Using the Public Library as a Marketing Tool

Today we hear from expert writing tutor Jane Hirschhorn.  She shared recently in the Just for Tutors group that she participated in an event at her local library. I love that she recognizes the potential in planting the seeds of her services through offering free events, and takes the time to grow opportunities.  Learn more about how she worked collaboratively to make it happen.  -Adrianne

Marketing & Volunteering: Using the Public Library as a Marketing Tool

by Jane Hirschhorn, owner, JBH Tutoring

One way tutors can market themselves in front of a group of potential clients is to offer a free taste of their services. Last fall, I helped organize and participate in a college essay-writing workshop at my local library. The three-hour workshop offered high school seniors an opportunity to work on their college essay in a communal setting with help from peers and professional writing tutors. The workshop was truly a win-win situation for everyone: students received great feedback on their writing, and tutors like me had the opportunity to market their services.

Laying the groundwork: approaching library staff and planning

Last spring, I approached the library staff to pitch the workshop. Fortunately, my city has an excellent library and a bright, enthusiastic and organized teen librarian in Liz Rowland. Liz was excited about my idea and offered many helpful suggestions for organizing the workshop.

We decided to divide the day into two parts. The first would be a large-group session in which Liz and the tutors would offer general tips about writing the college essay. During the second part, students would separate into four groups ranging from those in the earliest phases of the writing process to those who had written a reasonably polished draft. Students would be assigned a professional tutor who met with them individually for a brief writing conference. Before and after the conferences, students would be free to peer edit one another’s essays.

In the fall, Liz created a flyer for the event, which she and I distributed to interested parties, including high school guidance counselors. The workshop was free, but students were asked to register in advance and bring a copy of their essay if they had one. Liz recruited both private tutors as well as employees of local tutoring companies to staff the event. In the weeks leading up to the workshop, Liz created a detailed schedule of the day’s events, including assigning each student to a specific tutor.

The big day

The workshop was a success, due in large part to Liz’s hard work in planning the minute details of the event. It drew about 60 registered students, and was even able to accommodate a few walk-ins. Tutors introduced themselves to the entire group, helped a group of kids with their essays and were permitted to display their business cards and other promotional materials (tip sheets, etc.) on a table near the room’s entrance. I met some nice kids and read some great essays. Based on informal and formal collected feedback, the response from students was overwhelmingly positive. Both Liz and I were delighted, and we set a date for another workshop to be held again this fall.

Did it translate into business?

The workshop did not directly translate into much direct business for me, but it did widen my exposure and enhance my profile in the community. At the workshop, I happened to run into a mom who I had met a week prior at a meeting held at my daughter’s school. She later hired me to work with her daughter on the college essay. Even though the workshop led to only one tutoring session, the experience allowed me to interact with members of my target audience. Those interactions may lead to new business down the road. Just as important, the event allowed me to donate some of my services in the community where I work and live, and this part of my work is important to me. I should also note that later that year, I gave a talk at the same library about how parents can help their kids with writing assignments, and I ultimately ended up working with the son of one of the talk attendees. Additionally, Liz wrote me a strong testimonial which I posted to my website.

Not all libraries are alike

My experience with helping create and run a free workshop at the library was overwhelmingly positive, due in large part to excellent staff and the library’s philosophy and policies. However, not all libraries hold the same policies regarding speakers and programming. When I contacted two other local libraries about hosting a talk about how parents can help students with writing assignments, one program director told me that the library was not allowed to host even free programs if the speaker represented a for-profit company.

Final thoughts

Offering some part of your services for free at a local library or community center may not lead to new business, either immediately or in the future. However, putting yourself in front of the audience you seek allows you to gain exposure in the community and elevates your status as an expert tutor: an educator who is smart and serious about one’s work, but also someone who is good with kids. And what tutor wouldn’t welcome that assessment?

Jane HirschhornJane Hirschhorn is a writing tutor based in the Boston area and is the owner of JBH Tutoring. She loves talking about books and is fascinated by how people learn.

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