Marketing the Small Private School: The First Steps

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Marketing the Small Private School: The First Steps
Some marketing resources and tips for small private schools with limited marketing budgets.
I suspect that most small private schools do not have much money in their sorely-stretched budgets for marketing. I further suspect that it is also true that most small schools do not have room in their budgets for a full-time marketing person. With those assumptions let's look at inexpensive ways in which we can market your school effectively.
In most small schools marketing tasks, such as they are, tend to be rolled into somebody else's portfolio. This article is aimed at those incredibly multifaceted professionals who have to juggle dozens of deadlines every day and still do a superlative job of getting the word out about their school.
What kinds of resources are available to help you market your school effectively? Probably more than you realize. Besides the old standbys such as consultants, books, blogs and affinity groups, popular social media has become a very effective part of any size school's marketing strategy. We shall look at each resource and see how it fits into your school's budget and your schedule.
Having an expert review your marketing strategy is like going to the doctor.  It will cost you some money, perhaps even a lot of money. In return you will receive the benefit of years of professional experience and expertise when the consultant makes her recommendations. As a rule, hiring a consultant is not going to be as expensive as hiring an additional member of staff. You will incur a one time expense. If you plan to retain her services, of course, you will pay a monthly fee. Most of the time you contract for specific services up front so that you know in advance what will be done and how much it will cost.

This video gives an overview of marketing your private school.

How do you determine which organization to hire? As with any other decision, do your due diligence. Send RFPs (Requests for Proposal) to at least 3 firms. Interview each one via phone, or better yet, Skype. In most cases you won't need anybody to come on site to do the work you need done, so cast your net as widely as you like. The important consideration in hiring a consultant is to identify a professional who understands private schools and their mission.
There are dozens of books devoted to marketing non-profits and schools. If your school is for profit, read books about non-profit marketing anyway. Many of the strategies suggested will probably work for you with minor edits and adaptations. A must read is the NAIS Handbook on Marketing Independent Schools by Kathleen A. Hanson. 
Search on Amazon using the search strings "marketing for non-profits" and "marketing private schools" in the Books category. This will yield over 1,110 results. As always you will have to eliminate the books which are off-topic or unsuitable for your needs. On the other hand you should end up with a dozen or so useful publications.
Read the reviews too. Not every title which appears in those search results will
Use the search string "blogs about marketing for non-profits". Start with the several list of top blogs for non-profits. Blogs are fresh and immediate. As with any source be sure to do your due diligence. If what the blogger says is not helpful or not accurate, move on. You will find plenty of help. Create your own blogroll for this specific category of blogs so that you won't have to be searching constantly for the blogs you find useful.
Affinity Groups
LinkedIn offers you some valuable resources as well.  You know how to use LinkedIn Connections. Try searching connections using 'marketing' as your search string. You will have to filter the results carefully but should be able to find a couple of possibilities to pursue. Next change the search parameter to Groups and use the search string "marketing for non-profits" which will produce over 50 groups specific to your particular requirements.

This video explains why social media is such a vital part of your marketing program.

Social Media
Social media is a 'must have' in any small private school's marketing strategy. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and Pinterest are always there just waiting to be used. They are wonderfully elastic tools which allow you to say as much as you want or as little. The trick with using social media effectively is to control its use. Always remember that social media offers everybody a window into your school and what it is all about. Members of your school community will enjoy seeing their accomplishments showcased in a Facebook post with a great photograph to illustrate what went on. YouTube allows you to post videos of your school. Interviews with current students, tours of facilities and short infomercials about your school will reach a wide audience on YouTube effectively and inexpensively. Tweets giving instant updates about a popular game or event will keep your recent graduates involved. Flickr and Pinterest permit you to display photo galleries. Everybody loves photo galleries. That means current families and students as well as prospective families. Everybody!
As you can see, there are plenty of resources available to help you market your private school. I know that sometimes you will feel marginalized by the older, established schools. But don't dwell on those negative feelings for long. Your school has its own niche and its own market. It has its own unique message. Use the ideas and assistance available to you to reach your target clientele. Hone your message so that it is as effective as it can be. Get that message out using both traditional marketing tools such as email and your web site as well as the wide array of social media tools available to you.
Remember: effective marketing is all about controlling your message. Constantly ask yourself "Is this how I want my school to appear in public?" as you review all your different marketing materials. Seek out contributions from your entire school community. Control how and when they are used for maximum effect.
One last piece of advice: curate your marketing efforts frequently and consistently. Marketing cannot be an occasional activity. It needs to be curated ideally on a regular basis for best results. Stale materials on Facebook or YouTube will not present your school in its best possible light.
Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @privateschoolreview

Additional Resources [+]
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Using Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest to Promote Your School
Using Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest to Promote Your School
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