42. How Surveys Help Your Small Independent School with Aubrey Bursch and Tara Claeys
In this episode, Aubrey and Tara chat about surveys and how they can be a great asset to your school when used correctly. Together they tackle this daunting task, deconstructing when to send surveys, how to build them, and how to utilize the resulting data to your best advantage.
About Aubrey Bursch & Tara Claeys:
Aubrey Bursch is founder + CEO of Easy School Marketing. She’s also a mom, lover of green smoothies and Peloton and podcast host. She is passionate about supporting small + independent schools to increase enrollment, retention and revenue.
Tara Claeys is the founder of Design TLC – a professional website agency for small schools. She’s passionate about helping organizations provide enriching experiences for children by creating a great first impression online.
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Aubrey: Welcome to Mindful School Marketing, your go-to podcast for personal and professional growth. Tara: We’re school marketers, business owners, and moms passionate about connecting other school professionals with tools and strategies for success. Aubrey: We love solving problems, exploring new ideas, and thinking outside the box. Let’s transform your school and life starting right now. Tara: This episode is brought to you by Enquiry Tracker. Easily manage all of your inquiries, tours, open houses, and applications with a system designed by K12 education, marketing, and admissions professionals. Aubrey: Welcome to Mindful School Marketing. I’m Aubrey Bursch. Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today instead of a guest, we’re going to talk about surveys. Aubrey and I are really excited to talk to you about this. We’ve talked about it amongst ourselves. It’s something that we both touch upon in the work that we do with schools and in conversation with school leaders, the topic comes up all the time. [00:01:00] So why and when do you do surveys? How do you do them? And what do you do with the information that you get after you do a survey? So we’re gonna dive into this right now and give you some tips and you’ll just eavesdrop on our conversation as we talk about surveys. Aubrey, why don’t you kick it off and talk about why you do surveys for schools or why schools – how you’ve helped them with surveys? Aubrey: Absolutely. And Tara, I love that we both love this topic, because it is an important one for schools. And I feel like a lot of schools are always asking, what do we do with surveys? When should we do them? When should we, what should we include in them and how do we use that data? So I’m really glad we’re having this conversation today. I think. It’s really good to note that, surveys are important and they really allow you to understand as a school the experience of your parents in all constituents that you’re giving this survey to. And it also allows you to track data, like benchmark data and from year to see trends, identify challenges and really like it helped use that data to inform, the decisions you’remaking for the next school year and maybe even further out. So it is really important because a lot of times, we sit there in our administrative meetings and we guess things like, I think this is what the parents are feeling. I think this is what the students want. But it’s so much better to have data. So you’re not guessing. And I know Tara, you use surveys a lot in your work. What do you see as a why behind doing surveys? Tara: Yeah, so I think we, because we work with schools in different ways we have different surveys that we use, right? You use surveys that are more geared towards target audience, towards existing current enrolled families, prospective families, helping schools figure out how they’re positioned and what people think about their school from the outside or external from staff, as well as doing internal surveys as well. When we do surveys we survey before we start a website project to get a better understanding ourselves of how a school perceives. So we are not usually taking in that data that you’re collecting, which is super valuable. And when we have the opportunity to see that kind of survey data, it really helps us with messaging and with an overall website project. We also recommend a survey internally among stakeholders, whether that’s your board, your staff, your administration and that everyone participate in this survey and then you we collect all of this data so that they can have a conversation among themselves. Oftentimes with a website, when a school is undertaking a new website, they think there are other website that they have maybe is too out of date or it’s hard to use or the information isn’t current but they’re coming in it from this just themselves as the main marcom team, for example, and what they’re thinking. So to have that conversation with the rest of the stakeholders at the school is really important because they may think that the website should be doing A, and the head of school might see the purpose of the website as something else, or the main focus as something else. And the board members may have a very different impression as well. So having that conversation internally before you start a project, whether it’s a website or a collateral piece or an advertising campaign, it’s really important to have the conversation internally. But if there’s an opportunity, I think what you do in terms of broadening that beyond the internal, beyond the internal group, is super important and not often done. When it comes to planning out a marketing strategy. So I’d love to hear more about how you go about these more extensive surveys that go out beyond the, the nuclear part of the school. Aubrey: Absolutely. And I think there, there’s, two ways of looking at this. There’s surveys that I recommend schools do annually, like every year and that they shouldn’t change that much. And then there’s, so that you can benchmark data and everything like that. And then there’s the one off surveys, if you’re starting a specific project or you’re trying to find out specific marketing information or something like that, or you’re looking to expand your school and you need to dive deeper into what does everyone think about this? So there are many different uses of surveys, so I’m gonna dive into a little bit the surveys that I recommend schools, do every year. So I, if I’m going with timing, I’m gonna go through the school year cuz this is