My husband and I used to own an imaginary dog called Wilbur. He was very much part of our life: we had some lovely daily walks with him and took it in turns to let him out and feed him first thing in the morning and last thing at night. We knew he didn't exist but we talked and acted as if he did. We could even picture his sad little face if we failed to walk him.
Obviously this sounds a bit bonkers, and you'd be forgiven for wondering what it's got to do with tourism marketing? The answer is: walking Wilbur was the same as brushing your teeth.
More nonsense? No, it's about habits. We didn't want to get a dog if we weren't convinced we could fit him into our busy lives, and get into the habit of walking him regularly. There was no point in just thinking about it. We had to do it.
The same applies to tourism marketing.
Back to the toothbrush. Most of us are in the regular habit of brushing our teeth, morning and night. We barely think of it during the day and when it's time to perform this simple task we don't have to think about it in advance, or build up to it. It's just automatic. Brushing our teeth or going on a daily walk with a dog isn't onerous. It's part of a daily routine and 'just happens'.
If you want to make money from your tourism business, you need to make sure people know about it. You need to market it. Marketing is a bit like walking Wilbur or brushing your teeth. It doesn't have to take all day. It might just take a few minutes every day. It should be something you automatically do (not without thinking about the actual activities). It should be a habit.
"Not enough time". What does that really mean?
I can already hear you saying, "but I don't have enough time". When I ask people what they struggle with most in their marketing, the most frequent response is "not enough time". But what does this really mean?
Of course we might struggle to accomplish all we have to do in our daily lives. We have to make choices between what's essential and what's just nice or good to do.
When you say you don't have enough time to do any marketing, you're likely to mean something a little different, probably one of these:
1. I don't think my business is important enough to find time to do any marketing. I don't really care enough about it. More marketing might mean more income or an easier life, but that's not really want I want. I'd rather spend time doing other things.
2. I tend to do 'urgent' things, before important things. I'm more reactive to situations and don't really get round to planning my marketing.
3. I don't really know what to do to market my business. I probably need some kind of structure and more of a habit and direction to be able to make it part of my routine. If I had these, I could spend just half an hour on marketing much more frequently and make more of an impact on my business, without faffing about and wasting time.
4. I'm not very organised or good at planning my time. If I had some help to do this, I could definitely achieve more.
Which of these do you think applies most to you?
Over the next few months I'm going to help tourism businesses who have answered 2,3, or 4.
Can Eisenhower help?
If you answered 2,3, or 4, you might like to think about Eisenhower's Matrix. Most tasks can be described as falling within one of the squares in this grid.
Obviously tasks that are urgent and important need to be prioritised. Ones that are neither could be left undone. Many of the tasks we spend time on feel urgent but are not really important.
Some activities are actually very important but we don't do them because they don't feel urgent and don't have a time limit on them. Many people would put marketing into the "Important but not urgent" box, which means it just doesn't happen.
One relatively easy way to solve this is to plan and make your marketing part of your daily routine. Just like brushing your teeth, incorporating small periods of time undertaking some marketing activities can reap fantastic longer term rewards. The key is to make it into something you do more frequently so it feels like a habit, instead of something you push off into the future.
Why not try a little experiment? Put an appointment with yourself in your diary.
Block out a 30 minute session at least 3 times a week, when you promise yourself you'll do some pre-planned marketing for your business. If you're less likely to keep an appointment with yourself, why not write "Don't let Wilbur down" in your diary instead!!
1. Don’t spread yourself too thinly. If you’ve got a limited marketing budget, it pays to focus on a couple of specific markets and then to ripple your efforts outwards instead of trying to target everyone at once.
2. Segment your markets carefully – don’t rely on age or income as determinants. Life stage, life style and personal values are more reliable but remember people change their needs depending on who they’re with & even the time of day.
3. Be sure of who you are. What do you stand for? What do you want people to think about you? Make sure that image is reflected everywhere you can – on your stationery, in your brochure, on your website, on signage, staff uniforms or badges etc. Carefully choosing (and sticking to) the right colours and typefaces can help you convey the right message.
4. Be clear about what you do and do it well. Have a clear and focused identity. For example, you could be the place to take a family, or for stressed city dwellers to relax, or for active breaks.
5. Use a strong emotional appeal. How can you do one of these: make people happier, healthier, more beautiful, more loved, or richer?
6. Don’t assume budgets are the barrier. They sometimes are, but not always. Remember sometimes people don’t buy because they’re suspicious, especially if the price seems unusually low, or sometimes they just need to know more about what you're offering.
