There’s one thing we can all agree on: there’s a lot to think about when it comes to your Marketing your fishing charter business. Even for the most organized among us, it can be really difficult to prioritize our to-dos and balance providing a great service with keeping the phone ringing. Dino, whose business is helping captains get bookings, tackles the question that is a constantly in the background of every charter captain’s mind.
These are some tough times to be a small business owner. According to Forbes, about 70% of all new companies are able to make it through the first two years, only half will find a way to survive the 5-year mark, while less than 30% of these establishments are still going to be alive and kicking after a full decade on the job. And yes, these numbers apply for fishing charter businesses just as well.
But perhaps even more disturbing than this is the fact that for most companies, the difference between sink or swim isn’t in the quality or value of their product, or even the passion and commitment they put into creating it every single day. Quite simply, the success of any small business primarily comes down to its ability to market its product intelligently and effectively, in order to maintain a constant stream of new customers coming, as well as managing those it worked so hard to obtain in the first place.
Nobody told you this back when you first decided to venture into the turbulent waters of the fishing charter business, did they? All you ever wanted was to create a fishing experience of a lifetime for your customers anyway: do you really need to spend both your time and money figuring out exactly how Google decided to place your website at position #24 in search results for queries relating to fishing charters in your area, or how to make sure those happy newlyweds you took fishing last week book another trip with you, come their first anniversary?
If we’re gonna keep you in those winning 30% of businesses, yes you do. But no worries, that’s exactly what we’re planning on doing. Getting right down to it:
1. The anatomy of a perfect fishing charter website
According to a recent survey, more than half of all small businesses still don’t own a website for promoting their services. If you’re one of them, do me a favor and buy yourself a domain name right now. It’ll cost you about 10$. Go on, I’ll wait here.
Your website is the main component of your company’s entire digital strategy: very simply, it’s how most anglers discover you exist, and then decide whether to book a trip with you or not. The scary part is that this entire virtual song and dance with your prospective clients happens in a matter of minutes (or seconds), with no second chance of making a good impression.
This is why it’s vital for your website to act as the most powerful salesperson you employ. Luckily, there’s a formula which can help ensure that actually happens (and working as customer service rep for a charter booking agency, I’ve had more than enough opportunity to witness its merits firsthand). Your website needs to answer several key questions that your customers are likely to ask:
- Which fish will I be able to catch?
- How comfortable/safe is the boat we’ll be fishing on?
- How experienced is the Captain and crew?
- How much for the trip and which packages do you offer? Are there any additional costs?
- How can I get in touch with you?
It should come as no surprise, then, that the two pages which generate the highest amount of traffic on most fishing charter websites – are the ‘Gallery’ and ‘Fishing Reports’ page.
Yes, people love seeing what other people caught when you took them fishing. They want to know what your biggest catch of all times was, as well as what’s biting at this very moment. That is why you should always carry a high quality camera on your trips, and make sure you regularly update your Reports page with fresh angling stories. This serves a dual purpose: one, you’re proving to your website visitors that you’re able to constantly put your clients on fish. Two, you’re just letting everyone know that you’re still in business, and are committed to maintaining a strong online presence.
Furthermore, if you’re thinking of adding an animated singing fish to your homepage, think again. Don’t waste your time and money on a website with loads of additional features that take ages to load. Research shows most users give an average website just 4 seconds to load before they get out and move to the next one. Simply make sure to create an appealing, user-friendly interface, with your contact info clearly visible. That’s it!
A new poll by Google discovered that 59% of customers will visit a small business website via their mobile device. The good news? 9/10 websites still aren’t mobile optimized, which is a super easy way to get ahead of your competition. The mobile version of your site needs to showcase the key points you want your customers to take home, as well as a clear and easy call to action.
Pro tip: Run a blog on your website that you update regularly. If you don’t have the time, get someone who knows loads about fishing to do it for you. Make sure the topics you cover are of actual value to your customers, and are well written. Google and other browsers reward websites with quality content by bumping their rankings up in the search results.
2. Cash out to cash in: SEO and PPC
Ah, the two acronyms that send shrivels down every website owner’s spine. Your website is of no use to you if no one can find it online. Most bluntly put, Search Engine Optimization and Pay-per-Click Marketing are two routes that lead to where all young and naive websites dream of getting eventually: the number 1 page of Google (and other search engines, respectively). When done right, SEO can ensure your website appears naturally as an organic search result for a certain query (say, when a customer types in ‘[your city] fishing charters’). PPC, on the other hand, lets your website quickly be featured in that advertisement box above the natural search results, but you’ve gotta pay for each click you get to your site.
