In this era of school choice and declining birth rates, it is getting harder and harder for schools to consistently increase their enrollment. Since your budget is primarily made up of tuition or state support based upon your total number of students, it is critically important for your school to constantly be attracting new students and retaining the ones that you have.
Many school leaders who are searching for ways to improve their enrollment struggle with where to start or how to improve. To help you, I have compiled twenty ideas that you can use to jumpstart your school’s enrollment and retention.
Each of these tips also has links that will allow you to dive deeper into each subject.
1.) Understand inbound marketing
The rise of social media has fundamentally changed the way marketing is conducted. Gone are the days of solely putting ads in the newspaper or on TV. More and more companies are adopting what is called “inbound marketing”.
Inbound marketing is defined as marketing activities designed to pull customers to you rather than outbound marketing where you push out a marketing message in the form of an ad. This type of marketing favors organizations that have strong stories (like your school) and it can be done in a much more cost-effective manner for organizations that don’t have a lot of money (like your school).
One of the best tutorials that provide a great introduction to inbound marketing is done by a CRM provider called Hubspot. Hubspot provides a ton of online training courses for marketers; from lead generation to email marketing to how to run strong social media campaigns.
Take their course on inbound marketing and invest the three hours to get certified. It will be some of the best three hours you can spend to help your school’s enrollment efforts. Plus, it is free!
2.) Optimize your website for mobile
Almost half of the traffic on the internet is via a mobile device. If your website is not mobile-enabled and you are asking customers to pinch or squeeze to read your website, you are creating a poor customer experience.
Will they continue to investigate your school or move on to the one that is perceived as more modern or one that is easier to research?
Additionally, if you are a school that primarily serves lower-income parents, you need to recognize that their mobile device is often their only connection to the internet. They can’t switch to a device that allows them to more easily read your site. If your site is challenging to read via mobile, you may not get a second chance at this family.
We cover mobile optimization and other website tips in this article.
3.) Invest in Search Engine Optimization
Having a website with great content is only half of the battle. If parents can’t find you when they search on Google, it doesn’t matter how great your school is.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a backend process that web developers use that allows a search engine like Google to properly categorize your site and display it when parents are using keywords to research schools.
If your school is not showing up when they Google schools in your city, you probably have poor SEO.
You can learn how to do SEO yourself, but since this is such a technical skill, it might be best to outsource it. A local digital company or Bright Minds Marketing can run an audit on your site and install good SEO so that your school shows up on the first page of a search when parents are searching for a school.
4.) Register your site on local Google
If you are on a smaller budget, or just getting started with SEO, your first task should be to make sure your school’s site is registered correctly on Local Google.
Being registered as a business on Local Google allows you to show up in maps when people search “local schools by me” or other location-specific web queries.
Registering your school’s website on local Google is free and pretty intuitive, but it does require a few steps. This guide will walk you through how to do it.
5.) Utilize video on your website
82% of traffic on the internet is video. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is probably worth a million.
With the advent of smartphones and all the video sharing websites, it has become very easy to shoot videos about your school. And don’t worry if initially, the quality is not the best. Sometimes an earnest video about your kids can be much more impactful than a slick one that lacks heart or a good story.
Still nervous about video? You might ask a parent or other school volunteer to help you. If you are a high school, I can guarantee you have some students whose video skills would put us all to shame.
Get a video on your website today!
6.) Use your website to identify leads
Now that you have done all the hard work to make your school’s website stand out, the critical next step is to capture contact information when prospective parents visit your website.
Knowing who is visiting your website allows you to proactively reach out to them and eventually bring them to your school for a visit. But how do you do this?
You must create ways to capture their contact information.
One of the most common techniques to identify website visitors is to use what is called a “lead magnet”. Lead magnets are commonly used in the commercial world, but they are also an excellent tactic for a school to use.
A lead magnet is a piece of original content on your site that parents would find interesting and would like to read. Think of content like “A Guide to the Best Schools in X City” or “Top Ten Activities to Instill a Love of Learning in Your Child”. These are things that most prospective parents would find interesting to read.
