In this post I'm going to describe seven reasons why I think General Aviation businesses fail to grow and prosper or just come to a full stop landing and close their hangar doors.
I obtained Private Pilots Licence in 1991 and I now provide aviation video marketing services. I'm keen to see General Aviation take advantage of the existing and growing demand for pilots in the years ahead, as well as see GA continue to provide a source of recreation and pleasure for many aviators of all ages and abilities.
Training Commercial Pilots
Many of today's Captains and First Officers first learned to fly at a local flying school. These schools are the nursery slopes that nurture tomorrow's commercial air crews. Boeing have predicted that there will be a need for 617,000 new commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years. So if you're in the business of flight training then this provides you with a great opportunity. Are you ready for it?
Over the past six months I've contacted hundreds of flying schools, clubs, and commercial flight training companies in the UK, Europe, and North America. I've visited their websites, given them a call, and sent follow-up emails. I'm left with the impression that many of those that remain hang by a thread.
They operate on narrow margins at the mercy of the weather and the economic climate. As well as the variables that affect many other types of business they also have to contend with threats of airfield closures. The insatiable demand for housing and the fact that airfields have been wrongly categorised as brownfield sites in the UK means that the airfields themselves are under threat.
Why General Aviation Businesses Fail
However, in far too many cases there is evidence that flying schools and other aviation businesses undermine themselves by neglecting areas over which they have complete control.
In the following seven sections I make no apologies for stating the obvious. If you think none of these apply then congratulations, your establishment is probably a well known name in aviation with a first class reputation.
Others, on the other hand, seem to be winging it, if you'll excuse the pun. I present these points in the form of constructive criticism and hope that they will inspire change, development, and progress.
So stick with me while I briefly describe each of the seven points below.
1. Bad, broken, and boring websites.
Some aviation businesses have modern, responsive websites that look appealing and informative on mobile, tablet, and desktop. They draw the visitor in with imaginative use of images, slideshows, and video.
The information about flying lessons and gift vouchers is easily found and the contact details are within easy reach. They are optimised for search engines and generate organic traffic as a result.
Others on the other hand have no website at all, or a single page, or something that was thrown online in a hurry. Even if there is a complete website it is often outdated and sometimes showing code errors or worse, evidence of malware.
There's really no excuse for this. It's so easy to put up professional looking website. I can only guess that it's down to time or just not knowing who to ask to get under the bonnet and fix the site's errors.
Suggestion: Set aside time and resources to review and update your site. It's your online brochure. It's a source of information for potential customers. It's a showcase for satisfied clients and their testimonials. Audit the website for data integrity, accuracy, and search engine optimisation.
2. Dormant and wasted social media accounts.
Some aviation businesses make good use of social media. They've learnt how to use this tool to great effect. But sadly these are the minority. There are companies with good websites who don't use social media well and vice versa.
A good website is promising but sometimes the social media links lead to dormant accounts. One I visited was still linking to the website creator's social media accounts. Most social media is free but you do have to put the effort in to use it well. If you're not prepared to put in the effort then don't open the accounts. Close those you're not using and remove the links.
On the other hand, use social media consistently and eventually your efforts will be rewarded.
Suggestion: Choose one or two social media types and get busy becoming an expert in that method. Think about your target market when deciding what types to use. Delegate this task to someone in your team who will become your nominated social media specialist, posting and responding quickly and at optimal times.
3. "Thank you for calling. Your call is important to us but there's no one here to answer it".
Someone has picked up the phone to enquire about flight training or gift vouchers. What impression will your staff or answering service provide?
Some businesses I've called have a professional telephone manner. The immediate impression is that you're talking to someone who is alert, keen, and ready to help. Others sound as if they've been interrupted while doing something more interesting than answering calls.
Of course, there will be busy times when flying and operational activity take up all available hands. In which case there should be some sort of answering machine.
I've called some during business hours only to hear a crackling answer machine with a barely audible message.
