28 Low Cost Ways To Get Customers

Jan. 18, 2008
Every spring one of the last remaining independent hardware stories in the area runs a special. Bring your old mower and they’ll give you $100 trade-in. Wow! You mean, you would really give me hundred bucks for this old thing? No kidding?

1. Accept Trade-Ins
Every spring one of the last remaining independent hardware stories in the area runs a special. Bring your old mower and they’ll give you $100 trade-in.
You mean, you would really give me hundred bucks for this old thing? No kidding?
The hardware store’s got guys like me figured out. As long as I can get the old mower to start, I’ll be darned if I’ll get a new one. It’s like leaving food on your plate when there are starving children in the third world (oh, and for the record, broccoli doesn’t count as food).
If the hardware store offers me a hundred dollar discount, it doesn’t motivate me to take action. As long as my mower still runs, it’s wasteful to get rid of it. But… give me a hundred dollars for it and I’m thrilled. I’m going to pat myself on the back about how smart I was to get money for my old mower.
Offer trade-ins for old equipment. Give the trade-in a sense of urgency by limiting the trade-in to old equipment that’s still working.

2. Advertise In Church Newsletters
Most churches, and all large churches, mail newsletters to members. The newsletters are better read than your typical newspaper, and most carry advertising. The advertising is surprisingly affordable and the newsletters’ readers are inclined to buy from newsletter advertisers, assuming they are members of, or supporters of the church. By advertising in the newsletter, you are supporting the church.
Advertise in every church newsletter you can. At the very least, advertise in the newsletters for the churches your employees attend.

3. Advertise In HOA Newsletters
Many homeowners associations (HOAs) also have newsletters. Few companies advertise in HOA newsletters and the companies that do, signal the neighborhood that they are area specialists.
Usually the local town hall contains information on HOAs. See if you can get a listing of the presidents and ask about advertising opportunities.

4. Advertise In Political Newsletters
People who are active in local politics tend to be well connected, centers of influence. Most are also well-heeled. Usually, political club newsletters are inexpensive advertising venues and because of the clout of their members, strategic advertising opportunities.
Your politics should not matter when placing advertising. You may support one side or the other, but you should advertise wherever there are buyers.

5. Barter
Dick called me to tell about his new television spot. It was good. I asked how much it cost him to produce it and he said it was only a few hours of labor. He bartered for it.
Another friend traded some consulting for a year’s worth of sponsorships of National Public Radio’s Marketplace, a high quality, drive-time business oriented radio program. It was the perfect way to promote his consulting business among local decision makers, yet one he could probably not have afforded otherwise.
If you can’t afford to advertise, consider bartering for it. You might be surprised how receptive media outlets can be.

6. Buy Remnant Advertising
Remnant advertising in unsold inventory. It’s ad space a magazine or newspaper didn’t sell, so they used filler. It’s unsold broadcast time the radio or TV station fills with public service announcements. Often, it’s available for sale at sharply reduced prices.
You cannot plan on remnant ads. You can let the media sources you advertise with know that you are interested. Existing advertisers tend to get first crack.
When get a call about remnant space, it will be last minute. You need to be ready to move, which means you need stock advertising, ready to go.

7. Clip And Mail Newspaper Features
Read your local newspaper and business journal with a pair of scissors. Cut out feature articles about people and mail them a copy with a business card and note attached. It’s a thoughtful action that’s too rare today. It’s power is in it’s rarity. You will stand out. You will be noticed.

8. Cloverleaf Door Hangers
I’m not sure why it’s so hard to get service personnel to distribute door hangers to homes surrounding a service call. It only takes a few minutes to place a “we were in your neighborhood” doorhanger with a magnet and possibly a coupon. Done consistently, this simple action will generate thousands of impressions.
If your technicians average four service calls per day, placing one doorhanger on each side of a customer and three across the street will result in 5,000 impressions per year per technician. Placing two on each side and five across will generate 9,000 impressions.

