Marketing Vocational Education – Matching ethics and finances
April 10, 2015 1 Comment
No matter what anyone would like to think , Learning is a business, a business worth 100’s of billions of dollars worldwide and unfortunately where ever you have enormous sums of money involved there are always going to be those who seek to take advantage and utilise unethical practices in pursuit of financial gain. We have over recent months seen the effects of this in the Vocational Training industry in this country, particularly with respect to VET-FEE HELP and the Educational Brokerage Industry but also in other areas as well.
It also doesn’t matter whether we are talking about public providers (TAFE) or non-public ones, there is still always going to be a need to work within budgetary constraints, ensure there are sufficient students in courses, make sure that the business you are running (and lets no kid ourselves TAFE is a business whether they want to think of themselves that way or not) is sustainable and can provide for the needs and expected outcomes of students and stakeholders. So the question becomes how do you manage to do all of this, provide a high quality service, a sustainable business and still uphold your ethics.
My number one rule is a simple one
Don’t use Brokers or Educational Consultants
So why not, well from my point of view Brokers or educational consultants bring nothing to the table except either the necessity to increase the cost to consumer of your course or decrease the amount of income that comes to you. Of course the argument for their use is that they bring in far more students than would be possible without them. However the question which need to be asked is are the students appropriate for the programs you are offering. Do they come to you already properly pre-screened or is all that is happening (and I think this is more often than not the case) they are simply getting a name on a form and directing the person to you and then you, the provider, is having to do all of the work. So the question really needs to be asked, what is it that they are actually providing, are they doing something which the provider can not do internally and what is the quality of what they are doing. If it is just a numbers game, trying to get as many people on the books to generate as much income as possible then why not, but if the provider is actually interested in quality students and quality outcomes for those students then in my opinion they are much better staying away from brokerages.
So if providers are not going to utilise brokers and consultants then what can they do to ethically market their programs. Well for a start there is the old stalwarts of reputation and word of mouth. Now of course these two options are not going to line your coffers with gold, but then again if that is what you want you probably stopped reading much earlier than here. As with any business the having a reputation for good high quality service will make it much easier for your business to be sustainable and it will generate the second one, word of mouth. If students are happy with their experience and they get the outcome they wanted, then they will tell other people and those people will think of you when they are in need of the service you provide. To give you an example, a student who graduate from us last year, went on to be the manager of a large community services program and because of the experience he had learning with us, when he need to have 50 staff trained he didn’t even consider going anywhere else or even talking to anyone else he came straight to us and engaged us to do the work. He also recommended us to other in the organisation which generated another 30 students for us. That is 80 students as a direct result of one person having a positive experience and getting the outcomes they wanted.
Which brings me to my next point, don’t neglect your past students, you have got their details stored in your systems, remember them and they will remember you. It is important to remember that this isn’t about selling to them. don’t just send them details of your upcoming training or special offers or things like that, actually remember them. Many years ago I worked for a training provider who used to email all of their past students on their birthday and held a monthly birthday draw for cinema tickets or dinner out or the like. 85% of their business was either repeat business or direct referral from previous students. I even saw on more than one occasion, ex students mark, friends, work colleges and family into the office so that they could sign up for a program, and CEO’s of large companies ringing up and saying ‘I did your training about 10 years ago and it was fantastic, I still use it today and I need you to come out and deliver it to all of our executive and senior management teams.
Never underestimate the power of past students
Also too many training providers keep looking for individual students, isn’t it better to talk to one person and get 5 students than to have to talk to 5 people. Build relationships and network with organisations, offer them more than just training. Offer the L&D and HR people support with funding and training needs analysis and finding them suitable training providers if you can’t give them what they need. When they do need what you have to offer they will come back to you, because you didn’t try to sell them something the didn’t need. Be different, if you are the third person to call me this week offering me the same of boring diploma of management or certificate III program then you are going to get the same answer that they everyone else got. Not interested. Know what you are good at, explore niche markets, build a value proposition and give people what they want and need, not just what you can provide, there is a very big difference.
Ethically building a reputable sustainable business takes time, just being in this industry for the money provides outcomes for no one, so in the immortal words of Google ‘Just don’t be evil.