Thursday, October 25, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - networking

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Networking

I once had a blind date with a guy who sold financial products for a leading insurance company. During the course of our conversation he mentioned that one of his friends cynically believed that every social interaction - even with friends during leisure time - was simply another opportunity to network. At the time I found this attitude abhorrent, but since becoming an entrepreneur, I've come to realize the truth in this viewpoint.

Maybe it comes down to the observation that there are good ways and bad ways to network. Bad ways would include endless self-promotion and a "take, take, take" mentality; good ways would include nurturing others, and taking the time to listen and help others achieve their own goals.

There are a lot of networking resources out there. One of my favorites is Keith Ferrazzi, "super-connector" and author of Never Eat Alone. His website can be found here. Ferrazzi has a weekly e-newsletter and blog that present valuable networking tips to businesspeople from all walks of life. I like the sense of generosity and warmth that he brings to the topic of networking, which lifts it above the usual stereotype of banal schmoozing.

The opportunities for networking are truly limitless. Each person you meet - each encounter you have - is a chance for you to spread the good news about who you are and what you do. But more importantly, each moment offers the possibility of demonstrating to others how you can uniquely fulfill their genuine needs.

And those needs may not be for your products or services! They may be for something entirely unrelated to your business. But if you can provide the connections and resources that help others achieve their dreams, you will be remembered... and sometime further down the road, you will be rewarded.

Volunteer opportunities are great ways to connect with colleagues, referring professionals or potential clients. Get involved with your professional organization(s); share you skills with others who have need of them. I have been blessed to find work with colleagues that I've met through my board work with the Toronto chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. Once people get to know you, they'll be more likely to refer your services.

There are, of course, formal networking groups which connect professionals from a variety of different businesses for the purpose of generating leads and referrals (as well as offering fellowship and support). A quick online search will likely find a number of them in your community. Most charge some kind of fee, or require that you bring a certain number of legitimate client leads to each meeting. If you've had success with networking groups, share you stories in the comments section, below.

ACTION ITEM: Today, resolve to treat every single encounter you have as an opportunity to network. Listen deeply to the people you meet, and try in some small way to help them with their needs or goals.

Suggested online search: "networking" "networking groups in [your area]"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - maximizing referrals

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?
Maximizing referrals

Many professional organizers will tell you that they get most of their new clients through referrals. Organizing is one of those services that require a high trust factor; clients want to know that someone they know has had success with you in the past.

This can make it challenging for new organizers or organizers expanding into new markets to get new clients. It pays to maximize any and all referral opportunities.

Start by ensuring that the products or services which you provide are absolutely exemplary. Do everything you can to make every client's experience with you positive and memorable. Go above and beyond the call of duty - always strive to exceed your clients' expectations. Happy clients are clients who will spread the word about your products or services - the best advertising you could get!

Do everything you can to encourage satisfied clients to refer you to their friends. If they mention that they know someone who could really use your services, ask them if they'd like a few of your business cards or brochures to distribute.

Include them on your e-mail or snail mail targeted mailing lists, so they can stay up-to-date on what's happening with you.

Send thank you cards when you finish a job, and special occasion cards if appropriate. Regularly incorporate into your services such value-added bonuses as tips newsletters or other freebies.

Pick up some insight into client retention and referrals from other professionals such as financial planners. My father has sold financial products for over twenty years, and in that time I've read a lot of his professional literature. Check out online articles such as this one on Client Retention Management by financial planner Ed Morrow.

Consider using formal or informal affiliations with other professionals to increase your referrals. This may not be your cup of tea - I know it's not mine - but many professions regularly charge and pay out referral fees for legitimate referrals or client leads. If you're a member of POC, there was a discussion about referral fees on the Member Forum earlier this year, here. (You'll need to log onto the member area of the POC website to read the thread.)

Networking is also a great way to increase referrals, and I'll talk about it separately in my next post.

If you have any success stories about how you've maximized your referrals, feel free to share them in the comments section, below.

