Put Some Thought Into a Prostaff

Promotional staffs aren’t just for big, national brands. Could a local prostaff help your shop grow?

Put Some Thought Into a Prostaff

Choosing the right advertising plan for your shop can be a daunting task, full of trial and error and agonizing decisions. It’s likely at some point you’ve considered the idea of adding a prostaff to your shop’s arsenal of advertising channels, but if you haven’t, let’s discuss some of the things to consider, advantages, pitfalls, and how to manage a staff to ensure a return. 

A prostaff is nothing more than influencer marketing. While the outdoor industry catches a lot of guff for being behind the times, and often deservedly so, influencer marketing is one place where the industry has been decades ahead of the curve. The mediums may have changed, but the premise is the same: Get people who use your product or service to talk about and promote you. 

At its core, that’s really all influencer marketing is, and that is exactly what we ask of a prostaff at either a local store level, or as a national brand. 

So how do you decide if a prostaff is right for you?

The first thing you need to decide is if you have time for a prostaff. Staff size can vary greatly. At the store level, it’s likely to be smaller than most brand prostaffs, but even from a brand perspective, I’ve managed prostaffs ranging from as few as 15 members to as many as 150. What may be a surprise is how little difference there was in managing teams of such varying sizes.

Managing people is time-intensive work. Establishing protocols and procedures can help, but the mantra “people buy from people” applies here, too. Generally speaking, the more involved you are, the more direction you provide, the more engaged your staff sees you, the more they will do, the harder they will work, and the more benefit you will receive. 

But your staff isn’t made up of employees. They have jobs of their own. The flexibility that it takes to manage a prostaff is different than managing employees. You may need to be available at different times or make accommodations for staff members to get the training or information they need. 

Time is a major factor. If you or someone on your team doesn’t have at least five to 10 hours a week to dedicate toward getting a staff established, you’re likely headed to disappointment. 

The next thing to consider is exactly what you want from your prostaff. If you don’t have a clear vision of what you need from a prostaff, then your staff won’t have a clear vision of their expectations, either. 

There is no one reason to start or have a prostaff. Every shop or brand has a different reason or expectation of their staff, but you still need to know what yours is and communicate that to the members or prospective members. 

A poorly defined or communicated vision for the expectations and duties for your prostaff will have huge implications. From the shop’s standpoint, it is tougher to measure the effectiveness of the staff without a clear task list to which to hold them. That also makes the management of the staff more difficult because you’re constantly making it up as you go. 

You also make it more difficult on your staff members. If they don’t know or understand how they are being evaluated, they can’t do their best job promoting what is important to you. If they’re on their own in terms of guidance and what to focus on trying to help your shop, that may run counter to the other initiatives you have in place and actually create issues for your shop, rather than solving them. 

Once you’ve decided that you have time for a staff, and you have a clear idea of what you would like from them, take a serious look at your expectations and make sure that the prostaff is the best avenue to accomplish what you’ve identified as their main tasks. 

This list is what will vary the most from one location to the next. Maybe you just need some additional “expert” voices to be in the shop a few times a year for major sales. You might want a team of people who are influential in local social media to help with brand awareness. It’s possible you run a content program on your website and you need contributors to help keep that content relevant, timely and engaging. You might need a staff of competition shooters for local archery or three-gun competitions. 

Whatever your needs are for promoting or enriching the customer experience, a prostaff can help. But it is paramount that you understand exactly what that list is before you get a staff up and going. 

If you’ve made it to this part of the decision-making process, you probably already have a few people in mind that you would like to add to any staff that you start. Let a few of these people be part of the early planning stages for the staff. Candid conversations with the people you want to be the keystones in your staff are going to make sure that both sides have a clear understanding of the goals as well as a stake in making the program the best that it can be for both sides. If you can’t have these conversations and come to a place where you are both happy, do you think it’s going to be any better when the staff actually gets up and running? 

