The biggest challenge any business owner faces is attracting new customers in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible. Advertising and marketing, and yes there is a difference, can be two of the most frustrating, time consuming and expensive functions for any business.
Despite the importance, a large number of business people are not well schooled in the art of marketing and end up wasting large sums of money due to the perception that the more you spend on advertising the better the response will be.
Although big dollar marketing campaigns can certainly produce big results, ironically some of the most effective marketing strategies are absolutely free. Every businessperson knows the incredible value that comes with a personal referral from an existing customer. There is simply no better lead. And almost all successful companies have a referral program in place.
But in reality all advertising, whether radio, television, print or even internet is in fact referring. The advertisement is referring the viewer or listener to your business. The problem is people know it’s you doing the referring so the message loses impact. This loss of impact comes from the impersonal connection most advertising suffers with. Consumers want to feel connected to the businesses and the people they trade with. Traditional ads simply don’t make the connection.
Sure commercials can tell your story, but traditional advertising can only deliver a one sided, impersonal message. On the other hand when people learn of your firm through by way of some they know they experience an immediate bond with you. This is why personal endorsements from radio and television personalities are so much more effective than recorded spots.
The fact is people that are looking for your products or services are more likely to do business with you if they feel more connected to you – And in tough economic times it makes more sense than ever to put the following proven strategies to work in growing your firm:
The single most powerful, low cost marketing strategy available to any business owner, after publicity is to speak in public. You may not like it, you may not be good at it, but it works and you need to “man up” and do it!
Every day, in every city in America, dozens of business and civic groups meet. They all need speakers and would love to hear from you. Most are populated with people with connections and influence. A single Kiwanis or Optimist club meeting can provide more opportunities than a series of expensive ads.
If your uncomfortable speaking in public join a Toastmasters group. These groups will cost you about $50 a year to join and the chapters themselves are full of connected business people. Offer a “how to” program to your local Lowes or Home Depot store. Call you community college or favorite church and ask about providing a weekend or evening class on carpentry or remodeling.
Join local networking groups. Many national groups such Business Network International exist for the sole purpose of exchanging leads. But don’t stop with the formal groups, you need to look for smaller local groups and make networking a daily practice.
Seek strategic alliance relationships. Also known as horizontal marketing, a strategic alliance is nothing more than agreeing to recommend other service providers to your clients and vice versa. Does your company repair foundations? Then pair up with a pest control company, a plumber, and a HVAC contractor. All three of these industries are in front of your prospects every day. Teach them what to look out for and agree to do the same. You might even create a home services brochure, where each one of you has a dedicated page in the brochure and you split the cost and distribute the brochures to all of your customers. This one strategy alone allows you to exponentially expand your prospect base.
Create a monthly newsletter. Give all your customers a free “subscription” and every month offer tips, updates, discounts and ask they pass the newsletter on to family, friends, and co-workers. Every computer has a pre-installed newsletter template. Use it!
Put your picture on your business card. It’s proven that people will keep a card longer and tend to be more responsive when they can put a face with the company. The picture also helps people recall you after a networking event. And while you’re at it use both sides of the card. The reverse side of the card can be used for client testimonials or detailed product information.
Put pictures of you, your staff, satisfied customers (With their permission) and facility on your website.
When a prospect calls to schedule an appointment mail them a confirmation letter and if possible, a list of customers in their area.
After completing a job, mail a thank you card and include a form asking the customer to refer three people that could use your services. Ask for name, address and phone number. Include a pre-stamped return envelope and you might be surprised at the response.
Perform the occasional free service. Years ago I had a flat tire and took it to a local mechanic. Knowing I had never been to him before and understanding the potential lifetime value of my business, the mechanic did not charge me for the $7.00 repair. In return I gave him over $8000.00 in business until I moved ten years later.
This is a short list of low cost and in some cases no cost marketing strategies. There are dozens more unique, creative ways to establish a relationship with both your customers and prospects. The hyper information world we live in today provides some very powerful ways to get your message heard by the people most likely to do business with you. But no matter how glitzy, fast, or expensive your current marketing strategy is, in the end the people most likely to do business with you are the ones that feel they can trust you – and no amount of advertising can ever replace the personal touch.