ACTION ITEM: Come up with at least two strategies for maximizing client referrals, and implement them within the next 30 days
Suggested online searches: "maximizing referrals" "client retention management"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - targeted mailings

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Targeted mailings and e-mailings

Large, unsolicited mailings (such as direct mail advertising) can be very expensive, and don't always lead to a significant return on your investment (ROI) if you are a small business owner. Instead, try sending out targeted mailings to prospective clients, repeat clients or others who may be able to refer your services. You'll keep your printing and postage expenses down, and if you focus on people whom you suspect already have an interest in your product or services, you'll maximize your ROI.

You can buy targeted mailing lists from a number of companies, but again, these can be expensive. Why not try compiling your own mailing list? You might start with a mailing to friends and family; they may not require your services, but could send referrals your way.

When I began my eco-friendly cleaning business nine years ago, the only advertising I ever paid for was a targeted mailing to my friends and acquaintances. I composed a letter that briefly outlined my services, and asked that if they knew of anyone who was looking for a home cleaner, they pass along my name.

From this one mailing - to approximately 50 people - came every single referral and lead I ever got for my business. In total, the mailing cost less than $50.

How about creating a mailing list of professionals who might be interested in referring your services? If you are a home stager, for example, you could mail a flyer or other advertisement to real estate professionals who may have clients needing your expertise. Be sure to emphasize your credentials, and include a few quotes from former clients, praising your work. You could even offer promotional discounts or suggest possible referral alliances to sweeten the deal.

E-mail campaigns are another very inexpensive way to advertise your business. Create your own e-mail list and compose an engaging and informative message describing your business and how it can help people. To keep your e-mails from veering into spam territory, be selective about where and how often you send them out. Include value-added material such as tips or links to useful sites to inspire readers not to hit the delete button right away.

Be sure to keep records of contact information - including e-mail addresses, if you can get them! - from all your previous clients. Send out seasonal newsletters or promotional specials that will keep you in their minds long after you've finished their project.

If you've had success with e-mail or snail mail campaigns, feel free to share your comments below!

ACTION ITEM: Go through your address book, social networking contact list, or e-mail contacts and create a customized mailing list for a targeted mailing. Alternatively, research and create a mailing list of professionals who may be able to refer you to their clients.

Suggested online search: "create your own mailing list"

Monday, October 22, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - promotional discounts and specials

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Promotional discounts and specials

This topic is vast, and can include free giveaway items (material goods advertising your business) which can be quite expensive for the small business owner. Instead I'd like to focus on promotional discounts and specials involving services and value-added gifts of time or advice.

I've already talked about print advertising (business cards, brochures, paid ads in print media) and posters. An extension of this kind of advertising can involve promotional specials - especially seasonal promotions.

How can you make your business seem more attractive to potential clients? What about offering time-limited discounts on your services?

This can take many forms; some methods I've tried have included offering a certain percentage off my regular fee for a limited period of time, or offering one hour of free service when clients pre-book a certain number of hours. To encourage ongoing clients, you could offer an incentive like "buy ten hours of organizing, get one hour free."

I've had a lot of success with a flyer I distributed, that offered potential clients their second hour of organizing for free. The only catch was that they had to book a three-hour work session (in essence getting three hours for the price of two), and they could only take advantage of this offer once.

How about - as a thank you for their business - giving clients a coupon worth one free hour of organizing, to pass along to their friends? This could be a great way to maximize your referrals.

You can also tie promotional specials to seasonal events such as holidays, spring and fall cleaning, or the back-to-school season. Sit down with a calendar and think of the times of the year when your target market will have special need of your services.

Let's say I want to focus on families with school-aged children. I know that once school is out in June, some families may be interested in tackling large projects like re-organizing their storage solutions, basements or garages. And likewise in the late summer they may be interested in gearing up for the school year, and would be excited to hear about time-management strategies.

Incorporating some of those ideas into my advertising and promotions could maximize those types of seasonal jobs for me.

Providing value-added services is another way of promoting your business. I see my organizing blog - with its tips and advice - as a big promotional service for potential and established clients. You could also send out e-newsletters with valuable tips and advice to existing clients, or send e-mail summaries of your client work sessions, with advice for the next steps to be taken.

I'm continually looking for ways to add value to my clients' organizing experiences, in the sincere hope that they will find my work so beneficial that they will happily recommend me to their families and friends.

