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How to Choose Your Niche to Get More Students



Have you listened to our 'Get More Students' Podcast?


We provide marketing insights, ideas and motivation to tutoring & language companies so they can grow their business.


Below you'll find Herbert & I discussing How to Choose Your Niche.


Alex: Hi, and welcome to the getting more students podcast with myself Alex Asher and Herbert Gerzer. 


Herbert: Hi Alex. 


Alex: Now, we are here talking about a topic very near and dear to our heart. Herbert and I have been doing this, we've been doing Q&A sessions at least for the last year and the number one question we get asked is...


Herbert: What niche do I target? 


Alex: That's it... it comes up every single time. How do I choose my niche, where do I find students? How do I choose which market to go after? It's all the same thing...What niche should I focus on? And what we found particularly is that it's been so relevant because we've had so many language schools go online. But I think the same would be said as well for tutoring companies. All the tutoring companies are relatively similar in that they often are selling a location or skills in a location. Even more so with language schools. So this podcast is going to probably focus a little bit more on the language school perspective rather than tutoring. But, you can get exactly the same lessons out of this podcast. 


Now, tell me in your experience as well Herbert, like we've seen it from a LearnCube perspective, lots of schools kind of, using our software to be able to provide that equalizer I guess, with large competitors. But that's why we started this podcast as well, as we feel that there was a major misalignment with expectations, with language schools, in this case physical language schools, going online. What's been your experience because you're focused on actually providing digital marketing services to these language schools. What were the questions they were asking you? 


Herbert: It's the same questions that we got in the live Q&A calls: what audience to target? And a lot of language schools think, especially physical language schools, all you know, we've been offering English schools destinations, English courses here in London for example. Now, with the move online, we can target the whole world. Anyone is our customer, anyone can take an English course with us, and I've had to have many difficult challenging discussions with language school owners and marketers to say, you know you could target everyone; you could adopt a spray and pray approach. But you're going to waste a lot of money. 


You might catch the odd enrollment here and there, but if you try and target the world, you know, it's a difficult task. 


Alex: That's right. So I think on one side, I'm really encouraged. People are taking the initiative that hey we can really expand our market, but I think it's got to be taken both ways. So yes, my audience can be anywhere, but that means my location is a lot less important. We're going to talk a little bit about that today. This is the main problem that we found, not knowing your niche.


We're going to be talking about why it's really hard to compete with the largest companies effectively on the planet in education. We're going to be talking about how to think about your unique attributes as a company or as an individual. We're going to be talking about how to think about geography and niches, and then we're going to also talk about some practical solutions on how you can kind of take this understanding and win. And hopefully, by the end of this, you will feel really confident that you've made the right choice, and at least gone through the right process. Because sometimes you can feel very debilitating in terms of...Have I chosen the right thing? I think that going through this process should give you enough confidence to really start because also we don't want people to be so stuck with inertia and analysis paralysis that you don't make decisions. You're also going to need to make a call and go for it. 


So let's start with the first one which is why is it so hard to compete with these large players?


Now, we're going to date this slightly because I just saw the news today that Lingoda, one of the largest language schools based in Germany, has just raised something like 57 million euro. 


Herbert: Wow, that's crazy. 


Alex: I have no idea what the valuation is, but in a way it's irrelevant. What's really interesting about that is what is it that they're going to do with that money.


Herbert: I can tell you what they're going to do Alex. You know that 80% of that is going to marketing to capture market share?


Alex: Yeah I mean surely there's going to be some great product improvements. I mean everyone wants to talk about experience, but to be honest, a lot of the time the raises are for marketing spend and trying to find more customers and build exactly their own snowball. So one of the reasons it is so hard to compete with these large players is that you're competing against very large budgets. So if you've only a small budget then somebody can always outspend you. 


A lot of these large organizations and even medium-sized organizations will at least have a fairly accomplished marketing team. So they've got the skills already to really compete very successfully, and sometimes very aggressively with online marketing. And a lot of times they've really figured out their solution, either it's highly scalable; it's at a price point that's very attractive; they've been able to build trust in some way, maybe through their own sort of branding and sort of marketing over years. But online teaching is not something new, a lot of these established players have been teaching and teaching students online for a very long time. 


One of the things I wouldn't mind you mentioning Herbert is, what that means from a marketing perspective because they're also competing on even things like search terms, and how does that make a difference when you're competing with these large players? 