9. Create Ego Brochures For Employees
An ego brochure is a brochure about the employee making the sale or delivering the service. It’s turning the employee into a company or company division of one.
The ego brochure outlines a person’s background, credentials, philosophy of service, and presents reasons why a customer would want to do business with the person. It can also humanize someone by sharing a little about the employee personally, indicating hobbies, clubs, and other organizations. This presents customers with connection points, where the customer might find a common interest that would otherwise remain undiscovered. The common interest strengthens the relationship between the employee and company.
Of course, the brochure should also position and promote the company. For a three panel brochure (six panels total), at least one panel should be devoted to the company.
Ego brochures help employees feel better about themselves, their jobs, and the company. The brochure follows the classic sales approach of selling the employee first, company second, and solution third. It further personalizes the relationship between the customer and employee, enhancing the potential for identifying connection points.

10. Double Dollars Off With Savings Bonds
When I worked as a marketing consultant, I once slipped a question into a survey about the attraction of savings bonds. I asked whether people would rather receive a $50.00 savings bond or $37.50 cash. The savings bond was preferred two to one. Amazing. The cash value of a $50.00 savings bond is $25.00.
Savings bonds are money at half price. Offering savings bonds in lieu of dollars off allows you to double your money. Plus, savings bonds hold special appeal to older homeowners, who can pass them along to their grandchildren.

Next: 10 more low cost ways to get customers.

11. Give Commercial Customer An Employee Discount
The employees of your commercial customers are prospects for your residential service. People believe that you will treat them better if you are doing work for their employer. People also know that you can be trusted since the company they work for trusts you. It’s an inherent testimonial.
Put together a flyer your customer can pass out and/or a business card sized employee discount card. This is good percentage marketing. All else being equal, your relationship with the prospect’s employer, combined with a slight discount will result in your selection when the prospect needs your services.
Include a line on the card suggesting the employee tape it to the yellow pages. That will not only keep the prospect out of the yellow pages, it will be handy and available when needed.

12. Give Customers Auto Sun Screens
Cardboard automotive sunscreens can be purchased for less than $3 each (Click HERE for information). When consumers use them, they not only serve as a retention tool by keeping your name front and center, but they serve to market your company to everyone who walks by the consumer’s car. This generates exposures when the consumer parks at the mall. It generates referrals when the consumer uses the sunscreen in the company parking lot.
People seek referrals to determine reliable home service companies. When they see your company logo and list of services on a co-worker’s car, it’s natural to ask the co-worker about your company the next time service is needed.

13. Give Everyone Business Cards
Business cards are the most inexpensive marketing tool available to you. Do not be stingy with them. Pass them out to everyone in your company.
I used to give business cards to an engineering intern who worked for me (we gave him the title, “Student Engineer”). There wasn’t much of a business justification for giving him the cards, but it was a minor expense that made an employee happy. I knew he was using them to impress girls he met in bars, but I didn’t mind. Everyone he gave the cards to might one day be a customer or employee. The odds might be long, but for pennies a card, the risk is worth it.

14. Give Large Area Employers An Employee Discount
Even if an employer is not a customer, you can still offer an employee discount. Contact the human resources manager for large employers and offer an employee discount they can present as a benefit.
In these days of rising health care expenses, large companies often cut back on benefits, raise co-pays and deductibles, and so on to keep costs under control. The human resources manager gets to give employees the bad news. HR people welcome the chance to give out good news.

15. Provide Employee Coupons For Large Employer Paychecks
If you want to ensure your coupon or discount card gets noticed, see if the employer will insert it into paychecks. It’s not unusual for large employers to insert special offers, discounts, and savings into employee paychecks. Six Flags is one of the best companies in using this free promotional vehicle. You can use it too.

16. Give Small Scholarships To Top High School Seniors
If your service area is dominated by one or two high schools, create a scholarship for high school seniors, provided the school announces the winners at graduation. You create additional press by donating plaques to the school and sending press releases to the paper.
The scholarships do not need to be huge. You give them out based on academics, athletics, essays submitted to your company, or any other criteria you select. If your industry faces a labor shortage like many, if not most of the service trades, you can even make the scholarship contingent upon entering a local trade school.

