In this session, Michael Barber and Ashley MacQuarrie discussed how to market your school at all stages of growth: the start-up stage, the growth stage, and the sustainable maturity stage. They discuss how, at the start-up stage, awareness is key. In the growth stage, it’s time to prioritize building out your website and utilizing the data you have to inform your marketing strategies. The maturity stage can be dedicated to highlighting your achievements, such as adding new grades or expanding our facilities.
Michael B (00:19):
Hi everyone, and welcome to our all things enrollment marketing, YouTube Live Weekly. I am Michael Barber and I’m joined by my fearless co-host, Ashley Macquarie. Ashley, how are you doing this week?
Ashley M. (00:29):
Doing well. How are you, Michael?
Michael B (00:31):
I’m doing well. It’s been a long week, I think for everyone. It feels like the post spring break, post Easter push towards the summer, and I’m feeling a little pace around the company, so it’s been a long but a good week. But I’m doing all right. It’s good to have you here again. We are going to hop right in. As a reminder, we meet every week here on YouTube and our YouTube channel to talk all things enrollment marketing. If you’re joining us, please feel free to drop your questions into the chat. It should be located if you’re on the app right below the fold, and if you’re on youtube.com on your browser, then it’ll be on the right hand side of the window over here. So feel free to ask any questions. We do this every single week. This is episode 13 or 14, which I mean, this year is flying by, but we want to get into it. We’ve got 10 minutes to talk all things enrollment marketing, and today we’re going to talk about, I think, a really fun topic.
What marketing tactics do you need to worry about at different phases of growth for your school? At Charter School Capital, we think of schools in three different phases of growth; startup, your growing stage, and then your sustainable stage. So your startup stage is that year zero school through year one. That growing or growth stage is two through about year five, and then your sustainable stage is five to 10 years plus. I’m going to ask Ashley some tactics that we should be thinking about as school leaders. We will start right at our year zero schools. Ashley, what are the tactics that schools need to be thinking about in their startup phase?
Ashley M. (02:12):
For a startup school, I mean if we think about our marketing funnel, it starts with awareness and then engagement, conversion, retention. And for a startup, you’re really thinking about awareness. Nobody knows who you are. You do need to be able to engage with leads as they start coming in and convert them to enrolled students so that you have students when you open. But the first step, you have to get your name out there. You need those elements in place so that you can get out into the market. You might need your logo, some basic branding, a website, but maybe you don’t have a ton of content on it, but it just kind of tells a little bit of your story and a way for people to get in touch with you. Then you’re really getting out in the community, finding your audience.
You’re probably getting crisp on your positioning, your differentiators, starting to develop your voice, and you probably did some of that when you applied for a charter or found your board members and maybe you would be leveraging those board members and really just getting out there. So big awareness tactics. We’ve done things like radio. If you have a building, then just making the neighborhood aware that, “Hey, there’s a school here now,” with some signage. And then just maybe getting out in the neighborhood if you think that your families are going to come from that area, then flyers and door hangers, maybe postcards, and then just getting out maybe at neighborhood events like farmer’s markets or block parties, things like that. You just have to get out there and make people aware that you’re an option now.
Michael B (03:50):
Should schools be worried about a big splash on social media? I mean, I know as a startup school you’re going to want to make sure that you go secure your handles right, but how much investment, whether it’s money or time, should schools be making in that zero to one phase within social media?
Ashley M. (04:09):
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely important. You got to secure your handles for sure. So you are activating your social media and probably starting to post, but you may not have a lot of content to be posting. Certainly we’ve seen schools do some Facebook advertising to try to get some awareness and leads, but they’re usually a little bit less targeted. It is more just about showing ads to the people in your neighborhood who maybe fit the general demographics. Absolutely Google ads. We always do Google ads and social ads for any school, whether they’re what we call a year zero or a more mature school, but you may not be as active on social media as you might be later on when you have a school full of kids and you want to talk all about everything that’s going on in your school.
Michael B (05:00):
And also, probably good to think about if you’ve got a board member or a parent that’s thinking about joining your school, maybe helping allow them to activate on your social channel so it doesn’t feel like such a burden on your school as you’re thinking about all the other things of getting your mission and vision in place, creating the curriculum, hiring teachers, finding the facility, all the things you have to do in that startup mode.
Let’s move on to that growth phase. So year two to year five, more sophisticated team, likely you’re starting to grow your school. Enrollment is increasing. Where should our investment dollars start to go from a marketing tactics perspective? Are we reinvesting in the website to make it more sophisticated? Are we potentially investing in new things? Where do we go as we’re growing our school?
