Q: I live in an apartment complex and am getting ready to start up my business again after putting it on hold for several months. I'm in the tax-preparation business, and I am also currently studying accounting. Besides advertising, how else can I attract customers?

A: This is by far one of the most common questions I receive. Working from home presents a unique challenge in the way of marketing and sales-it's not like you have a storefront to attract customers. Even if you have an online presence, self-promotion is tricky for homebased entrepreneurs, no matter how you look at it. Promoting your homebased business means letting people know what you can do for them in a way that will make them not only try your service, but also come back and provide you with repeat business as well as tell their family and friends about you.

As such, advertising is just one method of self-promotion. Don't forget about marketing and public relations. And all three of these things have various subsets-networking, direct mail, press releases, a logo and generating word-of-mouth, to name a few. Basically, you have to try a combination of strategies and find out what works. You'll know what works when you start bringing in clients, those clients start bringing in clients, and so on until all the sudden you're running a growing, thriving homebased business.

Before you get there, though, you have to research whether there's a market for your services. If there isn't, you won't get any business, no matter how well you think you've planned out your marketing campaign. Actually, part of that planning means finding out whether you've got a target market waiting for your services, so make that your first priority. You've indicated that you're relaunching this business after a hiatus; is there a reason you put business on hold for a while? Did you have trouble finding customers? Or did you have potential customers, but you were you having trouble successfully promoting your business to them? What strategies, if any, did you use before? What worked and what didn't? Let the answers to those questions guide you as you launch a new marketing campaign.

If you haven't yet figured out whether there's a market for your services, here are three simple ways to find out:

1. Talk to the competition. Are there others in your area providing similar services? Look closely at their offerings. Are they successful? Can you offer something they can't? What kinds of marketing tactics are they using?

2. Talk to your prospects. Once you've talked to your competition and figured out why you're better, go to businesses and individuals to find out whether they would use your services. Tell them exactly what you're offering, and pay attention to their reactions. Find out whether there's anything else you could offer to meet their needs. This is most effective if done in person, since your prospects won't need to mail anything back to you, and you'll get an immediate response to your questions. As an incentive, you could offer a prize or discount on services to those who complete your survey.

3. Attend a trade show or expo. Trade shows are a great place to network and collect business cards and can help you locate prospects.

The information you gather from these three market research methods will provide you with a foundation on which to build your marketing campaign. Entrepreneur.com's Sales & Marketing channel has dozens of resources to help you build your business, including a step-by-step guide to writing a marketing plan. Just remember to constantly assess your marketing tactics to determine whether they're working, and don't ever be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

 


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.