17. Join Civic Clubs
If business is built on relationships (and it is), then service and civic clubs are the place where relationships can easily be built. The advantage of building relationships with service and civic club members is they are typically centers of influence in their community. They are the people others call to find out who is a reputable plumber, locksmith, carpet cleaner, etc. If you are the guy they know in the field, you get the recommendation.
Join Rotary, Lion’s, Optimist, or Kiwanis Clubs. See if your service manager, sales manager, etc. can join a different club.

18. Leave Business Cards On Retail Counters
Lots of neighborhood businesses welcome business cards from patrons and allow you to place them on their counters. I’ve seen business cards in donut shops, cleaners, and other stores.
Don’t simply place a business card. Make the card promotional. Give people a reason to call you over another company. Make a claim. Include a special offer.

19. Leave Coupon Magnets On Break Room Refrigerators Of Commercial Customers
To maximize the odds the customer will remember you, turn employee discount cards into refrigerator magnets. Place the magnets on the refrigerator break room. Leave them on general use file cabinets.

20. Pad Coupons & Double Stick Tape To Bulletin Boards
It’s not expensive to create coupon pads. On community bulletin boards see if you can attach the coupon pads. Use double stick tape to attach the pad.
Be sure to ask permission before attaching the pads. Some of the places you can find community bulletin boards include coffee shops, barbers and hair salons, libraries, post offices, packing and shipping stores, and so on.

21. Pay Referral Bounties To Independent Retailers
Joe Girard was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Greatest Salesperson.” Girard sold an average of more than 850 cars per year for 15 consecutive years. He personally sold more cars than 90% of U.S. dealerships sold at the time he retired from sales. That was some serious closing.
Girard didn’t sell three cars a day by waiting for people to stroll into the dealership. Girard had to go get them. Rather, Girard had to get others to go get them. And that’s just what he did. He created a referral network among local retailers, whom he called his “birddogs.”
He gave local retailers and service companies small signs to display in their businesses. The signs suggested people ask the owner where they could get a good deal on a new car. When the retailer’s customer asked, the customer would be given one of Joe Girard’s business cards with the retailer’s name written on the back.
The retailer would then call Joe with the customer present and tell Girard he was sending so-and-so over. Joe enforced this step to close the loop so that he would be sure the give proper credit for the referral. It also practically obligated the customer to come see him.
Girard took care of the people referred to him. He also took care of the retailers making the referrals. He paid them a cash bounty for the referrals.
You can do the same thing. Pay people for referrals. Make it lucrative to give them sufficient incentive. Give them small display signs and lots of business cards. Tell them to call you with the customer present. It’s a far stronger referral.

22. Print Pocket Schedules For Performing Groups
My wife has performed with the local community theater. A fair number of people support the theater. They support the non-profit. They volunteer. They perform. They attend performances. They bring their friends. Whenever there is a performance, a network of people tell their friends.
Word of mouth marketing and blurbs in the local paper appear to be the sum total of the theater’s marketing efforts. Yet, they sell out.
Give them marketing material. Get the performance schedule and print it on business cards or other pocket calendars. At the bottom, note that your company is sponsoring the pocket schedule. Include you logo, USP, phone number, and website.
The community theater will take anything anyone wants to provide for free. So will the community chamber orchestra, the high school choir, the band, and secondary sports teams.
If you would like a tracking loop, run a line offering a discount if the patron brings a copy of the playbill or event ticket. “Save your playbill! You can save $25 off a service call when you present your theater playbill. It’s our way of supporting the people who support the theater.”

23. Spiff Large Company Maintenance Department Personnel
One of your Joe Girard type birddogs should be the maintenance department personnel for large companies or buildings. People in the company assume that a mechanic in the building knows who the good mechanical contractors are in the town.
He deals with commercial companies, so there’s no logical reason to believe he has any special knowledge or insight about residential companies. Since people are illogical, the assumption is there.

