Creating an effective marketing strategy is key for any business. But for those in the wedding and events space in particular, this is also a great opportunity to find not only customers for one event, but to nurture them enough so they either continue to use your services – or just as profitable – to also refer your services to their circle for years to come.

Rich: Jill Fratianne is co-owner and founder of Granite Ridge Estate & Barn, a private 200-acre mountain estate that hosts weddings and events. Granite Ridge has been featured in numerous publications including Brides Magazine, and has been called “one of the best wedding venues in the US” by Conde Nast Traveler after only just a few short years of operating.

Jill’s passion for all things inbound marketing started while working at Hubspot, and all in one marketing software company. She has run Academy classes at Hubspot that have trained thousands of sales and marketing professionals.

For fun Jill performs regularly with the Portland Symphony Orchestra as a concert violist. Is there anything this woman can’t do?

Amber: I don’t think so.

Rich: She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Music Performance from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. She’s a wife, a new mother, as well as one of the owners of the Great Dane, Luke Skywalker, who’s been featured on Animal Planet. Jill, welcome to the show.

Jill: Thank you.

Amber: So Jill, I know you more because of the wedding world, the whole Hubspot thing was new to me, which I’m really excited to hear about that. But I want you to tell us a little bit about Granite Ridge and how that all came to be and how you took it over, etc.

Jill: Granite Ridge initially was my dad’s dream to live in Maine. He wasn’t well at the time of construction but as a family we decided “carpe diem”, if we don’t do this for dad now then it’s never going to happen. So we did. And it’s a positive thing that we were able to get dad to his dream, but then what were we going to do with this beautiful land and this beautiful house now. So we started renting it out to folks, and when it was time for me to get married it was the only place that my husband and I wanted to get married because it just had the panoramic views and the most beautiful views of Maine.

So I thought to myself if we want to get married here I’m sure some other folks would like to as well. And the idea was born and we stepped on the gas and built this massive barn for events and here we are.

Rich: Awesome. Now you also do work with Hubspot, which to be honest, I’m not that familiar with. Tell us a little bit about Hubspot as a company and what’s your role over there?

Jill: So my role is partner channel account manager. In “easy terms”, I’m in sales but I work with marketing agencies who use our software. So Hubspot first and foremost is a marketing software company. We make all things that have to do with making your website a lead generation machine. So the fact that I own a wedding business and use the internet, that training and technology definitely helps that as well.

Amber: That actually goes right in to my question which is, so you kind of built Granite Ridge from the ground up, how did you put in place your marketing strategy since it wasn’t already there? It wasn’t like you bought a venue and then you took it over, you built the venue up. So how did you get your marketing plan and strategy started, like website, SEO, social media, email marketing, and how do you manage that?

Jill: So one of the things that I had to do was I had to drink my own champagne. I’d teach and tell people they have to do inbound marketing, and then I had to actually do it. Real money invested in this project and my family looked at me and said, “Hey Jill, so you know inbound marketing so we’re going to get weddings here, right?” It was really great for me professionally because I did get to drink my own champagne and really put all my teachings to the test.

And what we did with Granite Ridge is what I tell people to do all the time. People wait to market until their product is ready or they wait and market until the website is absolutely perfect. We don’t want to market until something happens, and I knew that this was just fundamentally wrong.

We had a brand new website URL, we had a wedding venue that literally is in the middle of a place in Maine that even Maine people don’t know. We didn’t even have a town that was a skewed vacation destination to bring people to the wedding event place. It was all brand new for everything.

The strategy was I got a quick and simple website up as fast as I could, it wasn’t perfect but it did the job, and we started blogging and creating content around the construction of the project. And we actually had weddings booked before the barn was even completed. So some people will say they don’t want to start marketing their business until it’s completed banked and fully up.

Especially in the wedding industry, you’re booking things 2 and 3 years out. If you miss that first year of marketing, you’re going to pay for it 2-3 years down the road. It’s not like any other business I know, it’s because people are planning so far ahead.

I started with Twitter, with a simple blog, and Facebook, and it didn’t feel like I was doing a lot because I was working at Hubspot where we have 20,000 downloads of an e-book as a starting point. But the leads starting coming in almost immediately.