Herbert: Right, I mean, that's why it's so important to define your niche because if you're going for broad search terms like "Learn English online," or "Online English Courses," again, you are competing with a billion million dollar companies that are just pumping ad-spend into Google Ads and Facebook Ads. And of course, the company that pays the most for a click, for an impression is ultimately going to win. So you want to make the most out of your advertising budget. You know you want to actually get leads and conversions from that advertising. So you really need to have this conversation about who are we going to target? Are we going to niche down? Are we going to target a specific country, or a specific course, and then you can really put your marketing dollars and spend them wisely? 


Alex: That makes a lot of sense. So, and again, I think it's really helpful to have that in mind when you're competing because then now you know why it's so important to try and leverage every competitive advantage you have. And we talked a lot about this in our previous Q&A sessions Herbert. What are some of the unique aspects that people can push when it comes to their positioning? 


Herbert: Sure, I mean, you can push your personality. That doesn't necessarily have to mean that you're a one-person business, although that works very well with one-person businesses where you are basically the face of your language school or tutoring company, and people are buying into your experience and your story. That's a very effective way of standing out from the competition. But you know, larger organizations, larger schools can also adopt that "personality approach". Maybe they have a unique way of teaching. They can show the personalities of their teachers via authentic videos, or stories, or live streams and really utilize all the social media tools available to us today to get in touch with potential customers. 


I mean, of course, you can use your experience as one of those USPs, if your school or companies has been around for 20 years, 30 years, you've taught thousands of students from 170 countries from around the world, and you've won awards -- that's a fantastic way of really cutting through all the noise.


Also, thinking about what type of connections you have, whether that be if you have a large student population from a certain country or a certain region. Maybe you have real good strong relationships with agents from a certain country or region? Maybe you, as a one-person language school, or a small language school have a deep connection with a country? Maybe you speak a foreign language, and you know what those foreign speakers need in terms of their language learning goals? So yeah, those are some of the ways that you can really gain a competitive advantage against these big players. 


Alex: I mean, that's exactly the way to think about them. In a way, the big players whenever you even say that, it kind of feels like you're up against an organization -- a faceless experience. So already when you can add your own face or the faces of your teachers, and create a personality, you can find that that's actually a really big competitive advantage because, it's huge, absolutely. 


That's because it separates it from being a commodity. It's not just teaching a language or teaching a subject, it's having an experience. And so again, your experience is going to be another thing that you're going to really want to capitalize on. 


But we're going to just jump into just some really easy frameworks for choosing a market. So let's start off with, maybe something that comes up a lot again in our sessions Herbert, what is a bad way to target?


They generally will say something like this... I can teach anyone in the world. I'm going to teach general English which is what I'm already doing in my physical language school, and we're going to do it exactly the same way. My teachers are fantastic, so I'm going to compete with my great teachers and we're going to be able to take over the world. It's going to be fantastic. I've heard that many times. 


It's almost surprising how often it comes up, which is kind of crazy in itself. So with that example in mind, there are two levers. I almost think of it like a seesaw Herbert. You can choose to go broad on one side of the market but then you have to go narrower on the other side. 


So geography is one of the most obvious ones right. So if I am going to go broad with geography, then I have to go narrow on the speciality. The world is the largest possible geography you can go for. We often hear that schools are "narrowing" their focus by going after Asia. But countries in Asia are no the same.


Herbert: Not at all, goodness. 


Alex: I think if you're going to test marketing in this region. Each country in Asia is incredibly different, and same with Europe, and possibly even the same inside the States themselves. 


Herbert: Yeah. 


Alex: So when you think about it, you can't teach the whole world. So let's focus on something else that's a bit more achievable. You can look at a region, but only if your niche is really small. So you can go really broad in terms of geography if you're going to niche down. You can look at countries, but also within countries... for example, are you going to go after urban or rural places? Are you going to go for particular cities? What are areas, or ways that you feel that you have advantages?


So that's on the geography: region, country, city or even potentially sort of demographic. On the niche side, you might look at language and possibly language mixes. For example, Portuguese or Russians wanting to learn English. Maybe there is a special mix of languages that you can go after. 


Or you could really focus on a business/skills niche like selling English courses to sales people. Selling to accountants. Selling to the tourism bodies. It could be selling to farmers. It could be selling to a whole bunch of different niches or specialities or skills. Even exams and certain programs can be niches in themselves, right Hebert? 


