5 Tips to Grow Your Flight School
5 tips to grow your flight school
Below are 5 tips to grow your flight school. If you want a marketing team to partner with you to implement these strategies and grow your school, contact the Right Rudder Marketing team and schedule a free one on one strategy session.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Make it easy for prospective customers to book a discovery flight
This all starts with your website and your business profile on Google Maps. Most flight schools already have something up, however, whether what you have published is attracting or repelling customers is highly dependent on how you go about it. Let’s start with your website. We personally code our websites from scratch because they load faster, they're less prone to hacking, and it’s more customizable. However, it’s easy to just go and build something affordably without any programming knowledge using platforms like Wix, GoDaddy, or WordPress. Just make sure that it looks nice and that it’s optimized for search engines and mobile phones. Customers are going to spend tens of thousands of dollars with you so you need to make sure that your website looks awesome.
Basic Website Design Principles
To get some ideas on the layout and format of your website, look at a few templates online and find one that suits your style and brand. Before you start building a website on the computer, take a piece of paper out and draw a rough sketch of what you want it to look like. Write out the words that you’re going to publish on the site. Once it’s made on paper, it’s much easier to get the real thing up and running online since you’ll have a plan going in.
The first part of your website will be the header. It’s the very first thing visitors see when they click onto your website. Use very few words to let people know what you offer. Use big and bold text to emphasize the key parts. The top right of your website is the most valuable real estate on your website and should have a link for a call to action. Place a button there for visitors to either contact you, or book a flight.
This header section actually accounts for more than 80% of the website. Everything below is just not that important. Visitors will have an impression of your company and brand by this alone so get it right! Using a picture of people smiling or a video to showcase your flight school has been proven to work.
Here are the other sections after the header you should incorporate into your page.
The stakes: This is where you need to sell why it’s important to become a pilot. This can include the pilot shortage, airline pilot salaries, travel time costs, etc.
The value proposition: This is where you’ll describe the benefits of being a pilot. This can include being able to see new places, expediting travel times, and the reputation of being a pilot.
The guide: This is where you’ll establish yourself as the authority and introduce yourself as the flight school that can train the prospective student. Talk about your fleet and your instructors. Showcase awards your school has gotten and display testimonials from pilots who have gone through your program.
The plan: This is where you’ll talk about the different programs you have and the services you offer. Provide a detailed description of the process it takes to become a certificated pilot at your school.
The video: This is a short one to three minute video that shows off your school and reiterates much of what is already on the website in a dynamic form. The best person to put in front of the camera is a pilot that completed all of their certificates and ratings from your flight school and now has a career in aviation.
The news: This is a section on your website where you link to your news/blog and give snippets of your featured content. Sites that have a blog rank higher on Google simply because they are creating more content. Articles that you can write include tips/advice on pilot training, interviews with students who have gotten their certificates, and educational content for student pilots.
The call to action: This is where customers can click and either get in contact with you or start the process of booking a discovery flight. This is the second most important part of your website after the header. Your visitors need a place to go to when they decide to work with you.
Is your phone number on the top of the page?
Is your website optimized for mobile devices? Make sure text doesn’t overflow and pictures and boxes are sized correctly
Does your website have pictures with people smiling? Are these pictures formatted and compressed so they don’t slow your website down?
Do you have a video that visitors can view to learn more about your flight school and see how cool aviation is?
Does your website have a pathway for visitors to go through and get something booked? Define and create multiple pathways for visitors to go through to get the flight booked or to get in contact with you.
Creating and maintaining a business profile on Google Maps
This is more than just set it and forget it. You need to keep a constant watch on this and ensure that the information here is correct and consistent. Many visitors to your website will originate from here so get it right. There’s a lot of new settings on here so make sure you’ve gone through every option and filled in your information. Are your hours current? Have you properly linked to your website? Do you have pictures uploaded? If a customer has left a question or a review, have you addressed it? The best thing you can do as a flight school owner is to reply back to every review left by a customer. Good ones and bad ones.
Make sure for the negative reviews, that you position yourself in such a way that you justify what you did to make the customer unhappy. For example, I’ve seen reviews that went along the lines of a customer was unhappy because the flight they had scheduled had to be canceled due to maintenance issues or weather. In this case, mention that your school did so in the interest of safety and FAA compliance. Other issues I’ve seen are invoicing or finance type issues. Address these by clearly depicting where the customer went wrong and then leave your contact information so that other visitors who see the bad review know that you’re doing everything in your power to make it right. Lastly, if there are real issues at your school, make sure you are addressing them with your team so that you can prevent future negative reviews.
Moving on from reviews, there is so much more to Google Business now. Don’t leave any stone unturned! Go through and check each feature and add content about your flight school. Here are some of the new settings that have been implemented as of November 2022.
