As a small business owner, I am always looking for ideas on how to keep our brand and the several images that go with it, fresh and top of mind for customers, prospects and hopefully media.
As many people in the promotions area will tell you, you need at least 5-8 “touches” for people to recognize your brand, use your product or service and become a steady customer that will spread the word.
In my previous corporate life, I worked for two small computer companies that really had to be creative in marketing- including making their brand mean something. So, in the process of being a part of these businesses, I learned a lot about using what I refer to as “smoke and mirrors” (which really meant how to do more with less).
Before I was in my Royal Oak retail store, my first huge commitment was buying a Yellow Pages ad (now I’m showing my age here, but 15 years ago that was the best and biggest expense a company could decide upon). Luckily, I was so unique my business listing was free and I got my own SIC code, since no gift wrapping service had existed before that.
The ad buy was a big leap of faith- and signaled to me that I had to act like a “real” business (whatever real meant). But truly, how I answered my phone or what my answering message said, was what my company was about. It is how my customers got “touched”. So a professional-sounding greeting- live or pre-recorded- was the key to making the person on the other end know they had reached the right place and there was a friendly and welcoming business there to help.
Next having a portfolio of my work was key. It served to give customers or prospects ideas about what could be done; it was a way of documenting work techniques and ideas I had developed and archived simple suggestions on ribbon and wrapping paper combinations.
My business card at that time served two purposes. It was a postcard that was my direct mail piece but it also served to give people a visual of what business was about. I got the idea from my Dad, who used this same technique to show specialty precision drills that the airline manufacturers needed to know about. The cost to print and mail was cheaper than a tri-fold brochure and it did not need an envelope. Eventually, I moved to smaller business cards, but remember I was forging a new field and had more education to do before someone would buy.
Again, I was fortunate because I had personal knowledge about “sales techniques” I would need to employ because I had been in the start up end of an industry years ago. We worked to introduce call direction (automated attendant with call routing that exists today) and voice mail. (Yeah, that was dinosaur years ago if anyone else can relate to this). I introduced people to this new service first by employing an educational approach and then explaining how the technology could improve work life.
I draw from experience when I launched my start up business and started out teaching people how they could acquire the skill of gift wrapping. These classes were held through Community Centers, Parks and Recreation departments, local Adult Education programs-frankly anywhere.
To put this in context, this is when Martha Stewart was making big gains in suggesting that the Art of a Pleasant Home was possible. That you could make your own bread, craft homemade gifts, and cook for the Holidays- well, we all know where that went. So I signed up for another start up, knowing that as I launched the business, I, too, was an acolyte sitting at the bottom of the altar looking for knowledge.
With the credibility of teaching at various established and well known community centers came the publicity to encourage people to enroll. Here again the novelty and uniqueness of the course in wrapping and bow making drew media attention. I got interest from newspapers and local magazines asking for my help making packages for the Holiday Gift guide covers. I then got to tell my story about how to wrap and what it was like to be a home based business- a new idea then. It was this free advertising and publicity that brought me my first corporate customers- and brought along retail customers as well.
From my corporate experience in strategic planning, marketing, developing products and selling products, I knew I had a long way to go before making the next leap of faith. It is not a decision for the faint of heart. But if you are there, read on to my next blog. And if not, don’t despair. Size has nothing to do with offering a great service or product. I’ve been there and can tell you the difference. Success is knowing that your own idea of success is just that- your own.