Launching a new school is an exciting initiative and highly rewarding when you have a chance to see your vision in action. Most founders begin with an idea, validated by conversations with families in their community which often turns into the foundation for their academic program.
But a successful school program requires more than a solid academic plan. Most families today have a variety of options to consider when enrolling their child in school. For this reason, it is important your founding team has an intentional marketing plan to build awareness around your program and actively recruit families to enroll in your school.
We’ve summarized 5 steps for founding teams to create a marketing plan for their new school.
1. School Summary
Start with a simple summary of the primary characteristics of your school.
Location - if you have not yet finalized a location for your school, describe the general area you intend to serve
2. Marketing Goals
For new schools, the entire focus of your marketing plan is around creating recruitment programs to help you meet the enrollment projections outlined in your budget. However, just because a family says they are interested in attending your school (and completes an interest form or application) doesn’t mean they will show up on the first day.
As part of your enrollment projections, you must also account for some attrition during the recruitment process. At some schools, we’ve seen less than a third of interested families actually complete the enrollment process and show up on the first day, meaning this school would need at least 3 enrollment applications for every 1 student they’d hope to enroll in order to satisfy the enrollment condition in their budget.
Document your goals so your entire founding team is aware of the numbers you must reach:
Our goal is to enroll [NUMBER] students for the 2021-2022 school year.
In order to meet our enrollment goal, we estimate we need to collect [NUMBER] applications (or interest forms) for the 2021-2022 school year.
3. Situation Analysis
Take time to assess the educational environment in your local community so you can better tailor your recruitment programs to take advantage of your strengths and opportunities in your community. Beyond traditional neighborhood, private and charter schools, the pandemic has created numerous alternatives for education including online programs, homeschools, learning pods and microschools.
Conduct a SWOT Analysis
What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to your local school environment?
Strengths and weaknesses - controlled by internal factors
Opportunities and threats - controlled by external factors
Strength - unique school program highly desired by families in your community
Weakness - school story not well communicated
Opportunity - families in your community are highly active on social media
Threat - neighboring schools have strong social media presence
Evaluate the Competition
Unless your school is serving a community of new homes, it is more likely you are asking families to leave their current school and attend yours instead. Make sure you understand how your program differs from other schools in your community.
What are the current school programs offered to families in your community?
How many students do they serve?
What type of program do they offer?
What do they do well?
Where are there gaps in their strategy?
Why would a family choose your school instead?
4. Recruitment Programs
This section should outline all the recruitment programs in your marketing plan to attract new students and move them through the enrollment process so you can be confident you will meet your enrollment projections on the first day of school.
Define the Persona
What are the characteristics of the prospective families you are trying to attract? Be as specific as possible regarding their demographics, values, interests and goals.
What are their social media habits? What platforms do they use? What groups do they belong to?
Are there locations in your community that are frequented by your prospective families (e.g. churches, recreation centers, libraries, etc.)?
Develop Recruitment Programs
Based on the information you have about your prospective families, determine which recruitment programs will help you attract new students. Define a goal for each program, a clear call to action and how you will measure each goal. Recruitment programs include:
Digital advertising - social media, search ads
Local business partnerships, information tables
Events - prospective family meetings, local school fairs
Public relations - especially beneficial if you have a unique story to tell or a small local paper which serves your community
Email (newsletter) campaign
Traditional advertising - radio, tv, local publications
For new schools, prioritize opportunities that give your founding team a chance to connect with families and community members. Neighborhood canvassing, although time intensive and resource heavy, is a great way to meet prospective families and cultivate that long-term relationship.
Create a Recruitment Toolkit
Identify the materials needed to execute your recruitment programs. For new schools, consider ways you can use one marketing piece for multiple recruitment efforts (e.g. create a postcard as a leave behind in local businesses and also as a direct mail piece).
Brand Guide - logo, color palette, font (to ensure consistency across all of your materials)
Flyer or postcard
Signage - building and yard signs (once your facility has been identified)
Prospective family presentation (in-person and virtual)
Calendar of Events
5. Launch & Evaluate
Execution is critical. Identify one person to manage the overall recruitment process for your new school. Be intentional about taking the time to evaluate the success of your programs and don’t be afraid to make changes if one of your programs is not performing as expected.
Define your available budget to pursue all of your recruitment programs. Be sure to include:
Outsourcing costs to an agency, consultant or designer
Collateral development - design and/or print costs
Paid promotions - social media campaigns, event sponsorships, advertising
Software tools - website hosting, newsletter services, family tracking software (e.g. tools for customer relationship management)
Create a weekly schedule for your founding team so everyone knows which campaigns are in progress.
Create a process (e.g. sign in form) to collect contact information for interested families so you can keep them connected and engaged throughout your startup journey.
Create a simple dashboard (or spreadsheet) to track each of your marketing program goals weekly.
Are you hitting your goals or missing? Why?
What can you do to change or improve the process?
Even the best developed school programs can fall flat without an intentional student recruitment plan. The more insights you have about the families in your community and the landscape of current school programs, the better you can tailor your recruitment plan. Be intentional about your efforts and don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your plan along the way.
About the Author
Jennifer Larson is an entrepreneur, charter school founder and mother to four children. Connect with her @startupjen.