How To Throw Away $500


Lets take a step back in time. It’s me, Yaro, I’ve just decided to go full time working on my editing and proofreading business, and I’ve got my marketer’s hat on.

My website is set up. It’s not perfect since I’m rather green about Internet marketing but it’s not all that bad. It will do the job, but certainly could use some work. I have a couple of editors ready for work and I’m eager to bring in new business. I know my main target market is international students but I just can’t figure out a good way to inform them that my services exist, especially on a budget of well, not much.

I focus on universities in my hometown of Brisbane and look for any communication medium that can reach a lot of international students at once. I brainstorm.

I come up with the idea of approaching student clubs and societies. There are clubs for almost every country that has students at the campuses in Brisbane so I start sending off emails asking about sponsorship opportunities.

A make a contact with a person in charge of the Taiwanese student club who informs me of a big event they hold called the “Battle of the Talent”, which is a singing and dancing competition. I’m provided with the sponsors package where I learn that approximately 2000 international students and their families will congregate one evening to watch the performances.

There are several levels of sponsorship available, from logo branding in the event handout to having an advertisement circulated on two big projectors during the show. Depending on how much cash and/or prizes I’m willing to donate will determine what type of advertising I receive.

I’m convinced that I need to be on the projectors during the show so I need to commit a minimum of $500 in cash and prizes. I sign up stating I’ll offer $300 cash, a $100 stereo prize and credit vouchers for BetterEdit editing. They accept.

I go to work planning my powerpoint slide to be displayed on the projector. My copywriting skills aren’t brilliant at this stage but I come up with a plain text presentation that is not too wordy and I hope will display well on a large screen.

I’m provided with free tickets for the show as a premium sponsor and take my parents with me. I’m eager to see how my advertisement will appear. The place is packed with Asian families so I’m confident my targeting is right.

The show begins and the two powerpoint projectors are beaming on the left and right side of the main stage. They are not too prominent but the constant slide changing as the different sponsor ads are circulated should garner some attention. I see my ad for the first time. The font is a bit small and I think I tried to cram a few too many lines of text in but you can read it so the message should get across. Most importantly the website address is there and is easy to remember…I hope!

I wake up the next day expecting to see some emails in my mailbox as a response to last nights advertising. I open my mail and nothing. No jobs, not even a query.

Over the next few days I still receive no response to the promotion, then finally I receive an email saying they saw my ad at the show. They ask me how much the service costs and I direct them to the appropriate page on the website. I never hear from them again.

That’s the first and last response I received from the $500 I spent, or really $400 since the recipients of the two $50 credit vouchers never claimed their reward.

What Went Wrong?

This one promotion was the single biggest once-off payment I ever spent promoting BetterEdit and by far had the worst return on investment. What did I do wrong? To be honest I still don’t know. I could say that my copywriting on the powerpoint slide was off, perhaps the timing was bad catching people during leisure activities, the last time they want to think about university assignments. Maybe the audience was full of parents and not students. Maybe no one looked at the projectors. Who knows!

What I did learn was that spending large sums of money on marketing promotions like these was not the way to go. With no prior testing I had no knowledge of what to expect. My intentions were good and I thought I had made a smart choice figuring out where my target market was. It turns out I was wrong.

How To Avoid My Mistake

I chalk this experience up to learning and it makes a good story for a blog entry too, but all business owners should be working hard to avoid these kinds of marketing gaffes. Here’s a few tips I took away from this experience that should help you avoid making similar mistakes:

  • Don’t make assumptions based only on “feelings”. Okay, yes I am a huge believer in intuition and “blink moments” where you know something will work out well and you just have to jump in and put it into action. I still do fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-marketing where I test something out without doing much prior research or getting my facts straight. The difference now is I won’t spend $500. I might spend $50 and jump straight in and use testing as my research before spending more, but I won’t jump in with the whole kit and caboodle.
  • Don’t spend $500+ in one go. While I’m sure there are some business out there that will spend a lot more than $500 on a single advertising medium chances are if you read this blog you own a SMALL business, in which case I wouldn’t recommend spending $500 at once. You may spend $500 on one media over time as you carefully weigh your results (Google AdWords being a great example), but you would be hard pressed to gamble $500 on any one advertisement unless you know your expected results from prior testing.
  • Conduct more due diligence before signing up. When I agreed to sponsor the event I didn’t ask very many questions. I didn’t ask about expected results, case studies, statistics or any data whatsoever. Perhaps if I found out that the audience would be full of adults and not students I would have decided against the sponsorship. Simply asking about the demographics of the audience may have been all that was necessary. At the very least, ask the obvious questions and don’t jump in blind. If they can’t provide answers then perhaps that is a sign not to do it.

