In this blog, I provide a lot of marketing tips for a home based business although many apply for every small business.
Last Friday the phone rang.
"Paul I am trying to expand my home based business providing office services. I've spent a lot of money on Yellow Pages adverts but the telephone isn't ringing. What can I do to market my business? Do you have any marketing tips for me?"
Now I realise that there are different types of home based businesses but if you provide part time services and you only charge £10 to £20 an hour then you know that money is tight and you can't spend a lot of money for traditional marketing activities.
This guide is intended to help and give you some direction so that you can learn more about marketing.
"But I don't want to learn about marketing"
Sorry but if you want to be successful; you probably don't have a choice.
Being good at marketing isn't a "nice-if" but a "must have."
It's a bit of a Catch-22.
If you don't master marketing then, unless you are lucky, you are probably not likely to earn enough to be able to pay a professional marketing coach or consultant to do it for you.
If you don't learn about marketing and what makes good marketing effective and bad marketing a waste of money, you are likely to fall victim to the "sell on hope" salespeople.
These are the people who promote various advertising and sales promotion techniques where it sounds good but there is little likelihood of success and no follow up to make sure that you do get the results you need.
Marketing isn't difficult but you have to find a way to combine increasing your understanding with effective action.
These tips could make a world of difference to your business on their own.
Marketing Tip 1 - Marketing Starts With Your Current Customers
- Make sure that you provide the best service you can for your current customers.
Set high standards and have an absolute commitment to providing what they think they are buying and a commitment to giving your customers great value for money.
- Can your current customers buy more?
This is not spinning out existing work for longer so that they pay you more. That would be naughty and cause you to lose a good client.
Instead I am talking about finding out if there are other tasks that you can do for them. Ask if there are other areas related to your work that give them problems.
This may be something that they are doing for themselves, something that they should be doing but don't at the moment or something that other people are doing but you can do it better or cheaper.
- Ask your customers to give you a glowing testimonial.
The best testimonials start with the problem your customer had before you started, go on to explain how easy it is to work with you and then explain the benefits that they have received from your work.
The testimonials should also be clearly named - "Mr J, London" doesn't create the same impact as a real name, company name, telephone number or even a photograph and audio/video testimonial.
The aim is to give new prospective customers and clients a reference that connects with how they are feeling at the moment (the problem and all the bad issues connected to it), how easy it is to change and all the good things that will happened when they too become a customer.
You will find that people are much more receptive to people saying something like:
"I didn't know where to turn before I contacted Paul. But it was so easy to start the coaching, and now that I have been coached for six months he really keeps me focused on what I have to do and my profits have already jumped by £27,000 after years of struggling to earn enough to pay for the bare necessities."
"Paul is great and can help you to increase your profits."
It's even worse if there are no testimonials so that you are saying "I am great..."
I recommend that you also ask your customers if they are prepared to back up their testimonial with a telephone reference for any serious potential customer. Don't worry, because you've done a great job and provide real value for money, the vast majority of your customers will want to support you.
- Ask your customers for referrals
People often know people like themselves. A graphic designer will know other graphic designers, an accountant knows other accountants and small business owners know other owners of small businesses.
If your customer says that you have done a great job for them, it makes it an easy introduction to people they know who may have similar problems.
Can you find a way to reward a customer who gives you a referral that turns into business?
It depends on the value and frequency but a thank you is always appreciated and it's excellent practice to tell the person who gave you the referral how you got on.
If you won the business the thank you makes the referrer feel good. If it was the wrong type of lead, it gives you the chance to still thank them but also to teach them more about the right kind of potential customer for you in the future.
Marketing Tip 2 - Contacting Your Old Customers
I would like you think about your old customers as a potential source of profitable opportunities (assuming that you didn't part on bad terms).
According to Jay Abraham, there are only three reasons why customers stop buying:
- They have out-grown your products or moved away.
- They had a disappointing experience and were upset with how you treated them. This opened the door for a competitor to sneak in. It may have looked like a price-based switch but deep down, poor service or a feeling that you didn't care was probably the real cause.
