What I learned about marketing from making cappuccino

June 30, 2010

Last year, my partner and I moved in together. Along with him came his professional quality cappuccino machine. He’s a really down-to-earth fellow – with one exception. He’s a coffee snob. He drives across town to buy beans from his favorite Italian importer. Seriously. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’d seen him make coffees with it dozens of times before, but when the machine arrived in my kitchen, I realized that I’d never actually used it myself. I figured it was time to learn how. It was not as easy as it looks. But now, many months later, I make a pretty decent coffee, if I do say so myself. As I was making myself a latte this morning, it dawned on me that making specialty coffees is not unlike marketing. Here’s how:

There’s a learning curve. You don’t just walk up to a cappuccino machine and make a perfect coffee. You have to figure out what needs to be done and in what order. If you screw it up, the results leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

Learn from an expert. My beloved coffee snob coached me through the process. He left a “cheat sheet” posted to the fridge with a magnet so I’d remember what had to be done and in what order. I tried a couple of times on my own (failing miserably). I asked for more advice. Got more coaching. Eventually, I got there.

Failure is inevitable. Suck it up. My first few cups of coffee were, well, pretty putrid. Did I drink ’em? Well, mostly (unless they were really, really bad). Those beans are over $30 a pound. I felt terrible wasting all that money. Besides, I wanted to get a sense of what I was doing wrong and how the taste would change as I learned how to do it right. I didn’t really get all caught up in feeling like a failure. I just took each try as a learning opportunity – even if the end result wasn’t great.

It takes time. Making a cup of coffee with a cappuccino machine does not happen instantly. The machine must be turned on and warm up first. Then you grind the beans. (You must have freshly ground beans, of course.) Then you make your coffee. Then you steam your milk. If you’re about to fly out the door in a hurry, you’re not going to get a nice coffee. Preparations are key to making a delicious coffee, no matter how bleary-eyed you are.

Clean up is important. Besides the fact that coffee grounds seem to get everywhere unless you brush them into the garbage right way, there’s more. If you don’t clean the wand that produces the foamed milk, then all the milk dries inside it clogging it. Once it gets clogged enough, you can’t use it any more. It’s the same in marketing. Following up with contacts, cleaning up after an open house or a trade fair, keeping your database up to date, cleaning out your filing cabinets. These are all good ways to follow up on your marketing and management. If not, at some point, you’ll realize that your whole system is clogged up with unfinished “stuff” because you never followed through.

Take the time to enjoy the reward of all your hard work. Once you’ve put in your effort and cleaned up so you’re ready for next time, take a few minutes to sit back and enjoy. I only have one – maximum two – cups of coffee a day. I have learned that coffee is not for gulping. After I put in all that work, I want to sip on it slowly. It’s the same with marketing. Take the time to reward yourself and your staff for their efforts. Even if it’s not perfect, they’re learning how it all works. That is worth savouring.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Grass roots marketing for ESL: Success story

June 29, 2010

People often ask me if brochures are an effective way to market a language or literacy program. My answer is always the same: It depends.

I am a huge fan of technology. I love social media. I teach marketing workshops that show clients how to make a Facebook page and how to use Skype for learning and marketing.

But sometimes, brochures still have a place. Here’s a success story about a client who used a very low-cost, grass-roots marketing approach that included brochures – and built their very first e-mail list.

My client, an ESL program in a small town in a farming community in Canada wanted to increase their enrollments. Before we got started I asked them all the usual questions:

What are you doing now to market your program?

Answer: Brochures, an outdated website, flyers.

Are you able to track the return on the investment you’re making for your marketing dollars?

Answer: Blank stare. The idea of tracking this had never occurred to them. They didn’t even think it was possible.

How many students do you have now?

Answer: A handful. Certainly not enough to make ends meet.

What’s your target market?

Answer: The world.

Sigh. The last question often gets answered this way. It’s one of my pet peeves, to be honest. I dug deeper. I found out that most of their students were local immigrants. Some would qualify for government funding and others wouldn’t. The conversation revealed that some farmers in the local community employed seasonal foreign workers, mostly from Mexico. Not all of those farmers wanted their workers to be fluent in English, but some did.


“You’ve got brochures?”, I asked.

“Yes. They’re not pretty and we can’t afford new ones.” They cautioned.

No problem.

“What’s your budget?”, I asked.

Nervous chuckle. “Um… Free?”

“OK,” I said. “We can’t do free, but do you have $1500 to spend?”

“Well, not really, but I know you’ve got to invest something to get something.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Now here’s what I want you to do…”

My suggestion for this particular program was for them to rent a table for 4 weeks at the local farmers’ market. Have two staff members or teachers from the school work the table. Tell all the staff and students to come to the market this weekend “drop by and say hello”. Many staff went to the market on the weekends anyway, so that was easy.

