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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I'd like to do some advertising for my new home-based secretarial business, but I'm not sure where to start. I'd like to target businesses, but my ad budget is pretty small. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks.

Jessica in Michigan

Answer from our Guest Expert Laura Wiegert of Creative Consultants

Go, Jessica! You've already taken the first step by recognizing the need to spice up your business through marketing and advertising. Now, let's look at some successful, low-cost ways you can promote your home-based secretarial business and keep that trim budget waistline at the same time.

Spread the Word

The first ingredient of savvy, low-cost self-promotion is a news release. A well-written release can get you lots of free publicity via the local newspaper, radio, or television station. Start whipping up a 2 to 3 page news release that announces the opening of your business or other newsworthy events. Describe in detail what's happening and when, where and why, the services you offer, the benefits of using your company, and your background and experience. Include customer quotes if possible as well as quotes from yourself.

Don't be afraid to include too much; newspapers will cut anything they don't want. And often smaller, weekly papers will print your release word-for-word. Be sure to include a photograph of yourself or business, if applicable. Then send the news release to all newspapers and business magazines in your target area. Radio and television stations use releases for potential story ideas and can call you up for a potential interview! So don't forget to have a contact name on the release too!

Meat and Greet

Wining and dining your way into crowded banquets, luncheons, or meetings is a great way to fatten up your biz image and not cost you a lot of money. This sort of networking is a surefire way to spice up your biz. To be an effective networker, though, be sure you're rubbing elbows with your target market. You want to be passing the salt and pepper to those who could really use your secretarial services. This may include a membership in several business and professional societies, or volunteering for the board or committees of a nonprofit organization.

For your secretarial business, which markets to other businesses, one of the best places to begin is your local Chamber of Commerce. A year's membership at the Chamber is worth the investment, as you can take advantage of a great menu of networking opportunities:

  • Morning or after-work business (social) exchanges
  • Chamber committees
  • Access to membership listings and mailing labels
  • Business-to-business trades shows
  • Recognition opportunities
  • Free or low-cost educational offerings
  • And, and of course, the ever-popular chamber meetings with food!

Just dig right in -- there's more where that came from for sure! And remember to always have your trusty biz cards on hand. You'll definitely get your money's worth out of membership, as well as some new customers!

The Fixin's for Direct Mail

Another effective marketing tool that can be done cost-consciously is direct mail. The best recipe for success here is a targeted list. So start by developing a database of potential customers you'd like to work with. Use the phone book, newspaper, and your Chamber of Commerce directory to get names and addresses. It doesn't have to be a large list, but one that targets businesses you think may need your services.

Now it's time to cook up a marketing piece to send to these individuals. This could be done in one of several formats:

  • Post cards -- Post cards are very effective and successful as direct mail pieces. They're effective because customers don't have to open up an envelope and are more likely to read them. They're cost-effective because you get a reduced postage rate (if you keep the size at 4 "x 6" or less). The downside is that because of the size, you're limited in the amount of information to include. If you have a lot to say, you may want to look at a standard mailing.
  • Standard mailing -- This mailing usually includes a letter introducing yourself or your offer and possibly a flyer or brochure that stresses the points you want to emphasize. It can be very effective, especially when you include both the letter and brochure/flyer. However, the cost of doing this type of mailing is more expensive than a post card.
  • Newsletters-- Newsletters are one of the most-read direct mail pieces because they're informational in nature. A newsletter's a great chance to show off your knowledge and position you as an expert in your field. For example, for your secretarial business, you could include tips on telephone etiquette, staying organized, or writing effective letters. You could also have customer spotlights or a "service of the month" feature. Best of all, a newsletter doesn't have to be long or fancy. A one page, two-sided self-mailer can be very effective. (See the Coffee Talk with Experts archive for more on newsletter writing, I just recently wrote an answer to a biz owner who wanted to start up a newsletter for customers.)

Whatever type of direct mail piece you choose, follow up the mailing with a phone call to all recipients about one week after sending it out. Many people don't like doing this type of "cold call," however, it's a very effective way to increase sales. You don't have to be "salesy;" simply state that you'd sent out a mailing about such and such and was wondering if the person had received it. Once you start making these follow-up calls, you'll find it's really quite easy to do, and you'll be amazed at the positive response.

Well, Jessica, this should get you started, and all these ideas will stay within your smaller ad budget. Bon apetit!

Suggested Reading:

Guerrilla Marketing for the Home-Based Business by Jay Levinson and Seth Godin.

Have a biz question of your own? Go post it in CyberSchmooz

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