Articles from Margaret Adams

What are you looking for outside FE?

Once you’ve made your decision to leave the FE sector, and you’ve worked out how you’re going to manage your exit, you’ll also need to think about what sort of a job – or career – you’re looking for now.

It was a great meeting but...

Most people in provider organisations who promote programmes to employers have tales to tell about the proposals they've made, that somehow didn't turn into business. "It was a great meeting. The employer really liked the proposal." Yet, three weeks later there's still no agreement to go ahead. Why's this? What went wrong?There could be lots of reasons, but are you sure you're actually giving the employer a good enough reason to take action right now? Ask yourself the following to help you to work out if your offer really is so compelling that employers won't be able to wait to snap it up.Will your offer be there next month?Do the proposals you make to employers include deadlines? Is the offer in your proposal only available this month? Do employers know that you're planning to raise your prices for that programme at the end of term? Is it clear in the proposal that there's only so much time available in which to arrive at a decision before the opportunity will be lost?It's important to stress the limitations to your offer. Employers will often recognise that a proposal is good value and really worth having, but put off deciding to make the purchase until after something else has been bought, or until the next quarter, or until after the reorganisation has been completed. Employers will always be tempted to do this if it appears that your offer will remain on the table for weeks and weeks. It's your job to ensure employers know that time is running out and that a decision is needed now, so set those deadlines.Do you have a limited number of places on offer?Some providers like to boast about how many learners they have the capacity to enrol on their programmes. This approach isn't too helpful, if you're trying to get employers to commit to work with you sooner rather than later. When they believe you have lots of capacity, employers will reason that they will be able to access places whenever they choose.Far better to suggest that resource is scarce and precious. Tell employers this, because it's probably true. Even where you potentially have lots of places on offer, you probably recruit learners in groups and only decide to open a second group when the first has filled up.Let employers know when there are only a few places left in a particular group. Tell them that the group will probably be full by Friday. Ring employers and ask them if they want places reserved before someone else takes them.Is your programme special?If employers believe they can shop around for an NVQ or an apprenticeship programme that is much the same wherever it's offered, they will buy on price. Show employers that your programme is different from those offered by your competitors - in ways that are important to them - and you will become that employer's provider of choice.Once an employer accepts that your programme is different, and that it's what he or she is looking for, ask if there's any reason to delay in agreeing to your proposal. There almost certainly won't be.Promoting your programmes effectivelySales people know that it's important to give buyers a reason for accepting their proposals now rather than putting them aside until next week or next month.You're already spending time promoting your excellent programmes. Spend time, too, reminding employers that they will miss out on something valuable, if they don't take up your offer soon.If you're not doing this at present, maybe it's time to inject some urgency into the buying process.

How to leave FE gracefully and professionally

Quite a few people in FE are reassessing their career options at the moment.  As a result some of them will decide to leave the sector.

Do your systems work?

It's all very well producing a set of procedures and flow charts to show how you manage relationships with employers, but do those systems work?I'm not talking about whether the systems work logically and whether, for example, your process for handling employer enquiries actually results in an employer receiving a response. I'm asking if the systems you operate work at a different level.Does the way in which you manage your relationships with employers deliver satisfied customers who buy from you more than once and who recommend your organisation on to others?Do employers like your account management system?Do employers like the approach you use to managing their relationship with your organisation? Do they believe that your customer relationship management system is set up to work to their benefit? Have good relationships been built up between the account managers and individual employers? Is the frequency of contact that you maintain between your organisation and employers right – in the eyes of your employers?Most importantly, whichever approach you use to manage your employer accounts, does it deliver plenty of repeat business to your organisation? If it does, it's a system that works.Do employers like the events you put on?When you host an employer event you can obtain immediate feedback about the value employers place on your efforts by simply doing a headcount of people in the room.If you want additional feedback, work out how many of the people present are employers and how many are others – your staff and invited non-employer guests. If you have at least four employers attending for every staff member or invited non-employer guest in the room, you're heading in the right direction.Take things a little further. What specifically do the employers who attend like about your event? What would they like more of? What would encourage them to attend your next event and bring another employer with them?Find out, and you'll soon have a list of topics for employer events that will last you for months. Ask the employers who recommend a particular topic to commit to inviting their contacts to attend the event, and you'll also get feedback on the value they place on your work.Do employers like visiting your premises?Do you make visiting your premises an enjoyable, stress-free and rewarding experience for employers? Whether your premises are the sites on which you teach, or the places where you host events for employers, do you ensure that the experience of visiting your chosen location is one that employers will actually enjoy?Do you send out accurate and helpful information in advance of an event? Do you help employers to reach your premises easily? What about the parking and the public transport access? Is there clear signage that helps adult visitors to find you and the employer-related event that they are attending easily? Can employers get refreshments in an adult environment? Is there somewhere for them to leave their coats?All in all, does your experience of working with employers suggest that employers arrive at events without anything you have done – or not done – raising their blood pressure or creating anxiety for them? If they do, you know your system for managing face-to-face relationships with employers is working.Great systems?It's easy to look at your employer engagement processes principally from your own perspective, but that's not enough. If you check that your systems also work well for employers, you'll be demonstrating that you really are customer-focused. You'll also almost certainly be bringing in more employer business.

