Everything I needed to know about relationships, I learned from a hotel maid

November 29, 2011

There I was, rushing out of my hotel room to head down to the conference when I suddenly realized I hadn’t left a tip for the maid. I’m one of those people who leaves a tip every day for the hotel maid, rather than leaving it all at the end. The cleaning staff have different schedules and throughout my years of travelling, I have noticed, sometimes, that there can be different maids on different days. I figure that if I leave the entire tip at the end, then one person can clean up and any others might go without.

Leaving smaller tips every day has its drawbacks. It means that you can’t be carrying all $20 bills in your purse (unless, of course, you leave the maid a $20 every day.)

Although I haven’t seen her (or him, or them), I suspect that it has been the same person cleaning my room during the three days of my conference. Here’s why:

After the first day, I left a reasonable tip. I had mostly $20s with me, but I cobbled together enough of a tip that it wasn’t an insult. I came back to the room at the end of the day, and my room was clean and nicely arranged. There were a couple of extra drinking glasses in the bathroom. I always stick my toothbrush in one to dry out during the day, leaving only one other glass. The housekeeping staff had added a couple of extra so I wouldn’t run out. Nice touch. (When your job involves enough travelling, you notice the little details in hotels.)

On the second day, I realized that I’d forgotten to get change. All I had were larger bills. “Oh well,” I thought. “I don’t like to do it, but I’ll leave double tomorrow.” I knew in my head what my plan was, but it never occurred to me to leave a note for the housekeeping staff. I went on my way, with a small twinge of guilt in my gut — and a plan to correct my wrong the next day.

When I came back to my room that night, the bare minimum had been done… and the extra bed pillows I’d tossed onto the  arm chair before bed the night before remained there. Again, when you spend enough time in hotels, you notice.

During the day, I had made a point to get some smaller denominations. So, at the beginning of the third day, I did as I had intended and left a double tip.

What happened? I came back to an immaculate and sparkling room. The pillows were arranged perfectly, my personal toiletries were neatly organized on the bathroom counter and there were even extra towels that I had not asked for. Oh yeah, and there were extra bars of soap and bottles of shampoo and conditioner, too.

Of course, we don’t know for sure if it has been the same maid for the last three days. But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it was. If I reflect on this possibility, then it occurs to me that there is much to learn from this. Here are 7 things I learned from this exchange:

1. Show appreciation. A little acknowledgement goes a long way in letting others know that you are thinking about them.

2. Non-verbal communication speaks volumes. I have never spoken with the hotel maid. I don’t even know what he or she looks like. But over the last three days, we have communicated with each other in non-verbal ways. Sometimes, it isn’t what you say, it is what you do not say that speaks the loudest.

3. Notice what is going on. Non-verbal communication may say a great deal, but if you are not listening, you will not hear the message. Take the time to notice what is going on around you, what is communicated silently and perhaps, deliberately.

4. Say what needs to be said. I just didn’t have any cash on me yesterday to leave a tip. It wasn’t a sign that I was dissatisfied or that I was being cheap. I could have left a note to say, “No cash with me today. Promise a double tip tomorrow.” I didn’t. In fact, it didn’t occur to me until much later.

5. Consistency creates security. The first day I left a tip and the next day I did not. I was inconsistent in that unspoken language of between a customer and a service worker. If I had been consistent I would have been sending the message that I was consistently pleased with how things were going. In relationships, it is helpful to act in a consistent way.

6. If you screw up, fix it — and fast. I understood from the minimum services that were performed on the second day (the day I didn’t leave a tip) that my house keeper was not happy. In the unspoken rituals of being a hotel guest, I screwed up. I corrected the situation the next day by leaving a double tip. In other words, I fixed the faux pas as soon as it was appropriate.

7. What matters is reality, not theory. Really, it shouldn’t matter if I leave a tip or not. The maid gets paid to do a job and certain duties are expected. That’s the theory. The reality is that to people in the service industry, tips matter. Whether or not you agree with reality is a different issue entirely from the fact that reality itself matters very much.

I’ve learned a great deal over the course of this three-day, silent exchange with this hotel housekeeper whose face I have never seen. I silently salute her (or him) and say, “Thank you for this lesson in human relationships.”

