All things ads with Emily Dolton, an Ads Strategist.
Question: I would absolutely love for you to tell us more about you, who you are and what your business is.
Emily: I’m Emily and I help service-based businesses grow with Facebook and Instagram ads by helping them connect with and nurture more dream clients with ease in a way that’s both sustainable and feels good even if ads haven’t worked for them in the past. I live in Warwickshire with my husband and my two kids and cat and absolutely love working for myself and being a business owner.
Question: Why did you go into your business in the first place?
Emily: In my previous world, I worked for Bravissimo, the lingerie company. They are an absolutely beautiful business and I worked there for about 11 years. I really loved their ethos and it was really aligned with my values. It’s all about doing what’s absolutely right for your customers, making women feel amazing, so I really loved the work. I was a commercial analyst. My whole career has been about making the numbers talk. Previously I was more finance focused and then moved more into customer journeys, customer buying behaviour, supporting the marketing function, doing the sales forecasting etc. I really loved being employed and in doing that role. Then when I was looking for a new challenge, I was really keen on the idea of working for myself. I basically wanted to take the ethos of how I’d worked with my whole career so far, but apply that to smaller businesses and to work with female owned businesses and entrepreneurs, and work with people who didn’t have hugely significant marketing budgets, but really help people to make the most out of the budget that they did have and really help their businesses to fly.
It’s why I choose to work with service-based businesses. I love the idea of, as my daughter puts it, ‘help people who help people’. I love working with businesses who are making a great impact on the world.
Question: So let’s dive into all things ads and time freedom and things like that. Obviously there’s that saying in business – you either pay to play or you invest your time. So it’s either you invest your money or you invest your time in growing your business. What are your thoughts on this?
Emily: I think that’s a really interesting viewpoint and I think some people do do one or the other and they do it very well. So I think the first thing I would say is it’s never one size fits all in business. You can make lots of different ways of working work well and it’s important to work in a way that feels good to you from my experience. The thing that I think is great about ads is yes, you can pay to play, you can get more eyes on the prize, eyes on your content. You can easily find a greater number of people to speak to and nurture and become paying clients and people who you can help. What I would say though, is I think one of the mistakes I often see is that because people hear this, you can either pay money or pay time that they think, okay, I’m either going run organic OR I just want a quick fix and I want to switch ads on so I don’t have to worry about the organic.
But what happens time and time again, is ads amplify what’s already working really well organically. So actually I think a blend of the time and money can work really well. And it’s one of the things that I often have conversations about with people is they come to me and they think they’re ready to run ads and often I’m saying, actually, I don’t think you are at the stage where you’re going to get the best out of ads yet. Here’s how to go and improve your organic, to make sure. It’s really important that you’ve sold your offer successfully before you start running ads. It’s important to make sure that you really understand who your clients are and how they find you and how they love to work with you, how you love to work with them and how you’d love to nurture them through that whole buying journey.
It’s really getting that balance between investing that time in building your organic presence and making sure you know exactly what you’re trying to achieve. And then ads is basically a bolt-on to perhaps reduce the amount of time that you’re putting into organic. Nobody wants to be creating organic content 17 hours a day. But you don’t want to unnecessarily. You need to keep your organic ticking along and that will help to bolster your ads. The ads will help to bring your organic to the fore and will really make the most of your organic while also finding new people through your ads as well. So it’s a blend of the two.
Question: So what would you say is the tipping point for what, for somebody investing in ads then?
Emily: I would say it very much depends on what you want to do with ads. So let’s say, for example, you choose to use ads, you know that you are selling your offer really well organically and you know that people tend to come to you because you’ve got a really great lead magnet. They come onto your email list and then you are really good at nurturing them on your email list and then they become paying clients. So let’s say that’s your funnel. Now if that’s the case, it might be that you’ve done a few rounds of that, you’re fully booked with your one-to-one or you’ve run a few rounds of your program. It could be a really good point in time to say, okay, actually I want to invest, to run ads with a fairly modest budget. You can use it to build your email list. So you are using ads to encourage people to sign up to your lead magnet, get onto your list, and then you are doing the ‘heavy lifting’ of nurturing the people who are on your email list and bringing them into your program. Now if instead you find that, let’s say for example, your favourite way to bring people into your program is you run a live masterclass, your energy’s amazing, you love that style of selling and you love that style of a quick launch where you perhaps have people on your email list, but it’s really that masterclass that’s going to convert people.