I didn’t come into FE to...

FE has changed a lot over recent years, and it’s likely to continue to change.  Many people working in FE recognise that the sector is different now from what it was even a few years ago.  If you’re happy with the changes, fine.  If you’re not, what should you do?Work out what has changed

It's holiday offer time – or is it?

There's been a lot of news coverage about Mega Monday, Manic Monday or Cyber Monday this week. In case you missed it, the Monday in question was the last Monday in November and it was a big shopping day. It was forecast that £537 million would be spent on-line in the UK on that date with £22.7 million being spent by the hour.Were any of these shoppers spending any money with you whether on line or off line?Were you ready and waiting for the shoppers who were committed to spending on Mega Monday and who were looking for something to spend their money on?It's time to spendIn the old days, when most organisations had training budgets, providers simply tried to get managers to spend their funds with them. Today, lots of organisations don't have training budgets, but they do have funds that they can choose to spend on products and services during the year.The fact that there isn't a training budget doesn't mean that employers won't buy training. If something that you are selling takes their fancy, or if they notice your offer at a time when they're thinking of spending, then you're more likely to make a sale.That's why Mega Monday and similar occasions matter to you. That's why you need to be aware of the events during the course of the year that encourage people to buy.Did you seize the opportunity?Did you prepare well for the pre-Christmas buying period? Did you get in touch with employers with new offers during November? Have you repackaged what you do to fit the time of year?For example, if your programmes attract VAT, have you encouraged employers to buy before the VAT rise that comes into force in January 2011? If you're starting a new programme in the Spring Term, have you given employers a chance to make their bookings early to receive a bonus, or a special thank you of some sort, for making their purchase sooner rather than later? Did you do any bundling of popular and less popular programmes to help make more sales? Did you offer Christmas taster sessions?If you haven't been in touch with your employers, and if you don't have a seasonal offer, then the chances are that they won't be thinking about you and what you could sell them when they make those pre-Christmas purchases.What's more, if you haven't been in touch, someone else could have your employers' attention right now. Someone else could be making sales and building a relationship with your employer customers, especially at this time of the year.Be there when employers are buyingThe best time to be trying to sell something is when people – including employers – are expecting to buy. That's why the period leading up to Christmas is a time when lots of organisations promote special offers.Even if you've missed the opportunities at the end of November, there are plenty of chances during the year to make a time-limited offer around an event in the calendar or to fit in with a special occasion. Create offers linked to these events and you are more likely to get the attention of your employer customers.Getting employers' attention is what this is all about. Once you have people's attention you can engage directly with them and then make them an offer.Therefore, start to think about the right times to get in touch, the right offers to make and the type of response you hope to generate. You might find you'll have your own Mega Monday sometime next year, if you do.

Are you assessing the value of your e-newsletter for employers?

