Q: I'm a business owner who doesn't accept credit cards. How can I make customers comfortable about sending their money to an online business they're not familiar with?
A: Many successful Web merchants, whether they're in the start-up phase or already established, don't offer the option of paying by credit card. In fact, Lucille Birkholtz and Sandra Neuberger of Willow Lake, South Dakota, who operate Specially for You, selling custom clothing for people with physical disabilities, tell us their customers actually prefer sending checks rather than ordering with a credit card.
Credibility, of course, is key--anything that conveys the integrity of your company and product is important. Prominently including your company's name, street address, e-mail address and phone number on your site reassures visitors that you're accessible and aren't trying to hide who or where you are. Also post letters or quotes signed by real customers who include their names, locations and businesses. A satisfaction or money-back guarantee is most reassuring. And add anything to your site that conveys your reputation, background and expertise. Positive, personal and forthright communication without a lot of hype is important.
Fitting the Bill
Marketing to health-care practitioners
Q: I co-own a medical-billing service. Our primary way of marketing is to visit physicians and present information. Do you have other suggestions on how to promote a new business without spending too much?
A: Our interviews with owners of medical-billing services for the new edition of Best Home Businesses for the 21st Century (Tarcher) confirm that what you're doing is the best way to get started in this field. Most entrepreneurs begin by knocking on doors or telemarketing. You can also mail brochures and letters, and then follow up with a personal request for an appointment.
To reach more doctors, however, you should obtain referrals from other medical professionals. If you haven't already, ask your doctor and other health-care providers you know for referrals, or ask satisfied clients for the names of other medical professionals they know who might be interested in your services. You may also be able to get help from pharmaceutical sales representatives, who regularly see doctors in their offices. (However, expect to pay a commission to reps who mention your service.)
Also consider contacting marketing directors at local hospitals regarding their monthly staff meetings. After these meetings, hospitals often have a minitrade show so doctors can learn about new products and services. You could also offer hospitals an opportunity to include a discount on your services to new doctors who affiliate with the hospital. Another option: Contact the local medical society about offering a discount to its members.
And don't limit your marketing contacts to medical doctors. While managed health care has decreased the number of claims being filed by physicians who contract with HMOs, opportunities have arisen to serve a wide range of other health-care practitioners, such as acupuncturists, dentists, chiropractors, commercial ambulance services, home nursing services, massage therapists, nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, optometrists, osteopaths, physical therapists, physician assistants, podiatrists, psychologists, and respiratory and speech therapists.
After you've made initial contact with prospective clients, follow up by phone to see whether you can provide additional information. Then send periodic reminders in the form of timely tips and useful information via postcards, fliers or newsletters.
If you have a question regarding a start-up business issue,
contact Paul and Sarah Edwards at http://www.paulandsarah.com.