Tips for Instructors - Where Do You Find Your Students
        marketing tips for the cfi who does not have time for marketing

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Printed in National Association of Flight Instructors - Mentor - March-April 2015


Recently I was with several pilots, and one of them asked, “So where do you find your students?”  And I had to think a bit.  I have always been a free-lance instructor in a fairly large metropolitan area, and for the most part I have always had a comfortable amount of students.  Oh, sometimes my wife finds me grumbling that no one wants to fly anymore, and she just reminds me that the thermometer outside is reading single digits.  No one is interested in talking about flying in that weather.  And then two months later I will be turning folks away again.

o where do these students come from?  I had to think a bit. And I realized that they did not “just appear”.  I was actually conducting a very targeted marketing program.  I did not know that I was doing that.  I thought that I was just getting involved in flying, something that comes to me like breathing.  And something I would be doing anyway if no one ever called.

First of all, any successful business person will say that the best way to get a customer is to keep a customer.  And the next best way to get a customer is to have your existing customers advertise for you.  After all, how many of those pesky loyalty programs do you enjoy?  Lots of businesses know that you need to give good service, and then entice your customers back.

So how does that work for us?  First of all, you keep in touch with your students.  Whether it is a private pilot, instrument pilot, or some other rating, give your former students a call or email from time to time.  And this should not be a “Let’s go flying this week” call, although there is nothing wrong with those.  No, this is just a, “What’s going on in your world?” call.  Just a call from someone who is interested in the life of someone else.  And those checkouts and flight reviews and instrument proficiency checkride you conducted - are you calling those folks a few months later, asking how they are doing with that knowledge they gained from you?

And the other side of this coin is being available when your former students call on you.  A fellow CFI, who did not last long in the instructing world, grumbled to me at one point that these students called him at home to talk flying, and where was the payment in that?  All I could say was, “Yes, they do that.”  And I am delighted that they think enough of my experience and knowledge to call me and not someone else.

Ever join the Saturday morning gathering of pilots?  This normally goes on at the local airport, but sometimes at the local coffee shop.  It is not unusual for someone, at some point, to ask, “Does anyone know a good CFI?  I have a flight review due this month.”  If your name is on Joe’s mind at this point, yours is the name he passes on to Jim.

So where else to pilots find flight instructors?  Any place they gather.  If you read the advice books on looking for any job, you will see, before the end of the second paragraph, this recommendation – network.  How does this work for us?
I am a member of EAA and AOPA, and have been for more than 30 years.  I didn’t know I was networking.  I thought that I was just supporting aviation with my wallet, and meeting other pilots at AOPA seminars and EAA meetings.  And I thought that my participation in the EAA Young Eagles program was something I did because I love flying with kids.  But guess what – sometimes the reason those kids are there is because Mom or Dad is interested in flying.  Pass out a business card and chat about flying.  And then, make sure the other pilots who are present flying with the kids know that you are an instructor that they can call if they have a flying question.  Yes, sometimes they are looking for free advice, but free advice today turns into paying advice in the future.

Are you a member of NAFI or SAFE?  I belong to both, because I believe in the goals of each of them.  And as a side benefit, my contact information is on both of their websites.
 Have you been teaching for a few years?  Consider applying to become a Master CFI.  There are two routes to such certification and both will give you additional credibility in your chosen profession.  And both will list you on their website for pilots who are looking for a CFI who is a cut above the rest.

 the best way to get a customer
 is to keep a customer.

 Have you been teaching for a few years?  Consider applying to become a Master CFI.  There are two routes to such certification and both will give you additional credibility in your chosen profession.  And both will list you on their website for pilots who are looking for a CFI who is a cut above the rest.

And speaking of websites - Websites and other electronic sites are pretty much a given now.  Do you have your own website?  Do you at least have a Facebook page?  If you have either, are there pictures of your students out there?  Nothing like a pic of an excited new solo student to add some zing to your site. And by singing their praise, you give them a reason to share their success with their friends.

And if you have a website or Facebook page, make sure that a link exists on every email you send out.  This is simple.  If you don’t know how to create a signature for your email on your computer or tablet or phone, ask someone who knows. (and that includes asking me if you wish.)

Where else do you see pilots gather?  How about those AOPA safety seminars or other Wings seminars that show up in your neighborhood?  Are you attending, or are you just thinking, “I already know about icing.”  Or, “I just don’t want to sit through another presentation of runway incursions.”  You might not care about the topic, but there are other people there who do.  Go chat with them during the breaks.

In fact, I will challenge you to go one step further.  Call your local FSDO and ask for the FAA person who is in charge of the Wings program and ask to present a seminar yourself.  (I guarantee that you will allowed, no, encouraged, to do so.)  Is that too big of a step for you?  Ask instead for a list of names of people who are putting on seminars in your area.  Or attend some seminars, and find out who the presenters are.  In either case, it is not unlikely that the presenter will invite you to help put a presentation together if you ask.  (I know that I would love to have some volunteer help for mine.)

Are you interested in flying IFR?  How about joining, or establishing, an IMC club in your community.  IMC Clubs are a national movement that operate at the local level, bringing pilots together who are interested in flying IFR.  (As an aside, a local pilot, who knows that I facilitate an IMC meeting each month, asked me how much it cost to join.  I told him that it was free.  He asked how I got paid then, and I told him that I don’t.  I just do this because I think it is important to do so.)

Don’t Practice Until You Get It Right - Practice Until You Don’t Get It Wrong