ACTION ITEM: Decide on a promotional special that you feel comfortable advertising on a limited-time basis, and create advertising materials to broadcast your message.

ACTION ITEM: Sit down with a calendar and map out special seasonal promotions that you can implement.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - posters

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Posters

Posters are a superb form of Guerilla Marketing. If you create and photocopy the posters yourself, they can be remarkably inexpensive. Not sure if you have the skills to put together a great poster? Check out some online resources such as about.com's desktop publishing blog. Or check out the advice in this video from an entrepreneur in Australia.

Some tips to remember: Keep your message simple. Make it legible (a large, clean font is good). Bright colours (in graphics or paper) will get you noticed. Removable phone numbers at the bottom of the page increase the chances that you will, indeed, be called by potential clients.

Let's say you've got your posters ready. What do you do with them?

Go back to the description you've already created of your target market. Where do your potential clients live? Where do they work? Where do they go during an average day/week? Focus on some or all of those locations and post your advertising materials where your potential clients will see them.

Let's say I've decided to focus on stay-at-home moms. I know they visit playgroups and other community groups - and these groups often have community bulletin boards where I can easily display my posters. I may also decide to target neighbourhoods where moms may walk with their strollers, and put up posters on hydro poles or light standards - especially near playgrounds or parks.*

A year ago I actually did a poster blitz of my neighbourhood, advertising my services as an eco-friendly home cleaner right before the holidays. I got many calls and several jobs from this effort - enough to fill in some pre-Christmas dead time in my organizing schedule.

Talk to businesses that your potential clients might frequent, such as retail stores, health care providers, or health and wellness studios. Seek out ones that already have bulletin boards (or offer to sponsor a business' community bulletin board!). Ask if you can post your materials - even on a temporary basis. Many businesses are happy to create alliances with professionals offering services which their clientele would be interested in.

ACTION ITEM: Come up with a simple message to advertise on a poster. Buy some bright, coloured paper and make some copies. Post them in areas where your target audience will see them.

Do you have a poster success story? Share it in the comments section, below.

*In the interests of good public relations, be sure not to violate any anti-postering bylaws in your community. And do monitor your posters - keep track of where you've posted them, whether they've been removed or defaced, and take them down yourself before they get outdated or too weathered.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - lawn signs

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Lawn signs

Lawn signs offer many of the same benefits as a car sign, only they are visible to fewer potential clients. And the embarrassment factor is potentially huge for the clients on whose lawns the signs are posted.

It can't hurt to ask, though. And you can sweeten the deal by offering a discount (say 5% of your bill) if they keep your sign on the lawn for a week or two.

If anyone out there has had success with lawn signs or other signage, I would love to hear about it. Leave me a comment, below!

Friday, October 19, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - car signs

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Car signs

I first heard about professional organizer Karen Shinn (THE Downsizing Diva)'s success with her car sign last spring when we were working together on a volunteer project. Karen drives a silver VW bug, and has had a beautiful advertising decal put on her back window. Her logo graphic is amazing, as you can see if you check out her website.

I asked Karen to get up and tell the other organizers at this week's Toronto Professional Organizers in Canada meeting about her experiences with her sign. She pointed out the importance of advertising her website (THE Downsizing Diva.com) on her car: People who see her sign while driving don't have to write down a phone number, they only have to remember a catchy business name, and can later go to her website for more information about her services.

Karen has been connected with several new clients because of her sign, and has also had an offer to write a book about downsizing! She considers her decal one of the best (and least expensive) marketing moves she's ever made.

Perhaps the biggest drawback* of car signs - at least for professional organizers - is the possibility that they may embarrass clients when we are parked in their driveways. But if you have a fantastic logo and own a domain name, this strategy may still be a winner for you.

*Addendum (October 20, 2007): Karen says to add that "[t]here is another downside of having a car sign - you have to be on your best behaviour all the time. No cutting people off or driving carelessly - with a car sign, you're no longer an anonymous driver!"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part six

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

6) Alternative marketing techniques

What do we mean when we talk about alternative marketing techniques? Let's take a look at the definition of Guerilla Marketing, a concept originated by author and marketing coach Jay Conrad Levinson.

