Over the past couple years I have published my direct experiences with different modes of advertising, my decisions to either go with or pass on said advertising, and any lessons learned. This is the 3rd edition of this publication and as always I welcome comments and hope this gives you some insight into potential decision making with advertising dollars. In this article I am retaining quite a bit of my content from prior editions and showing historical trends. There are certainly some modes of advertising that I have changed my mind on over time, and I will lay out an explanation for each.
I put this information out there with a big caveat. Every person might and will likely experience a different outcome. In certain areas, some properties might be better suited than others producing a more favorable result for you. Some clients may frequent an expo more than another. Your overall pricing may work better with different types of advertising than the other. All I can provide is my personal observations and yes I am going to provide my Return on Investment (ROI) figures to give you a real world example of what I have experienced so far.
I am going to list these from the best investments for me to the worst. You will also see that I am listing some things that may be considered technology focused because it really is in the end about the appearance of you and your company. That I feels falls into the broader advertisement category.
Word of Mouth (WoM) and Networking [Tremendous Value]
Networking can be one of your greatest investments and best of all it is generally cost free. There is nothing like creating a rapport with your local peers in the industry, gaining trust for each other, and then when one is booked then the other can pass along that lead. And this is not only for lead generation, but to share ideas, to be a backup to each other; networking can be the ultimate tool. Make sure you socialize with fellow DJs, photographers, vendors, and venue owners who will recommend your services. The ROI on this is incalculable.
In the same breath Word of Mouth is the most powerful tool at your disposal once you are established. It’s part of the reason that every one of my main pages on my website and every blog post contains a snippet or a full review of my services from those clients. If you provide an exceptional service to your clients starting on day one they will likely become your greatest champion of your company. Now that I have completed four years of my business the majority (> 33%) of my leads come from past clients, DJs, venues, photographers, and other professionals in the industry.
Web Hosting and Quality Websites [Great Value]
You pretty much cannot have a business without a website. And if you do not have a sleek web presence then it could do you more harm than good. So if you don’t have a web presence or it looks like it was created with Front Page ’98, it’s best to put a major effort onto this or hire someone to do this for you.
In mid-2015 I decided to go for broke and I hired an Indian firm to come up with a new design and implement that design. Unfortunately it was an unmitigated disaster and a loss of $750 (which I am still trying to get my money back). After realizing that the independent developer was a lost cause I decided to embark on my own and invested in the Divi WordPress theme. It took some time but I am happy with the results.
In 2016 I carried on with my fresh Divi design that I was getting a lot of kudos for. But I ran into two separate occasions where my website was down thanks to my host provider WebHostingBuzz. After over a decade of stable service they were no longer an acceptable partner to host my site. So I migrated over to a company called SiteGround and I have been very satisfied with their services.
Your website in this day and age tends to be your life blood of your business. Sure I know of some people that only have a Facebook page, or even more interesting they have no site at all. While they may still be able to operate I feel they are not reaching their full potential, especially with the wedding crowd shifting fully towards the “millennial generation”.
SEO [Great Value]
What good is a website if people don’t know you exist. Now you can certainly not invest a dime in SEO, and if you have a majority word-of-mouth lead generation source then maybe SEO investment falls to the bottom on the priority map. But for the burgeoning Mobile DJ it will take some time to get to that stage where everyone knows you by name and is creating a constant revenue stream off of that. And if acronyms and words like SEO, AMP, Penguin, Mobilegeddon, and the like are foreign to you, you probably should just invest in a SEO outfit to help get everything in check.
Now the world of SEO has changed drastically over the years. Just recently Google have changed their algorithms to be far more localized which can be a blessing and a curse for a Wedding DJ. On one hand if your service area is pretty small, with proper content you can keep up with first page placement pretty consistently. But if your service area goes out 10, 15, or more miles like most DJs are, then new challenges arise.
So what is the secret sauce? Well first ensure there is great content on your site for people to read. Google will know if your content is “thin” and you can be penalized for that. Make sure that you are using a responsive design for your website so it looks great on mobile. Google is trying to push a new protocol called AMP that is still in it’s infancy so it’s hard to write if it’s beneficial to design AMP pages for your site.
SEO is something that should not be ignored. If you have a website you should at least be educated on being optimized or invest in professionals to do it for you.
Local Web Link Sites [Can Be Great Value]
One thing you should investigate is if you have any local websites that cater to your specific market. Here in the Hudson Valley there is such a site and I do list there not only to draw in the occasional lead but also to help with SEO. These sites can be fairly low cost or even sometimes free.
I have toyed with doing paid advertisements on and off with this specific local lead. I do see a slight advantage to have the paid ad and given it’s cost it worth the investment right now. My 2016 cost-per-gig is a bit higher since in late 2016 I decided to re-invest in it again.
