Mary and her husband, owners of Hippersons Boatyard, bought the sixty-year-old business on the southern reach of the Norfolk Broads National Park nearly ten years ago. Moving their barge home from London to Suffolk, they decided to occupy one of their own houseboats while the barge was in dry dock for repairs.
She immediately realised that they had bought a tourism business, with boat maintenance taking second place. They would need to attract a different type of customer and manage stays, from booking to check-in, directly rather than going through an agent.
So, they created holiday experiences including overnights in stylish new luxury glamping pods, water-based experiences including canoe tours, paddle boarding and dayboat hire, and packages with bookings at the best local restaurants.
Mary decided to move much of the business online and taught herself to run the customer experience and promotion of their holidays, learning about marketing, the power of Facebook, and setting up a YouTube channel to give customers the information they need before arrival.
It was a fortunate decision. Mary had an advantage when the pandemic brought the first lockdown in March 2020, and her plans accelerated. She realised that if she didn’t go online faster they could lose the business forever.
Taking up free digital courses on offer, Mary upped her digital game, creating and commissioning vlogs, and building her website with more engaging content.
Consequently, when they were allowed to open on 4th July 2020, the business was super-busy. Units and day boats were perfect sizes for the social bubble and visitors enjoyed the experience so much they quickly booked again for 2021.
Mary discovered Digital Boost, who provide free unlimited business mentors as well as workshops and extensive digital training to small organisations, as she sought to improve her skills during lockdown. She connected with Chris from BT for a mentoring session. She was most impressed that he had researched Hippersons beforehand and came to the conversation armed with great ideas.
The focus of the conversation was YouTube, and Chris shared his screen to show Mary how it works, how to get subscribers and how to write a profile that connects to Facebook and other social media for message continuity.
He also showed her how to create ads and promote locally, which inspired her to create a film showcasing their guided canoe tours for local people using her new underwater GoPro camera, aimed to reach the age-group most connected to YouTube.
From analytics, Chris and Mary realised that people liked videos about the engines and what goes on around the yard even more than the marketing-type films. This insight is bringing about a fundamental shift in her marketing approach as she upped her digital game, creating and commissioning vlogs, and building her website with more engaging content.
Mary said: “I’m so excited to move forward with the ideas Chris shared and am impressed that he found out about us before the call, especially as he is a volunteer. Our digital strategy is working, and I’m so pleased we moved online. We are creating employment opportunities locally and I am excited that customers love our new approach.”
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