This question came to our StrategyWerx Facebook page this week:
I opened my business a year ago and I’m really proud of my work. I have done everything myself – website, marketing – but I know something is missing and I don’t know what? I know my business is growing but I want more and faster but I don’t have the budget. I need like a little advice.
Hey – I love getting paid for advice, but before you spend any consulting dollars, let’s make sure you have covered all your basics.
This small business owner asking this question is in the service industry, and the advice offered here is suitable for any small business with a physical presence in a community. If your business has a local retail component and a wholesale component, much of the advice will apply as well. So let’s get started!
Make sure you have set a clear goal for three things:
- Total revenue
- Total customers
- Revenue per customer
One or two of these three goals is insufficient. In order to reach your revenue goal (which is typically the only goal new business owners set), you’ll need to manage two metrics carefully: the number of new customers you acquire and the amount of revenue you are generating from each customer.
Once you have set these three goals, break them down by month for the next 12 months. Then by week! Why? Because monitoring monthly lets too much time go by. What you want to do is measure your progress on each goal on a daily and weekly basis. Start each morning focused on how many new customers you plan to acquire that day and how many sales you plan to make each day.
Special note here to service providers. You probably think in terms of orders, which leads to waiting for the phone to ring. Don’t wait! Check in with customers to see if they need your service. Make sure you are thinking in terms of selling and not just in terms of taking orders – it will transform your business!
You must set aside time and dollars to promote your new business. Here’s a checklist of things to do and media to consider:
- Create your ads. That’s right – start this process before you contract with any advertiser or print a single postcard. Too often small business owners find an opportunity to run an ad, and they just slap something together to meet the deadline. Great promotion starts with great messages and graphics. Here’s your to-do list:
Work with an advertising professional (unless you are one). This person will help you create messages and images that effectively convey your brand and product or service offering.
Create two or three strong messages. Do all at the same time. Each message should be an excellent representation of your brand and value proposition. What does that mean? It means that when someone reads any one of your messages, they will say, “Yes! I know what they do and how they apply to me!”
Using those two or three messages, create an ad for each. Your goal is for the ads to look like a set, like a grouping that goes together. Colors, graphics, and voice should be entirely consistent. Think of a stylish person dressed up in three different outfits. Most people don’t go from grunge to preppy to faddish – they maintain a certain look even though the outfits themselves change. Your ads must too.
Once you have three ads that you are thrilled with, have them prepared in two different formats – a square format and a rectangular format. This will give you layout direction, because layouts can change dramatically when you change the geometry of an ad.
Finally, and this is very important, get the original art files that were used to create those ads. You paid for their creation, and you need all the original art. It will likely be in an Adobe AI or PSD format. Don’t settle for a “picture” of your ad (like a JPG, TIFF, or PNG). Get the artwork. Why? Because in some cases you can get layout assistance from the media you are advertising in, and sending them a copy of the art file is the best way to do it. Or at some point you may want to work with a different graphic designer, and you don’t want to pay them to start from scratch. Always ask for your original art files.
- Business Card. Your business card is a marketing device, and you should hand one to every person you encounter who is a reasonable target for your business (or who serves/knows reasonable targets of your business). Think of your business card as a mini-postcard. Make sure one side has your contact information – including an email address and website (and forget the firstname.lastname@example.org email address! Your email address needs to be personal in order to be effective. Nobody wants to send email to a generic recipient). The other side should be one of your messages – clear, visually appealing, and immediately motivating.
- Local Newspaper. Yes, people still read the newspaper, and advertising rates in most markets are extremely reasonable. The trick is to place an ad that’s large enough to be noticeable on the page, in a section of the paper that’s most likely to be read. If your paper has a local news or arts & entertainment section, these tend to get good readership because that information is not as readily available on the web, and their insertion rates tend to be a bit lower than the main section.
- Fliers. Put fliers everywhere you think your target customers may be shopping or visiting. Of course, fliers require permission from local governments or from private property owners, so take care of the details. Then, think about what you have to offer. Want to flier cars in a grocery store parking lot? Ask the grocery store if they will give permission in exchange for you putting their sale fliers in your packages or at your store in exchange. A less-annoying option for slightly more expense is a little car-handle door hanger. Of course, there’s no guarantee that some angry guy with a Mercedes won’t throw a fit, but don’t let that objection keep you from doing a legitimate flier program. Fliers have a very high ROI, so make sure your activity is legitimate and go take a walk.
