Startup Marketing Advice

ThroughActionsThroughActions Posts: 2subscriber
edited October 2006 in Marketing
Hello everyone,

I`ve been really enjoying this site ever since I found it about a month
ago and want to say thanks to its creators and the community, I`ve
already gotten an incredible amount of useful information out of it.

On to business. I`m thinking about launching a startup business which
would provide all kinds of personalized services for household consumer
technology. Think of it as an IT service for the home. If that sounds
vague that`s because I`m in the very early planning stages; it could
include tech support, service/repair, customized hardware solutions,
networks, lessons, and so on. I`m still finalizing the product/service
mix I`d want to offer to add the most value to the customer.

Essentially I want to start my business with an in home structure at
first. And, though I will use the internet, I would like for my
business to have a local focus, I prefer to think of the e-commerce
portion of my plan as complimentary to the face to face contact with
the customer. All of the services I will offer will be delivered right
to the customer, including on-site work. Eventually, I would like to
expand to also focus on small business and solutions that work for that
segment, but not until after I`ve firmly established the B2C side of
the business.

So the question I have is this, what marketing/advertising methods
would you recommend for this kind of startup? Think shoestring budget.
I`m not afraid of cold calling and canvassing, but I`m not sure how I
would use such tactics if I`m not targeting businesses. I looked into
print advertising and it seems expensive and (relatively) untargeted.
What is the best way for a localized, small, in home business to
generate buzz, awareness, and ultimately sales (or at least interest)?

Once again, thanks to everyone in advance for your time.

Comments

  • DeafCeoDeafCeo Posts: 3subscriber
    Hi, are you located near a major city?
  • LogoMotivesLogoMotives Posts: 15subscriber
    I certainly think there is a need for such a business.  Your description sounds somewhat like Geek Squad, which has been very effective in marketing themselves here in Portland.  They`ve used well-placed cable television commericals (on technology, business related shows), print advertising, radio advertising, press releases/opportunities and the Geekmobiles (here`s a link to some examples) to promote themselves.In addition to Chambers of Commerce, seek out other local organizations of small business people.  I`ve done a lot of work from businesses and organization that are members of my neighborhood business association. In fact, I got an email this morning that the group is having a business fair in a couple weeks - $25 for a table space; $100 for a booth. We also have two local neighborhood newspapers (one weekly, one monthly) that offer businesses and opportunity to reach local small businesses in a cost effective manner.  Sponsoring local school events or sports teams is often a cost-effective method of promoting yourself and creating goodwill int he community that may translate to business.Good luck! - J.
  • TileMakerTileMaker Posts: 0subscriber
    Hi,
    I founded and managed a firm for 12 years doing exactly what you are describing.  It grew to 5 employees before I decided to move on other interests.  The truth be known...I got tired of crawling under desks and also of managing employees.
    Unless you live in the backwoods, there is definitely a need for a service based business like this.  The business I built started with $50 so I know what you mean by having to operate with a shoestring budget.
    I`ll tell you some of the things that worked for me and some that didn`t.  My experience is by no means any indication that some of the things that didn`t work for me wouldn`t work for you.  So you can take everything I tell you with a grain of salt.
    We did the Chamber thing.....nothing...a big waste of money.  We did the sponsorship at children`s sporting events ....nada.  We did a larger ad in the yellow pages.....another waste of money.  We`ve advertised on the radio...zilch.
    I wouldn`t say not to put an ad in the yellow pages....but just keep it on the smaller side. It all came down to personal relationships and forming a relationship with your customers.  They became my friends and by that, they gave me about 98% of all the business we generated in 12 years.  It was all built on referrals.  Someone recommended a book a long time ago called Endless Referrals, by a guy I believe is named Robert Berg.
    Something you have to consider is what your rate will be.  Check out your competition.  Realize that your homebased customers don`t use their computer to make money on them. Well...most don`t.  So, they are not able to pay a top rate to have their system repaired.  There will always be some school aged kid that knows just enough to be dangerous that will do it for nothing or next to nothing.  That is what prompted me to move rapidly to working with small businesses instead.  They need their computers in their business and repairing them is a cost of doing business. 
    This also translates into your annual revenues.  You`d do good to get to a point to bill 6 hours a day.  I think people in my area that do this business charge $25-$35 an hour.  Working 5 days a week, for 50 weeks a year is $52,500.  You`ll also spend time doing research to figure out how to correct obscure problems that you`ll have trouble billing for.  But every case you figure out will be knowledge to help you down the road.
    Anyway....to market a fledgling pc business, I`d make a list of everyone in your area that you know.... the postman...the plumber...everyone. Then I`d start contacting these people and letting them know what you`re doing and ask them to refer anyone they know that needs your help.  I`d make flyer on my computer and go to an office supply place and make a bunch of copies.  I`d give them to your list of people and tack them up on every available bulletin board you can find.  I`d order some business cards from some place like VistaPrint.com.  I`d make friends with some of the sales people at places like Best Buy, CostCo, Sam`s Club or other such places that sells computers.  I`d give them some business cards with their names written on the back and offer them a small referral fee...like $5.00  or $10.00 for a referral.  This is called bird dogging.  When they have a customer that can use your service, they hand them one of your cards.  Then you just ask the customer how they found you and you reward your bird dog. 
    I had a master bird dog that ran a computer rental company.  He used to refer us soooo much business.  And your satisfied customers are going to refer you to their friends and family.  I`d follow up with your customers a day or two after you`ve finished with the service to make sure everything was ok and that they were completely satisfied. Once they said they were, I`d be sure to tell them to refer you to anyone they might know that could use your service.  You`ll be amazed how this will work.  Keep track of your customers and who referred them to you and reward your best bird dogs on a regular basis.  Take them to lunch....it`s tax deductible. I`m not offering tax advice here, so be sure to check with your accountant.
    If you have an accountant, the majority of their buisness is made up of individuals and small businesses.  If you don`t have one, then get one that specializes with working with small businesses. We got a bunch of clients from our accountant.
    I`d stay in touch with your customers by sending them a postcard periodically, just to keep your name in front of them.  You could use email, but with so much spam being sent today, I really question how worthwhile that could be.
    I hope this helps you.  Good luck.  Have fun with it.  Remember that it takes time to build something, so try to be patient and keep planting seeds.  If you`re sincere, honest with people, and generally want to help them, then that will come through and you`ll be successfull.
    Best regards,
    DaveTileMaker2006-10-26 17:50:19
  • ThroughActionsThroughActions Posts: 2subscriber
    Wow,