Guerilla Marketing "is an unconventional way of performing promotional activities on a very low budget." (Wikipedia) Levinson identifies the following principles as some of the foundations of guerrilla marketing:

-Guerrilla Marketing is specifically geared for the small business.
-It should be based on human psychology instead of experience, judgment, and guesswork.
-Instead of money, the primary investments of marketing should be time, energy, and imagination.
-The primary statistic to measure your business is the amount of profits, not sales.
-The marketer should also concentrate on how many new relationships are made each month.

To read five other foundations of Guerilla Marketing, check out the entire Wikipedia article, here.

There are many low-cost techniques that you can use to market your business - and you can find a number of examples if you do a few online searches.

Suggested online search: How should I spend my marketing budget?

A few results from the above question will lead you to blog entries like the following, which answer the question, How would you spend a $1000 marketing budget?:

Firstly, $1000 isn’t a lot of money. Just like a prudent investor, you should never invest your marketing budget in only one or two untested areas.

For example - direct mail. Let’s say you rent a list for $300 and mail 1000 letters. Turns out the list was as old as the hills and you get minimal response (I’ve seen this happen several times, even with good copy).

Now you’ve blown your marketing budget!

With a budget of this size, I would suggest spending no more than $200 on any one marketing activity, and also parlaying the resources of others to stretch your budget further.


Read the rest of this blog post, here.

Here are some other suggestions from the same post:

I’m coming into this topic late as I’ve just discovered your blog, but wanted to add my comments as well. I am a home-based service business and my market is primarily local rather than online. Here’s what is on my list:

$150 - car/window decal done by a professional sign making company. I drive a lot and this exposure has proven to work in other businesses like mine.

$0 - this only requires my time (a few hours at the library or on the computer) to build my own mailing list using addresses in specific neighborhoods, demographic sects and targeted areas locally. This is a better option for me than buying a mailing list because my personal touch allows me to know exactly who I’m sending which materials to.

$400 - printing of targeted brochures, postcards, marketing materials or supplies for handmade promotional items for the mailing list I just created above. I have several different types of brochures based on the nature of each audience. (wedding, baby, travel, military, etc.)

$200 - postage to mail those materials above (this will reach about 500 people - but I would rarely do a mailing this large all at once. My typical mailing is about 75 per week so these expenses are spread out over time.)


Read the rest of this business owner's suggestions, here.

My next several posts will cover a variety of marketing techniques that you may wish to try, such as car signs, lawn signs, poster blitzes, promotions, targeted mailings, referral strategies, networking, public speaking, media attention, the Internet (including blogging), as well as positive thinking and visualization.

If you are interested in learning more about Guerilla Marketing, you can sign up for free newsletters and articles at Levinson's website, gmarketing.com.

List the alternative marketing methods that intrigue or interest you.

ACTION ITEM: Choose one marketing method and follow through on researching and implementing it in your marketing strategy within the next 30 days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part five

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

5) Traditional marketing techniques: Print and media advertising

When most of us start a business, these are the obvious techniques many of us gravitate towards. Everyone needs business cards, right? And brochures or flyers. Maybe some direct mailing. A yellow pages ad. Paid adverts in print and (if we can afford it) other media like radio and TV. Oh, and a website. Everyone needs a website now, right?

One thing most of these techniques have in common is that they can quickly become very expensive. There may be a place for these techniques in your marketing strategy, but if you're trying to keep costs low, you really need to pick and choose the most effective techniques for your particular business.

If you've been in business for a while, what has worked well for you in the past? Each type of business has its own special needs, something I didn't anticipate when I began marketing my professional organizing business.

As a consumer, I rely on the Yellow Pages when researching unfamiliar businesses. I assumed my potential organizing clients would feel the same way. I bought listings in three of Toronto's five Yellow Pages books (at a cost of over $350), and in the four months since the books have been published, I've had only one client-related call. (Which didn't even lead to new business for me.)

Most professional organizers will tell you that they get most of their new business from referrals. Our potential clients have many fears about bringing strangers into their homes and personal lives, and need to feel a high degree of trust - something they can get from a friend or neighbour (or trusted professional) who has past experience with us.

Where does that leave new organizers?

The good news is that potential clients depend on their instincts, and can often tell within minutes of meeting an organizer whether or not they feel safe with this professional, and want to hire them.

