September 9th, 2015
Published on January 18th, 2012 | by johnw0
First Business Steps (part 2)
I learned early on that publicity is imperative to get customers through the door. Customers never simply materialise.
It never ceases to amaze me how many business owners naively think customers will automatically come their way, with little or no publicity.
I have unfortunately witnessed several people consider, and even start up, their own business because they have been passionate about their product or service. They really believed that their passion for their idea would be equally shared by potential customers and sales would automatically follow.
Time and again, I have come to understand that the best initial step of any startup business is doing a thorough and clearly worded business plan with a realistic budget.
I didn’t know what a business plan was when starting the Hoad Woodcarving Academy in 1984, so I didn’t implement one nor follow one. I believe this, along with my lack of life experience, contributed to the muted success of the Woodcarving Academy in Ballarat. It was financially OK but it could have been so much better. Growth opportunities were not always identified early enough and followed through. Business policies were reasonably set but a little haphazardly.
I learned that particular lesson well. I made sure that I did an extensive business plan for my next business, the singing studio and it paid dividends. More about that later.
Overall, I lacked a clear vision for the woodcarving business. In hindsight I now realise that I could have used a business mentor: someone with skill and experience to help me with the strategic direction of the business and sharpen my thinking.
I did however exploit the media avenues available to me in Ballarat in 1984. TV and paper were common forms of advertising. No internet, Twitter or Facebook back then. Today you get a lot more response, for less outlay, with much less physical effort – but you have to know what you’re doing.
Ballarat published a daily newspaper called The Ballarat Courier, plus it had a local TV station, BTV6. These were great places to start. This media gave me maximum coverage, but I needed to be careful it didn’t come at the usual premium price.
Publicity was required before we opened the doors in February 1984. We had the premises, the facilities and the knowledge. We needed students. We knew they were out there and we were determined to find them.
Dad and I approached the Ballarat newspaper The Courier and we paid for a display advertisement, – the prominent advertisements you see in all newspapers and magazines with pictures and text.
Since people are de-sensitized to advertisements -I knew with certainty that a display ad was the minimum starting place to get eyeballs. Advertisements are the print media’s oxygen and primary income. I learned that some newspapers allow you to submit a story, or pre-written editorial, (with no guarantee of it being published) if you pay for an advertisement. This is what we did in the early days. We didn’t have a strong enough angle to expect a story at this stage of start-up, so we paid for a display advertisement and submitted a story.
It didn’t take long before I could compile editorials with strong, attractive newsworthy angles, and was able to get stories (articles) published without having to outlay for the advertisement.
The steps I used to prepare articles for publishing those days:
- I’d begin with a good angle, then
- target the publications I want to appear in.
- I’d write an article in the editorial style and tone of the publication, and
- call a journalist introducing myself and outline the idea of the articles. I avoided the deadline day as they were frantic, lastly
- on the same day, I’d forward the articles to that journalist
I quickly realised that print media love compelling photos to accompany their stories, especially if a person is featured in an article, the photo puts a face to the person. Photos draw the readers eye to the article and helps sell it. I now get professional photos taken and included these with articles I submit. If the journalist doesn’t have time to organise their own photographer to shoot the subject, they can be appreciative of this job being done for them-they are all so time poor. Back then, The Ballarat Courier sent a photographer to take the photo.
Here are some points I have identified, and now apply when approaching written media:
- where possible, I’d contact a journalist rather than the editor. I find journalists are pressured to reach their quota of articles for each publication, and more likely to take on my articles.
- to find a journalist, I look through the paper (or magazine) and find one who writes in the sections suited to my article.
- when writing a story, I avoid flowery text and adjectives-I get straight to the point. A point per sentence is usually good. I try for content that portrays something different, impressive, or an achievement.
- I once submitted an article for The Courier Messenger Newspaper in Adelaide. I used two students, each achieved local success and I outlined the success of both in the article. The article was too long and they chopped out what I’d on one student. I now stick to one subject in each article, and watch the word count.
- Lastly, I don’t give the same article to different papers
Along with the publicity I gained from newspaper articles, I also got a few interviews on regional TV including Ballarat TV-BTV6. Being on TV was not only good exposure for the business, but also a lot of fun…