"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."