(The bad news is that potential clients depend on their instincts, and can often tell within minutes of meeting an organizer whether or not they feel safe with this professional, and want to hire...)

Most professional organizers I've spoken with have not had success with media advertising (in newspapers, for example). In fact, one organizer I know has said that the only calls she got from her newspaper ads were newspapers wanting her to buy more ads.

Business cards are the number one traditional investment that most organizers have found worthwhile. As part of a networking strategy, they are gold. I've even had clients ask for stacks of my cards to pass out to their friends.

Are websites important for professional organizers?

If your prospective clients are Internet users, maybe. If your other advertising is tied to your website (and I'll mention a case regarding car signs in a later post where this is key), then your website can be a great place for people to find out more about your business.

Your website doesn't have to be flashy and expensive - in fact, the simpler it is (considering that we're professional organizers, after all), the better. Just make sure the overall look and feel of your site is in line with the image you've chosen for yourself as an organizer. If you can't afford a web designer, explore cost-saving measures such as blogging (which will be covered in a future post) and bartering services, rather than settling for a cheap, amateur-looking site.

Think of the head shot issue mentioned in a previous post. Do you play true to type? The more that every aspect of your marketing - including your website - corresponds to who you are and what you do, the better your chances of conveying integrity to your prospective clients - and the better chance you have of them trusting you.

(Oh, and please have someone proofread your website! Spelling and grammatical errors are very off-putting to well-educated potential clients! Your website copy is so easy to change, it's a crying shame to see many professionals with error-riddled websites. How do I know? I read the sites when I'm prospecting for my editing business...)

Direct mail is very expensive, and for many businesses it doesn't give a good return on investment (ROI). As an organizer in a new city, however, I found that personally distributing flyers door-to-door in neighbourhoods I had earmarked as good markets for my services was a great way of getting my name known, and generating profitable leads for new business.

I have a background in visual art, so I created a simple flyer for myself on my computer, and had it inexpensively photocopied onto colourful paper at a local copy shop. I like to go for daily walks anyhow, so I figured if I just took a handful of flyers on my walk every day - driving to the neighbourhoods I wanted to explore and distributing as many flyers as I could within an hour - I'd kill two birds with one stone.

90% of my clients in my first year of business came from leads generated by the flyers.

List the traditional advertising methods that have worked for you in the past. Incorporate the lessons you have learned from these strategies into your future marketing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part four

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

4) Information-gathering and inexpensive marketing research

If you don't have a lot of money to spend, there are a number of ways to do inexpensive marketing research.

A) Libraries

Libraries not only have books and periodicals which you can read (for free!), but they also typically have reference sections devoted to small business, as well as free access to computers and the Internet. Librarians themselves can be a great resource if you are seeking specific information and don't know where to start looking. Libraries may also offer programs or lectures at little or no cost.

B) Book stores

I just love book stores like Chapters (here in Canada) where you can pull a book off the shelves, plop down in a comfy chair for an hour or so, and read to your heart's content WITHOUT HAVING TO BUY THE BOOK FIRST. Not sure which marketing books will help you? Browse through their tables of contents, and read a chapter or two before committing to a purchase. You can sample business magazines this way as well.

C) Magazines and newspapers

There is a free magazine for small businesses called Canada's SOHO Business offered at most Staples stores in Canada. Each issue is full of articles that relate directly to the needs of small business owners.

You can also find marketing ideas in non-business-related magazines and newspapers. Pay attention to the ads that catch your eye. Notice what's hot and interesting (and effective!) in the world of advertising. Research the needs and desires of your target market. Take note of demographic trends (like aging baby boomers) that may affect your business and your potential clients.

D) The Internet

The Internet is a huge resource for business-related information. It may be time-consuming to wade through page after page of web material, but the wonderful thing about the Internet is that there is so much first-hand information to be found - much of it on business-related blogs, where individuals can leave their own comments and contribute to the sharing of information.

There are also numerous sites dedicated to business specialists, many of whom have published best-selling books on their areas of expertise. If you find some favorite books after your library or book store expeditions, it's more than likely that these authors will have their own websites, often listed right in their books.

