This post describes 7 reasons why your flight school marketing strategy is failing and what you can do about it to turn things around.
Some time ago I contacted hundreds of flying schools, clubs, and commercial flight training companies in the UK, Europe, and North America.
Far too many that were in business a few years ago have since ceased trading. If you run an aviation directory you’ll know it needs frequent updates!
I visited their websites, gave them a call, and sent follow-up emails. I was left with the impression that many of those that remain were hanging on by a thread. They operate on narrow margins at the mercy of the weather and the economic climate.
What are the risks to flight schools?
Flying is regarded as a recreational activity and as such it is seen as non-essential, but an aviation academy is also the training ground for all kinds of jobs in aviation; ariline pilot, flight instructor, or aircraft mechanic.
Flight schools are vulnerable to all kinds of changes in the prices of fuel, energy, rent, and increases in taxes. As well as the variables that affect many other types of business that is at the mercy of changes in the economy and spending habits, they also have to contend with threats of airfield closures.
The insatiable demand for housing and the fact that airfields (in the UK) have been wrongly categorised as brownfield sites means they are beset from all sides.
However, for career oriented students, there may be reasons why they will continue with the training regardless of peaks and troughs in the economy, so while recreational students may take a break the potential pilots for the airlines will continue training.
Flight schools fail to help themselves
In far too many cases there is evidence that flying schools undermine themselves by neglecting areas over which they have complete control.
In the following seven sections I make no apologies for stating the obvious. If you think none of these apply and you don’t need any more students then congratulations, your establishment is probably be a well known name in aviation with a first class reputation. On the other hand, others seem to be winging it, if you’ll excuse the pun.
I present these points in the form of constructive criticism and hope that they will inspire change, development, and progress in the quest to attract potential customers.
7 Reasons why flight school marketing fails
1. Bad, broken, and boring websites
Some have modern, responsive websites that look appealing and information on mobile, tablet, and desktop. They draw in potential student pilots with imaginative use of images, slideshows, and video. The information about introductory flights and gift vouchers is easily found and the contact details is within easy reach.
Others on the other hand have no website at all, or a single outdated page, or something that was thrown online in a hurry. Even if there is a complete website it is often outdated and sometimes showing code errors or worse, evidence of malware.
There’s been no effort to improve the basic site and it looks poor on a smartphone, the very device that your potential student is using to visit your site.
There’s really no excuse for this. It’s so easy to put up a professional looking website. I can only guess that the reason a flight school doesn’t get around to improving their own site is down to mistaken priorities or they just don’t know how to do it.
Solution: Set aside time and resources to review and update your flight school site. It’s your online brochure. It’s a source of information for potential customers. It’s a showcase for satisfied clients and their testimonials. Audit the website for data integrity, accuracy, and search engine optimisation.
2. Dormant, wasted social media accounts
Some aviation companies make good use of social media (SM). They’ve learnt how to use this tool to great effect, but sadly these are the minority. Then there are companies with good websites but who don’t use SM well, and vice versa.
A good website is promising but sometimes the SM links on the site lead to dormant accounts. One I visited was still linking to the website creator’s social media accounts.
Most SM is free but you do have to put the effort in to use it well in order to generate more leads. If you’re not prepared to put in the effort then don’t open the accounts. Close those you’re not using and remove the links.
On the other hand, use social media consistently and build relationships with potential student pilots and career oriented students. Eventually your efforts will be rewarded.
Solution: Choose one or two social media types and get busy becoming an expert in that method. Think about your target market when deciding what types to use. Delegate this task to someone in your team who will become your nominated social media specialist, posting and responding in good time and at optimal times.
3. “There’s no one here to take your call”
Someone has picked up the phone to enquire about flight academy or gift vouchers. What impression will your staff or answering service provide to potential pilots?
Some business I’ve called have a professional telephone manner. The immediate impression is that you’re talking to someone who is alert, keen, and ready to help. Others sound as if they’ve been interrupted while doing something more interesting than answering calls.
