As I write this column I am looking at my bank statements and wondering how did I get to the point of being down to my last $347? It was of course the little things like a cruise talk here, glossy tri-fold paper there and of course toner, toner and more toner. It was also big things like capital investments in a printer and fax machine, a new cell phone, travel for training, travel for the convention, travel to experience an inaugural two day sailing on Celebrity Solstice and of course the investment in the franchise itself. Frankly, I overspent on some things I didn’t yet need but wanted. But, I reasoned that it was better to be prepared when the time came. And the truth of the matter is, the investments in training and most of the other experiences were vital and I could never have gotten the business off the ground without them.
I came back from training ready to pound the pavement. I was pumped, I was excited, and I knew my grand plans were going to work. People were going to feed off my enthusiasm for cruise travel and line up to place their deposits. I even had an ace in the hole; I was going to market a speculative group cruise that coincided with my school district’s 2009 fall break. To sweeten the pot, I was offering to donate a portion my profits to the schools.
Little did I know that people were not just going to hand over their credit card to someone they barely knew much less trusted. I had to earn their trust and build my reputation. It was the classic Catch-22. How do you gain experience without having any experience? I also did not know the stock market was going to react after the collapse of Wall Street.
I set up a booth at a series of fall festivals at schools. It was low cost with the bigger investment being my time. I would be able to build my marketing database and talk one on one with people at the festival. My first one ended up being the wrong one for me. The dentist next to my booth had more people come up than I did—the dentist! It was not a complete disaster however; because it helped me learn what didn’t work. There were several festivals and cruise talks where I was beginning to get into a rhythm and confidence in approaching people about my new business.
As the market was crashing and I was seeing other businesses start to cut back on their marketing efforts, I made a decision to try to be on my prospects’ minds every day. Through a contact from my Chamber of Commerce, I ordered 300 small magnetic calendars to which I attached my business card. My hope was that a percentage would attach it to their kitchen fridge and be reminded of me and my business on a daily basis. My cost with card, postage and the calendars was a dollar a piece. Time will tell if those efforts will be worth the money spent.
As I move through the process of growing my business, I have no failures—only recognition of those things that did not work for me. That mind set keeps me enthused. In the past month I made the decision to discontinue the most costly marketing effort in which I have been engaged. In my community there is a welcome committee service called An East Cherokee Welcome that visits up to 60 new homes a month. They introduce various businesses to the new homeowners. While it got me names, addresses, emails and phone numbers for my database it was just not the right fit for my business. People in a new home rarely are thinking of a cruise vacation. They are more interested in finding a dog sitter, pest control, or a doctor. Though my own mother’s first priority in her new hometown was finding where the beauty parlor was located…but for most, a travel experience is not at the top of the list.
I did have one marketing effort that did pay off for me in the past two weeks. I reside in a golf course community, and, on the day after Thanksgiving, I sponsored a hole-in-one contest. The cost of the insurance for an Alaskan cruise for two with airfare from Atlanta valued at $10,000 was just over $200. I was able to add names to my marketing list. I just booked two staterooms on an Alaskan cruise directly from a contact I made that day. The wife of the golfer said “Your letters, emails and other marketing efforts worked on me.”
People I meet every day are starting to get to know me as the “cruise guy”. They are beginning to trust me as I am out there shaking hands and talking about my business every day. I am booking FIT travel slowly but surely. On a positive note, the bookings are coming in for close-in travel, so the wait for payment for commission isn’t as excruciatingly slow.
I also have several prospects for small to medium groups on the horizon that I know are going to come to fruition soon. Once again I am pumped about sharing the great value of a cruise vacation in this economy. I know the ships are still sailing full and I am determined to be one of the people that has encouraged a novice to give cruising a try or earned the trust of a veteran cruiser who allows me to find a new and perfect experience for them.
Chuck Flagg is an independent owner/operator of SeaMaster Cruises in Canton, GA. For information contact Chuck at firstname.lastname@example.org