Why Advertising might be a Waste of your Money and What to do Instead

advertising waste of money

Take a look at the picture on your left. It's the latest, in a 15-year journey, of attempts I've made to advertise one of my businesses. 

Fortunately, this one was for free. As a member of a Fitness4less gym, if you agree to offer other members a discount on your services, you can advertise your business on the notice board without any charge. 

In case the advert isn't clear, this is my hypnotherapy business. I also have a tennis coaching business and a book selling/speaking/coaching business.

In this blog post, I'm going to detail all the attempts I've made to win new customers and clients. I'm going to tell you what worked, what didn't and the reasons why I believe I received certain outcomes. Finally, I'll let you know what I think is the most effective approach to gaining new clients and business. 

Tennis Coaching 

I became a tennis coach in 2003. Although self-employed (as I have been with all of my businesses), I allied myself with a local tennis coaching company. The owner had two tennis clubs, multiple schools and a sports centre as part of his empire. My job was to teach the hours he couldn't and he paid me a cut of the takings (I started on a measly £12 per hour). As a result, I didn't have to do a lot of advertising. I received my work through him but had to accept I'd be paid a lot less because I was piggybacking off his name. 

On the surface, this reveals little about what constitutes effective advertising or marketing. However, after I adopted a similar strategy with my hypnotherapy business, and experienced similar success, I realised it represents an effective method of generating business.

Why do all the hard work yourself? Why not cut out all the trial and error, potentially wasted advertising revenue and go straight to where the customers are?

One reason is money. You'll probably end up earning less than 50% of what you could potentially make.

However, this is potential. There's no guarantee you'll be able to generate the business. Furthermore, it's important to note I was able to support myself entirely through this approach.

In 2011, I struck out on my own. I secured my own tennis courts (the sports centre mentioned earlier) and almost all the clients I'd built up over the years wanted to continue coaching with me. 

So again, initially, I didn't have to do much advertising. It was a case of 'porting over' rather than starting anew. However, now I had to rely on myself to acquire new clients.

I did this when advertising holiday camps. This involved designing and printing between 2000 and 5000 (depending on the length of the holidays) A5 flyers and delivering them to local schools. Often, I'd have to pay a £10 to £40 'distribution fee' and then the school would place the flyer in the children's 'book bags'.  

Most of the time, this worked well. Every Summer I would see new children and, upon asking where they found out about the camps, they'd reply via the flyer. 

Typically, I'd spend about £250 on creating, printing and distributing the flyers. The return over the summer would be approximately 10 to 15 new children, each paying on average £26. However, there would be a recurring income, as about half the children would return for camps throughout the year without the need for further paid advertising - I'd add them to my email list and alert them of upcoming courses.  

Hypnotherapy 

I began working as a hypnotherapist in 2005. Not knowing the industry as well as the tennis world, I couldn't find anyone to piggyback off. Instead, I discovered a local clinic, created a website and received a slow trickle of clients. 

To draw these clients, I put my name on a list of online hypnotherapy registers. Typically, they allow practitioners to advertise their services for a local area, often for free, and occasionally for a small sum. Then, I paid to have my services advertised on Yell.com. I also used Google AdWords and paid for an advert in a local magazine.

None of these strategies generated much business. Ironically, the best return came from the least amount of money spent (the online registers).

As a result of these failures, I spent 6 months scrambling for clients until I repeated the strategy that brought me success as a tennis coach.

The first clinic I worked at was very small. It had two rooms, no receptionist and was run by an Osteopath. Although it was a great space, it didn't generate any business. I would always bring the client to the clinic, rather than the clinic bringing clients to me.

Therefore, I decided to venture out to two other clinics in neighbouring towns. Both were larger, with multiple rooms and a greater footfall. They also possessed something I discovered would be key to growing my hypnotherapy business - talkative receptionists.

As a general rule, people frequenting complementary health clinics are open to the idea of alternative therapies. They don't have limiting beliefs about treatments being too whacky or unscientific. Therefore, when client X comes in for her weekly massage and chats to the friendly receptionist about needing to give up smoking, she's open to the suggestion of booking a session with the clinics new hypnotherapist.

This is what I gained when I began working at these clinics. Although their rates (for renting one of their rooms) were far higher than my first clinic, they generated enough new business to warrant the increase. In fact, this approach quadrupled my clients in the next six months. 

After 3 years as a hypnotherapist, I began scaling back. I needed time to write my first book, and with tennis coaching providing the majority of my income, I reduced my efforts to secure new clients. However, in 2015, after a new website launch and my book being published for over 3 years, I attempted to gain new clients.

Following the success of my tennis camps flyers, I decided to use a similar approach with hypnotherapy. At a cost of approximately £400; I had flyers designed, printed and then delivered to the catchment area for my local clinic. 

Despite flyer drops being successful for my tennis coaching business, I didn't have any expectations for this run. For one, the drop wasn't targeted. When paying for tennis flyers to be distributed in schools, I knew I had a warm audience - the flyers were going directly to parents who needed to plan activities for their child's holidays. However, with the hypnotherapy flyers, the catchment area was close to the clinic but it was anyone's guess who might be living in the houses and whether they needed hypnotherapy.

Despite my reservations, the hypnotherapy flyer drop ended up paying for itself. It brought me in a total of three new clients, some taking more than one sessions and, therefore, covering my costs and earning a small profit on top.

Book Selling/Coaching  

I became a paid author in 2012. However, because of my hypnotherapy advertising experiences, I was hesitant to spend money promoting my book.

I experimented with Facebook Ads, but this was designed to increase subscribers to my website rather than readers of my book. At any rate, it failed horribly and ranks as one of my greatest advertising mistakes. 