Ashley M. (05:49):
Yeah, definitely. Certainly building out the website more, spending a little bit more time on SEO. Hopefully when you built your website, you put in some kind of basic keywords, but now you’ve got some data. You’ve got people who are visiting your website. You have hopefully an audience on social media. You can learn a little bit about what people are engaging with online as well as now you kind of have families in your school, and so you know how they heard about you, you know how new families are finding you, and you can use that data to try new things in marketing or keep doing what’s working. So doing those kinds of things.
People may already kind of know about you, so it’s more about getting them to come meet you where you are. So it might be about doing a lot of in-person events and things like that at your school to get people in the building so that they can meet your staff, meet other families, leveraging your existing families for referrals, profiling your staff, and you can maybe do more sophisticated online advertising, like some remarketing. So reaching people who have maybe engaged with you online before and then showing the ads later elsewhere on the web. Or even doing re-enrollment type campaigns with maybe families who have left your school or families who applied but didn’t end up enrolling. You can start doing things like that that maybe weren’t an option when you didn’t have students yet.
Michael B (07:22):
Yeah, I think there’s so many good points there. I want to emphasize one you made and that’s continuing to invest in your website. I think one of the things you and I always see and our team sees regularly is just I think school leaders think you sort of put it on the shelf, you put it up, it’s good to go, stays there, and it’s going to continue to pay dividends, and that just is not the case by any stretch of the imagination. You also have to keep in mind that the parents and students that we’re serving these days, this is a sophisticated digital audience in some cases, right? Every time they go to a website that they perceive as better, easier, insert whatever adjective, they don’t just change their expectations of what your school’s website’s going to be for them, do they?
Ashley M. (08:09):
Yeah. No, absolutely. We’ve been asked that too. How often do I need to be completely overhauling my website? And if you’re in those years two to four, it might be about time. Certainly you want more content and you’ll want to be continually investing and improving in it, but by year four, it might be time for a brand new theme or moving to a more sophisticated platform that allows you to do more. The other piece of it is getting your processes in place. So early on when you’re just trying to get as many leads as possible and you’re just maybe a small team following up on them, that’s okay, that probably got some kids in the door. But in order to really grow, do you have a way to manage leads? Maybe you need to look at a CRM to help you manage leads as they’re coming in and make sure that you’re not losing kids along the way because of poor communication or poor processes.
Michael B (09:03):
Such good insights there. Okay. That’s the growth stage. We talked about startup to begin with. We went to growth. Let’s talk maturity. So your year five and above, you have likely leveled off at an enrollment number that is steady for your program. You might be thinking about adding a grade to grow enrollment, right? There could be a lot of things that are happening. As you get into that maturity phase, what do we have to be thinking about from a marketing perspective? What are some of the more sophisticated tactics that you’re seeing? Are we starting to talk about retention activities, those sorts of things?
Ashley M. (09:37):
Yeah, definitely. Definitely retention. That’s huge. You may have had had some classes graduate, and so you need to be replacing those classes. Retention too. Staff might be leaving at this point, and that can mean that that families leave with them. So that communication and continuing to provide that great school experience is really important. How’s your reputation? You might be needing to do a little bit more active reputation management, whether that’s online reviews and trying to get more positive reviews and referrals, or maybe doing some proactive PR about what you’ve been doing. A lot of times at this stage, maybe there are exciting changes, like adding a grade, moving to a new building or expanding your building. Those can be great things to market around because that’s exciting.
But the key here is if you’ve been around this long, people probably know about you, and so it’s less about, “Hey, we are an option,” and more about, “Here’s why you should choose us.” Because they’ve already heard about you, but maybe they haven’t engaged with you or maybe they’ve kind of written your school off or haven’t really considered you, so how can you get in front of them and convince them to enroll in your school?
Michael B (10:52):
Yeah, such good insights there. So we talked about today, let’s do a little recap. We are going to wrap it up at our 10 minute mark, which would be the first time, I think in 17 episodes or 14 episodes that we’ve wrapped in 10 minutes. I want to try and stand on this promise of being only 10 minutes. But we talked about different growth stages and what school leaders should be thinking about when it comes to marketing tactics, that startup phase, that growth stage, and that maturity phase. As always, Ashley, appreciate the insights from you.
I want to mention to everyone, please go ahead and hit that subscribe button. You’ll get a notification when we go live. We’re here every Thursday at 10:00 AM Pacific, 1:00 PM Eastern for about 10 minutes on all things enrollment marketing. If you’ve got questions on digital marketing, if you’ve got questions on enrollment marketing, if you’ve got questions on growth stages of your charter schools and what you should be thinking about as a leader, we have some great guides at charterschoolcapital.com that can help you get you where you’re going. So feel free to stop by our website and hop in there to find those guides right in our resources section. With that, we’ll see you next week and thanks again for joining us, Ashley.
Ashley M. (11:59):
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Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!