- Something broke your former customer's routine and they lost the habit of buying from you.
The first kind may not be the obvious source for extra business but they could be a great source of referrals.
Remember, they were very happy with your service but they stopped buying because they no longer had a need for what you sell. That doesn't stop them knowing other people who do want and need your services.
Another Jay Abraham concept is called the moving parade. Basically you have to recognise that people's needs change and a "No not now" is not a "No not ever".
Suppose you sell telemarketing services to professionals and one of your consultants stops buying for the simple reason that he has taken on a very big project. He doesn't need any more leads so he stops buying telemarketing from you.
But that big contract will come to an end in six months, one year or two years time. At that stage the consultant has a choice - come back to you or look for someone new.
Don't you think that he's more likely to stay loyal if you have kept in contact and shown that you are interested in his well-being?
The second reason people stop buying from you is because they are unhappy with your service.
This may be due to a misunderstanding, an unfortunate incident that was out of your control or you may not even recognise that you have fallen below their unspoken expectations.
You are unlikely to hear anything but you don't want to let an unhappy customer stay an unhappy customer.
First they are likely to tell far too many people.
Unfortunately people are likely to complain to friends and colleagues far more readily than they will tell you that a problem even exists.
This can make these dissatisfied customers very difficult to identify unless you keep a very close eye on who is buying and who has stopped. When you have identified that someone has stopped buying, contact them. Show them that you care enough to find out why.
There is a surprising benefit to having a customer with a service problem although I don't recommend that you deliberately create issues for people to complain about.
When a customer has a service problem, you have the chance to show the quality of your guarantee and your commitment to customer service. Done well you can turn a problem into a major benefit.
To a prospective customer, guarantees are just nice sounding words until you have to use them.
But when something goes wrong and you try to take up the guarantee, you really find out what the company is like.
A problem solved can turn your customer into a raving fan and advocate. Your word and guarantee have been proven in practice. There is a good chance that you will get their business back and they may even recommend you widely to their circle of associates.
Unfortunately it doesn't always work but by recognising any issues, apologising and offering to make amends the worst you can do is to turn a bad situation into a neutral position. No gain but no pain either.
Marketing Tip 3 - Understand Your Market
If you need to find new customers for your home based business then you need to take a good hard look at your prospective clients and understand
- Just what the common problems are,
- How it affects them,
- How willing they are to pay to have the problems taken away,
- How much they are prepared to pay,
- What services you can provide,
- How you can communicate effectively
While I believe that you should learn from your own buying patterns, motivations and issues, one of the worst things you can do is to assume that your customers are just like you.
First of all you are an expert in what you do so what seems easy and obvious to you may seem very complex or daunting to a potential customer.
You know that you are committed to doing a great job, they don't.
People worry about buying help that makes them even worse off. To help reassure these prospects you should look for ways that you can take on the risk. If thee are problems you bear the cost rather than your customer.
I recommend that you look at how other businesses use a risk reversal strategy and see how they guarantee customer satisfaction. Try to learn from your own emotions when you see a money back guarantee or a free trial offer. Does it make you more willing to buy?
Other market research questions include:
- What type of people or businesses are your typical customers?
- Where do they live and where do they go regularly?
Look at your local competitors:
- What do they offer? Is it better, worse or the same as you?
- How do your competitor's prices compare with yours?
- Do they specialise in particular services or types of customers?
- How does their geographical coverage compare to yours?
Your aim during your market research is to find out exactly what it is that your customers want but also to find the easy opportunities in areas where there is less competition or where your weaker competitors are based.
Once you've identified who you will target and where they are you can move into your two main marketing strategies:
- Helping target customers to find you when they are looking for the service you offer.
- Creating the need or desire for your service if people aren't actively looking.
Marketing Tip 4 - Helping Your Prospective Customers Find You
Ask yourself where do people look and how can you encourage them to call you and not your competitors?
- Yellow Pages?
