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Why START UP companies are KEY to Work For!

April 13, 2010 8 comments

Two things I look for in every company I work with:

1. Do they executives believe in continuous learning as well as personal / professional growth AND will they aide you in your journey…
2. Is their business model, or product, something new, innovative, and / or something that the market has not seen before.

If the answer to these two questions is not “YES”, than I know this start up business is not for me. However, if the answer IS “yes”, I know that I will do anything in my power to work with, and learn from, these individuals. Even if it means working for free for a while; just to prove myself.

When I was 22 yrs old, I began working at Kaplan University, online higher education giant. However when I entered the working world, Kaplan University was called “Kaplan College”; they only offered 4 degree programs (now offer over 100 if we include specializations); and more importantly, only had 60 admissions advisors or ‘sales reps’. While it wasn’t a “pure” start up in the sense of the word, it did grow immensely over the next two years and when I moved to a ‘real’ start up, had over 1500 admissions advisors, and had grown the student base over 1000%. It was a rush to be a part of. We purchased new buildings, there was a lot of room for advancement and learning. We had access to the C level business executives, ideas were listened to; and while sure – there were bumps along the road, it was still fun to come to work everyday. Not only were we doing jobs we believed in, but there was always something “new” and “innovative” to look forward to.

About five years ago, original owner and SVP of Sales and Marketing for Kaplan University, Richard Capezzali, developed a business concept with a young man named Todd Zipper. They wanted to prove that they could execute on numerous strategies that had never been ‘done’ before. The two innovators founded Education Connection, which was at first a lead generation company, and became the first lead generation company to 1) Be agnostic 2) Develop commercials – not school specific, for themselves, 3) Develop a lead that converts at over 10% 4) Build out an advising call center. I basically stalked Richard and Todd until they brought me on as their ‘first’ employee. I was in heaven. I was working with two men; one – an expert in education sales and marketing and the other – an Ivy league MBA who taught me operations, finance, etc. and both believed that it was POSSIBLE to make the impossible possible. I learned more over the four years with these men than I could have in any MBA program.

After four years with Education Connection, my husband and I were recruited to another start up higher education company out in Dallas. While the answers to the questions above were “Yes” and the interviews were fantastic, there was a difference in this company, yet I couldn’t put my finger on it. As soon as I came aboard, I was back in the “start up” mode; building and executing quickly, driving revenue, and having fun doing what I love to do: build businesses. What I realized while I was working for this company was that although they were a ‘start up’ company in that the idea was new, we were just reaching profitability, etc. all of the C level executives or business partners had worked together for 15 years. And in that 15 years, they had already developed a culture; one that was unlike a “typical” start up business; it was more like a 10 year old corporation. Not for me. That being said, because I believed (and still do) strongly believe in the mission, I stayed onboard and did what I do best: drive revenue and cut costs…

Until a few months ago.

For the past few months, I’ve been consulting with numerous marketing and education companies. Some are start ups, some are trying to devise new revenue streams, some I’m working with to build out new products…but here is what I know. I love consulting. Every ‘project’ is basically a small start up company AND I get to choose who I work with. If I don’t like a project, I “just say no” and move to the next. I’m only working with companies I believe in, working with people who are innovators and allow me to be innovative, and I’m building my skill set with every project I take on.

The first three companies I worked for, while only over a seven year time span, all played integral parts in allowing me to do what I’m doing now.

So, for those of you who are going to be out of college soon, looking for internships, a career path, a job, etc. my advice to you is to look for a start up company. You will learn and blossom quickly and it will give you the skills you need to go anywhere. You will be adaptable, wear many different hats, and know what a true “team” environment is. There are several solid sites you can check out, a great one being Start Up Digest, that will send you jobs from all over the world with start ups.

Be innovative. Work for a start up.

Why Do Schools AND Corporations KILL Creativity?

April 9, 2010 10 comments

In every company I’ve worked for, innovation and creativity have been applauded…sort of.

Executives encourage innovation in business, but many times unless strategies comes across to the rest of the business as “their ideas”, the executives are not happy. I contend that this is one of the reasons start up businesses have become so popular amongst the younger generation. Gen Y does not hold back. They are ‘connected’, literally and figuratively, and have grown up accustomed to any information they want at their fingertips. In a corporation, if a Gen Y is sending his ego maniac boss an idea that may be big business, you can bet they have also IMed it to 10 other people too…just to ensure they get credit. I’m on the cusp of Gen Y / Gen X – but I say, “go for it Gen Y”. There is nothing that will slow down a company more than corralling innovation. Gen Y has been brought up in the world of “positive reinforcement” and whether this is monetary or a simple ‘nice work’ email, this is what we have been conditioned to recieve…and you can be sure that we will not sit back while someone else gets the “kudos”. I know I won’t.

Some companies truly do embrace their Gen Ys opinions and have taken the time to understand how to motivate and work with them. These companies currently have the largest profit margins. Apple is a great example of a company that serves the Gen Y population. While Mr. Jobs is running the company, he’s smart enough to know that the people that will “spend money on gadgets” – even if they have to steal it from their parents – should be a large part of all of his strategies.

If we look at how schools teach today; unless a student is part of a Montessori school or private school, they are following the same lesson plans everyone else is. The students in “gifted” classes may get a bit more leeway and have a bit more room to be creative, but not much. Conform, conform, conform is all students are taught. Read the information and regurgitate the information. Education, even higher education, has fallen into this trap as well.

