Our Beginner’s Guide to Floating was first created four years ago, and we’ve gone through over 40,000 of them just out of our own center in Portland. Since making it publicly available, our Beginner’s Guide has been downloaded over 1,400 times. Dozens of float centers all around the world use it (or some variation of it) on a regular basis, and it’s been translated into several foreign languages.
This is the story of the Beginner’s Guide to Floating, and it comes loaded with a strong argument for the power of sharing.
As we prepared to open Float On, we knew there were several important things we had to get right with our marketing.
We needed to inform people about floating, get them excited about it, and get them to book appointments.
From there we had to provide excellent floats and get them to come back, but getting them in there in the first place was definitely the harder challenge. Remember that, although this was only a few years ago, floating was even more unknown than it is now, and we were the first designated float center in Portland.
So, our main goals in summary: inform, excite, and get people in our tanks.
We had a big requirement: we weren’t going to spend money on advertising, a policy we still keep today. At the time, we didn’t have money of course, so it was largely academic.
We had a few other stipulations as well:
- We wanted people to think of the tanks as accessible: something that anyone could do.
- We didn’t want to show photos of models in bathing suits floating (since you don’t wear bathing suits in the tank).
- We didn’t want people to think of our center as a spa.
- We didn’t want to emphasize the psychedelic or spiritual aspects of floating: that would find its own way in, and is one of the most unpredictable (albeit life changing) benefits.
- Just as with our center as a whole, we wanted to avoid being any particular ‘genre’. We wanted our marketing to allow each customer to fill in their own blanks.
We also had a large, and not immediately obvious, strength: we didn’t need to promote Float On.
When we opened, there was only one other place to float in town, and they only had one tank attached to a spa. We didn’t need to promote ourselves, we just needed to promote floating. Anyone who was interested would find us as soon as they did a google search.
We had already planned on doing a brochure for our business, but as we talked it over, it became more and more central to our (low budget, bootstrapped) marketing strategy. Our brochure would inform and excite people. It would make them want to schedule an appointment. Best of all, it wouldn’t be about our business: it would be an introductory guide to floating.
We could hand it to someone after 30 seconds in conversation with them or 30 minutes.
We could leave it at coffee shops, at hotels, at wellness centers. We could put our gift certificates in them. We could replace business cards altogether and just write our contact information in the guide (also a practice we maintain to this day).
The Beginner’s Guide to Floating was conceived.
Creating the Copy
Months before we opened the doors to Float On, Quinn and I had floated in every place we could find in the Pacific Northwest. We had snatched up their brochures and their home printed articles on floating. We scoured the internet as well, and by the time we sat down to write our own content, we had gathered all of the easily available marketing materials on float tanks.
A lot of what we found wasn’t what we wanted for the Beginner’s Guide. It was too dry and scientific, or too far-out and completely unscientific, or too self-promoting.
We decided that the main focus of the guide had to be be the experience of floating itself. From there we’d address some common questions, and establish that floating is used for a wide array of purposes, both mental and physical.
We wrote it with the intention of having it feel like you were in a casual conversation about float tanks. To get the tone right, I’d jot down descriptions of floating and go hunting for people to try them out on. I’d call old college friends on the phone, talk to strangers at bars… I wanted to gauge their interest as I said slight variations of the same thing over and over again, letting it evolve naturally into what is now the text of our guide.
My favorite portion of the guide to come out of our editing and revision process:
Creating the Layout & Design
Illustrations were bartered for future floats with my friend, Kathryn Sullivan (now our permanent illustrator at Float Tank Solutions). The goal with these was to be approachable, and to strike that fine line between competent and casual. The ‘floater’ illustrations were meant to be naked, genderless, and inoffensive.
Most of the basic layout I hacked together myself. The front and back are joined by a color element to breakup the blockiness of the folds. The text and illustrations on the inside break across them as well, making the guide feel more free form and ‘floaty.’
Century Gothic and Museo fonts were chosen for their combination of hard edges and very round curves. That seemed to capture both the blockiness of certain tank styles, and the curves of others. A very natural, handwritten font was chosen to contrast with the hard lines of standard type, and make it more approachable.
Modern-Retro-Human might describe the feeling we were going for. Or ‘Timeless.’
