When it comes to marketing a small service business, most conventional marketing ideas simply aren’t worth the effort because they just don’t work or they’re too expensive.
The catch is you cannot do without marketing; it is absolutely essential to the financial health of any small business, especially in a specialized field like automotive service. That’s where guerrilla marketing comes in — unconventional and inexpensive ways to boost sales and outpace your competition while you grow your business.
Here are eight guerrilla-marketing techniques that you can put to work right now:
1. Create “Business Cards” Prospects Will Keep
Most run-of-the-mill business cards are discarded at the recipient’s first opportunity. Instead of wasting your money on what would otherwise be a smart marketing idea, hand out something your prospects and customers can use. One effective alternative is a small notepad with the name and address of your business (be sure to include your phone number and email address). Scratch pads are hard to come by these days, and most people will hang on to and use any given to them. Every time prospects jot a note, your business’ ad meets their eyes.
Your local print shop will be happy to supply prices for inexpensive imprinted scratch pads.
To be sure, one notepad will be more expensive than one traditional business card, but your investment in notepads will be far more likely to provide a real return on your investment.
Other possibilities include magnetic cards with local emergency phone numbers and your contact info to be attached to the fridge. Imprinted ballpoint pens are inexpensive these days, and who won’t hang on to a free pen? Want to find a source for these and other effective marketing items? Just enter a description in the Google search box, and you’ll have a wide choice of suppliers.
2. Don’t Forget Your Email Signature is Valuable Real Estate
These days, almost everyone uses email, and you probably do too. Every time you send an email, or reply to one, you have a no-cost guerilla-marketing opportunity to promote your business.
Almost all email software allows the user to create a default signature; you’ve probably seen many on the emails you’ve received. In addition to whatever text you create, most will also allow you to include a graphic such as your company logo (or even a picture of your shop or your staff).
Creating a default signature is the only work required. Once you do that, your signature will automatically be included on every email you send — a no-cost means for making sure everyone on your email list is a recipient of your marketing effort.
3. Never Let a Profitable Customer Simply Slip Away
Make an effort to get that customer back in the fold. It costs a lot less to retain a disgruntled or inactive customer than to acquire a new one.
Marketing studies over the years have indicated it costs about five times as much for a business to find a new customer than to keep an old one. You should focus on the significance of that statement. It is one of the most powerful concepts in the business world.
Once you sell to a new customer for the first time, you’ve done the hard part. Now your job is to hang on to that customer by making sure your shop is their one stop for auto maintenance.
You and your employees must never lose sight of the fact that developing a new customer is a costly and difficult job. Once a stranger enters your bay, that first experience will determine whether that person will want to stick with you.
When you successfully convert a prospect into a customer, you must build your marketing program around techniques designed to make sure he or she never has reason to seek out a competitor. In short, your existing customers are your most valuable business asset; everyone in your organization should do everything possible to keep even one of them from slipping away.
4. Adopt a Marketing Attitude
Almost by definition, running a service business means marketing. Some time, some place, someone may have bought the necessary equipment, signed a lease, put a sign over the door and sat back while the phone rang off the hook and customers came clamoring in to the shop with cars needing service.
Perhaps, but not likely.
Building a successful and growing clientele of car owners requires an on-going marketing program. Competitive prices alone won’t do it; good service alone won’t do it; specialized knowledge alone won’t do it.
Now’s the time to get out of your comfort zone. Give yourself time to market your business. Rather than spending large sums of money, marketing a small business means investing your time, passion and energy instead.
Years ago, a popular saying offered this wisdom: Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. As countless inventors have since learned, that’s a clever saying, but it has little to do with reality. After inventing “better mousetraps,” many inventors soon discovered that without marketing, their brainchildren sat languishing on store shelves.
5. Make Sure You Treat the Telephone as an Important Marketing Tool
Your customers’ experience with your shop begins the exact moment you or one of your employees answer the phone. Train every employee who answers the phone to understand the importance of treating every caller with courtesy and respect. In particular, make sure everyone understands the importance of answering promptly. Never allow the telephone to ring more than three or four times, and make sure everyone identifies himself or herself by name in a cheery voice.
Never leave a customer on hold for more than a few moments. Customer Satisfaction Audits, a commercial survey method, consistently show leaving a customer on hold for more than a minute is one of the most certain ways to alienate the caller.
If you can’t find the information you need within a minute or so, volunteer to call the customer back. And always call the customer back when you have promised to do so. Even if you haven’t been able to find all the information you need, don’t force the customer to wait for a call that never comes.
6. Take Steps to Make Your Customers Feel Special
People respond to being recognized and appreciated. That’s the reason it is so smart to make customer satisfaction the hallmark of your business.
Customer satisfaction is the most powerful advertising and marketing medium available to you and your business. Nothing will build your business faster than customers bragging to their friends about you — and nothing will eat away at your business more relentlessly than a customer complaining to friends and business associates about an unhappy experience with your shop.
Yes, sometimes it takes money and time to resolve a customer complaint, and it can be especially trying when you feel that the complaint is not justified. However, the point to remember is the dollars you spend resolving a complaint are marketing dollars — arguably the most effective marketing dollars that you can spend.
Never allow yourself to forget the most powerful and least costly source of new business is a personal referral, and the only sources of personal referrals are satisfied customers.
7. Measure the Results of Every Advertising Dollar
The information in this article is intended to help you spend the least amount of advertising dollars necessary. However, most fast lube operators will find it necessary to spend at least a few dollars on advertising.
Larger businesses can afford (or think they can afford) to waste dollars on advertising that doesn’t carry its own weight, but you must make certain every one of your advertising dollars is generating bottom-line profits.
The only way to make certain of this is to track the source of every new customer. Many shop owners are under the impression that their Yellow Page ads are producing far more business than they actually are. Perhaps your ads are cost-effective, but the only way to determine that for sure is to ask every new customer how they happened to choose you.
Whatever advertising media you use, it is essential you take the time and trouble to track the results of every dollar you spend.
8. Take Action Now
It almost doesn’t matter which first step you take in your guerrilla-marketing program. What matters is you do something new and creative to overcome the inertia that keeps many small business owners from ever reaching their full potential.
Creativity and originality are the keys to a great marketing strategy. Don’t be afraid to try something new, no matter how unorthodox it may seem at first glance. If it doesn’t work, move on and try something else.
While marketing is work away from customers — and most shop owners will agree they don’t need more of that kind of work — it’s a different sort of work. Marketing your business will be challenging, exciting and rewarding. Try it. You may be pleasantly (and profitably) surprised.