This post is based on an interview with Craig Schmalz, the advancement director at New Life Academy in Woodbury, Minnesota, where he oversees fundraising, marketing, and admissions for the 800-student K-12 Christian day school.
At New Life Academy, one of our major challenges is the size (or lack thereof) of our admissions and marketing budget. We’re attempting to overcome this by reallocating our resources to focus on the most promising ROI.
Our first step? No more print marketing.
According to Dr. Rick Newberry, president of Enrollment Catalyst, a school of our size needs to invest somewhere between 1.5-3 percent of its operating budget on enrollment management (marketing and admissions). At New Life, we’re only investing 0.5% ($40,000). Although that number has grown over the last three years, with the increased budget came the charge to acquire significantly more students.
So, how do you get more students? If you’re relying on outbound marketing, you run more ads.
Like many schools, we pushed out postcards and magazine and newspaper ads as cheaply as we could. However, our efforts weren’t producing very many inquiries; parents just ignored our print outreach if they weren’t actively searching for a new school.
This made us stop and think: How do people actually end up applying to our school? About 70-80 percent of new families come to us through word-of-mouth (a percentage that we continue to improve). The other big opportunity for enrollment growth is the 20-30 percent of families who find us online.
Over the last three years, we’ve had an average of 85 new students each year, while losing 80-95 students each year to graduation and attrition. (Our attrition rate is 4.5 percent.) The strategic goal for next year is to acquire 157 new students. After calculating our average cost to acquire a new student, it was clear we needed to adopt a new, more cost-effective approach to recruiting families.
So we analyzed parent surveys (word-of-mouth marketing gets them in the door) and researched what the industry is saying (inbound marketing is the way to go), and made the decision to halt all of our outbound marketing. With a limited budget, we couldn’t afford to continue the less-effective outbound efforts while simultaneously transitioning to inbound marketing. We had to ditch our print marketing budget entirely.
Sure, we’ll still show up in the local paper in sports scores, news stories, and press releases—but we just couldn’t keep running print ads that aren’t working.
We’re just starting to execute our new inbound strategy. While we don’t have the budget to automate all of it, we’ve still been able to experiment with several online marketing tactics.
- We’re running ads on social media and search engines to attract people to a landing page on our site. We want to help them learn how our school is different in terms of class size, faith, character, and community. Now, when they’re ready to search for a school, we’ll be there. (Learn more about social media/Facebook ads here.)
- We offer useful content that people can download. In exchange for their email address, we send them a list of questions about choosing a private Christian school. Then, we follow up 10 days later with an email that helps answer those questions. We give them the information they want, and in return, we receive an email address or phone number—pretty straightforward inbound marketing.
- We send an email newsletter with regular calls-to-action. People who have downloaded our content are at the top of our enrollment management funnel, and the purpose of the newsletter is to set them on the path to a “hard” inquiry. The newsletter assists them in researching New Life Academy to determine if it is the best fit for their family. Right now, it takes 3.5 inquiries for a student to matriculate at our school—which is below the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) average. It’s up to us to obtain more inquiries and to nurture the ones we have as best we can.
These changes are only beginning, and we’re going to test everything to see what works. The goal is to create effective, repeatable business practices that we can grow and refine.
It all comes down to this: We couldn’t continue to do things the same way and expect significant enrollment growth. It was time for a revolutionary change.
Stay tuned for more updates from Craig about the result of New Life Academy’s transition from print-based outreach to inbound marketing tactics as the school seeks to boost admissions and enrollment.