Masterplan's structured approach leads to a ten-fold increase in business

Product: Watertight Marketing Masterplan

Andy and Debbie Nickerson

Andy and Debbie Nickerson

Client: Andy Nickerson, Andy Nickerson Photography

“The Watertight Marketing book clicked it was easy to follow and a great way for us to learn about marketing. That’s why we chose to do the Masterplan course and, as a result, I’m a lot more confident this year. We’ve seen a massive ten-fold increase in business and had the best start to a year ever. Best of all, we know it’s repeatable.” Andy Nickerson, owner, Andy Nickerson Photography


Based in rural Northamptonshire, Andy and Debbie Nickerson are a husband and wife photography team producing critically acclaimed family portraits with a specialism in newborns. As well as their photography they also produce beautiful handcrafted artwork for the home. Tim Freed, editor of Toddle About Magazine described Andy’s work…“More than just nice photos… he creates works of art that make you go WOW”.

Andy cut his teeth in the London creative scene shooting creative work for brands like Toblerone, Cobra Beer, ITV and Channel 4. But this photography studio is his first foray into running his own business. Like many new business owners he’d bought several business books. When Debbie left her role as a qualified nurse to join the business, Watertight Marketing was the book he suggested she read first.

The challenge — and how Watertight Marketing helped

Andy and Debbie faced a challenge that many new business owners face, especially those that base their business from home and do everything themselves.

As Andy explains “We are great at coming up with ideas but unless there is a formal structure in place it won’t happen! We realised that what we had a classic yo-yo marketing approach of seeing initial success then nothing for a couple of months. With Debbie joining, the structure of the Masterplan programme was the key for us. The course has given us a framework and language we both can work from Ben Wheeler - Marketing Consultant in Bristol— and the basis to sit down each day or week and actually do some of these ideas — but it’s also taught us what not to do.”

Andy also enjoyed the input of an external pair of eyes, seeing this as another benefit of the Masterplan course. Andy and Debbie were supported through their course by Watertight Marketing Accredited Consultant, Ben Wheeler who acted as their monthly Accountability Partner. Andy describes having someone at the end of a phone who’s Watertight Marketing trained, like Ben, as “a huge benefit that adds that external focus you don’t see when you are running it yourself.”

Identifying Andy’s marketing leaks

As part of the Masterplan course, Andy and Debbie reviewed their marketing against the Thirteen Touchpoint Leaks™. This is Watertight Marketing’s bottom-up analysis that identifies how businesses lose both customers and profit from their marketing activities — and creates a traffic light action plan of priorities, putting those that need immediate attention at the top of the list.

Related content: Do your own Snapshot Touchpoint Leak™ Assessment

So, what leaks jumped out, and what did they do as a result?

Leak #1 — Forgotten customers

Leak #1 looks at your relationship with existing customers — the bedrock of any successful business. When you don’t stay in touch with customers, they are likely to forget about you. When it comes to buying again, or recommending to friends, your name may not come to mind.

Family photography lends itself to anniversaries and therefore repeat purchase — so it made particular sense to focus their attention on past clients that had already purchased. They identified a series of events that could be used to re-contact clients. The anniversary of a newborn shoot could be marked with a birthday card, Father’s Day created an opportunity for both a new shoot but also to purchase display artwork as a gift.

Andy explains how it worked… “We started to to run special events that either gave priority bookings to past clients or were for past clients — at no cost to them. As well as being nice to speak to older clients, they’ve gone on to book more shoots.” Commenting on the bottom-up focus of Watertight Marketing — and that existing clients should be their first focus, Andy said “ we’ve done this kind of activity before but now we know why we’re doing it and how it fits in with our marketing — so it’s given us more confidence that it’s the right thing to do.”

They also support a charity where they’ve invited VIP clients to a exclusive mother and child photoshoot — and proceeds have gone to SANDS — the neonatal and and infant loss charity that’s so important to the families they meet.

Leak #4 — No Gateway

Leak #4 addresses how easy it is for customers to buy from you — and the more you can do to give them a flavour of what it would be like as a customer, the better. This is often achieved by designing a service that helps buyers understand and visualise how they might work with you.

Andy and Debbie had long struggled with how to trial their services. After all, how do you trial a photographer without actually taking photos? They were brave enough to create a no obligation trial (where all the risk was with them), and the result has been a turning point for the business.

Andy explains how it worked — and far better than they could have expected… “We’d just been to a big show at the NEC and had a number of good leads — so we decided to contact those more local to us where they could come and have a no obligation shoot. They offered a free trial to walk away with a small product. It could have been commercial suicide — it’s a huge risk of time but, the percentages of conversions were massive. About 85% went on to convert into paying customers without any obligation or need to sell by ourselves.”

Related content: How to incorporate a gateway product to win more business.

Leak #5 — No Critical Approval

Their third priority marketing leak was ‘No critical approval’ — or, the dreaded ‘power of veto’. Before spending a lot of money a buyer will often consult a third party. If that person says no to the purchase it will rarely proceed.

There are many decision makers when choosing a particular photographer. It’s not just the parents, grandparents have their say too — and, with an increasing incidence of pre-birth pregnancy shots — parents want to see examples of work. All of which demands evidence — and customer reviews.

As Andy and Debbie wanted to showcase their work in-situ in clients homes (an important differentiator for them), they spent a lot of time getting in touch with past clients to create powerful examples for their website. They’ve also been much more proactive in asking for reviews at the end of each assignment. They now incorporate this into a thank you card. And, while they’ve been big fans of Facebook, they now use Instagram too as that’s where they feel their next generation of customer will be looking for evidence.

The breakthrough

Of all the leaks they’ve addressed via the Masterplan course, Andy feels that having the courage to create an attractive trial offer for clients has seen the biggest transformation in the business.

As he explains…”Going into 2018 with 30 bookings in the diary is unheard of. This time last year, at the start of the Masterplan course we had four or five. It’s a massive uplift and, having Watertight Marketing as a guide to understand how and why things work gives us extra confidence. We can look at our geographic reach, break it into areas and each month we are creating fresh leads and more potential.”

He adds, “Giving away our time seemed counter intuitive but, with a newborn shoot they spend a lot more time with us, they get to know us — it’s an experience and it really helped build the relationship. The better the rapport, the better the experience — and the chance of referring us on to family and friends, and ultimately, sales.”

The future… and reflections on Masterplan

After a busy year on the Masterplan course, Andy wants to consolidate what they’ve learnt from last year but is hugely excited at the potential they’ve created. “We now know it works — so how far can we take it? But first we want to squeeze every ounce of potential out of the studio we already run — and every ounce of profit frankly. Because, another benefit of the Masterplan course is that it teaches you that there are some things it’s just not worth wasting money on. It makes you measure — and question — was that right?”

Overall, Andy feels the structure of Masterplan is what has enabled them to successfully complete it and implement the learning as they go. “The programme has really helped us think about our marketing in a much more structured way. But also, when we come up with a new idea, we try to work out why we are doing it — what point does it serve, what leak is it plugging? The Masterplan course really helps to give clarity. The one to one contact with an accountability partner shouldn’t be underestimated, especially in a small business. It’s good to have an outside voice for a bit of reassurance and encouragement.”

© Watertight Marketing Ltd | This marketing case study was prepared by Watertight Marketing Accredited Consultant – Ben Wheeler.

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