- Postcards. Postcards are terrific for both mailing and handing out. I generally prefer postcards to brochures. People are very likely to read a postcard – particularly if it’s visually interesting and professionally printed. A brochure often gets dropped in a purse, only to be retrieved later with the crumpled tissues and gum wrappers. Your goal is to get that postcard back out of the purse and onto the desk, refrigerator, handed to the secretary, or saved in the menu drawer of your recipient.
- Social Media. Do not put your entire promotional fate in the hands of social media. You do need to use social media, but you don’t need to use every channel, nor do you use them all the same way. Social Media is a big topic. If you want to explore it in greater depth, I offer a video called “Change the Way You Think about Social Media.” You can read more about it here.
- Radio. Radio is still a terrific medium that is affordable in most markets. Even better, radio tends to be pretty targeted. Work with a media specialist in your market to determine the best station or mix of stations for your desired customers. Most radio stations will offer you assistance with writing your spot. Show them your advertising and core messages and work together to create something compelling.
- Yelp. If you haven’t already, claim or add your business on Yelp (https://biz.yelp.com). Ask your customers to please go and review you on Yelp. Yes, we’ve all read articles about bad experiences with bad reviews, but Yelp has a huge following and the news stories about negative reviews are overblown. Consumers have grown to trust Yelp, so get out there, earn your great reviews and start winning some new customers.
- Website: Make sure your website is up-to-date, professional, and filled with the kind of information that helps you gain trust: local public relations reports, testimonials from happy customers, specific information about who you are and where you are located. A website is an absolute necessity today, and customers judge you by the quality of your presentation. Are you thinking, “but I’m a retail store! They just need to come in anyway!” No matter. Today’s consumer wants to research you first on the web. Your website is now your first, most important impression, so manage it. Make sure you have an email opt-in prominently featured on your website! Because . . .
- Email Marketing. Email marketing continues to offer one of the highest ROIs in advertising and promotion. Yes, there’s a lot of SPAM out there, but there are also many legitimate, thoughtful business owners sending out information via email that is both wanted by and read by their target audience. Set up a database for managing customer contact information (or better yet, a CRM for managing all your customer data), and use email thoughtfully and effectively to build your business.
- Network network network! Join the local chamber of commerce, join a women/Latino/African Americans/under 40/or other special-interest-in-business group, a professional group, or a community service club. Get out there and meet people. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but the best way to become known locally is to get to know other business owners and community leaders. (Entrepreneur Magazine offers great advice for business networking in this article – http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/58210) .
- Collaborative Marketing. Consider other businesses in your area that serve the customers you serve. Approach business owners and, when you find one that is receptive, brainstorm ways to promote each-other’s business – it’s a win/win.
- Referral Incentives. Don’t just hope for referrals – motivate them! This calls for its own special handout (a postcard is good . . .) with details about what you offer when you get a referral. Offer a discount, points, or a small gift – just make it clear and compelling, and make the rewards immediate.
Did you notice that I said to reward when you get a referral – not just when you make a sale? You want to generate as many prospects as you can in order to eventually close new customers. If you want some help understanding the sales cycle, we offer another video that goes into depth on that topic here.
- Billboard Advertising. Billboards can be very effective – particularly for those who come up with an interesting and memorable message that can be absorbed while driving past at 60 mph.
- Car Magnets. Yes, I’m serious. For any business category but luxury (where this would backfire, pardon the pun), a promotion on your car tells a story everywhere you drive. Make sure your message can be absorbed in about 1 second though – because that’s all the time you may have!
- Phone Calls. Don’t be afraid to jump on that phone and promote your business! Nobody likes getting cold calls – and I don’t personally think they’re very effective unless you have a target audience of millions and a response rate of 1% will be meaningful. But call interested prospects and touch base with your customers. A phone call is one of the most personal ways to reach out and sell.
Now here’s the tricky part: You need to be doing (nearly) all these things, all the time. The process of building business awareness is slow, and you must layer on as many impressions as you can in as many places as your target customers are likely to see or hear them.Once you’re doing a bang-up job of promoting your business in these ways, you can consider other things, such as:
Google Ad Words
Starting a Blog
Creating a Groupon
Participating in a trade show
Or even . . . hiring a consultant
The majority of small business failures come down to a lack of sales related to lack of exposure. When people tell me they want to start a business, the first thing I ask is “what’s your sales and marketing plan?” They’re surprised, because they expect me to ask “what are you going to sell?”
Hey. We live in a world where Pet Rocks were once a phenomena. It’s not really about what you sell. It’s all about how you sell it.