Market Your Service Business on Any Budget

No matter what your budget, spreading the word about your local service business is within your power. All it takes is a little planning.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the June 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There's always more than one way to solve a marketing puzzle, and the tactics employed are often chosen based on the size of a company's budget. In this and the next two months, I'll take a single marketing challenge and show you ways to solve it at three budgetary levels. So whether you're bootstrapping or flush with funds, you'll see how creative thinking is at the heart of reaching every marketing goal.

The Challenge

This month's challenge is marketing a local service business. You have many options, such as directory advertising, radio, newspapers, cable TV, business publications, customer relationship management (CRM), networking, prospecting, Web sites, PR and events.

  • $60,000 to $100,000 budget: Displaying ads in phone directories is a definite must for service businesses, because that's where customers turn first when they have an immediate need for a service or product. Run a large ad toward the front of your section in the directory to make a strong showing.

For B2B marketers, direct mail will play a key role. For example, you can expect to spend about $20,000 to mail quarterly to 10,000 businesses, including production, printing and postage. But for consumer marketers who must reach larger lists, companies such as ADVO and Valpak offer more cost-effective marriage mail, or groups of coupons sent together. You can reach 250,000 households at one time with Valpak for less than $7,000. Tie your direct-mail efforts into your Web marketing by making additional information available on your site.

Radio and local cable TV advertising rates vary depending on the size of the market. You could run consumer campaigns twice yearly on New Orleans radio for about $30,000, or around $10,000 in Huntsville, Alabama. And you could run twice-yearly cable TV campaigns in Washington, DC, for about $30,000. If you target businesses, your radio campaign should air during business and news programming, and rather than cable TV, local business publications will be important advertising vehicles. Forty-six cities have a Business Journal in Minneapolis, for instance, running a quarter-page ad costs approximately $1,600, making marketing frequency affordable.

It's not uncommon for a quarter-page ad in a major metropolitan newspaper to cost $6,000. So two six-week runs could add up to prices as high as $72,000. A less-expensive option would be to test suburban papers, where the circulations and costs are lower.

All media should be supported by an ongoing referral program and a customer relationship program that includes mailings to current customers, satisfaction surveys and telephone contact. B2B marketers should add networking and sales prospecting tactics for a well-rounded effort.

  • $30,000 to $60,000 budget: With this budget, consumer marketers will have to replace most broadcast media with more affordable tactics, such as local shows and events, to generate leads in volume. Radio can be used economically by purchasing a special sponsorship on one station, or by targeting a niche market, such as Hispanics or Asians, because rates on ethnic stations are often considerably lower. B2B marketers can use public relations efforts, such as seminars for business groups, to replace costly radio and newspaper campaigns. This will position you as an expert and build leads and referrals.
  • $5,000 to $30,000 budget: Small-space directory advertising plus marriage mail, CRM and a referral program are essential to building long-term sales for consumer marketers. But don't overlook additional low-cost tactics. A remodeling contractor, for example, could offer workshops at home-improvement centers to generate leads and referrals. And door hangers could be distributed in neighborhoods around job sites.

If B2B direct mail and business publications are out of reach, you need to beef up your hands-on tactics. Build your own prospect list and make first contact by telephone, then mail your literature. Though time-consuming, this will yield a higher response rate than direct mail and greatly reduce your costs. Build a customer reward component into your CRM program to increase sales. Also, be sure to involve several company members in networking and seek greater opportunities to speak to groups.

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