7 Ways to Market a Private School with a Small Budget

7 Ways to Market a Private School with a Small Budget

August 3, 2022
(Reading time: 4 - 8 minutes)

Every month, private and Christian schools spend millions of dollars on marketing and advertising. However, most of us do not have that kind of budget, so we need more viable advertising ideas for our school. In this article, I’ll go over the two major types of school marketing and advertising: those that take time (grassroots marketing) and those that take money (advertising).

Before we get into the various ways to advertise a school, it’s critical to recognize the absolute importance of marketing within a private school’s business operations. When a private Christian school is up and running and receiving a steady stream of new students, you should be reinvesting at least 10-12 percent of your revenue in your school’s marketing.

Admittedly, there are times when a school may be forced to reduce its school marketing budget. This usually happens when policies change, or the board feels there is an impending recession and wants to “save money.” If that happens to you, then you have to simultaneously increase the amount of time you spend on your marketing efforts (that’s the school marketing budget equation detailed more below). You absolutely cannot reduce your “total” marketing: the combination of paid advertising, promotional events, grassroots outreach, etc. If you cut back, your school will inevitably fall into a downward spiral of declining enrollments.

Before Anything, Know Who You Are Marketing To

How do you compete when your marketing and advertising budget is limited? The key, in my opinion, is to stay focused on your students. Know who they are and what they want. You can only effectively market your school’s programs without spending too much money trying out “new” school advertising ideas. There is no one-size-fits-all advertising channel for private schools, so you must know your target market. After that, you’ll understand the two most important aspects of a successful marketing campaign:

  1. Where they spend their time
  2. Who do they trust

Knowing those two things will help you determine where to market your school and who the influencers are for your target personas. While it’s unlikely that you’ll get the influencers to endorse or even be a spokesperson, you can at the very least use that knowledge to know how the message should be worded, packaged, and delivered.

I work with schools and small businesses all the time who say, “We know who our target market is.” The truth is, we never know for sure where all of our target markets are. As a school, you must constantly inquire about the habits and backgrounds of students, graduates, parents, and potential employers. When you make an effort to conduct survey-based market research, you’ll be surprised at how many new niches emerge.

The Marketing Budget: Money x Effort

I always tell schools and small businesses that their marketing plans should be seen as a combination of money and effort.

  • Money is spent on gaining quick awareness, which doesn't take a lot of hours to complete, unlike advertising and sponsorships.
  • Effort requires people and time. These include interactions on social networks, attending industry gatherings, and even hitting the pavement on weekends to pass out flyers at coffee shops.

Suppose your school's marketing budget is being reduced due to the current economic situation. In that case, you MUST counterbalance that reduction in spending with an increase in effort so that "total marketing" remains at the level required to keep enrolling new students.

4 Low-Cost but Time-Intensive School Marketing Ideas

Social Media Marketing

First, let me say that social media marketing is not the same as advertising on social media. Social media interactions are humbling because you're asking and hoping for people to like and follow your private school. You should be spending an hour each day posting something related to your school and searching for other pages and people who might be interested in you. You need to like or follow them, say hello, and tell them about your school, but don't give them a sales pitch. Remember, it's called social media, not sales media. Make sure that all your recent graduates, current students, and parents like your page or are fans. If your school can provide a service, consider hosting online competitions with voting or polls on your social media pages. Engage your faculty in posting interesting content. You're doing well if you can manage at least three good posts per day while also finding, liking, and getting to know new businesses and people.

Have a High-Quality Blog on Your Website

Many schools see blogging as a mental impasse. Instead, you should think of it as article publishing, information marketing, or content marketing. The Internet is all about accessing information and getting your information out there so the search engines (read Google) can find it. This way, anyone interested in your school will most likely start there. They will be looking for the basic information about your school and what you can offer in the name of a private school education. Using your website blog for content marketing will help prospective parents and students find you while also demonstrating your expertise and increasing your authority in the industry. This is why large universities have their professors write books to establish topic authority and prestige for the institution.

SEO for Your Private or Christian School Website

Regarding SEO for your private school website, you can hire someone for pennies to leave a link to your website in the comments section of other blogs, forums, and the like. Still, Google and the other search engines are smart, and they can detect lousy link building and potentially penalize your site in its search ranking. Do it right by posting great content that people will want to link to. Marketing your school on article websites can be time-consuming, but it is extremely beneficial to search engine rankings. The key is to obtain high-quality backlinks to your own website.

Be Seen as the Expert

Find local magazines or websites and contact the reporters or publishers. Make suggestions and pitch your own articles for publication. You can increase the authority of your school by being published and “giving away” some information in the form of articles, tutorial videos, and even short papers that people can download as PDFs.

3 Private School Marketing Ideas That Cost Money, but Not Much Time

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

This needs to be the foundation of any modern private school’s advertising and marketing strategy. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) continues to have the highest conversion rates of any advertising channel, and it’s easy to see why. For example, a person who goes to Google and types “private schools in Charlotte” is a very hot lead. They know exactly what they want and where to get it. Now all you have to do is close the deal. However, it should be noted that private schools MUST be tracking these leads and utilizing a good CRM.

Email Newsletters

Email marketing can be relatively inexpensive, but it also requires constant refinement, more so than other channels. Email is best used as a reminder rather than a method to find new leads for private and Christian schools. Yes, you can buy email lists and get a few leads here and there, but the cost per student is usually prohibitively high. When sending emails to your list, ensure that everything you send is interesting and valuable to the person receiving it. If all you send is announcements of your next open house, they’ll mark your emails as spam and never open them again. Therefore, your email marketing should be highly targeted and informative.

Accept That Enrolling Students Is Sales

This is often difficult to accept for those in private education, but marketing your school is just as much about sales as it is about anything else. Spend money on hiring a good, aggressive recruiter if your inquiry-to-enrollment ratio is low. Successful schools have recruiters sending emails, calling back leads to schedule a tour of the school and a meeting with an admissions representative. You can spend as much money as you want on advertising, but a large portion of it will be wasted if you don't have a sales team that can close the deal.

Final Thoughts

We have covered several things in this post. While you can do many things to market your school via a grassroots method, by far your best bet is to use the power of the internet and SEM to truly bring in the students.

At Cube Creative Design my staff and I are here to help you do just that. Therefore if you want to explore the possibilities of utilizing digital marketing to increase your enrollment, then reach out to me today!

Adam Bennett

Written by:  |  August 3, 2022

Adam is the president and founder of Cube Creative Design. Since starting the business in 2005, he has created individual relationships with clients in Western North Carolina. He places great value on the needs, expectations, and goals of the client.

See Adam Bennett's' bio: cubecreative.design/about/adam-bennett