Eager to expand your client base and spread the word about your products and services? Wondering if you should even bother with marketing programs if you don't have thousands of dollars to spend?
The answer, of course, is yes. It's financially riskier for a business not to market. And there are literally hundreds of cost-effective ideas you can use to increase your revenue. Here are five high-impact marketing approaches that don't cost a bundle and that can work for virtually every business.
1. Talk to your clients. It's amazing how much money businesses spend to gather market information and attract new clients when they have a wealth of opportunity and information in their existing client base. One of the best ways to increase revenue is to talk to existing customers. Ideally, this should be done by someone outside your company so clients are willing to be honest and open.
When you assess perceptions, you don't need to talk to hundreds of individuals; simply choose 5 to ten clients and contact them to ask if they'd participate in a phone interview. Here's how it works:
1. Send a letter asking permission to have someone contact them about your company.
2. Have the interviewer call and ask value-based questions such as:
- What problems were you trying to solve or what challenges were you facing when you considered the services of Company ABC?
- How important were Company ABC's services in solving your problems or addressing your challenges?
- What did you value most about this company's work?
- What other products or services do you wish they offered that could help you with other business challenges?
3. After all the interviews have been conducted, compile the information to discover trends and themes.
4. Send a thank-you letter to every client who participated. Include key lessons from the interviews and explain the specific changes you plan to make to your business based on this information.
The important part here is to use what you learn. If you don't make changes to your business, then you've wasted everyone's time. One company that recently did this tripled its business in one year-the owners learned what people wanted, how their solution made a difference, how to present it, and how to price it, and then proceeded to make changes that improved those areas.
Keys to success: The conversation with your customers is just that, a conversation. Don't fire questions at them; instead, have the interviewer engage in a conversation and gather as much valuable data as you can. Remember, it's not about how satisfied they are-it's about how much they valued your product or service.
2. Creatively package your marketing campaigns. A postcard is one way to market your business. But how about putting a small box together with a fork, knife, spoon and a custom printed napkin that invites your prospect to "have lunch on us?" Think outside the box, and your marketing campaigns will have more impact.
And don't be afraid to see what other people in other industries are doing and adapt that to your business. Think about the little details that will get attention. I once did a marketing program to the food industry that had a brochure vacuum-sealed in the same plastic used to wrap bacon. The same piece sent to technology companies used static shield envelopes. This campaign earned 96% recognition when follow-up calls were placed.
Keys to success: Set a clear objective for your marketing campaign, and identify how you'll measure its success. Then follow up to measure the results and adjust the program if necessary.
3. Get the word out with publicity. Think you can't do PR or publicity without employing the services of a high-priced firm? You can! Although a good firm brings tremendous contacts and experience, most small companies can do enough PR on their own to spark the public's interest. One great resource for the media unsavvy comes from Shock PR, a Holliston, Massachusetts-based public relations firm. Their product, PR in a Box, delivers templates, tips and step-by-step instructions on how to prepare releases and pitch stories that will intrigue the media.
Keys to success: In one word, leverage. Though it does happen, don't expect one story placement to generate thousands in revenue. Your success depends on leveraging each press release, each article and each published mention. Put it all on your Web site: Create a news page and add a What's New area on your home page. Add it to your marketing kit and send the piece to clients, colleagues and professional organizations. Include a note in your newsletter that says 'Recently Seen In...' And remember: PR is more cost-effective and more credible than advertising.
4. Leverage existing relationships. Most people know at least 200 people. Do the math: If you know 200 people and they each know 200 people, that's 40,000 potential contacts! Spend time developing relationships with the people you already know-clients, colleagues, people you meet through professional networking organizations, friends and even family.
Start by making a list of all the people you know. Next, prioritize your list into As, Bs and Cs. As are your advocates. These are the people who feel strongly about you. They're the "cheerleaders" who would refer business to you right now. Bs could become advocates if they knew more about you, so you need to spend time with these people to educate them. Cs are those people you don't communicate with often enough. You may keep them in the loop, but they need more time and nurturing before they'd refer any business your way. If there are any names that remain, delete them.
Keys to success: Educate, don't sell. The key here is to build relationships. These develop over time as you create credibility and trust. To be truly effective, you must always be on the lookout for ways you can help your network. Start from the perspective of giving more than you ask, and your network will become your most valuable marketing tool.
5. Commit to e-mail marketing. Marketing through e-mail is flexible, cost-effective, easy to measure (assuming you put the right tracking in place), and high impact. It allows you to easily drive traffic to your Web site, reach a broad geographic audience and stay in frequent contact with your customers and prospects. E-mail marketing allows you to market your services and establish your expertise with your audience.
Use it for newsletters, new product announcements or to share your publicity success-the ideas are endless. But know that this flexibility and ease-of-use can cause problems. Remember, this is a marketing campaign. So be sure to think it through, develop an appropriate message, create a piece that reflects your brand, know your objectives, and make sure the information is valuable for your market, or people will quickly unsubscribe.
Keys to success: Don't be seen as a "spammer"! Send e-mail only to those people who have given permission. When someone asks to be removed, respond immediately.
Susan LaPlante-Dube is president of Precision Marketing Group in Upton, Massachusetts, where she focuses on creating customized marketing solutions that deliver solid business results for organizations ranging from solo practitioners to Fortune 500 companies. To sign up for Susan's "Matters of Marketing" newsletter, or to learn more, visit www.precisionmarketinggroup.com.