I recently had a conversation with the director of admissions at a private Catholic school that is thinking about working with Bright Minds Marketing. She said that even though the school had a record enrollment last year, that they still feel that their student recruitment process is fragile and within a few students of not meeting their goal. She told me that she felt like they were living “paycheck to paycheck” when it came to student recruiting and wanted some way to feel more confident about the number of potential students that they were attracting.
Does this sound familiar? Are you constantly wondering where the next class of students is going to come from? You are not alone. Most of the people I talk to about recruiting for their school have a hefty fear about how successful they will be every year. Though a little fear is good, there are ways that you can take control of the situation and become more confident in your recruiting. Marketing takes time, but by following these four easy steps, you can begin to own your process.
1.) Look at your data
There are a few important data points that you should analyze to get started. Pull your enrollment numbers from the past 5 years:
- Are you growing or shrinking?
- How many new students per grade are you attracting?
- What is your yearly retention rate? Is it different by a certain grade?
- What is your true replacement number? For example, if you are a K-8 school and you graduate 40 eighth graders ever year, you not only need to recruit 40 kindergarteners but also any other students who left via natural attrition.
- Where are your students coming from and how did they hear about you? If you are not asking this question, go back and ask your new parents. This is great fundamental knowledge that will help you to understand your kindergarten feeders as well as a rough idea on what your marketing channels are.
By doing this exercise, you will probably find that there are a lot of gaps in what you know and don’t know. Write those down so you can begin to develop a plan to address them in the future.
2.) What marketing assets do you have and what is the process and timeline for developing them?
For many schools, just going through this audit uncovers a lot of learnings. Do you have a full suite of marketing tools? How good are those tools? Do you need to improve or develop them? It is OK if you don’t have these in place now, but make sure as part of your marketing plan, you are identifying a way to create them in the future. Here are a few types of marketing assets and things to consider:
- Website – Is your website mobile enabled? When was it last updated? Does it have engaging content? Does it have a bunch of broken links?
- Have you recently reviewed the marketing collateral that you provide after a tour or open house? Are they of good quality? How do they need to be improved?
- Do you have a prospect database? This can be as simple as Excel or you can try out a commercial CRM like Hubspot for free.
- Do you have a strong social media presence?
- Have you recently surveyed your parents to understand their perceptions of the school?
- Do you know what your online reputation is on the school review sites like Greatschools, Niche or Google ?
- Do you have an email system like the free version of Mailchimp to reach out to prospects?
It is ok if you are answering no to a lot of these. The important thing is to know where you stand and develop a plan to address them. The list may seem daunting, but start small and start checking them off.
3.) Write out your marketing plan
The physical act of writing out your marketing plan is important. It can be a very basic template, but force yourself to go through the process. What you put down on paper is not going to be your final work. This should be a living document that you constantly change as you learn more about your environment or what works and what doesn’t work in your marketing.
A few bits of advice on your plan:
- Make it a 12-month plan. Marketing is not a “season” or a week.
- Clearly identify who does what and when. The recruitment director can’t do everything. Delegate, but monitor those tasks that you delegate.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew the first time around. If your website is poor, January is not the time to start a rework of the site. But schedule a time to improve it. There is no excuse for having a poor website.
- Identify the big events – open houses, etc. Pick dates to ensure you have enough time to launch a successful event. Once you have dates set, identify all the precursor tasks that go into a successful event so these are done before the last minute.
4.) Know what you can do and what you need to outsource
This may sound self-serving coming from somebody who helps schools in recruitment, but you can’t do everything well. There are experts at different things when it comes to student recruiting and it might not hurt to bring in specialists to shore up areas where you are not as strong. A few things you might want to consider hiring for:
- Strategy Development
- Creating a mobile-optimized and engaging website
- Building an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategy that draws visitors to your new site.
- Development of collateral material that resonates with your customer and drives action
- Social media consulting
You can probably perform some of these things yourself, but sometimes you’ll need to hire for a specialty. One of my earliest clients was a chain of ten very successful schools that just needed expertise in customer persona development. And even though I am a marketing consultant, I still hire out for collateral design because that’s not my specialty.
As I told my client that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the best way to remove this feeling of fragility is to understand where you are (point 1 & 2), understand where you want to be (point 3) and know the best tools to get there (point 4).
Once you have that in place, you will feel more confident in your recruitment and ultimately more successful.