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Smart About Spending: Why and How to Set Your Self-Storage Marketing Budget

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Keeping your self-storage marketing costs under control isn’t always easy, especially when there are so many avenues from which to choose. Creating a budget will help you define your goals and spend your money wisely.

When self-storage operators think about marketing, they often assume it involves grand, extravagant expenditures. But the truth is, you can market your facility without breaking the bank. The trick is to make the best use of the dollars you have to spend—however many they might be. You need to create and adhere to a budget.

A solid budget will help you keep your goals in focus and costs under control. Building one may feel like a monstrous task, so let’s break it into manageable parts:

  • First, you need to identify and define your marketing goals. These can be large or small, something as simple as getting more phone inquiries or filling a specific unit size. Write them down, be specific, and keep them simple. An example would be something like, “rent all 10-by-10, climate-controlled units at a 12% profit,” or maybe you’d like to attract more college students or business renters. Set a tentative deadline for each objective.
  • Set your total budget amount. This involves a bit of math, but nothing too strenuous. The numbers are entirely within your control and should reflect your means and goals.
  • Decide what types of marketing programs and initiatives you want the budget to cover.
  • Update your budget based on results.

Now, let’s look at these last three steps in more detail.

Setting a Budget Amount

To set your budget limit, review your current self-storage revenue and decide on a percentage of income you’re willing to devote to your marketing spend. Consider these three approaches:

Safe. A safe marketing budget would be 1% to 5% of facility revenue. You can quickly recoup this expenditure with unit upsells, add-ons, late fees or retail extras. There’s a tiny bit of wiggle room for you to play and get your toes wet. If your business is barely breaking even and you'd like to give paid advertising a go, this gives you enough to start.

With a safe budget, it makes sense to have someone in house do the work. For example, if you have an employee with a talent for web development, graphic design or some other marketing skill, this is an ideal way to test the waters. If you’re looking to outsource, you'll need to account for agency fees.

Objective. With an objective budget, plan to spend 4% to 12% of your current revenue. This is the better choice of you plan to outsource. It allows you to use pursue multiple marketing avenues at once, ensuring access to a broader audience and potential client pool.

Most self-storage marketing agencies have package deals you can buy to get started. Just remember two things. First, you need to know the company’s area of expertise. If it doesn't know self-storage, keep looking. Second, what are the guarantees? An agency should be able to show you results. What does it have to offer and in what timeframe? Ask questions, and if you’re uncomfortable with any of the answers, look elsewhere.

Adventurous. If you’re ready to spend money to make money, go for this option, which is usually 15% to 30% of revenue. While this is a big number, it can pay off in significant ways. It’s a simple approach, really:

  • Hire a full-service marketing agency with self-storage expertise.
  • Let the experts tell you where and how to spend your money.
  • Sit back and let the revenue roll in! While there are always exceptions, making this level of investment will surely yield results.

Choosing What to Buy

There are many ways to market your self-storage facility, and new options seem to pop up all the time. Still, they generally fall into one of four buckets: digital, print, mass media and community (also known as grassroots). As you decide how to allocate your budget, you may want to try a bit of each.

Digital marketing. This includes things like social media, Google Ads and online business listings. It’s perfect for reaching large audiences and engaging customers. Digital marketing has quick uptime and gives you unlimited customer interactions. You generally have exclusive control over visuals and context, plus it’s easy to track via analytics. That said, it does require some know-how to leverage it properly, so if your staff doesn’t have experience in this area, consider hiring an expert.

Print marketing. This includes billboards, banners, yard signs, doorhangers, fliers, brochures, business cards and mailers. Print materials are great for that flash of wow. Your message can be personal and local, and you can control the distribution. They’re also ideal for sharing with neighboring businesses! The biggest drawback is print can be easy for customers to ignore. It’s also nearly impossible to track without specified promotions or custom contact information. (More on that below.)

Mass media. Local TV or radio commercials, or ads in local newspapers are ideal for reaching a non-technical audience and promoting brand awareness in the community. You can even target customers geographically. On the flip side, it takes time to set these up, and they can be pricey. They can also be difficult to track unless you’re using a specific promo code or contact number or email with each campaign. There may also be aspects of the presentation that are out of your control.

Community (grassroots). Connecting with local residents and businesses is the best way to become a part of your community and gain brand recognition. You can participate in local events or sponsor businesses or sports teams. Consider school fundraisers, collegiate events and donation drives for nonprofits. Much like print and media, these can be difficult to track.

Change It Up

Once you've decided on marketing budget, you’re by no means stuck with it. Just remember that where you choose to spend your marketing money plays a considerable role in the success or failure of your self-storage business.

One of the biggest mistakes operators make is to stick with a campaign or method that isn’t working,. If a strategy isn’t successful for your operation, move on to something else. You’re free to adjust your plan at any time. It’s helpful to note that it usually takes up to four months to really see the results of any marketing campaign.

How can you tell if a campaign is working? With tracking, of course! Consider some combination of the following:

  • Survey: Ask customers how they found you. This approach is simple, straightforward and perfect for do-it-yourselfers and in-house marketing teams.
  • Analytics: Most digital marketing comes with analytics. You might need help deciphering the numbers, but they’ll show you where your traffic comes from and what interactions were taken with each campaign.
  • Unique information/codes: Use an exclusive phone number, email or promo code with every marketing campaign, which makes it easy to track the leads generated from each.

Don’t be afraid to try multiple strategies at once; just remember to track them separately. Once you’ve gathered your tracking data, you can see how each marketing method is performing and the return on investment. Based on that information, you may decide to tweak your allocations.

There’s no exact science to self-storage marketing. It’s more of a template that leads you in the right direction. Once you’ve stumbled on a formula that works, you’ll have to remain fluid. Marketing is constantly evolving. As such, your goals, planning and budgeting should be, too. So, are you ready to market?

Mohala Johnson is the director of web technology for Tellus Development Ltd., a real estate and development firm that operates more than 30 self-storage facilities in the Southeast. With more than 10 years of management and customer-service experience, she handles the company’s digital and print marketing. Writing has always been a passion of hers, and she’s excited to share her knowledge with the self-storage industry. Connect with her @MohalaJohnson on Twitter or www.linkedin.com/in/mohalajohnson.

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