Amber: Yeah, your location is pretty amazing so it makes sense that as soon as you put it out there people were going to jump on it. And the fact that barn weddings are so hot right now that you’re in the perfect storm, which is so awesome for you.

Jill: Perfect storm, but there are lots and lots of barns now. My strategy was the images on the website and Facebook were only to be of professional photography quality, period. There were to be no pictures of Granite Ridge on any social media platform or the website that wasn’t professional. And if it was taken on a phone, it had to look like a cool, filtered Instagram post or something. So it was very strategic.

And we have other barns around us that have been around actually for a lot longer, but we were still successful. The location is great, but I tell people all the time that you can build the most beautiful barn in the world, if people don’t know it exists then you have no business.

Rich: So I want to dig a little bit deeper on that because you were starting from scratch, you get up this quickie website, and you start blogging about the structure. But how were you actually getting in front of people like that? Was SEO a big thought process for you as you were writing these blog posts? How were you building up an audience on Facebook? Those are the kinds of things when you’re starting from square one, which is where a lot of people feel they’re starting even if they’ve been in business for years. So kind of take us when you started with zero fans and zero business, to starting to really getting going yourself.

Jill: So you first start – like most MLM companies – through friends and family, especially with Facebook. So when you create a Facebook business page you can invite all of your friends. One of the things they even teach us at Hubspot is to hire digital natives and hire people who have a social reach. I had a fairly good reach of my own. It’s as simple as I told my husband to invite every single friend on your Facebook page to ‘like’ Granite Ridge. Go in, make sure that you invite them all to like it so we can have a couple hundred people starting the process. And then from there things got picked up.

Like any business there is absolutely some guerilla networking. We haven’t almost received any referrals, if we have it’s very few from places we thought. We thought we would get business from vendors from recommendations, but SEO and leads are how we get our couples.

And to your point, even yesterday I was approving some blog posts – at the beginning I did all of it myself, which I’m very grateful I did, I don’t have time to anymore but it’s very important as a business owner to do it yourself because you want to be in the weeds and you want to understand the basics so that when you do hire someone you can coach them on what you want. But even from the beginning, I would make sure that in the blog posts everything in the title was about how you plan for your Maine barn wedding, wedding, barn, Maine, Maine wedding, Maine wedding barn. That was my social media strategy, using those keywords as much as I could and creating content around them, and using the Hubspot keyword grader to see where we ranked for those things.

I obsessed over the keyword grader in Hubspot for the first 6 months to a year on where we were ranking. I remember not being able to literally sleep at night, I would be up blogging at 1:00am to make sure that 2 blog posts a week went out on the website. And I know that there are not a lot of businesses that think that that matters a lot – which is why they let it by the wayside and don’t so it – but I fundamentally knew if those things don’t get out that we were never going to get traffic to this website.

I haven’t paid for one Google paid ad, which I’m sure I probably will because they are effective. I paid for a few Facebook ads but we are almost already completely booked for 2018. I ramble on, but it literally was like staying awake at night until midnight making sure that the 2 blog posts a week went out.

Rich: Well, you’re not rambling at all because this is brilliant. Basically if I’m hearing you correctly you spent virtually no money on advertising and your only Facebook ads were for the page, not to drive traffic. What your entire focus was in creating blog posts that answered people’s questions when they go to Google. That and the fact that you used friends and family to get a critical mass for your Facebook business page.

Jill: Right. That and beautiful images. I haven’t even spent – and I know I should – a friend of mine that you know, Alisa Meredith, is the Pinterest queen, I know I should have more time on Pinterest, I absolutely should. But it was blogging and beautiful imagery and promoting that content on my website and through social media channels using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+. So using and leveraging social media to pronate the content, and then creating the content for the website.

Amber: So what tactics are you surprised didn’t work? You mentioned a little bit that you thought vendor to vendor, but is there anything else that kind of surprised you?