Both have their own merits, and most would agree SEO is king. According to some estimates, only about 20% of people click on advertised links. However, acquiring natural search engine rankings is a long-term goal and a slow, tedious process. It takes a lot of time and effort, and you have to constantly be on top of your game to keep one of the prime spots. PPC lets you get to the front page of Google NOW, and you can literally experience the results within hours.
PPC works by letting you bid on a certain keyword or phrase. Say you run an inshore fishing charter business from Tampa. If you want your website to be featured in the advertisement box whenever someone searches for ‘Tampa Fishing Charters’, you can bid for the right to do so. If your bid is higher than that of the other bidders, you’re given the spot. Then, whenever someone clicks on your link, you pay a small fee to Google, Bing etc.
If you decide to try PPC (which we strongly encourage you to do), be very specific with the keywords you bid on. Rule of thumb: bid on a combination of [Your Location name] and the words ‘Fishing Charters’ or ‘Fishing Trips’. This will give you the highest probability of conversion, meaning people who click on your website actually end up booking a trip with you.
As far as SEO goes, consider hiring a professional if you don’t have the time or energy to figure out the science behind this invaluable resource. Some of the things you’ll need for optimizing your website to be search-engine-friendly is frequently updating it with exciting content (fishing reports, tips etc.), as well as building an army of back-links, i.e. web links to your website from other quality websites which are relevant to fishing in your location.
Pro tip: Get on Google Places. This is a free service which allows you to list your business on a Google map that appears right to the natural search results for location-based business queries. However, if your address isn’t that close to water, try convincing the marina to let you use their address for your listing instead: people are going to spend most of their time browsing the services that are located right along the docks. For extra points, list your business on other location-based apps, like Foursquare and Yelp, which are growing in popularity.
3. Social Networks & Video
If you still think social media is for teenagers and indie bands only, you’re missing out on a highly developed new business playground. Just recently, Facebook announced that over 24 million small businesses currently maintain active pages on their platform. Although Facebook also offers valuable PPC opportunities for companies, creating a profile and connecting with customers is completely free, and should be fully utilized by any serious charter business. Here’s how:
Start by creating a business page which people can ‘like’. Remember what your clients want to see on your website above all? Use this space to upload new photos from your trips and chunks of fishing reports on a daily basis. Also, be sure to give prompt responses to any customer questions, as well as be relatively engaged with most discussions on your profile.
Pro tip: consider holding a contest on your page, where a winner gets, say, 20 or 50% off of any of your packages, or even an entirely free trip: whatever you can manage to give away. Announce the contest everywhere you can and call your previous clients to inform them about the prizes. These sorts of mini-campaigns can be very effective in generating high amount of traffic to your profile. And once the people swarm in, it’s your time to shine.
You should use Twitter, on the other hand, to create somewhat of a live feed of your fishing trips, and frequently share fish-related trivia and pop quizzes. Since Twitter’s search engine resembles that of Google’s, you’re bound to get more traffic if you understand how potential customers look for information on it. Make sure your Twitter name clearly points out to your location, rather than it being just the name of your business, as people are more likely to follow the same ‘city’+ ‘fishing charter/trips’ pattern in their queries.
Video material is becoming recognized as increasingly relevant by businesses and search engines alike. This is where that high quality camera carries an added value: keep on the lookout should anything of potentially ‘viral’ value happen on any of your trips. Your huge catch got snatched by an even larger fish? You had a 30-minute gladiator battle with a 1000lbs+ Blue Marlin? Edit the video with some music, and put your website link on the video’s beginning and end. YouTube is a must, but other video-based social apps like Vine are exploding as well. I know it might seem overwhelming to keep up with all of the latest fabs of online social activity, but guess what? That’s exactly what the those 70% of companies that failed thought as well.
Pro Tip: Many of your competitors probably implement some of these techniques already. But how many of them do you know that run a podcast where they invite other captains and experts to talk about fish-related topics, or keep a weekly vlog? Remember, it’s all about finding the edge, and keeping one step ahead of the others.
