Case Study: Mother Nature vs. Facebook Ads
In an era where Facebook and Instagram are constantly used to point customers to a local business and engage with them, imagine if these two tools were suddenly taken away from you? How would you reach new customers? How would you inform current customers about what is happening with your small business?
I wish this on no one. But if it does happen to you, here are some ways you can help your small business. No matter what happens, don’t give up.
A little background
This is about my first client that I took on when I started freelancing in 2010. He was a chef, she worked as an event manager. While most of my initial work for them consisted of follow-ups and correspondences, in 2015 they retired from their full-time jobs and moved to Malaysia from London. Once there, they started a dessert cafe.
Starting the business was no different than any other food business. On my end, I helped them with branding, social media management and finding ways to retain regular customers.
In May 2017, we found a local third-party app that was able to track the cafe’s 264 regular customers by mobile phone numbers and how much they spent. At the time, it seemed convenient. Little did we know, that this would play a far bigger role by the end of 2017.
The Game Changer
From August 2015 to October 2017, the cafe had more than 30,000 followers on their Facebook page and more than 5,000 followers on their Instagram account. They had gone viral at least twice in their local area and social media advertising gave them a reach of about 200,000 local customers.
In October, the cafe is known to start its slow period. This is when most locals observe a strict vegetarian diet for 15 days for religious reasons known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.
November and December are known to be slow months because of school holidays and school students are its primary customers.
This year, Mother Nature also had a part to play. On 5th November, most areas within the state were flooded. Some housing areas were not accessible by any road and water levels were 5 feet and above. The cafe had very little damage. Some wiring and some furniture. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Total damage was about $1250.
But the floods had a severe effect that would last for at least another month whether we liked it or not. Within a week of making sure customers were okay and assessing what had happened to others, we turned to social media for advertising help. The business had slowed down significantly. Regulars were rare. New customers were non-existent.
Facebook & Instagram Ads
Everything that worked before did not work this time. In the end, for the first time in 3 years, money that was spent on ads was money that never returned. How can this be? Simple. Because the floods were the worst in the state’s history and it caused so much damage that there was no spending power. While we were trying to keep a small business alive, others were dealing with damaged vehicle engines and damaged property. Even if an individual wasn’t directly affected, he or she was helping someone who was. In short, if you are facing a similar situation, do not make this your first option.
Were the floods all that bad?
Within 5 weeks of the flood, 3 businesses in their area closed down. That’s how bad the effect was. I became obsessed with doing everything I could to make sure the same did not happen to them. By early December, they were behind on rental and the electricity bill. Something that had never happened before. After more than a month of close to no business, their savings were running dry. BUT the amount of effort and time that had been put into the business far outweighed the amount that was owed. They were not in debt by the tens of thousands, they were short of $1800 after repairs to the cafe, their home, and vehicles from the floods.
What worked in the end?
- Engagement: By end of November, I had tried everything I could do on their Facebook page and Instagram account. We ditched that and went down the old-fashioned route. They went out and met people. Because their vehicles were still in the workshop, they used Uber to get from the house to the cafe. During the ride, the conversation would usually turn to the floods. They reached out and gave Uber drivers a loyalty card that entitled them to a 20% discount and free ice-cream when they came to the cafe.
- Regular customers: Remember the app? It worked its magic. Because they had access to more than 264 people, she was able to reach out with weekly offers and reach out to customers about how the floods had affected them. Did all 264 customers come rushing to visit in November? No. But most trickled in by the end of December and were grateful for the cafe owners checking in on them.
- Community and tourism pages: We had utilised tourism pages to feature the cafe before. Other countries and states may do this differently, but how it works here is that pages with a following of more than 100,000 charge a small fee to feature an outlet within their local area. This time around, we used at least two of these pages to feature the cafe’s year-end promotion.
- Stand out promotion: Many businesses were affected by the floods and most of them were scurrying to do promotions every way they could. We had to think out of the box. We started selling e-vouchers for people to buy their meals from January to December 2018. We packaged the cafe’s most popular dishes with irresistible prices. For example, 10 pizzas for $50. But customers are only allowed to redeem one per visit. Yes, the price of the pizza is ridiculously low. However, costs are covered by a small profit margin and think about this, most customers who buy this e-voucher are not going to back and eat ONE pizza. They are going to order drinks, other menu items and most of all, they are going to tell their friends. I’m not going to lie, selling prepaid meals need a lot of math. If you are going down this route, make sure costs are covered, make sure it is an item that although it can be eaten by itself, they will be encouraged to make other purchases and don’t allow redemption for all meals within a short period of time.
- Joint ventures: The cafe had already teamed up with a local school to organise cooking lessons for their younger students. Now, they built on that relationship by offering early bird discounts for yearly sign-ups. They also reached out to other schools and asked for permission to distribute meal vouchers starting from January 2018.
We’re not out of the woods yet but there is a lot more hope now than there was in early November. Statistically, the survival rate of small businesses in the first five years are gloomy. But with the right planning and being creative, anyone can pursue their dreams.
The main takeaways from this were that data (customer’s contact information, much like a mailing list for a website) and interaction helped far more than Facebook ads, in this situation.
Given that we are from different cultures, study backgrounds and mindsets, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Would you have done something differently?
Today’s freebie: It’s the first day of 2018. Have you got your ducks in a row for your social media content? If you would like some help, I’ve come up with a guide that contains :
+Daily post ideas
+Tips for using Twitter
+Daily focus words