What relationships do you have where non-verbal communication speaks louder than any words between you? How are you listening? How do you address what is real in a relationship, rather than the way you think things “should” be?


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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.

Are you promoting your program from the inside out?

June 13, 2010

I like to say that marketing is about people and sales is about the dollars. Marketing is about developing excellent relationships and building a reputation of excellence so others want to work with you. The most effective marketing starts from the inside out. This includes the marketing of educational programs, be it an English as a Second Language program, a literacy program or any other kind of educational program.

Here’s how: Managers, administrative staff, teachers, tutors and all staff become your program’s ambassadors in the community; not because you want them to, but because they want to. Are you the kind of administrator who inspires your staff to be an ambassador for your program?

  • Do you treat them as if they are the most important aspect of the program? Excellent teachers = excellent program.
  • Do they have their own business cards? A business card is a symbol of professionalism. Can you really afford not to have them? If your teachers don’t have this “business basic”, the message you are sending is that they are not considered professionals.
  • Do you ask for their input? What are their ideas on how to clean up the school, improve the program and extend your reach further into the community? Do you ask them to act on their ideas by pitching in to help the school improve?

If you want to market successfully, start from the inside out. Make sure relationships within the school are the best they can be.


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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.

7 Keys to an Effective Language Program Marketing Strategy

June 3, 2010

A marketing strategy is a map that gets your program where you want to go. It gives you a plan to promote your program, target the right students and allocate your resources wisely. They say that trying to grow your program without having a plan is like going on a road trip without a map. You may get somewhere, but will it be where you wanted?

Marketing strategies are useful in any organization dedicated to generating revenue.  In the case of language education, they’re also useful for recruitment purposes and increasing enrollments, even if you’re not expected to make money. Some people may tell you that you need a program degree or a marketing expert to prepare a strategy. While these things may help, you can outline a basic plan yourself, even if you don’t have a program background or the resources to hire a consultant. Common sense, a clear head and a vision of where you want your program to go can do wonders for helping you prepare a good, solid marketing strategy. In fact, the process of creating that vision can create marketing opportunities you would otherwise miss, simply because you are able to clearly describe your program anywhere, any time.

Here are 7 essential elements of a successful marketing strategy.

1. Define your program. What are you offering? Define it clear, simple, objective terms. Depending on what it is you are selling, your definition may be one line or several paragraphs. You want to be able to concisely answer the question, “So, what programs does your school offer?” If you fumble for an answer – or don’t have one at all – your marketing efforts may never be sufficiently focussed to help prospective students decide on you. Depending on what you’re offering, your definition may be one line or several paragraphs. If you offer more than one type of program, consider having  a broad, but concise definition for all of it, along with brief definitions of each individual type of program.

2. Highlight the benefits. How will your student benefit from your program? This can be tough to articulate. One way to do this is to ask yourself, “If I were a student, what would I get out of this program? What good is it to me? Why would I want it?” Another way to think of it is, “For what problem does this program provide a solution?” For example, if you manage a small language program benefits to your students may include personal attention and a friendly atmosphere. If you offer specialized courses in pronunciation, that is another benefit for students.

3. Be clear about the strengths and weaknesses of your program. Let’s be clear. Every program has limitations. Trying to be all things to all people may hurt you in the long run. We may like to think that the market for whatever we offer is limitless, but the reality is that the better we know exactly what we offer, the more likely we are to attract exactly the right student.

4. Know your competition. Take the time to find out who else is offering similar courses.  In today’s world, there are very few totally new ideas, products or services. It is in your best interest to know who else is offering something similar to you. Remember these tips to success: “First, best or different.” If you are the first one ever with a new idea, product or service, lucky you. If not, you want to either be the best at what you do, or offer something slightly different from your competition.

5. Determine who your market is for your courses. This may seem self-evident, but all too often, program managers say, “Well, everyone is a potential student!” That’s not true. After you define your program and assess its strengths and weaknesses, then you are in a position to ask yourself, “OK, who needs this most?” Whoever needs it most is your best target market.