Instead you might choose to reach a much broader group of people from your masterclass, so run ads directly to that and you can run it to your warm audiences, i.e. people who are already part of your organic audience, but you can also use ads to run to cold audiences, which can be as many as millions of people that your ads are being shown to. So if you wanted to do that, for example, when Facebook is looking at who to show your ads to and what you’re asking the ad to do for you, it’s likely to cost you less per person to have somebody added to your email list or let’s say click and view something on your website than it’s to have somebody, invest by showing up live to a masterclass. So in which case you might need a more significant budget.
Ads always work best when they are used strategically, so when they’re thought about properly, when you spend some time building, what’s called ‘warming up your pixel’, seasoning your pixel. So getting enough data running through your Facebook pixel so that Facebook knows who are the right people to show your ads to. The tipping point is really at the point where you feel like, I know that this is working well for me organically and I’m ready to grow it and to scale.
Question: I wanted to touch on the mindset element that business owners may have about running ads as well, because I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past too where I’ve tried to run ads in the past, but then I’ve been reluctant to do it because I’m going, but that means it’s going to cost me money. What’s your opinion on this? Do you see that a lot with other business owners as well?
Emily: Yes, I think it’s a really common situation to be in when you’re starting to think of doing ads and actually that can be applied really to any new thing we’re looking to try in our business. It’s a bit like if you decided you want to put an ad in a magazine – we don’t really know what’s going to happen until we test it. The way I tend to advise my clients when they’re thinking about this is, look at using ads strategically, so you are not thinking, okay, I’m just going to throw some money at it and hope for the best. It’s about really thinking carefully about what are you trying to achieve with ads. The aim with any kind of marketing you’re investing in is to make back more than you have invested in, in the ad spend.
Now sometimes that doesn’t happen immediately and it’s an expectation I always set with new clients is it might be that we run ads for three months, but the first month you are going to be getting leads in. The early stage of an ad’s journey is all about the testing and the mindset I suggest that clients use is to think about it as an experiment, which keeps it light and fun, even though of course there’s money being invested. I never take that lightly. I always treat the money as if it’s my own. So I invest it very carefully. But if you treat it as an experiment for the first few weeks of the first campaign or however you’re structuring your ads, that actually it’s about getting the results, but it’s also about collecting the data and taking the learning.
What’s really great about ads is they’re so iterative. So you set one set of ads running and you test some audiences and you test some different creatives. But what’s really good is because the data is so rich within Ads Manager, you can always then find another lever to pull to go, okay, the click through rate isn’t brilliant. Why might that be? Or actually people are landing on the landing page, but they’re not converting or people are showing up for the masterclass because they’re signing up, but they’re not showing up live. Maybe I need to tweak my email nurture sequence. Or everybody’s showing up live to the masterclass but nobody’s converting. So is that because I haven’t brought the right kind of people in or is that because actually I don’t feel I sold as well on that particular masterclass compared to last month, for example.
It’s really about looking at what you are trying to achieve long term with ads. And something else that also helps is thinking about it like, let’s say you decide to invest £500 or £1000 in ads – how many clients would you need to win from the leads that you get from your ads to make that money back? So let’s say for example, you invested a £1000 in ads and it costs you let’s say £2 to have somebody sign up to your lead magnet. You might get 500 people onto your email list so you know yourself organically. Okay, if someone’s added onto my email list, what proportion generally of my email list do I convert within the first month of them being added or within three months?