Many providers produce e-newsletters for employers. Some providers produce them monthly, some quarterly. One or two providers produce weekly or fortnightly updates. However, few providers work out how that e-newsletter is supporting their business, and if it is helping to build strong working relationships with employers. This is a shame, because a well-targeted and relevant e-newsletter is an asset to almost every business.It's a good idea, therefore, to check if your e-newsletter is adding value to your employer engagement activities. Here are three questions to help you to work out the answer.Are you sure employers want to receive your e-newsletter?There's only one way to be sure that employers want to receive your e-newsletter and that's to require them actually to sign up to receive it in the first place. Lots of businesses – including quite a few providers – work on the basis that people who have given them a business card have also given their permission to be contacted on a regular basis. In most cases this isn't so, and it's a big mistake to make such an assumption.Your list may be a long and growing list, but if it's filled with people who haven't asked to hear from you, then it's probably not going to bring you much business.The best way forward is to put a sign-up form on your website and ask employers to opt in to receive updates from you. If they don't join your list, then you know that they aren't interested in what you want to say to them.Do you know if employers read your e-newsletter?One of the main advantages of having an e-newsletter rather than a print newsletter is that you can use your web-based analytics package to check what happens to your communications once you have sent them out. For example, you can find out if employers open your e-newsletter or if they delete them unread. You can find out if your e-newsletters "bounce", that is if, for some reason, they fail to arrive at their destination. You can find out if employers forward your newsletter to other people.This is information you need to collect. It's important feedback on the state of employer engagement in your organisation and of the value employers place on the communications they receive from you.Do employers take action as a result of reading your e-newsletter?You are sending your e-newsletter for a purpose. Your e-newsletter is one of the channels through which you promote your organisation, maintain contact with employers and build your business. Of course, you want employers to do something as a result of reading your communications.You might want them to click on a link in the e-newsletter to learn more about your programmes. You might want them to contact you in order to take advantage of a special offer. You might simply be asking them to get in touch with you.Whatever the outcome you're looking for, both on-line and off-line, you need to track actions employers take as a result of invitations sent via your e-newsletter. This will help you to work out if your newsletter is helping you to build your employer-related business.Using the feedbackThe answers to these questions will help you to decide if your e-newsletter is earning its keep and achieving the objectives you have set for it. If employers value your current e-newsletter, you'll know that you're supplying information they want to read. If you find your newsletter isn't working, you'll now know there's something about it you haven't got quite right – yet.Either way, by asking these questions you'll be helping to improve employer engagement in your organisation.

Are you using these killer metrics to measure your success?

Anyone who has worked in the FE sector for any length of time knows a great deal about metrics. It sometimes seems that someone is measuring just about everything the sector does.Some measurements are important because they shed light on your progress and success. Some measures help you to work out if you are achieving your goals.In the field of employer engagement there are two metrics that really do illuminate success and draw attention to where more needs to be done. They are so valuable that they can be called "killer metrics".Are you using these metrics?If you are, what do they tell you about your success with employers?Killer Metric One: The ratio of new business to repeat businessThis metric is all about the volume of new employer business you gain set alongside the amount of repeat business you do with employers. In other words what proportion of those employers who do business with you once go on to give you a second piece of business?This is a useful metric. It offers you an approach to finding out, in broad terms, how highly your offer is valued by employers and how satisfied your employer customers are with what you do.If you find a significant proportion of employers you engage with do business with you once, and don't come back, then you have an issue to investigate and a ready-made group of customers with whom to investigate that issue.If lots of new employers come back to you for further support, congratulate yourself in the short term. Then use the current new business to repeat business ratio to set a benchmark for your future performance. Monitor the trends over time to see how well you're doing.Killer Metric Two: Measuring the cost of acquiring new businessHow much does it cost you to get your first piece of business with a new employer? Will you be spending more this year on the task of getting new employer business than you did last year?There's a strong case to be made that year-on-year your cost of acquisition of each new employer customer should go down.After all, if you're good at what you do, the longer you are in business, the more repeat business you'll get from satisfied customers. You'll also get lots of referrals, because employers who have experienced your provision will tell other employers about your service and recommend you.Follow the logic of this and as time goes by the cost of getting each new customer will go down. That's because you will have an unpaid sales force out in your marketplace promoting you and acquiring new business for you. Thus, you will need to spend less on prospecting, that is, looking for new business.If you accept this argument then spending the same or more each year on getting each new customer is a bad sign. It suggests that you're not building up enough goodwill and support for your work in your marketplace. It also suggests that you may have issues about the perceived value of what you do to resolve.Either way this metric provides you with useful information.Measuring the right thingsThese two metrics are valuable in helping you to judge the quality of your organisation's relationship with employers.Use them to help you to set your year-on-year success targets for your work with employers and as a means of measuring if employers value your service. Both metrics will help you to build your success with employers, so if you're not using them now, you might consider using these metrics for the future.

The most important question to ask employers...

