How to Market Your Language Program or School
The obvious must be said: No single marketing activity will fill your program or school with students; however, a cluster of strategies coordinated together will go far in meeting your enrollment demands. Here are a few to consider. If you have more you’d like to suggest, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Current Students. Usually when you think of word of mouth, you think of former students. Yet while it’s absolutely true that former students will go back and tell their friends about your school or program (by the way, bad news travels faster than good news), and you should request testimonials from former students that you can feature on your website (see #3 below), your current students represent your best opportunity to reach entire networks of friends, family members, and others in their circles of influence.
The key difference is that current students equal current news, and current news is more relevant – especially on social media. Among today’s always-connected, always posting young people, you need to have as part of your marketing strategy a plan to encourage your students to let their contacts know what they’re up to. Let them create a “buzz” for you, but give them some direction. Below are three ideas to get you started:
Idea One: Create a one-week “each one, teach one” challenge for your students in which they must daily post to their networks what they are learning. Make that week really fun in terms of fresh idioms and cool slang, so that they will enjoy sharing with their personal networks what they are learning.
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Idea Two: Hold a school or program-wide English video contest, with categories for the funniest, most creative, most inspiring (you get the idea) videos. Video rules can be created, such as student videos must feature a school/program teacher and should include something they learned in class. You can then post the videos on your website and tell students that the ones with the most votes per category will be the winner. Encourage them to send links of the page to their friends and personal networks to vote on the video. This will be a great, free advertisement for your school in a fun format, and it will drive tons of relevant traffic to your website. Be sure to make the page on your site attractive and include a link at the bottom on how to learn more about the school.
Idea Three: Survey your current students and find out exactly how they found out about your school. The answers you get will inform where you put your marketing dollars. Don’t be content with general categories. If students say, “a newspaper” or “a website”, find out which ones. When you start seeing patterns, you know you are on to something. Include focus groups for students from countries you most want to reach. Pick their brains and give them food! Ask for their help in teaching you how to reach others like them.
These are just a few ideas on how your current students can be your best asset. You can easily think of a few more.
2. TESOL Programs. This strategy has a few elements. The first is that most or all of your instructors have gone through a TESOL Certification or MA TESOL Program. These programs are usually filled with a mix of international students, many of whom will be going back to their own countries to work as professional language teachers and can serve as excellent pipelines or referral sources to your school! Here’s the idea: Make connections with one or more local TESOL training programs. Talk to the administrators and offer to set up live teaching opportunities for their students to practice their skills (the parameters of what you allow them to do are up to you). As student teachers come to your school, build relationships with them and let them know that you are trying to reach students in their home countries. Ask for their advice. Don’t push it, but let them know that you would like to stay in contact with them when they return and would appreciate their help in letting their students know about your school. Be sincere and do stay in touch with them. This strategy will take some time, but within two years you will have a small army of international contacts in strategic locations who will be glad to return the favor you gave them by doing student teaching in your school.
3. SEO and Internet. These subjects used to require a consultant, but these days you can do most of it on your own with a little research. I’ll just highlight a few key items here. First, make sure your site is user friendly and includes lots of pictures and student testimonials and videos (see Tip #1, Idea #2 above). Second, make sure your title tags on every page include highly relevant keywords. This can’t be overstated enough; title tags are very, very powerful and will help your ranking in search engines. Third, find English and foreign-language web directories that list language schools in your area, and make sure you get listed on them. Pay a fee if you must, but many will be free. Get listed not just for the referrals, but because the more inbound links you have to your site, the better search ranking your website will have, which will make it easier for potential students to find your school. For a modest fee, you can also write press releases about your school and have them disseminated online through sites such as PRWEB and others. The idea is that you want your school name out there through multiple venues, all pointing toward your website. More to come…
4. Professional Marketing Companies. If #3 is too much for your budget or your busy schedule, hire a professional to do it for you. You will end up paying one way or another; you’ll either suffer missed revenue by not doing anything, or pay a fee to a company and more than get a return on your investment by profiting from their advice and services. Do your research and don’t be fooled. Get references from previous clients. Sometimes you can also look at the marketing sites and materials of competitors whom you respect and find out whom they hired. Be sure you are clear with yourself and with the marketing professional about your expectations. This will save everyone time, frustration and money.
5. Agents. More to come on this topic. Suffice it to say for now that the best agents are already committed to a select number of clients. You will need to build your credibility before the top agents will consider you. Invest in attending a few agent forums, such as WEBA (there are others; this is just an example).