We chose blue as our main color: a common choice in the float industry for obvious reasons. We chose green as a highlight color, and yellow as a secondary highlight, pulling those from hues common near water: trees by a river (green and blue) and sand by the beach (yellow/tan and blue).
To keep it about floating education and not just about us, we relegated information about our shop to the back panel. This was both out of the way, and visible without having to open the brochure. We kept it to just the essentials: address, map, prices, hours, and contact info.
The final design wouldn’t have been nearly as clean without the serendipitous help of Bethlayne Hansen, a wonderful graphic designer who sat down with me for hours (over tequila), in the midst of a party, to work on the guide with me. She was also kind enough to barter floats for help polishing up the layout toward the end of the process.
The First Test
A little over 100 hours of development later, we had our first version of the Beginner’s Guide to Floating ready to print. We were about to order prints online through PSprint.com (who we still use – very open to other suggestion though. They seem to be a nice mix of affordable and reasonable quality), but we didn’t know how many to order.
We were just entering our construction phase, so we came up with a simple test. We printed 25 copies of the guide from our home printer, folded them, and put them up in a holder (constructed of folded cardstock) in front of our space.
“Curious about floating? Take one,” a sign read. We also included small slips of paper and a pen so people could write down their emails, slip it through our mailslot and join our mailing list.
We put up our DIY brochure box at 11pm. When we came back at 8am, all 25 guides had been taken. We went home and ordered 2,000 – since then, we’ve averaged over 1,000 guides per month that we go through.
We’ve upgraded to a more professional setup, with two rain protected guide holders, and a large amount of people take them as they’re passing by – many more than actually make their way into our shop.
Open Sourcing the Guide
In June of 2011, about 8 months after we had been open, we went to the 2nd Float Summit in San Francisco. The attendance for the event was just a little over 40 people.
We were proud of the Beginner’s Guide (we’d gone through over 7,000 by this point), and knowing just how hard it was to put together, we decided that we’d open source it and make it available to anyone who wanted it.
People in the industry really seemed to like it, and we immediately had not only requests to use it, but offers to translate it into other languages.
Since then, we’ve developed several other industry materials which we provide for free on Float Tank Solutions. The Beginner’s Guide is still available, and by our best estimates there are well over 50 float centers that are currently using it in their daily operations.
Generosity and Intellectual Property
We have a common and pervasive myth in our culture that people get rich off of brilliant ideas and that we need to protect ourselves against those who would steal our intellectual property. Coca Cola has gone to great length to protect its secret recipe. There are robust non-disclosure agreements among large companies. Old school jazz trumpeters draped a cloth over their hands so that no one would know what exactly they were doing.
Float On has a different point of view – we believe that generosity and trust are stronger than ownership. By helping other float centers we’re strengthening our industry. We are building a community, and we’re trying to get as many people floating, in as many places, as we possibly can.
We included a small plug for Float On at the back of the guide (and we put our website on the front), asking people not to either remove them or change the styling of our guide.
[Note: This is only for the free version of our guide. Our Marketing Package contains a fully editable Guide]
Do people abuse this, and remove mentions of Float On? Absolutely. Do people change the entire format of the guide, or just grab portions to use without asking us? They most certainly do. Have we ever gotten upset, or told people not to do this? No.
Generosity isn’t something that you can do half way. We WANT people to use this guide, and we’d love if they helped people discover us in exchange for using our content. But really, in the end, we want people floating. And we want to make things a little bit better for the people who come after us.
The Moral of the Story
There are several morals, actually:
- The more deeply you think about problems, the simpler your solution should become.
- Everything, no matter how small, takes a tremendous amount of work. It takes considerably more work to do it well.
- The more that you give away your knowledge and the more that you help people, the more robust and stable your business becomes.
- This is a young and burgeoning industry. It also needs your help. If you’ve done something that’s worked well for you, help other float centers by sharing it. In the end, it means more people finding out about floating, more people walking in your doors, and more invitations to home cooked meals when you travel.
Show Us Your Guide!
If you have created a Beginner’s Guide to Floating for your float center, we’d love to see it!
Feel free to email it to us or share it with the world on our Facebook page.
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—Graham Talley, Co-Founder of Float On
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