You are happy to provide them with this content, but they need to provide you their email address and contact information to download the piece. This is a great way to gather the names of the people who are visiting your site. You might have noticed that I use this myself in the pop-up of “The Top 10 Things Every School Administrator Should Know about Marketing Their School”
Or, I have a second one embedded in my site just for Catholic schools titled “How to Get More Parishioner Families at Your School“.
Both of these allow me to identify visitors to my website so I can put them on my newsletter list. For more ways to use lead magnets on your website, you might want to read this article.
7.) Write a principal’s blog
Parents want to get a glimpse into the operations of your school when they are deciding if your school is right for their children. They want to trust the leadership and staff and feel comfortable that your vision for a school matches up with what they want for their children.
One of the best ways to give them this information is via a blog written by your principal. Whether it is written weekly or monthly, this is a great tool for helping to bring your school to life in written form.
(A little bonus – if done properly this can also help your SEO and ultimately increase traffic on your website). Check out this article if you have the itch to let your inner Hemmingway out via a principal’s blog.
8.) Have good online reviews
Online reviews are the digital currency of our times. They can make or break an organization.
You need to ensure that you are registered and have good reviews on all the major platforms. These include; www.greatschools.org, www.privateschoolreview.org, www.niche.com, as well as your Facebook page and Google.
Additionally, since most of these review sites have much stronger SEO than you do, it is a good chance that when people are Googling “best school in my city”, that these sites are going to show up first.
Now that you are listed on these sites, make sure that you have good reviews! Ask your parents and your staff to leave good reviews. This is your digital word of mouth and good reviews go a long way in creating a positive perception of your school. For more ways to optimize these review sites, check out this article that covers them in more depth.
9.) Establish the quality of your teachers
Almost more important than the leadership of your school is the quality and capabilities of your instructional staff. As a parent, I want to know who will be teaching my child and if they are a great teacher.
Promoting the quality of your teaching staff is a great way to set your school apart from the competition as well as highlighting what makes you truly unique; your dedicated instructional staff.
10.) Place customer testimonials on your website
Word of mouth continues to be the best marketing tactic for any school. But what are you doing to create good word of mouth? One of the easiest ways to do this is to place testimonials from parents on your website. Sure, you can tell prospective parents how good you are, but it is considerably more effective when another parent or student talks about what a great experience they have had at your school.
If your school’s website does not have testimonials from happy families, get some now!
11.) Understand your competition
Parents have a choice of where to send their child to school. The growth of government scholarships/vouchers, the explosion of charter schools, homeschool options, as well as increasing efforts by the public-school systems to offer unique opportunities means that your school needs to “up its game” in marketing.
But, do you have a good handle on who your competition is? Doing a competitive analysis of your local neighborhood gives you a good understanding of who the competition is and what they may be offering that is more appealing than your school.
Knowing the different choices available to your parents allows you to take a critical look at your own school’s offerings and the ability to implement changes to make your school stand out.
12.) Really understand your families
Knowing what other schools whom you compete with is just the first step. Truly knowing your families; what their needs are, and what they value, is important in crafting marketing messages that make them realize that your school is the best choice for their children.
Though academics are important, there are often other factors at play that make parents choose one school over another.
The best organizations really understand their customers. Spending some time creating customer personas allow you to ensure that you are meeting the needs of all of your parents.
13.) Create a lead nurturing program
Identifying parents who might send their children to your school is the first step. But what if they are not yet willing to physically engage with your school? What if they are just beginning to shop around?
Once you have their contact information, you want to continue to reach out to them and provide information about your school. Just like you didn’t get married after the first date, it can take some time to court and “woo” them.
14.) Don’t forget about the siblings
Never take for granted that just because one child in the family is enrolled in your school that their brothers and sisters will also attend. You might have an advantage because they already have a child at your school, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t actively market to their younger brothers and sisters.
Your first step is to identify all the siblings of students currently at your school. This can be as simple as changing your student enrollment form to gather the names and ages of all of the children in the family.
Once you have that information, then it is a simple matter of dropping them into your enrollment processes to get them to your school and realize why your school is the best for the entire family.
15.) Use an applicant tracking system
School enrollment, when done right can be a labor-intensive job. Most schools lack a full-time person whose sole responsibility is to enroll new students. But no matter if enrollment is just one part of your responsibilities or your school has a team dedicated to this, you will want to invest in the tools to make the job easier.
