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Strategic Spending

Marketing budgets require planning, flexibility

Budgeting for a marketing plan can be tedious for pool professionals, but as Ian Schatte, marketing coordinator of Manning Pool Service in Houston, Texas, says, the best-laid plans require funding.

Schatte prepares a quarterly budget for each department and a large umbrella budget for the year, assessing its largest areas of expense — such as website and web hosting — down to smaller items like customer Christmas gifts, and looks to do them all in a cost-effective manner.

To aid in planning, Schatte says Manning Pool Service strives to anticipate revenue streams as early as possible. “We rely heavily on our local business partnerships to quote projects months in advance to give us enough room to allocate funds,” he says.

Keeping track of marketing funds spent falls to Manning’s bookkeeper, while each department is responsible for tracking expenditures and receipts. “During our management meetings, money is spoken about openly and honestly, and we are always finding ways to cut back,” Schatte says. “Dedicated company credit cards for certain expenses make keeping track of gasoline and inventory quite easy.”

Communication and transparency concerning budget may vary depending on company size, but Manning Pool Service does its best to remain on the same page from top to bottom. “All expenditures are directly approved from our management team, and unanimous consent must be received before a major purchase is carried out,” Schatte says.

Chris Cavanaugh, owner of Cavanaugh Pool, Spa & Patio in Madisonville, Kentucky, enlists the help of an outside marketing manager.

A marketing agency has helped Cavanaugh maximize his time and, therefore, his budget. “We work on a budget in the off season, plan the year and [the marketing manager] sticks to it,” Cavanaugh says. “It does come with a cost, but it takes away all the marketing calls and messages I get; now I can forward them to him and cut down on my time.”

Learning over the years how to plan a marketing budget on his own, Cavanaugh focuses on the seasonality of his business. “We are extremely busy May through August,” he says, “so we start promoting in late February to ramp up the season and hit it heavy April through September. I generally just work with the agency to have them set me up the best program they can offer.”

When deciding which marketing platforms to use and how much money should be allocated, Cavanaugh notes that everything is moving online and to mobile.

Cavanaugh uses Google for much of his marketing and last year started a program with Broadly, a platform that will text or email a customer after a transaction and asks if he or she would recommend the company. If yes, it prompts them to leave a Google, Facebook or Yelp review. “If we dropped the ball and did not do a good job,” he adds, “it would alert upper management to make contact with the customer.”

Cavanaugh says Broadly has increased its Google reviews roughly five times over. He learned about Broadly from other pool professionals at a conference and says it has proven to be a great product.

Schatte echoes the sentiment that online interactions are the focus of marketing in today’s pool industry. Through monitoring and refinement of their online strategy, Manning Pool Service determines a clear path for its online presence. “Very early on, we noticed our sponsored posts on social media platforms were not reaching the targeted audiences,” Schatte says. “We decided to turn our website into a destination.” To that end, he boosted his pay-per-click advertising to focus on driving neighborhood pool owners to its website to find its full range of services.

Schatte says pool and marketing professionals should think beyond merely seeking out ‘likes’ on social platforms. To measure success, he recommends hyper-focused calls to action using just one platform. On Manning Pool Service’s Facebook page, for instance, followers are informed about special discounts they must call the office in order to redeem. Schatte says exclusive deals like this help measure engagement and see which platform your pool customers prefer. “[Discounts] are calls to action,” he says. “We want the customer actively picking up the phone or submitting a request through our website to take advantage of a special or promotion. Nothing is passively added. We want engaged customers!”

Even with a comprehensive marketing budget, there may be instances where companies decide to spend more than planned. Schatte says Manning Pool Service only goes over budget for “evergreen” marketing that can be used indefinitely. If he does go over budget on a certain project, the budget is adjusted from the top down. “Our new video campaign on YouTube for example, wasn’t cheap,” he says, “however, we will use it forever and build on it.”

For Schatte, spending that money on YouTube meant cutting back elsewhere. “It came at the expense of adding more local sponsorship opportunities,” Schatte says, but he now owns those videos forever, “and [in 2020] we can revisit local sponsorships.”

Even with tradeoffs, taking on new marketing endeavors can be worth it. The pool industry is rapidly evolving, and “without taking risks or doing something no one has done before,” Schatte says, “you may find yourself stuck in a rut.”

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