The Best Way to Get New Catering Clients Online
As a catering and events business owner, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the internet as a way to reach clients far and wide. The internet-based markets for these industries are booming, and such growth is only expected to continue. Not to mention, the flexibility and accessibility of e-storefronts and social media platforms mean the potential for countless customers to be interacting with your brand, at only the touch of a button.
The prospect of using the internet to grow your business is exciting, but actually doing so requires entering the marketplace with a well-designed strategy. Before launching your marketing materials, you need to be aware of where, and to whom, those materials will go. Simply advertising your brand to the general public, at least at first, will likely leave you with little else besides some Instagram engagement. Getting new clients, therefore, means understanding the processes by which people become interested in your brand, and eventually motivated to pay for your service.
Marketing Funnel Overview
As you engage in marketing and selling your catering and events services, you’ll find yourself using a variety of techniques to pique potential clients’ interest. One such technique is known as the “marketing funnel.” The marketing funnel is the process by which people make the transition from simply knowing about your brand, to becoming paying customers.
The marketing funnel is divided into three stages- top, middle, and bottom. Each of these is characterized by unique ways in which you interact with relevant leads or potential customers. The number of remaining leads decreases as one journey through the funnel, and as brand-led interaction becomes more intentional towards encouraging a final purchase. Therefore, much like its inanimate namesake, the top of the marketing funnel is much wider than the bottom; the number of individuals who are aware of a business will generally be higher than the number who have become paying customers.
The Top of the Funnel
The top of the funnel, as mentioned above, holds the largest group of people. Here you’ll find everyone who is aware of your brand. Your interaction at this point takes on a more superficial—though no less important!—feel than it does at the latter two stages. Leads might be retweeting your content about great holiday table spreads, for example, or commenting on one of your Instagram posts from a recent wedding you hosted. While such actions demonstrate an acknowledgment of your great work, they don’t necessarily signify an intent to buy.
The top of the funnel is also known as the stage of lead generation. It is where, through various marketing techniques, you first introduce people to your brand and its story. This initial cultivation of knowledge will aid you in encouraging leads’ progression to the middle, and eventually bottom, of your marketing funnel, until the point of sale.
Even though it encompasses an earlier stage of marketing and selling timeline, your top of the funnel content should still give readers a sense of personalization. This is your first opportunity to capture the attention of individuals who are taking the first steps towards the search for the right business with whom to partner up. Putting together a customer avatar, or an ideal buyer profile will help you understand the needs, habits, and goals of your target audience. Check out our related post for some great pointers on how to get started on the research and development required for this excellent marketing tool.
Along a similar thread, optimize your top of the funnel content, so as not to have a reach that is disproportionate to your engagement. In other words, you want to ensure that your early-stage marketing efforts are being met with an appropriate amount of response from leads. Again, doing so requires establishing an understanding, prior to releasing your marketing content, of your intended demographic’s behavior and interests. Therefore, this is also an area in which having a customer avatar will help boost your marketing efforts to the next level.
In all, you do want to maximize your engagement at this stage, but you want to be doing so with the right audience, and via the right content. And, you want that content to be accessible, engaging, and straightforward. Thankfully, advertising such material is relatively straightforward, as the top of the funnel pieces are usually marketed through your brand’s social media accounts, as well as your website. To get started on some great top of the funnel content, consider including:
Blog posts and newsletters about catering trends, ending with a blurb about how your brand is pushing the frontier forward
Instagram ads with photos of your seasonally-relevant catering work promoting your lead magnet
A short video about catering and event industry trade secrets.
To get leads connected with top of the funnel content, offer an email sign-up form as soon as they hit the home page of your website. This can be done via link, sidebar or pop-up. Make the incentive for first-time sign-ups blatantly obvious; leads want to know what they’ll gain by providing you with their contact information.
Keep an eye on the click-through and engagement rates pertaining to whatever top of the funnel content you offer, as it will clue you in as to how much middle of the funnel traffic you can expect.