Many business websites also send out regular e-newsletters which are full of pertinent information - delivered easily and effortlessly into your inbox every week. Sign up for the ones that intrigue you - you can always unsubscribe at a later date if they turn out not to be worthwhile.

E) Networking

I'll discuss Networking again in another post, but here I'm interested in networking as a way of gathering marketing information. Ask others what they're doing to market their businesses, and what has worked for them in the past. Be prepared to share some of your own information; many people are generous with their knowledge, but don't like to feel used.

If during your daily travels you spot an advertisement that really catches your attention and inspires you to do something similar, why not contact the business owner and ask about their experience with this marketing technique? At the very least they'll probably be happy to refer you to the professionals who did the work for them.

F) Poll prospective customers

Talk to people. This can be as informal or as formal as you like - but get comfortable asking people what they're looking for in the service or product you provide, and seek out feedback on their past experiences and preferences regarding marketing.

Talk to friends, relatives, strangers in the grocery check-out - anyone who will give you the time of day. If you make it low-key and focus on their stories, letting them share their own needs and experiences, you may be surprised how people will open up and divulge very worthwhile information.

G) Observation

This is related to item C) above, but in truth encompasses not just print media, but everything you see around you. There are marketing messages everywhere. What do you notice? What attracts your attention? What is effective? More importantly, what sticks out as unique and innovative?

This doesn't have to be tedious or feel like work. But you should definitely get in the habit of trying to relate things back to your own information-gathering process. Continually ask yourself at various times throughout the day, in various situations, "What might this have to do with me and my business?"

Some other inexpensive information-gathering or research suggestions offered by the attendees at my talk:

*Seek out local organizations that support small business start-ups. They often offer inexpensive or free programming on marketing topics.

*Join professional associations (like Professional Organizers in Canada, if you're an organizer) and network with your colleagues.

ACTION ITEM: Book time in your weekly schedule to actively do marketing research. Spend at least some of this time in creative daydreaming or brainstorming.

Suggested online search: "marketing"

Monday, October 15, 2007

low-cost marketing techniques - part three

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

3) How much should I spend on marketing?

We all realize that we need to spend money on our marketing efforts, but for those who are starting their businesses, or who go through regular periods of "feast and famine," parting with precious funds can be challenging.

There is no magic number for how much you should spend to market your business, but if your business is new (one to two years old), it would not be unreasonable to spend an amount that is equal to 20-30% of your net income. A mature business might be able to get away with spending only 10% on marketing.

If money is tight, keep in mind that there is generally an inverse relationship between the amount of money you spend on marketing and the amount of time you need to spend on marketing. That is, if you won't or can't spend money, you will probably need to spend a lot of your own time and effort marketing your business. The most inexpensive marketing techniques often require the most amount of time.

A) How much income do you make (or would you like to make) in a year?

B) What is 25% of the above?

C) How many person-hours is that, based on you current hourly fee?

Suggested online search: "how much should I spend on marketing?"

Read two online articles on this subject here and here.

ACTION ITEM: Commit to spending 25% of your income - either in the form of dollars or person-hours - on marketing. Book the person-hours into your schedule regularly.

If you find that you really can't afford some of the marketing services (such as graphic design or web design) that you feel you need to grow your business right now, consider the possibility of bartering your services for those of another professional who provides those services.

You can set up these relationships yourself, or use a website such as favorville.com to connect with the services you need. (Thanks for that tip, Jeannette!)

ACTION ITEM: Approach at least one professional about the possibility of bartering for marketing services.

low-cost marketing techniques - part two

This post is part of a series, based on a talk I gave on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

2) Who is my client?

A) Choose a potential client segment, and describe them. Who are these people? Where do they live? Where do they work? What do they do all day? What do they do in their spare time? What do they do for fun? What other businesses do they already frequent? How much money do they make? Can they afford your products or services? Why would they want your products or services? What do they value?

B) Next, create a list of new strategies which you can use to reach these potential clients.

Let's say I've decided that I want to focus my marketing efforts on families with young children. They are overworked and stressed to the limit, and would really benefit from the help of a professional organizer who could give them strategies for time management and task flow within their homes.

