Elizabeth Lyons David LyonsLast week, we talked about how center owners David and Elizabeth Lyons (North Dallas, TX) kicked off their visibility efforts by locating their Mathnasium in a popular shopping center frequented by families and then investing their efforts to create a unique, eye-catching Mathnasium-branded space that made a great first impression. Now, we’ll share more of David and Elizabeth’s tips on building the right reputation for your business—from proactive and effective communication and collaborations with schools to providing quality service that makes the Mathnasium experience memorable.

Marketing-wise, “we have tried almost everything imaginable since we’ve opened,” David recalls. “We’ve done mailings, coupon deals, and print ads in school papers, local magazines and newspapers.” However, “we saw that we still got most of our lead traffic from either drive-bys or referrals, so this year we really invested in building our relationships with schools.”

David and Elizabeth prefer to initiate contact with schools either face-to-face or over the phone. “Sending out introductory letters or emails didn’t really seem to work for us,” Elizabeth explains. “Letters end up shuffled on a desk and piled up—usually the recipient won’t get to them at all. Most school districts here, their spam filters are so sensitive that you can’t always count on your emails getting through. It’s really all about walking into the front office and having face-to-face conversations with the people there.”

North Dallas Instructor and KidThe Lyonses openly admit to being “a little gutsy” when connecting with schools. ‘We just go on in and introduce ourselves,” Elizabeth tells us. “I wasn’t too comfortable with it in the beginning, but I realized that that’s what works. Seeing us as education professionals with our Mathnasium shirts and nametags on… it’s just so much more meaningful than sending a letter about [a product that] they know almost nothing about.” When making in-person visits, David and Elizabeth don’t approach the schools empty handed—they come bearing gift baskets. “We say things like, ‘We’d like to leave this as a gift for the office and the math teachers.’ In the gift basket we have a Mathnasium coffee mug just for the principal.”

“This past January, we gave Happy New Year baskets to 10 public and six private schools in the area,” David adds. “We included pencils, pens, candy, brochures, a coffee mug for the principal, and a lot of other good stuff.”

When visiting a school, get to know the administrators working in the office. “They’ll tell you just about anything you need to know,” Elizabeth advises. “Then, follow up with a call to a key contact person at the school. Usually it’s the principal, a counselor, or someone in the PTA.”

In other situations, the Lyonses are able to leverage their existing professional network to get their foot in the door. For instance, “Our Lead Instructor previously held positions with three of the private schools here. She knows a lot of people,” Elizabeth says. “From that, we were able to connect with the principal. The principal either agrees to meet with us or directs us to the right person. Generally speaking, the principal isn’t usually the right contact person, but we have found that it carries a lot more weight if the principal introduces you to the person who can help you.”

Also, keep in mind that “A lot of the time, schools will come to you directly [before you approach them], looking for donations for silent auctions. Once we donate, that opens the door for [future collaborations].”

David and Elizabeth jump on any opportunity they can find to support schools and gain more visibility for the Mathnasium name. “We’ve donated a goody bag along with a free assessment and eight sessions for silent auctions [as well as] money [for other school- and PTA-related causes]. One school talked about needing manipulatives for the math department so we sponsored those,” David says. “We’ve also participated in a carnival… we had a booth there and a space for the kids to play.”

While the Lyonses fully understand how powerful it can be to develop a strong presence and recognition in community schools, “You still have to prove yourself,” Elizabeth cautions. “You need to have consistent results from your students. When students improve and parents are happy with that, they recommend us to their friends. We had a couple of families say recently that their child actually asked them if they could come here because some other kid in their class said ‘I go to Mathnasium and I like it.’”

With that, David and Elizabeth make a solid effort to understand and accommodate the unique needs of their students as well as their local market at large. As an example, “We have a lot of private schools in the area, so there’s a lot of test prep. We’ll work with students as they prepare for the ISEE or end of year tests alongside their regular Mathnasium work,” Elizabeth tells us. “We’ll throw in a few extra sessions if we need to, just to make sure they get it.”

