“If you build it, they will come.” Maybe you’re like me and you remember watching this movie all the time.
But was that mantra from the 80’s and 90’s, that iconic saying really true? Can you just “build” something and clients will magically show up?
I don’t think so.
Swimming Ideas is a business. I didn’t know how to run or create content for a target market or how to advertise when I started, but I learned. The neat thing is that Swimming Ideas started from the Swim games list as a resource I could use in my swim lesson planning to access on deck. You can see that list now here.
So can you just create a privately run swim program in your location and expect people to show up?
I think the conservative answer is ‘no.’ You can however, do some small things to make it more likely you’ll succeed. You can build it, add some basic advertising tools (or some unconventional ones) and make a go of it. Ultimately, if you’re providing fun and effective swim lessons and people hear about you you’ll do well.
This all stems from an email I got recently:
Soon I’ll be in a new town where I won’t know anyone and I’m a little worried about how I’m going to find students for my season. The one thing I have going for me is that the town I’m moving to is 3x the size of the town I’m living in. Of course, that might not matter if I don’t do the right type of advertising. Here are some of my questions:
1-When is the right time to start advertising for your season? My lessons start in May and end in July/August.
2-What types of advertising works best? Facebook groups, putting flyers up, what are some others? I don’t think many people read newspapers anymore so I don’t think putting something in the classifieds will be successful.
Do you have any other information about advertising that will help me succeed?
I’m not an expert at advertising or starting new swim programs. I’ve created three programs in my life and while they’re successful, I’m not relying on them for my primary income. Here are the things park districts do, and what I’ve learned from other business experts.
Get a website.
Seriously. It is 2017 as of writing, and you need a website. You can get a basic one for very little. I recommend squarespace, for beginners. It is easy, relatively inexpensive, and quick. If you are a little more creative, I suggest selz.com.
When you design your website make it as absolutely spartan simple as possible. The fewer things you put up, the better as a general rule.
Website is first because we want to have somewhere people can do, somewhere people can get more information about you and what you offer. All advertising will drive people here.
Have a clear call to action: “Sign up for Summer 2018 swim lessons here.”
Get a domain name.
Jeffreynapolskiswimming.com is a fine example. Or Smallvilleswimlessons.com Use your name or your town’s name in the domain name. It will make it show up on Google’s first page when people in your community type in “smallville swim lessons” or “swim lessons.”
Leverage your existing clients for recommendations.
Social proof is an excellent lever to convince new people to sign up. My first recommendation is to ask your current or previous clients for a recommendation or a review of your swim lessons. If you’re already teaching, make sure you ask every client, ever parent, and every person you’re teaching to write down what they like about your program. If you’re feeling bold ask them what they’d improve so you can shore up your gaps.
Post those recommendations on your website’s front page. This breaks the “don’t put up a lot of stuff” rule. Plaster pictures, quotes, or lines from your past clients that gave you glowing reviews. Shove that social proof in everyone’s face. Social proof will validate your new program in the new location.
Do you know the best time to plant a tree? 30 years ago. Second best time? Today.
Start advertising now. If you could have done it yesterday you should have. Begin now. Even if it is going to the local swim team and talking to the coaches, or to the local pool and talking to the staff there do something to start sharing your upcoming swim season.
Facebook ads work. Be extremely specific. target your exact area. Target your exact demographic (mom’s with children or babies). Make your ads narrow and send them to your website. I wouldn’t go nuts with this. You can start out spending $10 and seeing if you get results. If you do, spend more. Make sure you test things that work and don’t. You might spend $200 before you figure it out.
Amy Porterfield podcast is very informative and an excellent resource for Facebook Ads.
Make a public instagram account for your swim school and post pictures with the location tag. Go to pools, walk around your neighborhood, post pictures of swim lessons. Again, maybe leverage old clients and use them for material. Post at least one picture every day. This is important. You have to be active. Post often.
When you tag a location, anyone can see it and people like to see what’s going on in their area. If they see swim lessons with happy successful swimmers they’ll click on your stuff, follow you, then check out your website which you put in your bio.
Go where the people go.
Are there swim lessons already happening in your town? Park district? Recreation Department? Where are they advertising? Do the same.
Is there a city center where people go out to eat? Post some flyers at Potbelly. Slap some 81/2 x 11’s at Subway. Wherever people go and there is a place to post a flyer do it.
I like www.canva.com for my free content creation to print things like paper ads.
Collaborate with a swim school.
Some swim schools have thresholds you have to be at before you can join. If you specialize in infants, team up with a swim team or a swim school that doesn’t. You can get babies and beginners ready for the next stage and send them off.
Do you specialize in expert level technique? Partner with the local swim team and introduce yourself to the coaches. Provide proof (those reviews again) and work with the coaches as supplemental practice and opportunity for extra stuff. Maybe the swim team doesn’t have an endless pool and you do. Maybe they don’t do video and mirrors and you do.
Good old sandwiches.
Remember that billboards work. Spend some cash to buy some space, or ask to post a sandwich board on a busy corner. You can do the traditional billboard route; though this is very expensive. I recommend making plastic yard signs like you see for elections. Make them simple, make them as big as possible, and make it easy: “Infant Swim Lessons. www.maryswimteam.com” Do not break the bank on these. Just spray them around town an get your website out there. Curious people looking for infant swimming will check you out if your website name is simple.
If you can, spring for bigger signs. We spend $44.00 for these huge Three foot by 5 foot cardboard signs that any print shop can make. They are amazing. Put them in a sandwich board and just go stand on a corner for a few hours during busy traffic with that giant sandwich board.
Show up at events.
There are free events everywhere, even paid ones, that are looking for people to just come out from the community. Show up with a flyer, a website address and your smiling self. Remember, you’re getting the word out. Exposure helps and being a part of the community helps all these things.
Get people to know, like, and trust you.
Be yourself. Get your word out. Be active. Good luck.