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Generating Business Fast!

When customers are nowhere to be found and your company's on the brink of disaster, use this smart three-step strategy to get business in the door.

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How's business these days? Is everything going along swimmingly--or have you recently thought to yourself "Help! I don't have any customers!"? Don't laugh--even if you've never felt that way, other business owners know the feeling all too well. In fact, I've come across clients in this situation more times that I could count.

What generally happens is that the business runs along fine for a long period of time and then suddenly, everything goes "haywire." The reasons behind the haywire can be discussed another time, but for now, because you need to get out of that type of situation as quickly as possible, let's look at how can you can turn this around quick!

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a few more assumptions. First, I'm going to assume that a lack of customers means you have a bank account that's near zero, so you don't have a lot of money to spend on marketing efforts.

Next, I'm going to assume that you aren't a wiz-bang when it comes to marketing. You barely understand it, and you hate most of it because it costs you money and you never get a return from it, at least in your opinion.

The third thing I'm going to assume is that whatever type of business you have, for one reason or another, you haven't been maintaining a customer database. Now if you had a customer database of some kind, our job of turning this mess around would be much easier. But in this case, no database.

The fourth assumption I'm going to make is that your business depends on local traffic to keep the doors open. You could be in retail or food service or maybe you're a contractor of some sort, but your company needs to draw people in from the surrounding areas in order to make a go of it.

Finally, I'm going to assume you can turn your negative attitude around--at least for a month while we try to infuse some cash into your operation. And don't say you don't have one. Just as a lack of customers means no money in your bank account, the same can be said about what having no customers does to your outlook: It sends it right into the pits.

But the last thing we can allow is for any new influx of customers coming through your door or calling on the phone to come in contact with a bitter person who, in many instances, blames--inaccurately, of course--their putrid business situation on the very patrons that have the power of digging them out of their financial mess.

The bottom line is, you've got to change your attitude, or least be able to fake it, or you're not going to be able to pull this recovery off. So let's get started saving this business...

First thing you're going to do is get one of those small, portable, sandwich board signs that can be placed outside your business during normal operating hours. You would then put a captivating marketing message on each side of the sign. Please don't put something lame on it like "Open" or "Mike's Auto Repair." Instead, go with "Burger, Fries $3.99 and Get a Free Drink!" or "Free estimates on air conditioning repairs."

Don't leave the same message on the sign for days on end either. If you can muster up enough creativity to come up with a different daily special, then so much the better. And don't forget to bring the sign in at night. I'm still looking for one of mine!

This sign with plastic letters shouldn't cost you much more than $150, and it may just be the best marketing investment you'll ever make. Obviously the sign will only be as effective as the marketing message on it. But you can be sure about one thing: This sign will bring in business.

As a side note, let me just say that at some point, you're going to need to learn more about marketing. Any poor-performing business has marketing issues, and to survive long term, you need to either figure this marketing thing out or get someone who can do it for you.

Some great authors have written books the "non marketing" business owner can read, understand and apply. Jay Conrad Levinson's "Guerilla Marketing" books are golden. Dan Kennedy's The Ultimate Market Plan and The Ultimate Sales Letter are wonderful books for a beginner. And my book, Killer Techniques to Succeed with Newspaper, Magazine and Yellow Page Advertising was written specifically for the person who doesn't have a background in marketing.

Hiring a marketing mentor isn't a bad idea either. And while there are thousands of consultants criss-crossing the country at any one time, if you choose to hook up with one, please make sure you get one who has a lot of experience with small businesses. Many marketing consultants have experience with larger firms, those companies employing hundreds if not thousands of people, but I've found the consultants who really specialize in small businesses to number much fewer.

The second thing you're going to do is start a "door hanger" campaign. You know what door hangers are, right? They're those small sheets of cardstock you hang on the doorknob of an outside door. And they're one of the cheapest and best marketing tools you could ever use. You can get 1,000 blank door hangers for about $20 plus shipping. I did a quick search on the Internet and found many companies that supply them.

Once you get them, you can create an offer or special of some type using simple word processing software and then print them off using your own printer. The fly in the ointment with door hangers is getting them hung. If I were you, I'd either save the money and do it myself or hire a local kid or two to do it for you. Do as many as you can every week. Door hangers are great because in many parts of the country, no one's using them and they do attract attention.

The final thing to do is create an inexpensive black and white, two-sided business card. Just have your typical business card information on one side, and on the other, put a compelling offer to visit your store or call on you for the service you provide. "Free" still works, so don't ignore the potential of using that word in your offer.

One thousand, two-sided black and white business cards shouldn't cost you more than $40. And then you know what you're going to do with them? You and your relatives and friends are going to pass them out to anyone and everyone. And once those are gone, you're going to print more. Got it?

There you go, a complete mini-marketing campaign that should not cost you more than $250 to get started. And you'll see measurable results in a matter of days. Just keep repeating the process over and over until you reach a point where other and more costly marketing tools can be brought into play.

Michael Winicki, the owner of Big Noise Marketing, has worked with more than 2,000 small businesses over the past 20 years helping them become more profitable. Visit his website to find out how to get a free ad critique or a free over-the-phone business evaluation.