How Long is a Piece of String?


It’s a seemingly irrelevant question isn’t it! Although, does it make any less sense than questions such as: How do I get fit? Or, how do I market my business? There is always more than one right answer, but the one thing they do have in common is the need for more information in order to answer correctly. If you ask the right question you will usually get the right answer.

Summer is here and many of us, especially those of us in the north, are happy to get out and enjoy a few libations on the patio, a great cookout with friends and family or pretty much anything we can enjoy that doesn’t involve work, for the next couple of months. Once the school bell rings again we’ll jump back in where we left off! Well, I suppose you can, and let’s hope that’s exactly what your competition is doing.

Good operators, on the other hand, are looking at their marketing budgets (really, it’s not a myth, people actually have them and so should you!), looking at where they need to focus their attention and resources, planning how the rest of the year is going to look when it comes to marketing and plotting their goals and objectives.

Here are some tips to help you get on track and be ahead of the game when the fall season begins:

1) Set a Budget
No excuses either! If you can afford to eat, pay staff, take a holiday, buy new equipment, you can afford to market! Traditional formulas are 10% of fixed expenses or 5-6% of revenue should be set aside monthly. If you are working with a “when-I-desperately-need-traffic-and-have-a-few-dollars” strategy, this may seem like an impossible amount. If it’s not feasible right now, set a number you can afford and consider it spent money! It is the lifeblood, the equivalent of food if you will, of your business. It needs to be fed.

2) Develop a plan
Probably the greatest stumbling block of all! Time and time again a plan is put together, for one whole long year at a time, based on what was done the previous year. No thought given to new programs, new goals, or new initiatives. After a month or two and 68 changes later it finds its way to the bottom drawer only to be dusted off when someone asks if you have one so you can say yes.

Simplify the process by looking at the end goal, breaking it down into more manageable quarterly sections and then build it for your immediate goals. Once you are five-six weeks into the first phase you will have a better sense of how you want to tweak it for the next quarter and can start mapping that out.

Flexibility is key, but the core foundation and consistency are what begins to build the brand and develop the ongoing strategy.

3) Look within for opportunities
Everything you do is part of your brand. From uniforms to customer service and internal promotions to profit centers. When looking at your budget and how to allocate it, look at the weaker areas of your business. What is your attrition rate? What is the average “life” of a membership? What is your average non-dues revenue per member? How many leads > appointments> tours> net-new members do you need?

Knowing these numbers will help reveal weak spots. Happy members getting results and having fun will show up more often, spend more money and stay longer. You knew that already though, right! From a marketing standpoint, look at implementing a birthday or anniversary program where you automatically mail a card and thank them! Maybe give them a free recovery shake and a couple of 30 day VIP passes for their friends. When was the last time you got something like that in the mail and how did it make you feel? Pretty good I bet! You can send email, but it’s just not the same.

Simple, effective and personal touches make the difference and help with all the potential weaknesses mentioned previously. Over time you can reduce your reliance of feeding the beast and driving as many people through the front door as possible and keep the ones you have far longer!

4) Market Over Longer Periods of Time
Besides the fact you need to be marketing every day, every week, every month and every year for the rest of your business life, looking at it in two to three month sections can accomplish two very important things. First, you can get ahead of the game which allows you to focus on running your business, training your team and taking care of your members. Second, you increase your buying power which in turn stretches your marketing dollars and allows you to get more marketing for the same amount of money. Bottom line is you are more organized, can do more, will increase your return on investment and actually work!

Best Plummerism Ever “You guys do just enough marketing to piss yourselves off, but not enough to actually make a difference in your business.”

Think about that line for a second and let’s compare that to the fitness world. You have a member that joined last year and their goal at the time was to lose 40 lbs. In the beginning, they were there several times a week but have gradually slowed that pace to maybe once a week or even a couple times a month, sadly, some even less. Always too busy with work, or kids, or will get back at it after the summer, or stressed out, or doesn’t know what to do so it’s easier to walk on the treadmill watching crap than to “waste” money on some group training and education “since fitness doesn’t work anyway” and they cancel.

If you could sit down with that member and show them all they have to do is begin with a few small steps to get started, and then take it one step and one day at a time. If they make it part of their routine and begin making the time, the results will start happening. You know they will feel the difference and see success because they are getting support, encouragement and challenged along the way. Then you would have fulfilled your mission because the reason you got into this game in the first place is to help people change their lives because you know that it does work.

Well, many club owners think the exact same way about marketing! They do it once in awhile and it’s just a waste of money because it doesn’t work, and no one sees it, and the outrageous expectation that the 100 new memberships needed that month were going to come from the coupon mailer that listed all your stuff and was shared with the pizza joint (who by the way got ALL the calls) and on and on and on! Absolutely correct! That doesn’t work and is a complete waste of money. Worse, it goes against your brand and can do more harm than good.

Setting goals and objectives so you can track the results of your marketing as it impacts your traffic, membership, revenue, retention, etc is imperative to knowing what is working and what needs to change. If you’re not certain if something is working or not, stop doing it and see what happens! Chances are it was, but you just didn’t have a system in place to ask the right questions and therefore don’t have the right answer.

5) Look at the mix
The majority of marketing dollars spent for this industry is to attract prospects, which goes against what you should be doing! Consider this: you should be getting 60-80% of your new members from referrals, right? Then why are you spending 80-90% of your marketing budget on shotgun marketing a few times a year, wasting a large portion of your budget hoping for less than 1% of those people to possibly call or come into the club?

This is not a classic chicken-egg scenario. You need to market externally to attract prospects, create top of mind awareness, own the area a few miles around your location, in order to make as many impressions on those prospects as possible and be the very first club they think of when the epiphany hits that they need to change their lives.

On the other hand, your members need to be constantly reminded that they are special and valuable; that you want them to succeed. Having them bring their friends is one of the surest ways to encourage motivation and competitiveness. Foster the social atmosphere of the club and have them spread the message and your brand.

At the end of the day, you can always find ideas and products that are cheaper or even free. But remember, sometimes you get what you pay for! And the next time that prospect walks in and asks why you won’t match the $5/month price the new club down the street is offering, stop before you start trying to justify it, and consider if your marketing is sending the right message that attracted that person in the first place!

So, how long is a piece of string? If we know what you are trying to do with it, we can help figure that out!