Create an offer: This is where you can advertise for free on Google and get a prospect to book a discovery flight.
Turn on chat: Google provides a neat mechanism for customers to reach out to you. Ensure that each message is read and replied to.
Add an update: Any events, talks, or gatherings at your school can be listed here.
Add products: You can specify the types of training you do. Typically this would be, “Private pilot training”, “instrument rating”, “tailwheel endorsement”, etc.
For more detailed information, don’t forget to check out the literature published directly from Google.
2. Create a great onboarding experience
When a prospective student decides to start training at your flight school, it’s great for business. We need to do everything in our power to keep the student at our school and finish their training. Don’t rely on Jeppesen or Kings School and their syllabus to do the trick. It’s not just a syllabus. While you definitely can use these resources, have your own branded guide that shows your new student what to expect. For example, list out the potential places that the student and their CFI will go to on their first cross country. Create a checklist for them to complete where you mention getting their medical, getting their student certificate, and passing the written exam. If your school offers group ground school, then make sure to include the dates.
If you have an online scheduler, then create an account for the student and show them how to access the portal. Have a printed out copy of instructions for the student to look at for future reference.
Have the student meet other students and all of the team members at your school. Give the student a tour of the school and your hangar. To you it might seem like an everyday type thing, but take a moment to see through the eyes of your student. For many, this may be the very first time being exposed to the aviation world. They have never seen a hangar before in their life or a plane with the cowling removed. It’s a great learning opportunity for the student.
Also, speaking of giving tours… Make sure that your school is clean and organized. The front desk should be clear of clutter. The bathrooms should be clean and not smelly. Remove spider webs and dust. Places where your team eats should be cleaned constantly. If you don’t have janitorial services contracted out, then direct your team to clean the school on a verified frequency.
Lastly, establish a recurring schedule and get them on the calendar. If the student is only available on Tuesday and Thursday nights, then make sure you have that slot booked out for a month or two. Two weeks into the month make sure you schedule for the upcoming month. If the student says they'll get back to you, make sure to follow up.
3. Grow your reviews
Reviews are the lifeblood of your digital presence. They are a key factor in attracting and repelling future students. I mentioned earlier about responding to reviews, but how do we go about garnering more? One thing I’ve seen work really well is to offer a discount for a review. Offer customers a 5% discount for your merchandise, pilot supplies, and books in exchange for a five star review. I’ve seen a flight school do this and they now have hundreds of reviews which brings in new customers everyday. A 5% discount on a t-shirt might only cost you a dollar and some change, but that review could potentially convince a prospective customer to train at your school and spend thousands of dollars. It’s one of the biggest returns on investment you can do.
Another thing to consider is your existing customers. The sweet spot is to get them right after they pass a checkride. They’re already on cloud nine and should have a good impression of your school as they decided to stick it to the end with you. Right after a student passes a checkride, congratulate them and publish a picture of them with their certificate to social media and your website. Then, ask them if they’d be willing to leave a review if they haven’t already. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so start asking!
4. Start a newsletter and an email campaign
You should already have a database of all of your customers’ email addresses so use that information and capitalize on it. Buy out a different domain name to send these emails from. The last thing you want is for your main website domain to be marked as a spam domain. What I mean by that is if your domain name is abcxyzflightschool.com, then purchase abcxyzflightschool.net or abcxyzflightschool-mailer.com.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as going onto your email account and sending email out. More than likely you’ll have hundreds if not thousands of email addresses so you’ll need to use software to get this up and running. Platforms like Twilio, SendGrid, MailChimp, and MailGun are out there to help you send information out to thousands of people.
Starting a Newsletter
For a newsletter, send one out to everyone every month or quarter. If you’ve never made a newsletter before, here are some things you can do.
Mention students that have recently passed their checkride.
Talk about upcoming events at your flight school and airport.
Ask CFI’s if they’d be willing to write an article. If you already have a blog, then this can be a simple copy and paste.
Make it look pretty by using templates on Adobe Express, Microsoft Sway, or Canva.
If you have any new hires, put a small blurb in there about them and their qualifications and experience.
Have a section where you mention what planes are down for their 100 hour and which planes are coming up.
Have a photo contest. This can help a ton too with updating your site with new pictures.
Optional: Instead of sending it via email, print it and send it through mail. People never get mail nowadays except for spam and bills so getting a paper copy is unexpected and original.
Creating an Email Campaign
With your list of email addresses, sort them out to these different categories: active students, one time visitors, and certificated pilots. This is important because we’re going to make targeted email campaigns for each group. What you don’t want to do is send the same emails to everyone. If the campaign is irrelevant to a certain group, then you’re going to come across as spammy. You should aim to send one email per month to every customer at your school.
