One of the last major steps in launching a new venture entails planning and implementing effective ways to promote your business to others. The goal is to let potential customers know that you and your business exist.
Although different types of businesses require somewhat different approaches, the most cost-effective ways of promoting most new products and services include the well-known basics: fliers, direct-mail letters and brochures, Yellow Pages listings, telephone calls and newspaper advertisements. Door-to-door visits and personal appearances at seminars, trade shows and local events can also be quite effective.
One key to successfully promoting your offerings is to stress the benefits of your new product or service, rather than focusing exclusively on its features. It is essential to show potential customers how your products or services will solve their problems or fill their needs. It is also important to point out why your offerings are superior to those of your competitors. Another key is to design coupons, fliers and advertisements, and place them in different media outlets with unique identifying symbols or codes, so you'll know which channels are bringing you the greatest success with members of your target market.
Adequately promoting your offerings involves strategic planning, aggressive thinking, and bold, innovative approaches. Here's how our Starting Smart entrepreneurs got the word out about their new businesses.
A business writer for the past eight years, Kylo-Patrick Hart has run a successful homebased consulting business since 1989.
Lets Go Party
"To let people know about my party-planning and catering service," explains Marian Fletcher, 55, whose Baltimore-based business is now in its third year, "I organized and catered a number of events for different organizations at cost, so they could see the quality of my work and taste my delicious food. I knew that once they realized what I could do, I would be able to get additional work from them in the future, at my regular price. Most of the clients I got during those first few months are still my clients today."
Because Fletcher had been doing party planning for a local restaurant owner before his restaurant went out of business, she knew just where to turn in her search for quality customers. "I knew the clients from the restaurant, and I had a sense of which ones could get me the greatest number of customers for my new business, based on the organizations they belonged to and the people they knew. I contacted them and sent the organizations they belonged to an invitation to taste my food at cost. All they had to do was provide me with the date of an upcoming event and the number of people who would be attending, and I took care of the rest. The only thing they really ended up paying for was the cost of the food itself, not for preparation time, delivery or service."
Fletcher says that although initially pricing her offerings so low to drum up business may seem risky to some, she was sure the strategy would pay off in the end. "I just knew I would get additional work from the people I did those early jobs for," she says. "For example, I did one job for a community organization that I knew held five big affairs per year, and it led to my catering three of their meetings when the mayor of Baltimore was in attendance." Today, some of the organiza-tion's members hire Fletcher to plan and cater their own individual events, and she says even the mayor has referred clients to her.
Fletcher also did a number of other things to get the word out about her new business. "I sent out little cards announcing my opening," she says. "I printed up 3,000 fliers and hired a gentleman to pass them out on people's doorsteps around the city. I purchased magnetic signs, featuring my company's name and telephone number, for the sides of my car. And I asked satisfied clients to share their impressions with others through word-of-mouth."
Vic and Suzette Brounsuzian
Like Fletcher, Vic and Suzette Brounsuzian felt it was important to get samples of their product to the public in order to win loyal customers. After opening a small nut shop in late 1995, the couple provided samples of their dry-roasted walnuts, pecans, filberts and other varieties of nuts to customers in their community of Streamwood, Illinois.
"We worked out an arrangement by which our bank's employees would hand out free samples of our product to their walk-in clients," explains Vic, 45. "We made up small packets containing a mixture of our nuts, labeled with our store name and information, and left a huge basket of them behind the bank's counter for distribution." For its participation, the bank received the goodwill of the customers who received a free gift, while keeping a business client happy.
"The tellers were very gracious about telling their customers that the small gift was provided by Meg-A-Nut, a new store which had just opened up across the street," says Vic. "Many of the recipients walked across to our shop and asked about purchasing more of the nuts they'd just sampled. We definitely got the word out about our business that way, and it proved to be quite effective at generating additional sales."
The Brounsuzians also held an official grand-opening celebration at their store a few weeks after they opened for business. "We decided to work all of the kinks out of our operation first, before hosting the big event," Vic says. "Because ours was a new business in Streamwood, one of the local newspapers did a write-up about our grand opening, which brought in a lot of customers. I also placed a newspaper advertisement promoting the grand-opening celebration."
While most of the nuts sold in America today are fried, one key to the Brounsuzians' success is that they dry-roast their nuts instead, producing a healthier product much lower in fat and cholesterol. Informing potential customers of this distinct product benefit became the primary focus of the couple's earliest promotional efforts, and has remained so to this day. As their customer base continued to grow, the Brounsuzians placed additional ads promoting their offerings, including a four-week ad with another newspaper and coupons in a local bimonthly direct-mail coupon pack.
"Advertising is important, but the best promotion of all is word-of-mouth referrals," Vic believes. "That's why we always have a fully stocked sampler plate in our store, so visitors can sample our products and tell others about the delicious taste. That's also why we rented a booth at Streamwood's annual fair, so potential customers could taste our quality product firsthand. We believe in doing everything we can possibly do to get our product and our name out there."
Proudfoot Wearable Art
"My first promotional efforts simply involved presenting my items at crafts shows, posting some fliers, and hoping for word-of-mouth referrals," states Judy Proudfoot, 45, who has been designing and selling handpainted T-shirts and other clothing items at crafts shows and shops since May of 1995. Working out of her Alexandria, Minnesota home, Proudfoot uses a unique watercolor method with acrylic paints to create wearable works of art.
"I created some fliers and posted them at local grocery stores, providing my name, telephone number, and the types of clothing items I offer," Proudfoot explains. "I really believe in the value of fliers. There are other ways to go about promoting your offerings, but not if you don't have a lot of money to spend. I also found out how much advertising was being done by various crafts show promoters, to decide whether or not to participate in the shows; if they are inadequately promoted, that can either make or break my business in terms of sales."
Proudfoot also asked a local coffee shop owner if she could place a rack of her clothing items in the establishment. "I knew the more affluent members of our community go there," she says, "and I wanted to display my designs in a place frequented by people who could easily afford them."
Proudfoot keeps an eye out for unique opportunities to promote her clothing items. "Without paying a penny, I took part in an annual Christmas home tour, during which women visit historic houses," she says. To participate, she simply contacted her local chamber of commerce. "There were 18 homes open to the public, and I was in one of them, displaying and promoting my clothes."
10 Winning Promotions
1. Host an open house and invite the local media and residents to sample your product or service.
2. Distribute fliers door to door in your community, or on the windshields of cars in nearby parking lots.
3. Post eye-catching announcements about your offerings on bulletin boards and kiosks in heavily traveled areas. Be sure to include tear-off slips on the bottom of each announcement that include your business name, telephone number, and brief product description so interested individuals can easily take that information with them.
4. Purchase and display magnetic signs--with your business name, telephone number, logo and offerings information--on the sides of your car.
5. Invest in attractive business cards and letterhead that will convey a sense of professionalism.
6. Persuade established businesses in your area to distribute promotional literature about your product or service, or to make it available on their counters.
7. Create and distribute direct-mail postcards, letters or brochures highlighting the benefits of your offerings.
8. Take out an ad in the Yellow Pages of your local telephone book.
9. Send a press release to local media outlets in hopes that they will do a story about your business for free. Stress a unique product feature or service advantage so that editors will view the story as "news."
10. Encourage satisfied customers to share their experiences and pass your name along to others.
Let's Go Party LLC, 4531 Manorview Rd., Baltimore, MD 21229, (410) 624-0584.
Meg-A-Nut Inc., 1574 Buttitta Dr., Streamwood, IL 60107, (630) 837-2551.
Proudfoot Wearable Art, 1402 Bridgeport Ln., Alexandria, MN 56308, (320) 763-4904.