what, people are always asking. Really we really want to have a new family survey hitting parents about a month or six weeks after school starts. And the reason we wanna do that is because we wanna find out their experience. What are they up to? Like, how is the transition gone? Do they feel informed? Do they feel welcomed? Do they know where everything is? That’s really important. And making the, all these surveys, I will say anonymous is incredibly helpful. Following that new family survey, you might do a January check-in survey to new families and depending on, what’s going on in your school. And I always say it’s, it really does depend on the school because if you have, maybe a leadership change year and you’re trying to feel out the climate, like what’s everyone thinking? How are they, what are their perceptions of like how the school is handling certain situations or something you might add in a survey here and there, like a January check-in survey to either the new parents or maybe the whole parent body or students. There’s a lot of different, like things you can do mid-year to get your pulse on things. And then everyone’s usually familiar with the kind of the survey that goes out in April, May, which is the end of year survey to all families and just getting their input and what went well, what would they improve, everything like that. And that really sets you up for summer planning and strategizing for the next school year. Then you might want to add after tour surveys, so when you’re in the admissions process, getting feedback on how tours went People who are touring. Also the exit surveys that happen around June or July. So you have your non returning families, the families that left before your graduating year, and then you have your graduating families and students. So those are always great people to survey so you can find out like what were the- what were the skill sets that those graduates really valued, or the programs they valued and why, and you know that’s your end product. So getting that information is really helpful. And I will also say that there are surveys that you can do for your camp too. So if you run at camp, I always recommend doing surveys after each session. It allows you to potentially collect testimonials if you do it in a way where it incentivizes people to fill out this survey. And it really does give you accurate feedback on your program so you can improve. So there are a lot of different like surveys that I would recommend for schools to do year after year and be able to track that data and use it in a way that helps them improve. So there are no surprises too. No one wants surprises like that. So that’s, those are some general surveys that would, I would recommend, If you’re looking at, a every couple years, you might wanna throw in some marketing questions to your survey or have a marketing survey in which you identify like, where are your parents on social media? If you’re running radio ads or like other different ads, are your parents on those platforms. These are always things to consider because that’s gonna differ from school to school and from, geographic location. So it’s really good to know all of those things. Tara: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a lot of information. I would imagine it’s some somewhat intimidating to think about undertaking that, that process of any of those surveys for a few reasons. And the first one I can think of is obviously bandwidth, right? Putting together the survey. Once you have it set, you can, you reuse it, I assume every year, right? But collecting the data and what platforms that you use for the surveys. And then the second piece that I think about, I relate this to if I have a leak in my roof or I have, I just, wanna review my house or my body. It’s scary to think about what you might find wrong, to, So you might avoid it because you just better not to know. So I wonder, how to undertake that, especially in a situation where you have a team in a school and where some people might really want to know and some people might not. So how you work as a team to implement these surveys from a bandwidth standpoint and also from a sort of mental approach to it. Can you speak to those topics? Aubrey: Yes. I love that you brought that up. That’s so important, right? Because, if you’re, one mistake that schools often make is they put these surveys out and then they either don’t look at the data or they don’t do something with the data. Or they don’t thank people for the data and then give feedback on those responses. Because you said X, we’re doing Y, right? That feedback loop. So those are some common like Challenges and mistakes that schools face. And I will say, like if you’re gonna send out a survey as a school, then it’s up to you to come together and say, we are sending out this survey and we are prepared for the responses. And, setting aside a time to review those responses and be willing to listen. And just knowing that. There’s going to be some that the responses that you’re probably not gonna wanna hear about, but it’s better for you to hear about it there than have attrition later or something like that. So having that preparation and that mindset going into it, I think is really important. Like being open to feedback. Sometimes it’s really hard to be open to feedback. But if you, as an administrative team have decided to send out a survey, then you also need to set that tone of we are open to receiving this feedback and this is how we’re going to use it, and this is how we’re gonna report back to parents about it. Tara: Yeah it’s a lot. It’s a lot to digest. What are some common mistakes that that you see being made with surveys? Obviously not following through on them, or using the information is one. What other kinds of things do you see as stumbling blocks? Aubrey: I think one it’s that surveys are wonderful, but they’re not everything. People give feedback in different ways. I think we need to acknowledge that, as surveys are wonderful and they’re a great tool, but we also have to take a multipronged approach for giving feedback. That means heads of school might wanna have coffee and conversation hours or, our doors always open, or teachers have informal check-ins, like there needs to be other ways. For parents to give feedback. If you think of people are all different, right? And so some people are those people who love to have in person conversations and they really feel like they