When you're starting out in business, the most effective and least expensive way to market yourself is by word of mouth--your mouth.
"Even if you can't afford to do any marketing," says Pamela Truax, co-author of Market Smarter, Not Harder (Kendall/Hunt Publishing, $29.95, 800-228-0810), "you can promote your business by getting out and talking to people."
For Truax, the most important speaking opportunity is the "elevator speech"--what you say at mixers and networking opportunities when people ask what you do. Like any good speech, it requires preparation.
A successful self-introduction follows these steps:
- Let the other person talk first. If you express interest in others, they'll be more receptive to what you say. You can then tailor your comments to their concerns.
- Cite the benefits--to the listener--of your product or service. The most appealing benefits are saving time, money or effort.
- Hand out your business card.
- Prove your claim with statistics or a testimonial. "My product saved ABC Co. $25,000 in six months." "The director of sales at XYZ Co. credits my training program with improving her department's performance by 10 percent over a two-year period." Be specific, concrete and honest.
From start to finish, your self-introduction should last no more than a minute. Your goal is to inform and arouse interest, not to give an exhaustive (and exhausting) infomercial. Be prepared to say more if someone expresses interest.
Join The Club
Speaking to clubs, civic groups and nonprofit organizations is another way to promote your business. Each time you speak, you meet potential customers, network with professionals, establish credibility and gain free publicity. (Clubs such as the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions are always looking for good speakers.)
Rich Manuccia had been a personal fitness trainer for 13 years when his business coach convinced him to give public presentations to attract new clients. In the past two years, he has spoken to several different groups: Kiwanis clubs, weight-management groups at community hospitals, a health fair and even a gathering of nuns.
"Few of the speaking engagements paid me anything," Manuccia says, "but they put me in front of potential clients and referral sources. People are still contacting me as a result of those talks."
At a speaking engagement, follow these steps:
- Be focused. Tell people how to do something--one thing.
- Slant your subject toward your audience. Keep the basic content the same, but tweak it 10 percent (usually by adapting your examples and stories to your audience). Examples: "How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off--A Program for Professionals Who Travel" (or "for the Confirmed Couch Potato," etc.).
- Be brief. Stay within the time limits your host suggests. If possible, speak for 15 to 20 minutes, then take questions from the floor.
- Be simple and direct without being simplistic. Tell stories and give examples.
- To get your speeches noticed, send press releases to local newspapers, trade journals and business publications.
Spread The Word
Once you feel confident about your presentation skills and your expertise in a particular field, consider speaking to professional organizations. Doing so has all the benefits of speaking to clubs and nonprofit organizations--and then some. It connects you with professionals in your field, establishes your credentials as an expert and generates free publicity.
Nancy Jensen, president of Medical Care Connections Inc. in San Diego, has built her medical public-relations company on the effectiveness of professional presentations in two ways.
First, she promotes the services of physicians and chiropractors by helping them give presentations to professionals in the workers' compensation field. "Insurance adjusters attend the seminars to keep up to date," says Jensen, "and in the process, become personally acquainted with the health-care provider who's giving the talk. These seminars are one of our most effective marketing tools."
Jensen also promotes her own business by speaking to professional organizations. As a result of a speech she made to a statewide convention of ambulatory-care-center administrators, she picked up a major new client. "It also gave me credibility and recognition as an expert," she says. "Now I get appointments with people who otherwise might not normally return my calls."
When you address a professional organization, you can speak longer--from 45 minutes to an hour--and in greater detail. Distribute handouts that highlight your central points, and be sure to include your name and phone number so people can contact you later. The same rules apply: Be focused, slant your talk to your audience and send out press releases.
You may not be able to afford a major marketing campaign, but you can't afford not to promote yourself and your business by speaking on your own behalf.
Here are some great places to practice your presentation skills:
- Join Toastmasters. Weekly meetings will get you on your feet and speaking in no time. With a mentor, a manual and a supportive environment, you will learn how to overcome anxiety, structure a speech, use gestures and vocal variety and speak persuasively. Toastmasters dues are $36 annually and $5 to $10 per meeting. Call (800) 993-7732 for the club nearest you.
