Independent schools have a valuable role to play. Every child deserves a good education, an education that empowers them to be their best. Your school has something unique to offer that may meet the needs of many mission appropriate children in your area. Perhaps it is your instructional methodology, target population served, or areas where your students consistently excel such as performing or visual arts, the sciences, athletics, or writing.
So, how do you let the right families know that your school is a good match for their needs? Well, first they have to hear about your school. They need to know what your school does well so that they can make an informed decision.
Here are four easy approaches to informing prospective families about what you have to offer. Although the headings may seem generic, read on for perhaps some new, creative, and cost-effective approaches to growing your student prospects list.
Word of Mouth
Even in this digital age, the most effective marketing method is still word of mouth. So it is important that what people say about your school matches your mission. To make sure that is the case, listen. Ask current families, staff, alums, alumni parents, and community members what sets your school apart. What do you do well? What needs a tweak or two? You can collect this data in electronic surveys, small group settings, and one-one meetings.
Use this data to create three – five talking points that reflect your school’s strengths. Be sure these talking points are repeated on the web, in brochures, in emails, at gatherings, in conversations. When you start to hear your talking points when you collect your next round of data, you will know you are succeeding.
Each quarter complete brief surveys (3-5 questions) to be sure your strengths are current and that your talking points are resonating with your families. Host “Happy Meals,” small group gatherings of students or parents, alums or staff, where they have a chance to share what makes the school great. Your role? Listen! Then translate their words into marketing points.
Keep in mind, people talk. If your current families love your school, they will be telling their friends, family, and co-workers and encourage them to do so. The result will be prospects for your school. If you want to maximize your current families’ efforts, offer incentives: If two families come on tour and say your family invited them, you receive a t-shirt with the school logo. When a family signs on the dotted line and says they heard about the school from your family, you receive a $$ tuition discount. Make it feel like fun, and you will have significantly multiplied your admissions crew!
Most schools already have a website and Facebook page. If your school has not already, consider adding Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and a blog. Each of these is a place to start a conversation. When someone likes a post, thank them. Encourage your current families to “like” or “follow” your social media accounts and to add appropriate positive comments - often. Ask them to share posts or tag friends in posts who may be prospective families.
Use posts as conversation starters:
- “What is your favorite memory of your/your child’s time at our school? ”(Alums/Parents of Alums)
- “Who knows what/where this is?” (Post historical and current pictures related to the school.)
- “What is your favorite tradition at our school?” (Current Families)
You might even form a committee of parents and staff, who commit to liking, sharing, and commenting on the school’s social media posts. Posts with likes and comments activity stay in a follower’s feed longer and give more people a chance to see what is happening at your school. Note: Make sure to set the settings on your social media accounts so that comments are moderated (approved) before publishing.
Of course, you’ll have written, signed permission before using any student’s image, and I recommend only using first names – again, only with permission.
With social media, your school can become a trusted site for fun family ideas, such as ways to keep kids reading over the summer or healthy snacks that are easy to make;
In many ways, the digital age has made advertising more difficult. People gather information from such a variety of places which makes your data management system all the more critical. Be sure your online application asks how the prospective family heard about the school. Ask as they sign up to come to an Open House. Ask again, when they apply. Optimally, your data management system will provide analysis of the source of prospective students leads so you can quickly identify where to spend your time and dollars promoting your school. Is there a radio station, a TV channel, a magazine or newspaper that enough families are referencing to make that site worth investing in for ads?
You know your website will be a portal for viewers curious about what your school offers. So be sure it’s accurate, attractive, up-to-date, and easy to navigate. Be sure your website and brochures repeat your talking points. Have your marketing materials visible in the office, share them with real estate agents, so they can share them with families moving to the area. Attend school admissions fairs and invest in eye-catching signage and marketing materials. Have a warm, engaging representative there to connect with the public, and have a way to collect contact information for interested prospects. Collecting contact information can be as simple as writing their name and contact details on paper to entering their contact information on a tablet or laptop. Once you get their contact details – contact them!
In addition to Admissions Fairs, consider offering to speak at local groups, especially if there are groups that might have an interest in your specialty. For instance, if your school has a religious focus, offer to speak to groups connected to that religion. If you are known for math and science, see if there is a local group of engineers, and share how you are preparing youth to join their profession. Invite the group to come for a tour. Give them a chance to share contact information and ask permission to add them to your email or newsletter lists.
Contact the Human Resource department of the large employers in your area. Invite them for a tour and share your marketing materials. When they are courting potential employees, they will be able to say, “There are many good schools in our area, like Math Academy and Art School. I visited the school, and I was impressed. It is known for excellent teachers and rigorous academics.”
Host family-friendly events, such as a Night of Math Games or an Evening of Art Activities. You could even have an old-fashioned ice cream social or Movies on the Lawn. Ask current families to come and bring friends, neighbors or coworkers, who might be interested in having their kids attend your school. Have marketing materials openly displayed, and make it easy to sign up for upcoming events, tours, or Open Houses. Collect contact information electronically or on paper that you can enter in your data management system. Then add them to your list of contacts that target prospects. Be sure they have an opportunity to unsubscribe, but as long as they stay connected, keep them updated on the exciting things your school is doing.
Regardless of how you find them, a steady stream of new prospective families is critical to maintaining and growing your student enrollment. The suggestions listed above give you several ways to easily identify prospective families in your community and move them to the next step in your admissions funnel.
About the Author: Lari has served as a Director of Development, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Director of Admissions and Alumni Relations. She has been a one-person office and managed large staffs. She is currently a nonprofit consultant with clients across the nation.
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