…and escape enrollment inertia.
What’s a school growth engine? It’s the mechanisms or systems that schools can use to achieve sustainable growth. This idea came from the world of “lean startups” where companies employ rapid growth strategies to launch and build their organizations. Schools can have growth engines too.
There are three kinds of growth engines, and you’ll want to get all three firing to fuel consistent growth.
Since one of the goals of your school is to win families (and students) for the long-term, the sticky engine is important to your growth. This growth engine results from delighting the families that are enrolled in the school. Quality of instruction, focus on your mission and internal communications fuel the sticky engine. It’s much easier to keep a good family than to replace them with a new one.
Since the sticky engine is powered by retaining families, the viral engine is fueled by the word of mouth referrals that they provide because they are delighted with the school. This engine continues to work on into the lives of alumni and their families.
The outreach engine is a key element because it allows you to get the process going. It provides the initial momentum that allows for the other engines to work. The outreach engine happens best in three ways:
- In person and online outreach
- Paid digital ads
- Online search
You need all three engines, and when they work, they become a Growth Flywheel. Flywheels work because they build and retain momentum with a minimum of friction. Once they start spinning, the power they can harness is pretty amazing. That’s the technology used in powerful engines because it transfers power consistently. That’s the kind of growth you need to build a school.
The Flywheel employs all three growth engines to create maximum growth. Strangers turn into prospects who turn into enrolled families who become promoters who help more strangers become prospects….you get the idea—it’s a flywheel.
The alternative is also true, when only one or two of the engines are working, the ones that are operating have to become more effective. And, the better each engine works, the less the resources required to create growth.
A strong growth flywheel is also good protection from the inevitable bumps that happen in private education. If all three engines are working well, and when one slows down temporarily, the momentum can sustain your growth while you fix a problem or increase energy in another area.
What To Do When You Don’t Have Momentum
If you school is in a season when the Sticky and Viral Growth engines are simply not creating enough growth, then you will need to focus on the Outreach Engine. That focus may last a number of years because it will be the primary driver for growth until the other two engines begin to take up their share of the load. It’s important that you provide enough resources for the Outreach Engine to work because it is working to overcome the inertia that you are currently experiencing. And, lots of other schools and educational resources are competing for that same parent’s attention. Once the outreach engine is moving, your growth flywheel will begin to develop momentum of its own.
The Outreach Engine should include the following elements:
In-Person Outreach – Meeting people from your school in a variety of community venues is an important part of building awareness. Keep in mind that the in-person and online experience and brand should be the same. That means the same graphics in both places and the same quality experience in both places.
Online Outreach – This is about providing value to parents early in their decision process. They are asking all kinds of questions about parenting, and you should be involved in providing resources that build trust and demonstrate that your school has real expertise in child and character development. [Learn more about online in-person outreach tools]
Paid Digital Ads– Great ads are where you take your school experience into the world of your target audience. They should see and view your school in their social and online browsing. At this point they are still a target group (not yet an audience that is paying attention). [LINK]
Searchable Optimized Content – Search Optimized Content (SEO) should offer easy to find answers for parents who are searching for resources on child development, character and spiritual development, academic preparation and social intelligence (among others). Most schools don’t go beyond posting information about their programs online, and while that should also be easy to find [local SEO- link], it doesn’t reach parents early enough in their enrollment journey.
Your Flywheel Needs a Speedometer (and a gas gauge)
Since all three engines are vital to your growth, it’s important to measure how well they are performing. Like any good machine, they need a way to measure how much resources they are requiring compared to how much growth they are producing (efficiency). Measuring carefully with accurate data allows you to move from the early days of high-cost growth to more and more efficient strategies as you proceed. You need to be able to measure both resource requirements (time and budget) as well as outcomes from marketing and admissions activities.
Do you have a way to measure the level of activity from referrals, family satisfaction and outreach?
Taking baseline measurements is an important place to start and becomes the basis for a growth plan. Your growth plan should have collaborative input and accountability since different team members share in the work required. It is common to use outside resources for important parts of the flywheel, especially in the areas of search engine optimization, marketing automation, content marketing, web design as well as digital advertising.
Lower friction fuels faster growth
The best way to begin is to make sure you are growing at the best rate possible is to reduce friction. That means that all of the efforts in outreach, referrals and delighting families have their maximum impact.
You might remember the graphite you put on your soapbox derby car—that’s an example of how greater speed results from reduced friction.
By friction, we’re not referring primarily to interpersonal relationships (and a lack of friction between staff), rather we mean the systems that allow potential customers to interact easily with your information. The smoother their experience, the more likely they are to progress to the next level of engagement.
You can reduce friction by:
- Using easy to use communication tools like chatbots or live chat.
- Communicate with prospects based upon their preferences using a CRM – get a free CRM, yes, it’s really free
- Making all outreach communication as personal as possible
- Training staff to use automation systems that increase the amount of personal communication
Getting your flywheel moving
You need a flywheel (growth) plan to get everyone working together and to create budgets and staff time for to fuel growth. A growth plan addresses where you are today, and sets goals that can be measured and tracked over time. You’ve heard the anonymous quote, “you have to inspect what you expect,” and it applies here. If you want growth you have to set expectations and goals with progress inspections that are regular.