Money Doesn't Print Itself

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10 (productive) Things To Do When Bookings Are Slow.

We are going to be 100% booked 100% of the time! I wish that was a true statement. In reality, an escape room that has a consistent booking rate of 50% is doing very well. Don't get me wrong, some escape rooms are doing very well to excellent when it comes to filling game slots. They are the exception to the rule. So, what do you do with the remaining 50% of your time or in many cases 80% of your time? Here are 10 PRODUCTIVE things you can do to fill the time until you are swimming in bookings and loading up the armored car with 100$ bills.

10. If you got time to lean, you got time to clean

Source: http://www.azquotes.com/picture-quotes/quote-if-you-have-time-to-lean-you-have-time-to-clean-ray-kroc-71-53-46.jpg

Have you ever walked into a business and immediately felt dirty? Have you ever looked around and it looks like the place hasn't been swept, mopped or dusted in a millennium? That is OK for a haunted house, not so much for an Escape Room. My immediate first impression when I walk into an escape room is if the overall appearance is unkempt, what does the escape experience look like? Are there dust bunnies in the corner, ghost turds under the furniture or fingerprints on the glass? The general appearance of your business directly says something about attention to detail. This phrase is credited to McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and essentially means that when there are minutes ticking by between rushes pick up a broom, a vacuum, a dust mop and give everything a good going over. Customers do notice and will remark about it in your on-line reviews or worse yet tell their friends and family about the appearance of your business. 

9. Have a brainstorming session

When we first decided to open Cracked it! Escape Games there were ideas flying around by the hundreds. So many in fact that I would wake up at 2 AM with the next puzzle or room idea and write it into my idea book. After being open for more than a year and managing the business of the escape room my ideas have slowed from a torrent to a drip. A downside to this business is you have to keep it fresh or sales will stagnate, and attendance will drop off further decreasing your booking rate. What are we to do? Plan a brainstorming session of course! Gather up the staff, provide snacks (Fast Company recommends cookies) to spur creativity. Break out a roll of brown craft paper and tack it to the wall, then get some markers and go to town.

A poorly planned brainstorming session could cause more harm than good.
— Fast Company

There is plenty of untapped creativity among your employees. Do you need to develop a new room concept? Brainstorm it! Do you need to develop a catchy ad campaign? Brainstorm it! What about a "Guerilla Marketing" campaign? Brainstorm it! You see where I'm going with this right? Don't feel that you are the lone creative power in your business. You may find through a brainstorming session that next big idea. If you are not sure how to conduct a brainstorming session give this article from Fast Company a quick read. It introduces Seven Secrets to A Good Brainstorming Session which are:

1. Sharpen the Focus
2. Write Playful Rules
3. Number Your Ideas
4. Build and Jump
5. Make the Space Remember
6. Stretch your Mental Muscles
7. Get Physical

8. Teach yourself to program a microcontroller


Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), Ladder Logic, all of these things were a complete mystery to me a year ago. I was first introduced to the Arduino microcontroller at the Chicago Room Escape Conference in a class presented by Vincent Ingalanerra, the owner and creative genius at Puzzle Props. The class was a 4 hour workshop called build your own Gen II Prop. It had a pretty lofty goal of teaching people who had never even seen an Arduino microcontroller how to set it up and prototype a device that incorporated two sensors in it, a reed switch and a light dependent resistor. Though I didn't complete the project in the class I was fired up about Arduino when I walked out and set out to make that prop work. With the help of Vincent Ingalanerra and the Facebook group Escape Room Technology and Props, I did get it working and installed it in our limited run room New Blood, New World.

A great first step into the world of microcontrollers is purchasing a starter kit like the one here. Once you have the kit go to YouTube and start learning. If you have a super slow day I highly recommend starting with the Sparkfun seminar introduction to Arduino. You will learn from the ground up about the Arduino microcontroller and actually get hand's on. The seminar was recorded in real-time and is about 8 hours long (including a 1hr lunch break in the middle) and will teach you a tremendous amount for FREE!

