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The following questions were submitted by Staples.com users like you. Sales and marketing expert, Rick Segel, replied with the following answers.
Q: I'm just starting out and have a limited budget. What are some inexpensive marketing techniques to raise awareness and bring in new customers?
A: There are three avenues that I would pursue to insure success:
Get involved in your association. Every industry today has an association that is dedicated to the improvement of the industry. They all offer educational programs and most of these programs will focus on marketing. They generally all have extensive programs for newcomers to an industry. This will enable you to network with the pros in your industry. These associations almost always have the leaders in your industry as members. Many times, their referrals of work can make your belonging well worthwhile.
Join a networking group. One of the best ones to join is a group called BNI, Business Network International. They meet once a week and share ideas and leads. You will get more referrals from this group than any other because they believe the more they give, the more they get. They only allow one of each type of business per club so you might have to find a club that has an opening in your field. But it's worth the 2–hour investment per week.
The last idea is in the form of advertising. Obviously this depends on the nature of the business as to where you place this type of ad. But the format is simple. The ad is small, 1 column by 3 to 4 inches. On the top of the ad, the headline reads, Ask The Landscaper (or whatever your industry is) Pro. Right beside it, you place a small photo or caricature of yourself, and underneath the headline you place your name with the title "Landscape Expert." Then you write a question that pertains to your industry. Continuing with the landscape example, the question might be, "How do I get rid of crab grass?" Answer the question with, "The best way to blah, blah, blah." Put your logo and signature line with contact information at the bottom of the ad. You should run these ads often. This can become cheap advertising because you will have a lower rate if you make a commitment to appear bi–weekly or weekly. This ad not only creates exposure and awareness, but it also establishes your credibility.
Q: I would like to send out a marketing piece. I think white paper is boring. Will my business seem less professional if I use colored paper? Are there colors that you recommend? Colors that I should avoid?
A: So much of the color selection depends on the type of business that you have. However, every business can use color. If you are a bank or an insurance company, I don't think that it would be appropriate to use bright neon colors — softer, muted tones would be better.
I am in the business of educating and consulting and the colors that I like to use in my marketing pieces (including business cards, capability brochures, and newsletters) are yellow and black. Even my business envelopes are yellow and black. This color combination is distinctive and eye–catching, but it also goes along with the personality of the business.
The safest colors to use are any of the blue shades, followed closely by green, tan, and natural tones. The fact that you are asking about the use of color deserves kudos. Color sells and many times you don't have to go through the expense of a 4–color process to get the look and feel of a color piece. Just pick the color tones that are associated with your business or your customer.
Q: What is the best way to introduce an entirely new concept to the public?
A: Not knowing the product or budget makes it exceptionally difficult to give specific help on how to market this. However, if budget is not a concern, I would do the following:
On the other hand, if budget is a concern, look at what was already suggested, scale it down, and determine how to make it workable and affordable. An example is to write your own stories and press kit rather than hiring a PR firm. Be selective as to whom you send them to, and do the follow–up calls yourself. Look at the advertising and again scale it down into affordable areas.
Q: A friend of mine recently started a new computer service business in Florida. He wanted to advertise and let everyone know that he is the new computer guy in town. His first thought was to do a fax broadcast, but quickly found out that it was not allowed. His next option is to do a direct mailing campaign... is this the best thing to do, or are there any other ways that are better that will help get up and running quickly?
A: The challenge in starting any new business is that very few people know who you are. A main objective is to get people talking about you. You are primarily in a business that is referral driven and new business referrals are simply non–existent. You are selling trust first. That is why you must create a word of mouth advertising flow. In order to get word of mouth advertising; you must give people something to talk about.
Do some free seminars, offer a white paper on the most common problems in your industry (with solutions), or even write an article. Be sure your article is well written and consider making a little controversial. There are numerous ways to get publicity. Do some research on what ways suit you best. One possibility is involvement in trade associations or networking groups. Don't just attend — get active. The movers and shakers of an industry run most of these groups. These are the people you want to know.
Don't waste your money on traditional broadcast or print advertising. It won't work unless you have a lot of money to spend. Use direct mail exclusively. You can pinpoint your prospects, send amounts you can afford, and even personalize your messages. Enjoy the extra time you now have on marketing because it will end soon enough!