Even the most well-planned business growth can leave you guessing about its success. It can even leave you overwhelmed. For example, opening a new business location of the existing shop is exciting but it can drain your financial and human resources. Tamara Forrest-Smith is examining a case study going from the second branch business growth failing to business succeeding.
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We have been considering opening a new location business as an extension to our successful hospitality business in Tbilisi, Georgia for a while (we specialize in expat homes). I have been searching for a suitable property for at least a couple of years before the opportunity came to buy one.
The confidence to open up a new place came from the success that all our expat homes were always fully booked. That's why when we did buy and renovated a new place we assumed (and hoped) it would be packed out instantly day in and day out.
3 Weeks in and we had not taken a single booking. Our beautiful home suddenly looked a little sad without people enjoying it. Now, 3 weeks may not sound like a long time, but in a hospitality business, no bookings within 3 weeks can be uncomfortable at best. After all, how would you feel if you had a beautiful new yoga studio or a new coffee shop and no one came in for 3 weeks?
It was not all bad! Not having clients definitely made me humble myself and gave me an opportunity to review and analyse what was going wrong.
There was no reason why clients would not love our new home. I knew it was not about price (we do not complete on price) and I knew it was not the property itself (it’s a beautiful space in a wonderful location), so what was the problem?
To be fair in my heart I kind of knew the source of the problem, it was the assumption I could just skip the hard work and marketing would just take care of itself. I assumed we would just be busy because our other businesses were busy. When I say I skipped marketing, it is not 100% true. I did basic marketing but I’d forgotten what it really took us to be successful in the first place.
Branding our small business. What were the 5 branding and marketing strategies we used in order to have a successful business to start with?
Being in the hospitality business in Tbilisi, Georgia is highly competitive. 10 years ago when we first started the business, we had one derelict studio apartment in a location where at the time was not considered to be desirable for tourists area. (We now have 6 and growing). But that did not bother us much, because while we knew our weaknesses, we also knew we could find our strengths.
I realised early on that relying on the likes of Airbnb (and I think they are great) would just kill our business from the start for a few reasons.
What were the top 3 disadvantages of relying on third-party hospitality business providers like Airbnb and booking com?
We would always be competing with a bunch of other homeowners offering the same
I would also be competing on price
Most importantly, we asked ourselves a question, if Airbnb removed the license or disappeared from the market tomorrow, how would we attract clients?
That’s where we knew we had to focus on building our own brand. We had to build a brand with a strong online presence, in order to attract international clients, but not all kinds of clients but the right kind of clients.
Market research and targeting your audience
It was essential to research and target the right clients, rather than any kind of clients who needed a pillow under their head! We knew due to location, we would struggle to attract tourists who were only interested to stay in hotels in the heart of the main tourist spots.
But we also knew that people love authenticity, and culture. Many simply do not want to stay next to a noisy bar. We knew many liked to travel for a few months for various reasons. The idea of digital nomads was not as hot as they are now, but I have been working from home for over 13 years, and Alan for over 20. So we knew there would be people like us who needed reliable Internet and a comfortable desk to work on among other things.
In other words, we identified our ideal clients as expats, who also wanted to become part of the community.
Identifying the target audience meant we could build our offers toward them and position our brand online in a way that would attract those ideal clients.
Online marketing and online brand positioning: Using 100% online marketing strategies to attract 100% international clients to a brick-and-mortar business
What were the 5 online marketing tools and strategies we used to market our business?
To start with, I built our own website from scratch. Now, there is not anything unusual about building a website for your business. In fact, I remember, a friend of mine asked me…“What’s so special about your website anyways?” she wanted to know how we managed to have our expat homes fully booked while others remained empty. But I built the business website in a very specific way. Every word that was used on the website was carefully crafted to target people I knew we wanted to attract, but also, the aim was not to just target people but rather help them make the right choices for themselves and ultimately help them make the next move, which was to go from viewing our offers to making an enquiry.
A short, to the point and clear tagline was important to tell the visitors what we were about.
We created our logo using a mix of Tbilisi colours and Georgian alphabet. Colours are strong, and we use memory memes everywhere online and offline.
