Independent schools have many challenges to overcome before they can hold the enviable reputation of ‘the school of choice’ in their area.

Any independent school striving for success will have to overcome many obstacles, but here are top six that they will all face:

The competition – schools in the same area that parents are scrutinizing along with yours.

Communications – in this fast-paced, time-starved world, getting the right messages in front of the right people can be tough.

Parental engagement – getting it, sustaining it and then ensuring it doesn’t become overly time-consuming.

Technological challenges – technology is moving at an alarmingly fast rate and schools need to stay ahead of the curve.

Optimising efficiency – bureaucracy, paper-work and form-filling – schools’ nemeses – managing these is an imperative to keep the school’s systems running like a well-oiled machine.

Budgets – schools have to work hard to stay on top of their game in the face of maintenance and utility costs, salaries, pensions among other things.

Thinking outside the box

Every school has strategies to deal with each of these obstacles, but sometimes, when you are in the midst of everything, it can be hard to see the wood from the trees. Take a step back and try to look at your approach to marketing in a different way.

One way to tackle all of these challenges is to ask yourself the following questions: Are we unifying our thinking? Does our Head’s and marketing team’s vision completely dovetail? Are we communicating consistent and considered messages to prospective and current parents? How can we improve our approach?

Identifying your USPs

It is important to understand and upsell the benefits of your particular school and its unique selling points. All to often, schools focus their energy marketing the same features that many other schools have: incredible sports teams, beautiful grounds and caring, dedicated staff, to name a few.

It is important to ensure that every term a meeting takes place where all participants can feed into the knowledge base that everyone works from. This helps to identify new unique experiences that students can get from your school, and your school alone, and monitor how it is evolving.

This then allows you to identify how your school’s approach to education differs and promote that to prospective parents. What transformative effect to students go through at your school? It might be that your school’s research informs its teaching strategy, you might be thought leaders in a particular area, or you might have introduced a whole growth mindset approach and holistic wellbeing strategy that is working brilliantly to help students.

Whatever it is, it is important to identify your real USPs, perhaps through an internal marketing audit, and these identified areas are what you should use to differentiate your school in your communications.

Unifying your thinking

Now you have the key differentiators, it’s important that everyone internally and externally knows about them.

Collaboration is critical. In the world of education, we have learnt that collaboration among subjects, students and teachers increases learning. However, ironically, we don’t seem to take the same approach to how schools are managed.

For external marketing to work, the internal environment has to be right. Even good word of mouth, so important to schools, has its origins in an internal environment that is excelling. If everyone is collaborating and has the same vision, external initiatives will come together and work.

Shout about your strengths and reap the rewards

The key messages should be a focus on the school website, social media and all marketing and promotional materials. But schools can go one step further.

The importance of building an emotional connection with people who aspire to your school’s approach and want to have the same values for their children cannot be underestimated. If you can align your school’s thinking to those of parents, the people who are ultimately investing in it, you can build an emotional connection and current and future relationships will develop longevity.

One way to ensure you do this is to ensure the parents who interact with you can visualise their child at your school and that is why your school’s messaging is so important.

First impressions are everything

From the very first time a parent interacts with a school, that communication must leave a good impression. It is important that your marketing and admission teams are asking the right questions to ensure the right fit. This is a crucial opportunity to get parents on board and gather information about a prospective student. This is also the time when you can gain an advantage over other schools and use the tools you have at your disposal tactically to convey the most appealing information.

Tailoring your prospectus

Having detailed information about a prospective student’s key strengths and hobbies allows you to use this to your advantage. Knowing what a family values and what a student wants from the school environment allows you to focus on the benefits of your school to that individual. So instead of saying ‘Our new science block has had a £2 million investment’ you can say ‘Our recent £2 million investment in science will allow Joseph to fulfil his potential in his favourite subject area.’ This can be done in a covering letter or verbally but it can also be done in the prospectus itself.

Unify for Schools is a piece of software that allows schools to have full control over their prospectus’s editorial content and convey tactical messages that are tailored to families and that allow you to maximise your opportunity to sell your school.

An essential time- and money-saving tool for schools

Not only can you create bespoke information in this way using Unify for Schools, you can save on paper wastage and costs by printing individual booklets on demand. It’s out-of-the-box thinking and it’s a win-win.

To see how this software has helped improve applications to Felsted School, watch this film.

Unify for Schools is one tool you can use to give your school an edge alongside many other approaches suggested in this article. Read our blog for more information and tips on marketing approaches for schools in Seeking income-generating activities to offset rising school running costs and Effective digital marketing for schools – why is it so important?