Paper Cuts: To Pay, or Not to Pay, For Advertising

Towards the end of every year, I find my email box filled with advertising and promotional opportunities for the upcoming year. The emails are filled with promises for tens of thousands of page views, huge spikes in website traffic, and the guaranteed potential to reach the most perfect client pool to ever exist. It's tempting, very tempting. It's not an easy decision to spend large amounts of money in advertising, and I've made a few mistakes alone the way. Today I want to share my own (brutally honest) experience and thoughts regarding advertising.

When I started my first stationery company, Believe Notes, I was beyond excited to get invited for a few promotional opportunities. I was thrilled to get my name out there, but I didn't do enough leg work to fully understand the decisions I was making. After being swooned by a few marketing representatives, I ended up paying for advertising with one major wedding blog, and one local wedding magazine. It cost me thousands of dollars. While I did end up with some benefits (mostly in the form of learning experiences), I did not ejoy my advertising experience(s). The wedding blog refused to promote my business in any way; and the magazine hit a rough patch of their own, which caused some publishing delays riiiiight at the same time I had rebranded (resulting in my old business name being published after it was already closed down). After all was said and done, I did not book a single client from either avenue. I made these two advertisement investments in 2012, and I have not paid for advertising since. While I may consider paying for advertising in the (very) near future, I have learned a few lessons that I will apply in order to maximize my investment.

So where have most of my clients come from? The large majority of my clients find me through styled shoot features, features of recent design projects (sites like Oh So Beautiful Paper), Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, word of mouth (friends and family, holla!), my Etsy shop, and recommendations by other wedding vendor friends. It also feels a lot more personal when a client reaches out and says "I've been following you on Instagram, and I knew the minute I got engaged that I wanted to work with you!". I mean, can I just hug every bride that says that?! The best part about features and social media is that they are (usually) free!

Here's my rundown on available marketing/advertising opportunities:

WEDDING WEBSITES AND BLOGS: I think these are great, and I am currently considering a few for myself in 2015, but you definitely need to do your homework. Figure out which websites/blogs attract the types of clients you most enjoy working with. Look to see how often that website/blog promotes their paid advertisers. Reach out and ask the website questions. Ask them if they offer special features or highlights for their paid advertisers; ask if you could do a trial with them; ask if they'd be willing to negotiate the price, or if they ever offer discounts on their prices (maybe around the holidays); and ask for a copy of their contract. Take a look at the other vendors, in your category, that advertise with that website/blog. And lastly, but possibly the most helpful, is to ask your industry friends where they've had the most luck in advertising. When I spoke to some of my peers, I found that there were some trends in where they get the most bang for their advertising buck. If you're curious, in 2015 I am looking into investing with Style Me Pretty and Oh So Beautiful Paper, as I've booked more clients from features with those two websites than any other online avenue.

PRINT MAGAZINES: I admit, it is just SO COOL to see your work in print. The one magazine I paid to be in, as cool as it was to see my work on the pages, was a small fortune and resulted in zero clients. The features on Sincerely, Jackie were tiny, and weren't always of my wedding invitations. Maybe I would have had a different experience if I had a full-page spread showcasing my invitations, but goodness knows how much that would have cost. With so many gorgeous online places for brides to find their invitations, I'm not sure that print magazines are the best avenue for me. I have been contacted by magazines and asked to submit samples of my work, with the possibility that my work may be featured (for free). So far, none of those opportunities have resulted in a feature, but for 2015 I plan to continue keeping in touch with the magazine reps with hopes that maybe I'll once again see my work in print.

ETSY: Etsy has made a lot of changes on the backend which have resulted in a huge decrease of sales for a lot of shops, mine included. Etsy, for me, is less about a constant number of sales, and more about a place a handful of clients who do value unique, hand-made items and are willing to invest in them. I no longer pay for promotions on Etsy, as I found I was not attracting the right clientele. In 2015 I will continue to make designs available in my Etsy shop, but have already prepared myself for a practically non-existent income from my shop. I am looking into other online shops, such as Zazzle, as a way to make Sincerely, Jackie designs more accessable for a larger audience.

FACEBOOK: Honestly, I'm not a fan of Facebook for small business.  I have a page and I find it's a great way for friends and family to follow my business, but as far as reaching a larger audience, Facebook disappoints. I spent a lot of dollars in 2014 to promote my Facebook page, but even with targeted promotion, a large portion of my "likes" were bots (not real people). Facebook also does not let all of your posts reach all of your fans unless you pay for promotion, which is disappointing. BUT, on the good side, the more you post to Facebook, the more interaction you'll naturally get. In 2015 I will continue to use Facebook, and I may even pay to promote a few exciting posts.

PINTEREST: I do like Pinterest, and have had a few great clients find me via Pins of my work. On the other hand, I've seen a lot of copycats use Pinterest to rip off other designers. I once saw an invitation of mine pinned to a board called "DIY Wedding Invitations", I was so upset! Verdict: I still love Pinterest.

INSTAGRAM: I love Instagram. I love that it allows me to really connect with potential clients and put my designs, face, and voice out there. The IG community has been wonderful to me, and I truly love when clients reach out after finding me on Instagram. I have big plans to continue connecting with the Instagram community in 2015

NETWORKING: Finding other vendors in the wedding world has been life changing for me. I've made incredible friends, found my own little support group, and have grown my business tenfold by the sweet, sweet recommendations of other professionals that share their clients with me. Three cheers for all the photographers, planners, florist, and other designers that I've worked with in 2014, and the growing number of professionals I can't wait to work with in 2015! Don't be afraid to reach out to vendors in your area (or anywhere, really) to introduce yourself, your work, and ask that they keep you in mind for any of their clients that fit your style. It's scary, I know, but so rewarding when you're able to start building relationships with vendors that lead to friendship AND recurring referrals!

FRIENDS AND FAMILY: I love working with friends and family, but I've also learned to lay some ground rules so that it goes as smoothly as possible. It's so easy to want to bend over backwards when a client is also a good friend, and you can, but you also have to keep your business in mind as well. When working with friends and family I try to balance the lower profit by creating a design that I am so darn proud of that I can submit it for feature, which, as I said previously, tends to give business a boost. I also posted about pricing here, and how I've learned to price accurately for friends and family.


So there you have it, some of my (very honest) thoughts on advertising and how I plan on doing it in 2015. What are your thoughts/experiences with advertising? I would love to hear what has worked for you, and some of what you've learned.

Wednesdays here on the blog are all about sharing Paper Cuts, which is a behind-the-scenes, down to Earth business advice series. I hope you've enjoyed today's Paper Cuts topic, and look forward to having you back next time! To read past Paper Cut posts, click here.