can share their feedback that way. Others don’t wanna talk to you and they just wanna fill out the anonymous survey. That’s probably me, I’m probably like, I’ll just fill out the survey, I’ll give you the feedback. And that’s, those are your survey folks. So it’s really recognizing that everyone’s different and having a multi-prong approach to gathering feedback is important. In addition, I think it’s really interesting yet surveys can help you really dive into kind of key areas like attrition or, leadership changes and stuff like that. But in combination with other things, like if you’re about to, expand your campus or you’re wondering like really how things are going with your leadership, Surveys are not the only tool you should be using. You should probably be doing focus groups or interviews or something along those lines. Because those are things you do not want to just proceed with just a survey. So I think those are some common survey mistakes. Oh, also, I will say sometimes people just sent out a survey once and then it’s like, Oh, we sent out a survey. We only had a 20% response rate. I think it needs a reminder. We have busy parents here and busy, like constituent groups, so they need a reminder. In addition, we found it really helpful to resend to Unopens and that really helps increase survey participation. Also a lot of heads of school and I, I love you dearly heads of school out there. And you have wonderful email writing capabilities and you really have wonderful things to say, but if your email is like really long and you bury the survey link at the bottom, no one’s gonna find it. We live in a scrolling society, so if it’s not like a separate subheading and a very big call to action, you’re probably going to see a lower turnout on your survey. Tara, what do you notice when you’re looking at surveys and when you, or when you as a survey respondent yourself- what do you find to be irritating or helpful when you’re filling out surveys? Tara: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I am also the person who would rather write out and fill out a survey than probably talk on the phone to somebody for sure. But I also think, there is a tendency for people to only speak up and participate when they’re unhappy. And so I think surveys, how you incentivize people to fill out a survey, even if they’re happy, is, obviously if they’re super happy and they wanna support you- how you communicate the need for the survey or why you’re doing the survey is really important so that parents understand that they will be heard and that this is important for the success of the school. So I think communication, all of this is about communication. That’s what we’re about as marketers, right? Communication is really important. So making sure that the goals of the survey are communicated well. And then as you talked about, following back through and saying, here’s the result. Here’s the survey. We did the survey, and we’re making these changes as a result of that, people really feel. They’re valued that their opinions and their thoughts are valued when you do that. And that’s not to say that, every single thing that people ask for is going to happen, but even if you just respond to a few things and explain to people how much they mean to you, that’s, I think that’s a really valuable thing about a survey that a survey can do. I also wanted to mention that I think with the mistakes that you mentioned I wanted to go back to the idea of the bandwidth of surveys and being intimidated to do them. And I wanted to ask you about platform. So ask about the process. What is the process that- let’s say for a simple new family survey. Let’s start with that since that’s one that you mentioned. Do you send out an email with the survey, is it, do you, is there a system that you like to use for these surveys, a platform that you use that makes it easy to collect your responses and share them? Aubrey: In terms of that, yeah, in terms of platforms, I think it varies school to school because different platforms are paid and free and schools have to determine, especially a small school with a limited budget might just be happy using Google Forms, right? Others want, Survey Monkey, and then there are other, other platforms that work really well. I always ask the question of whatever platform you’re using, what- what kind of data are you getting on the back end? Like how can you sort that data? Is it giving you the feedback you need? And some of the free platforms don’t do that. So it’s figuring out, the pluses and minuses of each platform. And then the whole process is really sitting down and, when we go in and talk to schools, we sit down. We’re not just here’s your survey. We sit down and say, Okay, what are the goals of this survey? What challenges are seeing in your school? Or do are you like kind of- knowing or out there and what’s your admissions process like, what sort of things are happening over here? And that allows us to create a survey in a collaborative manner that really gives the school the information and data they need. Because every school is different. You can have, we do have like baseline surveys of here is, what some questions that we recommend asking for new families, to get feedback on. But, we also wanna tailor it to make sure it’s fitting the school’s needs and really in terms of, you know, people often think this is an overwhelming process. And yes, it could be if you’re looking at all the surveys I mentioned and thinking that’s just a lot to reduce. But once you have a survey going in, whatever platform you choose, it’s easy to duplicate it from year to year. And same with your email string. So like you have your introduction, like your email to launch the survey. You have your reminder emails, then you have your feedback loop emails so you have those as templates to use every year. And that really streamlines the process. And then, okay, on October 6th on this year, we always send this survey, right? And it really helps create that system so people can easily execute those survey. Tara: I love that I’m super processed and system oriented and having those it’s an definitely investment of time upfront to put that together, but once you do it really can, it can be so helpful. And it can actually be comforting to know that you have all of that done and you don’t have to redo it every year or think it through. So it does take an investment up front. But I think that what you’ve described