The Middle of the Funnel
The leads who respond positively to your top of the funnel content will then progress to the middle. The middle of the funnel is also known as the sales conversion phase. This is due to its position as the point at which prospective clients really begin to get serious about the possibility of working with your brand. Not only are you still aiming to market; you’re also getting geared up to sell.
As a business owner, the middle of the funnel can feel like the most difficult stage to navigate. Sure, initially drawing people in with blog posts and aesthetic Instagram pictures are straightforward enough; once they’ve delved beneath the surface, however, your remaining leads are looking for information they can critically evaluate.
Now more serious about the prospect of purchasing your catering and events services, these individuals are looking towards details such as analytics, pricing information, and the specificities mentioned in former client reviews. They’re researching your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, be that through photos, videos, social media engagement, or a variety of other informative sources. They’ll also be comparing these stats to ones that similarly speak to the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors. Your leads, at this moment, are truly making the effort to get to know your brand—and, to know whether your brand is the one for them.
When creating content for the middle of the funnel, you’ll want to engage both your marketing and selling expertise. Anything you release here should be intentional towards an eventual sale. This means following through from information at the top, and continuing to supplement overviews with more client- and event-specific facts. Doing so will often entail addressing questions that have still yet to be fully fleshed out, and demonstrating to clients that your brand is their best fit.
For your middle of the funnel content, try to make use of both demand generation and lead generation techniques. The end goal of these efforts is similar, as they both work to point prospective buyers towards the purchase of your product. In practice, however, the two address slightly different needs. Where demand generation involves stirring up interest in—and thus, creating a demand for—a good or service, lead generation requires approaching potential clients based upon common characteristics.
Materials that respond to both of these needs include:
Targeted and concise white-paper ads and pop-ups
Blog content with detailed FAQs and other articles responding to specific client questions or concerns;
Case studies citing real transactions with real customers, to provide examples of your brand in action. While case studies might more laborious to construct than other middle of the funnel content, their marketing power, and evidentiary base, make the work pay off.
To make your navigation of the marketing funnel’s middle as smooth as possible, keep a well-organized, and frequently-updated, collection of information regarding particularly successful events catered or hosted by your company. Pieces to have on hand include reviews, interviews, and blueprints. You’ll be able to refer back to this information as you grow your middle of the funnel content.
The Bottom of the Funnel
The bottom of the funnel, finally, is where the sale occurs. The bottom, therefore, is home to what will become your brand’s client base, those people who’ve decided you’re the best choice to make their event a success. For this, it is sometimes called the “decision stage,” as it holds the moment when leads make the ultimate decision whether to work with you.
By the time leads reach the bottom of the marketing funnel, their activity revolves largely around filling in any remaining knowledge gaps pertaining to your brand. As they’re just on the cusp of making a purchase, potential customers want to know that your catering and events expertise outweighs that offered by your competitors.
There are a variety of tactics leads might use to wrap up their research. They might pay close attention to content that explains why your brand is the right fit, particularly for them. Perhaps they’ll carefully compare the events in your portfolio, to those in the portfolios of your competitors. In general, leads at this point are looking for ways to interact with your brand on a one-to-one basis, a basis that goes beyond earlier-stage social media and blog posts, and takes them to industry-specific information.
In a way, brand interaction at the bottom can appear reminiscent of what is occurring in the middle of the funnel. In many ways, it is; both are guided by a problem-solving mentality, as well as efforts to connect with your brand on a less superficial level. What makes the bottom of the funnel unique, however, is its carefully curated, one-on-one approach to the buyer; not to mention, as stated above, what occurs at the bottom of the funnel instigates a person’s conversion from a prospect, to a client.
The way in which you interact with leads at the bottom of your funnel plays a direct role in your next sale. Content, therefore, should be quite specialized in responding to your clients’ needs. The buzzword here is personal; buyers should feel as though you’re speaking directly to them.