Or looking at your lifetime value of your customers. So if you know that actually people who join your email list, 3/10 of them tend to buy from you within the first month because you’ve got your emails working really well, then actually paying £2 a pop to get somebody on your email list when actually you are selling your program for a £1000, it’s very easy to set up a super simple spreadsheet to say, okay, this is what my ad spend is, this is what I think my conversion rate might be, or this is the number of people I think are going to show up live to my masterclass and this is how many people I’ve sold to in a historic masterclass. It’s about looking at not just what you want your ads to do, but how it fits into your business as a whole and what that looks like both financially, but also treating it as a data gathering exercise so that you are looking to the longer term, rather than just looking for a short term win.
Question: I love the fact that you’ve shared that as well in terms of, t’s actually about tracking and looking at what’s working and what isn’t and then tweaking from there so that it does actually work. I think a lot of people will go into running ads and then if it doesn’t work, they’ll just stop completely and say I’m never doing that again.
Emily: Yes, absolutely. I totally understand that. And I think it’s why that expectation piece from me as an ad strategist is so important because it’s completely understandable when you’re investing in something new. You know that if you’re putting £500 or £1000 or £2000 of your hard earned money, you really want to know that you’re going to get a good return from that. It’s quite hard to accept the concept of actually you might not get a positive return on your investment in that first month. Now you might do, and obviously that is the aim of course, that you will, but it’s about treating as a tool that’s going to grow your business.
With any kind of marketing, when you start organic marketing, you don’t necessarily expect sales to come in, in the first two weeks of starting to post. It takes consistency, it takes building momentum and from an ads perspective, the algorithm gets to know your data. So when you are running ads for a longer period of time, everything is optimising more and more, and more than if you just run a two-week campaign and then give up. That’s why I advise clients that actually if they’re a bit nervous about investing £500 then put a little bit of each sale that you get over the next couple of months to one side, treat it as an investment pot and see it as separate from your business. Marketing is risky to some greater or lesser degree, but seeing it as actually I’m willing to invest this £500 in learning rather than, oh my gosh, I’m putting it into ads and I might not get a return within the first few weeks.
The other thing is with the testing phase, when you first start running ads, the whole point of it is you test different audiences, you test different creatives, you figure out what works. It might be that you get people onto your email list really easily for a low cost, but then you find that actually they’re not the right type of person, they’re not actually similar enough to your ideal clients, that they then not end up not converting very well. So then you tweak that and you change your copy and you bring in a different group of people. It’s about having that expectation upfront that it doesn’t have to be a quick fix and it doesn’t have to be a quick win, but that doesn’t mean that ads aren’t going to work for you mid to long term.
Question: So in terms of ads, obviously it can free up your time. Have you got any tips, especially for anyone who’s actually never run ads before and is there anything that they need to put into place before running an ad?
Emily: As a starting point, even if you’re not considering running ads right now, it’s always a great idea to put your Facebook pixel onto your website. The reason for that is all of the time that that pixel is on your website, it’s collecting data so that if at any point, even in let’s say three years time you decide to run ads, every bit of data that’s been collected on the Pixel is useful to Facebook for going to find your people and finding the right kind of people who visit your website, who buy from you, who are your customers who engage with you. Facebook also looks at how people interact with your Facebook and Instagram profiles as well. So if you get that pixel on your website as soon as possible, it just means that’s all gathering data beautifully for you.
In terms of starting off and the kind of things to think about, you want to be really clear on who your ideal clients are. This goes for all of marketing, but you also want to think about who do you really want to show your ads too, and what are you trying to achieve with your ads? The ads and the organic playing field has changed quite a bit over the last few years. Five years ago or so, you posted something organically and most of your followers saw it, whereas now you post organically and anywhere between about 2 – 10% of your followers see it. So that’s where the pay to play really comes into play for your organic audience. You can run ads to your warm audiences, people who already know of you, and it creates that halo effect of they’re hearing from you organically, they’re seeing your ads, so it bolsters everything else.
