In 1982, W.P. Kinsella wrote Shoeless Joe, a novel that was later turned into a major Hollywood movie starring Kevin Costner. The most famous line of the book is, “If you build it, he will come.” The basic premise of the book is that if you have an idea or a dream, go with it. The rest will take care of itself.
While this feel-good book, and the movie it was made into, may smack of naïveté on some level, the main principle is one that we can use in marketing our schools. If you build a specialized program, based on a sound curriculum that you can deliver well, the students will come.
Is there something that your school does better than any other in your area? Do you have a program to train foreign language teachers? Do you offer a specialized course in medical or veterinary terminology, for example? How about a course in business communications? If you have at least one course or program that differentiates you from other schools, you can focus on being the best there is for that specialty. You can still offer basic language training or other programs, but having a specialized niche will ensure you a unique market share, and add both revenue and students to your program. It can also add flair and a sense of uniqueness to your program. I’ve seen programs that offer English and sports or English and activities such as surfing, and they truly set themselves apart from the hundreds of other English programs in the world.
Specialized courses often referred to as “ESP” or “English for Specific Purposes”, in the English as a Second / Additional Language field. Together, generalized and specialized courses combine to form your marketing mix. Finding the right mix can boost your revenue significantly.
Specialized courses deserve special attention in your marketing plan. For example, if you offer a program for language teachers from foreign countries, you could easily research the contact information for language schools abroad and add that information to your database. Then you have the tools to do a targeted direct mail campaign to those schools that would catch the attention of those teachers and school administrators.
Also consider that specialized courses likely require specialized curricula. You’ll want to ensure that whatever materials you are using fit your niche market really well.
Generally, it takes longer to see results for specialized programs. That is because it may take prospects longer to find out about your niche and respond to your marketing. I’ve seen more than one niche program fail because administrators gave up on it too early. One semester or session is not enough to test the market to determine if there is a demand for your specialized course. These types of program may require extra attention in their infancy, simply because their target market is very specific.
You may want to dedicate a certain amount of time (for example, one hour a week for an entire year) just to marketing this particular program. This may mean contacting associations, schools or other audiences with an interest in your niche to advise them of your program. For example, if you have a program to train teachers, then a direct mailing to teachers’ associations abroad may help you promote these courses. It may cost you time to build your mailing list, or it may cost you money to buy such a list. You won’t see a return on your investment until participants begin to enroll.
If you persist, within a couple of years, you can have a booming program. The trick is to carve yourself a niche and be patient while the world discovers your uniqueness. If you build it… they will come.
This post is adapted from “Idea #5: Carve yourself a niche” in 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.