Suggestion: Remind everyone answering the phones of the importance of first impressions. Invest in a new answering machine with a pleasant recorded greeting that mentions opening hours and alternative methods of contact. If you don't want to do it yourself you can hire me to record a message for you.
4. Your staff don't know how to sell.
Someone calls to enquire about trial flights. Are you confident the person answering the phone stands a good chance of closing a sale? Someone books the flight and all goes well. Are you confident the Instructor has the skills to convince the trainee to sign up for a PPL course?
Your student completes the PPL syllabus. Regardless of the FI and CFI's flying skills how good are they at selling additional ratings, self-fly hire, aircraft sales, maintenance and storage?
Customers are the lifeblood of any business. New customers and retention of existing customers are essential. Unfortunately, sales and selling still seem a bit of a tacky subject to some. It's as if they can't shake off the impression that being a salesman or woman is a bit unethical.
Well, you're not running a corner shop or a supermarket. Your staff are not there to sit at the check-out waiting for people to decide on what to buy. You're all going to have to develop your powers of persuasion and learn to sell - to sell ethically - but sell nonetheless.
Suggestion: Put some time aside for team meetings and basic training in sales. All members of staff can participate in this exercise. Presumably you love flying so you're already half way there. All you have to do is learn how to convey that enthusiasm to your prospective clients and convince them that now is the time for that next lesson.
5. You don't diversify so there are unexploited assets in your business.
We all know what a detrimental effect the weather can have on takings, but if the aircraft are stuck on the ground is there some other way your aviation businesses could generate income? If it's not something you can charge for could it generate leads that turn into sales?
An untidy and unkempt premises not only makes a poor impression on your visitors but becomes a depressing place to work. You don't have to call in a feng-shui expert or an interior designer (although both can help if you can afford them) but you can tidy up and give the place a lick of paint once in a while.
Suggestions: Upgrade the snack bar or cafe and draw in passing trade. Everyone has to eat and drink.
- Put on talks, film or quiz nights open to all and advertise locally.
- Turn spare space into a flight sim area.
- Clear the clutter and free up storage space to create new work areas.
- Sub-let unused space to local small businesses.
6. You have no long term plan for growth.
Are you so busy with the day to day tasks that it's been months since you gave any thought to medium and long term planning? Where do you want your business to be in one, three, or five years time?
If you're run ragged doing everything yourself isn't it time you planned for some advertising for new staff, interviewing, recruitment, and training? Have you updated your business plan to account for rising prices, interest rates, and sales figures over the coming 12-24 months?
Suggestions: Set aside time to collate the information and work on your plan. There are plenty of free resources online so just google for them. Set your goals and remind your staff about them repeatedly. Start thinking and acting like a bigger organisation and you'll grow into the vision.
7. You have no marketing strategy.
There are several reasons why people don't think about their marketing strategy
They don't need to. Congratulations, you've got a full order book, but have you got a back-up plan if your steady stream of customers dries up?
They do what they've always done out of habit. Those adverts seem to bring in enough, for now. But do they work? Could you use more business?
They don't know what's available. Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, YouTube etc - not much good if you don't know how to to use them.
They don't like taking risks with new methods. They have tried and failed or heard of others who have been burned with new techniques.
Suggestions: Your business should have a marketing strategy that takes account of the variations of light and season throughout the entire year. You should plan well ahead to take advantage of seasonal holidays.
Aviation Video Marketing
Finally, a word about aviation video marketing
Over the past few months I've been helping aviation businesses harness the potential of YouTube video marketing. If you spend a few hundred pounds on print advertising the advert lasts for one issue even if it does generate new leads and a few sales.
But for the price of one print advert I can make you a YouTube video that remains online, on your website, and on you Facebook page indefinitely. I'll optimise it for searches and broadcast the link repeatedly in my social media accounts.
For a single payment (starting at just £199) you'll receive an infomercial that can be used repeatedly in several ways. If you don't like the sound of my voice I can arrange for male or female narration with most English speaking accents.
Contact me now and let's see how we can harness the power of aviation video marketing.