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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Brad Cluff

By Academy Xi

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Brad chats to us about the move back to his hometown and how studying Digital Marketing transformed the bottom line of his family’s hospitality business – with numbers up by 70%.

In 1995, Brad’s parents purchased an old school house at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Wallerawang NSW and transformed it into a now thriving hospitality business, Black Gold Motel. Over the years the venture has grown considerably to include a restaurant and conference centre and in 2020, Brad and his partner decided to make the move with their young children from their home in Sydney to help support the family enterprise.

Can you tell us a bit about the family business?

It was originally the Old Wallerawang school, built back in 1881, it has been here forever. My dad and grandfather and I were all students here over the years and I was school captain in year 6, but by then the school had moved into a new building. 

Dad is building 30 more units at the moment for the motel. I now work in a room which was my kindergarten classroom back in the day, which is weird but great.

What was happening in your life before studying at Xi?

I had finished my previous career in I.T in January 2020 and joined hospitality at an interesting time for the whole world – just as we had made the move to Lithgow, COVID hit.

In addition to the hotel, we have a restaurant with five chefs and nine apprentices, a busy little restaurant, so we went from bustling to shut down within three weeks of having moved up here.

I had been studying social media through a few influencers and I had a couple of my own businesses on the side but it wasn’t until I helped out a mate’s charity called ‘Walk ‘n Talk for Life’ with an event that I realised the power of digital marketing. There are issues with suicide in Lithgow and this charity does a lot to support people – I put together an event for them using social media. I created it out of nothing and 650 people showed up, in the snow. I wasn’t a marketer and this was possible. It blew my mind.

When I moved up here I was feeling that digital marketing was what I needed to do for the family business. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but decided to start building it up. 

With COVID we needed to keep people employed. To give them a purpose. We did food deliveries and I had to work out how to market that. We had a monopoly in the area and started from there – just organic, nothing paid and I started learning how to word things, focusing on supporting local and buying local, took lots of photos of our staff and told a story with that. 

How did you come to study Digital Marketing at Xi?

I felt like I was getting a grasp on social media and digital marketing on my own, but I was also very aware that I was making it up as I went along. I felt some actual training was the right way to go, to get some solid structure and direction.

I started looking into training options and knew that I really needed flexibility as I’ve got two young kids and I work 80 hours a week. There were a few options I was considering for training, but they didn’t seem to feel right and fit my learning style. 

I got chatting with the course advisors at Academy Xi, spoke with Olivia, she was great and talked me through it – she’d just completed the training herself, so that was a huge help to be able to discuss the course with someone who had experienced it first hand.

Have there been any training highlights for you so far?

A highlight was definitely my mentor, Jillian. I’ve done a lot of different training and knowing this was for my family business I was really engaged. Jillian was great to take specific business challenges too, not just discussing course content. I could contact her directly to bounce ideas off in the digital marketing space – she was very helpful. 

The content has been great too. It has been challenging, but totally worth it. Because of my search engine optimisation (SEO) awareness that I gained through the course I’m also able to talk to SEO specialists and I know if they’re doing their job properly and who to hire. Gillian helped advise on this too. It has empowered me with an understanding that I didn’t have before. 

“I chose to study Digital Marketing with Academy Xi to help my family business to thrive. The training has paid for itself already.”

Are you implementing your learning for your business marketing as you study?

I have used our business as my case study within the training, so I could implement it all as I have been learning, which is great. The training has been super practical, just what I needed.

Having a strategy has been the biggest thing. I didn’t have one before. We’ve got a conference and training set up here with a range of rooms we can use. I’m trying to build up a strategy around that so we can get a return on investment quickly. 

Before the course I wouldn’t have known how to set up a strategy. To know who to target, how and why, the buyer persona and how to write for that audience. Previously I was kind of doing it all intuitively, but didn’t have the bigger picture and framework to guide me.

“While doing the course, I’ve been implementing website changes and putting my digital marketing strategy into action. Our motel is up on average 70% growth in only one year. The restaurant revenue has also increased by 70%. 

Weekend motel bookings are up by at least 50% compared to the previous year. We are getting 60-70% occupancy on the weekends now, whereas before we were getting around 10%. The impacts from the digital marketing changes on the bottom line of the business have been huge.”

We haven’t heard the phone ring since we made the changes to the website because it has taken the pressure off the front reception desk, it’s all automated now. We have a restaurant booking system set up too, so bookings just turn up, they flow through to our point of sale system. 

Being able to measure that, it’s awesome. My parents didn’t have much faith in the tech side of things before, but now that they’ve seen the huge impact this has all had on the bottom line of the business, they’re happy for me to go ahead and do it – they can see the amazing outcomes it is continuing to make. We can see it’s working.

Would you recommend others who run their own businesses to do this course with Academy Xi?

Absolutely – I’ve already sent three business owners I know to check out Digital Marketing training at Academy Xi and I recommend it to anyone who needs digital marketing in their business, which let’s face it, is nearly every business. 

For small business owners to get their head into it and to understand digital marketing, whether they want to actually do it themselves or not, I totally recommend this training. It has been so helpful.

Planning a visit to Wallerawang? 

Want to ramp up your digital marketing efforts quickly, like Brad did? Check out Academy Xi’s Digital Marketing: Elevate and Digital Marketing: Transform courses.