I was sitting in a doctor’s office flipping through a magazine when I saw an ad for a friend’s fitness business. I was impressed. The photo and layout looked great, the ad clearly stated the company’s info, and I assumed it garnered him lots of business.

A few weeks later, this same publication called me to ask if I’d like to purchase advertising space. Being painfully thorough, I reached out to the friend who’d advertised with them. The feedback was shocking. He had not received a single client inquiry, even though this publication was placed in hundreds of downtown Chicago doctors’ offices and passed the eyes of tens of thousands of potential clients. The marketing effort was fruitless. In fact, the only inquiry he did receive was from another publication asking for more of his advertising dollars.

About a year later, I saw a different colleague’s mailers in the gym. Postcard size, glossy and beautifully designed, with all of the pertinent contact information. When I saw him that morning, I extended a compliment on the flyers. He shook his head with disappointment. He explained that the mailing cost him upwards of $1,500. He contracted a mailing company and targeted all of the condo owners in a three-block radius of the gym. Understandably, he reasoned that attaining one or two customers would make it worth his investment and of course hoped it would be profitable by attaining five or more new ones. The results were unfortunate. Only one person had called, a very unfit man recovering from a recent heart attack. This trainer specialized in sports-performance training for a very athletic clientele. The client quickly began to “no-show” and never became profitable.

What is my point? Resist the charm of big numbers:

“Hundreds of nearby affluent condo owners receiving your ad in their mailboxes.”
“Tens of thousands of patients exposed to your ad.”
“If I get three clients, $1,500 will pay for itself.”

Instead, try this. Force your attention to the small numbers:

Of your last ten client inquiries, how exactly did each one find you?
Of your current favorite ten clients, how did each one find you?
How often are you getting in front of people who fit your client demographic? (A happy human billboard is a brilliant marketing tool for a service that is so inherently personal.)

I understand the allure of big numbers. But before you get swept away, do your homework on how your current clients are finding you and then feed those sources. The numbers might be small, but in terms of the health of your business, they are the only ones that matter.