Setting up an online school – marketing could prove the most difficult part. If you don’t know how to position yourself in the market, it may cost you stress and money. This part takes you through various options for marketing and branding and you’ll get clarity on what path to take.
Positioning yourself in the market
The whole area of marketing and branding is going to take up a lot of your time initially. Establishing yourself in the ultra-competitive online market is difficult and, still, to be honest, unknown territory. The “experts” are still feeling their way and what worked yesterday does not necessarily work today. You can waste a lot of money with zero returns. Believe me, I know, as I have. Companies will offer you all sorts of deals and most will be dead ends. I will try and steer you through the hurdles, save you money and put you in the right direction.
Before you get to that, though, you need to decide what you will offer and how, as when you are marketing something it is essential that potential customers have a clear idea of who you are and what your brand is. So, let’s talk about creating your brand.
The first zone to think of is your position. What will you offer? Will you aim to be the best? The cheapest? The most expensive? Somewhere in the middle? Will you offer a niche product like say IELTS preparation? Will you offer only what you are good at or will you hire teachers and teach every possibility within your sphere? In the ELT world I inhabit that is a huge amount of areas from all the various exams to all the different specialisations.
If you plan on being just an enabler, that is, you don’t teach yourself, but hire teachers and attract students for them and take a percentage from every class, then yes, it would be foolish to limit the possibilities but you will then build your reputation on linking people rather than your school. There are plenty of websites offering these types of services so you will also have strong competition. You would need to think of how to distinguish yourself. One way is to link to a dedicated and top class system like Vedamo which gives you full control over both teachers and students as most enablers use IM services, with all its weaknesses, for such services.
Let’s look at these options: Being the best
Let’s say you aim to be the best out there. This is a laudable aspiration and it has one advantage, quality tends to last. So, if you are thinking long-term it could be a good way to go. You do need to be a top teacher yourself and commit, right from the start, to only hiring top teachers. Your biggest problem is likely to be establishing your reputation. It takes time. Once again, though, using a high class system such as Vedamo will help enormously in this regard. Both teachers and students will understand straightaway that you are serious and are making it possible for top class learning to take place as they can utilize all the superb tools at your disposal.
Establishing yourself as a quality player in the market means people will trust you which gives you a competitive edge. It does mean a strong commitment to customer care and satisfaction and once again Vedamo scores strongly in this regard. They have a genuine belief in providing the best care and support possible so you automatically have this advantage.
This is, however, by definition, the hardest option to realise. At all times, your eye has to be on quality, you can never deviate, never say “it’s good enough”, never not fix something immediately. The reward can be that your students and teachers stay with you, refer on others, and help you to establish yourself as a leader in the field. Because it is likely to take longer, you will need sufficient capital to keep going until you garner enough business.
Being the cheapest
Again, going cheap can be a good way to build up a business quickly. You can still offer decent quality and hope to be able to raise prices when work starts flowing. If word spreads that you are good and cheap, then you may find yourself quite quickly with plenty of work. If you are operating at a loss initially, then the fact that what you are offering is good may mean that you will survive putting up prices to a profitable level. I cannot emphasise enough, though, that using a quality system like Vedamo will help enormously in this regard. You will have quality at your back and teachers and students will recognise this.
Be aware, though, that you will probably never be able to transition to a top quality school if you gather a reputation for being cheap and this is why the decisions you make at the outset will determine your final position in the market. I am not sure there has ever been a company that got known for being cheap that then became a top quality brand. It is possible, though, to be cheap and offer good value for money and again, such brands have a tendency to stay alive. Quality has been defined as customers perceiving that what they are buying is that bit better than others at similar prices so offering that little bit more than the competition can pay dividends.
Being the most expensive
Now here is an interesting option. Opt to be expensive on the basis that people will then assume that you must be worth the money. It’s like you are announcing yourself as a serious player in the market and hoping to attract attention that way. It has worked before, both in the physical world and in the online one. Google the “I am rich” app if you don’t believe me. There are people out there who will buy something simply because it is expensive. In this case, though, I am not sure it will work unless you finally follow through with a determination to actually be value for money as per my previous paragraph. Long term, you will need a lot of repeat business if you expect to make a continuing business and any form of gimmick will have a transient impact.
In my next blog I will return to this issue as there are other aspects, hinted at here, that must be explored before you are finished with the area of how to position yourself in the market.