But you can also think about which kind of cold audiences you want to try and reach out to. What are the characteristics of your perfect clients, your dream clients at the moment? That’s why it’s also important that people have been running their offers for a bit of time because you want to know enough about who your ideal clients are. It’s so much easier to go out into the ads world if you’ve already worked with actual clients and you’ve got enough data in your head. In terms of organically, this is the kind of person who I know is exactly right for my program. You know, they’re at this stage of their life or this stage of their business, or this is their demographic makeup or this is where they are geographically. There’s hundreds of different interests you can build into Ads Manager. The more you know about your ideal clients, the better.
Question: Can you give any advice on what is working well at the moment in terms of ads?
There are three different types of audiences that we tend to show ads to. One is your warm audiences, so that’s people who have engaged with your socials or visited your website or they are on your email list. Then there are two types of cold audiences: one is called interest-based, which is where we put in, let’s say if somebody’s into coaching or they run a gardening business or they’re a business owner or they’re a woman over 40, any of the hundreds of options. Then the other kind is a lookalike audience, which is where you take one or more of your warm audiences and you ask Facebook to go and find people who are similar to that. So what was happening a while ago was that if you built lots of different interests in and kind of layered them up and you said here are 20 different characteristics and interests, then that would work quite well.
What we’re seeing now actually is that an audience that can work really well is actually only including one or two interests, which are relatively broad. Lookalikes are working really well at the moment too. Email lists and your most engaged followers. Le’s say you’ve got somebody who engages a lot on your Insta or your Facebook – those kind of lists can be really good. Email lists are particularly powerful because often they include within them your paying clients and if you’ve had sufficient paying clients, you actually only need about a hundred people for a seed list, which is the list that we upload into Facebook to say, please go and find more people like this. So if for example, you’ve had a hundred paying clients or you’ve got at least a hundred people on your email list who you think, oh yes, they are ideal clients or at least ideal prospects, then Facebook is really good at going and finding other people who are like that.
In terms of creative, video is super important and super important for organic as well. From an ads perspective, it’s really good for a few reasons. One is the first job of an ad is to stop the scroll and video catches our eye and does that. Two, we are watching a lot of videos as a society and it’s really good, but the reason it’s particularly good for ads as well is that every time somebody watches at least three seconds of one of your videos, they are captured as an audience by Facebook and you can then find those people again, show them another ad, whereas if you just show somebody a static image, unless they click through or take an action on it, you can’t find those same people again. So by watching at least three seconds of your video, those people are in a very small way raising their hand to say, yeah, I’m interested, please show me more.
The other thing which has changed quite a lot in the the ads landscape in the last few years is, that it used to be that if you’ve got your audience spot on, you were ‘everyone’s a winner’ kind of thing, whereas now and even more so, what you are actually saying in your content, in your copy is super important. So calling out your ideal clients is really important. You want people in that first line of your ad to self-identify and be like, this is for me. I really want to hear more about what this ad is about.
Question: People’s attention spans are so low nowadays as well, aren’t they? And I think that’s the thing is people, again, talking about time, people do not have the time to be sitting reading really lengthy posts and things like that unless they are genuinely interested, so anything will grab their attention straight away.
Emily: Exactly. You’re absolutely right. And I think quite often what happens is that beautiful organic posts are then used in ads and actually it doesn’t work in quite the same way because your organic audience already knows you. And of course you still need a good strong first line to encourage your warm audience to continue reading, but they’ll be looking out for your posts because they already know, like, and trust you, whereas if you’re running ads to a cold audience, they don’t know you from the next person or the next ad. A really key thing is to test a mixture of long and short form copy, sometimes super short can work really effectively. Sometimes long can be really effective too, as long as you’ve got the people to read in the first place by hooking in them in with that first line and with your video or your static content.
Question: So what if somebody’s had a bad experience of running ads and then they’ve given up and they’re too scared to do it again, what advice would you give them?
Emily: I think it’s really important to firstly say it’s okay that it didn’t work this time, it feels a bit rubbish, but what can I learn from it? Where’s the gift in this? It’s about looking and thinking, okay, so it didn’t work. What is it that didn’t work? Now it might be that you, yourself as a business owner don’t necessarily know enough about ads to know. So in which case it’s worth having a quick chat with an ad strategist just to say, look, would you mind taking a look? Lots of ad strategists offer power hours and just having an expert’s eyes on your ad account for an hour and talk about what you’re trying to achieve with ads can be really, really valuable.
