By Gladys Edmunds for USA TODAY
Hello, Gladys, I own a carpet cleaning company and so far I seem to have a fairly decent customer base. I would like to get more customers. When I checked into advertising on local radio stations and in a few local newspapers, the prices are more than I can afford. How can I get more people to know about and use my service without spending money that I don’t have? — Sam
There are many ways to get the word out about your business that won’t cost you a lot of money. You will need to use the most valuable assets you have — time, effort and creative ability. Keeping them in good working order is one of the enjoyable aspects of entrepreneurship. The following are examples that you can try and I’m sure there are other entrepreneurs that may find a few ideas to try as well.
Never underestimate the power of referrals. There are a couple of ways to go about this. Call or write a letter to your customers and ask them to refer a friend. Or, you can ask each of your customers to recommend three of their friends. Then, write a letter to them introducing your services.
I know there are many companies that offer cash bonuses or rebates to people who refer customers. Personally, I don’t like that arrangement. Several months ago I got a letter from the gym I frequent offering members a $50 referral fee if they could get a friend to sign up. I asked one of the owners how that campaign had fared. He said they didn’t get any takers. I wonder what would have happened if he had offered the discount to the person signing up. I certainly would be happy to tell my friends that if they joined the gym during a certain time they would get the cash back. So try to avoid offering to pay your customers to send their friends to you. Generally when you have customers that appreciate your service they are usually happy to help you stay in business.
With the end of winter just around the corner, spring cleaning will be on most folk’s to-do list. You could design attractive leaflets and drop them off at churches, supermarkets, car washes, laundromats, gyms — any place that has a good flow of traffic. Usually there are community bulletin boards that you can post your leaflets on; by all means take advantage of that.
You can also offer your service as a fundraiser for your favorite charity. For a designated period of time give the organization a percentage of each sale they send your way. Organizations that are involved in raising money to fight breast cancer have raised millions of dollars this way.
Have you considered co-op advertising? Sometimes local newspapers offer this option. If not, pull it together yourself. Invite several small businesses that compliment your service to join in with you on an advertising campaign. For example, you could contact a window cleaning company, drapery cleaning company, maid service and maybe even a chimney sweep to join in an ad campaign aimed at building business for that coming spring-cleaning season. Once you pull the other business owners together, sit down with an ad agent from the newspaper and work out something attractive and eye-catching.
Also talk with other business owners to learn what they done creatively to enhance their market share. Try out one or two things that fit well with your company. Marketing a business is all about testing, testing and re-testing to see what works. Never underestimate the power of even the simplest marketing idea. The very thing that you think to be ridiculous could be the thing that has the most impact. Sometimes the best marketing and promotion ideas can come from simple ideas.
Gladys Edmunds’ Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There’s No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. Her website is www.gladysedmunds.com. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.