Recently, two New Jersey-based DJs had an online chat about the best ways of growing revenue for their mobile businesses — one a solo operator (Taso Dakas of Luxe Event DJ & Production) and the other a multi-operator (Gregg Hollman of Ambient DJs).
The Knot and WeddingWire were at the heart of it, and the marketing-focused exchange proved illuminating for all. Here’s a sample of the best bits – enjoy.
Gregg Hollmann, Owner, Ambient DJs, East Windsor, N.J.
I have a ton of respect for business owners who have been able to grow their companies without ever having to spend a dollar on advertising. Indeed, there are many different business models on the road to success.
Lately, The Knot and WeddingWire have been getting roasted in the wedding professional community as predatory companies who excessively self-promote and whose advertising programs don’t work.
For this business owner, I’ve been a long-term fan of advertising on both The Knot and WeddingWire. These review-based sites get our company in front of the right couples who fit our style and have the proper budget. It’s a like a 24/7/365 online bridal show – with our target market in attendance.
Some years ago, a newly opened luxury hotel discovered us on The Knot – and touched base to get us on their initial recommended professionals list. Years later, we’re still on that list, and a series of successful weddings there has spawned dozens of referrals and additional bookings. Plus, professional relationships with other event professionals. In the words of the 1980s band The Fixx, “One Thing Leads to Another.”
Marketing/advertising is critical in business. The biggest enemy of any business is obscurity. The area where I see some small business owners falling short is a reluctance to put time and dollars into marketing. Throw a showcase. Step up your venue relationships. Experiment with different advertising mediums and double-down on those with strong ROIs. Network with fellow event professionals. Explore the world of social media marketing. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way, as you tweak your formula. Once your business gets some marketing momentum, you are on the way towards creating a business machine!
Taso Dakas, Luxe Event DJ & Production, Marlboro, N.J.
This topic has always fascinated me. First off, it really depends on the business model and the numbers you need to survive. I’ve been doing this full time since 2012 strictly through word-of-mouth, and a little bit of YouTube. I’ve never spent any money on any tangible advertising of any sort.
As a solo op, my business model is dependent on only needing 50 events a year – I always exceed that, though; yet I receive over 200 inquiries each year. I don’t have advertising, I don’t have a physical office space, or a lot of other costs that many multi-ops have. My biggest expenses are payroll/workman’s comp and the reinvestment into making sure I have the production that my clients seek. I aim for what I consider a high-end market, meaning I don’t need a lot of volume, but rather targeted events that are willing to invest in the quality of service I believe I provide.
Many try to become a word-of-mouth business, but it’s really not easy. First off, no one talks about average… average is just there, it’s convenient, but it’s not something people will go out of their way to rave about despite the good reviews. Even McDonald’s – just like the $300 DJ – can get five-star reviews. But do you see people going out of their way to recommend McDonald’s?
What people talk about are two things. It’s either very bad experiences — we see it all the time where people warn us online to stay away from a certain place for whatever reason — or they talk about amazing experiences that they’ll never forget. The latter is the category I always aim to be in. Giving an experience that is never forgotten, stands out, and is one my clients and their guests are proud and excited to share my info with.
With word-of-mouth, you can also expand your circles and grow beyond what reasonable advertising budgets can. WeddingWire and The Knot are one geographic location… so you’re either spending a fortune for, say, North Jersey, South Jersey, Philly, and New York… or you’re limiting your exposure. Word-of-mouth has gotten me personally in 15 different states… and in each of those states I have a circle of clients, regardless of how small.
I find, in our industry, so many do what is needed to just get by at events, or are not really looking around for ways to stand out, whether it is performance-based, appearance, skill, etc. I also find in New Jersey, particularly, the personal experience has been lost in our industry with clients dealing more and more with secretaries or middlemen than their actual DJ. Or they meet with their MC, but not their DJ — the guy that’s actually creating the musical atmosphere. This is personally why I feel it is so hard for a multi-op to be a word-of-mouth business and not need some sort of advertising, because somewhere in the process with such a high volume of events experience may become sacrificed.
This isn’t a bash to anyone in particular, as there’s more than one path to success, but it makes you wonder how some, who have been in the industry for so long, still require advertising to get leads, as opposed to their past 1,000-plus clients doing the marketing for them.
Greg Hollman: Many excellent points! Respect to your successful business model. The multi-op business model is not without its perils, but can still be done very well to create personalized and memorable experiences that clients are enthusiastic to refer. I also personally enjoy having a team and the enriching experiences that are possible.
Taso Dakas: Absolutely — a multi-op can be successful, and there are many different models of success. Likewise, it is understandable that with a multi-op you’re expected to feed multiple DJs business and, therefore, need to generate as many leads as possible for them and yourself, which for many involves an investment in advertising of different sorts.
And I’m not taking away from the multi-op model – I have a team as well. It’s just a different kind of team [laughs]. It’s something I continuously consider and am exploring how I’d approach it if I were to go that route. I was just reflecting how it is a lot harder to achieve that word-of-mouth marketing in the multi-op business and, therefore, requires a significant investment in various advertising methods. I speak with many DJs who work for multi-ops, and some never speak to the couple. Some spend less than 30 minutes with them. The overwhelming majority never speak to them prior to the contract being signed. It’s hard to be word-of-mouth-based when that occurs.
A business can also suffer significantly if it spends a lot of money on advertising and have one or two years of minimal return from those advertising investments, if not done properly. For example, you can advertise online all you want, spend $20,000 a year on being the top DJ on WeddingWire/Knot in different areas; but if you have a bad website or low-quality content, it’s not gonna get the phone ringing enough. Or you can spend countless dollars on bridal shows; but if your booth’s appearance is lacking or your communication skills aren’t there, the return on investment will be minimal. This is why I make a point on focusing on the customer experience – from the first call to the last song – on needing to be exceptional. That’s free!
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