So You Want To Start a Business: The Importance of Effective Marketing, Pt 2

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Having a good solid foundation of marketing knowledge before you begin your business is important to keep you going. Reading a copy of Guerilla Marketing for the 90’s will give you the proper foundation you need to plan your marketing strategy effectively. As I said with the previous book I recommended, you don’t need the newest edition. Buy it if you want, but you will pay several times the price of the copy I just linked to. The copy in that link costs less than .50 cents used. Good entrepreneurs get the most for their money and the important concepts talked about in the book have not changed much since the 90’s.

In this article I will talk about what my marketing strategy was when I was starting out, how it changed over the year, what worked for me and what did not and the marketing lessons I learned from my experiences.
My very first form of marketing was flyering mailboxes around my neighborhood in early 2003, back when I was doing computer support only part time. At the time I had never picked up a marketing book and I knew absolutely nothing about the subject. I only knew that people needed to know what I was offering. This method was mostly effective in my own condo complex because on each flyer I wrote ” **the name of my complex** resident offering computer support for **name of my complex**.

In this way I think the flyer did not seem like such an intrusion, as each resident was getting the flyer from one of their own neighbors, not just some everyday solicitor. I flyered other complexes but never matched the success I got in my own.

Soon after flyering some calls started coming in. I would go do a job for one household which would often lead to referrals and those referrals to referrals. In one case I got a total of about 6 new customers from just one referral. Eventually I grew tired of flyering and stopped it altogether. I always felt very shady while I was doing it. Later I found out I was right to feel uncomfortable as a search on the Internet informed me it is illegal to put anything in a mailbox that does not have postage.

During the two years that I was doing computer work part time I got all my business from flyering and word of mouth. It was not a lot of business because computer support was just a side gig and I didn’t have the time devote a lot of resources to getting more business.

When I went completely on my own in January of 2005 I was still not very knowledgeable in marketing and did not have any kind of formal plan or strategy, nor did I know what my target market was. Starting off I figured every sector and category was a potential customer. It didn’t matter if it was a fortune 500 company, a 4 family house, a 15 employee office or a car dealership.

As for services, I thought I would simply offer anything and everything – from installation of DSL Internet in an apartment to setting up an entire IT infrastructure for a 20 person office and everything in between. If someone asked for it and I didn’t know how to do it, I would simply learn how to do it or gather a team to get it done.

I attended seminars on how to win government contracts and made appointments to meet with certain government officials that might help me make the right government contacts, not realizing I did not have the resources to take 3 and 4 days to write detailed 10-20 page proposals nor the proper business history to win these contracts. From a marketing standpoint I was clearly a ship without a sail.

My first method of marketing was to simply tell everyone I knew what I was doing. I utilized my parents by getting good leads from them or having them call their friends who were business owners to tell them about me. This worked out well, landing me my first quality business client; a small office of about 6 employees. This client was a good source of revenue for me in the early days.

Next I took a stab at what I would soon find out is the toughest form of marketing out there – cold calling. I now have respect for anyone able to do this for 8 hours a day and be successful at it. I simply do not have the patience or the tough skin for it nor do I take the constant rejection well.

Most of the businesses I called did not have a need for me for one reason or another – they were a franchise and got their IT support from the franchisor, they got their support from their corporate parent, they had a support agreement with Dell and called them for all their needs. Maybe I would have found more success with this method had I stuck with it longer, but I did not have the patience to put a lot of effort into to it.

The funny thing is, on my very first cold call I was able to schedule a meeting with a small business located right across the street from where I lived. We had the meeting and to this day that client is my best business customer. Since I landed a great client on my very first cold call I started wondering what everyone was complaining about with cold calling. Turns out my next one hundred or so calls landed me nothing and I quickly gave it up. I had some business customers but was not having the success I wanted to have in this sector.

I was growing tired of writing a lot of lengthy proposals for projects just to be turned down. Looking back one of the problems was that I was only one person. I didn’t have the resources to hire a full time staff that could back me on projects. Instead I was trying to rely on hiring associates on a contract basis who were already working full time. I didn’t feel completely confident going into meetings to sell large projects or contracts because I didn’t have a full time staff behind me, and that lack of confidence probably showed through in my presentation.