Yaro Starak

About Yaro

Yaro Starak is an Internet business and blogging expert. He runs the successful Internet business blog - and teaches about how to make money from blogging at

You can contact Yaro at -


  1. Hi Craig – I have tried quite a few different marketing methods however I’ve slowly moved towards online marketing exclusively as I’ve started more web based projects.

    The only offline marketing I do nowadays is posters for, everything else is online.

    I couldn’t really say which is the best form of marketing I have used because it depends on the business.

    I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true, the best form of marketing is word of mouth where your current clients bring in new clients.

  2. I think that is great advice. It can be very discouraging to drop $500 and see no results. Certainly makes it difficult to do it again. I think the biggest thing is no ONE technique/method is going to do the job. Whether you are marketing a Internet Business or you are a bricks and mortar business, you must implement as many avenues of marketing as you can. A little here and a little there and most of it won’t cost a dime, just effort.

    Yaro, as I read your blogs you have mentioned many different marketing techniques, affiliate programs, referral programs, PPC, Non PPC, general participation in forums and blogs, etc. I am curious w/ your wide experience, how you would rank all of the techniques you have mentioned? Maybe a interesting topic for a future blog post 🙂

    Thanks Yaro,

  3. I did student marketing with a travel agency a few years back and the thing I learned was that you’ve got to give students something tangible “in hand”.

    A leaflet, a business card or a scratchie. Students wether Aussies or internationals have so much going on that you need to hit them over the head a few times with a marketing message before they get it. I know it’s totally generalising but for every student there’s a party tonight, tutorial on Thursday, job on the weekend and an assignment next week. With something in hand they can then absorb it later when stuff isn’t happening.

    I would have done everything you did but added a thank you card on tables or at the exits for everyone. On the thank you card I would have directed them to go to your web site to win extra prizes. At least then there is a reason to make them check you out and a chance for you site to do it’s job.

  4. andy bailey says

    I have found out the hard way too. I’ll send this article to an eager cross line affiliate that wanted to spend 2000 on a tow-behind advertising trailer.

    He was convinced it would bring him business just from driving it around town, it does look impressive but I told him to ask for some stats before he parted with his money. They wouldn’t give any so my advice was to not get it.

    Sure if you earn mega-bucks then you can afford that kind of money to advertise but not for a simple home based business like mine!

    nice new blog Yaro, I’ll come back again

  5. Yes Anthony, quite right. Although my logo and link where in the handout for the event it wasn’t very overt and competing for attention with all the other sponsors.

    It would have probably been smarter to skip the powerpoint show altogether, ask if I could hand out flyers at the end for half the money I spent and like you said, offer prizes/discounts for mentioning a codeword or something when using the service. The ROI would have been a lot better.

  6. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I am sad to hear about how badly it went but at least now you know better and you were able to share it with a lot of people by posting it online 🙂

  7. demetrius pinder says

    Loved the article and Anthony’s comment was right on point.

    Thanks for the pointers!

  8. “[…]offer prizes/discounts for mentioning a codeword or something when using the service. The ROI would have been a lot better.”

    Hehe, that depends on the assumption that there would have been ROI.
    0 revenue / 500 investment = 0 revenue / 250 investment ;0.

    Kindly excuse the cynic in me speaking. I’m just saying that maybe the fact even the prize-winners didn’t follow up suggests that these people weren’t a targeted, qualified audience to begin with.

  9. Yaro…

    Great topic. (I could throw $500 away every hour on the hour.)

    I think what happens to many internet marketers is that they (we) get so ‘drunk with possibilities’ as we surf deeped and deeper, that we lose track of the fact that we should be tracking.

    I know it happens to me.

    It’s very difficult to STOP.

    Tracking and testing MUST rule the day.

    We approach perfection with diligence!

    Kevin Browne