Promoting Your Company on a Budget

Dec 3, 2009

The money comes from customers, of course. So the question becomes, How do I obtain more paying customers?

I’d like to share some ideas on marketing and promotion. These come from personal experience, tips from other successful operators, and sage advice gleaned from service-related books.

Not everything in this article will apply to everyone who reads it; but hopefully you’ll be able to pick up a few good ideas that help bring in more customers.

Whether you are targeting retail or wholesale customers, some general marketing and promotional concerns apply to both. I’ll discuss these first, then talk specifically about each side of the business.

First Impressions

Each time you meet a potential new customer, you have, at the same time, the opportunity to impress and the ability to turn off. Many times, the determining factor as to how this initial contact goes is the potential customer’s impression of you.

It doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money to take advantage of first impressions. Your appearance is the first place to start; after all, for most of us, we are our business.

The best advice I can give here is to groom yourself as close as possible to the grooming patterns of your ideal customer. That is, if your target market is business professionals, then cut your hair and shave as do business professionals. This helps your potential customer relate to you better.

Company shirts [collared versus T-shirts], matching work pants and clean shoes go a long way toward helping you look like a professional. Additionally, your shop and mobile vehicle should be clean at all times.

There is one other first impression tactic that is at once extraordinarily simple and absolutely free-smiling!

Each time you come into face-to-face contact with a potential customer [and, let’s face it, everyone who owns a motorized conveyance is a potential customer], smile and say hello.

Other General Concerns

Whether you are offering service on a wholesale or retail basis, there are some things that you can do to help your promotional efforts.

Business Cards. You need to have something to hand to a potential customer. Spend the time and money to produce professional-looking business cards.

There are many options now for obtaining design work for cards. If you are an owner-operator, include a headshot on the front of the card. Keep the front simple and to the point-name of your company, motto, logo and contact information including phone number and website or email.

Remember the back of the card-here is a bunch of space that most people never use. I recommend using the back of the card as a mini-brochure with quick descriptions of the services that you provide. [No prices, however, because you want to keep the ability to change prices based on the particulars of each job or over time.]

Another tip about passing out business cards: Always ask the other person for his or her card as well. Then you can follow up in a couple of days with a quick phone call or email. This is better than waiting for him to call you!

Use the Internet. Websites offer a phenomenal opportunity to expound fully on your services with complete descriptions, photos and testimonials. I find that it is very helpful to refer a potential customer to your website “for more information” instead of spending 30 minutes boring him or her with details. [Again, no prices, for the reasons mentioned before.]

Get Out There! If your schedule isn’t full, you need to spend your working hours marketing, not relaxing.

Work the neighborhoods in which you would like to cultivate business. Call your list of previous paid customers and see if they need anything. Work on the design of your promotional materials.

In short, get out there! It will take a couple of weeks for your efforts to have an effect, so work every spare moment on marketing so that your schedule will soon be full of paying customers!

Retail Marketing

If you are looking for retail customers, you have the advantage that everyone you meet is a potential customer. Wear your [clean] uniform proudly wherever you go; always have a stack of business cards in your pocket; always wear a smile; and say hello to everyone that comes within 10 feet of you.

This may sound goofy at first, but let me assure you, some of my biggest accounts have come from simply saying hello and striking up a conversation with someone during a chance meeting.

The gas station is a perfect example. Here, you have a captive audience-it takes five minutes or so to fill up. If you see somebody with a vehicle that needs your attention, say hello, compliment the customer on their vehicle, and tell him or her how you can keep it looking great. Then hand the potential customer a card.

Another great source of potential customers is from other service providers. Whenever I am at a customer’s house and I see another professional [e.g., handyman, window washer, lawn maintenance], I introduce myself with a smile, exchange cards, and offer a referral fee for every new paying customer that the individual sends my way.

These professionals probably already have a list of their own paying customers, who may also be looking for your service.

Also, try joining a business networking club in your town. There are several nationally run organizations that may have a chapter in your area. There may also be local groups within your community. The chamber of commerce is another great place to find potential customers.

Many mobile operators that I speak with have had good success with vehicle signage, especially full-vehicle wraps on vans or trucks. There is some cost associated with this advertising technique, but most find that money spent is returned with the first few paying customers who call based on the sign.

Another great source of retail customers is from other auto-related businesses in your area. It’s simply a matter of getting to know the business owners or managers and making sure they understand how you can send customers to each other.

Wholesale Marketing

In the wholesale arena, you have a much more limited audience. It is no longer true that everyone you meet is a potential customer.

The advantage, on the other hand, of wholesale marketing is that once you land an account, you are probably dealing with multiple vehicles every visit.

Auto dealers are a fickle crowd that can be hard to break into. The best advice here is to be persistent and consistent without being annoying.

Visit the dealers where you would like to work, determine the contact persons [e.g., used car manager, recon manager, body shop manager] and make sure they have your card. Respect their time-your presentation should only take a couple of minutes. Show before and after photos to demonstrate your abilities.

Dealers want to sell cars quickly for the highest profit margin possible. Your sales pitch should include the words: “I can help you move cars off the lot faster and for more money.”

Once you have established a point of contact, reconnect with that person every few weeks or monthly.

Your message can be something like, “Just checking in. Anything I can help you with? Is your current vendor still providing you with great service? Please feel free to call me if something happens or you need something done last-minute and your normal guy is not available.”

The crux of your message is that you are available and able to do the work.

Other places to seek wholesale accounts include insurance adjusters, insurance agencies, body shops, trim shops, and auto repair shops.

As with retail customer hunting, wear your clean uniform, present your card proudly, collect the other person’s cards, and smile! After all, you’re on your way to landing another customer.