Monday, February 25, 2008

Can’t Beat It Advertising: Sometimes the best things in life really are free

Have you ever stopped to count the number of ads received in your inbox on any given day? Isn’t it ironic that most of those ads are selling some form of advertising? Advertising and promotions are big business and, unfortunately, most of the programs promising miraculous results are designed to make money, but not necessarily for the advertiser. Caution is the word of the day for a small business owner with a limited advertising budget.

So what do you do? You have to promote your business. The “build it and they will come” theory only works in fantasy movies.

Many will say that you can’t be in business these days without a great website or that a newsletter is a must. Some join link exchange programs and others buy space in business directories. There are probably more ways to spend your advertising dollars than there are ways to earn them. The trick is in making sure that you don’t spend more dollars than your advertising brings in.

I have a confession to make. I have never sent out a regular, consistent newsletter, and my website has always served more as a place to send people to learn more about my business than as a vehicle for bringing in new clients. This may sound shocking, but business is good – better than good – business is great!

My secret is simple. My business grows because there is no form of advertising more powerful than word of mouth, especially when the word is a good referral.

Before you can get a good referral, you have to have a client. So to begin with, the person talking about your business should be you. And you should be talking about your business at every opportunity to anyone who will listen.

Networking is a very effective way of promoting your business, and you can advertise this way without spending a dime. The oft touted “elevator speech” was actually invented to be used in the elevator between floors as a way of introducing your business to strangers.

For a relatively small investment, you can narrow the focus of your networking by joining associations and getting to know business people who are likely to need your services. When you’ve identified your target clientèle and are ready to make an investment in promoting your business, trade shows and conferences are also a great place to meet a lot of potential clients in one place and at one time. No matter where and when you find yourself networking, be sure to remember the golden rule: always have business cards with you and don’t forget to follow up.

Get to know others in your industry and work cooperatively with them. IVAA offers some great opportunities to meet and work with other Virtual Assistants through discussion groups and message board forums. Referrals and sub-contract projects can come from other VAs when they know your specialty and are familiar with your work.

Once you’ve told everyone you know about your business (often enough that some of them start to leave the room when you walk in) you’ll find that you aren’t the only person talking about your business. You may start to get calls and emails from people who heard about you from your trainer at the health club or your child’s teacher or even the checker at the grocery store where you shop.

Referrals like these are great, but the ones that really grow your business are the ones from happy clients.

Every project that you complete to the client’s satisfaction is an opportunity for growth. Not only does a satisfied client continue to give you work, but they also provide the most powerful method of advertising available to you. When a satisfied client refers your services, their recommendation is:

  • more relevant than the best ad copy,
  • directed toward your target market,
  • trusted and believed,
  • and it’s free!
To make the most of this powerful promotional medium, you have to do two things; first, you must make sure that every client is a satisfied client. Then, when a client compliments you on your work or tells you how happy they are with something you have done, ask them to spread the word. Don’t be shy about asking.

Many clients will happily recommend you once you’ve planted that seed where they might not think to, otherwise. Sometimes, simple really is best. How much more simple can you get than providing great service and letting your clients sell your services for you?

Debbie Tester of Outer Office, LLC leverages over 22 years of management and administrative experience to lead a team of virtual assistants specializing in full administrative support to speakers, trainers and coaches. For more information, visit

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