When I began working in tourism over 30 years ago, marketing was mainly about paying other people to do things you couldn't do for yourself.
We paid membership subscriptions to tourist boards so we could display their logo and they promoted our business in their "official guide to...".
We paid a fortune for advertisements in the Radio Times January edition when everyone thought about their holidays.
We paid for designers and printers to create our leaflets, and distribution companies to display them in motorway service stations and other random locations. We paid the AA or RAC to inspect our properties and give star-ratings.
None of it was very scientific. There were a lot of crossed fingers, relying on others, and battling to be part of the 'official' anything so visitors felt reassured.
Those days are long gone.
The 'official' anything is no-longer highly prized. It's more likely to be seen as dull and behind the times as visitors hunt down authentic, off-the-beaten-track, I-got-there-first locations. If you want to advertise, spending a few pounds to boost a post on facebook is likely to be more effective. Print material is vastly reduced.
Now marketing is much more DIY.
Visitors write their own reviews for other visitors to see.
Even a small business can gain a worldwide audience through their website, or attract the attention of journalists through their social media. Each business is much more in control of their marketing. It's no-longer something that is done for them or to them. They don't need to pay tourist board subscriptions, or spend a fortune on print ads.
One thing hasn't changed. There's still a lot of crossed fingers and hoping for the best...
Most people who run tourism businesses are not marketing experts. They bought or built their business because they're hospitable, like people, enjoy catering, are proud of their area and want to show it off, or have an interest they want to share. Most have many different skills, but several things in common.
In an ideal world most of their guests and customers will return and recommend them to others. In that same ideal world, everyone will book directly so they don't have to pay commission and they'll visit year round so owners are not rushed off their feet for half the year and worried about cashflow for the rest.
Many tourism business owners feel surprisingly alone. They're often surrounded by guests but they shoulder the responsibility of running their business alone. They keep smiling at visitors but inside worry about how they'll attract the right people at the right time, paying the right price.
When you run a tourism business marketing is important to your success. But it's something most find difficult, partly because time and budgets are always so limited. Yet most tourism business owners end up wasting precious time and money because they have to rely on trial and error. And just when you've worked out how to use the latest social media, along comes something new!
There's no shortage of courses, workshops, business support. They're not all practical and are often delivered by people who've never experienced the gut-wrenching anxiety that comes with running your own business. In fact, there's so much information and advice available, that's part of the problem. Who can find the time to sift through it all in search of the nuggets of good advice?
The problems don't stop there. Most of the advice available is designed to help with just one part of marketing. It's hard to see how it all fits together and where the priorities are.
There are countless courses and articles about how to use social media for your business.But what if you really want to know how to use it to specifically get new visitors?
But you don't know who to target? Or your social media gets people to your website but for some reason they don't book? Or maybe you've been told to use keywords to improve your SEO but you've no clue what words people search for because you're not sure what's in the minds of your potential visitors ? And so it goes on...
Strangely, very few workshops deal with things like how to charge a fair price for what you offer, which marketing to do first, or what's not worth doing.
Most advice is ad hoc and there's little sense of progress or provision. It's not tailored to businesses at different stages of development, from starting out to expansion.
Business owners tell me that they often feel overwhelmed. They have a huge marketing 'to do' list, but don't know what to do first. They go on courses but don't know how to put the ideas into action. They're not sure how to adapt advice for their own business. They have limited time and budgets so really need to know what will work for them. If they can spare 15 minutes a few times a week, what marketing activities would make the most difference to their business?
It's for all these reasons that I'm starting to do something different. I hope it will help many businesses. After such a long time working with thousands of tourism businesses, I think I've worked out what works and what doesn't, what marketing is most important and when to do it, how to save money and when to spend it, how each marketing activity fits together, what you need to do to solve challenges like getting more direct bookings, building year-round businesses and getting people to stay longer.
I've never seen a programme that's easy to access, friendly and nurturing. Or one that lets people progress at their own pace, while taking them step-by-step through more systematic marketing activities. I've never found anything that says 'do this, you could try this, but don't bother doing that' or that says 'if your budget and time are limited, here are the five things you need to do, in this order so you don't waste money or time'.
I'm planning to fill these gaps by creating the Nurture and Grow Programme. If you've ever wanted to feel less alone in your business, to feel more supported, more certain about what to do, and less overwhelmed, the Nurture and Grow Programme is for you. If you've ever wanted someone to come along and just guide you in the right direction so you can make money without spending every moment working, this is for you.
If you've ever been on courses and picked up information but struggled to implement it or just lost your way from time to time and secretly wanted someone to nudge you along, Nurture and Grow is for you.
It's called NAG for short, so if you've ever needed a gentle push to help your business reach its full potential, this is for you!
Nurture and Grow is a full step-by-step programme that you can follow in your own time, using a combination of live and recorded workshops, written support and a warm, friendly online community.
I've already got a brilliant list of lovely business owners who're waiting to step inside the programme. Some are new faces, others are people I've been helping for years.
The Nurture and Grow programme is something I've wanted to develop for ages, and now I'm actually doing it! I'm excited and energised by all the ideas in my head and the chance to help more businesses.
If this sounds like something you're interested in, email so I can add you to the (no obligation) waiting list. I'm going to limit numbers on the programme, but there'll be some special introductory offers for those on the waiting list. I'll send you the full information next week. Thanks to everyone who has already said they're interested - the response has been fantastic and is really spurring me on to build something special and as useful as I can make it.
Please note: all articles are copyright Susan Briggs 2021
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All articles on this site are copyright Susan Briggs, The Tourism Network Ltd 2021
Email Susan Briggs
The Tourism Network Ltd, The Old Mill, Millgate, Masham, HG4 4EZ
Tel: 07768 365591