The car rolled to a stop,my arrival announced by the gravel crunching under the wheels. I scanned the shallow wooden structure and the green grass field for signs of life. The day before my friend had said to me "If you like building model airplanes why not try flying one?". It seemed like a good idea at the time but now as I approached an airport I began feeling a little uncomfortable since this was a foreign environment for me.
Where do I go, what do I ask, and who do I ask about learning to fly? All these questions rattled through my mind. I knew I was in the right place because I saw a few small airplanes, but now what. I sat in my car with the engine running thinking to myself, "Ok, now I'm outside my comfort zone!". I noticed a small worn sign "learn to fly here", indicating that I was in the right place, my heart began racing from nervousness.
Walking into the dimly lit building I felt as if I entered a small hunt club or card club but I sure didn't expect what I saw. It was a busy environment with pictures of planes haphazardly placed on the walls and an occasional back of a t-shirt haphazardly cut and hastily inscribed with "first solo", the date, and name of the lucky pilot.
Looking past all the busyness of the office I saw a young man behind the counter and he looked up with a warm smile and said "Hello how are you". Immediately much of my nervousness left me and I said "I'm well. I'd like to learn to fly".
He responded with "That's great! My name is Kerry let me show you around". For the next hour Kerry walked me around the airport, showed me airplanes, talked about the thrills of learning to fly, and told me a little about himself and how he started flying. I was hooked. Little did I know that one day I would become an airline captain but I knew I was excited about my new found avocation.
There are two things I remember from my introduction to aviation. First was the warm welcome I received when I entered the building and the second was the excitement of my flight instructor. I remember to this day flying over the Wyoming Valley in Northeast Pennsylvania with a big smile on my face and turning to my flight instructor who was smiling back. We both at that moment understood our joy and the words uttered from my instructor resonate today, "I get paid for doing this!". And so would I some day.
I later realized the wonderful experience I had when I first entered the flight school was not the norm but the exception. As I fly around this country I make it a point to stop by the local flight school and inquire about renting an aircraft and taking flying lessons. I find some schools do a great job and are very customer oriented but most need to improve their customer service.
It amazes me to hear instructors complain about lack of students while in the same breath tell me they are not willing to hang around the airport waiting for them. That is ok if they are actively out seeking students at other venues but most are not.
Having started and grown businesses during two recessions I know it is important to stick with the basics and remember the most important person is the customer. This helped me when I began flight instructing and helped me grow my student base quickly. As a matter of fact I earned more money instructing than I did the first 4 years working for the airlines. Let me share with you what worked for me and what I feel will work for you as an instructor. If you are looking for an instructor, you might want to look for these traits during your search.
Steps To Building Your Client List
First, planes, pilots, and potential students can be found at the airport. It is important to be where the students congregate if you are going to be a successful instructor. Therefore you need to be at the airport. Again remember that every person that owns an airplane at the airport will need an instructor for a flight review or to regain their instrument competency.
When a student walks in the door start by saying to yourself, "I am going to spend as much time with this person as possible and answer all their questions". That way if you are still talking an hour later you will still feel energized while explaining the process of learning to fly.
Second, find out why they fly or want to learn to fly. You should start with a one or two sentence description of why you like to fly. I then turn and ask the potential client why they want to fly. After they describe their reasons I will then relate my experiences to their goals.
If they want to fly down the Florida Keys I'll tell them the wonderful views they will enjoy while the turquoise waters slip below. Of course always remember to mention the wonderful fresh grouper sandwiches and other great places to eat when they visit. If they are looking to use this as transportation for their business, explain to the client how they can utilize their aircraft for their particular business. Everyone is unique and comes to the wonderful world of flying for many reasons so lets listen to why they are interested in learning to fly.
Third, take the time to show the potential client the entire operation and review the process of learning to fly including a brief overview of the different stages in the learning process. One of the most disconcerting things for a student is the unknown. Bridge the known/unknown gap by describing in detail what will happen during each lesson.
Tour the flight school and as your walking with the potential client the most important thing to do is listen. During this walking tour you are getting the client to relax and open up and become comfortable with you. Personally I schedule a two hour session with each potential student for this process.
When you return to the flight school,show your client the syllabus and go through the main stages in their obtaining their pilot certificate or additional rating. It is at this point we begin to discuss costs and a budget. Occasionally, you will have a student who comes to you with a large sum of money ready to get start flying but the majority must operate on a budget. Relate all the costs associated with learning to fly and then divide this number by the number of months they have to plan to finish their rating. This will give them a good monthly budget. You should also discuss a monthly budget for flying after they get their pilot certificate. Help them understand what expenditures are expected and relate ways to save money flying such as partnerships and clubs.
For the client interested in flying to remote islands relate the expenses of renting the plane, parking, and other fees for the potential trip. For those looking to take a short hop to a local airport for the proverbial hundred dollar hamburger then show them where to get information on the best airport restaurants. Again share in their vision of what they want to do with their license by describing the fun they will have while also giving the practical knowledge on how to get there.
Next, when the person walks in your door, if you have a plane available and the time to do so, take the person for a short plane ride to a nearby airport or over a place of interest such as the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, or the clients house. This should be a memorable experience for the individual.
Lastly, always schedule your next appointment. If the person was a walk in and you are busy with another client make sure you have something to give the client including literature on how to fly, your business card, a list of websites describing the process of learning to fly, and any other literature you might have available. If you are trying to build a student base the most important thing is to be available. One of the ways to build a client base quickly is to be available during a specific time period and let everyone know what that is. For example I was always available for my clients Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am until 10:00 pm. If I didn't have a student I would still come in to be ready for my next client to walk through the door.
Within a few months I became so busy that I would book standby students for many of my lessons. The reason I was able to build such a large client base was my consistent availability and my consistent instructional technique. The latter I will write about in an upcoming article.
In conclusion one of the best places to find new students is at the airport and to make your time with potential clients productive. To summarize:
1. Be available.
2. Spend time with your potential client.
3. Give them as much information as possible and get to know their goals.
4. Schedule a lesson or meeting. This includes inviting the potential client to any known aviation events as your guest such as a FAASTeam meeting, air show, or aviation open house.
Remember the best place to find potential clients is at he airport. Your next goal is to retain your clients which I will speak about again in a future article.