Jill: I think that was the biggest surprise. We thought that we would get more referrals from Maine vendors. Our couples are from away and they don’t know the Maine vendors. It’s not that we don’t want to work together, we all learn and teach and help each other. You have to or it’s not sustainable for business operations. But our actual new business is 100% inbound.

Amber: Same with me because my clients are all from out of state as well.

Jill: Which we weren’t expecting, right?

Amber: Right. The vendor to vendor is also hard because you and I as a planner and a venue, we’re usually the first stop of a client and then we feed down. So you and I are the ones that can refer some great caterers and photographers. So we kind of funnel the business down, but it usually doesn’t happen the other way.

I’ve had it happen a couple of times, I’ve gotten a photographer that’s told someone that they really need a planner and they’ll send them to me. But more often than not the venue and the planner are the top of that mountain.

Jill: And it was funny, even before I started the business I thought that would be the case, too. I kept saying from the beginning we have to understand and meet more planners, period. That’s where we want to be, with those guys, if we’re going to partner or know the industry.

Rich: Jill, you mentioned that almost everything you’ve done that’s been successful is inbound. Do you do any offline marketing and have you found a way of tying your offline marketing into your online marketing?

Jill: We’re not.

Rich: No? So you’re not doing any print ads or anything like that, or any trade shows?

Jill: We did a couple trade shows in the beginning, and I’m glad we did because it allowed us to meet the Maine vendors. But we just don’t get any business for the amount of money that is spent. It’s not that we don’t’ have a marketing budget, we absolutely do. My marketing budget I snow I have two professionals that are great and who do my inbound marketing for me now that I have hired that are direct employees of Granite Ridge. So we probably spend equal to maybe a little more than what people are spending on print ads.

Well, I take that back. We advertise in Maine Magazine because they featured us before we advertised with them. We had a huge page that listed us as an A-list venue. And of all the wedding venues in Maine – and we were brand new – we were the one that got the entire page feature of our barn.

Amber: I remember that.

Jill: We basically advertise in Maine Magazine to give back. There is nothing in my mind that has convinced me that anything as far as the ads in the magazines are going to bring me business. But we hope that they’ll feature us, it’s this weird “pay to play” thing that happens with the bridal magazines.

But our features in Brides Magazine, The Vending Report, Traveler, and initially in Maine Magazine, all of those happened before we ever paid for any of the ads, because we were beautiful and we were new.

So it’s just an interesting thing. 100% of my budget now, the only thing we print out are the folders that we give to people and business cards. When they come to the barn we have these beautiful folders with our logo and stuff on it for people to keep, but that’s it.

Amber: Are there any challenges in marketing to your audience – in our case couples – that may never need your product again? So like for us, is there a way to get more value out of your relationship with your couple even though they only get married once at Granite Ridge?

Jill: 100%. And you know what. I thought about it the other day too, because I think our business in general – and I’ve heard from vendors that it’s like Cinderella – once the clock hits midnight they’re gone and we never see them again. I just don’t buy that because the 200 people that show up at Granite Ridge are referrals.

I’ll go down to Boston now on Newbury Street shopping with my mom for something special, and people in the shops had heard of Granite Ridge because they were there. It’s amazing, those are referrals. Those people that have weddings with you, if they don’t have a good experience they’re going to tell a lot of people and they need to be managed.

Because we get so close to them, I’m friends with them on Facebook, and it gives me a little bit of joy when I see their profile pictures are of my wedding venue. We gave them something so special that they want to brand their personal lives around our venue. But there’s also something to be said that we keep in touch on Facebook. I post on Instagram and brides from the past are sharing the content and liking it. They don’t go away I this internet age, and if they loved what you did for them they’re going to pass it on.

One of my friends who I haven’t talked to for years tagged me in something yesterday on Facebook. Someone was looking for a barn wedding and she tagged me and Granite Ridge on Facebook. So I think that the wedding industry needs to get away from that feeling that we’re just never going to see them again.

Especially the caterers, this one really gets me. Their parent or whoever is having this party is probably going to have another party again or know someone else who is going to have a party and may need a caterer. And if you’re amazing, you have a built in referral source.

Amber: Caterers really do have it great for that.

