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The Opening Process: Marketing Support

Great concept. Great site. Great training. Great employees. So far, so great. Now it's time to get the word out to your future customers. It's time to crank up the marketing machine.

Until now, you've focused your attention on all the steps leading to your grand opening. But unlike in the movies, if you've built it out, they might not come - not unless you let them know and make it worth their while. No matter how powerful your brand name, competition is fierce, and customers have seen it all before.

Your franchisor should supply you with a grand opening kit or package, complete with checklist. They've done this before and should be expert at every detail, every step of the way. The franchisor also should send someone to help you prepare for and then carry out the opening. You've paid your franchise fee… that's what it's for. Need help? Go for it!

However, don't assume the franchisor knows all or will do it all for you - at grand opening or ever. If you have ideas about how to build on the grand opening plans and package your franchisor delivers, don't be shy. You know your community, what works and what doesn't. Cautionary note: Even if you have a "Great Idea!" it's good policy to run it by your franchisor.

Also, consider hiring an outside marketing firm for ideas and advice. In addition to their experience and knowledge, they also may provide strong connections to the community's leaders, opinion shapers, and know how to bring out the crowds.

A grand opening can be held the first day you open your doors, or you may want to wait a week or even a month, to be sure you've ironed out all the kinks and your employees have become adept at customer service.

So after training, site selection, build-out, hiring, and all the other preparatory steps required before opening, here's our own checklist - or at least a shopping list. What you actually do depends on your franchisor, your product or service, the community you serve, and your budget.

Use your new connections. Your new status as franchisee means you're a member of a great new community: your fellow franchisees. If you've established relationships with your newfound peers during validation, ask them about their own grand opening. What worked? What didn't? What would they do differently today? You also could ask for advice over the company intranet.

Use social media. Franchisees are learning to build interest in their business before it opens by posting regular updates on Facebook, Twitter, and other online media - for example, posting pictures of construction progress, schedules, and introducing themselves and their concept to the community. Word of mouth is still the cheapest, most effective form of marketing. Make online friends, and they will spread the word for you. Reward them with coupons or a "sneak preview" as opening day approaches. You just may discover some brand evangelists.

Choose the optimal time. This will vary, based on the nature of your business. Consult with your franchisor for general advice, then add your local knowledge. Check for local events that may help you - or hurt you. Is there a major concert or sporting event that day? Have you checked with municipal officials for road construction? Is someone making a movie on your street? Is there a funeral planned? Don't make it your own.

Alert the media. It's not only permissible to invite local print, radio, and television coverage, it's smart. They're looking for news. Do your best to qualify. Let them know weeks in advance, so they can assign a photographer as well as a reporter. Provide some tie-in beyond balloons, pennants, and free food. (See next items.)

Contact community leaders. Having the mayor and local community leaders in attendance adds an air of respect to your new business - and will likely draw the media - as well as people who want to see them (or want to be seen with them). Invite them to a ribbon-cutting ceremony and pledge your support for local organizations. Everyone wins.

Get involved in the community. You don't have to wait until you're open to establish connections with area schools, nonprofits, charities, soup kitchens, animal shelters, etc. If you can have kids, schools, and animals in your corner, you're golden. Donate a portion of your first-day sales to local charities - and let everyone know it.

Create a scene. Yes, string those banners, inflate those balloons. Give away food, t-shirts, drinks. Have contests for free products or services, with a winner every hour or half hour. Bring in performers (respectfully, in keeping with the values of the area and your immediate neighbors). Send out kids with flyers offering free samples, contests, games, etc. to bring people to your new location.

Invite the neighbors. Join forces with the other businesses on your street. See if your neighboring business owners want to join the party. Think yard sale, tag sale, garage sale: customers and shoppers will more likely be drawn to a location with a lot going on - no matter how exciting you know your own business will be, you can gain a lot of mileage and goodwill by joining forces with established business owners.

Invite family and friends. These folks should be your biggest, most enthusiastic supporters. Everyone has busy lives, so offer them something for showing up - free burgers, housecleaning, oil change, etc. Ask these "ringers" to mingle, talk up the business, and tell what a great addition to the community you are. Hey, they are your friends and relatives! If they're local, they're sure to have friends and family of their own to invite!

Finally, celebrate. You've earned it.

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