As a school marketing and admissions professional, how many “hats” are you wearing?
Based on the size of your team, you’ve got responsibilities that span recruitment, retention, internal communications, and maybe even fundraising. Perhaps you have a seat on the Leadership Team. Some or all of these hats are likely written into your job description.
And then there are your “other hats.” Perhaps you’re a parent. Maybe you coach your daughter’s volleyball team because they just needed more help. You’ve been asked to work on a special project with a group of parents.
And you’re the go-to for events. You’re ordering swag, working with caterers, and organizing volunteers for set-up and tear-down.
Whew! You’re glad to help, and the busyness of campus life can be exhilarating for a while. But before you know it, you and your team are exhausted. And those strategic projects you’ve wanted to get to … well, they’ll have to wait.
Because you just don’t have any margin.
Margin? What’s that, and why do I need it?
At North Star Marketing, we believe an empowered enrollment team is one of the key components of healthy enrollment. Your team can’t be empowered if you’re exhausted and lack the capacity to think, plan, and focus. That’s where margin comes in.
Margin is the art of creating and protecting the time, space, tools, and teams necessary to execute your wildly important goals in the near term, strategize for the long term, and to enjoy doing it along the way.
Margin for enrollment teams means having the space to think and collaborate without interruption. To engage in professional development. To read a blog post like this one. To zoom out and ask important questions like, “Why do we do what we do? Why do we do it that way? Is there a better or more efficient way? What do other schools do to address this issue?”
Without margin, you’re on the fast track to burnout. You love your school, and you’re good at what you do, but if you don’t find ways to build margin into your rhythms, you’ll grow weary, frustrated, and disengaged. And the work you once loved will become, well … just a job.
So if margin is such a critical component of an empowered enrollment team, why aren’t more teams doing it well? The primary reason I’ve seen is that they’re too busy with the urgent stuff. “How can I find margin when I’m eating lunch at my desk to get the newsletter out?”
I get it. I’ve been there. But I decided I couldn’t stay there if I wanted to build an empowered enrollment team that avoids burnout. So I set out to make some sustainable changes. I had some important conversations, found some transformative resources, and developed a set of habits.
Here’s a summary of four simple but profound strategies that have helped my teams prioritize and protect margin.
Protect Your Time
The Whirlwind vs. The Wildly Important
In FranklinCovey’s framework, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Stephen Covey distinguishes between two realities of the workplace: “The Whirlwind” and “The Wildly Important.” And we start to see the importance of focusing on The Wildly Important.
“The Whirlwind” is the stuff that happens to you — your email inbox, people coming into your office to chat, impromptu meetings, etc. By contrast, ‘The Wildly Important’ are the higher level goals that determine the success of your work.”
The 4DX model acknowledges the simple reality that work is by nature busy — The Whirlwind — and if you don’t protect and prioritize time and effort to focus on The Wildly Important, The Whirlwind will consume everything. This means that we must protect The Wildly Important at all costs!
How to do it: Identify what you’re spending your time on. Why are you doing it? Is it helping you get closer to your Wildly Important goal or preventing you from focusing on priorities? In the context of an enrollment team, your Wildly Important goal should be all about pursuing not just full enrollment but healthy enrollment at your school.
Setting Boundaries By Saying “No”
Focusing on The Wildly Important fits hand-in-glove with setting boundaries. Since you can’t do everything, what something is important enough to focus your time on proactively? If you don’t prioritize this, The Whirlwind of a school marketing and admissions career will swallow you up (along with your good intentions).
How to do it: Identify your boundaries and determine what works for you. Then, give your school 100 percent of your professional self within the boundary. Don’t give your school a percentage more — not because you lack the work ethic to give 110 percent, but because you value your relationship with the school and want to be in it for the long haul. You want to avoid burnout.
Protect Your Space
Your physical workspace impacts not only your ability to get stuff done but also your ability to find joy in work. Most of the time, your office at school is the perfect place to get your stuff done. Sometimes it’s in the conference room, collaborating with your colleagues. But sometimes, you need a change of scenery to do different types of work.
A Hybrid Model: Work From Home Wednesdays
Having an office on campus affords you unique access to accomplish your job. After all, your boots are literally on the (school) grounds. But constant proximity also comes with costs. One of those costs is the inability to think deeply about a topic or idea without interruption.
