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Taking the Mystery Out of Marketing

Planning and budgeting for your marketing program.

Whether advertising through newspaper, radio or television, choosing logo designs, hosting promotional events or asking for referrals, thousands of dollars and hours are spent every year by businesses on marketing efforts; yet, marketing remains a mystery for many businesses. While marketing return is not always tangible and measurable, it should not be without planning. Defining marketing as the means of getting a message out is the first step toward solving the mystery.

What is marketing?

Talking about what you do for a livingis marketing. Wearing your uniform to speak to a Rotary group is marketing. Marketing is getting the message out about who you are, what you do and how you do it. The results of getting that message out should nourish your business and bottom line. Knowing your vision -- your long-term picture for the business -- is important. But focusing more narrowly on your business mission is the direct path to creating a marketing plan of action. You can then measure every marketing decision against your mission, and determine if it truly fits what you are doing. A business that has a mission to provide affordable personal training to make fitness accessible to all will likely choose different marketing techniques than a business that has a mission to provide the most comprehensive personal training experience available through knowledgeable and credible trainers who exceed clients' expectations.
Marketing methods

The most frequently used and most expensive method of marketing is print ads. They provide visibility, consistently get the business name in front of the public and provide a way to create urgency with an expiration date on an offer. The biggest challenge with print ads is that the return is not always measurable unless there is a "special," and even then people don't necessarily act immediately. Actual return on costly ads in the newspaper is low. If you are a big franchise, you may be able to afford the ongoing exposure. If you are small and privately owned, you may need to be more creative with your marketing menu.

"The best marketing tool available is word-of-mouth referrals," says Sherri McMillan, co-owner of North West Personal Training and Fitness Education. "Our clients actually become our sales force," she says. At North West's downtown Vancouver, Wash., fitness center, management maximizes the potential of word-of-mouth marketing by what they call the Share the Love campaign. When a client refers a friend, both receive a gift. By being able to offer incentives, trainers more readily ask their clients for referrals. Knowing different people are motivated by different things, the facility offers a variety of incentives from area businesses. Further that by making a trade for service in exchange for the gifts, and you keep marketing costs low while creating rewards for everyone involved.

Set goals, then meet them

Set goals for your marketing plan, just as you would for someone on a weight-loss program. Long-term goals will be for the year, and short-term goals will focus on each quarter. Behavioral goals are based on actions triggered monthly, weekly and daily.

McMillan, author of The Successful Trainer's Guide to Marketing, emphasizes that planning your marketing strategy for the year is the foundation of success. Working backward from such a plan, programs need to be put into action six to eight weeks in advance. "It should be systematic, so that each day you're going into action," she says. That might mean setting dates, times and locations for a flyer advertising a workshop to be held six weeks from now on Monday. Tuesday, you choose a paper color and make copies. Wednesday you inform all staff of the program so they can answer questions, make announcements and handle registration. If it is a new program vs. a repeat, more lead time will be needed.

Offering an external promotion in connection with a florist for Mother's Day might need to begin 10 weeks ahead of time so the details can be worked out. If everything is saved following the promotion, next year the set-up will be more efficient, and the program may be more profitable because less time is involved.

A record should be kept for each program that includes the revenue generated, the expenses and the number of hours it took to implement. You can set up a flow chart to track the cycle of a program.
Push the envelope

Within each program, there are ways to push the marketing envelope. For example, with a small group running clinic, your marketing will likely include flyers posted within the fitness center, and announcements made to all trainers so they can tell their clients. Beyond that, you might offer personal training clients a reduced registration fee. You can also approach area sporting goods stores about offering the clinic to their customers for a percentage off in exchange for a coupon good for a store discount. You could offer every participant in the clinic a coupon good for four private sessions for the price of three. With every marketing tactic here, all parties win, and you are finding ways to get more mileage out of every program.

For many fitness center marketing plans,"it's time to buckle down and get organized," McMillan says. Work on this month and the next at the same time. Get your current quarter planned, then work ahead until your year-at-a-glance is on paper. Take a look at the revenue history from the last two years so you know which months you really need to concentrate on. From now on, take a systematic approach to nourishing your business better with marketing that matters.

One example of a marketing program is for a training program offered for an additional fee. For example, you could offer an eight-week First 10K Running Clinic that meets once-a-week. Offered for $89, with a minimum of 10 participants, potential revenue is $890. Expenses include some method of marketing. Print ads would take a large chunk of, if not the entire, revenue. Internal flyers, bulletin boards and announcements in other groups require minimal investments. The most effective method of internal marketing is the personal invitation by the trainer who will lead the session.

Other additional expenses might include T-shirts (another form of marketing), photos for the post-event bulletin board (also marketing), and photo copies of training logs, educational handouts and flyers. If expenses total $50, and the trainer/ fitness center split is 50/50, the trainer generates $420 for nine hours (including an information meeting). This doesn't include time spent designing flyers; creating registration forms, waivers and maps of running routes; or preparing handouts.

Actual return on time will be much lower the first time a program is run. A successful program can be repeated several times a year, requiring just a tweak of the dates and times.
The original event
* Who is the target market?
* What is the program goal?
* When will it take place?
Pre-event documents
* Flyers
* Announcements and memos for staff
* Special discount coupons offered for participants
Program documents
* Handouts
* Waivers
Post-event
* Evaluations
* Testimonials
* Recommended changes noted
Profit evaluation
* Revenue
* Expenses
* Time
* Profit
April
* Bulletin boards
* Complimentary trainer sessions
* Flyers
* Spring into Shape special
* Prom and Bridal Beauty: Backs, Arms, Abs
* Bridal shops cross-promotion
* Mother's Day special
* Running clinics
May
* Bulletin boards
* Complimentary sessions
* Flyers
* Mother's Day special
* Florists cross-promotion
* Spa cross-promotion
* "Eight Weeks to Madness" running clinic
* Triathlon training
June
* Bulletin boards
* Newsletter about summer programs
* Complimentary sessions
* Flyers
* Father's Day special
* Run/marathon
* Summer "Quick Fix" special * Triathlon training continues

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