With organizational aspects well underway, you can now turn attention to growing and running your flying club. This doesn’t have to be a detailed business plan, but you should consider some basic marketing ideas for finding and attracting members. It is time to start putting the existence of the flying club you’ve envisioned in front of other people and encourage them to join up—to be part of the excitement and the social interaction that makes your club unique.
Now, let’s be clear about this. If you’ve come this far, you are the founding member, or one of the founding members of a flying club. You may not have an aircraft yet. You may not have a club house or a place you can meet. You may not have a bank account at this early stage. But you do have a flying club. It’s important that you think of the club as a viable, operating entity. If you believe in it, the process of getting others to believe in it and join up grows exponentially.
The Central Florida Flying Club began as a handful of people talking about the possibility of forming a flying club. That grew to a dozen people meeting in the airport conference room once a month to talk about what they wanted to get out of membership in a flying club. Within six months of continuing these discussions, they had an airplane, a hangar, and enough members to cover the bills.
Building your flying club is a process, not an event. It takes time and effort, but now that you’ve got the basic groundwork laid, it’s time to start growing your membership.
AOPA has an online Flying Club Finder. This is a database of flying clubs located all over the U.S. Some have been in operation for years, while others are in the formative stages.
By registering your club on the AOPA Flying Club Finder, you will be sharing your contact and basic club information with pilots and pilots-to-be in your area who may be looking for an opportunity exactly like the one you have. It costs nothing to list your club on the Finder, and it just might result in new members who would not have found you otherwise.
The AOPA Flying Club Finder is easy to use, free, and potentially very beneficial to your efforts to grow your club’s membership. Consider it the first step you take as you promote and populate your new flying club.
You can also make use of AOPA’s Flying Club Network Facebook page and the AOPA Hangar, an online forum/chat room for sharing information. These online tools are designed to help you build and grow your club.
Now that you’re listed in the AOPA Flying Club Finder as a club in formation, this is the perfect time to arrange a casual meeting with your airport manager or director to let them know you’re planning to establish a flying club on the field. More often than not, the airport manager will be supportive of your plans. They may even offer guidance and insight that will be genuinely helpful to your efforts.
A new flying club offers the airport, and the businesses that operate on the airport, a new customer. Even a small flying club will bring new people to the field, generate fuel sales, maintenance expenditures, a hangar or tie-down rental, and opportunities to provide various products and services to club members. Be sure to point this out to any business operator you come into contact with. They may not have prior experience with a flying club, but your positive attitude can have a profound effect on how they’ll perceive your new club. The bottom line is that a new club offers business opportunities to an airport and its existing tenants.
The airport manager, the operators of local airport businesses, and even your fellow pilots on the field can all become valuable resources as you begin to promote your club and build membership. Keep them all in the loop to the extent you can by providing meeting or event schedules. They’re more likely to be a help than a hindrance to you and very well may send prospective members your way for years to come.
No matter how big or small a crowd you anticipate coming out to the airport to hear about your club, you will need a place for them to meet. It doesn’t have to be luxurious, but it should be a place where people can sit comfortably while you present your plan. This space doesn’t have to be your ultimate club home base, but it should be at the airport.
The Titusville Flying Club in Titusville, Florida had good initial interest in their club, but attendance at their monthly meetings was sporadic and hard to predict. They were stuck in the “Generate Interest in Your Flying Club” phase of development. When they moved their meetings from an office downtown to a shared hangar at the airport, attendance jumped, and the club became successful within a matter of only a few months. Today they operate two aircraft and have a growing membership.
Meeting at the airport is the best possible option. You may be surprised to find how many people will show up with the promise of a slice of pizza, a cold soda, and a couple of hours at the airport. For a lot of potential members, they want to find a reason to come to the airport to spend time with other pilots, but they haven’t found that opportunity yet. If you provide food, you may be surprised how many of them will come out to hear what you have to say.
Ideally, this first meeting will lead to many follow-up meetings that transition into true club gatherings, when members gather socially, or for ground school classes, or to work on a project aircraft. Be willing to start small, however. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your club won’t be either.
The airport manager may let you use existing public space to meet, or the local EAA Chapter or maintenance shop may be agreeable to opening their hangar doors to you or put a couple of tables together in the corner of the airport restaurant. No matter the location, these first meetings will serve as a way to begin spreading the word about your fledgling flying club.
Book the best meeting space you can get, set a date, arrange for food and drink, and begin inviting people to come out to see what your flying club is all about. This is exactly how many successful flying clubs have found new members and grown to become truly impressive operations.
AOPA maintains the AOPA Flying Club Network group on Facebook to connect people and clubs, and it works. Thousands upon thousands of people share news about their flying clubs, their most recent flights, and ask questions to resolve issues and help improve the way their club operates, all through the common use of a simple social media site.
With a social media presence of your own that is available to users 24/7, you can promote your club, its meeting schedule, special events, and news that might attract new viewers. Best of all, you can do all this from your personal computer, your work computer, or even your smart phone.
You don’t have to be an IT guru to figure out how to create or manage common social media resources, but they will pay off for you if you use them well and provide regular updates.
While this is not something you need to trouble yourself with while in the formation stages of your flying club’s organization, it is something you will want to get complete by the time you become fully operational. It is a valuable resource to your members, and once operational, it also becomes a valuable marketing tool.
Your club website can be built by a club member, or you can have it professionally done. There are many basic templates on the market you might use, many of which are free.
You may think the club’s website is intended to be a promotional tool. Its primary function, however, is to give club members contact information for club officers, CFIs, and to share important information about the club and its operations. Many clubs set up their webpages, so members can book the aircraft, a CFI, or report a squawk to the maintenance officer.
The Fort Myers Flying Club in Fort Myers, Florida maintains an exceptionally well-designed and managed series of web pages, which also serves as a distribution point for the club’s monthly newsletter, which is excellent.
If you don’t have a background in building websites, and none of your members are proficient at it, consider reaching out to flying clubs you find on the AOPA Flying Club Finder to ask how they built and hosted their website. You may find worthwhile advice this way, or you may connect with an enthusiastic web guru who may be willing to take on the task of putting together your club’s webpage, getting you off to a running start.
Anything from a simple vinyl banner to an elaborate professionally designed and built sign can be a real benefit in helping to get the word out. Initially, you’ll probably want to keep costs down, so most clubs will go with a relatively modest banner to announce their presence on the airfield. Be sure to include pertinent information like the club name, your home base airport identifier, and a means of contacting someone who can give the prospective member more information. In some cases, simply including a line that reads, “Find us on Facebook,” will be sufficient. If you wish to post a sign on the airport or perhaps hang a sign at the entrance to the airport, be sure to speak with the airport manager as many airports have regulations and requirements for this sort of thing.