Times are certainly hard. But at this sort of fork in the road, there are only two options and two outcomes. If you market yourself as well as you can, you might hit some turbulence but you might also emerge a stronger, wiser and more successful business.
If you don’t market yourself, you’re guaranteed to atrophy, wither and likely fail. Far too many businesses opt for the seemingly safer option, and end up marooned on the rocks.
That said, there’s also no need to spend like a tourist! In this brief selection of marketing ideas, many are free and none will break the bank. Good luck!
The Three Way Menu
Whatever the product or service you offer, think about creating three different versions of it. Whatever your ‘standard’ offering, there will always be two more types of customer:
- People who want to cut costs further, even if that means accepting lower quality, and who will walk away from your standard offering. You’re missing their custom completely.
- People who want top notch service and are prepared to pay for it. Your standard offering misses an opportunity to satisfy that latent demand for a higher budget.
Even if you just dress up your ordinary offering in three guises to look after these audiences, you will successfully sell more units to more clients.
Ring the changes when you answer the phone
Us British are terrible on the phone. We answer it as though we’re miserably disappointed that you rang. And we say goodbye, happy that we never tried to upsell some further products or services. If you want to drive sales, you don’t have to be pushy; but you do have to try a little harder. Give your phone customers some star treatment and follow it up with the occasional extra dollop of sales patter.
Online advertising is one aspect of the internet which genuinely outperforms traditional media hands down. Here’s why:
- You can see it work – straight away. There’s no need to wait for an ad to appear in your local medium of choice. Online ads can generate exposure with immediate effect.
- There’s no wastage. Traditional ads are a case of reaching thousands of people, for often only a handful of responses. Pay-per-click advertising means exactly that: you only pay when a reader is interested enough to click through for more information.
- Find out what works and what doesn’t. Print ads can take months to refine. Online, you can change your wordings and copy in seconds; and even test different copy at the same time to refine your advertising in days.
Check out Microsoft Advertising for more details.
Get your customers to sell for you
Selling is hard work, but there are people who are prepared to do it for you free of charge – and they’re true evangelists. They’re your existing happy customers. Depending on the nature of your business, try these ideas:
- Run a ‘Recommend-a-friend’ scheme, in which existing customers are offered a discount in exchange for recommending new clients
- Obtain testimonials from happy clients – they’re the most credible sales tool you’ll ever get
- Include “Email this to a Friend” links on pages, products and offers on your website. Even include these links on receipt emails and coupons.
Publish and be jammed
Whether you print for yourself (colour laser printers are highly economical these days) or take advantage of professional printing which has become so commoditised that it often costs half as much in real terms as it did twenty years ago, your marketing collateral can look exceptional and go a long way. Design up brochures, flyers, cards and letterheads easily with the templates which are free with Microsoft Publisher - also free on trial.
Treat everyone like your best customer
You’ll have heard that CRM is used to treat existing customers like princes (or indeed princesses) by offering them the perfect next steps in your relationship. But CRM is also a marketing and pre-sales tool. Since you have had contact with probably ten to one hundred times as many potential buyers as actual buyers, it’s worth finding out what happened to them.
Think of the people who signed up online for updates or newsletters; the potential customers who gave you their phone numbers but never got a call back. It’s time to get in touch with all of them – and thanks to CRM you can give them just the offer or type of contact they want; even if it’s something as simple as “Sorry we didn’t take care of you first time around… fancy another look?”
Do marketing early. Every day.
So: you’re not a salesperson. In fact, you’re so busy doing work that you often don’t have time for sales at all. This is a typical small business challenge, and it’s the reason why small businesses often say they’re stuck vacillating between feast and famine. You’re too busy doing work to find work (feast); so you soon run out of work (famine) and have to find more (feast) and so on.
To crack this nut, allocate your day. It may sound juvenile, but it works 100%. The priorities should be:
- Crises: solving problems which are critical to the business
- Customer Service: making sure paying customers are 100% happy
- Sales and marketing: getting new customers in
- Operations: ordinary day-to-day work and honouring work commitments
Spend an hour a day on the first two, an hour a day on sales and marketing, and you’ll still have five hours to do the work itself.
Learn to blag and blarney!
You don’t need a posh PR agency to get some PR. A couple of calls or emails to the local press or your trade press will do the trick. But you do need a good story in the first place. The funny thing is, most people do have a story or two – they just don’t realise it. Every time something makes you think (the economy, your professional opinion, challenges or opportunities in your industry), it probably gets someone else thinking, too. And that’s enough to count as “interesting”. Take ten minutes to pop out a quick press release every now and then – you’ll soon get a reputation as a worthwhile commentator, and eventually the press, and customers, will come to you.