You can’t please everyone: How language schools can target their market

One mistake I see language school directors or literacy program leaders make is believing that their courses are for everyone. This is fairly common among enthusiastic entrepreneurs who are so jazzed about their product or service that they assume everyone else will be, too. The problem gets worse when what you’re promoting is something that people need – like better literacy or communication skills.

Trust me about one thing. Your market isn’t the whole world. And if it is, you’re in trouble because the competition will claw your eyes out trying to get a piece of the same market.

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. How do you deliver your courses (over what time frame, using what materials and methods)? Courses offered at a local community centre have a different target market than online courses. Intensive week-long courses target a different population than programs lasting for an entire academic year. The method you use will work for some and not for others. No matter how much you may believe in the communicative method, for example, there will be students who hate that method and feel more comfortable reciting verb conjugations aloud and learning vocabulary by rote. Don’t worry about pleasing everyone. Worry about clearly articulating what you do and how you do it. That way, people who appreciate how you approach learning and teaching will be more likely to sign up with you. Spending your time trying to “convert” others to agree with your method takes much more energy, and gives you much less return, than focusing on those whose philosophy already aligns with your own.
  2. What concrete outcomes can your students expect from your courses? The word “concrete” is critical here. Now is not the time for vague promises or saying that learners will “improve”. How will they improve? What will change? Give examples. Do not confuse this with over promising. Be clear and realistic when you articulate your objectives. The changes a student can likely expect in a month are not as great as if he or she continues on at the same school with progressively challenging courses, delivered in the same way, over a year. Incorporating regular assessments that demonstrate a student’s progress and growth are also part of your marketing. Ultimately, if people take a course, they want to see change in a particular direction. Be clear in stating what students can expect from your courses, then deliver it. Document their progress to show them how far they’ve come. If anything, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver.
  3. Why would students register with your school? This is a simple question, but don’t let that fool you. It is critical. Really, why would they register at your school and not some other school? What makes you so special? What sets you apart? Do you have a great downtown location? Do all your teachers have a minimum qualification? Do you have specialized courses? You can have all these things, but really, students will register with you when they get results and enjoy the learning process. The learning environment needs to be safe, enjoyable, inspiring and challenging. The balance you strike among these things is what makes you unique.

Your target market is likely much more specific than you think it is. The more you focus on who your prospective students really are, the easier it will be go out and recruit them.


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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.


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