Effective, clear communication is a must for all businesses. But it is especially so for anyone who runs courses and classes of any sort.
As the world has hurried to get classes online in 2020, some have done so with great success and others have left plenty of room for improvement.
If you feel like you don’t have enough time and that you’ve got so much admin and organising to do, then it’s quite possible that your clients, students and potential students are feeling equally frustrated about the lack of clear communication and information they are receiving.
In my experience, they are both symptoms of the same problem.
A messy experience with communication creates stress and confusion for students and clients alike, and if it’s confusing enough, they will never come back.
I recently had to divorce myself from a school I respected, for its complete incompetence with handling communication over a period of many months. No matter how good the teaching is, for me personally, it’s not worth having to go through that amount of stress and disappointment to have access to it.
I know how stressful it feels to be running your own small business, as I run two of my own and have been self-employed since 2014. It is easy to feel sorry for yourself because you’re doing it all alone. I still haven’t got it perfect, so this advice is for myself as well as anybody else.
But we have a choice. We can continue to run around like headless chickens, complaining and feeling sorry for ourselves, or we can spend a little time looking at the situation and addressing our issues and sort our priorities out.
The priority is to always ensure your customer service journey is not just smooth and professional, but enjoyable.
People think you need to spend a lot of money on marketing to grow your business, but in my experience, ensuring that your clients/students have an amazing experience will take care of that organically. And all the steps to get there will also automatically improve your task management. So it’s a win win for everyone.
1. Do you have a clear workflow?
This is something that so many people overlook, but sitting down, writing out and re-designing your workflow is one of the most effective things you could do to help ensure that you maximise the use of your time and do your tasks efficiently. It may take a couple of hours, but it will improve your task management and your client experience significantly.
I’m literally talking about writing out your workflow, no matter how obvious it seems to you and creating a process document for yourself. Just do it in bullet points and include timings and how long it takes.
You will be able to identify tasks that you can delegate, outsource, or at the very least automate – using some of the tools we will mention below for example. It will also give you an opportunity to create a really well thought out client journey for your students and to make necessary improvements that will benefit you both.
To give you an idea of what it might look like, you can see an example of my wedding photography workflow that I created for myself back in the day. The workflow for weddings covers a period of about a year and when you are doing 25 weddings a year, that’s a lot of moving parts to juggle at once. I invested in a subscription to a CRM (client relationship management software programme) and I took this workflow and added an automated sequence of reminders so that I knew what had to be done each day and week, in order to stay true to the timings on my workflow. You may not need CRM, but you can at least add things to your diary.
2. Do you have an integrated booking system on your website?
If you offer classes and appointments, then adding an automated booking system will create a smoother workflow, which is a much more professional and pleasant experience for your visitor but will also save you so much time.
I see a lot of people simply have an enquiry form and say “get in touch for more information”. But all they are doing is creating another obstacle for a potential client. A visitor must be REALLY interested for them to do so. You will never know how many people you have potentially lost and who would have booked you on the spot if it had been possible.
Using an online booking system will also ensure that you avoid scheduling errors, it can send automated schedule reminders and handle appointment rescheduling/cancellation. It also handles payments and helps avoid awkward conversations about non-payment.
3. Do you have a class resources page?
Given that your website is your online shop/office, it is where you should share all official information of any sort. If you communicate with your students and clients a lot on social media, that’s fine, but you should be pointing them back to your website to read the official source.
Once your students have enrolled and paid, the easiest way to share information with students or clients is to have a private, possibly password-protected, class resources page where all the information about the class and relevant resources can be accessed.
It is very easy with WordPress to create student logins so that access to these pages is only possible with the right level of access and it helps students feel involved and nurtured.
4 Do you use emails effectively?
When someone signs up to your classes, do you send them a welcoming message and details of how to access to their class resources and information? Do you send them reminders and friendly notes to get them excited about the new class which is about to start? Do you follow up and ask them for feedback or just to thank them for taking part?
If not, why not?
Making each student feel individually welcome and that you are there for them and care, is important to ensuring they feel safe in the learning environment, to help them get the most of out of the experience and to enjoy it. Receiving an email in your inbox is not only personal, but also make it easier to find details when we need to refer back to things.
You can automate these emails very easily using a mailing list provider, which we discuss below. But it makes a huge difference to the whole experience for all involved.
Also, I hear complaints frequently about having to answer the same questions over and over again. Then make sure that information is made clearer on your website and/or emails, and don’t confuse people by using multiple modes of communication.
For example, I only communicate with clients on emails or Zoom calls. Anything important discussed in person or on Zoom, is always then followed up with a proper email to summarise what was discussed and agreed. It means I have an audit trail and everyone can keep up with what we’ve been discussing previously. It helps manage my clients’ expectations to receive important information only on email. I do not carry out work conversations on social media because that simply encourages them to forget things, lose information and get lazy. If that’s happening to you, then you are probably encouraging it. You can simply ask them to send an email, or say that you will send them an email because you don’t use your social media messages for work, and explain it’s to ensure that they always receive the important information and everyone is on the same page.
5 Do you have a newsletter?
In the same way that emails are such valuable way to communicate with clients and potential clients, newsletters are an extension of that.
Your website is always your main, official source for all information about you and your offering, especially for potential clients who haven’t yet made a decision yet. But once someone has committed to becoming your client or student, they will not visit your website as frequently as they did in their research phase unless you give them reason to.
Newsletters are a brilliant way to keep everyone aware of new products, services and classes and to just reach out. Sometimes people are not ready to make a buying/booking decision and might sign up, receiving a monthly update from you keeps them informed about you and a year later the timing might be right for them and that newsletter will connect you together.
I often refer to client relationships as flower gardens. You need to tend to each flower individually when necessary and maintain all of it collectively on a regular basis. Even when you don’t have something to “sell”, you can find meaningful ways to connect via a newsletter which I explain in greater detail in my post about Setting Up Newsletter Mailing Lists.
A final note:
For those of you who use social media to communicate with your clients, please do not ignore any of these points. Small businesses are increasingly over-relying on social media for important client communication. You will hear me speak often about the risks and dangers of doing so. Every business needs to nurture and protect their client database, and to have a direct means of communication. If you rely too heavily on social media, you are putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s absolutely fine to use social media, please do, but it’s just a loud speaker and notice board. It should not be the centre of your communication strategy.