Grow Your Program
Want More Students? How a Local Business Partner Can Help
As an education provider that serves and cares about your community, you want to reach as many learners as possible. But you can’t do it alone. Working with a local business partner can expand your reach, help people discover your classes, and grow your registrations. Outdoor retailer REI, for example, offers classes on mountain biking and wilderness survival. A bookstore could host a cooking class based on a new cookbook. And a clothing boutique might be a great place to offer a jewelry-making class.
All of this works because, in many ways, your goals overlap with those of local businesses. You both care about the community and you both want to grow. Working together toward those goals can create unique offerings that delight and educate both of your audiences.
Partnering with a local business whose goals overlap with yours can introduce a whole new group of people to your classes.
Yet many organizations are missing this opportunity. Some haven’t really thought about what a partnership might look like. Others just aren’t sure how to approach a local business partner. Our goal is to help you see what opportunities are out there and make a plan for how to act on them. A whole new group of students is waiting for you.
3 Ways to Work With a Local Business Partner
There are actually several ways that you can partner with local businesses to expand your reach and register more students. Here are three ways you might structure partnerships.
- Guest speakers or presenters. Representatives of a local business can speak or present to your students during a class. These local experts offer unique perspectives and build the credibility of both your organization and their businesses.
- Community sponsorship. In traditional community sponsorship arrangements, A local business may donate food, supplies, or funding for your students. They might even cover the cost of holding a particular class or event in exchange for a mention in your advertising materials.
- Venue partnership. This is the opportunity many programs miss. Imagine a paint and sip class at a local bar, a textile arts class at a downtown clothing boutique, or a parenting and child development class at your local toy store.
Keep in mind that a well-crafted partnership is more than an exchange of resources. It also expands the potential audience for your community classes. In return, the business gets more visibility. They also build a reputation as the go-to place for information or resources about a particular topic. In short, the best partnerships provide benefits to both your organization and their business.
Who Benefits From a Local Business Partnership?
With a well-designed local business partnership, everyone benefits. You expand your audience by tapping into the business’ client base. The business gets greater visibility with your students. Meanwhile students and customers get a class or experience that neither organization could have provided alone.
By building relationships in your community, you create a more supportive environment for everyone.
From a wider perspective, the local economy benefits because students spend their money with local organizations and businesses. By strengthening relationships in your community, you build a more supportive environment for everyone. These may sound like grand claims, but everyone benefits from a more-connected community.
How to Choose the Right Local Business Partner
Your goal in choosing a local business partner is to find a business with customers who match your ideal student audience. Look around at small businesses in your area and think about what their customers might be interested in learning.
For example, you might offer:
- Writing classes at a bookstore
- Movie appreciation class at a local movie theater
- Wilderness survival courses at a campground
- Business classes hosted at a local business
- Parenting or child development classes at a toy store
- Textile arts classes at a local clothing boutique
- Music lessons at a music store or record shop
- Flower-arranging class at a home decor store
The class you offer doesn’t have to overtly connect to the product or service the business provides. Instead, look for a match in mission. For example, your local vintage clothing store may be excited about the idea of sustainability. Maybe they’d be willing to host a class on recycling, sustainable living, or the environment.
Your potential local business partner might also have some ideas. Ask them what they think might interest their customers and look for ways to help make those classes possible.
Sell the Idea to a Local Business Partner
Some local businesses will immediately recognize the benefits of partnering with you. Others may need some convincing. You can help them make an informed decision by offering essential information in a useful way. Follow these guidelines to start building your partnership.
Explain how the business could benefit: e.g., “If you hosted a class in your cafe, I’m sure students would buy coffee while they’re here.”
- Be clear and specific in your request. Instead of: “Would you be willing to host a class for us?” Say: “Do you think your customers would be excited to take a music appreciation class right here in the music shop?”
- Explain how the business could benefit from the partnership. For example, “If you hosted a class in the cafe, I’m sure students would buy coffee and snacks from you while they’re here. They might even come back at other times throughout the week.”
- Give them time to think. It might seem easiest to just walk in and talk to someone during business hours, but that also puts that person on the spot. They might be busy serving customers, or the owner might not be there that day. If you visit in person, bring a written letter or follow-up with an email that outlines your idea.
Networking events are a great place to find local business partners. The people at these events are likely to be open to new business opportunities, and you can talk to them without interrupting their workday. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce or look for community business networking events on Facebook to find networking events in your area.
Strategies to Make the Most of Your Partnership
Whether you’ve set up a guest speaker arrangement, venue partnership, or community sponsorship you’ll need to work together to achieve the best results. Here are some strategies to help you make the most of your partnership:
- Get aligned on goals. Talk about what each organization hopes to accomplish so you can help each other reach your goals.
- Clearly outline expectations for each partner. Have a meeting where you outline each group’s responsibilities and a timeline for achieving them. Who will handle course content, materials, setup and cleanup, marketing, etc.
- Cross-post on social media. Ideally, both organizations will post about the upcoming class on social media. If you create a Facebook event for the class, make sure your partner is set up as a co-host. Share the registration link and any other details they need.
- Mirror your marketing messages. Use the same course description and registration link across all of your marketing materials. If each organization creates its own marketing messages, you might end up confusing audiences.
- Reach both audiences. Both your organization and the partner business should market to their own audience through email, social media, signage, and their websites. Each of you should promote with the same energy you bring to your own programs and events.
By now, we hope you’re ready to start looking for local business partners for your community classes. If you need some inspiration, maybe these unusual course offering ideas will help get your thoughts flowing in the right direction.
Nic is skilled in scaling start-up edtech and education organizations to growth-stage success through innovative marketing. A former journalist and copywriter, Nic holds a postgraduate certificate in digital and print publishing from Columbia University School of Journalism's publishing course.