Wedding Expos [Can Be Great Value With Caveats]
Wedding Expos have been around for ages and for a long time it was the go-to place to see a bunch of vendors at once so you could contrast and compare from the crowd. For 2013 and 2014 I was pretty dismayed at the overall outcome of Wedding Expos, enough that on my first version of this article I did not recommend it.
For 2015 I had a fellow DJ recommend a venue not too far from my home and I decided to give it a shot. The results were night and day and virtually every expo I have been at I have ultimately booked weddings from it and some even at the expo itself.
I feel like with most things, to be successful at an expo it has to be the right combination of the right person or venue putting on a well advertised show that isn’t in conflict with other happenings in the area. With the right formula I think Expos can be a good value.
Video [Good Value]
Since 2014 I had pondered in my head of getting a slick video done up for my website, but I wanted to do something different, something unique in the wedding industry. I had thought of a Whiteboard styles video that you see on things like the RSA Animate series, and more and more businesses were looking towards these videos for unique advertisements.
In early 2015 I took a real serious look in creating the video, and while it was a complete “splurge” in my budget I decided to pull the trigger and made it happen. And while it’s hard to put a number for ROI, I have received many compliments on the quality and uniqueness of the video. So while it’s hard to apply quantitative analysis on it, there is no question that this video helped elevate my branding.
Google AdWords & General PPC [Subjective – Trending Against]
Google AdWords and other PPC mediums can be a real hit or miss in advertisement investments. This issue is exasterbated with Google’s focus on a sometimes hyper-local listing algorithm and an ever-changing landscape on SERP.
The metrics end up being pretty clear on my end. AdWords for small businesses are very expensive. But with a more competitive landscape and Google constantly tweaking organic searches it becomes more of a requirement if you want some search traffic turning into potential leads.
My current strategy for 2017 is to cut back some on AdWords. While mentally I would like to think they are doing more, the reality of the data suggests that I am spending too much for too litle.
If you do AdWords I believe they can be effective in certain situations, if targeted properly, with limited budgets, specified areas, and with constant supervision. This is really going to be a hard choice to make for some and I take a small-campaign-at-a-time approach. If I had to make a choice if for or against, I would trend against AdWords.
The Knot & Wedding Wire [Really Depends]
I was very hesitant to invest in The Knot or Wedding Wire. Both services are quite pricey for was amounts to a link site. Both have a tiered pricing model, providing a free listing, a basic listing, a mid level, and a top tier. Wedding Wire goes a step further with a “spotlight” listing but basically was 4x the price of their top tier listing. Their pricing also is dictated by regional demand, so if you are in a highly saturated market expect to pay more.
As a pure lead generation option both can be effective. In my area The Knot dominates over Wedding Wire, but there was no question I got a lot of leads from the site. Now ask me if those were quality leads. Unfortunately there were a lot of tire kickers, lots of simple “how much are your services” question without any follow through from the customer.
With the Knot my leads steadily declined to go well under the baseline metrics (The Knot does give you some interesting metrics to examine) after some time. Nothing could be explained. My ad was the same and still looked fresh. I had been gaining reviews. It just did not make a lot of sense and even my account manager could not come up with a good answer. I decided to nix my investment with them.
With Wedding Wire my leads were miserable. I had 5 leads on 2015, 4 were with my free listing at the time, 1 with the paid listing which was more expensive than The Know. More entertaining I booked one of those 4 from the free listing. The good thing with Wedding Wire is I was able to end the contract after only 6 months.
If you do experiment with a paid advertisement with either or both I would suggest talking to your peers in your area to see where they are getting more of their leads from. Most likely one will dominate over the other.
Business Cards & Other Printing [Good Value]
It’s time to mention one of the more old-school methods of advertising, the business card and more generally print mediums. The reality is you will likely not get much ROI from a business card, however that dos not mean you should not have any. This still is an important piece of your branding, especially when you are talking business-to-business exchanges. Just make sure you come up with a clean design that works well and conveys the exact message you need.
But beyond the business card you should ensure that some of your budget is dedicated to print products. This could be handouts that you give at an expo, display material, and the like. These are all small but important pieces to ensure your branding and message works to your advantage.
Yelp! [Bad Value For Paid Ads, Good For Free]
For a couple years I had Yelp! approach my business to do paid advertising on their site. I was always hesitant, part in due because of their policy of “algorithmic publishing” of reviews. I had a number of first-time Yelp! users sign up and post a review of my business only for Yelp! to selectively hide those reviews. Now I don’t have any negative reviews of my service but I have heard many stories of Yelp! leveraging negative reviews to push people to not only buy ads but to help expose more positive reviews. Just sounded totally shady.
