Tips for Marketing Your Service Business Maintaining strong customer relationships is the key to creating a strong campaign.

By Kim T. Gordon

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Most Americans can't get through a single week without purchasing a service from a small business. Whether they're visiting the neighborhood car wash, having an office painted, or getting a home refrigerator repaired, they need the services of a local entrepreneur. It's the local, one-to-one aspect of service marketing that makes it so different from marketing the average product. The very word "service" implies a more personal interaction. And if your company is all about providing a great service, a marketing campaign that builds relationships is essential to your success.

1. Let customers know you.
Good relationships are built on trust. So it's natural that customers want to learn as much as they can about your company and the people that stand behind it. Women shoppers, in particular, look for deeper information when deciding on which company or service to choose, and the vast majority of both male and female shoppers do research on the web before making a purchase. Having a company website is a smart and affordable way to convey in-depth information about your service business.

Use any of the major hosting companies to create your own site using the site building wizards. Showcase your service benefits on the main page, just as you would in an effective company brochure. Include your company's story, photos, staff bios and affiliations. And show how well your company delivers on its promises by providing testimonials, case histories or work samples.

2. Compete based on value.
What will make customers or clients select your company vs. your competitor's? Most choose the service provider that offers the greatest value for their money. In many competitive markets, there's price parity among the principal players. So the best way to win business is not to cut your prices or rates, but instead add products or services that elevate your offer--making it too good to resist. This is called "bundling."

Take time to develop a service bundle that you know will appeal to your best prospects. You may need to test various offers until you find a winning combination; then modify your offer periodically to keep your incentives fresh.

3. Tempt customers with incentives.
Customers who've had positive experiences with your company's services in the past will happily return. But tempting new customers requires making a special offer. Businesses that provide home services, such as rug cleaning, painting, home heating or air conditioning, can benefit by sending consumers coupons through a marriage-mail provider, such as Valpak. You can choose households by ZIP code, and your coupon offer will be mailed in an envelope with others. Although you won't have the undivided attention of your consumer, mail from a known marriage-mail provider is often well-received, and runs for a fraction of the cost of stand-alone direct mail. For long-term results, create a special offer that will motivate new customers to make more than a single purchase.

4. Keep in touch.
It costs considerably less to keep a customer than to win a new one, so it's smart to maintain a campaign to upsell or resell existing customers. In fact if you're not communicating with your customer database at least every four to six weeks, you're missing opportunities to grow your business. Use a combination of sales and marketing tactics to stay in touch, such as alternating sales calls with e-mail and postal mail. Even with the best of offers, you can burn out your list if you pitch customers too often. So rather than sending only communications with hard-sell offers, intersperse them with e-newsletters containing case histories or other soft-sell but relevant and valuable information.

Make a habit of periodically using your marketing communications to ask for referrals. You can e-mail a success story, for example, and ask the recipients to forward it to friends or family members who would like to achieve similar results. By providing deep information about your company for new customers and ongoing offers and communications with existing customers, you'll create a synergistic campaign that builds strong relationships.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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