Numbers can be so discouraging sometimes. It’s easy to look over your enrollment marketing budget and wonder what more you could do if you only had a few more dollars to work with.

Then so-called reality sets in. You don’t have more dollars.

Defeated, you shrug your shoulders and hope for the best.

But what if you can do more than hope?

Sometimes the budget is the problem. Money matters. Of course it does. But I’ve found that for many small colleges, strategy adjustments can often help those dollars go much further.

Building Your Admissions Marketing Budget

This is a topic I’ve been writing about for years. It’s so important and such a common source of grief for small institutions. (And small teams within large institutions, too.)

Let’s get back to budget building basics with these five tips to build your budget strategically:

  1. Know Your Audience
  2. Review Your Content Assets
  3. Make Smart Investments
  4. Prioritize Your Enrollment-Focused Website
  5. Embrace Video

Read on to learn about additional resources as well.

1. Know Your Audience

This is always the place to start. The first step is to either learn about your audience or simply review what you already know.

If your primary target is high school students for traditional enrollment, create a persona for your ideal prospect that answers questions like:

  • Where do they live?
  • What’s their household income level?
  • What are their academic accomplishments?
  • How do they view the world?
  • What are their top desires and concerns?
  • Where do they get their news and entertainment? (I like to call these their digital “watering holes.”)

Over the years, it’s common for marketing plans to get a little off-track. You may be spending time, money and effort on marketing to the wrong geographical areas, or to prospects whose view of the world doesn’t align with your brand, or via the wrong channels.

With a small budget, you should prioritize high impact/low investment options, like social media and Google ads, over potentially high impact/high investment options, like print collateral.

(Direct mail is an important part of your budget, so I’m not suggesting cutting it completely. You may just want to consider how to do it more strategically.)

Only after you’ve reviewed your target audience’s behaviors, beliefs, motivations, etc. can you set meaningful goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) to track your progress.

This process of review and realignment also helps ensure your marketing plan – and the budget that fuels it – is clear and actionable to everyone.

2. Review Your Content Assets

These assets may include:

  • Recorded seminars and lectures
  • Books, articles and research written by faculty
  • Original music and art by students
  • Student testimonials/stories
  • Past blog posts, infographics and ebooks
  • Video of alumni events
  • Newsletters and campus magazine articles
  • Podcasts and other audio recordings

All it takes is some freshening up or maybe adjusting the content to an enrollment focus. 

Example 1: Lectures

Simply publishing a lecture as-is to your blog or email list might not be very effective. But add an introduction directed at prospects interested in the subject matter (say, biochemistry), summarize it, and cut out audio/visual snippets, and suddenly you’ve got a great blog post!

Example 2: Student Artwork

A prospect may not think to apply just because they see some student artwork on Instagram. But package it as a story about how your school nurtured this featured student’s talent, giving them opportunities to showcase it, and that led to a career – now you’re talking!

Get more ideas in my free ebook, Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.

3. Make Smart Investments

I’m sure you’ve got plenty of “wouldn’t it be nice” tools and software on your wishlist. I hope one day you get to acquire them all. For now, let’s separate a few “must-haves” and start there.

These include:

  • Project management software. An investment in your team’s ability to organize information and work efficiently is priceless. (My team uses Teamwork, but there are many great options out there.)
  • CRM software. As enrollment marketers, you’re in the business of lead generation. If you don’t already have a good CRM (e.g. Salesforce, HubSpot, LeadSquared), invest in one for lead management.
  • Basic audio/video equipment. Video is the strongest, most human tool you have to connect with your audience. Audio is a close second. These days, you can do a lot with just an iPhone, a stand, strong lighting and a good microphone.

See more of my “must-have” recommendations for equipment, software, partners and other affordable assets, here.

4. Prioritize Your Enrollment-Focused Website

If your website isn’t enrollment-focused, you’ll likely lose the ballgame. Higher ed websites today are among the primary drivers of tuition, the backbone of your institution’s revenue. 

It’s also the key to demonstrating success in digital marketing. All your content points back to it. The majority of your prospects will apply and enroll through it. Their visits to the site and the actions they take are all measurable.

Most importantly, it helps create a positive prospect experience by answering their questions before they begin the application process. This ultimately aids lead generation.

It’s true that your institution has many different stakeholders, including alumni, the administration, current students and the broader community. But I can’t stress enough just how vital it is to design your website to serve prospects first and foremost. 

Check out a few examples of how an enrollment-centric approach to web design has been a winning strategy for colleges with a small marketing budget.

5. Embrace Video

I’ll keep saying it until I’m blue in the face. Yes, you can do good – even great video – affordably!

It’s really just a matter of making sure you have the right equipment and then putting the videos in the right spot.

If you’ve made a few initial investments in the A/V equipment I referenced above, what’s left is to:

  • Plan to make videos periodically in your content calendar.
  • Build an editorial process for video (who’s writing, shooting, editing, publishing?).
  • Make a camera (or iPhone), microphone, stand and lighting available to content producers. 

And go! 

Don’t get too hung up on how often you should make and distribute videos. Just do it regularly. Maybe start with a goal of once per quarter. As your team gets more comfortable with the process, you can increase from there.

Learn more about making great video in a way that doesn’t break the budget here.

You can do great things with a small, smart enrollment marketing budget.

Big institutions can spend millions on high-cost strategies like deluges of direct mail that may win on sheer volume.

But there’s a smarter approach. And it’s the only option for a small institution like yours.

Focus on your audience. Create content to educate, entertain and inspire them. Invite them consistently to visit your enrollment-focused website and your campus.

I’ll tell you from experience that any school of any size can do this.

Need help putting together your enrollment marketing budget? Just ask.


Looking for Enrollment Marketing Content that Works?

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