is a great tip is having those things scheduled out and making sure you do the reminders as well is a good tip. Anything else you wanna share about surveys before we wrap up, Aubrey? Aubrey: Sure. Well, you know, I could talk about surveys forever. And I’m sure to be honest, we can’t cover everything in this episode, but we do wanna give you tips and answer some of those questions that are out there. There are also some things that I don’t think schools necessarily think about when they’re creating their survey. For example, you can ask straightforward questions like, do you plan to continue through the end of our program? Let’s say it’s eighth grade or 12th grade, and you can ask parents that in a survey and it’s surprisingly interesting how honest they’ll say yes, no, or maybe undecided. And that really can, I mean, think about the data you can get out of that. That’s fantastic data. There’s also this interesting thing around the net promoter score. Like some people are like, it’s not good, don’t use it. And some people are like, definitely use it. And I wanted to really talk about that for a second cuz it really is a useful tool for benchmarking things. However, it shouldn’t be your only like way of benchmarking thing. It might be part of your survey, but it is not the main. Like piece of your survey. But we do find that schools find it helpful to have that NPS score when they’re looking looking from year to year at their data. In addition, schools also should consider open-ended questions and really like multiple choice or questions that are easy to answer, right? So rankings and stuff like that. So it’s looking at your survey and say, Does my survey have enough variation in these places? I don’t know about you, Tara, but when I’m desperate to give feedback to someone, there is nothing more frustrating than there is no place for me to write what I actually wanna say. Like I’ve gone through your multiple choices. Tara: Yeah. Aubrey: And I have feedback to give, and yet there is no space for me to actually say, You didn’t mention in this, you gave me this very boxed thing about what you’re asking. But I have feedback to give you, and there’s no space for that. So I always say, , that’s a good thing to have because you want people to not feel frustrated after completing your survey. Tara: For sure. Yeah. That’s great information. I think one last thing to add is, and we started talking about this a little bit at the beginning is applying this to marketing. So we’re a marketing podcast. You’re taking this information and making sure when you do have that regrouping to review the results of your surveys, having maybe some kind of a matrix of where you’re applying this information. So the learning that you’ve that you’ve gotten from these surveys, how does it impact your welcome packet. How does it impact your website? How does it impact your landing pages and your advertising and your social media? How does it impact so that if you’re making a change or changes as a result of the survey, that it’s carried through in all of your communication? So I think that’s really important to understand how to have a list of how this information is gonna be used going forward. Aubrey: I love that. And I would like to add that, I always ask about communications on our on the survey, especially the you, the survey, because you wanna know, like the feedback they give about your newsletter, like it’s too busy, it’s too wordy. I need a list of upcoming events upfront. Please know, fluff, I’m a busy parent. That’s in, that’s information that you can use to really, help your communications better serve your parents and you can get that through those survey. So yeah, ask about- Tara: Your website usability and your parent portal and all those things. Yeah, that’s great. Aubrey: Perfect. Tara: All those, that’s a great, it’s a great way to to bring us back to marketing. Let’s talk for one minute before we go about a book that we’re reading right now. Do you wanna share a book that you’re reading? Cause we love to do that with our guests. We might as well do it too. Aubrey: In Aubrey fashion, if any of you have listened to all our podcasts, I’m all over the place. I usually have 16 books going at once because I feel like a book. You have to have a book for every mood, right? And I have a lot of moods, so I’m reading Lifespan. Why We Age and Why we Don’t Have to, because I’m really into this I guess it said like healthy aging piece, like longevity and stuff. So that’s one. And then I just checked out and I’m very like one fourth in Brene Brown’s, Atlas of the Heart, which I think a lot of people are reading right now. And then I just checked out, so I can’t technically say I’m reading it, but I’m like five pages into Whistling Vivaldi, which was recommended from our group in- Tara: Yes, I read it. Yes, I read it. It’s very good. Yeah. Yeah, very interesting. Aubrey: What about you, Tara? I’m so excited. Tara: So I just finished a book by an one of our guests, Sherry Walling, called Touching Two Worlds, and it’s about grief and loss. And it’s really well done because at the end of each chapter it has some sort of action items or some things to think about, some things that you can do. So I recommend it highly, it’s, it was, it’s a quick, easy read, but also really thought provoking. So that’s a good one. I’m just starting Grit by Angela Duckworth. And and I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve really been enjoying reading. I also am reading and writing Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamont is also something I’m reading to help improve my writing. Aubrey: Wow. I love it. I love that we’re both of, I love that we both love to read and I love that you’re doing, you’re reading challenge still with because I feel like you’re- Tara: 30 minutes a day, at least 30. Aubrey: You’re a, you’re knocking out those books. So I love it. So yay! Tara: I really tricked out my Good Reads list. You can make additional bookshelves and good reads. So I’ve filtered out my the top books that I wanna read, the top fiction and non-fiction books and those types of things. Check out our Good Reads list and and see what has been added there. It’s a great list. Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely. Tara: All right, Aubrey. This has been fun. Thanks so much for getting together to talk about surveys and I’ll look forward to seeing you on our next recording. Yay. Aubrey: Goodbye everyone.