Posts in Community Management
smarterGerman – Community building for an entrepreneurial German teacher
smartergerman

When you think of teachers, do you think of them as entrepreneurs? As people who need a website, who have an online shop and who have the need to build a community? Usually not, I am assuming, which is why I would love to introduce you to one of my clients: a teacher and someone who also does all the things mentioned above. 

Michael Schmitz teaches German, smarterGerman to be precise. He spent ten years tinkering with learning and teaching systems to bring his students, starting with no knowledge of German, to succeed at the B1 exam in only two months.

When Michael's frustration with conventional school curriculum hit the ceiling, he quit his job and decided to start his own company. I say company because Michael does not only give private lessons, he has used these forms of teaching to create a complete German grammar course for A1 to B1, showcasing some of his videos on Youtube and selling the compiled courses and extra material through his website

Michael initially approached me because he was looking for someone to take care of his social media channels. While talking about the company and his aims, he also mentioned his sales targets. While I believe that social media is important for small businesses, I wouldn’t want to make any promises to reach a number of sales with just a few tweets, Facebook or Instagram updates. 

Word of mouth is the key to good marketing and increase in sales. In order to tap into that you must listen to your clients needs, their feedback and engage them in a way so that they will tell their friends who in turn will tell their friends and so on.

I offered to look over smarterGerman's website; clarify the structure, update the copy and look over every written communication with existing customers. 

As a teacher you’re obviously interested in people learning and understanding the subject, which, if you are an online business should be reflected throughout your entire communication strategy. When you want to teach people something, your communication must go beyond the point of sale. You must show interest in your customer's success at mastering the knowledge. “Thank you for buying from us” is not enough if you want to build a successful relationship with your clients.

I suggested getting in touch with all past clients, collecting references and staying in touch even after they had succeeded in their exams. We had an amazing feedback and for their insights, smarterGerman’s clients will soon receive a little present to put under they Christmas trees too. 

Getting in touch with past clients enabled us to recognise the strengths of smarterGerman and the reasons why people decided to learn German with Michael in the first place, and so we were able to identify future business potential, define smarterGerman's target group and thus create a social media strategy that truly adds value to people’s lives. A strategy that is not just ‘noise’ but which also caters to the very specific needs of the people who move to Germany to make the country their home. 

smarterGerman’s private lessons aren’t cheap; they start at € 4.099,-. It’s a fair price given that Michael focuses all his energy on one person at a time. Looking over smarterGerman's website, I recognised that the main focus of his web presence was the price; a justification of it and not a celebration of the people reaching B1 level. Those people who are not rich or famous but who simply want to attain residency status and integrate into the local community – something which potential clients can easily identify with. 

It was a wonderful experience to work with Michael. I really loved his emails reporting on the rise of the website’s traffic and the increase to sales shortly after the updates went public. 

If you are looking for someone who can help you create retaining customer relations, please do get in touch. I am available to work on new projects after the Christmas break. Email: monikanicoletta@gmail.com

Thaipark: Where human will's stronger than official regulations.
thaiparkberlin

Regulations often make things complicated. There are so many great ideas that have fallen through because people didn't want to deal with the officials and couldn't find or afford anyone who would. In some countries it's easier to start a business; in others it's harder. In New Zealand i.e. it takes about a day to set up a business, whereas in Germany one needs to spare 15 days to get started. When you're not from Germany – especially when you don't speak German – it might take even longer. While some people would give up, others decide not to care at all. Especially when their business was not intended to be one to begin with.

The popular Thai market at Berlin's Preußenpark – better known as Thaipark – is one such case. What's nowadays one of Berlin's most known attractions was started in the mid-1990s as a small gathering of Thai women who simply wanted to enjoy each other's company and find a home away from home. In a country that's rather homeward focused, it became a public curiosity that demonstrated how foreigners make use of public space.

The hospitality of the Thai community quickly spread by word of mouth. Also, articles and mentions of avid foodies in travel guides, magazines and later on blogs might have helped to spread the word. Nowadays, it's not an unusual sight to see about 600 people gather at Preußenpark to experience the Asian holiday vibe in the midst of the German capital.

At first, the picnickers have been sharing and exchanging dishes amongst each other, but as their authentic Thai fare increased in popularity, people started selling their food. The few women that started this popular joint were hardly dedicated sales people. In most cases, they were the wives of guest workers that came to Germany in the 1980s and only worked part time or not at all. Simply put, they couldn't afford to host the increasing number of visitors and started charging people to refund their expenses. Thaipark is thus rather cheap; still, the small pocket money the vendors earn has become an indispensable part of their family's income.

While all of this sounds like a piece of modern wonderland, one shouldn't ignore the hassle the Thai community has been dealing with throughout the last two decades.

Back in the days the German Ordnungsamt dissolved the market each time; mostly because of the strong BBQ smell, which was the common way of preparation in the nineties & early noughties. Also, the amount of rubbish caused protests from residents and regular headlines in sensational press (Here's a link to one such article).

The repetitive conflicts with the officials and the endurance of the Thai community have led to a temporary permission to BBQ in a designated area, far from the meadow, where the community gathered. In the beginning, the community tried to follow the German rules, which were stated on a sign written in German, English and Thai (!). The inefficiency and the inventive spirit have led to the decision to cook on transportable gas cookers instead. The Thai community has professionalised without intending to do so.

While the picnickers are by no means officially organised or have a designated spokesperson, the common interest to keep a piece of their home's culture alive has bonded the gathering to meet at a given time at this very designated place. Throughout the years the picnickers became lighter in their gear to be able to leave the meadow every time the Ordnungsamt comes, only to come back as soon as the order-regulators leave the space. Not to stand out, the picnickers became extremely persnickety; They collect and clear all trash that's left behind and also make sure to hold the public toilet clean to an extent that every five-star-hotel would have a hard time keeping.

The popularity of the park and the care under which the community of picnickers operates has led to Preußenpark becoming a so called "loose space". The Ordnungsamt now only visits the space every couple of weeks to prevent the phenomenon from growing. Given that none of the vendors have an official permit, pay income taxes or fees for the use of the park in general, this is quite an exceptional occurrence.

Phenomenons like these are what makes Berlin such an attractive city to progressively thinking people of the world. At least that's how I see it. I hope I could put some light on this fascinating topic. I'd like to spend some more time on thinking and observing how people use public space in the future and blog a bit more about it here or on Medium. If you'd like to know more about this topic, please treat yourself to an issue of the Austrian Derivé magazine. Christian Haid wrote an amazing piece in the 51st issue, which came out in the spring of last year.