It’s quite common for one’s skepticism to increase right before purchasing a good or service. As Ironpaper emphasizes, many bottoms of the funnel prospects are looking for “more information, education, consulting, and trust before they become your client.” Their doing so does not necessarily mean you’ve failed to release strong content at the top and middle. Rather, it stems from clients’ understanding that formal events are often lavish, time-consuming, and expensive affairs, and they want to make sure any brand with which they work will meet, and perhaps exceed their expectations.
Be cognizant of this fact, and consider offering content such as:
Video interviews with former customers providing positive testimonials or reviews of your service. Encourage customers to speak to specific details, such as how a certain piece of décor, particular dish, or your impeccable professionalism made their event unforgettable;
One-on-one demonstrations of a certain event-related activity, such as buffet table set up, or guest list curation. This will give potential buyers insight as to how you’ll operate when actually working together, as well as allow them to ask questions without interruption from other leads;
An explicit, and again personalized, example or statement of your brand’s philosophy and store, demonstrating to the buyer the meaningful, and refined, service they can expect to receive as your customer.
When used effectively, the bottom of your marketing funnel can also become a tool for retaining customers. The best way to encourage this is to create a direct connection between the funnel’s bottom and top. Upon successfully completing an event, provide your client with the renewed, current top of the funnel content. Add them to an email list via which you share seasonal décor and party planning tips, advertise your social media channels, and publish highly-visible blogs about brand developments.
Lead Magnet Overview
As discussed above, leads are your potential customers, the people who are actively deciding whether to invest in your brand. Depending upon where they are in the marketing funnel, leads might be reading your blog posts, weighing your business profile against those of similar brands, or deciding whether your service will fulfill the niches and tiniest details of their events.
To move someone from the point of examining your content to volunteering their email address (and potential willingness for prolonged communication), it’s helpful for you to offer a product in which that person will find value. Such a product often comes in the form of a lead magnet.
A lead magnet is a way to incentivize potential leads to supply you with their contact information, most commonly email so that you can add them to your list of marketing material recipients. Lead magnets should be free; the payment you receive is the addition of another potential customer and a more direct way to encourage that person’s movement to the middle of the marketing funnel, via reception of your promotional materials.
Lead magnets are vital to the development of your online customer base, as they instigate the growth of your email-based contact list. The majority of your contact with leads, save perhaps for the earliest and latest moments, will be conducted through email. Email-based communication is the most efficient way to keep in constant contact with potential clients. This is because it allows you to send marketing material to a large number of people at once.
Furthermore, a lot of programs exist which enable you to personalize each message with the recipient’s name. This extra detail is a small one, but it becomes crucial, especially as you attempt to move your leads to the middle of the funnel, where a personalized approach is key. A simple Google search will present you with a variety of options, which you can judge based upon your budget and reach.
How to Create a Lead Magnet your Customers Want
A successful lead magnet is one that both speaks to customers’ interests and proves your brand’s ability to fulfill their needs (in this instance, the need for a competent, expert catering and events team). Therefore, recipients of your lead magnet should feel that you, as a brand owner, are aware of their event planning expectations prior to their even explicitly mentioning them.
A great way to develop an attractive lead magnet is by familiarizing yourself with the online behavior of your leads, and individuals who are interacting with other catering and events companies online. As with your marketing funnel content, your customer avatar can serve as a great inspiration for piecing together an effective magnet.
Consider the concerns your ideal customer might have early in the event-planning process. What would they likely enjoy finding in their inbox, to ease some of their initial concerns?
In addition, take a look at the popular industry-relevant hashtags on Instagram, for example, and take note of any dialogue occurring in the “Comments” section of each post. You can also explore the types of lead magnets, other catering and events brands are offering. Furthermore, if you have some pre-existing clients, reach out to them for their opinion on any free materials they received from you. Ask how they felt about the content and presentation of what they received, and whether or not they found those materials to be of value.