Organic SEO. I knew I had my limitations. To start, I could have never competed with Airbnb or hotel .com but then again, they do not have what our clients need. Getting the SEO right was important for the right traffic. We decided to go for the quality of the traffic rather than the quantity. I also knew my other limitations, and that was the lack of time and human resources. I just could not dedicate enough time to growing a website with countless blog contents (which is a great way of driving traffic, but depending on your business you may not be in a position to do so); So everything else had to work as far as the SEO was concerned. I also did not have enough time to work through Social Media, which meant while we have an active social media presence we had to be selective about where we put our efforts into.
Conversion was another important factor in our online marketing strategy. Even with the right traffic we still had to convert leads into sales. I added multiple relevant tools to capture people’s interest and used copywriting to encourage them to make the next move. Crafting the right message using copywriting online was essential to help organic SEO traffic convert into enquiries and clients.
Building a database of prospects and clients. It’s easy to assume that people typically travel to a new place once and there is little point in trying to build relations through database marketing, but I know I have been subscribed to a few hotel websites that I don’t mind getting newsletters from. Building our list of prospects and then building relations through newsletters are important parts of our business. We usually get bookings, enquiries, referrals, and sometimes unsubscribes :) but we love keeping in touch with people who like hearing from us.
Finding the right angle - building more than hospitality. What were 5 other marketing strategies we used to start attracting clients?
Pricing strategy - We made a decision that we would not compete on price. While budget and certain price offers can be a deciding factor when it comes to buying your service, we also know that for most people price is not the only reason why they choose to do business with you. People want what they want and it is your job to help them understand your service or product in such a way that the price is not an option.
Building community - While attracting clients was important, we really wanted to bring out a sense of community and do that by supporting our local community at the same time. What does that mean? I made a point to really explain the benefits of shopping in the local food market, sending people to buy bread from the local bakers (not the fancy ones but the authentic ones). I tried to send people to the local restaurants and the locals' cafes. Making guests feel like part of the community in an organic way was really touching. People loved creating such experiences.
Printed (NOT digital) neighborhood guides. Instead of buying off the shelf a tourist guide, I decided to put together a neighborhood guide I thought would be helpful for our guests in a form of a booklet. When guests arrived in the apartments they could read the recommended places. I also left enough space for guests' comments so they could add their own recommendations for future guests. It became a little customer service that felt quite personal.
Real authentic vibe. I remember some years ago reading case studies from branding and one case study caught my eye, it was about highlighting everything that was wrong about the product and service and presenting it in such a way that people would not only accept those flaws but would embrace them and make them part of their own experience. So, rather than pretending that we had everything perfectly worked out, because we did not, we really highlighted what was not quite right about the place but also exaggerated the authenticity of the places we were creating. People loved that and it reflected in their reviews.
Customer service and handling of the complaints was another step. It goes without saying that in the hospitality business customer service is a priority and we do try our best. But sometimes our best does not work. Things can go out of our control. Something might break down or what we offer simply does not work for someone. The key is to be ready to manage the situations and strike a balance between customer service and standing your ground when it’s necessary.
Back to the business expansion, and what happened after we opened up the second branch in a new location.
Reading the above, you’d agree the original success of the business was not accidental. It took a lot of effort (and a lot of soft marketing) to start with. But When it came to expanding the business, I assumed I did not have to work as hard as I did previously in order to grow that success and replicate it in a new location. The results showed.
Fortunately, we took our time to review and analyse what went wrong and then started to correct the errors by upgrading our service, reviewing and relaunching our online marketing strategies and tools.
The result? We started to get bookings and enquiries within 48 hours of applying some changes.
While it’s still a new business and it requires a lot of work, including ongoing online marketing, brand positioning, and customer service, our clients started to come back, and we have the roadmap to help our business grow.
Here is the summary of what we discovered about growing your second branch or business expansion:
Don’t assume your new business location will become an automatic success
Have a good online marketing plan in place
Review your clients and your target audience (they can change)
Start marketing and keep marketing
Business growth and opening the second branch of your business can be a wonderful and exciting prospect. There are so many benefits to the business expansion. It can really accelerate your existing business success as well as provide a new line of business opportunities. But it does not happen by accident.
Do you need help with your business? Do you need to attract more clients and grow your sale? Have you opened the second branch or do you have a new service that needs to be marketed to attract clients?
To the visibility and growth