7. Often people don’t buy because they don’t understand what you’re offering, or more importantly, don't see what the benefits are to them.
8. Follow through. A customer research survey found that that 19% of businesses didn’t respond to email enquiries. 25% found that phones were engaged or went to voicemail. Don’t spend money on marketing and then waste it with bad follow up service.
9. Do your customers have a problem you can solve? Are they tired, stressed, in need of a change? Find a problem, offer a solution and you’re on to a winner.
10. Write in language real people understand. Get rid of the jargon. Make your sentences shorter. Add a touch of humour. Sound like you’re a human!
11. Avoid over-used expressions. How “unique” is unique? What does “something for everyone” actually mean?
12. Don’t forget the cheapest, most effective marketing tool – word of mouth. Build a buzz by doing something that’s talked about and exceeding customer expectations.
13. What is memorable about your business and what you offer? What do you do to help people remember you and recommend you to others?
14. We say first impressions count, but last impressions last. What do you do to create a positive lasting impression that encourages recommendations?
If you're in the UK, you'll have noticed a cooler breeze and sense that Autumn is on its way. This is when many tourism business owners and managers decide to hibernate, to collapse in an exhausted heap and be glad they don't have to put on their happy face for visitors until next Spring.
Others take the time to wonder what they could have done to generate more business over the past few months and how they can make the off-season more profitable.
A question: who do you think is most likely to walk furthest, in the fastest time and get fittest?
a) the group with the right walking boots, a planned route, a proper map and a really good lunch; or
b) the group who decide to set off on their walk on the spur of the moment with little else other than enthusiasm, and willingness to see where their path will take them?
The spontaneous wanderers might enjoy their outing but they're also likely to get hungry en route, waste time getting lost and meet barriers on the way - and they're not really sure where they're going.
The better prepared group have done everything they can to increase their chances of arriving at their final destination and being able to celebrate their achievement.
Why am I using this analogy? I meet a lot of business owners and managers who tell me they want 'more business'. When I ask them how much more, the answer is 'more'.
When I ask when they want more business, the answer is often 'all the time, but especially off-peak'
When I ask what they think they need to do to get more business, their answer is usually 'more marketing', often with the proviso that they don't want to spend too much.
There's nothing wrong with these responses, but they're so vague the chances of these businesses owners ever celebrating reaching their chosen destination is slim. They haven't really decided on their destination. Like the spontaneous wanderers, they're basing their business plans more on hope than a carefully chosen route.
I've found that after three decades working in tourism marketing, I can help almost any business to find new ways to market themselves or find new markets or make their business better in some way. Most of the time they can achieve quite a lot simply by implementing practical advice I give them. That's one of the great satisfactions of doing what I do. But is it enough?
A few tweaks may be sufficient for some businesses but I don't think it's enough for most.
I feel increasingly frustrated by how many businesses are effectively leaving money on the table, running themselves ragged and actually restricting their income. Why?
It's not because they don't want to earn more, or make their marketing more efficient.
It's because they're not brave enough to set targets for their business. They may compare years of revenue or bookings but that's not the same as setting stretching targets, and identifying a structured plan to achieve them.
Some claim it's down to lack of time, but the reality is that they've not taken the decision to invest a couple of hours to plan the future of their business to make life easier later.
It can be a brave step. If you set a target and don't achieve it, that's not a good feeling Some don't set targets because they're scared of failing. Setting targets means making quite a dramatic step forward. It's making a commitment to yourself, saying you believe your business will still be here in years to come. It's being a proper grown up, daring to believe in yourself and the dream of your business.
A couple of weeks ago I had an email from a business owner outlining all she'd achieved over the past few years and suggesting what she'd like to do next. She ended her email asking, "am I being too ambitious? Do you think it's right to think I can do this?"
Of course she wasn't being too ambitious. Is it really possible to be too ambitious for your business, assuming you don't do anything untoward to fulfil your ambitions?
For some reason a lot of business owners doubt their ambition. It's almost as if someone somewhere has set out some rules about what we're allowed to believe about ourselves and we're scared of breaking them. There are no rules! You're allowed to think big. It's good to identify what your'e trying to achieve.
Occasionally I meet someone who tells me exactly what they'd like to achieve, by when. They've determined a clear target for success, and just need advice on what to do to reach it. Such business owners are not only more successful, they tend to spend less time agonising about what they're doing and they don't waste money on the 'wrong' marketing. I've often found the only difference between them and other less successful businesses is that they've actually taken the time to think about their business and their targets. Seriously, it can be that easy.
So now's your opportunity. Use these quieter months to give your marketing and business some oomph, by being much more intentional about what you'll do to improve.
