Understanding Your Market: Where Should You Start?

by Peter Baron

Just last week, I threw out a scenario: What if we expanded our market share by 3% as a collective of NAIS schools over the next five years?

This isn’t just a percentage target; it translates to enrolling 21,000 more students into independent schools who would benefit from the transformational l experience.

But as I wrote last week, this may not be a pressing concern if you’re in a part of the country where many families are moving to or are fortunate to have a high application volume.

But for today’s newsletter, where should you start if you want to increase your market share by growing enrollment?

Many excellent paid services and consultants can mine and analyze local, regional, and national data, but what if you want to start simple before making a larger commitment? 

I recommend the U.S. Census Bureau’s suite of free tools, and here are two places to start:

I recorded this short video walking through both.

Do both go into high levels of detail? It depends on what you’re looking for. 

Still, it offers the ability to understand various demographic factors, such as age distribution, income levels, and family composition, at a detailed geographic level.

Here’s a quick video with two use cases:

  • Examining a zip code with students under 18 and median household income.
  • Understanding the market size of the total number of students in a particular city.

Asking the Right Questions of the Data

When navigating the Census data, consider these questions to get started with your analysis and strategy:

  • What age groups are most prevalent in the area around our school? This helps identify if there are enough school-age children to support enrollment growth.
  • What is the average household income? Understanding income levels can inform scholarship or financial aid strategies to make your school accessible to more families.
  • How do the residential patterns of our current families compare with the broader demographics of our target areas? This question can help us understand our school’s current market penetration and identify areas where we might have opportunities to expand our reach. By analyzing where our existing families come from, we can pinpoint neighborhoods or regions that may be underrepresented in our school community but have growth potential.
  • Are there significant changes in population trends? Knowing if the population is growing, shrinking, or aging can help predict future demand for your school.


While the Census Business Builder tool provides a wealth of data, it may only cover some details needed for your school’s unique context.

But, it offers valuable signals that can guide further exploration with other tools.

Just as importantly, the insights gained can serve as powerful conversation starters for your school’s leadership team to identify strategic growth areas and understand how to reach and connect with potential families in underserved regions effectively.

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By leveraging these insights, we can better gauge our market size and identify where we have room to increase our school’s impact, ensuring that we’re growing and serving the broader community.

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