How can you make your advert stand out and encourage a prospect to call you? Your advert is surrounded by all your competitors, all shouting for attention so it has to connect with what your customers want.
Analyse the existing adverts. How big are they? How many are in colour? What information do they include? Which advert appeals to you most.
Now go and take a look at other services that you don't know every much about and imagine that you were a customer. Try to identify what attracts you to a particular advert. Which do you read or which do you pass over? Which do you read and reject and which would you call? Look for reasons why. Ask your friends to do the same exercise and compare results.
Take notice of whether your competitors are advertising and if possible go back over several years and look at their adverts. If your competitors regularly advertise, then the Yellow Pages looks to be a great source of leads. If they don't advertise then it's probably not an opportunity for you. Believe me, businesses will have tried it and if it worked, they would still be advertising.
- Local newspapers?
Tests show that regular small adverts are better than the occasional big advert. People will see your advert when they don't even realise and over time it gradually creates name recognition.
Then, when they are looking for your service, they will see your advert and think "I've heard of them so I'll give them a call."
- The Internet?
Make sure that your website can be found on the front page of the popular word searches. This is quite a complicated area but the basics are simple. Unfortunately too many website designers aren't interested in helping your website to be discovered. Take a look at Nikki Pilkington's book 299 Steps To Website Heaven as an easy to read guide.
- Headlines and copy
You have two requirements - to attract the attention of your prospects and then to persuade them to contact you.
You attract their attention by using a great headline.
Don't try to be clever or cryptic. It only take a second to decide whether you will look at something and read it in detail or move along to the next option.
Shout out the main benefit ("Debt problems solved") or the problem ("Chronic back pain!") Your job is to make sure that people in your target market notice the advert in the split second they scan the page and then read it.
Once you have their attention then your copy needs to answer the question "what's in it for me if I contact you?"
Explain how someone will benefit from buying your product or service and what makes you better than your competitors?
Your copy should be written from you to just one person. While hopefully many people will read your advert, each person read it as an individual.
Write about your customer and not just about you. It's important to build credibility but your prospective customers are interested in what you can do for them and not how great you are.
Don't leave it up to your prospective customers to turn features into benefits. You may have great qualifications but what does it mean to a customer? Do you have special skills so that you can do something others can't or perhaps it means that by buying from you, a customer is making a more reassuring and safer purchase?
Imagine seeing a surgeon for a relatively minor operation. Can you see how much more reassuring it is if the surgeon says that he is the local expert and performs 10 to 15 of these procedures every week.
- Make it easy for people to contact you
This is so obvious but many people get it wrong.
There is no point having a great advert if you are out when people ring and the telephone isn't answered. Make sure that you have a manned answering service and that you are available reasonable hours. Many people won't leave a message on an answering machine but will if they believe they are talking to your secretary or assistant.
I enjoy travelling and I get frustrated with holiday companies who advertise in the weekend papers but don't even have an answer-phone service beyond 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. They also drive me crazy if I ring up and tell me that they will post a brochure to me...but it will take three weeks...and it never arrives.
If you miss the first contact opportunity, you may miss the lead. People are busy and will move on to the next potential supplier.
One final point on this section, please follow up on leads. You won't know where they will take you so even if something doesn't look promising, act professionally and you may be referred on.
Marketing Tip 5 - Reaching Out To Your Target Customers
If you have done your market research you should be in a good position to start a proactive marketing campaign to contact your target customers.
The two main methods are:
- Direct mail (including email)
You may not like receiving either of these because they waste your time but don't rule out the two options too quickly.
Large numbers of businesses, large and small, use them for one simple reason - they work. They generate more profitable business than the cost incurred generating the leads.
In both cases you can have a general campaign (perhaps subcontracted to another home based business in the form of a virtual assistant or telemarketer) or a personalised campaign.
In a general campaign, you are catering for your generic target markets without knowing the people in detail.
I covered the importance of your headline (or opening statement if on the telephone) and the copy (or script) when talking about advertising. It's the same principle again with direct marketing.
You just have to think AIDA!
