Marketing — how to fill your classes with existing students

Jennifer Hudson
January 10, 2020
Engaging students

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

Fundamentally, there are two kinds of marketing: "internal" and "external". In this article, we discuss internal marketing, which is the easiest and most important way for independent teachers and instructors to fill their classes and bring up those attendance numbers.

Instead of trying to come up with the best dance class advertisement message, or thinking about new strategies for marketing yoga classes, you should consider that your time and energy may well be better spent looking within your existing teaching business. Internal marketing is where the low hanging fruits lie.

What is internal marketing?

Internal marketing means you're dealing with your existing customers, the people who have taken class with you before.

For example, when you announce to your all 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 trying to communicate 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 potential clients and get them interested in taking a class with you, and then from there to hopefully become a regular student.

Advertising you yoga classes with Google, putting up flyers, posting on Instagram or Facebook... these are all examples of external marketing. They cost time and money, and they only get you the occasional new client.

Most teachers think only about external marketing when thinking about ways to grow their business. But when you're asking "how can I attract new students to my fitness class?", what you really want to know is "how can I make more money as a teacher".

The answer to that, of course, is to fill up your classes with students... but this doesn't necessarily mean new ones.

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 even just have a look at your offerings, let alone getting them to sign up for a class with you... that's a difficult challenge!

So, internal marketing is much easier... and it turns out to be way 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 might get out of hunting for  new clients.

Why? because the business of teaching is very different from most 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 pretty rare, right? The vast majority of people you see in class on any given day are people you've seen before. They're your "regulars", and they're the source of most of your revenue.

<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's also kind of obvious that if you don't have your internal marketing working for you, then even when you do get a newbie showing up for their first class, you might never see them again after that. Unless you're engaging new clients and getting them to stick with you, all of your external marketing efforts could be mostly for nothing!

When it comes to internal marketing, your goals 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. Makes sense?

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

1) Be a great teacher

You probably know this one already... the first and most important thing you can do to get people coming back to class 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 always 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 personally and caring about their progress.

Having a little talent can help, but mostly being a great teacher just takes time and a lot of work.

The good news is that you probably don't mind the effort! After all, your love of teaching is why you do what you do, so working on being the best teacher you can be is likely to be enjoyable for you. Even if it is a lot of work.

2) Motivate and inspire existing students

With internal marketing, your students already know you, so 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.

Well, it's not very hard to beat that competition!

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 exist and that your classes are happening.

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, just that alone can have a huge effect.

Depending on what you teach, in your emails you can also inspire your students in more basic terms that will make them want to come to class. For example, 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.

Whenever you communicate with students, you generally want to do it in a way so 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

We said that one of the main goals of internal marketing is to turn new students into regulars.

So, when a new person signs up with you, nurture them right away. 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.

Make your welcome email be all about them, not about you!

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 might 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 newcomers, is to absolutely wow them and get them "hooked" on your teaching. 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. Again, getting a client to come back is much easier than getting a brand new client.

It's perfectly fine to ask them simply 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!  

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 that "be a better teacher" thing by giving you information.

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!

Time for some internal marketing...

You should always be encouraging your people to buy passes or take out memberships with you. Some admin systems do this for you automatically, like on Ubindi where a person signing up for a particular class will see the available packages as options directly on their booking experience.

But you can and should also send out emails or other communications to make people more aware of your offerings once in a while. 

A particularly effective strategy is to run special promotions occasionally. This is when you temporarily reduce the price of packages, or you create a new special package, perhaps on or around a holiday.

Or, if and when you plan to increase your prices, you can use that as a chance to create a compelling reason for people to purchase a package 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 usually see some really great results.

6) Get new students via student referrals

We've been saying 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 lots of acquisition strategies you can try, none will be as powerful as "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.

It 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 hardly anything in terms of time and money. And it also 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.. while you're NOT very likely to try something 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 any personal connection to their customers.

Just imagine you get an email from Starbucks, asking you to recommend Starbucks coffee to a friend. You  probably wouldn't feel very moved to help this mega corporation out by telling your friends they should try Starbucks.

So, the big companies get the word-of-mouth thing going by offering incentives with referral programs which reward or even flat-out bribe their existing customers for bringing them some 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!

And your students (being your students), they're already pretty used to doing what you ask them to. 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. For example, 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 simply 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 really work wonders for you to grow your business and bring you a steady trickle of new clients every month.

Fill your classes with internal marketing

Here's a quick recap of everything we said:

  • 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 of regulars
  • 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!

Spending a little time on these simple efforts is the easiest way to consistently fill your classes.

If you're shy or you hate marketing in general, know that internal marketing is also the most comfortable way to bring up your attendance numbers and ensure you're earning decent money.

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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