We’ve worked with numerous schools and training centers over the years, and noted some critical differences between helping a school and helping a traditional small business.

movie theater


First and foremost, when marketing a school you need to get your terminology straight. 

Sales = Enrollment

Customer = Student

Traffic = Applications

Discounts = Scholarships

To be clear, the strategy for reaching these goals is nearly identical to bringing in customers into a traditional small business, with the exceptions listed below.

The Problem with Alumni

The biggest challenge for most schools is that they cannot rely on repeat business. Once a student graduates from a program, there usually isn’t something else you can sell them

How to overcome the alumni problem?

Referrals. Alumni become your sales force if given the proper tools.

We’ve tested several different models to encourage alumni to refer an educational program to their peers, and found that no amount of cash / discount / intangible rewards could replace the most basic motivation – they refer your program because they absolutely loved it.

TIP: Be very specific with what kind of help you want from your alumni.

DON’T: “Don’t forget to tell your friends about our school”

DO: “We are rolling out a new scholarship program this spring targeted to college students. Please forward this link (or this entire email) to any motivated high school students that you think would benefit: MySchoolWebsite.com/SpecificProgramLandingPage.

Buying Triggers

One of the biggest challenges we faced when marketing our first education-focused client, was adjusting our best practices to accommodate the varying reasons a student would want to a attend a school / training program in the first place.

The foundation of sales is rooted in identifying why people buy – their emotional triggers.

With traditional colleges, tuition is just considered an expense, and you should attend, because society, parents, peers, the job market insists that you do. However, with the rising costs of education, smaller schools and trade school programs have a distinct opportunity to position their program as an investment. Here’s some buying triggers:

  1. If I attend this school, I’ll make more money.
  2. If I attend this school, I can successfully pursue are more interesting career.
  3. If I attend this school, I can re-purpose my experience for a different industry.
  4. If I attend this school, I will become more efficient at my job.
  5. If I attend this school, I will feel more accomplished.

With traditional small businesses, often the product or service is based 100% on an emotional purchase designed to make the buyer feel better. It’s not a direct investment, just a guilt-free expense.

To recap, most of the sales and marketing best practices that apply to business apply to schools. All three differences noted above can be successfully navigated if you obsess about who you are trying to help, and why they should choose you – which ironically is just good business.

If you have a school or training center that needs some help driving enrollment, drop us a line. We’ve helped TheFilmSchool (screenwriting workshops), Key Consulting (project management training) and J. Todd Harris (producing workshops) with significantly driving enrollment to their workshops, just to name a few.