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Professionally Speaking: Sell it like it is

Marketing is the key to higher standards

As I talk with CFIs from around the country, many express concern that aggressively marketing flight training might somehow produce low prices on inferior training producing inferior students.

Folks, it just ain't so. To the contrary, active and proper marketing produces better students who expect to pay higher prices for a quality product.

Look, for example, at FlightSafety International and other successful nationally known schools. They tend to be the toughest schools, putting out the best graduates, at above-average prices. The same is true for the independent CFI. Well-known instructor and author Rod Machado, AOPA's Project Pilot National CFI, consistently charges top dollar for quality air and ground instruction. He tells me that he always has more students than he can handle, and I hear the same from other CFIs around the country who market their services.

There are reasons why marketing and quality go hand in hand. The best salespeople have the most students. When you have a lot of students, you needn't live in fear that one of them will quit, so you aren't afraid to stick to high standards. That means you put out quality pilots who spread the word? "If you want to do it right, go to_________." That, in turn, means you attract a better class of students who are willing to pay a little more to do it right. It's a wonderful cycle, and the further you get into it, the better life becomes. Oddly enough, once your reputation becomes known, you end up spending less time selling and more time flying.

It works in reverse, too. We all know at least one CFI who doesn't market, has few students, is scared to offend any of them, and so develops lax standards. That CFI becomes known as "easy," and attracts students who neither want to nor will pay for top quality. This CFI, to put it bluntly, spends more time "sucking up" than flying.

The formula is simple: Sell tough, teach tough, grade tough, and life is good. It's a great way to go, but never forget that the first word of the formula is sell.

When you are willing to sell, your income goes up. Both the flight school and the independent CFI can maintain higher payment standards, just as they maintain higher flight standards. Machado charges just as much for ground training as for flight training. He also charges for no-shows - and that is another one of those wonderful cycles. Charge for no-shows, and you get fewer no-shows! Having that policy also tends to drive away the type of student who can?t stick to a schedule, giving the instructor more time for those who can. Again, word of mouth works wonders as students warn each other.

One word of caution. None of this works on a poor product. Aggressive selling of a good product helps you make the product even better. Aggressive selling of a poor product just makes people mad. So the training you are selling needs to be good.

But if you do offer top-quality training and sell it to top-quality students, you'll sleep better at night. True professionals want to do it right. They want to know that they have contributed. They can't really be happy otherwise. As the song goes, "Don't worry. Be happy."

By Ralph Hood

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