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Marketing Inside Your Business

Previously, we discussed how you can tap into the rich marketing resources provided by 1) your franchisor, and 2) your fellow franchisees. This article looks at ways to market 2) within your business, 4) through community involvement, and 5) using social media and mobile phones to reach your customers.

3) Your Business

Customer attraction and retention are the key ingredients to your success. Without customers, you're history. While you cannot control the market or what other businesses do, you can control what goes on within your four walls (or your home-based or mobile business).

One critical, make-or-break area often overlooked by new franchisees is the importance of training front-line employees in customer service. After all, no matter how well you organize your back office, the front-line staff is who your customers deal with – so your fate often is in the hands of teenagers who work part-time. For service companies, the plumbers, carpenters, or electricians you hire and send to customers' homes may not have the best social skills. It's up to you to train them to be on time, courteous, and to clean up after they're done. It's time to learn HR.

Here are a few areas to focus your efforts on within your operation. Remember, it's all marketing!:

  • Customer service – This can be your most powerful marketing tool. Volumes have been written on the "customer experience," too numerous for this article.
  • Show up – Not only for training employees and monitoring the business, but also because you're the owner. Making direct contact with customers as an ambassador for your business goes a long way in creating connections and trust. One restaurant owner in my town is famous for "visiting" diners as they eat, making them feel special, appreciated, and yes, more likely to return or buy another drink or dessert. While she is not a franchisee, this practice is highly effective and people tell and retell how she spent some time with them during their meal.
  • Upselling – Good business owners look to serve the interests of their customers (and make money). If someone orders a $1 burger special, train your staff to ask if they'd like a better deal for $1 more. If someone wants an inexpensive kitchen floor replacement, ask them to consider the long-term value of investing in a higher-quality product. Open the door to possibility, but don't push too hard.
  • Loyal customers – This is simple: reward your "frequent flyers" through discounts, special treatment, members-only offers, and the occasional giveaway. Everyone likes to be treated special, even if it's only when buying a coffee or a couple of tacos, so treat them to specials. They'll keep coming back… and they have friends.
  • Gift cards – These have become a very popular birthday or holiday gift. They're easy and quick to buy for the last-minute shopper. Sell them, of course, but also offer weekly or monthly gift card giveaways to new customers, loyal customers, or through a random drawing.
  • Charity box – If you have a store, prominently display a box on the counter to support local organizations. You can change the beneficiary each month or when a goal is reached. Instead of a tips jar, offer your customers a way to support local community groups by parting with some of their change after each transaction. You can balance the lost tips with your employees through other rewards.

4) Community Involvement

The goodwill generated by active participation in your neighborhood and community (aka your customers!) goes a long way toward building your customer base and sales. It's a way to do good, to make yourself and your business better known, and to attract more customers faster. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Meet with other business owners on your block or in your neighborhood.
  • Join civic groups: the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Scouts, town committees, school committees – even run for local office if that appeals to you.
  • Sponsor sports or other teams. And if you operate a restaurant, bring them in after the event!
  • Volunteer to speak at local schools or colleges about your business (or your life).
  • Try public speaking. Toastmasters, for instance, is free, and many are organized by local business owners. You'll learn to feel more comfortable in public situations, as well as meet some surprisingly great people.
  • Sponsor a booth at local events (fairs, concerts, plays, sports) or other public occasions. Play up your company's product or service, offer discount coupons to those who attend, bonuses for staff who spend time at your booth, and sign people up for your email list.
  • Flyers – Pay local kids to distribute them and generate new customers (their parents and friends) and goodwill.
  • Use email marketing to advertise specials (remember, opt-in only).
  • Stick with the usual: local, advertising, direct mail, bundled coupon mailers, etc.
  • Public relations – Contact the local news outlets. Don't be pushy. Do ask the reporters or editors what they think would be newsworthy about your business or about yourself. Are you a veteran? Did you switch careers? Follow a dream? It's all human interest. Announce promotions, anniversaries and other milestones (1,000th customer), and let them know what you're doing to help the local schools, charities, and other community organizations. Provide food or services to local soup kitchens, provide t-shirts to volunteers, use your staff for a local cleanup day… the possibilities are endless. Providing plenty of advance notice increases your chances of coverage.
  • Use social media.

5) Social Media and Mobile Marketing

Three things to know: 1) no one really understands this yet, 2) there are ways to make these channels work for you, and 3) you have to get involved. The idea is to add these channels to your other efforts and see how they work for you.

The level of your involvement should be based on the type of business you operate. Fast-food brands have found great success using Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to reach their target audiences (younger, more tech-savvy). Some brands have bundled promotions with music, movies, and sporting events, offering discounts to customers who provide ticket stubs from events or receipts from product purchases (video games, DVDs, etc.).

For food brands, unannounced specials sent to mobile phones at 3 or 4 p.m. offering a dinner special, or sent overnight offering a free coffee to anyone who purchases a breakfast sandwich that day have also proven effective. When your target customer is on the move, on the phone, and lives a good part of their life in the social media-sphere, you have to reach them where they are – and when they're most likely to be making buying decisions.

Service brands offering discounts or savings for oil changes, early-bird tax filers, home cleaning, pet care, or after-school programs through emails, as well as through social and mobile media, have found these channels effective in bringing old customers back and in attracting new ones.

You also can set up a local website for your business where you offer specials. Your franchisor may be able to provide a template for you to use or adapt. Be sure to check with your franchisor before you launch your own website; there could be legal restrictions in your franchise agreement about what you may or may not do or say.

These channels also provide a better way to track responses than using traditional media, so you can better see the results of your marketing efforts and adjust accordingly.

Social Reach:

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