One thing I love about my job is meeting all the teachers, administrators, and other school officials who have dedicated their lives and careers to education. It is great to see the passionate approach that they take to their students every day. Working at a school is definitely a noble calling.
But for many school leaders, developing a marketing plan for your private school is often thought of as a necessary evil.
It’s not your fault! When most people think of marketing, they think of TV ads and billboards that bombard them with manipulative and
sometimes misleading messages. Some school administrators resist the idea of forming a marketing plan for private school admissions because
they feel it is antithetical to their mission as educations. After all, you’re there to teach, not to sell.
However, I promise that a good marketing plan will not just help you find students and boost enrollment, but it can also strengthen your
school community. Private school recruitment strategies aren’t just about goosing the number of applicants. Well executed enrollment
strategies for private schools allow schools to define who they are and help them express those values to the members of their community.
Private school recruitment strategies, if done well, not only boost enrollment, but boost community, school spirit, and school success by
creating a framework where everybody is on the same page about what makes your school great.
In this article, I’ll explain the four pillars of effective enrollment strategies for private schools: Plan, Promote, Recruit, and
The goal of this process is not to impose a one-size-fits-all marketing plan for a private school. Just the opposite!
The secret to all successful private school marketing strategies is to think deeply about your own school so you can identify your
particular strengths and challenges. These insights can then inform and shape your personalized marketing plan for private school admissions
so you can effectively spread the word about your school.
Once you’re reaching out to the families you want to connect with, you can employ your new and improved private school recruitment
strategies to turn these new families into enrolled students. Finally, the last step for any marketing plan for a private school is a
strategy to keep your families happy so they not only remain in your school but become ambassadors to help you find the next generation of
If you follow those four steps, you will increase your overall enrollment and strengthen your school.
Just as you expect students to do their research before embarking on any big project, you need to take a close look at your own school and your current marketing strategies (or lack thereof) before you embark on any new marketing plan development for private school. Doing this kind of self-reflection can be difficult, so I like to break down this planning stage into three parts: know yourself, know your customers (or, in your case, families), and know your environment.
Let’s examine each of these individually:
Before jumping into any new marketing plan for your private school, my first piece of advice is always to look in the mirror. An honest assessment of your current marketing strategies is essential if you want to create a better, more successful marketing strategy in the future. However, self-reflection without guidance can be difficult. Most administrators have a very personal connection to their school, and it’s sometimes hard to spot the shortcomings in a marketing strategy that you helped come up with.
That’s why I always encourage schools to take a hard look at their enrollment data and allow these concrete numbers to guide them. What are your school’s enrollment and retention trends? How many applicants do you have compared to last year? Compared to five years ago? How many students do you have transferring in and transferring out? What are the trends of your feeder grade? Is it getting better or getting worse?
The answers to these questions are the foundation for all effective private school marketing strategies.
Once you’ve analyzed these key metrics, the next step is to look at your website and other marketing assets such as your social media presence and print or collateral material to assess how effectively these marketing channels attract new families.
This is a step that trips up many school administrators, especially those who aren’t native to the digital world. However, these days your online presence, especially your website, is the first place many families will go when they start their school search. You must understand who is visiting your website and how effectively you are capturing those visitors.
After you’ve done a deep dive into the data about your school and your current marketing assets, the next step is to think about who you are trying to reach. This is where customer personas come in. Creating customer personas can be indispensable in focusing your private school marketing strategy.
Think about the families that you want to reach. Do their needs match up with what you have to offer? Is there a way to improve your school’s marketing strategy to more effectively reach these families?
If you have a good understanding of your customers and what they are looking for, you will be much more effective in your marketing. Remember, you don’t want just any family – you want one that will be the most successful in your educational environment. Tailoring your marketing to attract that family is key for maximizing your (limited) marketing budget.
Unless you’re a boarding school or attract a large number of international students, the educational landscape in your community is going to be extremely localized. Who are the schools that you can partner with as potential feeders, and how are you similar to them? What schools are your competition, and how are you different than them?
Remember, enrollment strategies for private schools are all unique, so understanding the specifics of where you students may be coming from and where else they are thinking about going is essential for any marketing plan for private school.
Once you have completed this process of self-discovery, you should be able to construct a basic SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. This is a great management tool for guiding your marketing plan development for private schools.