Top 5 Lead Magnets for Catering Companies
There is an enormous amount of information available online, and a great deal of it is free. You want to ensure your offering leads materials that truly make your brand stand out—materials that showcase your unique expertise, story, and style in such a dynamic industry. Furthermore, you want to make sure what you’re providing is useful; the last place you want your lead magnets to end up is in the “Trash” folders of your leads’ email inboxes.
To get started on crafting your unforgettable lead magnets, try drawing inspiration from some of these great options for catering companies:
1. Mini eBooks
eBooks are a useful way to offer in-depth knowledge on a particular topic and to do so in very few pages. CaptureHits Marketing Group also emphasizes that eBooks are a great choice because people usually do not expect to receive books for free. The prospect of receiving such an item, in exchange for an email address and some other basic information, can be enough to spark further interaction with your brand. Additionally, eBooks give you the opportunity to include more content than do most other marketing materials. A 10-15 page document can deliver your brand’s story, images from recent or seasonally-relevant events, sample recipes, and more.
2. A Video Demonstration
A two-to-three minute video showcasing a specialty skill or practice can get leads excited for all the expertise you’ll be able to offer as their catering partner. Video topics might include how-tos for decorating a holiday table spread or examples of how to prepare various fresh ingredients. Video lead magnets don’t just have to be demonstrative of a certain skill, however. A short video is also an effective medium for telling the story of you, your brand, and your employees. Leads will certainly appreciate the personalization and transparency from the get-go.
3. Sample Event Prep Checklists
This is another fantastic go-to, as event planning involves so many to-do’s! Spend some time designing an attractive document, perhaps one that mimics your brand’s color and design scheme. Consider what lists might be useful for your target audience. Sample topics might include last-minute table decorating tasks, steps for creating the perfect invitation, or a springtime luncheon shopping list. You can also include a few relevant tips and tricks of your own!
A coupon or other offer might not be the most obvious option for a catering lead magnet, as you’re not offering a particular product, but a service. Remember, however, that events can be costly affairs, and most clients are entering the planning phase with budgetary constraints already in mind. A discount on your service would thus be a much-welcomed gift for many. Consider:
How much of a discount you’d like to offer (10%? 15?);
Whether to put a size or budget constraint on the offering’s applicability (valid for events with up to x number of guests, or with y budget);
And whether you’d like to encourage any further engagement, before the offer can be activated.
5. A Webinar or Short Online Class
These are similar to video demonstrations, however more in-depth and, depending upon the platform, more interactive. When done live, webinars give leads the chance to interact not only with you but with one another. Leads can ask questions, and you can answer them in real-time. You might even consider adding a few paid classes if your free ones are gaining enough popularity!
Make Your Lead Magnet Work for You
Of course, it’s not just your leads who will be benefitting from your lead magnets—you, as a business owner, can make them serve your needs as well!
Lead magnets are an attractive and palatable way to get your brand’s story, goals, and statistics across. They give you the chance to showcase those details about which you are proudest, and to do so in a sample-sized format that will leave potential customers wanting more. Therefore, it’s important to be particular about which information your magnets highlight. The voice coming through should truly be that of your brand; be wary of your materials coming across as generic, or canned.
At the same time, make sure you’re not offering too much information; a taste (pun intended) of your catering company is what you’re after, not the entire meal. You want to incentivize leads to pay for your service, not collect free materials by signing up for your email lists and newsletters.
There are countless ways in which you can promote your brand’s strongest points via a lead magnet. Say, for example, that you specialize in catering French-inspired cuisine for weddings and other formal events. If you’re offering a mini eBook, you might include a blurb about what French cuisine means to you—perhaps you have French family, or studied culinary arts in Paris—or tips for recreating French countryside-inspired kitchen settings.
Or, perhaps you have a history of directing corporate functions. In this case, a list of business luncheon dos, and don’ts, written specifically for the event’s host, could effectively underline your expertise.
Best of luck as you explore your catering and events business’s growth online!