called The Millionaire Next Door revealed the one area where millionaires do spend their money is on education.
Reading and studying books on marketing and business is extremely important and you’re going to have to put some time in. Look, Chuck Norris didn’t learn how to do a round house kick overnight. It took years of practice and hours a day at the dojo.
You’ll need to perfect your marketing skills and strategy over time. However, you can get started and learn along the way, just make sure you learn some of the basics first.
Get these resources and kick it into high-gear fast!
In order to get you on the fast track, I highly recommend you read and USE these books to get started:
The Guerilla Marketing Handbook by Jay Levinson and Seth Godin – These are two marketing giants that got together and created a huge workbook that you can easily work your way through. It’s a rather large text that has loads of pictures and examples of how to market your business, and I think it would work perfectly for a private school or institution.
Both Levinson and Godin have written a lot of books, too many to mention here. Another book by Levinson that’ll help you get started quickly is Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days. This book will help you set up a marketing plan and budget and show you how to implement it…Fast!
Tribes by Seth Godin – I told you he’s written a load of books. This book isn’t so much of a strategy guide as it is an examination of the way people think. The premise is that human beings, even before recorded history, have grouped and bonded together based on common beliefs, desires and interests. Why would I recommend this book? Because it makes you acutely aware of the forces that drive people together.
Think about it. Do people at a Christian school feel like they are part of an organization, with a set of beliefs, and possess a common ideal? Of course! This book will help you to be more aware of the way that people bond together and it will help magnetically draw them to your school on impulse.
The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy – You can use this book to learn how to write sales letters. Wait! You say you don’t need to know how to write sales letters? Has your school ever had a fund raiser? Do you create brochures for your school or athletic program? This book needs to be in your reference library, right where you can access it immediately.
Dan Kennedy sells tons of outstanding courses from his site. One that will probably benefit any organization is his Magnetic Marketing Course. This course will hand you sales letters and ads that you can easily edit and use to promote your school or institution. If you get it from his site it is quite pricy. However, I got a used copy on eBay for $25. An absolute steal!
Now you’ve got “Mentum” you need something “Mo!” “Mo-Mentum!”
I just had to use that subhead.
Now you have the goods, you need to use them.
At the least, get one of the Guerilla Marketing books and create a plan and a budget your school can afford. If you have a very limited budget I have one more recommendation for you.
A guy by the name of Jim Cockrum has written a great book called Free Marketing ―101 Low and No Cost ways to Grow Your Business Online. Loads of great ideas, and the title speaks for itself.
Once you have your plan in place, you have one more thing to do.
TAKE MASSIVE, FOCUSED LIKE A LASER ― ACTION!
Unless you can solely focus on promoting your school, you’re going to need to delegate some responsibilities out to other team players. That’s OK because this needs to be a group effort. You can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone, unless you’re working at a Christian college or institution that has a marketing director.
In that case, you may want give some of the books I suggested to that department.
Everyone’s looking for your leadership…Take it serious
By now, you should have enough fuel to get this jet off the ground. You can’t afford to skimp on your marketing efforts now, because the economic and social winds are blowing south and it is having its impact on private schools.
As a matter of fact, when the economy starts tanking, that’s the time to really dig in and double up your efforts. So, grab the bull by the horns.
God put YOU in charge at this place and time.
And never forget:
The parents are depending on you.
The teachers are depending on you.
And the students are depending on you.
Please, take it serious.
To Your School’s Success!
Mark “Elmo” Ellis
Copywriting and Consulting Services for Christian Schools and Colleges
Call me. I won’t bite and you’ll probably learn a few things!
Phone: (859) 797-9560
email: elmo033057(at symbol)gmail.com