6. Establish a budget for marketing, promoting and advertising. This is often the hardest part. Some people say that 20% of the gross annual earnings of a program should be funneled back into promoting it. Often, language programs are reluctant to put a number on how much they want to spend on marketing. In this case, one of two things often happens: either you overspend or you miss excellent opportunities to promote your program.

7. Keep track of what you spend on promotions and the results. This takes time. The idea is to track what works for your program and what doesn’t. You can speculate all you want, but unless you have numbers in front of you, the idea that you have is just a hunch, not fact.

A final reminder: marketing and sales are not the same. I like to say that marketing is about people and sales is about dollars. Marketing takes place over a longer term is closely tied to building relationships. This takes time.  Even if you don’t have huge dollars to invest in marketing your program, the time you spend developing a strong, effective marketing strategy is an investment in your program, your future and your success.  Write your own road map to success and then enjoy the journey!

Like this post? Share or Tweet it: 7 Keys to an Effective Language Program Marketing Strategy http://wp.me/pNAh3-82

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.

Using Skype in Language and Literacy Programs

May 7, 2010

Skype is a free program. You set up a “Skype account” and download the program. Then, you add contacts, much like you would do in your e-mail program. Only you don’t e-mail using Skype. You talk or have a video call.

You and the other party, or parties, all need to have Skype installed on your computers. There are no tricks and no gimmicks. Think of it sort of like Hotmail or Gmail, but for voice and video calls.

Skype allows you to:

  • Voice and video calls to anyone else on Skype
  • Conference calls with three or more people
  • Instant messaging, file transfer and screen sharing

Why do I love Skype? Well, first of all, the basic service is free as long as you’re talking computer-to-computer. They also have really, really inexpensive plans were you can be on your computer and call to a regular land-line.

Here are some examples of how I use Skype:

Personally: Our family is spread out all over the place. We use Skype to talk long-distance, for free. The most amazing thing we do is with my Dad and step-Mom. They live in a remote area in Northern Ontario. Last year, my brother and his wife had a baby girl. Every Sunday night, everyone gets on Skype for a visit. My Dad gets to see his little grand daughter every single week and can watch her growing up. It’s connects our family in deeply meaningful way.

We like Skype so much in our house that we got Skype-enabled handsets that look and act just like a regular phone. We also use Skype now for computer-to-phone calling in our house and we really like it.

Professionally: I have used Skype for long-distance business. Last year, I had a consulting client in Sweden. Instead of doing phone coaching, we had our meetings via video call on Skype. It was much better than the phone, as we got to see one another and doing business was much easier (and less expensive).

Here’s another example of how I’ve used Skype in my work. Last week I was scheduled to give a webinar to a group in Tennessee. They called me at the last minute to say that the e-learning platform I’d been planning on using wouldn’t work for them. I asked if they used Skype. They said yes. We quickly exchanged user names and logged on. I gave the webinar using the screen sharing feature to go through the slides I’d prepared. At the end, they were super-happy with the presentation.

How can you use Skype in a language or literacy program:

Connect with your students: If students have Skype accounts, you can connect with them before they arrive, taking the time to connect with them and answer questions. From a relationship marketing point of view, this creates a super opportunity to create a personal bond with your students.

1-to-1 tutoring: I was giving a workshop on marketing to a group of literacy coordinators yesterday. One coordinator who works in a rural area commented that she has a hard time matching tutors with learners sometimes, as they are supposed to meet in public places, but it just isn’t convenient given the rural area in which they live. She’s obliged to match tutors and learners of the same gender, but said she had more female tutors and male learners, so it created a problem. I asked if her learners had technology literacy. She said that many of them did. I suggested that she introduce them to Skype to tutors and learners could be matched and each of them would work from their own homes.

Give information sessions and presentations: Skype has a screen-sharing feature that is brilliant for giving presentations. You can show PowerPoint slides and go through an entire presentation, just like I did with my clients last week. This is super for pre-arrival orientations, information sessions and other presentations you might give to prospective learners.

Skype is an amazing tool to help you connect with family, colleagues and learners.

Check out my research article on this topic:

Eaton, S. E. (2010). How to Use Skype in the ESL/EFL Classroom. The Internet TESL Journal, XVI(11). Retrieved from http://iteslj.org/Techniques/Eaton-UsingSkype.html


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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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