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Using Grass Roots Marketing to Differentiate Your Tutoring Brand

Many tutoring programs start out with the premise "if you build it, they will come."

This approach is a great foundation for a referral based business and there is no better advertising than client referral.  In fact, many tutoring programs generate six digit revenue streams by doing little more than providing excellent service and high quality tutors.

That having been said, this type of business model inevitably tends to plateau.  That is to say, year-over-year revenue growth settles between 1%-5%.  This can become troublesome  because that 1%-5% in top-line sales has to be able to cover any sort of annual increase in expenses.  Even lean organizations have trouble with this because the annual consumer price index in a stable economy also grows 1%-5%.  

Other issues with what we will call this "nominal growth" include covering annual raises (also typically between 1%-5%) and things like planned innovation or product development costs (sometimes well over 5%).  Hence, there is a need for the revenue or top line growth to align with the company's overall strategic growth plan. 

Although there are plenty of good and cost effective ways to build brand awareness via things like Adwords, Search Engine Optimization, E-Mail Marketing, and Social Media, these options have a learning curve as well as a level of unfamiliarity that make them harder to implement for tutoring owner-operators.   

So the question is "how can you as the leader of a six digit tutoring business have a more immediate and tangible impact on generating awareness and revenue growth?"  We think paying attention to grass roots marketing could be the ticket. 

Grass roots marketing is a low-cost brand building tactic which can help create awareness and capture student inquiries. 

It can be labor intensive but doesn't truly have to be if it is embraced by all in the organization and integrated into normal daily activities.   Before I go further, I feel compelled to admit that in this day and age, grass roots marketing may give you a timely business lift, it is not a panacea for true and sustained growth over time. Think of it as one of several promotional tools in your your marketing tool kit. 

Here are some low cost ideas that with good effect over the years: 

1)  Postering/Fliering

Posters (or fliers) build brand awareness and allow one the flexibility to match a particular message to the sales cycle.  Good places to poster include areas where decision-makers frequent.  

For Graduate School programs (ie--GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT) college campus boards are the ticket. 

For Pre-College (ie--PSAT, SAT, AP, ISEE, ACT etc.), Try guidance counselor office boards, local coffee shops, town squares, local book stores, local JCCs, YMCAs, Churches, Synagogues, and sometimes public libraries. 

Pro tip:  use "Tear Offs" as you get closer to a class start or an event date.  Always seek permission from locations where there is not a clear understanding that postings are allowed.  

2)  Career Fairs and Parent Night Tabling

School College Fairs, Graduate School Fairs, or Parent Nights are like mini-conferences for students and parents who are considering the next step in education.  In many instances that next step will include having a good GPA and a great standardized test score. 

But what is it really?  Tabling essentially means setting up a table with your items when you know a captive audience will be moving from one point of interest to the next. 

 Always have good ad-copy (this goes for all tactics) and be sure to offer some sort of give-away at the table that will allow folks to fill out information cards.  These information cards will form a small but targeted lead list which can be inculcated into a mailing or emailing strategy.  

Pro tip:  offer a drawing for a free class, a prep book, or scholarship program to get more sign-ups. 

Invest in a branded table-skirt if at all possible and arrange your items vertically to draw attention from passers buy. 

3)  Events

Hold your own Free Events (virtually or in-person) at local venues including but not limited to:  high schools and/or college campuses.  

Typical events include:  Free Practice Tests, Admissions Time Line Events, or a sample Test Question Workshop.  Have an expert on hand to deliver the key information and, as with the tabling guidance above collect information from interested students. 

These are just a few basic ideas and, I suspect, many folks are probably using at least some of them.  The key to maximizing their impact, though, involves being consistent with placement, messaging, and timing related to the academic life cycle.  

If you choose to supplement your other strategies with grass roots tactics, be sure that the messaging is complementary.  Said differently, something like an email blast should contain a message that matches whatever grass roots messages are visible to the public.

Although the modes of marketing communication have changed drastically since this article first appeared in 2010, grass root tactics remain ideal to help differentiate, localize, and complement quality referral based tutoring programs. 

About the Author:

Kevin Organisciak is a former executive with Kaplan Test Prep

While at Kaplan, Kevin led the company's flagship Northeast Region, helped to create commercial test prep's first Score Increase Money Back Guarantee, and delivered company leading Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2004-2010.   

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