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Learning the Hard Way: How Magazine Advertising Became My Costliest Mistake in the First Year of Business

I owned a Prosecco Van, I was ready and raring to go, but how would I get the word out about my new business? I was keen to spread the word but wasn't sure where to start. I had worked on cruise ships for 10 years and in my break before my last contract acquired a Prosecco Van.

I know that all businesses have success in different ways of advertising. I'm speaking only from my experience alone and in hindsight there are some things I would have done very differently in my first year of business.

I knew that I wanted to start spreading the word and getting some leads and bookings for the following year when I would be moving back to Norfolk, so I reached out to some magazines to see if there was any opportunities to be featured. I received a reply that there wasn't room for features but that a lot of wedding suppliers see success from the advertising spots.

A piaggio ape van converted into a mobile bar prosecco van parked on grass
Bubble Crew Prosecco Van

I wanted to throw everything I could at launching my business, so I took out several adverts in all the magazines available. These were four major Bridal magazines in Norfolk & Suffolk. Two of the magazines were added on and I was advised that these ones were given to couples that were applying for their marriage licenses - I figured it was a great way to reach a huge amount of couples getting married in Norfolk & Suffolk.

Magazine advertising isn't cheap - I can't find the old invoices from those years ago but I do know that my total spend was over £3000 before I called it quits. It's difficult for small businesses to afford to advertise this way, especially when it's always plus VAT that small business owners can't claim back. I thought I'd try them all and see what worked before continuing to take out adverts.

Radio silence. Not one enquiry.

I had moved back to the UK and my phone and email was at the ready. But I heard nothing. I had built a website, was attending wedding shows and had managed to collect some details from couples attending those but I can confidently say that I had not received anything from the magazine adverts. Nothing had come in at all.

Another issue I had was the manner in which the sales people would contact me on the phone. I quickly felt like they did not have any interest in whether my business was seeing results and it was like I was seen more as a cash machine. I remember the call where I finally explained that I wouldn't be proceeding with more adverts as I hadn't received any enquiries. I was met with a big explanation from the sales person saying that it's hard to quantify how many enquiries came from the magazine as some people see the advert, then google and may contact you by other means and not mention the magazine. I explained that theory was impossible when I didn't have one enquiry or one booking. There was quite a long pause on their side after I said that.

So that was my experience with magazine advertising at the beginning of my business. Here are 3 things I wish I knew back then:

  1. Reach out to other businesses - If you're thinking of taking out a magazine advert, buy a copy and give the businesses already advertising a call. They will tell you if they think it's worth it.

  2. Don't trust Sales people - Not many people being paid to sell you advertising is concerned about what benefits your business. If magazine advertising was successful, everyone would be talking about it and there wouldn't be spots available.

  3. Paid advertising is a gamble - Only spend what you're happy to lose. No enquiries or bookings are guaranteed.

It wasn't until after my experience I found out that these magazines had a reputation in the industry of preying on new businesses for sales - quite simply because they don't know better! I believe the decline in readership with the rise of digital media is a big factor into why I lost a lot of money but the main reason is because I didn't reach out to others in the industry that had already had a negative experience.

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