Timing It Right: When To Pay For Advertising (And When Not To)

This year, Roger Federer broke a new record
Roger Federer won his eighth Wimbledon tennis final — the most in Wimbledon men’s history. And he did it without dropping a single set all tournament. Not a single one. So, how did he do it? What makes him such a master at his game?

Well, one answer is that Federer is a master of timing
To me, Federer appears to see things before they happen. He appears to slow time down (a bit like Harry Potter does). In the intensity of a game, he finds time in a fraction of a second to make the shot he wants. Instead of folding under pressure, he controls the pressure of a game and appears to control time itself.

And getting the timing right is critical when we are thinking about paying for advertising. When’s the right to advertise? Now? Next Tuesday? How much should we spend? Which channels should we use?

Paying for ad space can be risky
Nobody has limitless budgets, so we want to know for sure that we are going to get our money back. Will we make more sales if we promote a social media post? Are we going to get more visitors to our website if we pay for a press ad in the local paper? Are we going to get quality customers if we do Google advertising? Getting the most bang for our buck when we pay for advertising has no rock-solid guarantees. 

It’s not a surprise that spending money on advertising isn't for every business
Some businesses just don’t need to pay for advertising. Budgets are too small and the risk is too high. Some get enough business by word of mouth alone and they never need to pay for advertising. And that’s a good place to be. 

But other businesses want to scale at speed
Some want high visitor numbers to their website right now, lots of email addresses, and sales today —“Not tomorrow, thank you - we have targets to hit today!” So, there is only one option: to advertise. 

And then there are other businesses, who aren’t sure whether to invest in advertising at all.

This article is for those who are stuck between a rock and a hard place
It's for those who are thinking “when should I pay for advertising, if at all?”. It’s for those who are wondering whether now is the time to save money or whether to spend it on advertising.

Do you prefer 'paid' or 'organic' media?
‘Paid’ and ‘organic’ are important terms to understand because they are terms that you’ll need to know when dealing with advertisers. (Apologies if you know this already, but it's important to say if you don't.)

Paid media is another way of saying ‘paying for advertising space’, whether it is paying to promote a social media post or advertise in a magazine. It means that you are paying someone to show your ad to more customers than you can reach on your own.

Then there’s organic media. Organic media means creating and promoting content that costs you nothing. Zilch. It might go on your blog, website, social media feeds, newsletter or as an article on a third party news website. 

Organic media is a much slower burn
Organic attracts fewer customers than paid media at a slower pace but is much less of a financial risk. If your content bombs in front of a smaller audience, it's less of a big deal than if it were advertised to a wider audience.

And it’s good to test first because there are dangers with paid media...

Have you ever bet money on a horse only to see it lose?
Before the race, you are certain it will win, until your confidence bubble is popped when it finishes last. It’s similar to putting your money behind advertising. It’s easy to delude yourself that a stampede of salivating customers will rush to your website all at once if you do some PPC advertising, for example.

From experience, this doesn’t happen quite like some internet gurus tell you it will. And even if you did get lots of visitors, you’re left with a problem of (what I call) ‘quality control’.

What if they aren’t the right visitors? 
What if you’ve paid for advertising that targets the wrong people? (Yes, it does happen a lot). What happens if your sales page isn’t as high-quality as you think it is? What if it isn’t like a sticky honey pot capturing a customer’s attention? What happens if it isn't ready to move people from the top of your sales page to the 'buy' button at the bottom?

Rushing in too soon with advertising will make you like the Anti-Federer
You’ll hit your shots way off court. You'll be paying for advertising with content that hasn't proven itself yet. It hasn't gone through enough stages of quality control yet.

To avoid financial headaches, get the building blocks right first. 

Did you know that Mozart created more than 600 pieces of music? 
That's a lot of music writing, but I bet that you can only remember a few pieces of his work. His piano sonatas? The Marriage Of Figaro? That's not even scratching the surface of 600 pieces of writing. Nor does it include the hundreds of written notes or hours of thinking time behind these 600 pieces.

But what Mozart did was go from producing a heck of a lot of work first, before the world decided which ones it liked the best.

And our process about when to advertise should be similar.

Before you think about advertising, think about Mozart
The best way is to produce plenty of work first. Scribble notes, take pictures, record videos, write lots of articles. Share it with a smaller audience. Get it wrong with them first, then refine and improve before promoting it to a wider audience. 

It’s a simple process: create->test->tweak organically, then promote with paid media. Organic first, paid second. That’s the way to time it right.

But what if it takes too long? 
This sounds like a long process, doesn’t it? Yes, it takes time to create, share and update it before paying for advertising. It can take anything from days to weeks to get your work to a good enough level. It depends on how comfortable you are with taking a risk and promoting something without having tested it first.

Some have the money to try and test content with a small media budget first, before spending a lot on reaching more customers. And this is fine. It does accelerate things. But if you are in it for the long run, and are conscious of money, going from organic to paid is a healthier way of investing money.

I used this ‘organic first’ approach recently
I worked with a client a few months ago who wanted to spend a great deal of money on advertising new software.  They wanted to promote a lot of blog posts, eBooks, and Webinars. But they didn't have a lot of money.

My advice was to create a series of 10 blog posts, see which were the best three, and improve them. Then — and only then — did we turn those posts into three eBooks. And of the best performing eBooks, we turned that killer piece of content into a longer webinar.

This process was a less risky strategy and gave us confidence that the advertising budget was spent on the best of the best. And at the right time.

Create->Test-> Tweak: a process I use most days
I have an Evernote notebook bursting with thoughts, useful articles, and unpublished articles. When I like one article, I'll share it with friends for any comments. They might want to know more or need clarification, so I'll improve it. Then I'll send it as a newsletter. If I am going to consider spending money, I will then choose the best piece of content to promote.

So why not watch a bit of Federer? Look at how he times his shots to perfection. But what you won’t see are the decades of mistakes, poor swings, and poor footwork that were kept to only to smaller audiences. So, by the time he reached the big stage, he was ready.

And look how that paid off.

In the end, it comes down to timing
The next step is to think ‘organic first, paid second’ in what you produce. It’s about raising to the surface only what works best. If you have that relentless content engine going on, you'll be able to share a lot with small audiences first. And only if it's high quality, will the time be right to spend your money on advertising. 

And remember: if your marketing isn't working with a few customers, it certainly won't work with many.

Thanks for reading :o)

Simon | The Chief Brain