Q: I am the president and CEO of a residential and commercial cleaning service that I started last year, and so far I have eight continuous clients who I got by word-of-mouth. How can I narrow my target audience to attract new clients?
A: Let's begin with the idea of "narrowing" your target audience. Theoretically, since your cleaning service is currently both residential and commercial, your target currently includes everyone in your local area. So your first decision is how to limit yourself geographically. I suggest that you focus your energies on only one section of your city and then expand your selected zone as finances, organizational skills and available manpower permit. Choose a specific section of the city and focus your efforts there.
Your second choice is whether to target residential or commercial accounts. Due to the specific nature of the marketing challenge you face, my suggestion is that you go after commercial business.
Advertising costs in the major cities are extraordinarily expensive, so traditional mass media--television, radio, newspaper, outdoor--is usually out of the question. You simply don't have the money.
This brings me to the good news and the bad news, which, interestingly, are one and the same: Time and money are interchangeable. You can always save one by spending more of the other. In other words, your ad budget is going to be measured more in shoe leather than in dollars. You, or someone you hire, will have to march into the front doors of the businesses in your targeted trade area and deliver a business card attached to a memorable and useful novelty, such as a little dust pan/whisk broom combination in which the whisk broom snaps into the dust pan for easy storage. There are a thousand such novelties that can be purchased and imprinted with a message, such as "Please call us to do your cleaning," and your business's phone number. Just type "advertising novelties" into any search engine, and you'll find several companies anxious to help you.
The phone number on both the business card and the novelty gift should ring a cell phone that you are prepared to answer 24 hours a day. There are two reasons for this: The first is because you are a service company, and no single statement communicates a stronger commitment to service. Second, when you drop off the novelty and business card to the receptionist and ask him or her to "please give it to the operations manager or other person in charge of making sure the office is clean," that phone is often going to ring before you have traveled very far, meaning that you just happened to catch someone who had been thinking about hiring a company such as yours, but hadn't quite gotten around to it. When that cell phone rings, you need to be able to pop right back in and seal the deal.
This strategy is ancient, tested and reliable. The only way it can fail is if you don't walk in enough doors. Do you have the discipline to walk into 50 new businesses every day? If you do this faithfully, you will have called on 250 businesses at the end of a week, 1,000 in a month, and your business will easily have doubled from its current size of "eight continuous clients."
The only other thing you need is to post a super-simple Web page online that tells about your company. Be sure your Web page includes your city name, as well as the words "24 hours," "commercial cleaning" and the name of the area you have targeted. The electronic spiders sent out by the search engines will soon find your Web page, and your name will pop up when someone in your area is searching online for a cleaning service. Yes, the search engines are rapidly replacing the Yellow Pages. I do not suggest that you buy an ad in the Yellow Pages at this time.
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.