4. Repeat Customers & Referrals
If your contact with the customer ends the moment that they step off your vessel, you’re losing a potentially invaluable resource. Providing your customer with a great fishing experience is a good start for repeat business, but it won’t get the job done by itself, and most of the times isn’t even a necessary prerequisite. Your primary goal after the trip should be to make sure the customer remembers you in a positive light, which can be accomplished through several simple, yet very effective ways.
Enter the newsletter. At a glance, this looks like just another follow-up email that you would send to the existing customers. In reality though, it’s a clever reminder of just how amazing the entire experience was for the clients, and more importantly, exactly what you think will make their next fishing trip even better than the last. Remember to make this sort of communication helpful and informative-similar to your blog, ensure that the information you provide in the newsletter are of actual value to the customers, and are something that they will look forward to reading.
But apart from that, try and give a personal touch to each newsletter separately. Was there anything especially fun or memorable that happened during the trip? Were you able to develop a couple of inside jokes with the customers during an 8 hour fishing voyage out on the blue ocean (which you definitely should have)? Integrate those moments throughout the newsletter to create a nostalgic environment which compels the customers to want to relive the entire experience all over again.
Also, how about spicing up the offer with a discount for their next trip, as a small token of appreciation for the relationship that you’ve built? It can’t hurt if you put in a freebie or two as well, any sort of low-cost branded merchandise that won’t get thrown away the moment they open it in the mail.
For especially loyal customers as well as those that you suspect might become one, think about going the extra mile. Offering a larger discount is great, but nothing beats a creative gift that carries a personal signature. Have they caught anything that they were particularly excited about? Getting a taxidermist to create a replica of the catch that you would present to the customer next time around wouldn’t set you back for too much, but is priceless as a rapport builder. There are other fishing related items you may want to consider chipping in for as well, like as a brilliant fishing charter-themed water bottle, or a 10$ pen which is actually a tiny fishing rod. The options are limited only by your budget and your imagination: in the end, it’s all about creating an experience that will last long after the trip is over.
Pro tip: never be afraid to ask for referrals. This is another big reason why your relationship with the customers mustn’t stop at the boat door. If they had a great time out on the sea, why wouldn’t they be more than happy to let all of their friends know about the quality of your service? It is vital to be able to convert your customers into promoters: since word of mouth can’t ever be beaten as a marketing method, turning your clients into your very own brand ambassadors is something that mustn’t be overlooked, and can in fact be further incentivized either by offering a small discount to those that book a trip with you thanks to the client’s recommendation, or giving that discount to the loyal customer-referrer himself.
5. Sell Like Your Life Depends on It
At the end of the day, you, the Captain, are the heart and soul of your business. And as someone whose livelihood also depends on the survival of this whole charter thing, you need to be able to quickly morph into the walking sales pitch whenever the situation presents itself, taking every chance you can get to promote the business further. This is one of the things that often prove to be the hardest to talk the captains into doing, but is unavoidable and as crucial as any one of the other advices given.
Consider applying to speak at a seminar. Track down the local sportsmen groups or fishing associations where you can schedule to give talks on tips and tricks for catching certain types of fish, or make a presentation of fish seasonality based on your experience. If there isn’t one, create an entire event yourself: no excuses. After all, you’re the one that has the ins and outs of the business, so why not use that knowledge to your advantage? And yes, I’m aware many of you may have an issue with public speaking, but the bottom line is, if your expertise becomes more known locally, chances are you’re going to be picking up more referral business as a result. Now, is that enough of a motivation for you?
Make networking your middle name. Hand out business cards to everyone you meet. Also, try to make sure your business cards are unique enough for people to hang on to them for a longer period of time. This is where creativity comes at play once again. And once again, I’m not saying you need to completely reinvent the concept of a regular business card, but it would be nice if your card was a bit more than just numbers on a paper.
Attend events in your industry in order to promote your business, learn more about your competition and form mutually beneficial partnerships. Many charter fishing trips are booked at trade shows, which means establishing a consistent presence there will go a long way in helping you fill out your schedule. It could also be very lucrative to find a related business venture that you can partner with: a service that complements, but doesn’t compete with your own. For example, try partnering with a regional fish store in order to maximize your promotional campaigns. Collaborate with local restaurants where your clients can eat the catch afterwards to enhance the entire experience.