- A = Attention - make sure that you attract their attention
- I = Interest - raise their interest - they are busy so tell them what's in it for them.
- D = Desire - create desire - make them really want your product or service or to at least want to do something about their problem that you can solve.
- A = Action - include a call for action. Give them a reason to do something now (a special offer, limited supplies) and make sure that you tell them what to do.
Tests show that by saying the equivalent of "Ring 0121 554 4057 now to find out how business coaching can boost your profit", it is much more successful than just hoping for any interested recipient to find your telephone number or email address on your stationery.
In a personalised campaign you are making contact with someone you already know. If you call them, your conversation will be unique but the same applies to your personal letter. Think about how you can show that this letter is written to them and only to them.
I would encourage you to look at the marketing efforts people make to try to persuade you to buy.
What works on you?
I bet it's not "I am great and I can do this and this and this..." but you will see that type of letter sent to you. It goes straight into the waste paper bin.
You are not going to make that mistake because you are going to talk about your prospective customers about their problems, how you can help and then provide social proof through testimonials.
In your direct marketing campaign you need to be clear on what it is that you want people to do.
Mail order focuses on people buying when they've read the copy. They give you all the information needed to make a decision and then it's a simple "Yes I want it. Here's my money, send me the product." or "No thanks."
But many home based businesses offer services and may have a two or three step selling process.
I know that for my own business coaching, my first objectives are to:
- Persuade people to go to one of my websites and encourage them to sign up to my newsletter (you can sign up here - the newsletter is full of tips on how you can make your business bigger, better and more profitable).
- Give me a call and book a free 30 minute coaching test drive.
Both give me a chance to start building the relationship without rushing into a premature close that could scare anyone away.
Finally on direct marketing, think follow up.
How often have you received something when you have been busy, thought that you'd get in contact, desperately needed help but because you are rushing around, just not done anything.
It's the same with your prospective clients. Some aren't interested but others will start thinking about what you could do but they need a few more prompts to take action.
Marketing Tip 6 - Networking and Associates
You may not be a networking natural but it's important to get out and about and mix with different people.
Partly that's because running a home based business can be lonely. You may be on your own for many hours at a time so it's good to build up a support system.
So who should you network with?
- People who do the same type of work as you - they may be able to sub-contract work to you if they are busy or pass on leads that don't suit their skills but are great for you.
- People who sell to the same type of customers as you do - who knows when one of their customers will ask "You don't know some who does a great job at...do you?"
- General small business owners and staff - we all know how important referrals are and we all like to help out if we are convinced that you are good at what you do.
There are many breakfast networking clubs, other networking clubs that meet later in the day or you could try Internet networking. You will have heard of MySpace and Facebook but did you know that there are business networking sites like Ecademy and Linkedin.
Conclusion on my Marketing Tips
You have just read through my marketing tips for home based businesses.
I hope you have found these tips interesting and informative and that you can see a marketing system at work:
- Start with your current customers;
- Next move to your past customers;
- Then look at understanding what it is that your potential new customers might want, why they want it and what problems they have;
- Fourth make it easy for your target customers to find you;
- Reach out to you target market through a direct marketing campaign;
- Network with people and form close two way relationships with those who can recommend you.
Before pointing you to extra resources, there is one final point that I must make.
When marketing is done right, it is an investment. To do it right and to be sure that you are getting the highest and best return, you have to be prepared to try, test and measure.
See what works and if it works, keep doing it but also try to improve around the fringes. When you find something that tests better, switch your main marketing to the new improved method. Stop doing anything that isn't working.
I believe that marketing is essential for your home business.
In fact you have to think of it in these terms:
No customers = no business
I recommend that you take the time to learn more about marketing because I am confident that the small investment in money and time will repay itself many times over the life of your home based business.
Recommended Marketing Resources For Home Based Businesses
A good place to start is with my list of Best Marketing Books.
I also recommend that you sign up for my free email newsletter and straight away you will receive four excellent free reports to help you with attracting more customers and making more profit.