Kim T. Gordon, our Marketing Expert, answers a question about starting, running or growing your business.
Question: Because I love children and noticed a lot of children in my school district live out of the area, so are unable to take advantage of local busing, I decided to start The Kiddie Cab Company. How do I maximize the benefits of what I have to offer? I've already registered my trade name, but other than posting fliers in our small but affluent town, I don't know how to get started. What's next?
Durham, New Hampshire
Answer: This is a great time to begin a full-fledged sales and marketing effort to win the customers you'll need when school begins next fall. Like most local consumer service businesses, the outcome of your efforts depends on the success of a grassroots visibility program. And because you're asking parents to trust you with the safety of their children, you must cultivate an appropriate public image and campaign hard to win their confidence.
Start by making the overall appearance of your vehicle appealing to your affluent prospects and place prominent signage on the sides and rear. Each time someone sees your bus or van, it should be immediately clear what you offer and how they can contact you. When you're ready, try these ideas for building visibility:
1. Participate in outdoor neighborhood fairs and events. Decorate your vehicle with balloons and park it in a good spot where you can offer entertainment, such as face painting, for the children.
2. Fill your bus with happy children and drive it in the local Fourth of July parade.
3. When local schools have special events like plays or recitals, buy space or provide a service in exchange for ads in their programs.
4. Sponsor neighborhood sports teams, such as Little League and soccer. But don't just send money-serve refreshments and network with parents at the events while showing support for the teams.
5. Join local PTAs and actively seek opportunities to make presentations on school transportation safety issues.
6. Build relationships with school and local officials and obtain written endorsements you can use in your handouts and other marketing materials.
With your grassroots visibility program well underway, add traditional marketing tactics to support your company launch, such as direct mail to households with children of the appropriate age in the targeted ZIP codes. Visit a major public library and use the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS) directory, the Direct Mail List Source, to find the highest quality list at the best rates. Then mail to the prospects on that list at least three times between now and the start of the next school year. Create a unified theme for your direct mail campaign, and modify your offer or incentive on each successive piece to build urgency and encourage parents to sign up.
Kim T. Gordon is a nationally recognized expert on home business success. She is the author of two books, including her newest, Bringing Home the Business: The 30 Truths Every Home Business Owner Must Know, a top-rated speaker and an Entrepreneur magazine columnist. For more how-to's, advice and a book excerpt, visit www.smallbusinessnow.com.