Once you’ve gone through the self-discovery and understanding stage, you’re almost ready to move into the action stage. However, before you jump in, it’s important to make sure you have all the tools to make your private school marketing strategy successful.
One essential tool I recommend to every private school is customer relationship management (or CRM) software. CRM software is a tool that businesses in all industries use to track and manage their interactions with current and potential customers. Not only does CRM software ensure that you can properly follow up with all the families you meet, but it can provide valuable future data that you can use to make your private school marketing strategy even more effective in the future.
So you’ve collected and analyzed valuable data about yourself, your potential families, and the other schools in your area, and you’ve set up a system to track and leverage that data. Now it’s time for action!
As I said earlier, your website is likely the first place most families will go when they start their search for a new private school. But how do you turn those website visitors into real-life visitors and ultimately into enrolled students?
Allow me to introduce you to inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is a strategy that countless businesses in every industry use to attract potential customers online, interact with them, make a positive impression on them, and ultimately convert them from potential customers into actual customers.
Of course, your inbound marketing strategy only works if you make it easy for families to find you in the first place, which is why all effective inbound marketing strategies (and private school marketing strategies as well) must consider Search Engine Optimization or SEO. SEO is the art and science of tailoring your website to make it easier for families to find you via search engines like Google. Parents can’t enroll at your school if they don’t even know you exist. Don’t overlook the importance of SEO!
Next, it’s important to understand that your school’s website is more than just a repository for information about your school. Some schools make the mistake of thinking that their website is like an encyclopedia article that solely exists to give visitors the bare facts about their institution.
That is not what your website is for! Your website exists to allow you to connect, and dare I say, promote your school to families you haven’t yet had the chance to meet in real life. The words and pictures on your website are there to delight your visitors and to prompt an interaction that inspires them to get offline and visit you in person.
One great way to encouraging this kind of interaction is to create a Principal’s Blog where your school’s personality can shine. Remember, you’re talking to real people here, and they want to know that you are real people, too.
Another important part of constructing a marking plan for private school admissions is the effective use of email to follow up with families who have expressed interest in your school. Your school is almost certainly sending emails to dozens or hundreds of families who you’ve met at school fairs or have visited your school for tours. Nobody enjoys getting poorly timed or poorly targeted emails, which is why a well planned and executed email strategy should be a cornerstone of your private school enrollment strategy.
Finally, your website isn’t the only place families are going to be reading up on you. Many families will also be getting information from online review sites run by Facebook, Google, Privateschoolreview, Niche, and Greatschools. While you can’t control these reviews the way you control your own website, you can take steps to make these online reviews be marketing assets instead of marketing liabilities.
For all the discussion we’ve had so far about marketing your school online, you know full well that one of the most important pieces of all enrollment strategies for private schools is the in-person interactions that families have with you and the rest of your school community.
However, unlike other marketing strategies outlined above that might be unfamiliar to many school officials, in-person events like school fairs and school tours are well-trod territory for people who have worked in education for years. Nevertheless, if you want your private school marketing strategies to be successful, it’s important to step back and understand how you intend to make these in-person events part of your overall marketing plan.
Next, while school employees will always do the heavy lifting when it comes to recruiting, two of a school’s greatest assets are its current families and students. Using your school community as ambassadors to help reach out to prospective families can help your school make that personal connection that is so important.
Of course, the work of a school isn’t done once a family enrolls. No private school marketing strategy can be successful unless it includes a strategy for student retention.
An easy but often forgotten step to making sure your new families are happy is to have a strategy for welcoming them into your school. Sit down and talk with them. Get to know them and let them get to know you. Make sure that you are helping them understand how your school operates and set up their student for success. This on-boarding process is often overlooked, but it is critical for starting them off right.
Finally, make sure you regularly reach out to families to ensure that you’re continuing to serve their needs. A great way to implement this is a school satisfaction survey. Don’t forget to analyze the data!
Obviously, we’ve covered a lot of ground here, and while many of these concepts are simple on their own, putting it all together into a successful plan to boost private school enrollment can be tricky. Fortunately, when it comes to marketing plan development for a private school, you’re not alone.
Nick LeRoy, MBA, is the president of Bright Minds Marketing and former Executive Director of the Indiana Charter School Board. Bright Minds Marketing provides enrollment and recruitment consulting to private, Catholic and charter schools. For information about how Bright Minds Marketing can help your school improve its’ student enrollment, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 317-361-5255.
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