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Word of mouth or online presence?Word of mouth or online presence?

If you ask flight school owners where the bulk of their business comes from, many will tell you “word of mouth.” In that respect, they’re not very different from other small businesses. And for decades, word of mouth was the primary pipeline for new business in the flight training community.

Our June 2 poll queried Flight School Business readers about where their customers come from. The majority—about 45 percent—said “online presence or digital advertising (includes social media).” About 42 percent said word of mouth. (The remainder indicated traditional advertising.)

These polls generally gather such a small sample that they can’t be considered statistically representative of the entire industry. But the responses are worth noting. If your flight school relies primarily on word of mouth for new business, and other flight schools—your competitors—are drawing most of their customers from online presence, should you change up your strategy?

There’s evidence to suggest you should. Victoria Traeger, writing for Entrepreneur, says:

“Although many small-business owners claim that word of mouth is their best marketing, it probably shouldn’t be. When it comes to making big purchases, 81 percent of consumers go online before heading out to a store and may spend from two to three months gathering the information they need to make a decision, according to GE Capital Retail Bank’s second annual Major Purchase Shopper Study.

“Even when it comes to low-ticket items or the type of small businesses a consumer is likely to buy on a daily basis, the Internet, accessed via desktop, tablet or mobile, is often the starting point that leads to a buying decision. In fact, when it comes to mobile searches, more than half (55 percent) resulted in conversions within one hour, according to a Mobile Search Moments report, (which is also another great argument for investing in mobile-friendly web design).”

Traeger says it doesn’t matter whether your services would be classified as big ticket (highly likely) or very affordable—the conclusion is the same. Small business owners who do keyword research and build out their websites in accordance with best practices in search engine optimization will get more website traffic because their business listings will be placed directly in the path of prospective buyers who are researching products or services, or who are looking for a business online.

Traeger’s conclusions are part of a larger article highlighting six ways you can market your small business on a budget of $100. Her ideas primarily involve online and email marketing, but it’s worth a look.

Jill W. Tallman is editor of Flight School Business.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman

AOPA Technical Editor
AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.

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