When I ventured into running a school in 2006, I had the great idea of finding a local person – with better Mandarin than me, but no background in education required – to run the non-academic side while I ran the academic side. For many reasons, this was disastrous. This blogpost looks at the scope of non-academic management and how an understanding of the other areas of the school actually feeds forward and back into the academic team.
Very recently, I was having a chat to a teacher friend who is considering starting his own school in the next few months or years. He mentioned finding a strong local partner that could run the non-academic side of things, and he (the teacher) would run the academic side of things. This brought back memories of my first trip into management and how disastrous that idea turned out for me. For one, the other person was my wife, and it almost ruined our relationship. But more importantly, while I had experience in management and a fair amount of ELT experience, my wife’s experience was primarily in hospitality and while she was very good (great actually) at customer management and satisfaction, she was not very good at sales and marketing, and at best fair at understanding the operations and administration of a school.
I realise for many smaller schools, this works, and to those looking in from the outside, we were doing very well. Looking back on it, I wish I had considered the non-academic parts of running a school in much more detail and I am hoping this post will do that for anyone thinking about starting their own school. If you are teaching or involved in academic management at the moment, it would be very good to consider how different departments (or areas if you are a small operation) actually feed into each other. While many of the descriptions here are written from my context in Taiwan, it is likely that it will be at least similar in other contexts. I will in future blogs describe each function in much more depth as it relates to language schools.
According to the Institute of Marketing, ‘marketing is the management process responsible for anticipating, identifying, and satisfying customer demands profitably.’ It goes way beyond ‘letting people know about your school.’ It is also clear that satisfying customers’ demands is very much part of the role of the academic team. However, the marketing department (or person if it is a small operation) has to identify the following:
- What the market wants through market research
- Market segmentation and which of your products can be sold to that segment
- The size and purchasing power of each segment
- The cost or difficulty of reaching each segment
- Whether you have a product for each segment and whether it will be profitable to design a product for the segment
- The marketing mix (the product, pricing of the product, promotion of the product, etc)
While sales is often categorised under marketing, it is in my opinion sufficiently different to be classed separately. In smaller operations, your sales and marketing can be the same, but in larger organizations it is probably better to separate the functions.
Salespeople need certain characteristics and skills. These include:
- Knowledge of your school and products (this is often easy if you have a ‘local partner’, but the other skills require a fairly specific person)
- Being organised
- Being presentable
- Understanding the sales process, especially addressing pain points and objections (more about this in a future post)
They also need to engage in different forms of sales interactions which could include:
- Personal selling – direct and often individual customer contact
- Understanding the role of advertising – customer contact through mass media
- Utilising promotions and loyalty incentives to generate sales
- Publicity – which is closely tied to marketing but directly related to the perception consumers have of your school and your products
Customer Relationship Management
I have blogged about the customer journey before but this is another area where we often underestimate the role of customer management. While it is primarily viewed as dealing with customer complaints and ensuring they are happy with your product delivery, it is important to understand customer management in terms of the entire process of contact that customers have with your organisation, while also ensuring that this information is fed to the marketing and sales departments to facilitate marketing knowledge and return sales. There are many ways of generating customer satisfaction data, including:
- Looking at re-registration data
- Building relationships with consumers and customers
This differs from school to school, but some questions to consider when looking at operations could be:
- Who buys the textbooks?
- Who ensures the textbooks are distributed to students when they start class?
- Who does the teaching schedule?
- If there are events and online learning, who sets this up and controls it?
- Who purchases paper for the copier, ensures the copier is serviced, purchases classroom tools, etc?
While many of the Human Resources function can be moved to business units, it is important to know the role of human resource management. Areas often covered by human resources are:
- Staffing (the entire recruitment process including writing role profiles, advertising, shortlisting, interview, offer, background check, onboarding, induction, and leaving processes, but remember that not all recruitment is for teachers)
- Performance management (often present for academic staff, but absent for academic staff, which means organization wide learning is only happening in the teaching team)
- Conflict management and negotiation
- Legislation (work permits, health and labour insurance, tax, etc)
Finance and all the other tasks
I have included finance here, because it is important to know if your school and your programs are making money. I will write much more about this in the future, but the key consideration here is whether it is fair to task one individual to deal with the ‘non-academic’ tasks in a successful school. There will be salaries, insurance, labour and pension contributions, health insurance, costing all of this effectively against income, budgets and cash flow analysis, and more. Successful schools understand the complexities of non-academic functions, and if you are considering starting your own school, or freelancing in the future, it would be good to develop an in-depth understanding of all the functions required to make a school operate successfully.
The first step in looking to the future would be to engage with the non-academic departments in your own organisations and find out what exactly they do and how they do it. While it may be possible for a salesperson to observe teachers and find out exactly what and how the school’s products are delivered, it is much more difficult for a teacher to find out exactly what the sales process is. Understanding that would give the academic staff much better insight into the role they play in sales and marketing, but also prepare you should you venture into management and beyond in the future.
While this blogpost was purely aimed at creating some overview of other functions in a language teaching operation, there is lots of good reading that can be done to further your knowledge. There are a number of books, such as ETpedia Management by Fiona Dunlop, Keith Harding and Robert McLarty, and From Teacher to Manager by White, Hockley, Jansen, and Laughner, as well as numerous articles online with a good place to start being the LAMSIG archived articles. If you are in management or considering management, it is sometimes difficult to map your own development journey, but understanding the other functions and departments in a school is a very good way to consistently expand your knowledge and understanding.