Herbert: Absolutely. I mean, I have some clients that target larger regions. For example, Latin America -- all the Spanish-speaking countries, and they promote pathway programs to study English in Canada. I mean that's quite a niche. I mean the region, the geography isn't very niche. You've got hundreds of millions of people but that particular product or the course that they're offering is, and so that works really well. Another example is an English school in the UK providing or promoting Cambridge exam prep courses to three specific countries: Spain, Italy and France, because they know those students very well. 


Alex: Yeah and again, it comes to like how well do you know those students and in those two examples, it sounds like they really understand their customer base. So then they know where they're going to hang out which makes it much cheaper for them to be able to target those particular customers with their marketing. 


Herbert: Absolutely.


Alex: Interesting. So again, just to summarize that point. Think of geography, and then also think of niches. But again the idea here is that if you go wide on the geography, then you're probably going to need to go very narrow on your niche. Now, what we did want to provide are some really kind of practical tips, so that the people listening in here are going away with something they can really action.


Because sometimes, you can feel very powerless, but hopefully now that you're listening, you have identified some niches that you can really excel in.


Herbert: Absolutely. And I mean kind of the first thing, you know, if you're a new school or an established school, it's kind of looking closer to home. Look at the local and domestic market in your city, or in your country, where you can leverage your established reputation there.


Alex: We were chatting with, you know, a language school in this instance. I remember there was one that was in Italy and was located in a smallish town. We heard that they had been in business for something like 50 years, and had built all of this great rapport with their people in their area area. I mean that was an obvious place for them to go first, because they had something they could really leverage. 


Herbert: I know, but then on the call they, of course, they were like, oh well now we're online, we want to target Asia. They never targeted Asia before, and you know Asia is a huge region, and yeah we talked about maybe narrowing that a little bit. 


Alex: Yeah. 


Herbert: Focusing on Italy, and marketing there. I think they were selling Italian courses to foreign people living in Italy. 


Alex: Yeah, and so again, the geographical region was quite narrow but their offer was quite broad, General English in that particular instance. In the end, you've got to experiment but that was still a case where they needed to focus on their competitive advantage. Starting with your location makes sense because trust factor. A lot of people would actually choose a smaller organization, over a big box company, just for the simple fact that they may feel like they will get more personal attention and they will matter more than a large organization. 


Herbert: I think that's making more of an impact these days. People don't want to be seen as a number. They want that personalized attention. They want a real teacher so that they can make progress. And also the cultural aspects of learning a language which is very difficult to get from software and technology. 


Alex: Yeah absolutely. So starting with that local and domestic market, but then we were also, we were talking a little bit about, so once you've chosen the niche and like how do you go after that, let's also just give a very practical tip on how somebody could use marketing channels to go after a specific local domestic market. How can they do that Herbert? 


Herbert: Right, I mean, if you're looking at Google or Facebook ads, it's very very simple. You know you can basically plonk a pin in the center of the city and choose plus or minus 10 kilometres or 20 kilometres. I mean it's very easy to do that, and local business advertising is usually quite successful. People would rather buy local than you know some foreign-owned billion-dollar company. 


So, Facebook and Google, that's easy to do. You can also try organic ways -- going to Linkedin and connecting with people in your local area. You can go to Facebook groups and join groups that are in your city or your area as well. I know there are a lot of online communities where people congregate. You don't want to be selling or promoting as soon as you enter those groups. You really want to kind of add value, help people out in that group before promoting any courses you have. But they are a fantastic way of getting kind of free leads. You know, it just takes time. 


Alex: It makes a lot of sense, and actually when you were talking about Facebook and Google, I'm pretty sure you can filter by even demography, right. So you can go after particular age groups as well in those areas. 


I mean one of the reasons I bring that up is, even if you're niche, you can totally out-compete the big box education companies by maybe choosing an age group and really going hard on that. So for example, if it's younger people, can you make it just so desirable for young people to join because they're going to have all of these other things that they might really value you know. The kind of content you're going to be talking about is going to be so hip and up to date with that particular demographic.