By saying “drop by and say hello”, kept the feel of it casual and low-pressure. After all, just about everyone who meets a friend or colleague at the market stops to say hello, so we weren’t asking them to go out of their way.

I told them to make a big sign and hang it behind the table to people walking by would see it. “It’s important to hang it at eye level,” I told them. “Don’t make the mistake of hanging it off the table so people’s legs brush it as they walk by.” Putting signs at eye level is always important in a busy setting.

I told them to put this on their sign: “Win a free ESL course from ABC English School”.

Why a free class? It doesn’t cost a school hard dollars to give away one course. And it would generate interest.

Next, I said, make or buy a ballot box and have some pens and paper handy for people to write down their name and e-mail address.

And bring those brochures.

I told the staff their main job that day was to talk to people. Not to “sell” the program. Most definitely not to be pushy. Talk about the fact that the school was giving away one free course for the next session. Talk about the courses. Talk about the students, giving specific examples of students who have benefited from their program. Talk about what a great place it is to be.

I told my client that the e-mail addresses they collected would make up their first e-mail list. I’d coach them through that up after the farmers’ market campaign.

They went forward with the idea.

The result?

Teachers came by the booth with their families, stopping to say hello. This meant the table was not “empty”, with staff standing around looking bored. As conversations went on, others stopped by. They asked questions. Conversations happened.

Other vendors stopped by, a few of them welcoming the school to the market. It was a novelty to have an educational institution at the market. In some ways, they appeared not to fit in.

And yet they did. They were part of the community. In fact, their prospective clients were not only the students themselves, but also the farmers who might want to have their workers better educated. The school was reaching out to their prospective market by meeting them on their own turf.

Anyone who stopped by was invited to put their name into the draw. They were told that they could give the course away to anyone they chose, such as a seasonal staff member or a neighbor.

The ballot box slowly filled up with names.

People were interested. They took away brochures.

The result? After 4 weeks, enrollment for the semester was up by 47%, resulting in their highest number of registrations ever. A 47% increase in monthly registrations, achieved over a 4 week period is a significant increase.

The costs:

Table at the farmers market for 4 weeks: $80
Bristol board and big “fat markers” to make the sign: $10
Paper and pens for ballots: $7
Staff salaries: 2 people x 8 hours x $20 per hour x 4 weeks: $1280

Cost per week: $344.25

Total cost for 4 weeks: $1377

And most of that was spent on staff wages for those working at the market. Rather than putting most of the money into advertising that wasn’t generating much return, the school was actually helping out their own staff and teachers by giving them some extra hours.

Were they able to track the return on the investment they’d made? Absolutely!

What else did they get? They got new students and new relationships with others in the community who were interested in their programs.

Were the brochures helpful? In this case, yes. Anyone who was interested popped one into their bag and pulled it out later at a convenient time. This was, literally, not the market for high tech gadgets. A brochure was appropriate in this context.

With a few adaptations this same approach could also work for literacy programs who want to build an awareness campaign.

My point in sharing this story is that depending on your market, grass roots approaches may work very well. Reaching out to your market in a way that makes sense to them, and includes a personal connection is likely to be much more successful than doing something just because it’s fashionable.

So said the social media-butterfly / marketing expert who just got her first Blackberry.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Interview with Brent Novodvorski: Leading by Example Series

June 28, 2010

Monday Inspiration Series: Literacy and Language Professionals who Lead by Example

Brent David Novodvorski, a Deaf teacher of ASL and ESL to local immigrants.

This new series is dedicated to highlighting the impact made by exemplary literacy and language professionals who lead by example. The series features interviews with each of our leaders, sharing their inspirations, stories and tips. Today, I’m pleased to share an interview with Brent David Novodvorski.

I worked with Brent in 2009. Together we worked on “Literacy for Deaf Immigrant Adults: A Symposium for Collaboration and Learning”, the first event of its kind in Western Canada. The symposium brought together members of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community, as well as those from immigrant-service agencies in Calgary to talk about the needs of Deaf and Hard of Hearing immigrants in our city. The final report for the symposium was published by the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD). You can find it here.

From working side-by-side with Brent at that amazing event, I can say that he is truly a leader in his field. He is Deaf and works with local immigrants, teaching them American Sign Language (ASL) and English as a Second Language (ESL).

