Traditionally, independent schools are high-touch environments as far as any form of support goes. They are people places. In most schools, it’s all about the children.
I remember a colleague remarking what a pleasure it is to deal with schools when supplying services to them. The receptionist welcomes you warmly. You’re looked after and treated well. In most cases it is a positive, in-person experience. Unlike many corporate offices who have a series of walls to jump over if you want to see anybody about supplying a service.
So, what happens when everything is forced to move online? How does one supply an independent school with strategic marketing support?
Join me in a short step back to where I was a year ago.
Moving online before COVID
Early in 2019, I came across an online challenge to build my presence on LinkedIn. Actually, the sales speak was ‘get leads from LinkedIn’ but at the time, I didn’t really think that would be possible for my business. I’m one of the few people I know who absolutely loves LinkedIn and have always found it an underutilised and effective networking platform.
After completing the 5-day challenge, I could see a different future for my business. One that would move me online with a complementary revenue stream to my in-person business while building my brand in my niche. So, I invested in a 12-week online program which provided support and guidance throughout 2019 and beyond. It was an excellent investment but required a lot of hard work to reap the rewards. I’m grateful to Helen Pritchard and her team for this support.
This meant that by the end of 2019, I was already making sales online, locally and globally, in marketing strategy consulting. I had established an international network in independent school marketing. The revenues were smaller than my local business, but the opportunities were growing.
When COVID hit
South Africa locked down at the end of March 2020 and all schools were closed for 3 months, during which time most independent schools provided online learning. School leadership collaborated on processes and protocols to ensure continued health, safety and education.
I had a calendar full of in-person training in school marketing for 2020 that was cancelled immediately, and my marketing strategy workshops and projects came to a standstill. I was fortunate to have work to keep some revenue coming in. However, the online world woke up.
As if emerging from a dream, I started getting enquiries, more from international schools. My 60-minute Marketing Strategy Power Hour which I had conceptualised in 2019, now came into the forefront. I also introduced a 5-day Marketing Strategy Coaching Program on the back of my free Marketing Strategy Cheat Sheet download (available on my website) with a longer 6-week program as a follow-up.
Then ISASA webinars replaced the workshops of 2019, and projects on the local front started emerging, in more of a hybrid fashion. So, I would conduct online interviews for market research and then conduct either an online webinar or an in-person workshop. As a result, I am ending 2020 on a high, after a tough year.
The future is hybrid
Despite the positive ending to 2020, I am still finding a reluctance from independent schools to procure consulting services online. I do believe it goes back to my first point about the natural tendency of independent schools to work in-person. It’s a big shift. I’m not certain when schools will become comfortable with online consulting and coaching, but perhaps this year has provided the impetus to consider this possibility.
Affordability and access to skilled expertise takes on a whole new level when you can include online providers. I’m finding travel costs are a significant saving. This time last year, I was flying at least once a month. The last time I flew in an airplane was 9 months ago. My next flight is planned for 2 months’ time.
For my own business as an independent consultant in marketing strategy for independent schools, I see the future as hybrid, with a lot more remote work. While I love the digital world, personally, I find the in-person work important for marketing strategy. I wouldn’t like to lose this from my service offering. As the saying goes, “you can’t make steel without sparks”. Innovation thrives in an environment of diversity and so does strategic thought. We need to bounce ideas freely off of each other, and virtual platforms have a limited capability in this area.
During 2020, I’ve invested in technology, while keeping other costs to a minimum. This is now providing a great foundation for the new year, and I’m looking forward to building on both my online and in-person offerings into 2021.
How have you found changing to online work, either as an independent school or as a service provider to an independent school?
Let me know in the comments or email me via the contact form on my website.
I'm Keryn House
I enjoy creating marketing anecdotes and visuals related to my horse as there is a lot to be learned from animals, and this provides a unique context to my writing. My horse Slick (aka Sports Express) has been with me for many years and is a source of inspiration and relaxation for my strategic mind. He lives on a friend’s farm in KZN and I see him twice a week.
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