Online school – how to set it up – Part 7

Marketing an online school is a complicated matter. Not knowing how to do it can be crucial to your success. Choosing the right country to set it, for example, checking internet speed before you market there is key. This first article steers you to make the best decisions on marketing your online school, so you can set it up successfully.

Marketing part one

In my experience, marketing is the most difficult nut to crack in setting up an online school. Please read the articles written on this website by professional marketeers as they will help. I will give you my understandings as a principal dealing with marketeers and marketing and try to steer you to make the best decisions. I am assuming you have a very limited budget and this makes it even harder. To give an example, when I was setting up my online school around 4 years ago, I had a partner who was willing to invest in marketing. He wanted a professional approach and believed that expert companies were the way to go. I honestly hadn’t a clue about online marketing, and he was a successful businessman.

Targeting countries

He believed that China was the way to go as they are the biggest market for English language training. I agreed with him, basically, although I knew little about the Chinese market. So, we engaged a company to investigate marketing there. Pretty soon we realized that China is a difficult and expensive place to try to gain a toehold. They looked at trying to link with a Chinese partner. They also looked at Singapore or Hong Kong as a gateway to the Asian market as they speak English. You will need a reliable partner there who can actually deliver and even finding such an asset can be expensive without solid contacts to start with. Because it is so big it can be overwhelming and sorting the dross from the gold is very difficult.

One of the many problems is that the internet is very restricted in China. They have their own versions of almost everything. Paypal, Facebook, etc, are different. So you need to use their different payment and social network systems. We used Alipay for payments and getting authorization means you have to jump through many hoops.

Another big problem is that there are many schools based in China who understand the market and have a brand and a presence there. And so many of them were opening online sections. We finally decided that it would be too great an expenditure and that China should be left on hold until the company was up and running.

We then turned to the Middle East, again a huge market. Here we hired an English marketing company which had been recommended by a friend. The guy gave us a big spiel but ultimately they were unsuccessful. Though not a scam, they certainly over-represented their abilities to deliver students and we lost money and time while waiting for them to get us results. Unfortunately, as internet marketing is still new, dynamic and constantly changing, it is difficult to choose companies and, even if they are genuinely trying to provide a top service, they may fail to deliver what you want. Or be too expensive.

Internet speed is a big factor in your marketing

I wish to put in a factor here, in trying to get students, and that is internet speed. You do need reliable broadband in both your teachers and students homes. There is little point in trying to market to a country without good broadband. And while speed is getting better worldwide, it is still a huge obstacle to penetrating markets. We got many hits from students but couldn’t even organize a trial because they just couldn’t get sufficient reliability and speed.

Wherever you market to, they must have enough speed to be able to teach to, and you must research this first. Africa, for instance, is a huge market, as is South America, but they are still trying to bring fast broadband across their countries. I had a very frustrating time with teaching a student in Brazil as her internet kept getting cut off. As I was the boss, I allowed the class to go over time to make up for the lost time but if you are paying a teacher, they will most likely want to be paid for the extra time. It also kills the dynamics of the class and having fun while you teach and learn.

Doing it yourself

So, can you do the marketing yourself? I guess so, but I reckon only on a modest basis. If you are going to start with just yourself as teacher, you don’t need many students. Using a dedicated professional system such as Vedamo is a great boon in this regard as you pay according to how much business you generate. You just need to factor in the comparatively small payment to Vedamo and you are good to go. Then set up your Facebook page. You can then advertise just in your own country, for example, so there are no time differences and the market is easier to understand. Social media and Google adwords may be enough as your needs are small. It is easy to contact such companies to get them to advertise your school and payments need not be large. A handful of students may be enough to get you sufficient money to get you through the first months.

Use any students you have currently as social media contacts as well to “like” your Facebook page and ask them to share it. If you can get a few hundred followers, it gives you credibility and a presence in the market.

This is certainly the easiest and least painful way to start. No big money to pay out and no worries about unreliable teachers or heavy administration. You just have to worry about yourself and getting enough students to make a living. If you partner with Vedamo, they will give you tremendous help and the great benefit of their experience.

I will continue this thread in the next blog as there is lots more to share about marketing.

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Gus Worth is a highly experienced writer and educator having worked in universities for nearly 20 years and being first published at the age of six. Currently in the English department of the American University in Bulgaria, he also writes extensively for the web and in print for many companies. He has a particular love of online teaching and enjoys helping teachers take their first steps in the exciting world of the future where you can connect with, and help students develop, all over the planet.
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