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At Your Service

"Products tend to be more standardized than services," says Rick Crandall, author of Marketing Your Services: For People Who Hate to Sell (Select Press). "With a product, you're pretty much selling the same thing, whereas with a service, the [selling process] is customized almost every time. Services are intangible--people can't always see what they're getting." Fortunately, there are tangible steps to help you sell your service.

1. Make your service more palpable. Offering a package deal gives your service some semblance of a product. For example, providing legal advice for a year at a set fee may be more desirable to customers who are scared away by the prospect of open-ended billing.

2. Network in unique places. Don't rule out traffic school, bowling leagues, baseball games and other nonbusiness events as chances to share your story. Leisure activities provide a natural setting for networking and encourage relationship-building more often than the stiff introductions typical of most networking events.

3. Clip articles featuring your business or clients. Most of the value of publicity comes long after a news article is published. You may get several calls when the article actually runs, but you'll get many more if you distribute reprints later.

4. Do marketing test runs. Before you send out a mailing, run it by a few people. Before you commit to a Yellow Pages ad, test it on a flier. Before you go crazy with any ad, track your marketing results. For example, if you place ads in two different newspapers and find that one pulls 90 percent of the total response, you can cut your expenses while getting a similar response.

5. Have a system. Service providers in particular often get caught up in their work and neglect to market. It's a vicious circle: Because they don't market systematically, they see spotty results, so they don't market systematically. Set up a routine in which you send out letters, make calls or write ad headlines for an hour every morning or one day a week.

6. Write a letter to the editor. This is easy to do and provides prime exposure in the publications that your target audience reads.

7. When pitching publications, look for unusual photographs. Many times, media that cover service businesses are stuck with stale, sitting-at-the-desk photos reporters and photo editors have seen thousands of times. Seek something photogenic about your business, and strive for novel photos to distinguish you from the crowd.

8. Create a handout of handy tips. A landscaper could compile 10 ways to prepare a lawn for fall; a lawyer might list 10 ways to avoid going to court. Use these tips in seminars, brochures, ads or press releases. The tips establish your expertise; giving them away creates gratitude in potential customers.

9. Give an award to a member of your community. A landscaper could present awards for the best lawns in the neighborhood; an environmental consultant could present an award for the most environmentally sound business.

10. Hold seminars. Get together with other entrepreneurs whose services complement yours and market a series of seminars. A bonus to the group method: If you're not used to giving speeches, sharing the stage could calm your nerves.

11. Collect testimonials. People respond to testimonials from others in their industry or someone in their particular circumstance. Once you know a prospect's needs, you can whip out your file and share the testimonial that best mirrors his or her need.

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