Active students: For this group, they’re already repeatedly coming back to your school to train so our email isn’t about trying to sell them anything or getting them to buy more hours. Instead, this email is going to be about showing them that you care about their success. We want to make sure that we can retain these students and prevent them from quitting. Ask the students for feedback on their training and if there’s anything that you can do to improve. Provide them tips or advice on training. Whenever you publish a blog post or newsletter article that is about flight training, send it to them in email as well. Topics can include “How to improve your landings”, “Understanding airspace”, “Preparing for your oral exam”, “The best preflight ever”, “How to not sound like a newbie on the radio”, etc.
One time visitors: This group came to your flight school once and then never came back. For some reason, they had an objection to training with us and we need to formulate a way to get them back. This is known in the marketing industry as “retargeting advertising”. The best way to get them back is not by brandishing discounts or special offers. Typically this is done at cost where you lose money and it actually diminishes the perception of your flight school even more. The customers that respond to that type of advertising are not the type of customers you want at your school.
Instead, what you actually want to do is showcase your school in a more positive light and increase the perceived value of your school. If you added a new plane to your fleet or did an avionics upgrade to one of your planes, this would be the best place to let people know. If you have a CFI that got their CFII or MEI done, or if you start offering new training programs like seaplanes, tailwheel, or complex; then let these people know. Give them a reason to come back.
Certificated pilots: For this group, they’re an established customer that comes back every once in a while. You can include them in the email campaign I mentioned earlier for the one time visitors, but you’ll want to also add them to a separate targeted campaign. In this one, the focus should be on creating and fostering the aviation community at your flight school and FBO. Partner with the local EAA chapter and get to know when their next young eagles flight is. Then, help spread the news via email and say that the EAA is looking for volunteer pilots. Flight schools in my local area do pumpkin dropping events around Halloween. This is where we fly the pattern and drop pumpkins on a target to see who can get the closest. I’ve also seen seminars and guest speaker events done at local airports. Or maybe a restaurant at an airport 50 NM away opened up recently. Send the menu out to these pilots and let them know about it. Events like these are a great way to bring back certificated pilots to your school to rent planes. Let them know that these events are happening!
5. Provide options or guidance for financing and scholarships
It’s a known fact that many students quit due to lack of funding. I’ve seen so many students get halfway through their training, only to drop out because they didn’t realize how much flight training actually costs. The best thing to do is be upfront about this. Don’t try to sucker in new students by saying it will only cost $5,000 and that they can get it done in 35 or 40 hours. The national average is 55 to 80 hours of flight time which can easily get up to around $15,000. Encourage students to save up before starting. While you might miss out on a few thousand at first, we’re in it for the long haul. Students that are able to finish their private pilot training become a walking testimonial for your flight school and they also keep coming back long after their private pilot training to continue their instrument, commercial, and so on. Their success is your fortune so don’t try to be the sleazy used car salesman.
When prospective students ask how much training will be, don’t give them the $15,000 dollar number right away. First ask them what their goals in aviation are. You need to get to know your prospect. If it’s simply recreational, then mention all of the potential places they can go and the cool sights they can see. For example, about 100 NM away from my home base there is a famous restaurant called Lambert’s that throws bread to their patrons to catch and then eat. The restaurant is very popular and whenever I pass by, there’s an incredibly long line just to get in. However, what this restaurant will do for pilots is that they’ll pick us up from the airport, shuttle us to the restaurant, and take us through the backdoor and seat us right away. We get the VIP treatment just for flying there!
If your prospective student is looking to be an airline pilot, mention the increasing demand for pilots, pilot salaries and the lifestyle of the airlines. Talk about the career and the potential routes and types of aircraft they will be flying. You need to show off and sell the benefits of being a pilot first before pitching the cost. By providing the prospect with the value of becoming a pilot, it creates in their mind a real reason and a justification to invest in their aviation education.
If they seem uneasy about the cost, then we need to address the objections they might have. Do you have a package deal in which they can save a few thousand dollars if they deposit the full cost? Or do you have block time specials where if they purchase 10 hours, they get an hour for free? Have promotions or discounts available to help sway their decision to start.
If you have connections with a financing company, then provide them with options for financing and taking out a loan. If your school is near an EAA chapter, then mention to them that they provide flight training scholarships and that they could join the chapter and apply.
At the end of the day, you want to convey to the customer that you’re also invested in their success. The customer needs to know that you care about their training and when they realize that your school is the best school for them, they’re going to pick you.
Need help implementing this?
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on how to grow your flight school. Many of the resources I mentioned are free or affordable. However, it does take commitment on your end to put in the time and effort to get it done. If you need help creating a website, updating your Google business, or launching email campaigns, then the team at Right Rudder Marketing is here to help. Schedule a free one on one consultation and get started today.
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