Friday, 28 June 2013

BUSINESS ADVICE: How to Access free local Advertising

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We asked on our Facebook page, if anyone had a particular business question they might need a bit of help with. The idea was to pool our collective thinking and form a self help group of like minded people who share a common interest in aromatherapy and related areas.

The  first case concerns a small massage business in the Midlands, which is struggling to attract additional customers and faces the serious possibility of closure. The proprietor sees advertising as the way forward in terms of increasing her turnover. To date she spent about £120 in a local magazine approximately one year ago. Her client base appears to be either friends or friends of friends and many treatments are offered pro bono. She lacks the resources to invest in paid advertising and is looking for free alternatives.

So here is my take on it and hope it won’t cause any offence. Lets call her Carol.

From our exchange of email, Carol sounds like a lovely lady who has a genuine passion in massage therapy and an utter conviction and belief in the good it will do. But this being allowed to overshadow the commercial needs of the business, in terms of income generation. Helping others is always to be commended and I wish more people were like Carol, but if the business fails, then ultimately fewer people can be helped. So the fist point is to limit pro bono work and if possible charge for everything. I am not saying charge money for everything, but enter into some form of swap. You provide the massage in return for which they drop leaflets or whatever, through letterboxes on their street.  But if a free massage is to be offered to a worthy candidate, then restrict it to certain times that do not impact on your ability to make money and restrict the number to a handful a week. Form a policy to say, ok, I will do three per week and always on a Monday morning between nine and twelve, or whatever days and time work. Make this a routine and don’t deviate.

The second point is that if the clients are principally friends and connections, it will be almost impossible to have a viable business, since it is enormously difficult to charge friends a commercial rate, especially if these self same people were the ones who helped you establish the business in the early days by virtue of their patronage. So Carol does need new blood in her business , and needs to formalise her charging structure by publishing a price list which isn’t discounted.

So how does Carol get new customers and will advertising in a free local mag help her?

As with all things you have to start by defining the scope of the problem. How much additional revenue does she need to create as a minimum. Lets say £200 a week. What does she currently sell a treatment for. Lets say £25. So the problem can be re defined as Carol needs to sell eight new treatments per week. Now lets assume that a client has one treatment per month. Then in  four weeks, Carol needs to find 32 new clients who will then return once per month. The numbers are wrong but you see the principle.

Will local advertising in a free paper bring in 32 new clients. Almost certainly not. But what do we know about Carol that works. Her clients are friends or friends of friends , so to start with , she should use her existing clients to generate referrals. But often this is badly done. Carol asks her clients to mention it, they feel pressured, she gives them a leaflet but they never seam to have it to hand when needed and it’s a mess. Worse still, it’s a mess that’s difficult to monitor and see measurable outcomes. So lets consider a technique called leverage referrals.

You explain the gravity of the problem to your client saying that it is essential you get more new clients. Logically new leads they give you will be slightly more remote ones, as Carol will have already had their closet friends from the outset. Remember the more remote ones are your target market, as the closer ones will always have a price issue in the background.  You ask for three names and mobile telephone numbers you can call to introduce your business. If possible you ask when their birthday is. You ask if you can use your clients name in the introduction. Finally you ask your client which she thinks would possibly be the best one for you , and which the worst. Thus you have ranked the referrals in order of probability.

Next is the easy part. You simply call them, explain what you do and what you are hoping they will do.  You explain a one off offer for friends of your friend whereby they get a free treatment with everything they book, if booked before a certain date. That is your call to action. They need to book it now to benefit. For example if they are booking a back massage, give them a free 15 minute head massage. Never discount the price, as you will seldom manage to increase it again and you reduce the perceived value of your service.. In promotions always offer something with high perceived value but which has low cost to your business. In this case its just a further 15 minutes your time.  Then ask them if they would like to make a booking now. Be prepared for them to say no, as you have caught them cold. Take away any pressure by offering to call them back after they have had a chance to think about it if they don’t say yes immediately and offer to send them some information via email. Jot down their email address.

Next set them up as a contact in outlook, especially denoting their birthday  and make any notes, Schedule a call back in three or four days to follow up and schedule a reminder to contact them two weeks before their birthday. Lastly send them an email straight away thanking them for their time and how much you are looking forward to catching up in a few days.

On the appointed day, give them a quick call to see if they want to book. Expect a high drop out rate. If they book, do the referral thing again with them when they visit and ask them for three referrals. But if they don’t book, it isn’t a wasted call. They may feel terrible for not having booked so it’s a great tie to ask them for three referrals and the whole process starts again. Your lead bank is topped up and as long as you dedicated thirty minutes a day, your bookings will increase in no time. But lead generation must be continuous, organized, disciplined and resourceful.

Send a monthly email to all prospects who have not as yet booked a treatment. It doesn’t have to be a sales one. It can be sharing a piece of local information or anything they may be interested in hearing. The key is never to forget a customer ( or prospective customer) and never let them forget you.

And if all else fails………….two weeks before the prospects birthday, you should be alerted by the outlook reminder you created. Send them an E Card in advance ( even though they will get it early ) offering them a similar promotion to the one above, as a birthday treat. Do exactly the same for existing  customers as it’s a great way of rewarding them for their patronage and makes you stand out form the crowd.

On next weeks Blog, I will provide an alternative idea for Carol on how to win new clients using massage demonstrations. I will eventually get to the advertising question, its just that I am not 100% convinced at this point it is the most expedient solution for her, nor the quickest. I imagine Carol may not feel too comfortable with this method but difficult times demand difficult measures.

Have any of you tried this method ? Did it work for you? Do you think its too high pressured? 

Let me have your views.


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