How to grow an aviation operations business? - Part One

Whether you are a tour operator, charter your aircraft out, have large commercial contracts or deal with agriculture jobs, the objectives are usually the same. Fly more flights, more efficiently, more safely. Even though the types of businesses are quite different, the ways to grow are very similar.  

Reading this article, you might be in a few different stages of your aviation business.  
  1. You may have just started and be very new in your operator life. 
  2. You may been going for a while and looking towards the next step of growth
  3. You may be a long time business owner and happy with your business size but looking for better ways to do things.  

Regardless of where in your business journey you are, there are always things that can help you improve and grow a better business.

Grow client base and/or client value

Upsell and get more value out of existing clients 

It is always easier to keep the clients you have than to find new clients. In fact it’s more often than not five times more expensive to acquire new clients then keep existing ones. Now this shouldn’t mean don’t find new clients but you should be focussed on keeping your existing clients happy and growing the relationship and business opportunities with them as well as finding new clients. 

With those existing clients, look for ways to get more business with them. Are there other services of yours that they don’t use currently, types of flying that you do which they could use but haven’t thought about, or while you're working with them on a job, your pilots or admin team could up-sell them to a more profitable type of flight or job? There are always ways to up-sell or be more profitable.  


For most people, the word networking sends shivers down their spine. The thought of walking into a room full of stranger and starting conversations with them, gives 95% of people nightmares no matter how confident you are. However, this is only one type of networking. You may have local business associations, chambers of commerce, networking groups etc that do this traditional networking type of thing, but unless the people there are your ideal client or they interact with your type of clients, there’s not too much point getting involved from a business growth point of view (they can be very valuable from a local connections point of view or getting to know other business owners regardless) but there are lots of other networking opportunities. LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected with a range of people in and out of your industry. This is the social network where people like to “do business” more than other social networks. Also, conferences, seminars and trade shows are great places to go; be seen and connect with the right type of clients. If you can get an opportunity to present or exhibit at appropriate conferences or trade shows, this gives you great exposure to network with the right people.   

Networking is not difficult or magical, just talk to people, be inquisitive and ask them questions. People love talking about themselves so give them that option.

Givers gain 

Business Networking International (BNI) is a structured weekly networking organisation that have members in 70 countries in over 9000 groups. They meet weekly to pass business between each other and their networks. The interesting thing is they have a motto of “Givers Gain”. Basically value it is based on the age-old concept of what goes around, comes around. “If I help you, you’ll help me and we’ll all do better as a result of it.” Having experienced this, we’d suggest implementing this into all your business dealings. This doesn’t mean not charging fairly for work or giving everything away but it does mean helping people where possible for the right reasons. It’s the best source of new clients and the best source of repeat business.

Stay in touch and remind clients

How many times have you moved provider or changed who you worked with because you saw a better deal, a new service or just to make a change? Often when you’ve been working with a client for a long time, you make the assumption that they will always want to work with you. However, just because they seem happy and the relationship is good, doesn't mean they can't be persuaded to make a change.  

Regardless of the timeframe you've been working with a client you want to make sure you stay in touch with them and keep reminding them of how great you and your company is and why they need to keep using them. The main reason for this is so that when they are wanting a charter, have a job to be done, or a contact of theirs wants that tour you offer, you're the first people they think of.  

This could just be a phone call or a coffee once a quarter with your key contact at each client to touch base and see how things are going. Find out where you can support them or solve a problem they have. Just be helpful and the regular catch up will keep you top of mind.  

If you have too many contacts to call or meet up with every few months or their locations don’t allow for it, a semi regular email could be helpful too. There are a few ways to do this and the simplest is to use an email marketing system like MailChimp to send out regular emails to contacts to keep in front of them. The content of these emails needs to be thought out. It's not a sell, sell, sell opportunity but more an opportunity to help, give helpful advice and remind clients of the key services or product you are experts in. Once a month would generally be the most frequently you'd want to do these unless there is a very important promotion or news update you need people to know.  The best reason to do these from a system like MailChimp rather than just send via your email is that your email address may get marked as spam as it's illegal to send bulk email from your own email address. Also, you get a lot a data from MailChimp about how many people open and click links in your email, as well as giving people the option to unsubscribe which is important from a legal point of view. For more information on this, read MailChimp's blog on it here.  

Online Marketing (Search Engine Marketing or SEM) 

Whether we like it or not, the internet has changed our lives forever. People are now so reliant on the internet that is being considered a human right in many western countries and over 60% of the entire world's population have access to the internet (Iceland is the world's only country to have 100% internet usage across its population.)  

Being found online is critical for every business looking to grow. It is common for businesses to say that they get all of their business from word of mouth (and that is the best type of business!) but even word of mouth referrals are now checking that referral online before making contact. Having an attractive, active website is the first, non-negotiable step to being online. If you have a website but you're not sure whether it is effective or not, Rocketspark, a website builder, has a great 5 point website health check. 

There are other things to consider as well, like making sure your Google My Business listing is up to date, making sure any social media accounts you have are all set up correctly with all the information needed, and any other listing/directory websites you might be on are accurate and up to date as well. 

The two biggest questions from growing aviation operations businesses about online and being found in Google are around 1) how to be on the top of page one for specific search terms (e.g. Helicopter tours) and 2) should I be paying for Google AdWords or other online advertising.  

The answers to both of these are complex and there are 1000's of blog articles on the internet putting their 2 cents worth in on both these topics. Here are a few of the best articles to help you through these two questions: 

There is no magic bullet for online marketing but time, effort and research. You may need an expert to help you with this side of things if you don’t have the time or knowledge but you can't expect instant results.


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