To Catch Many Fish, You Need a Big Net

Remember when Jesus told his disciples to cast their nets, and prepare for a large catch?  Even when they were fishing all night and caught nothing?  A Fisherman’s net is huge.  It doesn’t catch a couple of fish at the time, it catches schools of fish at a time.

If you don’t recall the Scriptural imagery, maybe you’ll recall the scene from “Finding Nemo.”

Speaking of schools, the new school year has begun…and you know what that means.  It’s time to start planning for next year!

If you just had the thought that you only start that after the first of the year, because that’s when budgeting begins, that’s about 4 months too late to start.  If you’re still stuck in trying to get this year moving along, you’d better hurry, because other schools are passing you by. You may be wanting to increase your enrollment, especially if you’ve seen students simply not show up on the first day of school this year.  If that’s you’re situation, I would encourage you to utilize the tools on this site under BASIQS  accessible from the home page.

Perhaps you have the tools to track and follow-up with parents of prospective students from SchoolAdmin or from your student information system like RenWeb.  But what do you use to generate those inquiries via calls, emails, or stop-in visits?  That’s where marketing comes in.  Even with the power of social media becoming more and more prevalent and pervasive in today’s society, schools continue to spend (note that I didn’t use the word, “invest”) funds on billboards, radio and television commercials, newspaper advertisements and ads in the yellow pages, simply to come to the conclusion that many of those methods are expensive and may not generate the amount of inquiries necessary to have a large, or several large, Kindergarten class or classes.

Let me offer five things you NEED:

  1. A brochure or folder.  Yes, paper is still important to some families today who want to touch paper rather than their computer screens.  Note the “feel” of the material today is important.  So if you’re putting printed material on 20-pound paper (like the standard inexpensive printer paper stores are always offering on sale), stop.  “Invest” in a better quality of paper for your promotional materials.  The nicer your publications look, the better it reflects on the quality of your school.  Back in the day, you may have thought that using inexpensive materials was an expression of your frugality.  That was appropriate when your tuition was $900 a year; but when tuitions are four or five figures large, cheap paper doesn’t convey frugality – it creates cognitive dissonance.  High tuitions are associated with quality, and your school needs to be a quality school before it can be a quality faith-based schools.  It helps to always remember that faith identity, academic excellence, and a safe and caring environment are expectations, and you can’t market your school on market expectations.  Well, you can…but your efforts to increase your school’s enrollment won’t be successful.  As for the brochure, make sure it emotionally enunciates your school’s distinctive differences, its remarkable attributes.  If you need a little guidance as to what those are, put yourself in the parents’ shoes.  If you read them, would you go, “Whoa!  I gotta see this!”  If not, it’s not remarkable.  Remember, remarkable means different from every other school around you.   Oh, and if you put a picture of your school on the brochure, for goodness sake, make sure there are kids in the picture. If a picture says a thousand words, then what do you think having a picture of a school with no kids around it and an empty parking lot says?  Make no mistake, it says, “For Sale or Rent.”
  2. Yard signs – place them in yards in neighborhoods. It works for those seeking public office – there’s no reason they won’t work to reinforce a consistent message about your school.
  3. Door hangers – inexpensive…or perhaps a printer could donate them. Have your marketing committee find where school age children reside, and go door to door. It works for pizza delivery and landscapers.
  4. Positive word of mouth – it’s free, it’s powerful, but it has to be accompanied by a call to action – an invitation, if you will. Positive word of mouth gives people a good feeling, and if the feeling is that everything is alright, it may not necessarily lead to a call to the school. If a parent of a prospective parent hears good things about the school, they’re going to check it out a little more thoroughly through…
  5. The Internet. If you’re going to catch many fish, it’s the biggest net out there. If you have marketing dollars to spend, this is where you spend it first. Make sure you have a good Web site. Strike that – an EXCELLENT Web site. And today, it MUST be a “responsive” Web site, so that it resizes itself appropriately depending upon which device it’s viewed, providing an optimal experience for the visitor.  It’s where today’s parents go to find out more information and check into reviews about your school from other sources. It’s where parents of tomorrow will go first, even before asking neighbors, the real estate agent, or the local parish or church about educational choices and options for their children. If you’ve read this article this for, you are proof that the Internet is a resource for new ideas and support.

Which leads to a self-assessment question – If you’re surfing the Web, take a look at your school’s Web site, and put yourself in your prospective parents’ shoes, do you find your school’s Web site a place where you want to visit, and visit often? Does the information change daily? Does it look professional? Is everything spelled correctly? Are there pictures of students, and do they look happy? Are they high quality photos, and not random group shots, underexposed photos from an assembly or blurred images from a recent basketball game? Your Internet presence is, more often than not, the first visual impression the parent has of your school.

If you want a big catch, think big with your Internet presence. After all, it’s the World Wide Web, and it’s delivering the Good News about your school to the whole world – and isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2014 (Original Publication Date: 20090907)