1. What is your name, affiliation, and connection to language learning?

My name is Brent David Novodvorski.  I work in a community college in Western Canada with an excellent reputation for innovative work and sustainability in literacy and languages.  I also work as an independent scholar.  I offer an array of connections to language learning: research, curriculum development, building instructional strategies and methods to reflect teachings.  The outcome of my work advances language learning on three levels: teacher, student and environment.  My specialities are: sign language, English, English as a second language and bilingualism.

2.  What are your thoughts about leadership and language learning?

Leadership is a delicate term, especially in communities not valued for their uniqueness and indigenous and linguistic knowledge.  Leaders have a presence. I have taught sign language poetry and the students shared poems about their experience.  These students are from other countries where sign language is considered primitive and subordinate to vocal languages.  The teacher as leader was present when I taught poetry but when I brought the students to the community to share their work – my leadership was taken to a new level – students formed new connections with other members of the community and created new poems!

3.  In your opinion, what’s the most important aspect of a language teacher’s job?

Language teachers need to recognize and appreciate what knowledge and skills are valued, celebrated and carried in communities – workplace, ethnic cultures, and linguistic.  Although, it is varied; the curriculum has the unique position to be evolutionary and reflective of the changing world.  The curriculum is the site, or a workbench, for language teachers to weld the values of membership in communities.  I do not visualize this work in isolation; teachers share their craft in a community of practice.  Therefore, I am an advocate of literacy and languages as an accessible medium for social, democratic and economic participation.

4.  What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with that you would like to share?

There are several projects I have been involved with:

  1. “Effective teaching approaches and materials for Deaf and hard of hearing immigrant adults in bilingual education.”
  2. “Bridging classroom experience to community: a literature review of sign language in learning contexts.”
  3. “Small Gestures: Improving access to education for Deaf and hard of hearing adult immigrants during the settlement process.”

5.  What do you see as three new directions in language learning?

1.     What Mother Tongue?

With the rapid development of technology and communication connections, the world is becoming, metaphorically, flat.  This means there are more linguistic contacts with different parts of the world. People learn languages other than your mother tongue! I see many language teachers with knowledge of more than two or three languages.

2.     Deaf Professionals

Leaders are increasingly focused on assets of the people they work with.  This is good news for Deaf workers who often struggle to move beyond tokenship towards equal opportunities that capitalizes on assets. I see Deaf professionals as an extraordinary asset to the fabric of leadership.

3.     Framework based on Knowledge of the Community

Research framework has evolved from a researcher-centered way of thinking to include the learner’s knowledge and ‘life’ of the community.  This has an impact on the ways of doing research, as well as how research results are shared and disseminated.  Hands-on workshops are slowly replacing the traditional ‘stand and talk’. I see a framework based on individuals and meaningful connections in communities.

As a side note from me, I wanted to add that Brent is also the brains behind Calgary’s first International Sign Language Celebration Day (ISLCD), which will be held in on September 24. This day is chock-a-block with performances and opportunities for everyone in the community to experience the richness of international sign language and Deaf culture.


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Update – June 2018 – This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

5 Ways to Show Teachers Appreciation

June 24, 2010

In many regions it is the end of the school year. Here are 5 low-cost ways to let your teachers know you appreciate them:

1. Organize a teacher and staff appreciation lunch – If you can afford to bring in some catering, go for it. If not, make it pot luck and have everyone bring a dish. The point is to gather everyone together for the purpose of celebrating.

2. Make a speech – School taking the time to publicly thanking the school teachers and staff shows good leadership. Opening up the floor for teachers to give praise to their peers adds an additional level of warmth. Keep it brief – and sincere.

3. Certificate of Appreciation – Print off one for every teacher, complete with their name, the name of the school and the school year. Have the principal sign them. Templates for certificates are easy to find on line if your word processing program doesn’t have them.

4. Write thank you cards – It’s amazing how much impact a hand-written letter or card goes in today’s world of technology. Discount stores often sell packages of thank you or blank cards for very little money.

5. Say “Thank You” – In addition to saying it in written form, a sincere, focused verbal thank you, along with a handshake, or a hand on the shoulder is always a nice touch. Be sincere and smile. This is not the time to offer suggestions for improvement for next year, but to show appreciation for the work they’ve done this year.

Related post: 7 Ways to Celebrate the End of the Semester http://wp.me/pNAh3-1R7


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Check out Roswita Dressler’s presentation on website promo for language schools

June 23, 2010

My friend and colleague, Roswita Dressler, from the University of Calgary, did a presentation called “Increasing the Effectiveness of Website Promotion for Heritage Language Bilingual School Programs“. She reviews websites from a variety of schools and talks about bilingual and heritage language learning. Way to go, Roswita!


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Check out Roswita Dressler’s presentation on website promo for language schools http://wp.me/pNAh3-a0

Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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