    Thanks to everyone for the replies, lots of useful suggestions. To answer some of the questions:


    I`m in Western Washington, not far from Tacoma. Seattle is about 30 minutes away.
    Shoestring budget, to me atleast, just means I want to maximize
    my effectiveness with a small budget. But I would like to finance this
    on my own, so preferably not more than a few thousand dollars to begin
    with. (But that`s on the outside, so less is better).


    DeafCEO, I actually work in a print shop and I have seen those glossy
    postcard sized flyers. I was actually considering either handing them
    out or doing a mailing campaign with them, the only issue I found was
    how to target them. Also, thanks so much for reminding me about the
    Chamber of Commerce, their is a very large one for Tacoma-Pierce County
    and I bet that`s a great opportunity right there.

    LogoMotives, it`s funny you mentioned it because when I was compiling a
    list of companies that I felt were closest to the idea that I had,
    GeekSquad was really the only one I could think of (with a big,
    well-branded, name anyway). I also really like your idea about the
    business fair. Perhaps that or maybe even a trade show (I know those
    can get expensive). I will definately look into what`s in my area.

    Boiseboys, thanks for your example. It sounds like the kind of plan I
    hope to follow, and best of all it sounds like he built his company
    through networking and word of mouth.

    TileMaker, thank you so much for your story, it`s always nice to hear
    from people who`ve tried this before. And the idea to offer spifs for
    referals was a very good one, it`s definately something I`ll be
    considering as I put together this plan of mine.

    I`ve also noticed a lot of recommendations for print advertising. Since
    I have a lot of contacts in printing who really do give me very good
    deals, the main question I have would be how do you recommend
    distributing/targeting them? I could take the "let`s mail a postcard to
    everyone in the phonebook in my town" approach, in fact I might. But is
    there a cheapskate way to narrow the focus?

    Sounds life I`ve got some homework to do now. Once again, I really
    appreciate everyone`s responses. It`s amazing how much experience is in
    these forums.


    ThroughActions2006-10-26 21:46:5
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