- Take a Dale Carnegie course. The 12-session program teaches communication and human-relations skills. It can help you gain confidence before an audience and master the basics of effective speaking. The instructors and training are excellent, but the price tag is high ($1,075). Call (800) 231-5800 for more information.
For more help, check out these books:
- The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking, by Dale Carnegie (Pocketbooks, $6.99, 800-223-2348).
- How to Prepare, Stage, and Deliver Winning Presentations, by Thomas Leech (Amacom, $27.95, 800-262-9699).
- Would You Really Rather Die Than Give a Talk?, by Michael Egan (Amacom Books, $12.95, 800-262-9699).
- Secrets of Power Presentations, by William Hendricks, Micki Holliday, Recie Mobley and Kristy Steinbrecher (Career Press, $16.99, 800-CAREER-1).
Just For You:
Rest for success.
By Sean M. Lynden
Sleep: Everyone needs it, but most don't get it--until it's too late. By that time, you're beaten down by the latest virus traveling through the air, leaving you unproductive in your business and ornery at home.
"You can't ignore your sleep," warns Roger S. Smith, a sleep disorders specialist and consultant with the Stanford University Sleep Disorders Clinic in Palo Alto, California. "You need to put sleep somewhere in your strategic planning list."
But if you're wearing all the hats, working without a steady paycheck or pushing to meet deadlines, it's difficult to find the time to sleep more.
What often happens is this: The more stress you feel, the less you sleep. But the less you sleep, the more stress you feel. What can you do to break this vicious cycle?
1. Think long-term. Burning the midnight oil on occasion is fine, but if you consistently skimp on sleep, beware. You're racing on the fast track to burnout.
2. Make sleep a priority. Remember, good health and vitality--byproducts of a good sleep regimen--will give you an edge in the marketplace.
3. Determine your sleep needs. Smith advises that most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night to perform their best.
4. Manage your time. Take care of crisis situations before they happen. This way, you cut down on the various "surprise" activities that deprive you of sleep.
5. Focus on the benefits of a good night's rest. Having the energy to accomplish tasks efficiently and the enthusiasm to go the extra mile for your clients will help you take your business to the next level.
Remember, your sleep--or lack thereof--will either positively or negatively impact your bottom line. If you don't snooze, you'll inevitably lose.
Can You Manage?
By Patricia G. Pollack
Employers spent millions of dollars last year making restitution for violating wage and hour laws. Are you at risk? Maybe it's time to review how you pay your employees.
Confusion over employee compensation requirements can result in costly legal fiascoes. Here are answers to some of the most common compensation questions:
- If I pay an employee a salary, do I have to pay him or her overtime? Maybe. Executive, administrative and professional employees, including outside salespeople, are exempt from overtime pay requirements if they meet the qualifying factors set for each category by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If your employee's duties and responsibilities don't meet the FLSA requirements, the employee is not exempt and must be paid overtime wages.
- Do I have to pay my employees minimum wage? Not necessarily. With permission from the Department of Labor, there are several scenarios in which you may pay employees less than minimum wage. Retail, school or agricultural employers, for example, may pay full-time students 85 percent of the minimum wage; you can pay vocational education students, learners or apprentices 75 percent of the minimum wage. Employees with disabilities may be paid a subminimum wage based on their productivity and consistent with the prevailing wage in the local area. Finally, new employees younger than 20 years old may be paid an "opportunity wage" that's less than the minimum wage for the first 90 days of employment.
- Can I "round" my employee's time card? Rounding the minutes on an employee's time card to the nearest fractional hour is a common practice that makes it easier to calculate the total hours worked. For example, seven hours and 50 minutes may be rounded down to 7.75 hours, and seven hours and 55 minutes may be rounded up to eight hours. You may round the times as long as you're consistent and round equally at both the beginning and the end of shifts. Still, rounding down must not result in the nonexempt employee working more than one uncompensated hour per week.
The FLSA regulations are available from the U.S. Department of Labor. Call (202) 219-8743 or visit the Department of Labor's Web site at http://www.dol.gov for more information.
Rich Manuccia, 4489 North Ave., San Diego, CA 92116, (619) 295-6988
Medical Care Connections Inc., P.O. Box 60193, San Diego, CA 92166, firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger S. Smith,email@example.com
Pamela Traux, http://www.marketsmarter.com