Private schools thrive by referrals!

NOTE: If you missed any of the posts in this 3-part series, click here.

In the final post of this 3-part series, we look at some ideas and realities of referral and word-of-mouth marketing! As we discussed in part 2 of this series on private school retention strategies, I want to remind you of the term “LOYAL AMBASSADORS.”

Loyalty speaks of the extent to which your families are not just re-enrolling out of a lackluster attitude of “aw shucks, I guess we’ll stay put.” This lukewarmness will never produce a quality referral. Loyalty is retaining families who would do whatever it takes to have the opportunity to continue another year. And they are not swayed by another school’s tuition rate or even extra-curricular offering. Fierce allegiance is earned and is intentionally cultivated.

In the same way, ambassadors speak with boldness and clarity. Just as the United States Ambassador to Benin speaks on behalf of the President, your school will struggle or thrive based on how many ambassadors you nurture. (By the way, read a little more about why I lived in this French-speaking West African nation.) From a biblical standpoint, 2 Corinthians 5 speaks to believers as being “ambassadors” as though God were “making his appeal through us.” Ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the one who appoints them and they represents the interests to those to whom they are sent. Does your school’s leadership “appoint” your families as ambassadors? Do you place expectations on families to “make appeals” to their friends? Probably one of the sins (am I sounding preachy?) committed by any school is the omission of asking for referrals . . . better yet, asking your families to make them for you!

There’s an old adage in business marketing: the referred lead is easier to close and costs less to obtain. In lieu of spending thousands and thousands of dollars strictly on advertising only to generate a few clicks, an ambassador’s referral optimizes the leverage of their friendship to validate the lead. In other words, you are going to listen to and trust suggestions from your friends more than you’ll believe bullet points from a slick brochure. And when I ask schools, most of the time, they admit that referrals are by far the best source of new students. So why are you still having trouble filling seats year after year?

3 of the most common reasons why referrals are not made:

  1. Referrals are risky. Sure my own kid has a great experience, but can I guarantee that my friend’s kid will also have a life-changing experience? Will that also find it as “worth it” as my family does? If I’m not 100%, I’m gonna pull back a little.
  2. People don’t refer their friends to boring things. This is hard to swallow because no business, organization, ministry or school wants to think that part of the reason that the referral pool is low is because they are not very exciting. Author Seth Godin has been quoted as saying “The products and services that get talked about are the ones that are worth talking about.” If you are not “remarkable” then you are not worth making a remark about!
  3. Your happy families don’t know how you want them to refer. I may be willing to refer, but I just not sure of the process. Do I get something in return? Is there a form to fill out? Are you looking for elementary families or upper grades? Do you have an open house event that I can bring them to? Unless you spell this out for me clearly, I may not go to the trouble and try and figure it out.

So give me lots of information on how to refer you the ideal families. Train me. Teach me. Guide me. I want to help, but I am busy and you’re asking for me to stick my neck out and risk my reputation, too. And give me some remarkable things to talk with my friends about at church, at Little League and in our living room. And most of all, call me to a higher level of expectation to do it. If you don’t ask me, I may not think of referring at all.

How are you cultivating ambassadors at your school?

FREE Marketing Tips for Your School!


Randy Vaughn, Private School Marketing Consultant

NOTE: If you missed any of the posts in this 3-part series, click here.