Quick read: What Interruptions do to the brain
How to do it: Consider marking every Wednesday as a work-from-home day for your enrollment team. There’s no magic to “Wednesdays” in particular, other than the alliteration of “Work” and “Wednesday.” Regardless of the day you choose to work from home, changing your scenery and limiting distractions can provide you with the mental health refreshment you need to avoid burnout. In my hybrid role (50% working with a school, 50% working with North Star Marketing), I’ve adopted this practice with my team, and it is incredible how much we can get done by just being off-campus.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, clean your office up! Your enrollment team’s day-to-day workload involves events, activities, student life, and more — things that come with piles of stuff like boxes, school spiritwear, event materials, office supplies, etc. It’s easy to let this stuff pile up without even noticing!
But what does it say to prospective families when our enrollment offices are cluttered? Don’t forget that your enrollment efforts should always be examined through “new family goggles.” While your coworkers might see a messy desk as a sign of productivity, new families likely won’t share their opinion. If you find yourself apologizing for the mess, you aren’t exercising margin in your office space.
How to do it: Prioritize time to keep your office space clean and organized. This might be as simple as a weekly or monthly 30-minute slot on your calendar where you and your enrollment team get your workspace looking immaculate.
Protect Your Tools
An empowered enrollment team pursues learning experiences that drive efficiencies, which in turn drive more margin. This starts by assessing the effectiveness of your current tools and identifying new tools that will help you maximize your time.
Geek Out on Efficiency
What is your biggest daily time suck? For many marketing and admissions professionals, it’s email. The good news is that there’s an entire cottage industry of YouTube channels, LinkedIn Groups, and even TikToks dedicated to workplace efficiency hacks.
How to do it: Consider these three simple email tips and tricks that will help you make better use of your email time:
Control Your Calendar
Does your work calendar run you, or do you run your work calendar? Getting into the discipline of proactively scheduling your time via a calendar tool is key to finding margin. It will allow you to set aside those two hours on Fridays for that blog series you’ve been meaning to write. Or that half-day you need to focus on the next steps with your school website project.
Tools like Calendly are great ways to publicize your availability for campus tours and shadow days. Setting up your public calendar availability for appointments allows you to decide which days you are available and, perhaps even more importantly, which days you aren’t available. And the best part? When a prospective student or family is looking for available tours to book, they won’t even care that there aren’t any tours available on Wednesdays or Fridays because they’re seeing what is available and booking based on how that availability overlaps with their calendar. It simultaneously creates boundaries for your team and convenience for prospective families: a win/win!
How to do it: Identify rhythms in your work week that would allow for uninterrupted time and book those times for yourself. Then, make your availability (and unavailability!) public.
Protect Your Team
Operate in Your Strengths
While you’re great at lots of things, you can’t be great at everything. I don’t mean to sound harsh; it’s just a reality. Every school marketing team has strengths to lean into and gaps to overcome. The trick here is learning how to focus on your strengths while partnering with others to address your gaps.
Building a team to help your marketing and enrollment efforts also includes allocating financial resources to augment where you need help. Your school community is loaded with talented people looking for ways to plug into the school community. Hire an hourly team member for 10 hours weekly to chip away at that professional frustration and offset a known weakness. Our experience is that these jobs don’t come with significant budgetary hits. Actually, building your team in this way frequently saves money because you can focus on the things you are efficient and enjoy doing!
- In my role, what comes naturally to me?
- What do I do in my job that gives me energy?
- When am I making my most valuable contribution?
- What am I responsible for that is not a strength for me?
- Where am I frequently (or sometimes) the bottleneck in our processes?
- What is my team particularly good at?
- What are we trying to do that we should outsource? This could take the form of busy-work that someone else could do, or it could be something that requires a level of expertise we don’t have in-house.
Your team has a unique skill set and range of experiences. When you work at the intersection of giftedness and passion, you can find your limitations, delegate tasks, and empower others in your community to help share your school’s story.
Parent and Student Ambassadors
You’re neither omniscient nor omnipresent. When you stop trying to do everything and embrace your limitations, you can focus on building your team!
Both parent and student ambassadors allow diverse people, thoughts, ideas, interests, and personalities to play key roles in your school’s marketing and enrollment efforts. Prospective families relate to different people differently. Tapping into this diversity through ambassador programs greatly benefits your enrollment program. Added bonus: many hands make light work!
How to do it: If you’re not currently using parent or student ambassadors to share your story, check out Enrollment Catalyst’s 5 Steps to Launch a Parent Ambassador Program.