North Dallas kidsIn addition, the Lyonses also do their best to serve students with different learning needs that come into their center. “It’s proven important for us to know not only the math, but how you can instruct it in a way that works,” Elizabeth says. “Since starting this business, we’ve become more educated about learning styles and certain techniques that work with different types of learners. For example, we have one student with two cochlear implants, so we’re very mindful about speaking clearly and distinctly with him. His batteries ran out one day, so we’ve told his parents to bring in a spare set for us to keep in his binder! For kids with visual processing issues, sometimes we have to cover up half the page, because looking at the whole page while working is overwhelming for them. For dyslexic kids, having graph paper on hand can help them keep the numbers straight. We’ve done a lot of research and have found a lot of helpful information out there.” (Editor’s note: While the Mathnasium program is highly effective for children with a variety of learning styles, it’s definitely not suitable for everyone. It’s important to communicate this with parents of students with learning difficulties. We strongly suggest enrolling special needs students on a trial-only basis to determine whether the Mathnasium program is the right fit for his or her needs.)

The Lyonses and their staff pay close attention to daily student work, ensuring that each student is working on the right materials at the right time and at the right pace. “We’re constantly in their binders tracking their progress! Our Lead Instructor goes through each student’s learning plan and really plans out [students’ work]. When a student sits down, she’ll open up the binder and pick out a few pages from this PK and a few more from another PK… it’s a plan for the student for that day so we know they’re still staying on target, or if they’re moving too fast or too slow,” Elizabeth explains. “It’s been such a great benefit.

“Now it’s common for parents to come in and ask how and what their child did that day. We have very involved parents! So we’ll go through the binder together and show them this ‘workout plan’ we created, which shows page assignments, checkmarks to show what’s been completed, and comments,” she continues. “We discuss this with them, talk about what the child’s learning and why [mastering] these skills is [important for building mathematical foundations], and brag on the student a little bit. Parents really like this.”

Elizabeth and David report that demonstrating their willingness to accommodate their students has encouraged greater trust and confidence among parents. As an example, “we’ve learned that to be successful here during the summer, you need to offer some flexibility. This is a huge summer camp area, and parents LOVE it when we tell them they can arrange their child’s summer sessions around all the other activities they have scheduled. It’s a huge selling point.”

Essentially, “Every time parents see you put in all this effort to help their child, they’re more willing to be loyal to you,” Elizabeth reports. “They’re so used to people saying you have to pay for every minute of every hour and so on. And when they see that we’re really just interested in benefiting their child and enriching their math knowledge, personally, I think it blows them away.”

The Lyonses’ combined efforts networking/supporting schools and providing the best service for students that results in demonstrable progress has led to strong positive word of mouth as well as school and parent referrals. Elizabeth reports that a few teachers have visited their center just to check them out. And, “this year, we heard one of the schools actually listed us on an email that went out to families suggesting summer programs. The fact that we were on that list is a huge deal! It was totally unsolicited—they just knew about us and listed us as a recommended service.”

And, “Parents are definitely talking about us!” says David. “Just today we had a mom call and tell us she was moving her kid to another school. The school said that her daughter needed math tutoring and when she mentioned the possibility of taking her child to Mathnasium, the counselor said ‘Oh we’ve heard of them. We like what they’re doing!’ Word has gotten around.”

Going forward, the Lyonses are excited about making the time commitment necessary to further strengthen their partnerships with schools. “Next year we want to be more involved in PTA meetings, supplying refreshments and things like that,” David tells us. As far as customer service goes, Mathnasium is very much a “people business, and as such, we’ll do whatever we can possibly do to accommodate the needs of our students because we really care about their success,” he concludes. “We’ll keep on doing this as long as it doesn’t interrupt the flow of other kids’ work and certainly not to the point where parents walk all over us.” Generally speaking, “when you prioritize your relationships with the parents and kids along with the quality of education you’re providing, you’re going to be successful, because these two go hand in hand!”