Most people begin a solo business knowing very little about how to actually run a business. I was no exception. Desperate for cash flow I assumed that I would get a flood of customers if people just knew about what I was offering.
So, in order to make sure people knew, I excitedly spent a lot of time creating a small ad to put in the local paper. I made it beautiful and it felt good. I was putting myself out there. The paper came out, I waited, and then when no one responded, I felt a bit discouraged.
What I learned is that what I was doing was advertising, and what I needed to do first was marketing. Running ads is only a small part of a whole marketing plan. Placing an ad can only work and make sense from that point of view.
The best way to distinguish between advertising and marketing is to think of marketing as a pie. Inside the pie you have many pieces. They do overlap but the advertising part won't work without the steps that come first, and even then it is tricky.
I developed a 7-step marketing circle that simplifies how this works, and it's perfect for service based businesses. It includes the points below and more:
• Knowing your niche market.
• Developing your core marketing message and your branding.
• Finding out where your niche is and how to reach the people in it.
• Giving free samples to get their attention and build relationships.
• Building a website that is client focused.
• Finding strategic partners.
• Developing a variety of products and services with varied pricing.
• Creating sales strategy.
• Offering customer support.
Marketing is a process that takes time. Think of it as everything you do to build relationships within your niche.
I never place ads in newspapers anymore. Once I finally developed clarity about my niche- who and where they are, what they want and how best to reach them- I discovered that newspaper ads were a waste of money and time.
Look at the three questions below and notice your answers.
1. Does your service involve helping people directly?
2. Do people need to trust you and feel that you understand them before they hire you?
3. Do your services involve a process rather than a one-time job?
If you answered YES to all three, you need a strong service based business marketing plan. Marketing in general is similar for all businesses, but if you answered yes above, your plan needs to involve building:
• Build trust and empathy with your niche.
• Be relationship driven.
• Show the benefits of your services.
You can never accomplish this through a newspaper advertisement because those ads are usually about you, your products, your services and your business. Marketing is all about your clients, and even when you eventually share about your services, it is not until someone has engaged with you.
How to advertise and when?
If you own a residential carpet cleaning company, a newspaper ad can work. For these kinds of services, it is not about helping a person directly, it is all about doing a good job. Carpet cleaners might argue that a relationship of trust is still important, but it is at a much different level. Most of the “relationship” is with the carpet. Two days before Christmas last year, when my dog dragged in a muddy old bone and chewed it all over the rug, I just needed the rug cleaned fast and I barely talked to the cleaner, other than to agree on a time and price.
But for health practitioners, web builders, coaches, consultants, teachers, designer etc., it is all about relationships. You are offering a service that clients are directly involved in, so it also concerns their issues and emotions.
Prospective clients read your website, download your free tools, ask questions, think about it, compare, talk to you again and then decide if they want to work with you. (The process can be a bit shorter if they received a stellar referral from another one of your clients.)
The best ads are to people who already know about you and are already in your pipeline. Even then you have to be mindful of not overselling. The best email newsletter is 90% valuable content and 10% advertising. Twitter experts say that for every 12-20 re-tweets or inspirational quotes, you can do one ad tweet. This is similar for Facebook. I won't “Like” a new FB page if I look at the recent updates and they are all sales. Marketing is all about building relationships. It isn't about selling.
Here are a few questions to help you assess how you are doing with your marketing.
1. Do you have a plan that covers every one of the areas mentioned above?
2. Is your plan for at least the next three months?
3. Do you offer a large variety of freebies that give direct value to your niche customer and are not disguised sales copy?
4. Do you have a fan base that loves getting help from you and keeps wanting more?
5. Do you offer a variety of ways to communicate with them and build trust?
My first marketing mentor, Jay Abrams, told me it requires 4-6 hours per day to market a business effectively during the growth years. I gasped when he said this then. And he was wrong. It actually takes many more hours than that!