Whether you’re a newly minted flight instructor looking for work, or a seasoned veteran moving to a new location, you can be successful from the start with a well-planned, low-cost marketing strategy.
Before you begin instructing at an airport—even as an independent contractor—it’s always a good idea to introduce yourself to the airport manager and discuss any minimum standards of operation in place there. Many airports require commercial operators, including flight instructors, to carry liability insurance, and some require you to lease office space at the airport. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with airport management and other commercial tenants by being labeled a &qlduo;gypsy flight instructor.”
Once you’ve become familiar with the rules of engagement, there are many ways to target potential customers without spending a lot of money on advertising. One of the first things you should do is reach out to your existing network of aviation friends and associates. The best business you’ll earn will be from personal referrals: people who know you well and can attest to your skill, knowledge, experience, and friendly personality. Let everyone at the airport know that you’re available for flight reviews and whatever other forms of instruction you choose to offer. If you own an airplane and are going to be instructing in it, make a small sign with your name, cellphone number, and services offered and put it in the window when it’s parked on the ramp. Get some inexpensive business cards printed and carry a stack with you wherever you go.
Next, reach out to your local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter (make sure to join EAA if you’re not already a member), Civil Air Patrol squadron, and any flying clubs or aircraft partnerships at your airport and other local airports. Introduce yourself to your local FAA Safety Team representatives, designated pilot examiners, aviation medical examiners, aviation maintenance shops, and FBOs. All of these people are in contact with pilots every day, and they can be a great source of referrals. Some businesses might even allow you to leave a handful of your business cards on their front desks for their customers to see.
AOPA and EAA both maintain databases of active flight instructors that are searchable on their websites. The listings are free to members and are a great way to reach thousands of pilots in your area:
Once you’ve covered all of your aviation bases, reach out to the general public. Craigslist is an often overlooked site for flight instructors and new flight schools to let people in town know they exist. If yoga instructors, math tutors, and personal trainers can advertise their services on Craigslist, so can you. You might get a bit of spam if you reveal your email address, but a carefully worded post in the Services/Lessons section with a phone number and a link to your website can yield legitimate customer leads.
Don’t have a website? Don’t worry, and by all means don’t pay someone a ton of money to create one for you unless you have cash to burn. With a basic understanding of the Internet (which we would hope, as a flight instructor, you already have), you can build your own professional-looking website for free and purchase hosting for just a few dollars a month from a variety of service providers. Consider hosting a blog instead of a static website, so you can easily and frequently update your content—one of the keys to getting listed on page one of a Google search. You can also improve your search engine ranking by using keywords in your home page content as well as in the page code. WordPress is great for beginners and also offers advanced features such as integration with search engine optimization (SEO) tools.
If you don’t have one already, consider hosting a free Facebook page, and encourage all of your Facebook “friends” to “like” it and share it with their online friends. We use Facebook to post real-time news, photos, and videos, including first solos and successful checkrides. It’s fast and easy, and it’s a great way for us to motivate, congratulate, and inform our audience.
Meredith Holladay and her husband, Dana Holladay, are flight instructors and the owners of Holladay Aviation in Jacksonville, Florida.