And then likewise, you may want to serve older people right now who have time on their hands and want to learn that other language. You can really outcompete big box education companies because it's not in their interest to look after a small niche. Their whole job is to try and get as big as they can, which means they have to go for the biggest market in general, at least with their experience. They can't change their experience. They can change their ads, but they can't change the experience. But, if you're a small organization, that's up to you. You can choose exactly how you deliver that experience. 


Herbert: Yeah. I have a client that markets foreign language courses to 50+ year-olds and they're really popular. 


Alex: It makes total sense. 


Herbert: Super niche. 


Alex: Yeah and maybe you're adding community as part of that and because you're going after a particular demographic, it makes it much easier. All your content can be focused on that demographic. So those are all ways that you can find and carve your niche. And also, if you're starting to think hey I've already got some specialities in my back pocket, why don't I use those? That's definitely the kind of thought process that you should be going through. 


We were actually talking and, just to sort of finish up here Herbert, we were talking about a niche and kind of how to think about one. We had one in mind, didn't we? 


Herbert: Yeah. For example, if you were a one-person language school, a smaller language school, but you have had in the past sales experience, it might make sense to create an offer that would be English for salespeople. I mean that's a great little niche to be in. Sales people around the world need English skills -- especially sales people. And creating specific course content for them, and then promoting to them. I mean, you know what salespeople need, it comes across as authentic because you can speak to them in the language that they use, and that can permeate throughout your website, your advertising and your social media. 


Alex: Yeah, and once you know that that's your niche, you can look at what are some online communities that I can join that these sales people all have. Can I go to LinkedIn? Okay now I know it'll look in LinkedIn, can I look for people with sales profiles that maybe aren't from native English-speaking countries? Can I go to conferences - online or in-person - that will have those people? 


You know, and you might even, just even a simple thing you could do is when you're putting together your LinkedIn profile is talk to that niche. In my case, "I'm Alex and I'm from LearnCube, and we deliver online school software and a virtual classroom software." You can still put in your avatar, but then just talk very authentically about the topic. You can join online forums and Facebook groups in the same way. Like maybe, the thing that you tell everybody when you join is like, "Hey, I'm going to talk about the content you're interested in, but also you should know that I'm part of this organization and we teach these specific people, and we do these specific things." 


So there's a lot that you can do once you know what that niche is. But it's actually really hard to do the opposite - and try to market to everyone. It's really hard to think creatively on marketing to the biggest market possible. 


Herbert: Right. Yeah. You've got to leverage any competitive advantage you have especially in this new kind of online learning marketplace. 


Alex: Yeah. That's it. So just to kind of summarize what we've talked about.


We've really talked about how, first of all how so many people are in the same boat. Probably our number one question is, which niche to go after? So if that's you, you're not alone.


Secondly, we really talked a lot about why it's really hard to compete with the larger language companies, or tutoring companies, because you're dealing with budgets, skills, and potentially technology aspects like trust and reputation and solutions that you may not be able to provide in the immediate term. You are then not leveraging any competitive advantage you actually have. So really brainstorm what uniques you have are and really try and find the ones that are the most unique and most valuable to the target audience that you're going after.


When you're choosing that target audience, think either broad region-narrow offer or narrow regision-broad offer. You probably can't go both. You can't do broad-broad. So either go for a really small niche with a large geographic region, or target a small region but broaden your niche. What you don't see in today's age, are many companies winning on both of those spectrums. The other advice we talked about were the practical ways that you can do this using Facebook, Google, and actually many other tools, and not just tools, forums, communities. All of those things open up and become very apparent as to where to go once you've figured out what that niche is. 


And the one bit of advice I would give before I hand it over to Herbert is don't be afraid to just pick one niche to start with. Just by picking one niche doesn't mean that's it forever, and it seems too small to begin with. The point here is to pick one niche certainly at a time. It's very hard to do multiple niches at a time. Herbert, do you have any other last bits of wisdom? 


Herbert: Now that was a very good tip and that's kind of exactly what I wanted to say is: choose a niche, test it, and you are not bound to that niche forever. You know, you can adjust and you can pivot, but you need to get feedback from the marketplace and to see what is resonating with that target audience. 


Alex: Fantastic. So thank you so much for listening to today's Get More Students podcast. We have a podcast ready for you every single week. We're very excited about doing this for you, and I guess what we want to provide insights, inspiration and that real motivation to really kick start your marketing and find success with online tutoring or teaching whatever that may be for you. So make sure you subscribe to this podcast and we look forward to seeing you next time.


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