Visit maintenance personnel. Give them a stack of cards and add them to your referral network.

24. Sponsor 5k Races
In most parts of the country, 5K and bike races are held nearly every week. Where I live, it’s a choice of which race. Usually there are several each Saturday and each Sunday.
Register for a race and you will be presented with a “race packet.” Typically, the race packet is a plastic bag that includes your race t-shirt, your bib (i.e., you number), safety pins for attaching the bib, a few coupons, and maybe even some sample PowerBars.
The race organizers like stuffing material into the race packets. The more things they can give away or offer, the more attractive the race appears to entrants. Give them coupons or gift certificates with your company and they are likely to include them in the race packet.
They won’t charge you. You’re helping. In fact, some second tier races might even make you a sponsor if you donate gift certificates (which are really just coupons under another name). Sponsors get their names on the back of the shirts.
I’ve sponsored races for as little as $250. It got my company listed on a race brochure, at the race, and printed on the back of t-shirts. I wasn’t doing it for exposure, but to support the race. However, it’s not bad exposure, especially for $250.

25. Sponsor Community Email Lists
Spam has made group email communication difficult. At the Service Roundtable, we spend a healthy five figure chuck of change to ensure our email is white hatted, certified spam free, and delivered. It also takes management time to constantly clean the lists. We’re set up to do it. Most companies are not. Certainly, many community groups are not.
So sponsor a third party service for a community group. There are a number of third party email services (Constant Contact is one that comes immediately to mind) who follow somewhat similar procedures to ours. Sponsor an email newsletter using one of these services and include a header or footer note about your sponsorship, including a link to your website.

26. Take Out Classified Ads That Direct People To Your Website
Newspaper advertising can be expensive. Depending upon your product, one way around the expense is to advertise in the classified section. Make a statement related to the section and give people a website link. The link should go to a special promotion page on your site.
Typically, classified ad promotions are savings related. For example, you might promote “Home Water Purification Systems Installed For $X – Learn more at www.website.com/ropromo.htm”

27. Use Yard Signs
Yard signs are one of those obvious things everyone knows they should do, but often fail to do. Yard signs work to help create a neighborhood presence. You are communicating to the neighbors of your customer that you have neighborhood expertise, that others use you, and that you can be trusted. It reinforces a neighborhood marketing campaign (e.g., mail to the neighbors surrounding each sale).
While yard signs are rarely than they should be, neighborhood marketing campaigns are even rarer. Usually, the yard sign stands alone. And usually the yard sign is little more than a company’s name and logo. Ho hum. Yaaaaawwn.
If you want people to notice it, to give the yard sign a second thought, ask a question that pertains to prospects. “Asthma? Allergies? We can help!”
Make a bold statement related to the product you’re installing. “We’re getting a water purification system… We’ll get bottled water so cheap we can give it to your dog!”
As long as you’re going to go to the effort to place yard signs, make sure you spend sufficiently to communicate the right message. A worn out or cheap yard sign is like driving a beat up truck. Keep your logo off it so people don’t associate the sign or heap with your company and business practices.

28. Add Brochure Boxes To Yard Signs

Long ago, realtors figured out that yard signs can be used to distribute literature. People don’t have to remember or write down the information. It’s in a sales sheet.
You can use a brochure box as well. Attach a brochure box or tube to your yard sign and stuff it with literature you want the neighbors of your customer to see. Tell people what you sell. Run a special offer or promotion. Give people a reason to buy from your company.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, the nation’s largest contractor alliance. The Service Roundtable features over $3 million of downloadable, fully customizable sales, marketing, and operations tools for PHC contractors. Learn more at www.ServiceRoundtable.com. For a FREE copy of Matt’s pricing calculators, contact Liz Patrick by email at [email protected] or by phone at 877.262.3341 (toll free).

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