Saturday, July 14, 2007

5 Cheap and Easy Ways to Market Your Local Business

1) Work your customer list. Eighteen months ago I plunked down a five-figure payment to an air conditioning/heating company to bring my 1940's-era house up to date. I was pleased with them and when I had problems after the installation they were on my doorstep in a day. It's a family owned business, and I know from talking to the owner that they are always looking for referrals.

But I have never once received a follow up. We've gone through two air conditioning seasons and one winter check up season and I have never gotten a note from the owner saying, "Our customers are our best advertising. If your neighbors and friends are looking for air conditioning or heating service or upgrades, here is a 10% coupon for them and my personal cell phone. I promise you they will receive great personal and professional service."

2)Partner with other local businesses. A spa nearby my home did that recently - they sent me a note and said, "We're offering you a 15% discount plus our next door neighbors, XXX coffee shop, have given us coupons for a free coffee and pastry."

I thought that was a dynamite idea, and I stopped by to interview the folks at the spa to ask about the response they received. But when I got there, and saw the coupon from the coffee shop, it was a dud! For one thing, the coupon was a buy one-get one, which isn't quite the same. And the coupon had expired a month before the spa sent the mailing. The receptionist at the spa just shrugged when I pointed this out. Think I'd ever trust them to give me a spa treatment? My impression is they are sloppy and careless.

Still, the concept was good, and worth trying.

3) Find referral sources. There are plenty of places that could send business to you, but you need to make your business known to them and keep in touch. There is a hotel in downtown San Jose that has a beauty salon but (since I'm a regular customer at the salon) I happen to know that they frequently cannot meet the needs of hotel guests. Yet when I stopped in at a nearby salon and asked if they stayed in touch with the concierge at the hotel, the owner said, "No. They have their own salon. They aren't going to send me customers."

4) Develop a mailing list and work it. I stopped by an estate sale a couple of years back, and signed up for the mailing list. Since then, every month, faithfully, I've received a mailing advising me of that month's sales, including pictures of items for sales. I've been back several times, and on occasion, have told friends about items coming up for sale.

5) Donate services to local charity auctions and fund raising activities. Some businesses act like it is money out of their pocket, and they will only donate goods or services "when a special customer asks." But it's more than just placating a good customer when you donate something to help area non-profits. It's a way to get your name out to a wider audience, to get new people into your store, and, really, it's the right thing to do if you want to be part of the local community.

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