I don’t profess to be an expert, I would describe myself as a passionate amateur. This description works for my hobbies (sewing, scrap booking, gardening) and it most definitely works for marketing our new business venture. Therefore, I write this blog as both a cathartic experience and also in the hope that it will help someone else with their venture.
This is the first in a series of articles looking at the dark art of marketing. I hope it will be an honest evaluation of what does and doesn’t work and why. Of course, what works for our venture may not for others so please don’t just take my word for it!
Right then, I’m going to kick things off with a bit of reflection. Over three weeks have passed since we launched our business on the 1st September. During that time, we have focused on three marketing tools ‘events’, ‘social media’ and ‘direct pitch emails’. Each of these tools has had varying levels of success and warrant their own analysis; therefore, I will be focusing on just one of these elements today and that is… ‘events’.
On the 3rd September, as a public way of launching our new venture (and to give us a deadline that we couldn’t talk ourselves out of extending) we signed up to our first event, a wedding fair.
The wedding ‘biz’ is one of the avenues of our business plan and being an experienced bridesmaid as well as tying the knot quite recently too, it was the avenue we felt most comfortable putting out to the public first. However, with all that experience as a ‘punter’ we were ill prepared for what can only be described as an empire of an industry. Engaged couples face an unenviable task of narrowing down a plethora of options to settle on something that is unique and personal to them. Then there is that niggly voice in the back of their mind reminding them about budget. All this makes selecting each and every element of their wedding painstakingly thought through.
We love our products and think that they fulfil all that criteria; they are unique (because we can create anything!), personal and affordable. How, then, does a small, home-based business make an impact and get noticed?
Well, first, we thought we had better meet our potential customers and see if this avenue of ours was even viable: market research if you like. After an online search, we found a couple of local wedding fairs and opted for the Hinckley Island Wedding Fair on the 3rd September. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I don’t do ‘risks’ so although I make light of the decision to attend a wedding fair, it is a big decision for a small start-up company. For those in the business, you will know that it is an expensive gamble to take. You don’t know how many people will attend or how interested they will be. Neither Mike nor I are sales people and attending the event put us both far out of our comfort zone. Consequently, we were both a jittery mess when the 3rd September came around.
The first hurdle we faced was nailing our introduction spiel in a face-to-face environment. Mike got this down to a fine art, making sure he didn’t let any of the first few people pass without telling them a bit more about who we are. After I shamelessly watched and copied his lead we started to get into a rhythm and the four hours flew past. When 3pm came we were indescribably tired; the pressure we put on this event and the incredible amount of preparation we had put into the build-up suddenly overwhelmed us and we were in bed by 8pm.
The question you’ve actually been waiting for: was it useful? Well we discussed at length prior to the event what we thought our success criteria was; positive feedback, actual orders, potential orders, mutual relationships with other suppliers? Then, after the event, having had conversations with the stalls around us, we discovered a new term, something that sales people use to rate the success of an event… ‘leads’. Now, as we are not sales people we were naive and simply gave out our flyers and business cards; those more experienced were running competitions to receive contact information too. This they could use as ‘leads’ to follow up on later. The number of people willing to sign up, to them, is the measurement of success.
Without ‘leads’ I still think it is important to assess the event so for the purposes of this blog I have used the four elements I mentioned above:
positive feedback – we handed out over 150 flyers and we spoke to everyone we gave a flyer to. Each one of those people thought the products were good and gave them food for thought. However, we did have to speak to people for them to understand our business; therefore, we need more appropriate branding (banners etc.) to give people a bit of information from afar;
actual orders – we have had three orders (whoop!);
potential orders – there were a number of couples I would be surprised not to hear from. A negative aspect of wedding fairs from the vendor perspective is that they are an information-gathering event with some couples not tying the knot for two years so it is difficult to measure this long-term impact; and
mutual relationships – we have made three connections to cake shops, with the potential for a great relationship as a supplier for them.
If we were to look at numbers only, the event was a failure as we have broken-even financially. However, we made invaluable business-to-business connections and I would be surprised if we didn’t hear back from other couples closer to their wedding date. Over time, I have very little doubt we will turn a profit on the investment. Then, if we are to look at the event from a branding perspective, over 150 people now know who we are, website traffic has spiked and conversations have started with local businesses. Another key reason for attending this fair was market research and from that perspective it was invaluable, some of our products were very popular and some we have now taken out of our range.
To conclude then, yes we would do another event but there are some key lessons we have learnt:
wedding fairs are a great tool for testing new products so if you have something to launch don't just try and sell it, get people's opinions, the minute we told people we were a new business and it was our launch they were more than happy to give their opinion;
select the event carefully, we weren't just lucky choosing a popular event, we knew from friends that it was a good show from a engaged-couple's perspective and it paid off - the fair was packed;
invest in obvious branding so that those people who don’t like to be approached can see who you are and what you do (e.g. banners);
practise the table layout and get friends or family to pretend to be customers so you can nail that intro blurb before you get there;
find a fun way of taking email addresses such as a free give away competition then only those that like your products enough will sign up, giving you those all-important ‘leads’;
don’t expect to take orders there and then, we printed loads of order forms and invested in a card reader, which we didn’t use once;
eat a BIG breakfast, quick bites of my sandwich made me conscious of food being in my teeth – being hungry and self-conscious wasn’t great when I was already nervous; and
MOST IMPORTANTLY – be interested not interesting! The orders we have were from the couples we didn’t just give information to, we asked about their wedding and then used that as an example of what we can do.