Is it that our businesses have sprung into downplaying creativity because they are a product of our public school system?

Ken Robinson made a revolutionary speech regarding just that at TED 2006

Does a Director of Admissions Need to Have PHONE Experience?

April 8, 2010 1 comment

I am reposting this entry as I received interesting feedback the last time it was posted. Making a slight tweak here and there, but content remains the same.

Higher education companies – I plead you to listen; When you hire anyone who will make decisions regarding marketing and sales, anyone who can effect the revenue of your business – get them on the phones! Every manager needs to go through admissions or enrollment services (sales) training! To be a great marketer is to KNOW your audience. To be a great marketer or businessman in the higher education industry, you first must be able to SELL education. Selling education is not the same thing as selling a stock or selling a credit card. It’s not an impulse buy or a quick sale. Selling education is selling a prospect on graduating and finishing their degree. Selling education is finding a person’s dream and then helping the potential student come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their dream is through education. How on earth can someone manage, train, or market this if they’ve never done it? It’s a process, a long sale; sometimes a 45 minute conversation; but it’s the psychology behind the sale that every manager needs to learn. Mark my words; a “good” marketer can get away with not having been on the phones and not knowing their consumers…a great marketer – one whose goal is not only to have a low CPE, but more importantly, a high graduation rate and high net tuition revenue – will understand the psychology behind the student and will know their consumer. The best marketers in the higher education industry are those who have a thorough understanding of the sales pitch and process as well as the retention model. The more a marketer knows about every aspect of the business, the more successful they will be. AND if the marketer does not want to get on the phones, get down in the ditches, and “get their hands dirty”, they likely have too big of an ego to be successful regardless!

Why Are People Who SELL Higher Education Not in School?

April 7, 2010 5 comments

If you are sales and marketing in any business, there is a large chance that you have either spoken with an education advisor who has reported to me or I have collected your information at some time. As the online higher education industry is booming, student information is coming from millions of sources and likelihood is you have filled something out at one time or another over the last 7 years that has gone back to a school. If you are in sales and marketing and have not spoken with an education advisor in the higher education arena, please do so. The sales pitches of the advisors who are ‘decent’ will certainly make you think about going back to school.

My question then; WHY are people who sell education – from advisors all the way to the CEO’s – not back in school? We know they don’t all have their Ph.D.s, many don’t have Masters, and about half don’t even have a bachelors degree. In my opinion, selling education without a degree is analogous to me walking into the Gap and the saleswoman saying, “I don’t wear clothes from the Gap; I only shop at Ann Taylor”. If someone is pitching themselves all day on teh reason to go back to school and not going back; why not?

The average online student calling in works full time and has children. They all have ‘something’ going on in their lives, and yet admissions advisors tell them, “No excuses. Life happens. If this is something you want to do, you need to do it.” People engage in higher education for numerous reasons; need more money, job security, career change, career promotion, to feel significant, to be a role model to their children, etc. If you were talking about this all day and marketing or selling this all day, do you think you would talk yourself into going back to school? I know I did.

I’ve been in the higher education sector since graduating from college, specifically – the online education sector and have marketed and sold everything from high school diplomas to Ph.D.s . During my time at these organizations, I was offered full tuition assistance and capitalized on the opportunity by getting a project management certificate as well as taking numerous business courses (my degrees are in psychology and education). Now, I can tell you I learned far more in the ‘real world’, working with some of the most brilliant minds in the higher education space – but we have all seen the job postings that say, “Masters preferred” or “MBA Preferred”. While I’d like to go back and get my MBA, I’m in the “bucket” of students who genuinely believe that through connections and / or experience, I don’t “need” to right now; but I still market and sell the idea to others.

I’ve started asking myself; who am I to encourage others to go back to school if I don’t practice what I preach?

Biggest Mistake a Higher Education Company can make!

January 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Higher education companies – I plead you to listen; When you hire anyone who will make decisions regarding marketing and sales, anyone who can effect the revenue of your business – get them on the phones! Every manager needs to go through admissions or enrollment services (sales) training! To be a great marketer is to KNOW your audience. To be a great marketer or businessman in the higher education industry, you first must be able to SELL education. Selling education is not the same thing as selling a stock or selling a credit card. It’s not an impulse buy or a quick sale. Selling education is selling a prospect on graduating and finishing their degree. Selling education is finding a person’s dream and then helping the potential student come to the conclusion that the only way to achieve their dream is through education. How on earth can someone manage, train, or market this if they’ve never done it? It’s a process, a long sale; sometimes a 45 minute conversation; but it’s the psychology behind the sale that every manager needs to learn. Mark my words; a “good” marketer can get away with not having been on the phones and not knowing their consumers…a great marketer – one whose goal is not only to have a low CPE, but more importantly, a high graduation rate and high net tuition revenue – will understand the psychology behind the student and will know their consumer. The best marketers in the higher education industry are those who have a thorough understanding of the sales pitch and process as well as the retention model. The more a marketer knows about every aspect of the business, the more successful they will be. AND if the marketer does not want to get on the phones, get down in the ditches, and “get their hands dirty”, they likely have too big of an ego to be successful regardless!

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