When Jenny deBeer Charno wanted to restart her massage therapy businessafter taking time off to have a family, she thought she knew how to getthe word out. After all, about 10 years ago, business was brisk, thanksto ads in her local penny savers and in the Yellow Pages. But, boy, havetimes changed.
"It used to be out here on Long Island, local businesses advertisingservices around town would turn to penny savers," recalls Charno, ownerof
. "We're talking clean yourhouse, paint your house. It used to be my whole business was from thepenny savers. So that was the first thing I tried. I was shocked when Igot nothing. At one point, I questioned if they were printing."
The only outlet that was bringing in customers: the Internet. Afterhearing from several new customers that they found her online, Charnoquickly created a Web site and devoted a few days to getting herbusiness listed on search engines.
Whether you're a small business restricted by locale like Charno's, orsimply want to maximize your local market, experts say you need tofollow these 10 essential steps:
Before you reach out to local clients, or any other customers for thatmatter, know what sets your company apart from the competition and whoyour audience is. This will determine how much to spend on online andoffline strategies.
The message then has to be the same throughout,whether it's in the Yellow Pages or on your Web site, says Tom Kennedy,principal and president of
, abusiness consulting firm specializing in local, regional and globalcommunications.
Connect With Local Business Organizations
Most local Chambers of Commerce offices have networking events that will quicklyhook you into the area's business scene. Also consider the Rotary club.Get active in the community, and you'll score your first customers.
Befriend the Local Post Office
You don't have to know the name of your mail carrier, but don't overlookthe power of mail, says Brenda Bence, founder and president of
. She recommendsinvesting in a post card mailing campaign targeting your zip code.
"Withthe dramatic increase in emails arriving in potential customers' inboxesthese days, 'real mail' actually stands out of the pack. But make thecard interesting, informative and relevant."
Be an Expert
Reach out to your town's newspaper and offer your services as an expert.Residents who pour over those papers to get the local scuttlebutt are acaptive audience. Be a speaker at an industry conference. Volunteer at alocal business event.
While ads in the local Glen Cove newspaper didn't help Charno, expertssay advertising in local media can still be effective. Most local newsWeb sites can even target down to the zip code, called geo-targeting,says Katie Risch, media relations manager at
, acompany that help agencies with local media buys.
Play the Field
As the saying goes, don't keep all your eggs in one basket. So if youcan afford it, invest in offline and online strategies at the same time,recommends Kennedy. And it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Charnobuilt a basic Web site using free software downloaded from
and didas much of the SEO, or search engine optimization, as she could. Her only cost:$30 a month in hosting fees to Yahoo!.
Whether you buy an ad in the Yellow Pages or a banner ad on a localnewspaper Web site, make sure you can track how many customers come fromwhich outlet.
All media buys should be trackable, says Paul Ryan, CEO of
, a national online home improvement servicesdirectory.
"If you are doing some form of traditional media (print,direct mail, TV, etc.) and you are not using tracking phone numbers tosee how effective the medium is, you are wasting your money."
But while online media can give you daily updates on leads and types ofleads, traditional media can't work as fast. Ryan, former CTO of
, recommends giving offline media atleast four weeks before pulling the plug.
So How Do You Track?
Depending on which service you use, you need to know the industry lingo.According to Ryan, you need to ask an online marketing partner what thecost-per-click average is. What then is the conversion rate -- of thosewho come to the site, how many become customers? What's the cost perconversion? And what's the cost per lead? Done Right! prefers to charge per lead.
For an offline partner, Ryan recommends you ask what the targethousehold demographic is. What is the response rate? What is thepercentage of total households reached and how often?
"You have todecide if awareness is what you are after (reach) or targeting somedesired population several times (frequency)," he explains.
Pay Attention to the Math
Most importantly, you need to ask or figure out what the return oninvestment, or ROI, is. If you spend $1,000 on ads and you get $1,000 insales, then you've probably lost money. After all, delivering the salescosts you money, you have to figure in this cost in determining yourreturn. So, if it cost you $200 to deliver the sale (cost of materials,labor, etc.), then your ROI is -20%, meaning you lost $200 on the $1,000advertising investment.
"People should expect highly positive ROIs," he says. "As long as theROI is greater than your cost of producing the good or service, thenyou're growing."
Think Outside the Box
While it doesn't bring in revenue, bartering has been another way Charnohas publicized her business. She was approached by someone at a Chamberof Commerce meeting to join the National Commerce Exchange. This may be an avenue for you to consider.
If you have a story idea, please email Lan.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lan Nguyen is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has written for the New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Worth magazine and Star magazine.