I began to realize I was having much more success in the residential and work from home markets. Since each job was smaller, I didn’t have to spend hours or days writing a proposal for each job. I felt more confident because I could easily handle all the work by myself. I slowly began to market less to businesses and more to the residential area. Today I don’t market to the business sector at all, though I still work for my business customers that I originally had.
After narrowing my focus to only concentrate on the residential sector I began experimenting with various marketing methods to effectively reach this sector. My initial objective was simple. I needed to inform as many residents as I could that I was here. A friend told me about a local newspaper that runs once a week and is specific to his community of Dunwoody, Georgia. I picked up a copy of the paper and skimmed through it. The first thing I noticed was that the classifieds section was clear and easy to read. The headings and sub headings were clearly defined. I could easily open up the classifieds section and quickly locate the category I was looking for. I looked at the computer section and saw that there was about 3 or four people advertising there already.

I sent an email to one of the businesses advertising in the computer section asking them how they liked their results – I did not mention what business I was in. I got a response back from the person saying they got more new customers from that paper than from any other. He also asked me what business I was in so I told him. I also told him I was grateful for the info he had given me and that I would be happy to share with him what was working and not working in my own marketing efforts but I never heard back from the guy. Probably he was miffed that he had helped out a competitor. I don’t really understand this kind of attitude. I think that – to a certain degree – if businesses help each other out everyone wins out in the end. But that’s a subject for another post.

I paid about $60 per month to have a 5 or 6 line ad in this paper. I made sure the text in my ad was different from the others. The ads already running were all offering a very braod range of services; business support as well as home support. I wrote my ad so that it was more specific – my ad stressed home technology support , not home and business. I also made sure my website URL was in the ad.

During the first few months that the ad I ran I was very pleased with the results. My phone was ringing and I was getting some good business. One thing I noticed during this time was that my ad appeared first among the 3 or 4 ads in the computer section. Also the first line in my ad, my business name High Tech Homes, was in bold lettering. After a few months the response started leveling off and then diminished altogether.

When the responses stopped coming I picked up a copy of the paper to see what might be wrong. It quickly became clear. I was no longer the first computer business in the section. Also for some reason the name of my business was no longer in bold lettering. Without the bold face my ad was more difficult to pick out. By this time however I was getting enough residual business that I did not need to advertise in that paper any more.

Anytime I met with a customer I would try to gain an insight into their consumer behavior by asking my them why they chose my ad and not the others. If my ad was not the first on the list the response I usually got was that they simply called the first add on the list and got no answer, at which point they moved onto the second ad which was mine. From this I learned two things. It helps to be the first ad in your category, and the importance of never missing a business phone call.

Marketing Lessons Learned

I’ve learned some important marketing lessons in the time I’ve been in business.

  • Try to focus on a niche market

Once I abandoned the business sector things got much easier for me. I was able to focus my marketing efforts more effectively.

  • When advertising in classified sections, I’ve found the most success with papers that have clear and concise classifieds.

The papers that did the worst for me were ones where the classifieds section was messy and the major headings and categories were not well defined.

  • Differentiate yourself in your advertising

If your ad is going to stand out from all the other ads it is going to have to be different. When forming my strategy for some phone book advertising I opened up a copy of the phonebook I had and thumbed over to the computer section. I was surprised to see that almost all the ads looked the same. All the businesses were offering the exact same thing – upgrades, virus help, system crashes, networking, high speed internet.

Ad after ad, all with the same services listed in bullet point, all blended together with the occasional picture of the computer monitor with a frowny face or a guy standing over his computer looking frustrated. I fired up Adobe Photoshop and came up with an ad that is completely different, offering a totally different set of services along with a couple of the usual ones just so the viewers know that I can do all the usual stuff as well.

  • Be creative in your advertising

Going back to my previous example, nothing that I saw in the phone book was very creative. The ad I made up is very attention grabbing. As I write this the ad will be coming out this very week. While I can’t say for sure exactly how well it will do, I have a very good feeling about it.

If you are starting out I hope that what I’ve written here will help you to improve your own marketing strategy. If you have already been in the game for awhile you may be able to concur with some of the things I’ve said based on your own experience. If you have anything to add I would like to hear it, either in a comment posted here or in an email sent to me. Happy entrepreneuring.

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