As you begin to gear up for the new academic year you'll no doubt be reviewing the information you hold about employers. You'll probably also be thinking about the sort of information you need to gather to enable you to match what you do to employers' interests, needs and wants.The chances are you currently input lots of information about employers into your customer relationship management system (CRM). You probably make sure you record the size of the employer organisation, whether the organisation exports or not, if it's got a high staff turnover and so on. Yet, very few providers log answers to a question that is guaranteed to help them to build strong business relationships, engender trust and encourage collaborative working with employers. They don't record the answers, because they don't ask the question. Is this a question that you ask your employers?The most important questionThe most important question you can ask of a business, and one that will help to differentiate you from your competitors, is a very simple question. It is: "What sort of business are you looking for?"This question is so rarely asked that you might find employers truly surprised when you ask it. This question is a valuable one, because the answer will help you to understand an employer's business aspirations and key objectives. The answer will also be a lot more helpful to you than information about the employer's business plan or marketing strategy. That's because the answer is a succinct and clear indication of where an employer is taking his or her business. That's just the sort of information you need to know in order to target your marketing accurately.Helping employersThere is, of course, a question hidden within this question that both parties understand. It's a question that focuses on helping the employer to succeed. If you seek out information about the sort of business employers are looking for, you'll be starting to position yourself and your organisation as advisers to the employer organisations you are hoping to sell to. You'll be taking on a new role, when you ask this question. Implicitly, you'll be offering to help to build the employer's business. Employers will appreciate your action because business success is what matters to them.Of course, you'll need to record carefully the information you receive, and then act on it. You'll need to think about how you can match employers to business opportunities you hear about, and when - and how - you can make introductions to help your employer customers achieve greater success.What's interesting is that if you do start to ask this question, and ask it regularly, you'll find that employers are more ready to speak to you, more ready to listen to you and more likely to do business with you.It's no accident that expert business networkers, along with people with huge followings on Twitter and Facebook, position themselves as people who help others first and seek business for themselves second. In practice, of course, these successful business people understand that the two actually go hand in hand.Add more value to employersThis September then, you can enhance your business prospects with employers without brochures, offers, prospectuses or any of the tactics you normally use to drive sales. You can ask this most important question often and make sure you use the answers to add value to employers by actively helping them to achieve their goals.You'll find that their success leads to your success and that looking after your employer customers' interests is good for your business, too. That's really what makes this the most important question of all.

Are you making the most of Twitter?

A year ago many providers were still hesitant about getting involved with social media sites such as Twitter. However, over the last year, quite a few have taken the plunge, joined Twitter and started tweeting. Now the questions being asked are about how to use Twitter to help to build relationships with employers and to bring in more employer business.What is Twitter?Twitter is a micro-blogging platform which allows you to post - that is make public - short messages of up to one hundred and forty characters. You can converse, in the public arena, with those who are following your messages or tweets. You can follow people on Twitter yourself and thus receive their tweets, too.Twitter is big business, but working out how to use this medium effectively takes some thought. When you come to think about your approach to using Twitter, what should your guiding principles be? If you can answer the following questions, you'll be well on the way to effective tweeting.Why are you involved with Twitter?There are more than seventy-five million Twitter accounts, but why did you sign up? Why are you tweeting? The Twitter guidelines for government departments include such objectives as: expanding the reach of departmental or corporate messages, communicating with the public in a human and less formal voice, providing thought leadership and credibility and providing an easy way for the public to interact with government.You've probably got involved with Twitter because you want to achieve some of these objectives in the context of your work with employers, but which objectives are the most important? What exactly do you want to achieve as a result of engaging with Twitter?If you produce guidelines explaining your aims, you'll help those managing your Twitter presence to create the right messages and to cover the right subjects via your organisation's tweets.Who do you want to meet?When you tweet it's a good idea if you are clear about who you want to converse with. Are you interested in creating a Twitter community within a geographic region? Are you looking for all employers in your area to follow you or just certain types of employer? Are you looking to create links with important stakeholders in specific industries?These are important questions, because your answers will shape the content of your tweets, how you choose to position your Twitter presence and who you decide to follow.What do you want to say?If you know why you're on Twitter and who you want to meet, you'll have a good idea of what you want to say.If you're looking to use Twitter to start a conversation with a new audience, then think about what will interest them. What will make them want to read your tweets? Most employers, for example, want information. They also want signposting to updates on subjects that affect their business, such as changes to taxation, new developments in their industry, new legislation and so on. Make sure you offer them these types of tweets.Remember, too, that Twitter is social. It's about dialogue and conversations. If you only tweet about your courses and your events, you won't generate much interest or many followers. If you want people to be interested in your messages, it's a good idea to offer that valuable information and guidance people are seeking more often than your promote your courses and events.


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