Most schools cobble together a system using multiple Google sheets, paper forms or sticky notes. Inevitably information will get lost and these efforts don’t allow you to work smarter. Investing in an applicant tracking system like Enquiry Tracker should be on your list of goals for the upcoming school year.
What I like about Enquiry Tracker is that it is a tool built specifically for schools to manage their enrollment processes. A lot of schools will customize tools like Hubspot or Salesforce.com to fit their needs, but this can be expensive and time-consuming. Others will use tools like Blackbaud or Redikker, but I have found that those companies generally want schools to utilize all of their tools which often requires a significant investment.
Enquiry Tracker is the only system that I have found that is dedicated to automating the collection and nurturing of leads for K-12 schools in a cost-effective manner. (They are Australian, so forgive the way they spell inquiry!)
16.) Write out a script for your school tour
Your school tour is one of the most critical parts of your whole enrollment system. Most of your enrollment efforts are spent to identify families and get them to come in for a tour. If you are not providing a great tour experience and turning them into an enrolled family, all that work is for naught.
The school tour is where the “rubber meets the road”. Have you looked critically at what is said during your school tour? Does it resonate with the needs of your families that you identified when you did customer personas? Does it differentiate your school from the competitive schools you identified when you did your competitive analysis?
Is the person giving the school tour following a well-crafted script that hits upon all key talking points and your school’s value proposition or are you falling into the trap of saying the same thing again and again?
By writing out a script, you will ensure that your tour is covering all the critical highlights of your school. It will also identify things that you might not be talking about that are critical to giving parents an insight into your school.
For more tips on how to give a great school tour, you will want to read this article.
17.) Follow up after the tour is completed
What happens after families complete the tour? Do you wave goodbye and hope they call you? Or do you follow up in a systematic way to get them to apply to your school?
The follow up is key for getting more families to enroll in your school.
Simple gestures can make a big impact. From a handwritten thank-you note from the principal to a series of follow up phone calls from the future teacher and parent ambassadors, post-tour actions can help to sway the family to enroll their children at your school.
One of Bright Minds Marketing’s clients implemented our three-touch follow up cadence and saw an additional 6 students enroll in one year!
For more ideas on follow-ups, you might want to read this article.
18.) Let parents and students try before they buy
Enrolling your child at a new school can be stressful. No matter how confident you are as a parent, you worry about what your child will be experiencing while at school.
While you can’t tell the parent everything that will happen throughout their child’s time with you, you can give them a taste of what a typical school day is like. Helping families experience your school through a written “day in the life”, a video or through a shadow day helps them to envision their child at your school.
I covered this concept of experiencing your school prior to enrollment previously and it was one of the most read articles on my blog.
19.) Improve how teachers and parents communicate
Imagine you are a parent with three children. Each child’s teacher uses a different tool to communicate the daily activities of the classroom. One uses Classroom Dojo, the other uses ClassTag and the third posts information on their own classroom blog. No wonder parents get frustrated and miss key information!
By standardizing on one tool you will make it much easier for your parents to be informed and engaged in their child’s education. A happy family is one that will stay.
For other tips on how to improve communication at your school, check out this article.
20.) Conduct a customer satisfaction survey every year
Just because a family enrolls at your school doesn’t mean that they will stay there until graduation. Their experience with your school will ultimately determine if they continue to believe that your school is the best place for their children.
But do you know if they are satisfied? Have you identified their points of frustration and irritation and are working to make your school better?
One of the best habits for you to get into is to commit to a yearly satisfaction survey for your school. Not only does a survey give you an insight into how your parents feel about your school, but it also opens a communication channel for parents to give you feedback.
Once you have your parent’s feedback, make sure that you are developing a plan to respond to their feedback and make the changes (if appropriate) to your school. Customers want a chance to be heard, but they want to know that you took their feedback seriously.
But don’t do a survey if you are not prepared to release the results. If you don’t disclose the results (with your action plan to improve), everyone will think the results were bad.
Whew! I know that this was a lot to digest. You may not be able to get to all of these in the next school year, but these twenty ideas can help you to start your list of ways to improve your school’s enrollment marketing.