Professional organizing is a fairly expensive service, so I want to focus my efforts on reaching families with enough disposable income to afford me. These families live in upper-middleclass neighbourhoods. They often make enough money that one partner - usually the wife - can stay home with the children when they are young. These mothers go for walks during the day, and visit playgroups and other parenting or early childhood learning groups.

Young families often have dogs, and spend time walking the streets in their neighbourhood. They may walk their children to school. They transport their children to a variety of extracurricular activities. They value their time and raising healthy, happy children. They may have a personal interest in self-development or self-care.

They frequent doctors' and dentists' offices, pet stores, toy stores, grocery stores, clothing stores, and perhaps seek out alternative health or spa treatments.

ACTION ITEM: Create a written description on your potential client. Use this description as a jumping-off point for directing your marketing efforts. Commit to pursuing at least one new client market in the next 30 days.

Suggest online search: "inexpensive market research"

low-cost marketing techniques - part one

I'm giving a talk on the subject of inexpensive marketing techniques this evening to the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. The following posts are an outline of the topics I will be covering, as well as related resources and links.

How do I market myself as a professional organizer? How do I market my professional organizing business?

Before you begin marketing, it's a good idea to know - inside and out, right-side-up, forwards, backwards and upside-down - the product or service that you are selling.

1) Who am I?

A) As an exercise, make a list of the former jobs or businesses you've had, as well as your education, interests, hobbies and activities. Don't hold back - list it all.

When you've finished your list, take a look at these characteristics from a marketing standpoint. What do you have to offer potential clients? What are your unique skills and areas of expertise? What sets you apart from the hundreds or thousands of other people selling the same product or service that you are selling?

B) Based on this new appraisal of yourself, can you come up with ideas for new markets or specialty niches? Create a list of markets you would like to explore.

For example, my own list of characteristics would include the fact that I'm a classically-trained singer. I've studied voice for many years, and have spent a lot of time performing, both as a soloist and a choral singer. Because of my voice training and experience, I am comfortable getting up in front of large groups of people and being the centre of attention. It occurs to me that I could translate this performance experience into a sideline as a public speaker.

I've also suffered loss in my life, struggling with depression after the death of my brother by suicide over ten years ago. Through my own healing process I learned many helpful techniques and strategies for dealing with loss and emotional pain. As a professional organizer I could translate this personal experience into a specialty helping bereaved families clean out the homes of their deceased loved ones.

C) What is my type?

Several months ago I came across a website offering advice to actors, and I was intrigued by a post on getting good head shots. Actors and other performers need "head shots," or photographs of their faces, when going out on auditions or for publicity purposes. Having a good head shot is often key to being hired for the right role, and a bad head shot - one that doesn't accurately categorize you into a "type" that casting directors readily understand - can keep you from being hired at all.

Read the article here, scrolling down to the entry from Mark Atteberry. Then, as an exercise, try to figure out what "type" you (and through association, your products or services) are.

Are you trying to market yourself against type? Do your potential customers recognize your type immediately - and are you the type that they are looking for?

ACTION ITEM: Create a written description of who you are and what you do professionally. Commit to exploring at least one new specialty market from item B) in the next 30 days.

Resource: Hypnotic Writing by Joe Vitale

Suggested online search: "persuasive copywriting"

Friday, October 12, 2007

how not to write a blog

I'm doing research right now for a talk I'm giving next Monday for the Toronto Chapter of Professional Organizers in Canada. I'll be discussing inexpensive marketing techniques, including blogging.

I was just browsing for blogs on that topic when I came across a blogger.com user who has 43 (yes, that's forty-three!) blogs registered under his name. You can check out his profile and his list of blogs here:

http://www.blogger.com/profile/07219299130867293674

Now, what really bugs me about this guy is that he's obviously just used these blogs as a marketing ploy to generate web traffic. He has created as many blog titles as he could think of that relate to his business (advertising wraps on trucks - those huge print ads you see applied to buses and transport trucks). Then on each blog he's simply posted the exact same information - basically an advertisement of his business.

Why did he do this? Well, blogger.com offers their blog URLS for free. To do something similar by registering regular .com domain names would have cost a chunk of change.

But this is not blogging. He's not creating regular posts for any of these blogs. And I think his approach may turn off potential customers, once they realize what he's done...