As a result, during the course of the 6 years promoting my book and coaching business, I've relied almost exclusively on unpaid marketing. This has involved three main approaches.

1. Selling my book on Amazon. This is a copy of the principle that worked well for my tennis coaching and hypnotherapy - go to where your audience are and piggyback off the platform that brings them there. As discussed, the downside is not keeping 100% of your money and, also, with Amazon, where the market place is so huge, it's hard for unknown authors to be discovered.

2. Email marketing. For a detailed explanation of how I built my email list, read this article. I've nurtured this list throughout the years, providing free content in the form of articles and videos. On three or four separate occasions, I've run promotions on my two books (Escape The System and How to Create an Income Without Working a Boring Job). So far, they've been successful. Approximately 2% to 3% of my list have bought a book.  

3. Giving Talks. Over the years, I've presented a variety of personal development talks across London. At the end of a talk, I'll promote my book, offering a discount to anyone purchasing on the day. Typically, purchase rates are between 5% - 25%. 

There's one more book selling strategy I wish to discuss. I didn't discover it by paying a marketing guru thousands of dollars for their online course or 1 to 1 mentoring. In fact, I happened upon it by chance. Using connections made on social media, I would simply tell people about my book and suggest they bought it. 

Before going any further, I must make it clear that I never spammed anyone. I vetted the people I approached. Before I even mentioned my book, I had to see that they'd shown an interest in themes similar to the ones my book discussed. (For example, they'd specifically mentioned how they hated the influence of The System and were looking for ways to break free.) Then, I'd simply comment on their post, or send them a private message and mention that they might be interested in reading my book. Roughly 75% of people would then make a purchase.

I also used this strategy to acquire 1 to 1 tennis coaching clients.

When I first began tennis coaching, I exclusively taught groups. However, to increase my income to the point where I could support myself, I needed 1 to 1 coaching clients.

I was left to my own devices to secure these clients and it occasionally happened due to being in the right place at the right time. However, this wasn't enough to provide a liveable income.

Therefore, I started asking parents if they wanted to invest in 1 to 1 coaching for their child.  

Again, it must be noted, that I wasn't a spamming. I only asked the parents of children who were showing potential in their group lessons. Then, it became a no brainer. Little Jonny was doing well in his lessons, he enjoyed the sport and the parents were keen to push him further. Why not sign up to 1 to 1 coaching?

Conclusions  

So far, I've mentioned nothing of probably the most effective strategy to generate new business - WORD OF MOUTH. It's played a huge role in my success. 

I now spend less than £500 per year advertising my tennis coaching and hypnotherapy businesses. I simply don't need to spend anymore.

Over the years, I've experienced countless parents mentioning that a friend's child has enjoyed their lessons with me and can theirs join in.

Word of mouth has been less prevalent with my hypnotherapy clients (most likely because 90% of my work is tennis coaching), but I've still experienced many clients mention they've discovered me through a friend who used my services. 

Word of mouth is win-win all round. Extra clients at no extra cost. However, how applicable is it to you as a new business owner, and how do you go about developing it? 

I found it very hard to generate word of mouth at the start. This was for two reasons - lack of clients to talk about my services and these services not being as exceptional as they could be.

As many of you will be when you're new to a field, I was a still a rookie. Despite my training, I still had a lot to learn and needed to build my confidence.

Over the years, though, word of mouth around my services has increased. If I was to give you one piece of advice to help develop yours, then I'd tell you to produce results - whether this means a problem solved, a new skill developed or a fun time had. This is what people talk about to their friends.

To do this, you must have a desire to succeed, have studied how other people produce results (but don't rely too heavily on this), figure out what works best for you and, above all else, believe in the value or what you're offering.

Now I've mentioned the most effective way to generate business, I want to finish with a brief summary of the different methods I've already discussed. My hope is you can use it to target your own efforts and not repeat the mistakes I made. 

  • My general rule is that paid advertising is a waste of money, especially paying for adverts in magazines or newspapers, paying to be on Yell.com or the Yellow pages and paying to be featured on a digital advertising board in a petrol station or shop. Of course, the advertisers are going to tell you how effective it is, what great returns they deliver and how you'd be crazy to miss out. Don't be fooled by this, especially if they've contacted you first. 
  • My experience would lead me to place Facebook and Google Ads in the above category. However, I've known and heard of plenty of people who've experienced great results using these strategies. Perhaps this means they require a level of knowledge and finesse (that I presently don't have) to be successful. Therefore, don't expect to use them without knowing what you're doing and experience great results.
  • Leaflet or flyer drops have been relatively good to me. At a minimum, I've made my money back.
  • Operating in the marketplace your audience frequents is a sound strategy, even if you must give up a percentage of your revenue to do so.
  • Asking people if they want to buy your product, or service, works. Afterall, if you've created something that will benefit their lives, then they'll want to know about. So, don't be shy but DO NOT spam. Also, recognise there's a limit to the amount of 1 to 1 communication you can do. It's time consuming. 
  • Email marketing works. Always look to be building your list and never hesitate to tell your audience about a new product launch. However, numbers are important when using email marketing. Although my book launches have been successful, because I have a relatively small list, they didn't provide me with anything near enough money to live off. Therefore, you must have an effective strategy for building your list.
  • In conclusion, a lot of paid advertising is unnecessary. However, you will need some kind of strategy in place until word of mouth kicks in. 

Thanks for reading. I hope you've found this article useful. Please feel free to share it with a friend who might find it helpful. Also, let me know about your experiences with marketing and advertising in the comments section below. What has, and hasn't, worked for you?   

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