All business owners have one thing in common: We need customers!
Unfortunately, it costs money to get them into your store, money that most of us just don’t have to blow. Advertising is expensive, and most of the time we can’t even tell if it worked! Did we just blow thousands of dollars on a coupon pack that no one will read? Will anyone call about the ad I put in the newspaper? Are my expensive flyers sitting in someone’s trash can? We’ve all been there. A persuasive salesman comes into our business, paints the rosy picture of phones ringing off the hook and orders coming in faster than we can fill them, and the next thing you know, we’ve just written a large check we can barely afford.
When business is booming, we can afford to try new things. Unfortunately, most of us are more worried about meeting payroll and keeping the lights on than about test marketing supermarket receipt ads. This is the situation we were in when we decided to open up a new computer store. Our current store was doing well, but we knew we needed to expand. Rents are lower in a poor economy and we could save significantly by taking the leap early. So, when we opened our second computer store, we needed to find a low-cost method that would bring in new customers as quickly as possible. Emphasis on “low-cost.” We had limited funds and those were earmarked. We made the conscious choice to avoid traditional advertising and on a shoestring budget — less than $100 — brought in enough new customers to cover our operating costs in the first month and double them in the second!
So how did we do it? It sounds simple, but our entire advertising campaign consisted of one $50 banner (about 2 feet tall and 10 feet wide) and two $8 placards (about 18” x 24”) that we stuck in the ground. You shouldn’t have any trouble replicating these prices – we found similar pricing at half a dozen different places. I know what you’re thinking, “CHEAP SIGNS! THE MAN IS A GENIUS!” Well, the key isn’t the concept; it’s the execution.
So what makes the difference between a sign that is completely ignored and one that generates excitement?
1.Make sure they are easy to see – Take a moment and find a location where people can’t help but see them. If people have to search to find you, they’ll just go somewhere else. Our two most successful signs were a long yellow banner directly below our store lettering and two small placards stuck in the grass by the entrance to our complex. The banner can be seen by everyone entering the complex, driving by, crossing the street, and even having lunch at the fast food place across the street. The placards are strategically positioned so that when people pull up to a stop sign, directly in their line of view is our sign and an arrow directing them to our store.
2.Offer something specific and fun — Generic signs that are too boring, such as “Accepting New Patients” and “Open for Lunch” can’t possibly compare to “Try our new SNAKE BURGER!” Customers want great deals, not “me-too” deals. You need to be different. You want people to stop what they are doing and make the choice to come to your store, not someone else’s.
3.Keep it simple – Don’t presume your customers are speed readers. Don’t use too many words and make sure your message is clear. Your customers are driving, texting, applying makeup, talking on the phone, and you can’t expect them to spend more than a fraction of a second reading and understanding your sign. Use the fewest number of words you can to get your concept across. Our banner says “Free Diagnostics” and the placards say “XP Computer — $95.”
4.Use colors that contrast with the surrounding area — If you are placing it on an area surrounded by white cement sidewalks, use a yellow background with red letters. If you stick the sign in the grass, a white background with red letters will get attention. Whatever color you choose, make sure it stands out.
5.Check your local city’s rules and contact your property management company to discover if there are any restrictions on sign placement or color. With that said, don’t worry too much about the specific wording in your lease. Times are tough and some landlords will turn a blind eye if it means your business will succeed and you will keep paying the rent.
6.Lastly, keep trying! Our first sign was a total disaster. We thought it would be good to list our services, so people would know who we were and what we were all about. No one cared. We didn’t get a single person from that sign. We regrouped, printed up some new signs on paper, taped them together, put them out, and suddenly we had people coming in! As soon as we knew it was working, we had some professionally made and from that time until now, we have received multiple new customers every day! So give it a shot! What do you have to lose? Wouldn’t you stop in for a Snake Burger?
Lynn and Philip Spry are the authors of 19 Ways to Survive: Small-Business Strategies for a Tough Economy
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