Marketing — how your existing students are key to your teaching business

Jennifer Hudson
January 10, 2020

Merely the word "marketing" makes many instructors feel uncomfortable. But marketing really just means education. When you do marketing, you are educating your clients or people who could potentially become clients about the services you provide and how you can help them or solve their problems.

Fundamentaly, there are two kinds of marketing: "internal" and "external". In this article, we discuss internal marketing, which is the most important kind for independent teachers and instructors.

What is internal marketing?

Internal marketing means you're dealing with your existing customers. For example, when you announce to your regular students that you have a special workshop coming up, or when you offer your people a discount on a monthly membership — that's internal marketing.

External marketing is when you're communicating with people who have never heard of you. People who have no idea who you are and what you do. So here you're trying to attract new people and get them interested in taking a class with you, and then to hopefully become a regular student. For example, running ads, putting up flyers, posting on Instagram or Facebook... that's all external marketing.

Most teachers think mostly about external marketing when thinking about ways to grow their business. But it's infinitely easier to engage an existing student who already knows you and with whom you already communicate, than to go out there into the world or on the internet and try different ways of getting random peoples' attention. Getting strangers to just have a look at your offerings, let alone getting them to sign up for a class with you... that's a much more difficult challenge!

So, internal marketing is much easier... and it also turns out to be much more important for your business than finding new clients. If you have a decent number of students already, the return on investment (time or money spent) you get from nurturing, motivating, and engaging your existing clients will dwarf what you can get out of hunting for new clients.

The business of teaching is very different from other businesses like a running a shop, or driving a taxi. The big difference is that most of your customers are repeat customers. When was the last time you saw a new face in class? It's rare, right? Most of the people you see in class on any given day are people you've seen before, they're your "regulars".

<span class="special tip"><span class="materialicon tip">lightbulb</span>Nurturing your regular students, motivating them, getting them to commit to deepening their learning or their practice with you — that's the key to your success in the long term. Much more so than getting a new student to come try out a class with you.</span>

It should be obvious that if you don't have your internal marketing working for you, then even when you do get a newbie showing up for a class, you might never see them again after that. So unless you're engaging new clients to stick with you and become a "regular", all of your external marketing efforts will be mostly for nothing!

The goals for your internal marketing are to turn new students into regulars, and to turn regular students into "superstars". Superstars are people who never miss a class, who enthusiastically spread the word about your teaching in their circle of friends, and who don't care what it costs to study with you.

OK, so what specifically should you do for internal marketing? Here are six things to focus on:

1) Be a great teacher

OK, maybe you know this one already... the first and most important thing you can do is simply to be a great teacher. To provide amazing value to your students.

Generally, this a matter of loving your craft and loving to teach, working constantly to improve, preparing your lessons, knowing your stuff and constantly learning more so you can become more and more of a master.

It also means being tuned in to your students, listening to their feedback, genuinely caring about them and caring about their progress.

Being a great teacher takes time and a lot of work. But the good news is that you probably don't mind the effort. The love of teaching is presumably why you do what you do, working on being the best teacher you can be is likely to be enjoyable.

2) Motivate and inspire existing students

With internal marketing, your students already know you and you don't have to explain who you are and what you do for them... instead, you do have to motivate them to come to class. Your main "competition" here is the couch, Netflix, beer with friends... just the everyday things that can get in the way if someone isn't motivated.

motivate students

You can easily motivate your students by simply reminding them how fun your classes are, or how life changing it can be to take classes with you. Or even just by reminding them that you're there and that your classes are happening. For you this means that sending an email to your existing clients (once a week, or at least once in a while) about your upcoming classes, or something related to the subject of what you teach, can have a huge effect.

Depending on what you teach, in your emails you might also inspire your students in more basic terms that will make them want to come to class... by appealing to their desire to be healthier, or to be better musicians, or to fit into their old pair of jeans — whatever you think will resonate with them.

Generally, when you communicate with students you want to write in a way as to

  • make them feel valued
  • create a sense of community
  • invite feedback from them so you can improve on being a great teacher.

3) Connect with new students

When a new person signs up with you, send them a personal welcome email to not only thank them, but to ask them about their 'goals', or injuries, or background... or anything that you think could help you to help them. Also, make yourself available to answer their questions. Make your welcome email be about them, not about you.

New student

You should also make sure new clients know where to find your schedule, how to book a class, and how your tools and system work. You could actually put a link to your schedule in the footer of all your emails, as part of your signature, so it's automatically at the bottom of every email.

You might consider setting up a special introductory offer for newcomers, and then let every new student know about it. For example, you could have an introductory membership that's 50% off the regular price for the first month. Or a class pass for new students that's 50% off the normal price.

Your mission, as regards your newcomers, is to absolutely wow them and get them "hooked" on your teaching. Definitely go the extra mile!