After you take the introduction to Arduino seminar I highly recommend doing the ALL of the individual lessons presented by Programming Electronics Academy. The lessons only require the starter kit but will cover virtually all of the basics of building Arduino projects. When you finish both of these tasks you will have a very firm understanding of the possibilities of an Arduino microcontroller. 

7. Repair or replace broken game pieces

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As an Escape Room Enthusiast, there is nothing more aggravating than paying a premium price for a sub-premium experience. I know we have all been there, we're in the flow of the game and the clock is racing to zero and all of a sudden, boom! A critical puzzle is broken or not working and the GM buzzes in and says you have to do X-action in place of the puzzle. AAAARRGGGHHHH! This situation is absolutely infuriating. If you take care of your business from the perspective of the guest, you will build fans for life. Take the time during a slow period to take a really critical look at your game experiences. Are you presenting the best quality experience that you can? If not, you need to fix it and not only meet your guest's expectations but exceed them. If you use paper clues in your room, swap them out when the current clues get ratty. If you have an electronic puzzle and it's not working correctly, put in a non-electric version and get your electric puzzle fixed as quickly as possible so you keep that wow factor. Maintenance and upkeep of your business are critical to your success. Have doubles of every key piece of your game so that you can maintain the level of quality that you opened with. As the Escape Room industry grows people are coming to expect more for their money. 

6. Respond to ALL of your reviews

Did you know that 92% of consumers rely on on-line reviews to make a buying decision? We poll every guest that comes to Cracked it! Escape Games and overwhelmingly people find us through Google and TripAdvisor. I have made it a habit to set aside one part of each week to respond to ALL of our reviews. When a guest takes the time to review your business (especially a positive review) they are telling you that they want to talk about you. Take a few minutes and thank them for their time. When you respond to positive reviews you are starting a dialogue with your guests and people come to understand how much you are invested in your company. The folks over at Vendasta.com have some tips to share about how to respond to reviews.

When responding to good reviews you should:
Step 1: Thank the customer and be specific.
Step 2: Use the business name and keywords.
Step 3: Add a little marketing.
Step 4: Invite customer to do something.

When responding to poor reviews you should:
Step 1: Apologize and sympathize.
Step 2: Insert a little marketing.
Step 3: Move the conversation offline.
Step 4: Keep it simple, short and sweet.
BONUS: Don’t include the business name or relevant search keywords.

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5. Turn your game into money by creating a design document for sale

Are you getting ready to retire a room that has been a success for you? Did that room make you thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars? Why let it drift away never to see the light of day again. You spent time and money creating that game concept. That game concept is battle tested by hundreds if not thousands of people. Take your game plan and put it in a design document and sell that plan. This is a way to increase your revenue in perpetuity. Don't let that game go to the retirement home, keep it working. There are many Escape Rooms already open, or getting ready to open and there are a handful of battle tested Escape Room designers. There is a demand for your game! Escape Room design documents generally consist of five documents:

1. Walk-Through
2. Puzzle Guide
3. Checklist and Hints
4. Reset Checklist
6. Parts List

Some game designs contain architectural plans, electrical schematics, promotional artwork and a host of other ADD-ONs to their plans and packages. Yet another source of revenue. 

4. Spruce up your website

Websites like bread can get stale and moldy. Why should you update your website? Taking a few minutes to update your website helps keep you current and do you know who likes current? Google! Updating your website from time to time will help naturally increase your position in the Google search ranks. Now, I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination when it comes to website design, and Google indexing, but, I've learned just enough to not have to invest thousands of dollars in Search Engine Optimization schemes. Here's a test for you. Do a google search for Escape Room and your town name. If you are not at the top or very near the top of the 1st-page listings you have some work to do. 

