The times are interesting as well as uncertain. Money is tight and likely to get tighter which means that departmental belt-tightening and staffing cuts could take place in many provider organisations over the coming months. This means that business development units, along with other departments, will be thinking about how to achieve the same, or better, results with less resource.
Perhaps the best solution to the current problem is to consider doubling your employer engagement targets and aiming to bring in a lot more money from employers, despite all the proposed cutbacks in resources. This is, after all, an area where there is plenty of scope for FE to increase its market share and market penetration, so there is some justification for adopting this strategy.
Here are three reasons why it makes sense to seize the opportunities for growth that cutbacks in funding present to those in FE working with employers.
Higher targets will give you a chance to develop new products and services
Many providers have been trying for some time to persuade employers to pay for programmes they have, in the past, received for free.
This is proving to be a challenge. For many employers, further education has always meant free education, and the prospect of having to pay for what used to be there for the taking doesn’t sit well with them.
In such a situation sustaining your current levels of engagement along with income from employers is going to be an uphill battle, especially if you’re also trying to meet your targets with fewer people and a reduced budget.
However, aiming to increase income from employers by significant amounts, will give you the opportunity to make a strong business case for allocating resource to new product development. You can justify the cost of revamping existing programmes in line with employer expectations, adding in extra elements, reshaping provision and presenting a more relevant and new offer to employers, by arguing that what you’re trying to sell at present is not what employers are prepared to buy.
You can also make sure that you know which programmes will be attractive to employers by working closely with them at the product design stage and by deciding only to develop programmes for which you know there is a demand. As a result you’ll have a fighting chance of meeting targets linked to new products that you know employers actually want.
On the other hand working as you have done in the past will mean you’ll be expected to carry on more or less as before whilst squeezing a little more out of what has been allocated to you. That will be hard work for what could be limited gains.
You’ll have the opportunity to build your brand
When you’re working in a small and relatively insignificant – but hardworking – area of your organisation, most people will overlook you. That includes employers.
The fact that you’re in a small unit doing something a bit different from what the main organisation does will mean that you won’t be seen by employers as central to your organisation’s work. In fact, many employers may find it difficult to work out exactly where you fit in and how your work is relevant to their situation.
From that position, you’ll struggle to build awareness of what you do. You’ll also struggle to gain a large enough share of the marketing budget to enable you to make a strong and lasting impression on employers.
If you’re going to meet significantly increased income targets it won’t be enough to keep in contact with employers you’ve already done business with, and aim for a few referrals, or a few extra pieces of work following a one-off advertising campaign. You won’t be able to bring in lots more work, unless you take steps to build your market share and to promote your brand.
With larger income targets to meet you’ll need make sure you get your messages out to more employers. You’ll need to market in different ways and get your name, and the benefits you deliver to employers, in front of a lot more people.
To achieve this you’ll need to use a wider range of both off line and on line marketing and promotional activities. You’ll need to promote strong, clear messages that will be understood and valued by employers who don’t already have direct contact with you. You’ll also have to take steps to reinforce your messages regularly so employers don’t have the chance to forget about you.
Doing all of this will take more resource than you have at present, but you’re also committing to bring in more income as a result of your efforts. That makes your new promotional strategy worth implementing.
You’ll have the opportunity to be taken more seriously
Once you’re tasked to bring in a larger share of your organisation’s income, your influence within your organisation is likely to grow, too.
Sitting at the edge of a large organisation is not a good place to be, especially when you’re competing with big departments for money, people, accommodation and other resources. Move away from the creeping death of incremental increases to your income targets and you can start to plan differently about how you will address opportunities in order to deliver enhanced benefits to your organisation.
Bring in several more percentage points of your organisation’s overall income and you’ll be able to ask for a bigger say in organisational development matters. You’ll be able to justify your proposals because your contribution will become more important as the amount of money you bring in grows. Moreover, the more you contribute, the more seriously you will be taken by senior people and the closer to the decision-making centre of your organisation you will travel.
Overall it’s good business to be ambitious and to seek out business opportunities in changing market conditions. The good news is that aiming to achieve higher income targets also means you should have more, not less, chance of meeting them.
Margaret Adams is a consultant who helps provider organisations work more closely with employers.