Q: For more than 35 years, my family has operated a funeral home. We offer various services besides at-need funerals such as life insurance, estate planning, referrals for grief counseling. In addition, our community is changing. Therefore, many people are moving away and new families are relocating here that we just haven't been able to reach. How do we reach these new residents, and how can we grow our business beyond funeral services?
A: One of the best ways to let people know who you are, what you do and how you can help them-before they need you-is to position yourself as an expert in the wide variety of subjects that are related to your business. Here are some ways to do that:
Are you noticing new trends in your industry? For example, are more people pre-arranging funerals? Are you seeing an increase in the number of cremations? Are baby boomers arranging unusual funeral services that are more "celebrations" than they are sad occasions? Let newspaper reporters know about new trends. They'll probably quote you as the source.
To target new families, contact your local welcome wagon or a similar service that welcomes people into the community. Use fliers to let them know about the other things you do. Send them a free gift, even if it's just a wallet card with "10 tips on how to determine how much life insurance you need."
If you're willing to do the work yourself, you can get a list of all recent real estate transactions from your county recorder's office. Once you have a list of people who have just bought houses, you can send them a "welcome to our community" letter and include a list of some of the services you offer.
Create strategic alliances in your community with other professionals who deal with the topic of death, such as attorneys.
Get on the public speaking circuit. Many baby boomers are struggling as they try to deal with their aging parents. What topic can you talk about that will make their load a little lighter?
Offer to teach a class for children or adults-or separate classes for each-on how to deal with the grief associated with the loss of their family members, friends and pets. Try sponsoring this in conjunction with your local humane society or mental health center. Even though you deal with the death of people-not pets-it's one more way for people to know who you are and how you can help them.
Get actively involved in Rotary, Kiwanis and the chamber of commerce. Call your chamber and offer to be a volunteer ambassador. These are the people who represent the chamber at events such as ribbon-cuttings, ground-breakings and check-passings. You'll get your photo in your weekly newspaper and the free weekly shoppers.
Produce a program or an entire series of programs about death and grief on your cable TV station's public access channel. Airtime is free. You pay a nominal amount to rent the camera equipment. Recruit someone to interview you about topics in which you're an expert.
Make sure your public relations efforts are ongoing. You'll know you're succeeding when people start to say, "You know, I see your name everywhere."
Joan Stewart, a media relations consultant and professional speaker and trainer, works with companies that want to use the media to establish their expertise, enhance their credibility and position themselves as the employer of choice. She also publishes The Publicity Hound, a bimonthly print newsletter featuring "tips, tricks and tools for free (or really cheap) publicity," as well as tips booklets on how to find and keep valuable employees. Visit www.publicityhound.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.