So, you’ve decided you have the time, the vision, and the buy-in from some of your priority members, and you pulled the trigger and started a prostaff for your shop. Great.

Now what? 

Starting a prostaff is quick and easy. Managing that prostaff is where the real work begins. So how do you make sure that the staff is running smoothly and getting the returns you’re after? 

First, it is much easier to expand a staff that is working than to reduce an ineffective staff. It doesn’t matter if it is a brand or a shop prostaff — it is made up of customers. Where the difference is, at the shop level your customer base is smaller than that of a national brand, and as such, the relationship with those customers is far more personal. 

The harsh reality is that at some point you may need to fire members of your prostaff. Especially initially, you can temper this reality by keeping the staff small and being transparent with the staff that this is an experiment. You don’t want this prostaff experiment to result in hurt feelings or lost customers, and if you come out of the gates with a big staff, you just raise the chances that some of them are going to have to go. Keep the staff small at the start, and build on successes.

Next, make a plan for regular communication. At the local level, this can include in-person communication as well as digital. For the prostaff to be effective, they need to know what is going on. Keeping them in the loop is key to keeping them engaged with their audience or following about what’s going on at your shop. 

This doesn’t mean you need to share confidential information that you wouldn’t give to any customer that comes in off the street, but you do need a level of transparency with them that allows them to carry your message to their following.

When you have upcoming sales or hunter’s safety or concealed carry classes, your prostaff members need to know so they can be talking those events up to help with recruitment and attendance. Don’t expect to be able to wait until the night before an event and have your staff pull off miracles. 

Social media has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with your staff. The use of Facebook and Facebook Live within a private group that is set up just for your staff members can be a great tool for conveying information, and it allows for interaction beyond an email or text message. 

For staff communication, I have always tried to focus on what’s important over the next week, the next month and the next quarter. Breaking it down in that way allows you to plan ahead as well and keeps them aware of what’s on the horizon. 

Another thing to consider is how you will compensate your staff for their investment of time, effort and access to their audience. While some people may do this out of the kindness of their heart and because they value your shop on a personal level, their undertaking deserves some compensation from you. 

That doesn’t mean you need to start cutting checks, but letting your staff know that what they are doing has value and that you recognize that goes a long way to getting the best out of them. More often than not, this manifests in the form of some combination of free or discounted products and/or services, use of a prostaff title, and swag. 

The last critical factor to the success of a prostaff is the ability to track performance of your staff members. 

This is impossible, of course, if you weren’t clear about setting expectations and benchmarks up front. For me, I have found that maintaining a spreadsheet with staff members’ information and the critical tasks or objectives to be the easiest way to keep track of this. You can lay it out well ahead of time and let the staff know how you are tracking and keeping notes on performance, so if difficult conversations need to be had, they know where the information is coming from and you aren’t guessing or going with your gut on performance. 

It might be as simple as checking that they shared a post on social media about an upcoming sale at your shop. Maybe you want them to be doing stories or live clips from your shop once a month. Whatever it may be, you can set those events in the spreadsheet and just check them off as they are completed. 

If you want to take it to the next level, there are software options that let you evaluate the reach and influence of your staff across multiple platforms. But these services aren’t free, and at the local level, you should be able to see the impact of your staff a little easier than with a national staff of dozens if not hundreds of members.  

While my initial statement of five to 10 hours a week to commit to your prostaff management may have seemed like a lot, look at what we need to do to maintain prostaff performance. By the time you carve out time to determine what it is you need from your staff, communicate those needs, and evaluate not only if they got it done, but how well it worked, five to 10 hours can easily be on the lower end of what is needed. 

Prostaff and influencer best practices vary more than most other types of marketing. There are more ways they can be used, and the use ultimately depends on your shop’s needs. What works for one shop or brand may not be at all what someone else needs. 

At the end of the day, if you are clear about how you need a prostaff to perform, communicate that to your prostaff, and do your part to ensure that what you need done is getting done, a prostaff can be a cost-effective, organic way to spread the word about your shop. 


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