7 Simple Marketing Tactics for Local Service Businesses
Your marketing doesn't need to be grandiose. It doesn't even need to be digital.
Obtaining new customers and growing any local service business requires just as much of a marketing plan as does the launch of a new B2B SaaS product by a F500 company. Here are seven fairly simple, yet still effective, ways to attract new customers into your small business. These seven ways are not all that you want to do, of course, but they are seven of the best, and if you focus on all seven, could bring in all the business that a local service business can even handle.
1. Tell People About It. So, you've got a business, eh? Do your friends, relatives, business associates, poker buddies, your caddy, etc., all know that? If not, start telling them.
Develop a 30 second "elevator speech" that explains what you do and why people should use your service, and use it whenever anybody asks you what you do (this is, after all, one of the most common questions people ask in our society when meeting a new person). If the people you encounter in daily life don't know what you do, they can't hire you to do it. In your elevator speech, make sure that you convey a specific benefit that you provide to your customers.
Remember, all your marketing, including this, should be focused on attracting a targeted type of customer into your business, not just anybody and everybody. For example, my elevator speech used to be short, sweet, and to the point back when I owned a tax practice. Whenever somebody asked me, "What do you do?" my response was instantaneous: "I help mom and pop small business owners with tax debts to screw over the IRS." Eloquent? Nope. Professional? Not really. But in just one sentence and 3 seconds, I communicated the exact type of client I'm looking for, the specific service I provided, and a clear indication of the kind of people I prefer working with.
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2. Bandit Signs. You know those annoying signs you see along the side of the road? The ones for painting companies, or that offer to pay cash for your house in any condition? Those are commonly called bandit signs.
They're most commonly used for political campaigns and by real estate brokers, but you'll also see them for auto body centers, restaurants, house painters, and everything else, just not as frequently. They can be bought for $6 to $25 each, depending on source, material, durability, and other options. Ask your friends to stick them in their yards. Put them at major intersections if your local laws allow it. Put them in windows, where appropriate. They're a somewhat obnoxious form of marketing, but they sure work, which is why you keep seeing them, even if it's illegal in your city.
3. Smile and Dial. Telemarketing. That one word can make grown sales and marketing gurus cry. It's amazing how many people are afraid of the phone. Even more, it's widely known as the most annoying way to reach out to people, and thus consumer advocacy groups have been able to get numerous laws passed against it.
However, have you ever noticed that those laws don't apply to politicians? Why, you ask? Because it works, that's why. Most telemarketing laws also do not apply to business to business sales (plus B2B telemarketing is somewhat more welcomed by the recipient). You can call businesses in your local area, or purchase specific lists of people that might be a good fit for your service.
For example, if you build decks, you can purchase a list of new homebuyers in your area where the property records indicate there is no deck. You’ll need to register yourself with the FTC as a telemarketer, and scrub against the Do Not Call list, among other things (check with your lawyer!). But these compliance actions are pretty simple and inexpensive. Then, you simply call and offer to come out and do an on-site design consultation (notice that I didn’t call it a “free estimate” or “free consultation”— that’s a marketing lesson for another time).
Telemarketing as an outsourced service, meaning you contract with a call center to dial for you, is by itself a $33 billion a year industry in the US. On top of that, hundreds of billions of dollars of products and services are sold via telemarketing every year. Even in 2024, this is a highly effective sales tactic.
4. Money Mailer / Val-Pak. It may be called different things in different areas, but where I'm from Money Mailer is a blue-tinted envelope that arrives every month and is stuffed with coupons for all sorts of local businesses. It's not uncommon for people to get this thing and go through every coupon in it, pulling out the ones they think they'll use, and throwing those in a coupon drawer or putting them on the fridge. This is a tactic I mostly commonly see applied to various types of home services, such as windows, plumbing, painting, etc. It also tends to work well for restaurants. The businesses that use it can make a lot of money from it.
5. Postcards. I love postcards. Postcards, in all their tiny, black and white simplicity, are one of the most powerful marketing vehicles you have access to. You purchase a mailing list, craft a message, and send it out. It's literally something you can do inside of an hour. Compared to letters, it's cheap, and much less labor intensive. In fact, you can use Click2Mail.com to upload that mailing list, create your postcard online, and they'll print and mail the whole batch for you, plus give you an incredible discount on printing and postage. Depending on the service you offer, there are two specific mailing list types that I want to highlight here:
· New businesses -- they need a wide array of services, from bookkeeping to websites to signage to office space
· New homebuyers -- similarly, they need everything from window coverings to new carpet to new furniture to a landscaping to lawn mowing service
6. Niche Group Offers Every community has some sort of niche group in their local area. Perhaps your business is near a university. If so, you can send a special offer to students. Or perhaps there is one or a small handful of major employers in your area. Contact their HR department and work out something to offer a special deal to these employees, and even set up a table in their cafeteria or other on-site gathering area.
Also think about other groups to which you belong. It's never a good idea to be "that guy" and always be selling, but there's nothing wrong with making some sort of offer just to your church group, Kiwanis, Toastmasters, regular bar patrons at your favorite watering hole, book club, yoga class, etc.
I chose not to do this to avoid potential conflicts of interest because I was also a figure skating test judge at the time, but when I was an active adult ice dancer it would have been very easy for me to grow my tax practice just from people I met within the figure skating community. Coaches are always self-employed and often paid via check and cash, so these folks have automatic compliance issues they needed help with. In addition, figure skating is an expensive sport, and therefore parents of young skaters are more likely to be from a high tax bracket than most folks. Again, I chose not to fish in this pond because of potential conflict of interest on the judging side, but it would have been so easy to do otherwise.
So ask yourself: What circles do you swim in that provide you with exposure to people that are like your ideal customers?
7. Flyers. I once purchased a marketing course on getting tiny service businesses launched via dirt cheap marketing. When the package arrived, the entire course turned out to be how to make flyers, where to put them, the best things to say on them, etc. That's basically all I got for my $500.
When you think about cheap, guerrilla-style marketing, flyers are inevitably one of the first things most people will think of. However, a "veteran" business owner may not think about flyers, perhaps considering them too cheap or chintzy of a thing to do. However, a well worded flyer with a strong call to action and an irresistible offer can be a tough marketing piece to beat. They're cheap, and you can put them anywhere: Bulletin boards, community centers, laundromats, college campuses, grocery stores, and, of course, directly on people's doors (check local laws before doing this to make sure it's OK).
In my retired life, I spend quite a few hours volunteering for a science education non-profit. For our winter lecture series, we post flyers on 40+ bulletin boards across three small towns. The only other marketing we do for these lectures is to our internal email list (yet another marketing lesson for another time). Between the flyers and the emails, we routinely get over 100 attendees to each lecture. People that attend from the flyers register with their email address, which grows that contact list at the same time. Flyers work!
So there you have it. Seven incredibly effective methods for finding local customers for your service business. Many local businesses have been built and operated for decades exclusively using just one or two of these methods.
In marketing jargon, we refer to these seven items as "media" -- each one itself is a "medium". The medium you use to get out your marketing message is a critical component of how you market yourself. The other two are what you say and who you say it to — e.g., your messaging and your target market. We’ll talk about those in future posts.
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