There are lots of ways of doing marketing, branding and advertising cheaply. Get the name of your school on T-shirts and jackets and wear them all the time. Your local supermarket wouldn’t like you handing flyers out between the aisles, but probably wouldn’t ask you to remove a branded T-shirt. Similarly, being in local parks hosting parties, visiting local shops and tradespeople, will all leave an impression.

The more daring may like to try some guerilla tactics, and there are some great books available on this subject. The main idea is to leave a good impression and get people talking.

Hand out flyers, have them posted and inserted in the locally-distributed newspapers and magazines. Put signs and flags outside your school and be sure to ask everyone who calls how they heard of you. Advertise a course or a sign-up period at a discount with a deadline – a call to action. ‘Join before March 31st and we waive the sign-up fee!’ This also means you’ll need someone to answer the calls and turn them into customers. This will have to be done in the local language and is a difficult skill.

Graphics must look great and copy read well. Social media and online campaigns and the attendant pixels, cookies and jargon can be confusing: PPC, SEO, impressions, engagement, retargeting, click-through and conversion rates; inbound, push and pull marketing. Most of these services are best left to the professionals, and yes, that means paying for them.

You also need to make sure your services are not only excellent but ‘sticky’ and continue to market to both your existing customer base and their friends and families. Don’t make it too difficult to leave, or people will resent you for it, but make it beneficial to stay. If all your students’ study records will be deleted on their leaving, they may think twice about it and hang around as non-paying community members. Send out newsletters that give away something free, and mention your successes – show a photo of Akiko getting into a university in the US, or Daiki on his working holiday. Keep them all in the family.

We’ll look at how much to spend in more detail in a future post, in terms of cost of acquisition, expected revenue, etc., but if you’re not budgeting and spending a percentage of your gross income on advertising alone, you’re not budgeting and spending enough. If I had three words of advice for the small school on a low budget? Flyers, flyers, flyers.