Robin's second part discusses some creative ways of advertising locally.

Last month, I wrote about three ways to increase business: 1) adding new or more customers, 2) increasing the size of the sale, and 3) increasing the frequency of the sale. I touched on #1, and now I want to outline a list of tried-and-true tips that will help in areas #2 and #3.

In the end, you are your best promoter—you are the most familiar with yourself and your business. Some people try and make things so complex and sophisticated, and it really boils down to doing some simple things very well.

Yellow fever

Advertising: Remember, when talking about marketing and advertising, one of the things to focus on specifically is how to trigger a response from the customer. How can we make them take action, call and take advantage of our services, and spread the word, to tell others about us?

I am amazed at some of the ads that appear in the Yellow Pages and in newspapers. Huge ads, describing every detail of a company but giving no “call to action.” Not even a vague suggestion to do so. So, here’s a simple tip for print ads: Make it count with as few words as possible. People are going to key in on two words: plaster repair.

Let me give an example of my own Yellow Page ad. Each year it got smaller. It was kind of a challenge to me to figure out a way to say what I needed to say with the least amount of words. One year, I realized that all the other plasterers listed had big long ads but they used small and bold print. So, I had a really simple ad that used “double bold” for my name. Along with it, I had a slogan: “When plaster falls down, my name comes up!” This was followed by my number. It worked out so-so.

I tried another approach: I got more specific and tried to include a benefit, a reason they should call me. It read: “Call me First, For Repairs That Last!” This one did better. But then I got down to bare bones. The cost went from $89 a month down to about $47. Here it is: The name of the business and then this one line: “Call me First” and my number. That’s it. It might seem amazing, but I’ve had people call, many times I might add, who said, “Hey, I saw your ad and it said to call you first, so I am!” It’s great what the power of suggestion can do!

Coupons: Of all the things I’ve tried in print to get people to respond, this is one of the best. People love coupons. In these economic times, it gives people a way to fight back, to actually feel they have a way to save some money. There are two sides of how these can be effective.

First, keep the coupon simple. Mine have a dotted line around them to make it obvious that they are to clip and use. It reads: “Plaster Repair Coupon—$25 off your next repair,” and I list my number. This is all in very bold lettering. Here are a few variations I’ve worked with and they’ve done pretty well. Think about an expiration date. Let’s say you want work to come in before a particular time. Maybe January is really a dead time in your schedule. Instead of the coupon being out there as a “use anytime” type of deal, put an expiration date at the bottom to trigger or prompt a response. To add an extra incentive, make it say something like “Expires 2-15-03. Double this coupon if used by 1-15-03.” You’re rewarding them and giving them twice as much reason to take action by a certain date. It can mean the difference many times in the quest for staying busy in slow times.

In the case I just described, you are giving your customers actual real hard cold cash off the price. The coupons are worth real money—either $25 or $50. I want to add another tip, something we might call “value-added” coupons. This is simply a way for you to team up with a business in your area that is also out to drum up business.

Here’s how it works: Approach a restaurant, a car wash or even a clothing store. Make it a place that’s recognizable to the customer as something worthwhile, something that has value. It might be a well-established, well-respected place to dine, or a brand-new place seeking new customers and therefore, open to the idea of working with you. The pitch or angle to them is simple: You get into the homes of a lot of people. This means you have some power to shape and influence peoples’ opinions and viewpoints. That’s important and worth something. So, approach this business and ask them for a coupon of some sort. It might be a dinner-for-two coupon. It may be good for a free car wash. It could be 15 percent off your next purchase from a clothing store. The restaurant ones are always a hit. Work with several businesses and literally make up a sheet of coupons that they can use.

The point is without any “real” money coming out of your pocket, you have just created more value to what you have to offer your customer. You are making a deeper, more lasting impression on them. And it will be a positive impression. It’s something they will talk about, also spreading your name and building your reputation even further. Try and go for something “free” from the restaurants. Remember, they spend a lot of money on advertising each month to reach the people you meet everyday. This gives you a great angle to use when working with them. One more tip: Combine the two types of coupons in this way. Instead of giving them a $25-off coupon that would be in actual, real money, approach the restaurant and buy gift certificates at a reduced rate. They might have a face value of $5 or $10, but you might be able to buy $50 worth of them for $20 or $25. The restaurant makes out by getting some money back but you have stretched your advertising dollar somewhat.

The envelope please

One thing that I’ve notice on the subject of getting paid: Some people are very, very relaxed when it comes to this area. It’s the most frustrating thing to be waiting for the check to come in the mail from a past job. How can you speed up the response time of customers, to have them put your bill at the top of the pile? I usually try and get paid the day I complete the project but there are times when they are gone or it’s just not possible to get the check before leaving. What kind of incentive can you give them? I’ve found a really good one. I leave a self-addressed, stamped envelope with the bill. People are busy. Having that envelope right there, ready to go, is going to take days off the amount of time it takes them to pay you. They don’t know where to stick the envelope. You’ve created a sense of urgency and priority in their minds. It’s a tried-and-true method of making sure you are paid first, or at least ahead of the pack of other bills that pile up. Remember, when it comes to getting paid, set the pace.

One more item that gives a good impression: Leave a thank you note. It can be left with the bill and envelope, or sent after you’re paid. Again, a good impression and it makes them remember you. A refrigerator magnet with the name of your business is also a good leave behind as well. Leave two, one for them and one they can pass on the next time they hear someone needs your services.

I’m planning a plaster repair workshop for sometime around the month of April. If interested, check out the details at W&C