Of course, there may be busy times when flying and operational activity take up all available hands. In which case there should be some sort of answering machine is easy to follow and doesn’t deter potential students from leaving a message.
I’ve called some during business hours only to hear a crackling answer machine with a barely audible message. Are they stuck in the 1980s?
Solution: Remind everyone answering the phones of the importance of first impressions. Smile when you speak (it really does make a difference). Invest in a new answering machine with a pleasant recorded greeting that mentions opening hours and alternative methods of contact.
4. Your staff don’t know how to sell
When potential pilots enquire about trial flights, are you confident the person answering the phone stands a good chance of closing a sale?
Someone books the flight and all goes well. Are you confident the Instructor has the skills to convince the trainee to sign up for a PPL course?
Your student completes the PPL course. Regardless of flying skills of the FI and CFI how good are they at selling additional ratings, self-fly hire, aircraft sales, maintenance and storage?
Customers are the lifeblood of any business. New customers and retention of existing customers are essential. Unfortunately, sales and selling still seem a bit of a tacky subject to some. It’s as if they can’t shake off impression that being a salesman or woman is a bit unethical.
Well, you’re not running a corner shop or a supermarket. Your staff are not there to sit at the check-out waiting for people to decide on what to buy. You’re all going to have to develop your powers of persuasion and learn to sell.
Solution: Put some time aside for team meetings and basic training in sales. All members of staff can participate in this exercise. Presumably you love flying so you’re already half way there. All you have to do is learn how to convey that enthusiasm to your prospective clients and convince them that now is the time for that next lesson.
5. You don’t diversify so there are unexploited assets
We all know what a detrimental effect the weather can have on takings, but if the aircraft are stuck on the ground is there some other way to generate income? If it’s not something you can charge for could it generate leads that turn into sales?
An untidy and unkempt premises not only makes a poor impression on your visitors but becomes a depressing place to work.
Solution: You don’t have to call in a feng-shui expert or an interior designer (although both can help if you can afford them) but you can tidy up and give the place a lick of paint once in a while. Upgrade the snack bar or cafe and draw in passing trade. Everyone has to eat and drink.
- Put on talks, film or quiz nights open all and advertise locally.
- Turn spare space into a flight sim area.
- Clear the clutter and free up storage space to create new work areas.
- Sub-let unused space to local small businesses.
6. You have no long term plan for growth
Are you so busy with the day to day tasks that it’s been months since you gave any thought to medium and long term planning? Where do you want your business to be in one, three, or five years time?
If you’re run ragged doing everything yourself isn’t time you planned for some advertising for new admission staff, initiated the recruitment process, and a business training program?
Have you updated your business plan to account for rising prices, interest rates, and sales figures over the coming 12-24 months?
Solution: Set aside time to collate the information and work on your plan. There are plenty of free resources online so just google for them. Set your goals and remind your staff about them repeatedly. Start thinking and acting like a bigger organisation and you’ll grow into the vision.
7. You have no flight school marketing strategy
There are several reasons why people don’t think about their marketing strategy:
- They don’t need to. Congratulations, you’ve got a full order book, but have you got a back-up plan if your steady stream of customers dries up?
- They do what they’ve always done out of habit. Those adverts seem to bring in enough, for now. But do they work? Could you use more business?
- They don’t know what’s available. Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, YouTube etc – not much good if you don’t know how to to use them.
- They don’t like taking risks with new methods. They have tried and failed or heard of others who have been burned with new techniques.
Solution: Your business should have a marketing strategy that takes account of the variations of light and season throughout the entire year. You should plan well ahead to take advantage of seasonal holidays.
How I Can Help
I can help you with your flight school marketing campaigns in several ways.
- An SEO audit of your website that will reveal weak areas and neglected opportunities.
- Content creation in the form of blog posts, articles, and videos.
- Coaching and advice about how to set in place flight school marketing plan that you can run indefinitely.
Contact me now and let’s talk about how we can attract potential student pilots toward the flight training that you have to offer.