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While we are talking about how much money to spend on advertising, some people say, “But I am out of money! I don’t have enough customers coming in, and I don’t have the money for advertising…What should I do?” Great question. The answer, as you might have guessed, lies in using marketing techniques (other than advertising) that are inexpensive to do.

The first thing you need to do is to stop throwing money into advertising. As mentioned before, advertising is the most expensive way to attract customers. When you are short on money, advertising is not the way to go. Next, you need toprovide exceptional service to your existing customers. If you have annual revenues of $200,000 to $5,000,000, you already have customers coming to you. Perhaps not as many as you’d like, but you have a certain number of existing customers. You need to provide exceptional service to them.

Often times, the business owner feels down when the business is low on cash. The owner’s attitude affects the employees’ attitude, and everyone gets into a slow-paced, low-energy, apathetic mood. The morale is low, and no one feels excited. You need to turn that around. You need to explain to your employees why it’s important to provide an excellent customer experience, and why it’s important that everyone stays positive and enthusiastic. You need to explain to your employees that the more positive they are, the more customers will come, the more your business will grow, and the more likely they are to get raises. You need to explain to your employees that if they stay negative, you might go out of business and they won’t have a job any more. Make it a team effort to amaze your existing customers. Implement systems and train your employees so your service will amaze your customers every time. Make sure the workplace energy is high, and everyone smiles and works with enthusiasm. Tell them that this might be the one thing that saves the business from going under. If everybody manages to pull it off, have a big celebration!

The next thing you need to do is to ask for referrals. You can’t expect customers to give you referrals. You have to ask. For example, if you own a web design consulting company, it could be as simple as saying, “Do you know anyone else who might benefit from a website redesign?” It could be offering to take $50 off their bill if they give you the names and contact info of anyone they know that could benefit. It could be mailing a thank you card to your existing customers, and on the thank you card itself, offer a special for the customer to come back again, and a special for the customer’s friends and family. You could design a whole system where if they give you one referral, they are now a Silver VIP; if they give you two referrals, they become a Gold VIP; and if they give you three referrals, they become a Platinum VIP. Each level of VIP could receive different benefits. There are lots of ways to generate referrals, and your consultant can help you determine the best way for you.

The next thing you can do is to attend referral-generation groups. One example is the Chamber of Commerce. You get to know the people in the group, and you start to give each other referrals. There are lots of other referral-generation groups – some are more structured than others. There are groups that require every participant to pass two referrals to others every time they meet. There are groups that cost money to join, and groups that are free to join. Some groups might have membership requirements. For instance, there is a group that is composed of only the advisors for small business owners. If you want to be a member, your clients must be small business owners. So there would be one accountant that specializes in serving small business owners, one attorney that specializes in serving small business owners, one financial planner, one insurance agent, one web designer …so on and so forth. Every two weeks, these advisors meet and pass referrals to each other. The financial planner might say to the web designer, “My client needs help on website issues. She thinks her Flash site is not getting her ranked properly. I’ll send her over to you.”

When it comes to joining these groups, you have to choose the group carefully. Some are just a big social event where everyone chats with each other; some are very formal, structured, you pass the referrals and you leave. If you are thinking about joining a referral-generation group, definitely talk to your consultant. He or she would be able to help you choose one that fits you.

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