Jill: Yeah. And just like the rental companies, you can’t think about it as they’re just going to use my product or services just once.

Amber: I find that when I post pictures on my Instagram feed – I have a pretty strategic Instagram – and I always tag the bride and the groom in the picture, and then all of a sudden there are so many more ‘likes’ because they’re sharing it on their feed and reposting it. So you’re right, there is that because you’re creating a relationship it keeps growing and growing.  

Jill: I haven’t been good about this but I now have people that are really good that I trust that I’ve hired and work in my database now, I have a database of over 4,000 names – it’s probably a lot more than that – there’s a way to leverage that. Even though they’re not using your services, you’ve got to think that they may know someone who would, especially if they have a good experience with you.

We used to say that when I sold insurance and I worked on commission only and worked off of referrals. If people have a good experience with you, and maybe they don’t choose you or you were out of their budget, they probably know someone who they would refer you to.

I’ve often thought about using my database and sending out a “if you don’t want to hear from us anymore, please unsubscribe”, but then we have things like charitable events and other things going on that just because people did or didn’t have their wedding with us, maybe it’s a way to promote Maine vendors. I have absolutely fallen short on leveraging my current database to remarket or rebrand or do any of those things, but I think in the wedding industry in general we’re terrible about that.  

Rich: Because we imagine this to be a one-time event – even if you happen to know it may not be – we don’t think about it as are these people happy customers who will refer us other business, or will they have other events down the road that we can take pictures at, cater at, host, etc.

Amber: More than that, I think we’re so overwhelmed. Most people in the wedding industry are solopreneurs and so we’re just so overwhelmed understanding marketing, getting out there, maintaining our marketing and getting clients for next year and maybe the season after, that the thought of seeing so far in the future is even more overwhelming. So hence what Streamline is trying to do is get people in the wedding industry more and more comfortable with marketing so that – just like you – you’re more comfortable in your role here at Granite Ridge that you now need to go to the next step. It took you a little while to get there, you were just trying to get to the first step in the process of marketing in itself.

Jill: Yeah. And it’s owning a business. Those are things I think people forget. I look at CrossFit gyms and we all get into these things because we’re passionate about the thing, but there’s a business that has to happen. There are just things that have to happen in order to make the business run, like sales and marketing,

You know what’s also really tough is finding people who actually know what they’re doing and they aren’t going to take advantage of you, and if you don’t know about sales and marketing or SEO, it can be very intimidating. It’s actually easier than it is, it’s just intimidating and scary and can be very expensive. It’s very expensive if done wrong, let’s just say that, if you’ve got to untangle a mess.

Rich: So Jill this has been great and hopefully people listening to this realize that they can do it themselves, maybe with a little bit of help. Where can we find out more about you online?

Jill: You can go to graniteridgeestates.com, I also have a personal website that’s still in the works, but that is jillfratianne.com. Either one of those places you can find me, on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, I’m there.

Rich: Awesome. Jill, thank you so much for your time, appreciate it.

Amber: Thank you so much, Jill.

Jill: I hope this helps someone out there.

Amber: Yes, I think it’s so great that you started…how long has Granite Ridge been around?

Jill: This will be our third season.

Amber: So that’s amazing. Anybody can do it, anybody can start from the ground up and build themselves up to being the most sought after x, whatever it is. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us.

Jill: Thanks guys.

Show Notes:

Having worked for and taught marketing strategies at Hubspot, Jill Fratianne got the opportunity to “practice what she preached” when she became the owner of her own event space and needed to start marketing it. A quick look at her website and Instagram pages prove that she knows how to effectively market and reach her desired customers with overwhelmingly positive results.

Amber Small makes a living by making wedding dreams come true. Make sure to reserve your spot now for the Streamline Marketing Workshop Conference that she – along with Rich Brooks – have created specifically for wedding professions, with the goal of helping them reach, connect & engage with their best customers.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine. He knows a thing or two about helping businesses grow by reaching their ideal customers, and he puts on a yearly conference aimed at that as well. Head on over to Twitter to connect with him, and grab a copy of his brand new book geared towards helping businesses generate more leads.