From the February 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

Q: I'm a personal trainer, and I send out a postcard to promote my services to people in my city who make $75,000 or more per year. Any suggestions on improving it?

A: First of all, let me say that your unusual oblong postcard is a great way to stand out in the mailbox. I'm sure you have to pay a little extra postage for those extra inches, but they're worth it to have a nonconforming format amid the other mail pieces prospects receive each day. And although I think your piece makes many of the right points about your services, you may be missing an important ingredient for this particular kind of sell: pressing the hot buttons of would-be clients.

Weight loss and body image are very sensitive issues for a large segment of the population. The unceasing avalanche of weight-reduction books, programs and paraphernalia are proof of the near obsession we have with shedding extra pounds and the psychological side effects they may cause. So my recommendation would be to fashion a headline that identifies the problems the prospect lives with and then present the services of you, the personal trainer, as the solution.

To that end, I would have a good-sized headline lead-in that asks these three questions: "Weight loss hit a plateau? Depressed by constant backslides? Not losing in the right places?" This would then be followed by the headline "Experience a Fitness Breakthrough With Your Own Personal Trainer!" The word "breakthrough" is an important one here because it suggests finally penetrating a previous barrier. Then comes a subhead explaining "You don't need to be a movie star to afford it!"

And since you ask that the prospect come to your facility, it's important to emphasize that these are private, one-on-one sessions and that the prospect will receive all your attention.

These ideas should help you communicate the benefits and advantages of your services all the better on your postcard.

Q: I am selling my services as a professional organizer. I have placed two ads in a family magazine and received some calls. My advertising budget is small. What other things can I do to generate business?

A: First, I think you need to inform the many people who don't know that clutter taming exists as a service and that a clutter tamer is in their midst!

How best to do that? I'd start by canvassing the community for speaking engagements--otherwise known as "free" advertising opportunities--such as PTA meetings, monthly association meetings and so on. You can also solicit hardware and home centers, offering to provide a free personal organization class on their premises as a traffic builder. In return, you get to pass out your brochures or business cards.

At these sessions, you could give away some of your secrets to whet the appetites of prospects and make credible the idea that someone like you offers organization skills and efficiency they simply don't have on their own--and that the result would be less stress, less mess and a simpler, more streamlined lifestyle.

You could also sponsor a "Worst-Mess-Gets-a-Makeover" contest wherever you speak. You would only have to select one winner, but all the entrants would be potential clients. I also think it's important to give away a few secrets in any further advertising you do, for the same reasons stated above. Finally, I'd pitch local newspapers on doing a piece about you and your skill and business . . . again, with the promise of giving away some valuable tips to readers.

Q: You're always recommending the use of testimonials in advertising. I'm convinced it's the way to go. But what's the best way to solicit them? Are there specific questions I should ask to get the kind of responses I can use?

A: Most clients and satisfied customers would be happy to tell you how they feel about your product. And, lets face it, their comments would mean a lot more to prospects than anything you could say.

One client of mine sends satisfied customers a questionnaire and five of those oddball $2 bills (yes, they're legal tender) as an incentive to respond with a few kind words. A bribe? Maybe a little. But few who were dissatisfied with his services could be "bought" for $10 to say something positive. So, the $10 in an eye-catching denomination is more like laying a little guilt trip on someone to take the desired action.

A colleague of mine recommends devising a "Customer Satisfaction Survey" for capturing the testimonial. It would have three or four questions such as:

  • What do you especially like or enjoy about our product or service?
  • How do you think we could improve our product or service?
  • Would you recommend our product or service to a friend?
  • Why or why not?

And, finally, you could ask "Would you mind if I shared some of your thoughts with others who might be interested in doing business with us?" Most people say yes.

You'll notice the survey includes questions that give people a chance to complain as well. This is important because if you only ask for good comments, your satisfaction survey won't sound credible. Plus, you just might learn something valuable from the negative comments that will improve sales--and profits.

Q: What are your thoughts about having boxes around newspaper ads? It seems as if all of the newspapers in my area have boxes around their ads. To me, this makes everybody's ad look the same.

A: I think you're obsessing over the wrong thing. Whether an ad is framed in a thin, thick, dotted, dashed or any other form of line is almost inconsequential compared to the power of the headline, the salesmanship of the copy, and the offer you make to get the prospect to respond.

That said, let's discuss how a little bit of border creativity can help an ad. If you're running a small ad and are strapped for space to make a sales pitch plus identify all your wares, you can make the border a wrap-around line of small-size type naming your products or services, with bullet points separating the items. You can also use a border to make the graphics within the ad pop out more. Simply shrink the border away from the perimeter of the ad by about one-eighth of an inch and then have one or more visual elements within the borders jut across the lines to the boundary of the ad space. Thus, by breaking the "plane" of the ad, you can make a small ad look a little more dramatic than the other ads around it.

Finally, to repeat, the message of the ad is far more important than the cosmetics. Or, put another way, it's brains over beauty every time. The design of an ad should make it inviting to read, not dress it up to show off its use of some fancy-schmancy typeface or irrelevantly brilliant graphic.


Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2445 McCabe Way, Irvine, CA 92614, or contact Jerry via America Online at Jerry228@aol.com