It's easy to get started. You can do it right now. Just answer a few questions:
Don't just think about these questions. Spend a bit of time thinking about your answers. Write them down. Writing down targets can be a much more powerful motivator than just vaguely hoping.
Then all you need to do is work out what actions you'll take to reach those targets...
I'm planning to be able to help you with that too, and am currently working on a step-by-step 'system' to help you reach those goals. More on that later...
I love September. It's a fresh new start after the summer, full of promise. A bit like January, but with better weather!
When I come back to my desk in September I feel refreshed and full of ideas. It's a time when I make sort-of-resolutions, making plans for the coming months.
But there's often one key frustration.
How can we make progress, when there are so many jobs to be done, and we barely have time to think?
Over the Summer I did have time to think and I hope I've got some answers to this perennial problem for small tourism businesses.
Most of us have something we want to do to make our business better. It might be improving our marketing, developing new products or making some physical changes. The problem is there's always something else claiming our attention. When you run a small business, you probably find that you focus on the 'must do' jobs before the 'want to do' or the 'do now for an impact later' jobs. There's always something that's urgent and needs your attention. Some of the jobs we feel we have to get done aren't particularly important but there's a sense of urgency about them. They so easily distract from making any real progress and taking our business forward.
I think I've found an answer!
In fact, I have three solutions to the problem of not making progress when you barely have time to think. I've tested each of them over the last year or so and they've really worked well.
Before I tell you, think of a project you want to undertake, something you want to achieve or make better and keep it in your mind as we go. I'll refer to this below as your 'progress'. Read to the end for details of how I'm putting all this into practice.
Running your own business is wonderful. In theory you get to be in charge of your time and exactly what you do. The reality is that we're all accountable to our clients so we bend over backwards to please them and that doesn't leave any time left for us to make progress. Making progress on our big project is always in the future, never something we work on right now.
At the same time most of us like to do what we say we'll do. So the first thing we need to do is announce our project. What are you planning to do to make progress in your business? Who can you tell? It's helpful to set a date and give some details as part of the move to make yourself stick to your plan.
I have a concrete example of this. For years I've planned to write a blog but other things got in the way. At the beginning of the year I announced online that I was going to write a daily blog, which I also share via a facebook page. I was quite specific, telling people about what I was going to do, when and where. Since then I've been extremely busy with other work and there have often been times when I struggled (writing a blog next to a family member in hospital was a low point) but I've kept going. I'm not sure what I think would happen if I didn't do this but now I've announced it, I feel accountable so I keep doing it.
It takes guts to announce what you're planning to do, but the courage you'll need is far less than the frustration of not making progress month after month!
2. Create a habit
An important part of making progress in your plans is to keep moving forward by doing something. Even doing something small but consistently is worthwhile. Thinking and planning aren't enough. You have to create a habit, and focus on taking tiny steps that together add up to real progress. You might think that you need to clear a big chunk of time to make progress but that's rarely feasible.
It's much more effective to create a habit and to do something for less time, more frequently. This is why the daily practice of writing my blog works. Over time I'm building thousands of words of new content which is satisfying and has already reaped rewards in terms of web traffic.
Doing something consistently is important to build credibility and generate rewards that spur you on to greater efforts. I have found that whether it's writing a blog, consistently posting on social media, or sending out regular (with emphasis on regular e.g. at set times) mailings really makes a big difference. I don't have any more time than before but since I've established regular habits to do certain things I've found I'm somehow found time by becoming much more focused on the achievement of the regular habit. In turn each of those regular activities has paid dividends by building followers, response rates and sales conversions which has encouraged me to keep going towards my goals.
Running a small business can mean that you need to keep a firm handle on costs. I've often hesitated to invest in my business, whether it was buying time-saving software or going to a conference where I might learn something useful.
Making a concrete decision to invest both time and money in my business has been fruitful. I've wasted hours downloading free software or templates etc that I've never used properly but when I've spend money it's forced me to follow up and use the advice or software I've bought.
Over the past few years the combination of public funding and the internet has meant that there is no shortage of free courses and information. But this hasn't led to significant improvements in marketing or business success.
I think this is because there has to be a little pain, in terms of investment, to make you think about what you're doing and really leap forward. If you really want to make progress, you know you need to invest time, money or both. It can be worthwhile taking advantage of free advice, going to free workshops and events. But the ones you pay for will be much more effective - once you've opened your wallet, you'll be much more willing to put advice into action, to make real progress. Commitment, in terms of money or minutes, makes a big difference.
Free tourism marketing advice
Please note: all articles are copyrighted Susan Briggs