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Your competitors aren’t other ESFA funded providers

Photo credit Stefan Drew

Your competitors aren’t other ESFA funded providers

Your competitors are commercial education and information sites including YouTube, commercial/non-funded providers and international organisations. (Click here to read part 1 “The Reality of FE Becoming More Commercial … for £2.88“)

For example, I walked past a sign for the Torbay Sea School last week. They run all the sailing and boating courses you’d expect plus a number of shore based courses that any FE provider could run. All courses are full cost, without the ESFA and Ofsted getting involved!

Before you say these are leisure courses that’s not totally true. Some of their courses are vocational and essential to the career paths of those taking them. In this sense they are similar to some of the cookery schools I’ve mentioned in previous articles. Hairdressing is in this category as well, as is engineering.

They all run non funded accredited courses. They compete with funded providers but go largely unnoticed.

The thing is you don’t need to be based on the coast to run course like Marine Diesel Maintenance. Things we often think need to be based in particular places are a smokescreen. You can teach Marine Diesel anywhere.

Most weekend sailors don’t live at the coast, so why assume that you need to be there. You just need a viable number of people that want the course in your city. Let me give you another example. Say you want to learn Scuba Diving. Do you need to go to the coast for a course? No.

There a new scuba company opened near me. It’s based 850 foot above sea level on an airfield. There’s no open water nearby but it thrives by manufacturing and selling scuba gear and running training courses to people that have to travel to it or buy online.

Let’s review what we know. We know courses can be bought online. Courses that tap into a need like iPhone or DLSR photography are always in demand. And if you can get a celebrity like Annie Leibovitz to teach them they will sail off the shelves.

That actually makes it easy for FE. When I think back to the people I’ve worked with in FE they have included admin staff that, in their spare time, were national equine champions. In the audience when I ran a staff training day in Glasgow a few years ago was the next winner of Masterchef the Professionals.

FE abounds with expertise. But it fails to see the commercial opportunities that surround it like the foxes and deer in the UK countryside.

Cookery is very popular. How about an online course taught by a Masterchef winner? Equine is highly popular. How about an online course taught by a national champion?

And if you really want to make a profit, how about a practical session that builds on the above. Some private provider friends of mine do this and charge astronomical prices. In the commercial world scarcity means that there are people that will pay a fortune to have private tuition from a big name. I know people that charge six figures per person for a few days dedicated training. That’s commercial reality. For example, a recent three-day masterclass run in Europe, by one of my colleagues, was $27,000 per person.

And please don’t think I’m suggesting that all FE providers should stop their funded courses and tell Ofsted to take a run. Nothing could be further from the truth. They have a place in the mix. But you need to understand something about commercial businesses.

Commercial businesses ensure that they are not tied or restricted to an income stream they cannot control. One that can insist they change direction, or merge, at short notice.


If you can’t live with that, then maybe being commercial isn’t for you. 


Surely it takes more than clarity of purpose and implementation?

Absolutely. If it were that easy everyone would have done it by now.

And of course this isn’t just about changing your curriculum. This concept applies to every department.

In my strategy work I deal with all the departments that contribute to providers becoming more commercial.

Surround Yourself With Difference

It was Jim Rohn that first said we are the average of the five people that surround us.

That’s the problem with FE. That’s the problem with becoming commercial.

What Jim Rohn meant was that we should seek out people that will inspire us to greater things and show us the way.

FE doesn’t work like that. We tend to surround ourselves with FE clones. So the typical new hire in FE will come from FE and bring FE ideas with them. Its’s understandable .. but it’s also undesirable.

What FE really needs is to employ more outsiders. People that will challenge them and make them justify all that they do. When FE does pull in outsiders it then makes an error. It frequently works really hard to mould them into FE clones that think and act like our existing staff.

The argument I’m always given to this, and so many other things, is that we’ve always done it that way.

True. And it worked for years. Bu the world is changing and the old ways are no longer fit for purpose.

If the old ways still worked we wouldn’t see so many Notices of Financial Concern, so many grade three and four providers and a plethora of mergers.

What Differences Does FE Need To Embrace?

The list is huge and covers every single department in FE. From finance and teaching to estates and marketing.

So, as most of you know me as a marketer, let me give some marketing examples, with a few finance ideas thrown in for good measure.

FDs still provide marketing with huge budgets. Are they necessary? NO.

An SME near me has never advertised, doesn’t have a website and never sends out emails or sales letters. They grow and sell fruit and veg and thrive by putting their product on view at the side of the road. They have no shop. They have a barrow.

I’m not suggesting FE does away with websites and ads. But they could learn from business like this. I understand the size and product differences here. But the same marketing principles apply to both.

For example, every FE website I visit has problems of various sorts. The provider spends huge sums getting people to visit their website to discover course details. It then puts up barriers to prevent them engaging with the college.

I’ve just carried out an extended research project on FE college websites. 21% of them have had server downtime in the previous week. That means that 21% of the sites were offline when someone tried to visit them! I’ve sent the server logs to each of these colleges and each one that has come back to me has been surprised.

Unsurprisingly none of them regularly check the website was working. And website users don’t report these issues. They just visit your competitors.

I can demonstrate two things to these providers. Firstly how to automatically check their site every five minutes of every day at no cost. And secondly how to ensure their website never goes offline. It isn’t difficult if you follow my instructions. Providers that have aren’t having these problems.

If you want to know how to overcome the five main problems or barriers that plague your website I’ll happily examine it personally and send you a short report. It will cost you £2.88.

Why do I charge about the same price as a cup of coffee? Surely that isn’t a commercial rate? And why is it not a penny more or a penny less?

Click this link to discover how to get the answers to this and how to overcome the five web friction barriers affecting your website. But do it now as the offer is only open for a limited time and I’ll probably not repeat it at that price.

Take Action Now

So what action do you need to take?

The easiest thing to do is to discover how to overcome the five website barriers you currently experience.

Simply visit Five Ways to Reduce Web Friction and Increase Recruitment

Alternatively, contact me to discuss how to become more commercial. 

Stefan Drew, FHE Marketing Consultant

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for over a decade has consulted with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and the US. Connect with Stefan on LinkedIn  

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