4) Reach out to students who disappeared

If you notice that a certain client hasn't been to class in a while, reach out and check in with them. It's perfectly fine to ask them directly where they've been, or why you haven't seen them in a while. Often, it will be for a reason that you can actually help with!  

Lost students

For example, if they have scheduling conflicts, let them know about classes on other days or suggest that they can access your class recordings (if you have those). If it's some kind of financial hardship that's keeping them from coming to class, make them a special deal or offer a discount!

Naturally, you don't want to be pushy or try to bully someone who's just lost interest to come back. But don't just let people disappear without at least finding out why they're gone. Even if they are lost to you, they can help you with the "be a better teacher" thing.

5) Promote your packages & specials 

Passes and memberships (package deals) can massively boost your business and drive engagement with students. Especially when you price them attractively. But just having your various packages in place doesn't do much good unless your students know about them!

In a nutshell, you should encourage all your people to buy passes or take out memberships with you. Some admin systems make this kind of automatic, like on Ubindi where a person signing up for a particular class will see the available packages as options directly on their checkout. But you can and should also send out emails or other communications to make people aware of your offerings once in a while. 

A particularly effective strategy is to run special promotions on occasion. This is when you temporarily reduce the price of packages, or you create a new special package, perhaps around a holiday. Alternatively, if and when you plan to increase your prices, you can use chance to create a compelling reason for people to purchase things before your prices go up.

Simply send out an announcement that a pass or membership is discounted by 20% during some limited time interval, or that you'll be raising prices for everything at the end of the month or in the new year, so people should take advantage of the old prices while they can. Teachers that run these sorts of specials have seen some really extraordinary results.

6) Get new students via student referrals

We said earlier that getting new students is the realm of "external marketing". But that's not entirely true. In fact, if you already have a client base, your existing students can be the biggest driver of new growth for your business.

In business lingo, getting new clients is called "customer acquisition". While there are many acquisition strategies you can try, none will be as powerful as what is called "word of mouth". It's when somebody hears about something through a friend — they're much more likely to remember that something, and to try it out.

This happens in your own life all the time. Think of a movie, a book, a restaurant or a website that you checked out — just because a friend recommended it. Word-of-mouth is the golden goose of customer acquisition because it costs you very little in terms of time and money, and also because it works really, really well. When your friend says to you, try this out', you trust them to know what you like, you trust them to not be selling you something, and you trust them to have pre-vetted whatever the thing is for you already. So you're much more likely to actually try the thing out.. and you're verylikely to try it out just because you saw some advertisement somewhere. You would probably never even notice a random advertisement.

For big brands or corporations, it's pretty difficult to make word-of-mouth marketing work. because they don't really have an emotional impact or personal connection to their customers. Just imagine you get an email from Starbucks, asking you to help them out by recommending Starbucks coffee to a friend. You would probably be very skeptical, and you wouldn't feel very moved to actually help this mega corporation by telling your friends they should try Starbucks.

So, the big companies get the word-of-mouth thing going by offering incentives in all kinds of referral programs which reward or even bribe their customers for bringing them new customers.

As teacher, you have a huge advantage here. You're ideally placed to leverage word-of-mouth because you have a real and personal relationship with your students. You make them feel great, they keep coming back to you because they love you, and they will be more than happy to support you and your business if you just ask them to! As students, they're already used to doing what you ask them to, and of course their own class experience will also get better and be more fun when they have other friends or family in class with them.

So your existing students are probably already inclined to help you out for free... but don't leave it there! Just like the big guys, you too can reward your people for bringing you new clients. You can give them a free class when they bring a new student to class, or make them a deal on one of your packages. Run your very own referral program!

Some admin tools have automated referral programs built in, so it doesn't even have to be a complicated or time-consuming thing to track referrals. For example, Ubindi has a simple referral program where you just flick a switch and all your students get a code that they can share out with friends on social media, or in emails, or wherever... when a new person uses someone's code to book a class with you, the referring student gets a free credit, and the new student also gets their first class free, it's all automatic.

All that's left for you to do is to remind your students periodically that you have a referral program. This can work wonders for you to grow your business and bring you a steady trickle of new clients every month.

In summary

Here's a quick recap of everything in this article:

  • internal marketing the most important marketing you can do for your business, and it's also the easiest
  • your basic goal is to motivate people to come to class and build a community
  • new students should be nurtured from the beginning
  • try to reconnect with clients who have dropped off
  • promote your packages and create specials to drive loyalty and engagement
  • leverage word of mouth so your existing students bring you some new clients. And reward them for their efforts!

We hope this helps you — now go out there and make it happen!

BTW, this content is part of Ubindi's basic business course for teachers. If you'd like free access to that, just jump on the chat and we'll share a free access code with you.

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