The Key to Marketing ESL Programs

By Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton

My first job in educational administration was in 1989. Seven years later, I was managing an ESL program and traveling to educational fairs and agent workshops in Latin America to promote the program internationally. I’ve learned a thing or two over the past twenty years of working in educational management. In terms of marketing new programs, and in particular marketing English language programs, there is one key quality that’s required to achieve long term success: Patience.

As educators, we tell our students that they need to study regularly. We tell them that consistent effort over time brings results. We tell them to set aside time every day to study vocabulary, learn grammar and practice speaking and listening. We tell them that if they put in the work, they’ll see results…but they just have to be patient.  If we followed the same advice, we’d be much better at promoting ESL and EFL programs.

Instead, administrators want results NOW. If a program is posted in the course calendar or on a website in one semester and it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for registrations, it’s canned. Wiped off the books. Written off.

Imagine if you saw a student giving up so easily after getting less than stellar results on a test. Would you say, “Yeah, you’re right. You did poorly on your first test, so clearly you don’t have what it takes…”

No, of course not! You’d sit down with the student, review the results, determine strategies to improve and then monitor their progress. We can do the same thing with ESL and EFL programs. If a new program bombs the first time, examine the results and try to figure out why. Develop some new marketing strategies and go out and try them. Keep an eye on your process and watch for improvements.

My PhD research on the marketing of revenue-generating ESL programs showed that it can take two years or longer of consistent marketing for a new program to turn a profit.

My own experience as a program administrator, coupled with years of research and hands-on experience coaching language school administrators around the world has revealed that this is the typical process for the development of a revenue-generating ESL course:

  • Course and curriculum development
  • Pilot testing the course
  • Review of the results and making appropriate adjustments to the curriculum
  • Initial marketing and promotion
  • Running the course at a loss
  • Running a cost-recovery course
  • Running a course that generates revenue

The same way that there is a process to gaining competency, skills and fluency in a language, there is also a process involved in marketing new courses. If we promoted our programs with the same vigilance and patience that we have with our students, we’d have better long-term results. There are methods and strategies you can use in marketing, just as there are with teaching and learning. You too can market your programs more powerfully. It’s important to be patient and not give up!

Written by Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton for September 2010
Author of 101 Ways to Market Your Language Program, Dr. Sarah Eaton is an expert on the management and marketing of language schools. She coaches school directors on how to manage more effectively and market more powerfully. Visit her website at or her blog at

One Comment

  • Jay-Ann Canoy says:

    Hi! Can you help me market my English School? Sure, I will give you reasonable pay.

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