The small business advertising conundrum

We are small business owners. Again. Repeatedly.

We might have a problem (For real) but I think most entrepreneurs have the same one. Its like DIY x 1000 and its even more expensive. That’s how it is for us anyway.


So we started one gym in 2006. The first year and a half was super slow but it was running out of our garage. Once we got into a building we needed people so we could make rent! We were on a main road with that building and had tires and a sign. I changed the verbiage on the sign once per week – funny stuff sometimes, word play stuff sometimes, specials sometimes, etc – with the idea that it changed often enough that folks learned to look to see what the new thing was. The tires were handy in that we’d have the guys flip the tires out towards the road and back and people would come in so they could flip tires also. Simple. Effective.

When we moved around the corner to a beautiful property we were now not on the main road. The sign was still there and got changed almost as often but folks couldn’t see us anymore as they drove past. We still grew but not as fast.

Well meaning folks we knew would suggest all the traditional advertising methods to bring in new members. Some of the ones we did.

  • High school football brochure that goes out at every football game for the season – Did it.
  • Raffle personal training and memberships at church and school fund raisers – Did it.
  • 4 month ad in neighborhoods that surrounded our gym and where our members lived (hitting over 3000 homes) – Did it.

What we did not do was mailers or Groupon or the like. Regarding mailers, the folded up ads go directly from my mail box to my recycle bin. If I don’t even use it ever then why would I put my money into ads like those? I’m squarely our demographic! Regarding Groupon, I regularly buy Alamo Draft House deals or the indoor pistol range close by. We’ve tried out yoga and aerial fitness and a glass bead making class. Those were fun. There have been two restaurants we tried. One was just ok. One was horrible!! The point to Groupon and CrossFit is that I know what I am attempting to do with our gym, how I’m trying to help people. We are a service business. Not an equipment rental business (traditional gym model) so crowds of folks who may or may not ‘get it’ and have nothing invested into it dilute what I can do for the folks who have actually committed to improving themselves.

This week I was hit up, once again, by one of the ‘free’ review sites to run a paid for ad. It was an almost comical hour spent with someone who doesn’t get what I do, understand the word no and has never tried to run a business.

advert doesnt work

One constant of any small business is that the goal of every aspect of most entities you deal with as soon as you open your doors is to get money out of you. From all aspects of government to marketers and groups you’ve never even heard of. There’s a small business something or other of America that has folks come by who want to help you. Really they do. For a dollar amount. You have no idea of all the ways there are to market. They all say the same thing; “This guy advertises with us and he has an 80% conversion rate. That guy is at 65%. My gym is at about 50%. We guarantee no less than 30%…” Keep them talking long enough and see if you can get them down into the teens.

Yes, I want to advertise. Yes, I want new members. Yes, I want my income to grow. No, I did not just fall off a turnip truck and I was born many days more than just yesterday. So I’ll keep on keeping on and hitting the systems that I’ve used and learned over the past 9 years. I am still learning new things and am trying new things.

P.S. When I posted on Facebook asking the question about anyone actually getting results from Yelp, I was looking for the unicorn, not seriously considering such foolishness.

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