The other thing I would say is that it’s really important when you’re looking at if ads have worked for you, to think about if you’ve done it yourself or if you’ve used an expert, an agency or a strategist. Now if you’ve used an agency or a strategist, it’s worth considering what’s important to you about working with that particular expert. So of course if the ads are working and everything is flying in beautifully, that relationship probably feels slightly less important. Actually, that relationship is really important when things aren’t working. So think about if you have outsourced in the past, it hasn’t worked, just think about whether you felt supported during that whole process. There are lots of different ways that different agencies and strategists work. Big agencies can be brilliant in terms of providing all of the copy and all of the graphics and you’ve got a go-to team immediately and everybody’s on all the time.
But you might find that it’s a much less personal approach. But some people love that. If you’re working with a strategist, you get a much more of a boutique approach and much more of a bespoke approach, where you are a bigger fish in their much smaller pond. So think about what you are really looking for in terms of an expert. If you’re looking for support in terms of if you are doing it yourself and you’re feeling nervous about trying again, there are loads of amazing blogs, YouTube videos out there to help. Even something like chatGPT or type into Google or search YouTube, asking questions in forums. It might just be that you haven’t got the right kind of ad set up or that you were expecting something different from what was going to occur.
So for example, sometimes I will talk to potential clients and they’ll say, I’ve put £200 into ads and I was expecting lots of people to turn up to my masterclass, but it cost me loads of money to get each person signing up. From my perspective I’m sort of saying, yes, you are right, they haven’t worked for what you were expecting them to do, but actually if you know what you are looking to do with ads, then it’s about setting that budget accordingly. So if someone was saying to me, I want to get 100 people turning up to my masterclass live, but my budget’s £200, the first thing I would be saying to them is, that isn’t realistic and it’s going to cost you a lot more to do that for £200.
You could instead encourage people to come and follow you on Instagram and you could nurture them yourself. So it’s about looking at where you’re going to use your ads within your marketing funnel. The lower down the funnel, the warmer people are, the more it’s going to cost you to get them to take the bigger action. You could run ads relatively cost effectively and you’d be encouraging people to visit your website. You could run it with a traffic objective, you’ll get lots of people visiting your website, but they’re unlikely to be people who are actually going to take action or book a call or sign up to your email list. If you want somebody to actually click through and purchase, let’s say your low cost offer, then you’re going to need to spend a lot more per person. The other point I’d like to make is when, people understandably feel like their ads haven’t worked, it’s about thinking about it may just be that there was nothing wrong with the ad, it’s more about setting your own expectations and understanding what a certain budget could do for you rather than the ads themselves haven’t worked, if that makes sense.
Question: What does freedom mean to you?
Emily: Freedom to me means choice. So whether that be money or time or what we fill our days with. Freedom means that we get to choose and we don’t have to be constricted by the money that we have in our bank account or somebody hanging over our head saying, you must do this. So that’s what freedom means. I think as a business owner, that’s what I love doing for my clients. I give them time freedom to grow their businesses without having to invest every minute of their waking day on organic marketing. But it’s about being able to help them feel the freedom of earning the money that they deserve in their businesses so that they don’t have to. And the same for me as a business owner. We all want to be able to make choices in our lives of what we do not based on ‘I can’t afford to do that’.
It doesn’t have to be massive fantastical ideas of what we want to do. It’s not that we want to fly to the moon, but even just being able to do the things that are important to us because they’re the things we want to do, rather than because, well I can’t afford to. I’d rather go to this place to eat or I’d rather go on this holiday or I’d rather live in this house, that actually we can create that for ourselves. Having that freedom of being able to choose – I think that’s really important.
Question: How can people find you? Where’s the best place to find you if they wanted to get in contact with you?
Emily: I am on Facebook and Instagram and I have a website. So my website is EmilyDolton.co uk. Emily Dolton Ad Strategist on both Facebook and Instagram. I’m also on LinkedIn as well.