But the flip side is I do get the occasional hit from Yelp! on the free side of things, and they do turn to clients on occasion. When they pushed a free $100 credit for ads, I decided to give it a go. Now the programs they offer are based off a maximum number of clicks you will get per month plus a fix cost. The number of clicks are number published, and the pricing is scaled from (in my case) $400/mo ($4800/yr) to $2250/mo ($27,500/yr). Exceptionally high price compared to services like Wedding Wire or Facebook. This is clearly aimed towards high budget businesses.
So I went through the $100 free credit in February 2016 in literally a week and they did not have an alert program to inform you when you exhausted that credit. I immediately canceled when it started to deplete real money from my account. I complained about it to Yelp and they refunded me the extra monies taken out. And of all those clicks, not a single one resulted in an inquiry during that period.
According to the Yelp! analytics report, traffic nearly doubled compared to other months. But yet I got inquiries in months before and after the paid ad.
Now in all fairness I have had DJs on the West Coast tell me they have gotten far more sourcing from Yelp! over there, and that makes sense since much of the West Coast were far earlier adopters of the platform so I could see potential clients using that as a possible source. But I am also guessing that pricing could be even more expensive out there given it’s popularity.
So the Cliffs Notes version of all this, for me at least, my free listing has done far more for me than any Yelp! paid ad.
Facebook [Bad Value]
You would think with the ability to create hyper-focused ads that Facebook would be a Wedding DJ’s dream. I had even heard some claims that some DJs were getting a lot of business from Facebook ads. So I decided to invest some money into it, numerous times, with numerous styles of ads to run including video. What was my results?
Zip. Nada. There isn’t a single attributable converted lead to any of my ad pushes. Now I did get a couple inquires, but nothing serious. And the one couple that did convert into a booking happened when I was not running any ads. Here is the hard proof on this:
Now some people swear by Facebook. But I have not seen any direct proof from them on investments to leads to conversions. This isn’t to say it can’t happen, I just don’t see the proof.
Worse what I do see are those clicking on the ads are “phantom clicks”. Clicks that either don’t get to my landing page at all or if they do they spend 0 seconds on the page. This issue has been echoed time and time and time again. Also I believe that those successful campaigns that generate likes are generally phantom as well.
One thing I should note is that because Facebook has not resulted in direct sales via ads, you should still leverage it from a pure Social Media perspective. Draw clients to review there, still cross promote your content, engage your current and potential customers. Do not ignore this very powerful platform. But paying for views for me has not results in anything meaningful.
Thumbtack [Bad Value]
As I was entering in my 4th month of business with Paris Creative (in the beginning of 2013) I was trying to explore different avenues to get more business and grow my company. One thing that seemed to pop out of nowhere was Thumbtack. It originally started in 2009 but it seemed in 2012 and 2013 it had gained a foothold in the DJ market. I started to check it out more because search wise it was starting to appear on the first page of organic Google searches.
It’s concept really isn’t original. Customers put out a request for an event for free and vendors pay to put out bids for it. So I decided to invest some money into it, going somewhat blindly at how I would bid out for events in 2013. In 2014 the results seemed pretty bad so I tried to be more selective. However the price-per-lead with Thumbtack increased so the end results were generally pretty bad. Worse most of the people on Thumbtack are typically seeking the sub $1000 and in some cases the sub $500 DJ, and that is a market I do not cater to anymore since my business has grown.
So what can you gauge from this? Well in general there is overwhelming evidence that the bride and groom that use Thumbtack are either price shopping or they are so overwhelmed by the choices that they go into the process with a blank slate but as soon as they see budget DJs out there quoting bargain basement prices they think that is what the typical price should be.
I created an article, part in due to the Thumbtack-type customer to try to explain what a typical price of a quality DJ is (Why do DJ Prices Vary) which happens to be here in the Hudson Valley between $1,299 – $1,732+. It actually worked on a couple clients I have been able to talk with to give them a reasonable expectation of budget, but for the most part if you are in the expected pricing tier the average Thumbtack client is going to think you are too expensive.
The prevailing evidence is that Thumbtack is a pretty bad choice to spend your advertisement dollars. Worse Thumbtack helps to bolster the idea that DJs should be cheap given cheap DJs are hawkish on the site.
Advertisement money can be a real head scratcher. You want to measure your performance and determine the best ones and stick with it, but there are ancillary benefits to some forms of advertisement than others. My advice it to experiment. As you can see there are few options I personally have not explored to see if they can result in some surprising value. There is no silver bullet out there but there are some that are money pits and also some hidden gems out there. Find your right formula that works for you!