When Google expresses its love for websites that update frequently, this is a sure sign that you should add fresh content to your website as often as you can.
— Robin Burton

According to the website seositecheckup.com there are some important reasons to update your site. Chief among them is Google Loves Frequent Updates. Fresh content equals frequent indexing. "When Google expresses its love for websites that update frequently, this is a sure sign that you should add fresh content to your website as often as you can." Frequent updates to your site keep your audience informed about what is going on with your business. There are plenty more good tips in the article here.

3. Make some calls to fill empty corporate game times

If you are not comfortable picking up the phone and calling random businesses and offering your services, you might want to skip past this section. How many businesses are in your town? How many of those businesses can benefit from an Escape Room to help develop their teams? It is inevitable that your business will sit open with no or very few bookings. Use this time to reach out to other businesses and pitch them on using your business with their teams. 

I was a recruiter for the U.S.M.C. for three years during which, my most hated activity was cold-calling. To this day I have nightmares of picking up the phone and randomly calling someone and offering to change their lives. Cold Calling takes a ton of initiative and a very thick skin. Rejection is the name of the game when calling locations. If you are a member of your Chamber of Commerce there is probably a directory of chamber members available to you. Open it up and make some calls. What's the worst they can say? No! You are going to be stiff-armed more often than not. Persistence and practice will win the day. How would you feel if you booked 5 corporate groups for the rest of the month? Would that help your bottom line? Cold Calling is not for everybody, but if you can sell ice to Eskimos, you just may hit the jackpot. 

source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/RhHRGuO3fF0/maxresdefault.jpg

source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/RhHRGuO3fF0/maxresdefault.jpg

2. Write a Blog Post like this one

The Escape Room industry is relatively new and is rapidly getting flooded with new people wanting to open their own escape room businesses. What these perspective entrepreneurs most often lack is the knowlege on how to get started, and what to do when they are open. That is the intent behind these articles. There are benefits to blogging for your business. According to www.openvine.com some of the benefits are, blogs help to boost your search engine optimization results as previously discussed. They also help develop relationships with new and existing customers. Expanding on the point above regarding cold calling. How would a business owner respond to you if you were able to point him or her to articles espousing the concrete benefits of Escape Rooms for team building? Blogs also help expand your credibility in your industry. Blogs also help you create opportunities for sharing and expanding your brand recognition efforts. 

57% of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog
— Melissa Miller, Hubspot.com

Read about inexpensive ways to market your Escape Room in this post.

Creating new and interesting articles is not an easy task. I take my cue for blog ideas by frequenting the Facebook groups for the Escape Room Industry and I also carry a notebook everywhere I go and when a blog idea hits me I scribble it down in the section for blogs. At current count, I have more than 50 ideas for blog articles but I only have so many hours in a week to dedicate to blog writing. 

There is some debate as to the value of blogs for the Escape Room business. Many business owners think that if an activity does not contribute directly to increasing revenue it is wasted effort. To a certain extent I agree with that sentiment, however, as a counter argument, I would pose this simple statistic, 57% of companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog. Has a blog article put one dollar in my pocket? At last count, no, my bank account has not swelled to bursting because of my blog articles. What blogging does for me is it develops my writing voice, and expands my reputation in the ER community.

1. Always Be Marketing

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You are the face of your brand. I'll admit that marketing is hard, that's why people go to college to get degrees. Don't get advertising confused with marketing. Advertising is one small facet of marketing. Your marketing efforts encompass all of those activities that you use to promote your business and your brand. There are volumes, and volumes of marketing knowledge out there. Your marketing message should be the same across all platforms so that you establish a brand identity. 

Here's a couple of tips as to how to always be marketing. 
1. Carry business cards everywhere you go and hand them out as often as you can.
2. Have an elevator pitch on the tip of your tongue so when people ask you what your business is you can readily tell them about Escape Rooms.
3. Wear a brand identifier everywhere you go. A t-shirt, sweatshirt, ball cap, name tag. People will ask you about your business and you may just get a booking out of it.
4. Talk about your business often and enthusiastically.

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Until next time. What do YOU think? Let me know in the comments below

Brian Vinciguerra is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Cracked it! Escape Games in Jacksonville, North Carolina.