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The basics of marketing and advertising your businesses

Arnprior Workshop, August 21st, 2018

Why should you advertise ?

  • It is critical to letting new customers know you exist and reminding previous customers you have more to offer
  • Even in a small town, the assumption that "everyone knows we are here" is nearly always false
  • It is about educating the public not only on what you provide, but what the benefits of your products/services are to them
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition is the key. Advertising just once is, more often than not, a waste of money and resources: It takes time to build awareness, credibility and desire.
  • The goal of advertising is (most often) to sell more: The more you sell, the more you profit: The more you profit, the more you can grow and/or the faster you can achieve your goals.
  • What should it cost me ?

    • "Advertising" can be as simple and as free as walking up and down busy streets and telling people about your business. You can step this up in complexity and cost, depending on your capability and resources:
      1. Hand out flyers or cards while walking up and down the street and introducing yourself
      2. Post your ads on the local bulletin boards or community centers (with permission) where other businesses do
      3. Be active in social media that is relevant to your location and/or to your industry
      4. Print your own flyers and hand-deliver them to your target areas
      5. Pay Canada post for these same deliveries
      6. Pay a designer for a professional flyer / ad for handing out/delivery
      7. Experiment with paid ads in Google, Facebook and other online media for targeted advertising
      8. Take out a small ad in the local newspaper (ideally: Professionally designed)
      9. Talk to the local radio stations about small business advertising and talk to them about best placement and frequency for your target marketing

    Internet Presence

    • You absolutely should have a website. In a perfect world, it will be a full site, with an "About us", "Products" and "Contact" section - Your products or services should be fully described, with pictures, as well as prices. If you do not have the resources to accomplish this right away, at least have a single page that states your business name, methods of contact, business hours and the type of products or services you offer.
    • You should be active on social media in forums related to your business and your target market. At least once per week should be your posting frequency. Once every two days is ideal.
    • Ask your customers what they use: If there is not a lot of Facebook use, but many like Twitter, then that is where you should be.

    Public comportment

    • In being active, online, you will face some people who are negative - either legitimately, or simply as "trolls" - Take the high road. Always. Never return an insult with an insult.
    • "I am very sorry you had such a bad experience: Please get in touch with us to give us a chance to make things right" is almost always a safe response to a first-time complainer about your business and will show the public that when you make mistakes: You fix them.
    • Avoid highly controversial positions and statements: Alienating half or more of the population - and customer base - is never a good idea.
    • Be aware that your personal pages / social media can and will come back to haunt you - And this includes so-called "private" or "closed" groups. If you would not want to see your words on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen, you should not be posting them online.
    • Be aware that threats of legal action, especially for slander or libel, almost always backfire - It is far, FAR better to engage with the customer and show a public effort to try to rectify a bad review or comment than to try to silence them with a lawyer: This almost inevitably magnifies the Streisand effect and you do not want this for your business.

    Hours of operation

    • Running a business almost inevitably means time away from family and personal life: You should be open for business when the bulk of your customers are available for purchasing.
    • In a small community, if you are not serving a considerable amount of other businesses in town, consider hours of noon to 9PM or 10AM to 7PM - If the bulk of potential customers are commuting on a daily basis and don't get home until 6PM, being closed by 5PM means you cannot sell to them. Hoping they'll choose your store to shop at on their precious weekend time is a very, very risky gamble.
    • If possible, make your products available for mail order, with a reasonable cost for shipping and postage: Doing this allows you to broaden the possible customer base substantially and is almost a requirement for most web-based (or web-enhanced) businesses.

    Keeping track of sales

    • More information is always a good thing. If possible, your sales should be recorded with a date and time stamp, as well as the product name, the product category and the number of items sold per sale (with each of name and category, as well) - This allows you to track peak times of day, shows you the impacts of your advertising and promotions and lets you control your inventory ordering a lot more efficiently (and can save you a lot of money by not ordering items that don't sell and make you money by ensuring you order items that do sell in a timely fasion)
    • If you can keep a record of customer contact information with their permission, this gives you a direct channel to past customers, allowing you to inform them of new products, services and promotions.
      Never, EVER contact a customer by email, if you do not have permission to do so: This is spamming.

    Know what you are good at

    • If you are a plumber and you know you're a good plumber, but you're not so talented at drawing pictures: Stick to your plumbing and pay for a designer to make your ads.
    • If you are a good photographer, but are absolutely terrible at taxes: Pay a book keeper or an accountant for your taxes.
    • If you are a clothes designer, but are not so great with the written word: Pay someone to write your ad and web copy.

    Unfortunately, you can be the best at what makes you money, but a poorly written website, a badly drawn advertisement or a terrible manner of speaking to the public can give the false perception of "If they are bad at this, then they cannot be very good at what they are selling!"

    Be a part of your community

    • Some may think it is "gimmicky", but many, many people genuinely appreciate it when a business is actually a part of their community and not just there "to sell them stuff" - You do not need to spend thousands of dollars - Even the occasional participation in a public clean-up, a donation on behalf of your business to the food bank or the cross-promotion of community events can go a long way to showing your public that you really do want to see where you live and work be a better place. This, in turn, helps build loyalty with the public and is even more important to the customer, when they are faced with the choice between you and your competitor, when all other things are equal.

    Finally: Never be afraid to ask questions: If you are finding a certain area of your business that is not doing well: Ask those in business around you how they overcame the same hurdles. You can ask your customers where they think you could be doing better. There are some that feel this is a display of "weakness" on the business' behalf and yet a great many customers will genuinely appreciate that you are involving them in making your solutions better.

    You have a lot more resources available to you than you may think: Not just other businesses and your customers, but your local, provincial and federal politicians. There are a great many business networking groups and chambers of commerce.

    And, of course: Google Is Your Friend. You might be amazed to discover that not only is the answer to your question available online, but many thousands of business owners, before you, have asked the exact same questions.

    Of course, and in closing: You can always ask me; I will not always have all the answers to your questions, but I will be happy to try to point you in the right direction of the information you are looking for.

    Marc Bissonnette
    Arnprior, Ontario

    Copyright © 2020 / Marc Bissonnette, Ontario - All rights reserved -

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